When I was a kid, and I’d see various professional athletes retire from the game and then show up in TV and films (often as wooden caricatures of themselves), I used to make a joke. At the time I was involved in theatre and would say “I’m gonna be an actor until I’m about 35 or so… Then I’m going to become a professional athlete.”
Okay, maybe not, but I was young back then, what did I know? And why am I thinking about that old joke now? I’m thinking about it for the same reason the phrase “youth is wasted on the young” has been going through my head. Because I’ve been living backwards, Benjamin Button like, and I just hope I’m ready for the payment when it comes due in a few weeks.
Within days (forward or back is unknown at this point) of my 49th birthday, I will become a father for the first time. This isn’t news, I know. But I was talking about friends of mine, good friends, whom I’ve known at least 30 years, I was talking about their kids the other day and it hit me – We’re roughly the same age and they’re almost done with the first phase of child rearing. Their kids are anywhere from 16-22 and if not already, will soon be out of the house for good, on to their own lives. Even my sister, who is four years younger than me, has a 17-year-old son who is looking at colleges and a 15-year-old daughter who is going to hire me someday to write her movies for her (not that she needs my help).
These parents are getting ready to start enjoying their empty nests, redoing the house, investing in entertainment improvements, talking about travel… A lot of which I’ve done already. They could easily be complaining that youth is wasted on the young and here I am, I’ve had to get extra pages put into my passport, I’ve gone on crazy overnight trips and spent my 41st birthday backpacking through Europe. And now, at a time when, like that pro sports figure, I should be slowing down, smelling the roses and exploring the world, here I am, having a kid.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m excited as hell to be doing this. I’ve wanted to be a dad for a while, but I always sublimated my feelings and desires when I was romantically involved with someone who didn’t want kids at the time. Or I was with someone who already had a child but was unwilling to let me in to that life. So for a number of reasons, mostly my own, I was at a point where it looked like it wasn’t going to happen, where I had a better shot at being a grandparent, than a parent (my cousin, who is three years younger than I am, will become a grandmother for the first time about three weeks before Monki is due).
Then miracles happened. And all of a sudden I find myself up until all hours of the night building furniture so the little one has a place for her clothes to go. I have several boxes waiting to be assembled while Rasa is in the hospital so the little one has a place to sleep. The one bedroom apartment I rented when I first moved to Kaunas, which was perfect for one (and a dog) is a little tight with two and with three going to be close quarters indeed.
I worry I’m physically not up to the task. The advice everyone gives is get sleep now. I don’t sleep much now so I don’t know how I’ll do with less. I’m not as fit as I was when I was running track in 8th or 10th grade. I can’t touch my toes without bending my knees. And soon I’m going to have a little person who is going to want me to swing her around and carry her on my shoulders. And I worry.
I worry that I won’t be able to handle the change in lifestyle I know is coming (to be fair, I think I can, but what if I’m wrong?). I worry I won’t be able to provide for my little family, I worry about navigating a medical system I don’t understand in a language I don’t speak. I worry about Rasa, and making sure she’s doing okay through this whole process. We spend a lot of time talking and making contingent plans we both know are just stop-gap measures to stave off the panic of “oh my god, what are we doing!”
And I know that my worry is completely natural. Just the other day, a friend asked how I was doing. When I replied I was terrified she said “Good. I’d be worried about you if you weren’t.” So I get it. No one knows anything and all of you who have been through this have been just as worried as we are now. And I look at my friends and their kids all seem to be doing okay, they’re good kids (and I know stories about them which, if we’d have to get licenses to be parents, they certainly wouldn’t have made the background check). But I’m a writer, so this is how I deal with these things. I write about them.
I know things will be fine. I’m confident we’ll be good parents so I’m not really looking for affirmations. But, you know…