Lessons learned after eleven months of being a first-time dad

It’s actually funny, you know. It was just recently that I realized that the first 6 months were mostly about me trying to figure out this little alien who infiltrated our home, whereas the following 6 months were about myself figuring out stuff about myself. Like, point blank figuring out how much shit (pun intended) I could take, how little could I sleep, how long can I walk with my upper body parallel to the floor, and, most importantly, how long could I go into a weekend without brushing my teeth and taking a morning shower. Hint: way more than I anticipated.

Trying to take care of a hyperactive 11-month old is literally like trying to tame a god damn dragon.

I came up with two jokes that I started scaring people with. They are jokes only because I tell them in a teasing manner, but they really represent the reality of a matter. Ready? Here it goes:

  • When you start a day at 5:30AM by changing the over-pooped diaper, there’s really a little that can put you off balance for the rest of the day.
  • Short horror story: “Picture this: you abruptly wake up, change the pooped-up diaper, play for an hour and a half, spend 20mins putting little one to sleep and you realize it’s 7AM. And it’s Sunday. Happy parenting!”

You’d think I made those up, but no, I did not. They actually are as real as this text is! I kid you not.

Anyway, let’s jump on to some of the lessons learned.

Shit gets real

And I’m not even kidding. The shit, or shall I say – the poop, really DOES get real. Around 6mo or so they start switching to solids and one of the beauties of solid food is that you don’t get that many bottles to wash and that poop becomes actual grown-up-like shit. Like, you know that thing that you are used to seeing float in the toilet (or if you’re German – seeing it ass-bath on a stepway before drowning it in the eternal waters of poop)? Yeah, that shit (pun intended) now ends up in front of your nose. Multiple times a day (two if you’re lucky). Hell, if you get especially lucky, you end up with shit all over their pants, sometimes over your couch and sometimes in some places you’d never expect to find the poop in (or on). It’s funny!

I find this amusing because I remember being ‘disgusted’ by the baby-poo, while my wife used to say “wait until it becomes an actual shit”. I think my mind just wasn’t able to process what that really means; until it happened. And let me tell you – IT FREAKIN’ SUCKS.

What’s even more amusing, and you learn this as they figure out they can roll and jump around, is once they start refusing to get their pooped-diaper changed. Like imagine unwrapping the diaper, being horrified of what’s inside and right at that moment, that little poop-machine decides it’s a cool idea to smash his leg into that poo and then roll around and try to get up. He he he.

But enough of this shit (pun intended, again). There are other things to talk about as well.

Sleep becomes a vague memory

If you followed my previous articles (lessons learned after seven days, fourteen days, thirty days and five months), you’d have seen me ranting around the fact that our little guy just refuses to sleep, which eventually resulted in a horrific 4-month sleep regression where we became literal walking deads. And now that I think of it, I could totally see the Walking Dead TV show casting bunch of sleep-exhausted parents to play the role of zombies. It’d just take a bit of make-up, but the rest doesn’t even have to be acted.

We kind of solved this sleep issue by moving our little guy from the crib into a bed with us. And that actually did help because we didn’t have to jump up and take him away every time he’d jump up from his sleep. Now he wakes up but given that he’s next to us, my wife perfected a technique of rocking him back to sleep within minutes.

Here’s what’s scary, though. You know how everybody tells you that kids don’t sleep for up to 3 months, but then they eventually start sleeping through the night? So you mentally prepare for 3 months of sleep deprivation, hoping that once it passes, you’ll get some 8 hours of sleep because, you know, babies sleep for 12 hours per night. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Here’s the harsh truth – once you realize that you’re at month 7-8-9, and then start whining to other parents, you actually start hearing about the reality. “He he, our little one hasn’t slept for 3 years”. “Oh yeah, I had two kids and haven’t slept for 4 years straight”. “Yeah, our little baby didn’t sleep through the night until she was year and a half”. I shit you not but I’m pretty sure I heard of a case where kid didn’t sleep until they were SEVEN. Fuck me.

WTF? Like, really, WTF? Where did all this come from? Didn’t everyone claim that first three months are shittiest but then they start sleeping? Ha ha! The shit just became real (again).

