My friend's wife is pregnant with their first child. "What's it like?" he asked me. "Life with kids I mean."
"Imagine you've got a large, cardboard box," I told him. "The kind they use to ship clothes dryers. Fold back the flaps and place everything you enjoy inside, like your Sony Playstation, your bicycle and electric guitar. Gather abstract things as well, like uninterrupted football games, free time on the weekends and the sense that you actually can do something you want to do, when you want to do it. Toss it all in. Don't worry, it will fit. That's why we got the big box.
Next, get some packaging tape and seal it tight. You may hear some whimpering, but don't stop. That's just the media room you planned to build in the basement calling out to you. Ignore it.
Place the box and a shovel into the back of your truck and drive deep into the woods. Dig a large hole and toss the box inside. Again, ignore the muffled sobbing. Cover it with dirt and get back into the truck. Put it in gear and drive away. Don't look back, just go. It's easier that way, like pulling off a Band-Aid."
He stared at me, waiting for the punch line. I stared back - unshaven, tired and 20lbs heavier than I was B.C. (Before Children). "When do I get the box back?" he asked.
"You never get the box back," I said. "The box is gone now."
"What do I do for fun?" he asked. What a rookie question. "Fun?" I said. "Son, fun is dead to you now. Well, fun as you know it. Now you'll enjoy 'Standard Issue Fun.'"
He blinked with a stricken look on his face. I recognized that look. When I was in college, I lived with a theatre major. His senior year, he put on a production of his own - an avant-garde interpretation of The Tibeten Book of the Dead. Soon after the show began, I could almost hear the actors thinking, "This seemed like a good idea a few weeks ago..."
My friend's face now bore that look.
"Standard Issue Fun is given to all parents. You package may contain, but is not limited to:
- Dancing and skipping in music class.
- Buying a bib that says "I wuv Daddy."
- Discussing poo, pee, vomit and fatigue at great length, with anyone who will listen.
- Deciding which Sesame Street diaper is your favorite (Mine was Elmo with undersea goggles).
- Eating at restaurants with crayons and paper on the tables.
- Being asked to leave restaurants with crayons and paper on the tables.
- Receiving notification of your lifetime ban from restaurants with crayons and paper on the tables.
- Your weekend hosting the preschool pet.
- Clipping coupons.
- Writing snarky blog posts to maintain your own sanity.
"So, why do I want to do this?" he asked, obviously horrified. "What's the upside?"
"This," I said. I opened my wallet and unfolded a small square of white construction paper. On one side is a large, blue oval with a smiling face and wild hair, holding hands with a smaller, smiling oval. Above them is random scribbling, as if a child were trying to write words. Quoted beneath the scribbles, it reads: "I love my daddy because he hugs me and we laugh. My daddy likes soda and sandwiches. My daddy makes me smile."
It's the kind of thing that millions of parents of millions of preschoolers all across the world have on their refrigerators.