My one-year-old son Liam and I have rough-housed since he was an infant, so it was no surprise that recently when he got angry with me for thwarting his plan to pour milk into my computer, he hauled off and slapped me across the face. It felt like that episode of Chappelle’s Show when Rick James showed Charlie Murphy what the five fingers said to the face. It was a complete shock and the only thing I could think of was that this little dude must think he’s Tupac.
Discipline was swift. No Thomas the Train, Wiggles or games on the iPad for the rest of the day. As we both sat in the living room in silence, I started to think about how strong his slaps had gotten and how much my life had changed since becoming a stay-at-home dad.
For one, I was a hardcore sneaker addict with close to 200 pairs and counting. Most of them were either limited edition runs or exclusive releases from overseas. I meticulously kept them in near mint condition, attempting to break the law of gravity when I wore them.
My gadget game was impeccable as well, upgrades galore on stuff that would make an Idris Elba James Bond scream like Flavor Flav if he saw them. Video games were never a problem either. I had every system with a library of the hottest titles. It was a young man’s American dream so the day Liam arrived, I had no idea what the adjustment process would be.
One of the first lessons learned was that babies have a gift of identifying the most expensive and/or fragile items in their surroundings. If you think military drones are no joke, put a baby in a room full of pillows and a $900 tablet. You’ll find out how quickly a screen can crack with the pillows untouched. My son still points to my expensive paperweight and laughs, mocking my parental naivete.
My sneaker collection has become a hiding place for half-eaten food and a lot of my video game covers have been turned into confetti, but as the adult in the situation, all you can do is create a pile of destroyed possessions in a closet, walk your punk ass to the refrigerator and make a bottle. Meanwhile Doc McStuffins leads your kid in a victory celebration..
Not flipping out in these situations is the most difficult task by far. Yelling achieves nothing but making you both upset. The baby is now crying because you’ve just scared his lunch into his diaper and you feel like you should be wearing a Ferguson, Missouri police badge. It’s a lose-lose outcome either way it’s sliced. The best bet is to pause, take a few deep breaths and imagine the feeling of handing that little gremlin a bill once they graduate from college. It works for me everytime.
Gaining the knowledge that nothing is off-limits to a curious child meant slowing down on the pricey stuff, putting most of my prized possessions out of reach and getting creative with more disposable objects. A cheap TV remote from Radio Shack that lights up is a winner and so is an old cellphone you had laying around.
If you really want to entertain a baby on the cheap, give them an empty, size-appropriate cardboard box or empty plastic water bottle (minus the cap). It’s surprising how long a baby will knock around and bang on those things. Once they’re worn out, in the trash they go and when a roll of paper towels or toilet paper is done, just sit it down right where they can see it and don’t say a word. Their passion for mischief will handle the rest.
Larry Hester is a Brooklyn-born writer who’s written for Vibe, BET.com, The Source, Complex and more. He now resides in Newark, New Jersey with his wife and son. He welcomes any parenting advice or encouragement. Check him out on Facebook and Twitter @almostcooldad.