The best we could get right now is having our little guy go to bed around 7:30PM, then sleep for 2.5h straight (which is perfect as we get some mommy and daddy time) and then he’d wake up, have to be shushed to sleep and then wake-ups repeat every 45′ – 2h. And let me tell you – THAT SUCKS. Sure, we (or rather – my wife) perfected this technique of shushing him back while being half-asleep, but it still sucks that you get woken up every couple of hours. And yes, we DID try forcing him to skip afternoon nap, and yes we tried pushing his bed-time, but it all ends up in even more crap – he wakes up at same time (between 5:30 and 6AM) and just gets more cranky.

Fun fact: I actually have an image of my last proper sleep:

Last proper sleep – March 2022

Separation-anxiety starts kicking in

This is one of the things I had no clue about. But now that I look back, I do remember my best man’s son screaming his lungs out every time he leaves the room. God forbid if he walked out the door. Yeah, that’s separation anxiety.

At some point, and I can’t really pinpoint it but I’d argue somewhere around 7 or 8 months, they start developing this separation anxiety which pretty much manifests in them crying their soul out whenever you leave their sight. It’s a phase and it obviously passes, but it can be heart-wrenching some time. Hell, I remember some mornings when I’d have to leave for work and our little guy would start raining his tears. Now this is really shitty because on one hand all your instincts tell you to go back, hug them and just stay home forever, but on the other hand you actually have to go to work; or shop. It’s really a mixture of really sweet thing (you see them being attached to you) and quite a painful one (sometimes you really just want to go and take a shit and that’s not quite possible because they’ll scream like you’re about to go for a 30-years long search for cigarettes).

Vacations become “parenting from another location”

Yeah. I used to think it’s just those nutjob parents who don’t want to take care of their kids, who gather around and whine how it’s not really a vacation and bla bla bla. Well, either I became one of them, or they were right. And I think it’s latter.

We went for two “vacations” so far – one was in Greece when he was around 5mo old and honestly that was as hellish as it gets (but that’s really a separate story I guess) and another was to a nearby mountain which is 2 hours away from our home. The former one was just a bad idea plus it came in the middle of the whole sleep regression chaos, which just made it a bad experience, so to say. The latter one was more of an actual “vacation with a kid” and that’s what I’d like to discuss.

Frankly, if you actually do set your expectations right, it’s not that bad. It’s just different than to what you were likely used to (for us it was going for active vacation filled with hikes and all kinds of exploratory activities). Traveling with a small kid (10.5mo in our case) is all about spending most of your time with them. And it’s really about THEM and what THEY want. And you have to align most of the activities to how they are feeling and whether they need to sleep or not. For example – you can’t just “go fo a hike”, but you rather have to take into account whether they ate, shat and slept, whether they’re cranky or not, when do you actually have to go back, what do you need to take with you, etc. It’s obviously possible and doable, but it just requires tons more logistics then just putting your pants on, taking your backpack with bottle of water and leaving through the door.

Our last vacation we went with my best man and his two kids (4yo and 5mo), and another best friend of ours and it was actually way better than I anticipated. Sure it’s like a party that starts at 5AM and runs until 10PM, without a “PAUSE” switch, but it was actually interesting. And yes, more importantly, I’d do it again for sure πŸ™‚

There’s no “me” time

Well technically, you do get up to 3hours per day (if you sacrifice some sleep), but then it boils down to how you are going to spend them. You could play video games, socialize, get drunk, etc. But those hourse you lose won’t get back and if you’re trying to maintain any hobbies or do any additional learning, the choice is quite obvious – you either sacrifice fun and social life or you sacrifice hobbies and learning. For me the choice became obvious – I’d become so exhausted by 7PM (remember that I have to wake up around 5AM +- 30mins?) that just a sheer thought of going out for a beer is simply overwhelming. 8PM come and I can’t even talk properly! So I opted for BitesizedEngineering and preparing Conference talks.

Speaking of conferences, one thing that I just found amusing was that every time I’d travel, I’d spend 99% of the time in the Hotel room. I kid you not. 99%. I’d say it’s 100% of the the time but I usually have to go fetch some food which accounts for 1%. Well, I obviously have to go on stage as well, but that’s like what … 0.1% of the total time spent traveling πŸ™‚

If you’re wondering “why”, the answer is simple — sometimes you really miss the god damn silence. That’s it.

