The first thing you need to know is that parenting as poet is best explained by playing X-COM: UFO DEFENSE, the 1994 DOS turn-based strategy game.
Pixelated aliens, turn-based platoon warfare, menu-based purchasing of supplies, etc are not the focus of child rearing. What IS the focus is the structure of “milestones,” those moments in your child’s life they are *supposed to* reach by certain ages: head lifts by 2 months, gripping things with their hands by 4 months, following a growth chart. There is nothing standard about human beings, except that non-standardization itself IS a standard, and also babies don’t quite apply. In X-Com, different species of aliens attack the earth, and it starts simple enough: you fight them. But imagine this interplanetary war like a water balloon falling and exploding in different directions all at once, and then those droplets doing the same thing. You have to reverse engineer their technology. You have to research their culture and their nefarious plan. You have to restock your weapons, medical supplies, engineers, soldiers, scientists; you have to be the one who is many at once. And then there’s actual turn-based combat on top of buying and selling, planning, saving, discovering that insurance isn’t an option anymore like buying boxed corndogs was an option when you were single and adjunct teaching.
Complex problems branch into more complex ones. You must be in the future (prepared), past (understanding patterns), and present (it is always the present). Solutions are duct tape seals. Solutions are peel-away pieces of a sailing ship replaced daily and decayed before dawn. Hooray, our kid can lift her head! In fact, now you have to think about the sound she’s making. What are they? How often? Can she crawl? If so, you’re off to new races. Next thing you know, you’re selling alien corpses to study the special kind of fuel it takes to fly a UFO.
The world of parenting will not stop and wait for you to catch up. Savor every alien victory, because a complex new race with new rules and new weapons is looming over you at its own pace. That’s humanity.
Poet, assumptions about gender conformity and identity will rise around you like ruins of an ancient world populated by people speaking a language so long dead it’s been relegated to specialized classics departments in colleges unknown. This is to say it isn’t just that if your girl baby isn’t wearing pink, she’ll get called a he. That’s obvious, easy to prepare for stuff. What’s harder is the assumption strangers, often kind hearted ones, will make, usually smiling fully in ways that you empathize with and truly appreciate, will make about mothers wanting to talk about mothering nonstop and to fathers about the drag of fatherhood. If we’re, as writers with eyes for critical theory and personhood expression, seeing the gender binary as millions of colors, prepare for many conversations to return to a 6 color crayon box.
A woman’s body is commodity in ways we move beyond in poetry circles or in how we write and respond to gender: breasts constantly pumping, skin in flux. Then there are myriad harnesses to carry, to strap, to wrap, to bind skin to skin. On the other side, as a father, I’ve been to the grocery store perfectly happy, and the cashier will smirk at me—“stuck with baby duty, huh?” Another time, different store, a very earnest eye contact: “having a kid is wonderful, man. Be there for her. Be a father. Stick around.” Of course! Of course! But that option to opt out—it hovers, or wait, no, is buried, the way racism is buried. That of course nothing would take me willingly from my daughter, nothing ever. That my daughter really IS my life; despite hearing that phrase on shitty reality TV shows, that becomes immediately true the way fog rolling in and covering everything is true…but the option, that failsafe for fathers to bail and never return, is there.
Not being there as a father should be a bad PSA, the kind that make the very idea of doing the thing you’re not supposed to do a total joke.
There will never be a good time to have kids, and if you’re a poet, you get how irrational statements like “I’m going to do X at Y time” truly are. The “good time to have kids” is the “light at the end of the tunnel” you may experience as a poet chasing an award, a job, some form of critical and social validation—something that by virtue of being a poet responding in changing, personally filtered ways to a changing world absolutely cannot exist. There are only sequences of interlocking moments. You can set milestones for yourself, but there will never be a “good time.” You really ARE gonna love your kid. But there’s never going to be a good time to lose a shitload of sleep. There’s never going to be a good time to get feces and urine and drool all over yourself that didn’t just come from yourself. There’s never a good time to be to tired to go out with people you desperately miss seeing beyond 8 or 9 PM. This is the “we’re gonna have a good time then” song.
