As the father of an infant in Germany, everything is hunky-dory while you are still in the hospital. The nurses come whenever you call them, food is brought to you, and newborns anywhere sleep more often than hungover college freshmen during Chem 102. Life is peaceful. Even if you were the one, like I was because Eve had a C-Section, that awoke during the night for diaper changes and bottle-feedings, the time is blissful because you have a safety net: Should you become overwhelmed – or immobilized by the paralyzing fear of being a parent – you can always push the nurse’s call button so that they can change your little wonder’s toxic diaper. It’s essentially on-call nanny service, but even better, since they rarely have voices as annoying as Fran Drescher’s.
Celebrating the Birth
One thing that I should mention at the outset is that in Germany, there is a custom of the father inviting his friends to go drinking after the birth to celebrate. This usually happens a day or two after the blessed event, while their wife is still bedridden. I didn’t do it. I stayed at the hospital to change diapers and administer bottles. I may not not know much, but I do know that a very effective way to piss off your wife is to leave her alone in a hospital room with a newborn, after having a routine yet still major surgery, to go drinking with your buddies. Points for me. This was also a teensy bit calculated as I am a guy and it’s only a matter of time before I screw up. I must be fervent as I will need to redeem those points someday, most likely soon. In the immortal words of Herr Eddard Stark, “Oktoberfest is coming”. It’s surely no coincidence that Stark means “strong” in German.
I Have to Leave?
All is well up to the last day when you are asked “What time are you leaving”? For first time dads, this may be perplexing:
“Am I going somewhere?” you might ask. Coddled into a state of irresponsibility due to having been waited on hand and foot, you may even entitledly think “Well it’s about time that I was brought to the massage room. My lobster bisque was cold, my champagne was warm; What kind of spa is this”?! This would be wrong. If you haven’t already addressed the nurse as “my humble servant”, there may be a way to save the situation. First, you are being asked to leave the hospital. No big deal. Since most fathers go home at night, this should be normal. If you opted to sleep at the hospital, you may even wonder, “Is it time for me to irresponsibly go drinking with my buddies again”? It is not. You are being asked to leave the hospital.
With your baby.
Visiting hours are over, my friend. Your time at that luxurious yet antiseptic time-share is over. Mask your panic, intrepid newbie-parent; stuff’s about to get real. As in real gross. No longer will you be able to call someone else to clean up the substances that endlessly ooze from your itty bitty yuck factory. The Joker (your baby) is running amok and the Bat signal is broken. You, Commissioner, are on your own. Swallow one of your wife’s Percocets, force a smile, and say “Of course. I can’t wait to be showered in formula vomit at home. Which end gets the diaper”?
Now that your ill fate has been unceremoniously laid out for you, you will naturally try to resist. “Surely a nurse will come home with me to help, right”? Well, yes, actually. Or at least they could. If you have a Hebamme, they will, in fact, visit you at home every day for the first couple of weeks after the birth. A Hebamme is 50% hippie, 40% nurse, and 6,000% witch. They instruct you on how to change diapers, show your wife how to breastfeed your baby, and demonstrate how to cure diaper rash with only moonlight and a stick. If you are like Eve and I, however, you will have no such help. First, we have internet and can Google stuff, for crying out loud. Second, we don’t believe in magic (although Google is a bit magical, isn’t it?), and third, we thought that we already had all the knowledge that we needed as we read all of the books about “What to Expect”. And by we, I mean Eve.
Oh, was she ever wrong.
The Ride Home
Before I can illustrate those incidents, however, you must first get your baby home. This seemingly mundane task involves a baby’s car seat, i.e.; the devil’s invention. Take my advice; practice putting that satanic contraption into your vehicle before departure day. If you are like me and did not, then you will have to fiddle with the damn thing long enough to go through a bottle, two naps, and eight diaper changes. In the US, most car seats are dummy-proof and the seat belt slides through a separate base which the car seat simply “clicks” into. They also have these in Germany, but we opted to purchase a beautiful yet impractical stroller that came with a different type of car seat. It did not come with a convenient base and so must be secured in an unnecessarily complicated fashion by going over and around the blasted thing with the seat belt sixty-two times before being secured by no less than five-hundred clips. I am sure that it is safer than the American models with bases, but I just don’t see the wisdom in creating a car seat that the kid will have outgrown before it can used for the first time. Ah, wait, Yes. Now I see the wisdom. If it can’t be used, then the kid will never be driven around and will therefore avoid any potential accidents by default. Luckily for me, I had six rolls of duct tape in the car, like any good American would. When it comes to installing anything, we Amis are all white trash MacGyvers. The marketing slogan for duct tape should be “If you’re too good to fix it with duct tape, you are un-American. And probably a communist”. This is, of course, too long for mass-consumption and will be shortened to the concise “Duct tape; Because ‘Murica”. You know know why duct-tape is often displayed in Wal-Mart next the beer, which is conveniently located next to the boxes of ammo. This is also why our insurance premiums are so high; The unfortunate and collective placement of these items presumedly led many a half-wit to decide that they could create time-saving beer holders by taping their Budweisers to their pistols so that their other hands could remain free to hold their Marlboro Reds. This may even be how they got their red color in the first place.