Don’t get used to anything

I mentioned this before but I’ll say it again because I keep forgetting – DO NOT GET USED TO ANYTHING. ANYTHING! Because the moment you get used to it, they will change the behavior! Hell you don’t even realize you got used to having them in bed by 7PM. You only realize once they CHANGE the pattern and decide that 7PM is a great time to shit on the bed.

From my research, the actual predictable and long-lasting patterns start emerging once they are 2-3 years old. Until then – just expect the unexpected and enjoy the good things while they last!

You learn to live under pressure

Somebody once said that taking care of a young kid is like having the most rigorous boss in the world. They require your non-stop attention, they never take NO for an answer and they don’t care whether you’re tired, hungry, pissed or just want to take a shit. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen on their watch.

Here’s a funny anectode – my wife went for a lunch with her colleagues. I know, crazy woman, right? Thinking leaving your kid is a good idea, eh? I’m kidding of course; and I digress. Anyway, they order the food and my wife literally starts SHOVELING it into her mouth. Like point blank finishing the meal within 2 minutes of arrival. Her colleagues, puzzled from what they witnessed, asked her – what’s happening? Why are you eating like a monster? To which she replies – “well damn. I just got used to having to eat within 1min or else my son will ensure I don’t get to finish that meal”.

As amusing that story sounds – it’s true. Long showers? Haha. Enjoying your meals? Ha ha. Taking a long dump while reading to Stephen King’s scene of Jack Torrance swinging that huge mallet en route to kill everyone around him? Ain’t gonna happen bro!

This came as a cold shower to me. Or shall I say – a bitch slap. I was famous for taking long baths and long time to enjoy each and every bite. Hell I usually liked to say that enjoying your food is like enjoying the sex – you want to live every moment of it. Well, it was a huge shocker to forcefully take that shit away from me. But just like with everything – you get used to it. These days I can literally swallow the whole meal in three bites. Literally. Some people would still be prepping up to actually start eating and I’d be done and ready for next round.

There’s a big pro to this – you learn to actually DO stuff extremely fast and efficient. Time to actually THINK through and measure thrice doesn’t work any more. You literally learn to live like building a startup – in short and efficient iterations. But it works out nicely!

You become way more effective

This is one of the things I’d never imagined would have happened. I also do see it as a HUGE Pro.

The thing is – having a kid leaves you with, virtually, minutes of free time. Two hours per day if you’re REALLY lucky and if your partner is having a good day. And here’s a kicker – I KNOW FOR A FACT that I have an average of hour per day, which means that the moment my little guy and wife go to sleep, I don’t even THINK about whether starting something or not. I just momentarily go and do it.

I point blank became aware that I do not have time fart around. Every moment that I fart through is a lost opportunity that I won’t have until the day after.

Sure, I didn’t achieve much, but here are some modest things that I did manage to do so far:

  1. Start & actively maintain BitesizedEngineering Substack (so far I invested over 250 hours in it!)
  2. Land my dream job as Senior Engineer in Microsoft (or, as I usually like to joke – Senior Bits Wrangler)
  3. Talk at 15+ conferences and visit Berlin (multiple times!), Munich, Romania, almost SF and Montreal (f*ck you delayed Visa issues!). I also gave talks at WeAreDevelopers 2022 and Data Science Europe 2022, which were two of the biggest conferences I ever spoke at!

Again, it’s not much but it’s a damn honest work. Coupled with the fact that I virtually have no free time at all, these WERE some big things for me. So yeah, my point being – getting a kid increased my productivity and effectiveness tenfold.

Oh and did I mention that 8 hours that I can afford to spend in the office now become ACTUAL 8 hours of work? Because ANY moment that I waste means that I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to make up for it. And that freaking sucks for someone who gets obsessed over the stuff they are working on! I mean, sure, I could stay for 10 hours in the office and fart-around for 5 of those, but the problem is that every hour I spend in office is an hour lost with my kid. And I don’t want to waste any time NOT being with him.

Their head starts bending time & space

I’m not even kidding. One moment you’re sitting with them and they’re playing peacefully and literally the moment you BLINK they are on the opposite side of the room projectiling their head towards the most sharp object that they could find.

I just see no other explanation to this phenomenon. I shit you not – this is simply breaking all laws of physics. Their head seems to be a magnet that constantly gets pulled by sharp objects only, and the speed at which they travel toward the object is not only relative to the observer but is actually FASTER than speed of light. I mean – how else would you explain it?