You can plan, decorate, wait for a book, a second book, a full-time job; every single one has pitfalls and spinning mirrors that reveal pathways. If I was adjunct, I’d have more time at home to nap and take care of baby! If I was full time, I’d have stable income! I love babies, but do I want one? I hate babies, but maybe that’ll change? If you feel like doing it, really feel it, do it. It’s not a whim thing. It’s a feeling like looking at something and thinking that thing is beautiful, sustained and stabilizing, despite the fact that life itself is shifting and temporary for us all.
Zone Holes: A Brief Introduction. I realized there was a population I wanted to talk about that I couldn’t quite name. Zombies are too pop culturally charged and too monstrous; robots are too sci-fi, and too much of a singular, logical consciousness; idiots, morons—way too needlessly mean.
Zone Hole refers to
-being “in the zone,” but perhaps stuck in a hole within it that keeps one from participating socially beyond oneself;
-if we are a collective “zone” to be “in,” these individuals have fallen through holes that keep them out;
-a corrupted version of “asshole” wherein individuals are victims/representative of greater circumstance rather than lone wolves to be frustrated by.
So what is a Zone Hole?
They are people who make comments like “SHE’S SO SMALL” or turn to each other and say things like, “IT’S A BABY” when you come into a restaurant or out of an elevator. Saying “she’s so small!” isn’t a question or comment—it’s a COMMESTION, a non-binding fact couched tonally as a question to get you to talk (my suspicion is that a lot of Zone Holes talk for the sake of talk, not because they even really care.) One Zone Hole once saw my wife and I bringing our kid into Trader Joe’s. It was cold out—she was bundled up and in her stroller—but the Zone Hole said aloud, “THAT POOR BABY.” I couldn’t let that one slide—“do you have something you’d like to say to us?” I asked her. “That poor baby. It is cold out,” the Zone Hole replied. The implication here is that babies should not go outside, and we were bad parents for bringing ours out—it defies logic, but Zone Holes are observing speakers, not logical, and eschewing some of the fundamentals of good ol’ humanity.
We are language people, and we know your comment is not a compliment but a fact. What do these people do? What do they do at home? How do they talk? Marauding observations made not-so-subtly to oneself feel sociopathic. Speak to, or don’t speak at all—extreme, poet parents, but think about other people and if what you’re doing is just creating a Zone Hole conflict before you do so. If you’re one of these people don’t ever talk to me. Don’t ever talk to anyone, for that matter. You’re not ready.
Even though finding time to write (or having a thought at all) may be difficult, the poetic world will challenge you like being an amnesiac space traveler on a strange new world.
Science fiction serials from the wildest minds couldn’t fathom the shadow nebula that overtakes the reality you once knew now that a kid has entered the picture: Netflix is not a way to watch TV shows, it’s a Captain’s log for your survival narrative. Your bed is now your dinner table. Bathrooms with changing tables are refuel safe havens. Candy Crush is the best fucking thing to happen to your brain since I don’t remember what was before Candy Crush. Baby voice will become the eye-rolling anthem you now lovingly understand, like the pledge of allegiance in school. Imaginary gardens w real toads = meaningless symbolic repetition with real emotional yield. You’re not going to hate baby voice. HE-LLO! A GOO GOO! It’s a way to relate. People are now broken into beast stratum: predatory are those who take steps backwards without looking, either on their phones or just plain oblivious. To parent as a poet is to be marooned on an unfamiliar planet with a complex ecosystem inhabited by a strange food chain you have to learn: new enemies, people who walk backward without looking. It’s a good idea to take notes on your phone from now on. You can kiss sitting and writing goodbye.
The surfaces of your home are now emblematic pollution narratives. Your surfaces that were once wood or plastic and that papers and drinking receptacles sat on are now lotions, diapers, wipes, cords for electronics you don’t remember, with coffee stained instruction manuals, plastic bags of screws, used tissues on plates covered in crumbs, is that jewelry or a loose screw shining back at me?, flashlights and hand sanitizer, small pants, pacifiers, bottles, deodorant; like the subconscious smooth-jazz of the way a door you’re used to using opens or the way a handle of a familiar kitchen tool feels in your hand, you’ll know quickly and profoundly the little shove of putting a mug of hot coffee or the square majority of a laptop on the far, dangerous edge of a surface once familiar.