Okay, that was bad, even for me.
Another thing that you must purchase to simply bring your infant home, aside from the car seat, is a “child car mirror”. This mirror not-so-simply straps (oh, wait; duct tape) to the head rest of the back seat so that you can see the little nipper scream on the way home. It’s not enough that you, and everyone else within 25 kilometers, can hear them. No. You must also see them scream, for some reason. It’s only when they stop screaming, after the duct tape has loosened and the mirror has sagged so that you can no longer see them, that you start to worry. Eve and I had to stop around forty times on the way home so that we could get out and peer in on him through the window to make sure that he was still breathing. We even had to poke him a few times. Luckily, in true consumer fashion that panders to every new parent’s fears, we had purchased the Fisher-Price “Car Seat Child Poker”, complete with CO2 detection and neuron stimulating, eco-minded rainforest graphics. Had we had a Hebamme, I suppose we could have just used her diaper rash stick, but then our five-day old wouldn’t have been as smart, nor would they have been as concerned with the plight of the Amazon pygmy parrot ant. I heard that with our purchase, the company finally had enough money to build their new child poker factory, erected ironically on the ant’s last remaining habitat. Conservation has its costs, I suppose.
Now that your baby is home, I should continue with the theme, “Things you must now buy that no parent had in previous times and whose babies still lived”. If this was a Jeopardy category, the question would be “What unnecessary device turns your babies diapers into the worst kind of sausage ever imagined”? The answer is, of course, “What is a Diaper Genie, Alex”. For those of you who don’t know, a Diaper Genie is a three foot high device with a lid and a a plastic bag inside in which you place used diapers and then tie off at the end when full. As shown by Eve’s and my model, in Germany they are called “Angel Care” which was obviously named by someone who has never smelled evil. Regardless of the name, and as evidenced by the height, it essentially creates three foot long diaper sausages. The “Genie” or “Angel” part is, presumably, that encapsulating the diapers makes them smell less bad. This is not the case. I even tried rubbing it like in Aladdin hoping that an actual Genie might appear and take the wretched wurst away. This did not work. In fact, it seemed to only make it worse as the friction heated the contents, like one of those heated air-fresheners, but poop-scented instead of Pumpkin Spice. I have since replaced the plastic bags with sheets of 16 gauge steel which I then weld shut. This still does not completely eliminate the smell, which is why I then wrap them in duct tape. Because ’Murica.
It gets gross.
All babies poo. When it comes to this particular task, ours, however, is a veritable virtuoso. A genius of the upper GI, if you will.
Because he likes being close and hearing us, we often wheel Sam’s Laufgitter (playpen) into the kitchen when we are making meals, doing dishes, or what have you. Today I walked by him, opened the fridge, and caught a whiff of something foul. Since he fills his pants at a rate that a pastry chef on meth fills eclairs, I assumed it was time for a diaper change. I performed the sniff test (you parents know what this is) and found nothing. After putting him back down, I opened the fridge and again smelled the same pungent aroma. Close fridge. Sniff butt. Nothing. The third time that I opened the fridge, however, I spied something: An open package of Limburger cheese. I performed the sniff test on it, found that it was indeed the source of the offending odor, and then briefly passed out.
Two things came from this story: (1) I now know why Limburger has no catchy marketing slogans like duct tape should – no amount of gloss is going to make “Our cheese smells like baby poo” more appealing – and, (2) I learned that, by encasing the smelly substance so that everything else remains uncontaminated, ziplock bags are basically cheese diapers. From now on, Limberger remnants are going into the Diaper Genie.
Another thing that you may have seen in those cute Katherine Heigel movies – that you think didn’t existed outside of Hollywood – is projectile vomit. I am here to inform you that it is not an LA plot to keep you from procreating so that you will have time to spend money at the movies: Projectile vomit is real. The first time you experience it, it will happen in a subtle way, much like in an Roland Emmerich directed alien invasion. You’ll be bouncing your baby boy or girl on your lap and they’ll smile at you, coddling you into a state of moon-eyed unpreparedness. Do not be fooled. This smile is only contrived to catch you off guard so that you have a smiling and open mouth for your tiny extraterrestrial to vomit into. If parenthood were a Sci-Fi movie, I assume that this is how they would replicate; by using our adult bodies as incubators for the eggs we unwittingly swallow until they mature and burst gleefully from our chests. The truth is, in reality, much worse. Vomit often occurs randomly and without warning, like a huge asteroid strike or gamma ray burst, and so cannot be defended against. Babies embody the chaos of the universe, only in adorable, miniature form.
