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

Photo by Gabriel Valdez on Unsplash

If you need a brief summary of how the last six months felt, it’s best described by the fact that I went from “I want to have my balls cut off with a cold steel in order to prevent the risk of impregnating my hot wife ever again” all the way to “I actually want to have FOUR kids because two seems boring, three seems satisfiable, but four seems like THE number”. Yep. Seriously. For sixteen months I’ve whined and hated. For sixteen months I pondered why in the world would anyone sane enough want to go through the same shit of raising a baby. Like, seriously, WHY? Well, seems like I had no idea how cool it becomes once they outgrow the baby years.

Last time I mentioned that the first six months seemed to be all about myself figuring out things about this new human being who we brought into the world, while the following six months were mostly about myself figuring out how much shit I could take. From the current POV, I can wholeheartedly say now that the first 12 months are, honestly, just pure crap. And I really do hate them now in retrospect.

Something changed around month thirteen. I can’t really pinpoint what exactly, but something really changed. It changed because even though I was really dedicated during the first 12 months, I honestly have to say that I felt like a prisoner serving a prison sentence. I just did what needs to be done and I enjoyed some nice moments. But it was hard. Hell, not hard, it was absolutely horrific honestly. Lack of sleep, break of back, constant need to amuse our little guy who just plain refused to sleep or nap … yuck.

However, around month thirteen, something changed. I think it coincided with him starting to walk on his own, starting to actually play on his own and the best of all – starting to give genuine kisses to mommy and daddy πŸ™‚

Anyway, let’s talk about the various interesting things that happened.

From “no sleep” to “wants to sleep”

If you read my previous articles, you’d soon learn that our little guy was a kind of baby that NEVER wanted to sleep. Never. Not in the crib, not in the stroller, not in the car, … And not only he would never sleep and would nap for 20mins at the time, if even that, but he HATED the stroller. And car seat. He HATED them. And now in retrospect I can understand why – he always wanted to be on the move and do stuff, but it took “just” fifteen months or so to figure that out, lol.

As one of my colleagues once said – nobody understands the pain of a parent whose kid never wants to sleep, except those who go through the same.

Before you start arguing “well did you try X, Y and Z”, just stop. Yes, we did. We tried everything. Well, everything except sleep training. That’s one thing we couldn’t get ourselves to do and, in retrospect I’m glad we decided against it. We tried the rituals, as in doing the same bed-time ritual every single time. We tried with the music. We tried with completely darkened room. We tried with all kinds of noises. We even tried exhausting the hell out of him and not letting him take much of the naps. Nothing worked; except co-sleeping. This helped just a tiny bit so that we can shush him back to sleep without getting out of bed.

Funny thing about sleep deprivation is that, at one point, it actually becomes your normal state. As in you just get used to being exhausted and functioning with your brain at 10%. You don’t even think about it any more. To make things worse, getting a night of sleep would make it even worse – you feel even shittier if you get, say, 6 hours of sleep. Yuck!

However, all of a sudden it changed. I can’t really say how or when, but it just changed. It came with a confusion at first. My wife and I were totally used to spending good 30-40mins getting him down to sleep and trying to get him back to bed, because he’d keep getting up and trying to run away. And then, at first, he just stopped resisting and would just, you know, lie in bed. I know how crazy that might sound and if you never had a shitty sleeper you probably won’t understand it. But yeah, it started with him not resisting to sleep. He’d just lie in bed until he fell asleep. Ha. We took it with caution, as always.

Then he started showing us signals that he’s sleepy. Again, a complete shocker because for like 15 months or so he’d just plain refuse to give a signal even though it was more than obvious that his eyes are all red. He started putting his head on our laps, or he’d start lying on couch. Again, a complete shocker, because this was just NOT the kind of thing this little guy was doing. We thought he was getting down with a fever or something, as there was no other explanation.