You will see pictures of parents on Facebook with clean carpets, painted bedroom walls, sleek and shiny wooden cribs and changing tables; wirey owl adornments, babies that are somehow again and again in the 99.999999 percentile for their length and weight; minimalism. There’s this fucking giraffe everyone has for some reason—it’s a lie! Don’t waste your money!
These people and their giraffe loving baby are not you, and they likely might not be real. Everything can and will be doctored in a great conference of baby info sharing that’s more like a meet and greet with cardboard cutouts on strings swinging into one anothers’ handshakes.
You aren’t a loop or a circuit consciousness, but a broken tape recorder that can move forward but is often stuck. For some parents, it’s doula seeking, or tub births, or breast feeding; it’s unsolicited advice you’re going to get after you’ve had the baby, not just for months, but forever. This is the tape they know magnetically well. But you do this, too! You are this too, talking about sleep schedules, or how hair grows, or nicknames you think are cute (your coworkers don’t give a hole that you call your kids “grublet” or “horselet”).
You are now Sam Hsieh or Mick Foley when you sleep. Hsieh is a performance artist who woke himself up every 2 hours to punch in at a timeclock and take a picture. Foley is an iconic pro wrestler who allowed himself to take brutal “bumps,” real throws and spills that devastated his body as a scripted sports entertainer. What is real? Where does the body falter or be put at odds with art for arts’ sakes? And that leads to the toughest point: is child rearing art? Macro Art filled with micro art? And isn’t everything art?
“I’m sorry, is my child jarring your aesthetic experience?” or, the closest you’ll get to feeling like you’ve gone from 60’s hippy to stern Republican dad. Yes, having kids is a choice. But you cannot control the choices of others, and you have to share the earth with them even if you don’t want them associating with your brand. Yes, having a kid dramatically changes your life. Before I had a kid, I liked to say that “having a kid means your life is over, in a way.” That is a blissfully ignorant and privileged thing to say; it’s cute, like when you’re a kid and say you want to be a police man so you can stop the bad guys. Life doesn’t simply square with sitting around at home like pariah lepers. I will never again roll my eyes or scoff at a kid screaming in a restaurant, and it’s because I have true empathy now. I realize my views are cyclical: if a kid out in public is annoying you and you don’t feel like you can empathize, take it in stride, and remember that you, too, were once an annoying baby, then vent about it on the internet, and that’s what a lot of people do, that’s what I’m doing now. But understand that just because having kids is a choice does not mean that it excludes you from doing anything ever. The same argument could be made that going out at all is a kind of choice, or that comes with the risks of being bothered by sounds and images more displeasing than expected.
I don’t like hearing stuff about Millennials being self-involved and entitled. I think that’s oversimplified rhetoric from an unsympathetic generation making a lot of judgment calls. But a by-product of our fingertip immediacy world is that a lot of ages and types can’t bear a second of having their aesthetic experience jarred; no empathy, no good. Use babies around you as a way to sharpen your empathy.
Meeting parents, particularly older ones, is like a prairie, or a war. The prairie is actually one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems! So, so much is going on underground. A war produces, in all its shocking horror, bonds of humanity and stories that crystalize into canon quickly. See the people emerging from the prairie. Hear the personal war stories—your kid did this at this age? Get a load of this…People cool about your baby are gold deposits from the ruddy earth, supernova stars in our night sky–unforgettable finds. From long feces drives to screamy nights, these are your post-fallout bands of survivors rebuilding little worlds.
Baby poo doesn’t smell that bad—it smells mustardy or sweaty, but not like our shit. Baby pee smells like sourdough bread washed in warm water and left in sink basin. You wouldn’t believe the time you’ll spend looking willingly at guides to poop shape and color.