I used to really like to eat. It was a pleasure and sometimes even a sin, depending on what was in front of me. These days meals are something to finish as soon as possible because there’s always something else more important going on, namely my 3-month-old baby.
As recent as three months ago, as a married couple without children, dinner was something we looked forward to and enjoyed each day. In a normal week, we dine in as much as we dine out. Whichever the case, it was relaxing and consisted of conversation reviewing our days and talking about family and friends and whatever came up throughout the day and the plans for the coming days and so on. The normal stuff couples talk about.
Today those discussions have changed. They are not quite so relaxing or intellectually stimulating, although equally interesting, because our conversations usually revolve our little boy. It’s safe to say messy diapers, pacifiers, onesies, no-teeth giggles, butt paste, tummy time and nasal aspirators were not discussed all too often previously. Now we talk about the normal stuff parents talk about.
Today, I could not tell you too many details about what my wife did yesterday or any specifics about her week. However, ask me about how many ounces of formula my son ate yesterday at each feeding or how many bowel movements he had on any given day and I can rattle it off for you. Now that would be a stimulating adult conversation. It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on in my wife’s life.
Quite the contrary, it’s just that we hardly get around to it anymore. There’s always another distraction, such as making sure the music keeps playing and the teddy bears continue rotating in his bassinet while we eat at home. We know things can get ugly quick if they stop, especially if it occurs simultaneously.
It’s funny how things change in life and how quickly it has happened. Everything used to be about us. Now it’s about our son and we run a distant second. One of the bibs my wife received as a baby shower gift says it well, “I’m in charge here.” Whenever I put it on the little man, I think how appropriate and obvious.
In the pre-baby era, the biggest decisions before dinner were what would we be having and whether it was a wine night or not. If we were doing wine, the question was: white or red? It was simple then. It’s not so much now.
In the post-baby era, we hardly ever get to the wine during dinner. It’s about our child. Are you holding him or me? Should we try to eat at the table? Bouncey seat, bassinet or swing? That’s all assuming he’s awake, and with our current schedule, one that has him sleeping most of the night, he’s usually wide-eyed and alert during the dinner hour. In our new life, what’s for dinner is not even discussed. My wife and I know what each other like by now so we just make the decisions on our own and plate up. I kind of like it. There’s the surprise factor. However, the other night I clearly dropped the ball. There were cheeseburgers fresh off the grill, but nothing else to go along with it because I forgot it was my turn to hit the grocery store after work. It was a high-protein night and clearly a dinner made by a preoccupied man. The distractions of getting the baby occupied so we could eat in peace overruled the actual meal itself. That happens a lot.
The other night we went out for dinner, but our timing was off and it was our fault. We left the house near feeding time, but he was still asleep. We figured we would roll the dice and see what happens. By the time we were seated at our restaurant of choice, he was awake and ready to eat. We took turns feeding him before our meals arrived. No big deal. Once he was fed, we put him back in his car seat, hoping for a milk-buzz slumber. No such luck. He was not fuzzy but not quiet and content either. Since my wife’s meal required two hands, I went lefty with my steak and kept a consistent shake on the car seat to satisfy our son’s unquenchable desire for motion. While I cut my steak, she took over nudging the car seat.
Whether it’s eating out or eating in, it’s a game of roulette with a little one. All you can do is hope you time it well and plan ahead so you give yourself the best odds against the house. It’s a little easier to pull off at home because you have home-court advantage and you have numerous distractions to utilize.
On a recent Sunday, we were craving crabs and corn on the cob, one of our favorite summer dinners, even though it was raining outside. We figured we would eat inside and use our favorite weekly paper to protect our table. We tried to time the crabs around his nap once again. The only problem was he fell asleep in his swing sooner than we expected and before I got home with the crabs. Not wanting to make the mistake of waking a sleeping baby, we let him stay in the swing, which was only about five feet from where we were going to hit up the crabs.
There we were eating hot steamed crabs with mixed emotions. We were happy our son was sleeping soundly and thrilled to have some heavy crabs before us, but it’s not exactly a meal to be enjoyed quietly. In fact, it’s practically impossible and takes a little bit of the fun away, but we made due and were even able to get into our claws without waking him up and still got to use our hammers. That’s my favorite part. He slept through it all. We hit the jackpot that night. Those nights make you feel like a confident, capable parent.
By the time we were done and everything was cleaned up, our little creature started to stir and it was time for another feeding, a bath and then bedtime (for all of us).
(The writer is the publisher and editor of The Dispatch. He and his wife, Pamela, recently welcomed a newborn into their lives. This weekly column will examine their transition into parenthood and all that goes along with it. Email any thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.)