Love for these little creatures is surreal

To be perfectly honest, I’d never seen myself as a super-emotional person. I always felt more of a “doer” and “committer”. Sure, I’d be 100% committed to this little kid and ensure all of his needs are met and all, but I just assumed my emotional aparatus is a bit broken, so to say.

Holy mother of fucks is the proper reply to that πŸ™‚ I used to laugh at the whole idea of “love for your kids being surreal”, but fuck me, it actually IS surreal. I mean yeah, I had my fair share of meltdowns, screams, FUCK YOUs, “I want to leave this shit”‘s, etc. But on the other hand, there was ONE NIGHT, and I kid you not, ONE NIGHT in 11 months when I actually came to home past 8PM due to some Virtual Conference in another time-zone. One night when I didn’t get to see my little guy and do our regular daddy’s-home ritual. One night when I saw him only in the morning and wouldn’t see him until the morning after. In all honesty, it almost made me cry. I kid you not. I was so broken down by the fact that I didn’t even get to kiss my little guy, that I almost wept.

You might argue that I traveled a lot and how the hell did that NOT make me weep bla bla. It’s different honestly. If I’m away then I ensure that I do have multiple video calls with him throughout the day. And I also emotionally prepare myself so it kind of makes it easier. But I never stayed away for more than 3 days in a row! I’d usually travel in the afternoon/evening, do the conference talk(s), and travel back the day after.

Seeing them figure things out is absolutely insane

I’ll be honest. First 3-4 months are pure shit. You get a screaming non-interactive bag of poo and you have to live with it like a prisoner for the next months. It’s boring and it sucks. Then they start noticing you, smiling, spitting, blabbing, holding your finger, doing all kinds of stupid crap and that becomes funnier.

But at some 7-8 months you actually start seeing a real person. A damn human being sitting with you right there. Human being who, even though they can’t say it yet, really DOES KNOW what they want (and don’t want), human being who really actually LOVES you, human being who HUGS you because they missed you, … and the list obviously goes on and on. They start using their hands to do stuff, they start throwing things around, they start properly playing and entertaining themselves and, most funny of all to me at least is they start having their favorite bits in cartoons πŸ˜€

There’s this episode of Peppa Pig where momma pig is washing a salad and I absolutely have no clue what it is but our little guy cracks up every single time he sees this scene. At first we thought it was accidental, but then we figured there really is something that makes him laugh his ass off. And it’s absolutely amazing to watch! Little human being with his favorite cartoon bits!

Bedroom Camera is life-saver

This is an important one. I have no clue why we waited for so long to get one, but trust me – this is a COMPLETE game changer. We bought a “normal” one that has it’s own receiver and doesn’t use WiFi. It costed us around 150 euro (around 160 bucks) so it’s definitely a mid-range priced one, but it’s one of the best things we ever got.

You put them to bed, turn the camera on and you can observe them rolling around minutes before they actually fully wake-up. Absolute must-have if you ask me!

TV Remote Control is your best friend

No matter how many toys you purchase (hint: they are honestly useless anyway), TV remote will be the number one toy.

Now you’d think they’re not so sharp so you could bribe them with a toy remote or a broken one, right? Ha ha, my dear reader, ha ha … ha! No! They KNOW. They fucking KNOW which remote is the REAL remote. The one that you use for your living room TV. Additional bonus that you get is that you will discover some menus and learn some languages you’d never have dreamed of, because these little fellas are like the best QAs out there. They test EVERY and I mean EVERY single entry and sub-entry.

Oh and you know that perfect 90” TV you purchased to watch your favorite TV show? Yeah, right, forget that. That’s the cartoon-playing medium.

P.S. As I’m finising this sentence, I’m literally, and I’m not even kidding, looking at my Air Condition that says “ON” on it’s display but it’s lid is closed and there’s no heat nor cold coming out of it. Yeah, my son figured out how to abuse that one as well.

Stand-up comics are the best educators

You might laugh (pun intended, again) but I’m not kidding at all. If you’re not having kids yet and you watch any stand-up comic talk about having kids, you’d probably laugh your ass off. Ha ha. That funny dude. If, on the other hand, you have kid(s) at home – you actually laugh because it hurts! It hurts because they are right. Every sentence is so true that it makes you crack your ass laughing! You’re not alone! There’s more of us! It gets better, I agree, but it’s a wild-ride!