Next, the time needed to put him down to sleep went from 30+ to 5-10mins. We even witnessed situations where he’d literally go to sleep the moment we put him to bed. WOW. Like, HOLY FUCK. Like, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK JUST HAPPENED? That can’t be real, right?!

Finally, around month seventeen, he would literally take our hand and lead us to bedroom. And this, my dear reader, is as FUCKING AWESOME as it gets.

Now before you argue “well it’s just year and some months really” – no. Fuck you, seriously. Just no. It’s not year and a bit but literally 31,536,000 seconds. Yeah. Go down and do a plank for “5 minutes only” and see what I’m talking about.

Good news is – it does get better, indeed. But it’s one hell of a journey to get there.

Starting to walk is a game changer

In all honesty, I really think I developed a TRUE love for this little guy once he started walking on his own. And I’m not even kidding. Going from having to break my back all day and night (and doubly so for my petite wife) to not having to carry him everywhere is the closest thing to blessing that you could ever get to. It’s magical.

This is funny though because most people HATE it when their kids start walking, because that means that there’s no more stroller and they have to run around and what not. I get it. It’s painful, if your baby wanted to be in the stroller in the first place. But ours didn’t. Our guy HATED the stroller and would whine all the time, resulting in us having to carry him around. So, the moment he figured out he can walk, and the moment the excruciating pain in my back went away, I became a new person. Reborn in a sense. It was a blessing.

Plus, it becomes way more fun once you see them running around. Because that’s what our little guy is doing all the time – he’s running. I never saw him walk, as he’s ALWAYS running. And he loves it!

Our favorite activity these days is watching him run for pigeons. My wife observed him once chasing pigeons for 40 minutes straight πŸ˜€ He loves it! And it’s quite an amusement for everyone around, because he’s just super-cute while doing it.

They start giving real kisses

This one I didn’t really anticipate and it came like a real gift. One day my wife jokingly said – go give dad a kiss and this little guy comes running towards myself and gives me a full-blown kiss on the cheek! Talk about being a proud dad πŸ˜€

Frankly, it’s not just kisses. He also started giving actual hugs and cuddles and overall emotional experience just went through the roof!

They become way more fun

Seriously. They do. You go from having to drag around a bag of poo who has no clue what they want, all the way to having a little human being who, even though they can’t say it clearly, definitely does know what they want.

Traveling becomes a bit less stressful

If you read my previous article, you’d have noticed that it was, without a doubt, one of my worst vacations ever. Hell, I scratch that. It doesn’t even deserve to be called vacation, but rather an 8-hour trip that turned into 16-hours over two days … And we did it in the middle of his sleep regression, so we virtually got ZERO sleep during those 7-days or whatever the hell it was that we spent there. It was a nightmare honestly.

Sure, there were some bright moments, like seeing him in water, etc. but hell, … I mean, honestly – it sucked BIG TIME.

We did another “vacation” around the time he was 13 months or so, which is exactly when he was starting to walk. Now that trip was far better than the previous one (at least we got SOME sleep), but it was painful in its own regard – the period when they are starting to walk is really shitty because you spend most of the time bent over, trying to help them walk. It’s cure for a bit and then it becomes painful.

Finally, we did last vacation when he was seventeen months old (almost year and a half) and we did it in EXACT place that I promised myself never again to go to — 5-star all-inclusive resort in Turkey. Mind you, the reason why I never wanted to go to those resorts again is because they take away ANY decision from you — everything’s inside the hotel. Food, pool, beach, towels, … There’s ZERO action and all you do is pretty much lay around all day and do NOTHING.

Well, my dear reader, let me tell you — this is, by far, the absolute best thing you can do for yourself; possibly for your kid as well. We did 10 days in Turkey, all-inclusive, plus I paid some extra for a big balcony. In retrospect, I’d do it all again in a hindsight.

