As a new parent, I have heard some iteration of the following advice about 15 million times:
“Parenthood is unlike anything you’ve done before. You’ll never truly understand until you’ve been through it.”
As someone with literally zero experience with the logistics of parenthood (e.g., changing diapers, cleaning spit up out the little crevice between the underarm and the chest, or wiping projectile diarrhea off the ceiling), I was concerned.
Once I got started, however, I realized it all seemed so familiar. I wondered to myself, “Rob, how can you be so calm in the face of all these new experiences? Where did your parenting prowess come from? What in your life made you such an expert at parenting?”
And then it hit me: The late night wake ups, the incessant crying, the bodily fluids everywhere, the nagging sense that there was something else I should be doing, the disconnection with the outside world.
Being a new parent is exactly the same as pledging a fraternity or sorority.
If you’re a new parent, just imagine yourself as a pledge of Delta Alpha Delta (D.A.D.) or Mu Omega Mu (M.O.M.). Don’t panic, it will all be familiar.
You lose all control over your own time.
My first night as a pledge, I awoke to my phone at 3am. I answered.
“Yello?” I said.
“Pollak, you fuck. I need you to bring me a pack of cigarettes and a yoo-hoo.”
For the next few months, I had no control over my schedule. At any given hour, I could be forced against my will (on a completely voluntary basis, of course) to go searching for a taco, to bring a case of beer to someone camping in the woods in a nearby state, to walk miles just to be yelled at for not going fast enough, or to hold a match while reciting–in alphabetical order–the names of people long deceased.
Now, as a parent, I feel the same sense of uselessness when I shut my eyes. The second I enter REM sleep, a whimper will sneak its way out of the bassinet, a stream of pee will make a triumphant escape from the diaper, a bombastic fart will echo across the room, foul-smelling poo will makes its presence known. And just like that–bleary eyed and hallucinating–I get out of bed and figure out how to make it stop.
You get drenched with bodily fluids.
Before becoming parents, everyone insists that they will not end up covered in human feces, but at some point it’s bound to happen.
New parents tend to go on and on about the time they aimed their kid at the Diaper Genie while the kid let loose a barrage of machine gun style diarrhea that obliterated the walls. Not surprisingly, pledging can also include odd rituals that involve feasting on bodily fluids and super soakers of urine.
Don’t believe me? A quick google search of fraternity hazing and bodily fluids brings back a mind-boggling smattering of hazing ideas that can keep young men occupied for years to come. I’m guessing you’ve never had a vomlet before, have you?
You can’t go anywhere without telling everyone exactly where you will be and when you’ll be back.
Similar to the loss of control over time, new parents and pledges both lose the ability to disappear from the face of the earth. No more sneaking out for a quick nine after work, or over to your girlfriend’s dorm room for a quiet afternoon. You now have to account to the other pledges for your whereabouts. Some societies even make you travel in packs at all time.
With a new kid, you no longer can just get up and go. Everything becomes a process. I once got caught in a long checkout line at CostCo and Anne texted me 74 times.
[Anne didn’t really text me 74 times. I completely made that up. I normally assume that this kind of joke is clear, but Anne is in an interesting hormonal place because she recently gave birth. She might rip my head off, screaming “I never fucking texted you when you were at Costcooooooooooooooo.]
[For the record, Anne’s not in an interesting hormonal place right now. I dramatized that as well for another joke. She’s very loving and caring and is an excellent mother].
You stick a finger in someone else’s asshole.
With a baby, it’s to wipe or apply ointment. With a fraternity, it’s to do the The Elephant Walk.
You have to wear ridiculous outfits.
During pledging, you may have to dress in certain colors or costumes. It’s not surprising to see pledges dressed in drag or even running around campus in the nude. Likewise, new parents must wear Baby Bjorns, Bert and Ernie shirts, and often force the newborn to dress in similarly ridiculous costumes. Anne wants our baby to be Oatmeal for Halloween.
You constantly clean up after someone else.
One of the best things about being a baby or a sophomore in a fraternity is that you don’t have to lift a finger. Whenever there’s vomit on the floor, just cry or pick up the phone to call mommy, daddy, or that pledge to clean up your mess.
You are forced to listen to terrible songs on repeat all day.
I’ve heard stories of pledges sitting in a room blindfolded listening to Journey on repeat for 20 straight hours. It doesn’t sound half bad now that I’m rocking out to the Bubble Guppies theme song for 93 straight hours.
To make matters worse, I only know the lyrics to one song. So my poor baby has to listen to me sing the first verse of twinkle twinkle little star until he can’t take it anymore and pretends to go to sleep so I’ll shut up.
Every once in a while when all hope is lost, something wonderful happens.
Both parenting and pledging have moments that are pretty damn hard. Maybe you even question whether you can hack it. It’s in those moments–the ones that often come at 4:30 in the morning–when you awake to another in a long line of stressful activities.
But this time, instead of the usual hazing or, well, hazing, you get a surprise keg party or a sweet little smile. Then, BOOM. You’re sucked back in because, in the back of your head, you think that even the worst moments might be one huge mindfuck on the way to a happy ending.