Things that I miss from previous life

As I was writing these thoughts, I just figured it’d be interesting to try and think which things do I miss the most from my past life. Hell, it’s been a year and usually “end of year” is when you do these introspections and look-backs. So, what do I miss the most from pre-kid days:

  1. Reading — I wasn’t an avid reader up until couple of years ago (I wrote a rather popular article called “How I learned to Read and read 30 books in a year“) but then I literally converted into a reading machine. I just figured that blog posts and all that shit is cool to give you an idea, but if you REALLY want to get ACTUAL long-lasting benefits – you HAVE TO read. Books. Period.

    Well, since I got a kid, I didn’t get much time to read. As I wrote above – you have very limited time and you have to choose how you spend it. And I chose to spend it by creating content. I still read but at VERY slow pace. To give you an idea – I started (re)reading The Shining some five months ago, and I’m only at like 80%. For comparison – last time I read it in 3 days or so πŸ™‚
  2. Traveling — my wife and I were big time into traveling. But not your typical 10 days in Egypt resort kind of travel, but rather a full-blown let’s get crazy and spend every single minute hiking or visiting something. I wrote an article about Active Vacations as well.

    Yeah, that’s one of the things I really miss now. I mean, sure, traveling with kid is an active vacation on its own, but your schedule is determined by this little bossy alien and you don’t really get to get lost in woods or climb the top of Crete mountain just because. Yeah. No.
  3. Sleep — suffice to say it, right? I was quite pedantic about my sleeping patterns and I always aimed at getting 6 – 8 hours of solid sleep. Go to bed around 10:30PM, wake up around 6:30AM. Brush, shower, shit, gym, solve some leetcode and off to work. Now that I think back I’m sorry that I didn’t sleep more when I could have πŸ™‚

Being dad is actually fucking awesome!

Don’t get fooled by the fact that most of the things I listed are a bit frustrating. They are, but that’s not the point. The point is that I’m writing all these things because I want you to be prepared. Because if you’re PREPARED, then you won’t be SURPRISED and in turn are more likely to enjoy this period!

The thing is, parents with older kids are likely to laugh. Laugh to all I wrote. Like – he he, yeah, I remember that fucked up period when I thought my back is gonna break and my brain is gonna leak through my asshole next time I fart. Because, you know, from all the lack of sleep your brain becomes a soup. Parents with younger kids might get scared, but at least they’ll be prepped up! And folks who are yet to embark on the “let’s do the sex thing the way mother nature wanted us to do it” journey will probably run away from this as if it was a plague. That’s OK! If you’re one of the people who still gets to do the sex thing – at least bookmark this shit; you’ll need it πŸ™‚

My point is – being dad is absolutely fucking awesome. Yes there is 1001 frustration and there I can’t even count the number of times I thought about leaving to get a pack of cigarettes (I don’t smoke btw) never to return. But then a sheer thought of not getting to see the laugh of this little messenger of devil literally brings me to actual tears. I’m not even kidding! I actually entertained the possibility of getting the fuck out (and my wife is very well aware of it; kudos to her for surviving this phase of mine!) but then I stopped and just thought of how it’d look like if I came home and didn’t see my wife and this little dude. How it’d look like not seeing his happy face when he sees me enter the door. How it’d look like to spend a week without my family. That shit LITERALLY made me weep. And I’m not a weeper!

As you could imagine, I read about this A LOT. And what I learned is that golden period for dads is sometime between 1.5 and 6 years old. Because that’s the period when they start walking (so that you don’t have to bend any more) and they usually are able to tell you WTF they actually want. And yeah, you eventually get them out of diapers so shit becomes more manageable. So this is the period when they are actual little manageable human beings who are old enough to know where the poop goes (hint: it’s IN THE WATER, not in the step between water and asshole, you German nutjobs!) and young enough not to want to go have drugs and lots of unprotected sex. And you can actually TRAVEL with them. And do hobbies. And go hiking!

First year is a test; they say. A test of personality, relationship and bad-assness. But on the other hand, going through this test makes you so fucking resilient that there’s not a single damn thing that can get you off the balance!

So yeah, being dad is fucking awesome and I highly recommend it! Go have sex!


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