Thursday, March 7, 2013

Confessions of a Temporary Monster

I can't imagine anything worse than that. I can't imagine anything worse than holding your newborn baby in the middle of the night, going through the routine of getting him back to sleep, then accidentally catching your reflection in the mirror and seeing a monster looking back. And I can't imagine anything worse than looking at that monster for a day, a week, a year--never knowing if the self-loathing would ever end. Not knowing if the monster is here to stay.

I know I shouldn't watch TV with my girl. She's almost 3-years-old, and it's one of those rare nice winter days in Baltimore. We should be playing soccer in the park, or riding a bicycle for the first time. We should be walking the dog together, or even just driving around with the windows down. Anything but TV. But that's what she wants to do, and me--well, I'm having the time of my life. It's actually colder in the house than it is outside, so I put a blanket on both of us. I turn on Netflix, and I play the next episode of Strawberry Shortcake. My daughter leans her head on my shoulder, and says, "I love you."

A friend of mine was recently asked what he felt like the moment his daughter was born.

"Instant, unconditional love," he said.

When my boy was born, I resented him. He was a stranger who had made the woman I loved suffer for 42(!) weeks, and that's all he was to me. He came out of my wife's belly, peed on the nurse, cried, and a few minutes later, the nurse left, and nothing made sense. Where the hell was that instant, unconditional love? They told me I would love! They said it was going to happen immediately and forever! He was my own flesh and blood! What kind of a monster was I?

I spent two weeks like that, certain I was evil, when it suddenly happened. It was just after a late night feeding. He finished nursing, but started crying again. That was my cue. Walk around, rock him back and forth and up and down, turn the water on, sing... I knew the drill.

But this time, he did something new. Whereas before, he would stop crying and go back to a deep, two-hour sleep, this time he just smiled at me. He was fully awake, and fully conscious, and I had never been happier. Never felt more alive. Suddenly, I had a son. He was my beautiful son, whom I now loved more than anything else in the world, and everything made sense.

Two years later, just before my daughter was born, people were telling me things would be different this time. With second babies, they said, you're no longer afraid of the unknown, which frees you to love immediately and unconditionally. And we were having a girl this time. What were we worried about? Dads instantly fall in love with their girls! It's a dad-daughter thing!

"Prepare to love like you've never loved before!"

So I prepared myself, and I waited.

This time, it didn't take two weeks. After two months, it still hadn't happened. So I kept waiting. By now, I knew I wasn't a monster, but a victim of misinformation. I wasn't emotionally dead, just emotionally stalled. And I was ready to wait for the rest of my life.

She took her first steps at 14 months. I stood her up two feet away from me, and let go. She looked at me, then she looked at her legs, wobbled a bit, and started marching. She made two steps, then dove into my arms the happiest she'd ever been. And after 14 months, everything suddenly clicked. I caught her! I saved her! She trusted me, and I was there. My wait was over.

I could do a lot of important or beneficial things with my daughter right now, instead of spending this nice day indoors. Yet I don't feel guilt or regret, because my daughter and I are sharing a blanket, and because she's leaning her head on my shoulder, and just when it seems like things can't get any better, she tells me that she loves me. I kiss her head, and I pet her hair, and I tell her, "I love you too. Another episode of Strawberry Shortcake?"

Confessions of a Temporary Monster

Thanks, The Good Men Project, for republishing this post: Confessions of a Temporary Monster: When Do You Really Start Loving Your Kids?

And thanks to the people at HLN's Raising America, for mentioning this post: When do you really start loving your kids?
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  1. I'm glad you wrote about this. My husband did not immediately bond with our daughter. And I know it caused him guilt and who knows what else. It came with time. Thanks for this post.

  2. Wow. Wow. It is hard for me to reflect back on the emotions I felt
    shortly after the birth of my daughters, but I am sure I didn't have the
    internal conflict you worked through. Wow. I am so glad you have fallen
    in love with your children, and yes, snuggled under a blanket watching a
    favorite show, with a tiny head resting against you is about the most
    serene time of one's life. The world stops and nothing can bring harm to
    you in those moments.



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