01/27/2009 By Shawn Burns

Emily says "I have faith that we can do it. I think I understand faith a little bit better now."

How do you explain how radically life changes when you become a parent without making it sound like a cautionary tale? Without confirming all of the worries your childless friends have about parenthood?

Weekends in Napa, time spent in smokey bars making contributions to the atmosphere, spontaneous date nights, entire days spent out of the house together, flights longer than two hours, road trips, putting off grocery shopping for one, two, or five more days while the supply of frozen french fries dwindles and the size of that orange cheese block shrinks.

Waking up every morning three or four hours earlier than ever before, and even that much sleep is a luxury compared to the constant interruptions of the first few months. Piles of diapers. Worrying about nuts. Buying kegs of milk. Knowing that the intro/theme to Sesame Street has changed. Hitting all the "Kids eat free" restaurants. Planning days around naps, weekends around cribs, and weeks around daycare.

Those changes loom. They impend. They are an exchange of radical freedom for shackled duty. They are the reason for the doubt. "Can we do this? How can we do this? How can anyone do this?"

I would look to the future from our moment and I was incapable of seeing the long staircase or the magic switch that would make those changes something other than soul-crushing. But I’d say things like "ah, we’ll figure it out."

But it always sounded like a lie. It sounded like a lie because I had heard something in a similar tone, in a fake Irish accent, years before: "Aw, kids are easy. You just put them in your pocket." That was the line Dana Carvey jokes his Irish mother, a parental conspirator, would feed him. It’s such an obvious lie, but backed by so much convincing confidence, that you can be lulled by it.

Can I just put them in my pocket? Everyone seems capable of making this change; why do I doubt myself so much?

Because the change is drastic. It is the most drastic. Imagine being told that tomorrow you need to be able to run 100 meters in ten seconds. Imagine being told you need to figure out how to flap your arms and fly. And that the consequences of not being able to do so will not only be terrible for you, but terrible for a stranger you have a a sudden duty toward.

Somehow we figured it out. Somehow the change was only drastic in retrospect. Somehow Erin turned out to be easy; I just put her in my pocket. It feels like I’ve always known how to do this. And I smugly assure my childless friends that kids are easy, that their doubts and worries are, not baseless, but irrelevant. Because they won’t care.

That’s what’s happened. The world we knew before, the one with the things like lazy Sunday naps and lazy Wednesday naps and hip Saturday scenes (there were fewer of these than I’d prefer to admit) was stunningly, horrifically incinerated. And I fiddled and danced while it burned. Because I didn’t care. I don’t care.

The world of my twenties wasn’t bad, or sad, or innocent, or deplorable. It just was. There is no loss, there is just was. It was and now it isn’t. The future stretches out, uncertain, terrifyingly uncertain. And I don’t care.

Except that I do care. I have another child on the way. Another! And although I feel easy enough about being a father I have those same panicked doubts about being a father to two, to a son. How can people do this? What is the magic switch that will be thrown to make it seem normal? We’ve been good at parenting in our infancy, when we were overwhelmed by the wonder of it all. But it’s inconceivable that we can be good at it in our adolescence, when we are selfishly enamoured with our own interests and brook no interference with our agenda. How will our son not bear the brunt of those growing pains?

But, myself tells my self, kids are easy. You just put them in your pocket. And although I rightly doubt the truthfulness of this, it is backed by so much convincing confidence that I am lulled by it. I don’t know what the magic switch looks like, I just know what the nursery looks like when the light is on.