During the first couple of days, I actually hated it. Our little guy wanted to see EVERYTHING and he was running EVERYWHERE, all the time. It’s fun to watch, but not so fun when you have to chase him around at 40+ degrees celsius (100+ Fahrenheit). But then something clicked. I have no clue why, but I just observed parents who have like three, four and even five kids, and they were visibly exhausted.They were exhausted but apparently they still decided to have that many kids. And that made me wonder.

Why would anyone sane do this to themselves? Burden oneself with tons of diapers, formulas, bottles, toddler-years and sleepless nights … I mean, why? Is it the Stockholm syndrome or what? It just makes NO sense. Me? I was done baby. Observing that indeed it DOES get better and easier, I figured that it can’t get any worse from here and it can only get better and funnier. I was DONE with more kids and I planned to fully commit to this little guy and enjoy every single moment with him until he grows enough to tell me to fuck off.

But something clicked. I can’t really tell you why; or what. But something clicked. And I think it clicked at the time when I was having an episode where I wanted to rip my hair off watching my little guy remove his diaper, throw it away, only to start pissing on the floor of the hotel room. I watched him and wondered why the fuck does this kid do this? Why is he forcefully trying to piss as much as possible on the damn floor? Is it behavioral issues or what? Maybe he needs therapy as well?

What my uber-hot petite wife (yeah, I was looking forward to saying that!) said at that moment is what made all the difference. “Can’t you see that he’s amazed by it? He’s amazed of the fact that something is flowing out of his penis and he’s curious about it and wants to see more of it. He’s not trying to piss you off, but he’s rather just enjoying himself and learning about stuff”. I can’t really explain why. It’s either the fact that I never was exposed to little kids, or that I most likely have mild case of autism that I never cared enough to go and check, but something just clicked. Some brain cells in my brain were like – “yeah, brothers and sisters, it’s time we unite”. And they did – they united and a connection was made in my brain — this is what kids do! And they do it because they are curious! And I’m actually the one who wrote about it years ago.

That moment is when I started enjoying that vacation so damn much that I’m actually shameful to admit it. Everything changed. Everything made sense. I started to love it. I started to love running around, being under blazing-hot sun, watching my little guy run away from the waves, seeing him try to piss in every place he could reach in those precious seconds between myself noticing he removed the diaper and myself putting it back on … It sounds completely insane and I agree – it is. But that’s how it was, I swear!

Since then, I absolutely enjoyed every single day of that vacation and, in contrast to past “vacations”, I absolutely LOVED this one and am absolutely looking forward to another trip that we are about to make rather soon (my wife really wants to get lost in Istanbul! :)). Oh, and did I mention that I actually decided that I want to have MORE kids? And not just one more, but now I’m actually entertaining the idea of having FOUR of them πŸ™‚

Bonus: It strengthens the relationship

It’s actually weird, and I most certainly didn’t expect it. But it’s a fact. At least at this moment it is. This whole rollercoaster really strengthened the relationship with my wife, to the point that I really feel like we became ONE.

Before you get all excited, let me warn you – the first year or so will likely try to rip you apart. And it almost did with us. First few months, and especially around 6 months onward, it really puts a whole new level of burden and challenges over the two of you. It’s not a secret that our relationship almost fell a part on dozen occasions and I even came to a point where I kept my luggage packed, just in case that I decide to leave. It’s really hard.

What’s also true is that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. By trying to overcome every possible challenge along the way, and let me repeat – it was anything but easy and I had at least three or four full-blown meltdowns, but if you do manage to overcome it, I really do think that relationship becomes way stronger. You become a team. And you eventually start loving it!

What’s next?

Hell if I know! πŸ™‚ Some of the things that we are looking forward to are:

  • Potty-training and hopefully not having to look at his monster poo multiple times a day
  • Starting kindergarten
  • More traveling (we did four destinations so far — Divcibare (mountain in Serbia), Budapest, Antalya/Side (Turkey) and Istanbul)
  • Getting him out of my damn bed πŸ™‚

I’ll let you know how that works out!

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