Free Time? What’s That?
When babies sleep, they often don’t sleep long. By the time you have amassed all that you need to enjoy your free time, the baby may have already awoken. Hardly anything is more vexing than having amassed all of your tools of relaxation just to have it interrupted before you can even begin. Your best bet is carry your TV, Xbox, and eight packages of Oreos around with you at all times so that not one nanosecond of their nap will be wasted once they pass out. Trust me, they fall asleep in the strangest of places, at the oddest of times, and so you must be prepared. Like much in life, Übung macht den Meister (practice makes perfect). If you are exceptional, you will learn to munch your cookies rhythmically while rocking your baby with a game controller in your hands so that it actually soothes your baby to sleep, thereby increasing your you time. Did you defeat the demon and get your baby to sleep at the same time? Congratulations. You, my friend, just leveled up.
Being a kid at heart, one of the hardest parts about having a newborn is waiting to play with them. I love playing games. Tag. Tickle your kid until they pee their pants. You know, the standard stuff. After a couple of weeks, the anticipation became so great that I couldn’t wait anymore. We started with one of my favorites: Hide N’ Seek. Now, Sam can’t exactly hide – or even walk – on his own, so I had to help him. The problem is that since I am the one placing him in his hiding spot, I would know where he is. We needed another player.
Eve was downstairs doing laundry, so it was the perfect time to place him in an upstairs closet with a kiss and a ”Shhh”. As Eve reached the top of the stairs, I exclaimed “It’s hide and seek time! Sam is hiding somewhere in the house. Go”!
This was met with less excitement than I expected. She said things. Loud things, in German, while frantically running around the house opening cupboards and looking under beds.
After 20 minutes, she said that she wanted to dial the German 911 so they could send someone to find Sam. She called it “an emergency”. I called it cheating.
Your Baby is Insane.
Babies have no perspective. Everything to them is the worst thing ever. The following are a few scenarios that will will cause your newborn to cry, along with what they think while crying:
Hungry: “AAUUGHHH!!! I’m starving to death!!! WAHHHH”!!!
Tired: “AAAUAUGHHH!!! Oh my God, I can’t keep my eyes open! I’ve been drugged!! WAHHHH”!!!
Vomitting: “AAUGHHHH!!! I just puked! POISON! WAHHHH”!!!!
Wet diaper: “AAUUGHHH!!! My wiener is cold…and it looks like a tiny raisin!!!! WAHHHH”!!!
The last one is only for male babies, of course, but it will remain with them into adulthood. This is why most men pull at their vacuumed shorts as they exit a pool, ocean, etc. Swimming in frigid water is like crawling into a time machine set to “baby”; Cold and wetness essentially Benjamin Buttons ones junk.
Another indication that your baby has completely lost their marbles is the amount of delight that they derive from trying to throw themselves from any height. You may them perched on your shoulder, on laying next to you on the bed. Without warning, your little lemming will twist their bodies in an attempt to hurl themselves into the air. Babies operate on pure instinct and therefore unaware of the consequences of their actions. Sure, this is how they learn, but it is also how brain damage occurs. I am by no means a helicopter parent, but if they are concussed enough, then learning becomes less of a concern than them repeatedly running into walls like a human Roomba. Again, the answer is duct tape. It not only secures child equipment that you don’t understand because you fell on your head too many times as a baby, it serves well as a means for securing your suicidal tot to an immobile object. Like a wall.
Don’t Forget the Love.
After all of these seemingly negative stories, I should tell you that there are indeed benefits to having a new-born. Don’t let me scare you away from procreation. Naturally, the feeling of unconditional love that you almost immediately feel toward them is paramount, as is the knowledge that they are completely dependent on that love and care. For you fathers, however, what’s only slightly less important is that if you are a good husband and dad, you will become irresistible to your wife. For example, my wrists constantly smell like formula, and that scent is now Eve’s new favorite cologne. This may seem strange, but trust me; wrists that smell like formula means that you have not only fed your baby, but that you also tested it beforehand to make sure that it wasn’t too hot. Nothing is sexier to a new mother than a father who helps with bottle feedings, especially if he also doesn’t scald the baby’s mouth. If your hands also happen to smell like dish soap from washing said bottles, that combo is essentially Calvin Klein’s Obsession mixed with Spanish Fly. Careful, my friends, or you may soon be feeding two babies. If you thought that you had your hands full with one, just wait until you have two. In the States, we have a saying about multiple children: “One is none, two is ten”. The shark in Jaws was only one. Now imagine ten great whites, not attacking while trying to get into your boat, but vomiting while hurling themselves out of their playpens.
You’re not going to need a bigger boat; you are going to need more duct tape. Lots more.