The most important survival skill I've learned during my 11 years as a midlife dad is that a sense of humor is truly the best medicine. The ability to laugh when my automatic reflexes urge me to scream or cry or hide or run away to Las Vegas helps me stay relatively sane as I stumble along the unmarked booby-trapped paths of parenthood.
I learned the saving grace of mirth through the birth of our son.
The week before our bouncing baby boy was born, I was a carefree expectant dad driving leisurely around town looking for a restaurant we'd heard was simply fabulous. Two days after he arrived, I was again driving around, this time through strange neighborhoods, in a rush and near panic trying to find the home of a woman who rented industrial-strength breast pumps.
Yes, that's right, industrial-strength breast pumps. My darling wife would not countenance regular breast pumps, which I also knew absolutely nothing about, but as I understand it, are sold under-the-counter and out of normal human view in many drug stores... access being granted only after mumbling a password and confirming the secret handshake. No, my bride, the mother of my first baby, needed the industrial-strength model, which she was told by her lactation consultant, wouldn't break down.
Now, for you uninitiated out there, especially you childless men, breast pumps are not some device men's magazine models employ to pump up their cleavage or get their nipples erect before a racy photo shoot.
Simply put, a breast pump is a cow-milking machine for human women. They vacuum out a steady supply of breast milk for later bottle feeding.
It was a weekend, but there was no way this newly-minted dad would not succeed in getting food into his newborn son's mouth. After all, this was real life drama, eat or starve, live or die.
The industrial-strength breast pump lady operated out of her home, and I soon found myself sitting on a wet, sticky couch in her living room that had been completely overtaken by five or six screaming toddlers who jumped all over the furniture and flailed about like excited monkeys in a sinking banana barge.
What was she doing with so many kids the same age? I thought. Obviously, they were not all siblings. The environment sure didn't seem like a day care situation. Maybe, because she was the industrial-strength breast pump lady, she spent her days pumping prodigious amounts of breast milk and serving it to all the kids in the neighborhood. I'm glad she did not offer me something to drink.
I was given a quick, noisy, constantly interrupted course in the pump's operations, what tubes attach where, how it should be worn, what to expect. I couldn't fathom a word. It was worse than looking underneath the hood of a car. I wanted out of there as fast as possible, so I wrote the check and ran.
Back at home, I tried to play the hero bringing in the hard won prize, but my mother-in-law was staying with us for a couple weeks, and since her daughter had just gone through the real ordeal of delivering a child, I quickly realized that I really didn't have an audience willing to consider, let alone applaud, my Herculean efforts.
Somehow the women knew which suction cup went where, how the tubes attached to the device and the bottles, and the pump seemed to work, so they brusquely ushered me out of the inner sanctum. I was happy to leave them, knowing my son would now get his fair share of the super nutritious colostrum and breast milk.
However, this peace of mind was shattered an hour or so later when I walked past the child's room and saw the reality horror-show of my exhausted, passed-out wife snoring loudly while attached to this milking apparatus as it huffed and sucked meager spurts of life's elixir into two little half-filled plastic bottles.
I knew intellectually that women's breasts were designed for this natural purpose, of course, but the sight of this noisy, foreign apparatus mechanically sucking on my wife's breasts was so unexpected, so incongruous, that she might've been an abductee of aliens on a mission to extract Earthling female specimens before worm-holing back to their star system.
I stared as I might at a horrible car accident, aghast, then quickly turned away. My sense of reality shocked, I wandered down the hallway seeking something solid and real... the stained carpet, cracked drywall, dust hanging from the ceiling... anything ordinary upon which to focus my attention as my mind raced to erase the vision. I longed for the therapeutic trance of an old Russ Meyer film to regain my equilibrium.
Eureka! The prospect of crooked blackmail righted me. I shot a photo of this unforgettable scene.
Our son thrived on the receiving end of this modern mammary machinery. In fact, he received enough fluid intake to later pee a perfect arc into my ear during diapering.
You gotta laugh or you'll go nuts. I argue that one must develop a keen sense of humor to survive parenthood, and I truly believe that because I am a later-blooming midlife dad, I have a longer and richer perspective from which to draw the raw material required to perform the mental tricks that turn tragedy into comedy.