Photo: Son #1 on his first day on planet earth, wondering what just happened.
If you chopped life into three segments, this is how it would go.
The first 33.3% is basically a long period of knowledge acquisition. From Day One, questions arise. From the basics like, "How the hell do I feed myself, crawl, walk, tell Mum I'm tired?" to, "Why is the sky blue?", "Why do we have to go to school?", "When will I ever use algebra in 'real' life'?" Once school is done there may be more learning to come. An apprenticeship, Community College, University and some post-graduate work after that given the current crappy state of the job market. Heck, you may be a student until you're 30.
And then you hit the next 33.3%. The years of applying that "learning," unless you're like me with a liberal arts degree. So much interesting stuff learned, but not anything especially related to my current job of diaper executive. The learning ends and the application of that learning happens. In the middle of this 33.3% there is an inevitable mid-life crisis that often ushers in a new car, husband, wife and career.
And then we enter the final 33.3%. The declining years. From a life of work to a life of not-work. From living to not-living. The young bull of yesteryear is now tired on his legs and craving a nap every minute he can get.
The one element of our lives that bucks this trend is the experience of parenting. Because for me -- and most I am sure -- being a parent is an action verb rather than a passive state of being and after you start, it just keeps on keeping on. It is learning every day even if you are done learning. Becoming a parent for most coincides with that second 33.3% when the notebooks have been put away, the degree is on the wall and you regard yourself as an expert in something. But then with kids, we are back on a learner's permit, with no user manual and no notes to buy from the smartest kid in the class (Disclaimer: I never, ever did this. Promise).
For my wife Kim and I, we have raised our two boys (now 12 and 10) while starting our company, gDiapers. Thanks to our onsite day care, nearly all of our staff's kids grew up with our kids. And we all learned how to parent together. With new gTeamsters joining with newborns recently, it gave me a chance to reflect on what I learned as a new father 12 years ago and where I am now. You could fill "the Google" with all the big and little things you pick up over the years and how the complexities seem to match Moore's Law as the kids grow up. It makes a mockery of the breadth of learning that takes place at college really. Unlike my three-year Bachelor of Arts degree, the curriculum of parenting constantly changes. Once I figured out how to change a diaper and got pretty good at that, for example, it was on to the next thing and the next thing. This morning it was assessing a persuasive essay from my 10-year-old about his "need" for a phone. Kim and I are only 12 years in. Goodness knows what the future holds as the boys groan towards teenager-dom.
We relocated back to our hometown of Sydney, Australia four months ago. My 10 years away in the U.S. coincided with my career as a parent. Now I am back home as a parent for the first time and I am seeing my own Mum (who lives up the road) in a whole new light. She is a saint, pure and simple. What I put her through... deary me. She has 50 years of parenting under her belt and observed recently that the learning never ends.
Her kids are 50, 47 and 45 and for her, like all parents, there is something new in that experience that emerges every day of the week. Patience is tested, new challenges emerge, and old buttons are pushed. Do we react or respond? Can we just take a break from parenting and get back to it next week? Not really.
Right up until last week, I really convinced myself that once son number two had finished school, I was pretty much done as a parent. In 2022 I'd go back to my life as a 32-year-old, circa 2002. Buy back that 1964 EH Holden (the greatest Australian car ever built with the big red donk, three on the tree and bench seats), travel to places just Kim and I want to see and get back into the sports I enjoyed. But alas, my Mum reminded me that that was unlikely, if not totally unrealistic and particularly selfish. Parenting is a life-long pursuit. And that's a good thing. I was a bit of a mess at 32, really. And that EH Holden was never a great ride. And there's nothing stopping me from getting back into those old sports only now with the kids. Or they could get me into their sports (except skateboarding. Never skateboarding).
So, unlike most other learning, the experience of parenting is a long, never-ending arc of knowledge acquisition regardless of your appetite for learning.
The cycle repeats as your kids become parents and you can impart some wisdom on them as my Mum did for me last week. And that's pretty cool.