My daughters were so excited during the car ride to a nearby hospital.
They were anxious to see this newborn girl, the first of a new generation of children in our family. It’s all they talked about from the moment I returned from work until the moment they stepped into the room and saw my niece recovering from childbirth in that hospital bed.
They eyed the newest member of the extended family carefully but cautiously. Eventually, each of them got the payoff, that opportunity to hold a newborn child. As they did, they quickly realized a baby was a lot more work than they thought.
My oldest looked a little too comfortable. She’s approaching an age where that child could be hers. I don’t want to think about the possibility that one day the baby she’s holding might be her own.
My middle daughter, always the practical one, seemed to lose interest as soon as she walked in that hospital room. She realized this girl wouldn’t be playing with her anytime soon.
My youngest daughter couldn’t take her eyes off the child, though. Whenever someone held the baby, our 5-year-old was right there, staring at her lovingly. She has a bit of baby fever; she puts diapers on a monkey toy she received for Christmas and calls it her baby. She beamed when she got her chance, albeit a brief one, to hold her.
Then the baby, finnicky as babies can be, started to whimper and cry a bit. My wife picked the child back up to calm her, while my youngest daughter developed a puzzled look on her face.
The trip home turned into a question-and-answer session.
“Why wouldn’t she open her eyes?” my youngest asked. She was trying to sleep, I responded.
“Why did she cry when I held her?” she questioned. She was trying to sleep and didn’t want to be passed around, I answered.
“Are all babies that hard to take care of?” she queried. I paused for a moment to phrase my answer correctly: Absolutely. Babies take a lot of time, nurturing and caring, I told her.
Then she declared she wasn’t ready to have a baby, which I agreed with since she’s 5.
So few of us really are ready until that moment in life hits us. I recall thinking I was ready for children, much like my 5-year-old must’ve thought she could handle children based on her interactions with a monkey in a diaper. It turns out to be a lot more difficult than it looks.
So much of adult life is. Responsibilities are rewarding, but they’re enormous amounts of work too.
Having a job sounds cool when you’re a child. Who wouldn’t want to make some money? Then you realize the government gets a chunk of everything before you see it. An unfair amount of money goes to bills you need to pay in order to keep going to work, like car maintenance and insurance. And your free time gets sucked up by this job thing.
Living on your own sounds great when you’re young and rebelling. There’s no one to tell you what to do or when to do it. Then you realize it means paying your bills on time and cleaning up after yourself.
Having a child sounds fun. You can model a child after yourself. Then you realize they’re constantly counting on you to show them the right thing to do and care for them constantly.
Don’t get me wrong: Having children is the second-most wonderful thing that ever happened to me, a close second to falling in love with my wife. But parenting is a lot of work, as I’m sure my niece will discover and my children will understand some day way down the road, hopefully after they’re 30.
As soon as we returned home that night, my youngest daughter found her diaper-wearing monkey toy and announced she would stick with her monkey for now. I just hope she keeps it that way until she’s really ready for that kind of responsibility.