You Never Know Until Too Late And Sometimes Even Then



Have you ever noticed that nobody ever tells you what you need to know until it's too late? Like, nobody ever says be careful of that first step, until after you are already lying at the bottom of the staircase wondering why there has to be gravity. And nobody ever tells you just how hot the chili really is until all the water is gone and you have a big mouthful. And of course, nobody ever tells you about kids.

This all came into sharp focus last week. I was out in public for a few hours, something that doesn't happen very often when you have kids, so I try to take full advantage of it when it does. And because there was live music at this public outing, and because I used to be a musician, I went up to look at the equipment. I noticed right away that a lot has changed since I used to play. Things have gotten much more expensive, and there are a lot more of them. I hadn't been near that much delicate and pricey stuff since -- well, my oldest, T.L. Bear, is ten and a half, so it's been exactly ten and a half years.

I watched as one of the musicians came over to set up. He stacked five or six very expensive guitars against five or six very expensive amplifiers and began to lay out lots of small and very expensive little gizmos that nobody nowadays can play an instrument without; pedals and tuners, flange modifiers and phase removal systems, sonic edge filters, envelope shaping thrusters, anvil chorus simulators, echoplex redux compounders, and of course, an extra pick. He began to plug them in, turn their dials and connect them, and there were so many of them to play with that he would be half way through the third song before he realized he had forgotten to put strings on his guitars.

As I watched him set up, a woman carefully approached him. She was, at a conservative guess, 17 and a half months pregnant. The musician put down his Kriegel Wave Blender and kissed her tenderly. I was very moved, flooded by memories of a time long ago when I owned nice things. So when the woman left to find ice cream I approached the musician.

"Your first kid?" I asked him.

He smiled happily, which was all the answer I needed, and said, "Yes, that's right, how did you know?"

I nodded at the row of gleaming equipment. "There's no oatmeal on the guitars," I said. He said, "Ha-ha," and smiled, which was further proof that he didn't have any kids yet, because he thought I was kidding.

Ordinarily at this point, somebody with several children would have said, just wait, or words to that effect. And since I have tried to be ordinary my whole life -- without much success -- I said, "Just wait."

"Ha-ha," he said again. "I know what you're thinking."

"You couldn't possibly," I said, my head filled with pictures of what my kids would do with this kind of stuff. The phrases, "Pool Band" and "Guitar Golf" popped into my mind and that was just the start.

But this musician was still living in BC time -- Before Children and everything is different back then. We still think it's possible to have nice things, and a nice job, and our nice kids will treat everything nicely.

We think the kids will come and enrich our lives with their sweet innocence and tender hugs. And we will be loving but firm and never lose it completely and stand in the living room screaming about dirty socks and food stains the way our parents seemed to do so often. Because we have learned from the last generation's mistakes and we are not our parents and our kids will grow up without emotional violence in the home. And this is a beautiful thought, even though it completely ignores all the laws of both nature and nurture.

And looking at this poor schlub, I remembered what it was like back then, when having bags under your eyes meant that you'd had a really good time the night before. How could I tell him that nowadays it meant something completely different, unless your idea of a good time was sitting in a rocking chair all night long soaked with pee and trying to remember all the words to "Silent Night" because singing it is the only way to make the kid stop screeching and somehow she knows when you repeat a verse and howls louder?

And I thought about dirty diapers. How could I possibly prepare him for the first time he would open a diaper pail and realize it's been full a day too long, and now the odor he has just released is going to take over the whole house and stay there until long after the kids graduate from law school?

And equipment -- how could I tell this guy that having kids was like going on permanent safari? If he thought he had a lot of stuff to set up now before he could play music, what would he do when he realized he needed a larger truck just to get the kid across town to day care? Two extra outfits, stroller, stroller canopy, sun shade, play pen, jacket and sweater, two additional left shoes because that's the one he always throws out the window, bottles with extra nipples, cans of formula, purified water, diapers, wipers, pacifiers, blankets, special pillow, steamer trunk filled with only the special toys that the kid has to have every waking moment or else, a high chair, Thomas the Tank Engine fork and spoon, a case of apple sauce, teething rings and fluffy toys -- was there really any way to tell somebody about all that?

And it came to me, right then and there, in one of those amazing flashes of inspiration. There really was no way to tell him, and I didn't want to even if there was. Because looking at this guy's happy face, I realized why nobody ever tells you before it's too late. It's because if I told him he was about to give up sleep and guitars that work and furniture without peanut butter permanently worked into the fabric, he'd never go through with it. Nobody would. We would all die childless, with lots of guitars, and the species would die out.

And so for the sake of our very survival, I just smiled back at the guy. "Congratulations," I said. "And good luck."

Nobody would ever tell him, but he was going to need it.



Jeffry P. Lindsay