The big lesson I learned from Disney’s California Adventure this weekend was definitely “Kids are exhausting”.
I know. Duh.
On Saturday, Drew and I went to Disneyland’s neglected and misunderstood stepchild with our friends Chuck and Meredith and their one-and-a-half-year-old son, Cameron. In addition to being one of the cutest babies in the world, Cameron is also one of the most well-behaved. Throughout eight hours of sensory overload, the kid only got cranky once. In fact, Drew cried more on the kiddie coaster than Cameron did all day, although maybe that’s not the best comparison, since Drew cried A LOT on the kiddie coaster. (Hopefully, outing Drew as a ride-o-phobe doesn’t undo the good will I generated by supporting his ride-o-phobia on Saturday. See Drew’s blog for details.)
I know that kids as easy-going as Cameron are hard to come by, but even if you’ve got an atypically chill baby like him, the fact remains: “Kids are exhausting”. And I’m not just talking about the fact that after holding a 26-pound toddler for five minutes, I was wondering if the symptoms I was feeling were typical of a hernia. (I kept thinking of all the teeny tiny young moms I see every day carrying around their porky youngsters. Props to them all.) But the only thing worse than holding a growing young boy is putting him down, because those suckers do like to run. As a parent (or in this case, a parent’s friend in charge of watching the boy while the parents are on Soarin’ Over California), your job is not to let the kid run too far, especially when you’re in a crowded theme park (although if you want to avoid crowds, California Adventure is probably your best bet). So I pretty much wore myself out weaving among strangers, blocking Cameron from running into the women’s restroom, and retrieving his ball from the spiky-haired punk kid who got beaned in the knees with it.
All that chasing is enough to make you want to put a leash on your kid. And by “you”, of course, I mean “you, you horrible monster. How dare you put a leash on a child?!?” I saw more than one parent choosing expediency over their child’s dignity by employing leash technology, and the only thing that disturbed me more was the fact that the leashes were emblazoned with the Mickey Mouse ear logo, as if they had been purchased in the gift shop alongside Ariel hair clips and Finding Nemo pencil tops. The thought that Disney sanctioned this kind of thing was particularly disturbing. Coincidentally, Saturday happened to be Disneyland’s annual Gay Day, which is an event organized by an independent group that’s not officially sanctioned by the park. Sure, they don’t want to encourage the gays, but they’re 100% behind child leashing. Sorry, I’m getting off-topic.
After I saw the first leash, I turned to Chuck and confessed my disgust. “Not being a parent myself, I’m reluctant to judge other people,” I said. “But I really can’t stand those leashes.”
Chuck not only agreed, but without any reservations over seeming judgmental. “Once you’re a parent yourself,” he said, “you don’t hesitate to judge other parents.”
So until I’m a parent, I won’t judge the guy on Soarin’ Over California, who was taking his six-year-old son on the ride for what seemed like the 10,000th time. As we stood in line, the eager dad went through every beat of the experience with the boy. “And remember when the golf ball comes at you? Whoosh! And then the jets? Eeeeeeeeaarrrrrroof!” I understood he was trying to keep his kid entertained and excited during the wait, but I could’ve done without all the spoilers. Then he played a game with the kid. “How much do you love Grandma?” he’d say. “A little,” the kid would say, and the Dad, as a goof for the kid’s lack of enthusiasm, would “punish” his son with tickles. “How much do you love Mommy?” “A little.” More tickles. “How much do you love Courtney?” “A little.” It was a delightful game, but one without end. I think Dad got around to quizzing the kid on the depth of his affection for the living room sofa by the time I tuned out. It was another example of how exhausting kids are, as well as a reminder that, once you’ve got a family, you can forget about discussing that fascinating article you read in “The New Yorker” or that charming French film you caught at the NuArt last week. With six-year-olds, silly sound effects and shameless tickle-baiting are sometimes the height of conversation.
I’ve always thought I wanted kids. It seemed like an easy decision. You got older, you had kids. And kids were fun. They were somebody to take to amusement parks, somebody to play video games with, somebody to teach how to curse. But now that I’m getting to a place where having them is looking like a definite possibility (though admittedly, for a gay man, having kids is no easy task), I look at every encounter with them as a pop quiz. Watching the dad on the line for the ride, I wondered if I was ready to live his life. Could I keep up with a kid, mentally and physically? Could I handle eighteen years of tickling and running and conversations about SpongeBob? And, most of all, could I do it without going crazy? As our wait came to an end and we buckled ourselves into our seats, I heard the dad, still hard at work, psyching his kid up for the ride. “Now let’s say ‘Thank you, Jesus!'” he said.
It was a great relief. So he was crazy.
It’s not that I have anything against people raising their kids in their chosen religion, but teaching your kids that Jesus is the kind of guy who likes to take credit for theme park rides seems like a bit of a liberal reading of the Bible to me. I couldn’t help thinking about what would’ve happened if the dad had asked him, “How much do you love Jesus?” and the boy had responded “A little”. Something tells me tickling would not have followed.
I’m sure most prospective parents have doubts like mine. The rest probably figure it’ll be easy, and they’re probably the same ones who slap leashes on their kids. (Sure, and if you lock your kids in a box, they’re no trouble at all.) Luckily, the more I question my own parenting abilities, the more certain I am of Drew’s. Whatever he’s called upon to do – hold the kid, watch TV, play peek-a-boo – he can do it for hours and not only without complaining, but loving it. (This is especially fascinating when watching him play peek-a-boo. It’s not a game that in theory seems very rewarding for an adult.)
While the rest of us went on rides, Drew was happy to stay behind and keep an eye on Cameron, and not just because Drew was scared to go on the rides, as he’d have you believe, but because there was clearly nothing he’d rather be doing than hanging with a baby. Drew is more natural with kids than anyone I think I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t be more relieved. He makes the thought of parenting seem easy and obvious again. I’d probably grow into my role as a parent if I ever had kids, and I’d learn to deal with the exhaustion, but even if I didn’t, even if I totally sucked at fatherhood, at least Drew would be there to do the hard stuff. How much do I love him for that?