Big Smile, No Teeth: Strange times for new parents


  • Living
  • Tuesday, 26 May 2020

So you think you're having it hard with this whole lockdown thing? Try being locked into your home with a newborn, your very first child. Sanity is optional, along with sleep. — Reuters

Who would bring a child into the world in these troubled times of a pandemic and the ever growing threat of climate change?

Well, me for one. Because that’s exactly what my wife and I did. Our son was born just before things got really bad with the pandemic and Singapore triggered its “circuit breaker” and we got locked into our homes with a newborn.

Obviously, no one plans on having a child during a pandemic. Pandemics just happen and you go with the flow and, honestly, the whole staying home thing didn’t scare me at all. I was confident I’d be OK. For one thing, I’m an only child. Used to sitting around amusing myself. This continued into adulthood when I modelled internationally, living like a vagabond for two decades – with that sort of a lifestyle, even with all the parties, you spend a disproportionate amount of time alone. Add on to this that fact that I’m a Gen X-er, which means in the time before childcare I was a latch key kid, coming home and making cereal for dinner and then tuning into afternoon cartoons while my parents worked. Spending time alone – or not socialising, more accurately – isn’t a problem for me. I’m designed to disappear into my own world.

The thing is, newborns don’t really let you disappear into your own world. They have a way of screeching their way into it.

And this turned out to be maybe the toughest thing about this whole lockdown period for myself and my wife: just dealing with the lifestyle change that comes with having a little screaming human to take care of. Of course, it’s a lifestyle change anyone who is a parent has gone through. But ... nights spent sleeping in shifts so we can try to get some rest, days spent looming over this little guy to keep him from wailing at the top of his little lungs, the hours that bleed away, your time measured as moments between breast feedings. It is rough.

The first month especially is a no-go zone of cluelessness. We stumbled through that period not having much of an idea what we were doing. The baby is hungry, he’s tired, the baby is sweating, we need to take off some layers and turn up the aircon, oh wait, that’s pee. He’s been sleeping in pee the whole time. These diapers suck. Crap. I’m tired.

This is honestly all I can remember from the first 30 days of my life with my new son.

Of course, things do get better. He’s started to sleep more regularly. We’ve clued into what he wants. Babies aren’t exactly complex. He’s not crying out for a nuanced solution to climate change. He’s hungry, or he’s tired, or he’s gassy, or I’m holding him so his ear is pinned to the side of his head, probably cutting off the blood circulation and giving him pins and needles. Yes. I’m sorry son, Daddy doesn’t notice your ear sometimes.

But Singapore’s circuit breaker/lockdown continues and no one leaves the house. These months are my paternity leave, I muse. I’m lucky to have this time with my family. And the days bleed into each other. Sleepless nights snowball into badly slept weeks, and the weeks add up, and then you’re on Zoom chat with work and people tell you that you have your tired dad face down, and you comment, it’s easy, you’re not even trying.

No one leaves the house except when I get groceries, or when someone gets to walk the dog. Walking the dog is the new escape. The bus ride to the supermarket is a voyage to a luxurious holiday. Who knows what the supermarket might hold? Oh, yes, out-of-stock shelves. That’s right. Then you return home and the sleepless nights bleed into one another again until it’s time to go to the supermarket again.

And in this locked-down sleepless haze, you’re irritable and happy and sad and just there most of the time. And I start to think, huh, maybe I’m not meant to be stuck at home all the time. Not that I’m going crazy or anything – I think – but I definitely miss getting out into the world. And so does my wife. We don’t want to go to crazy parties but we want to take our boy on walks on the beach. Load up the stroller and have coffee on a patio and let our boy wail and wreck someone else’s dining experience.

You never really know how you’re going to react in any given situation. Until that situation happens to you. You never really know how you’re going to react in lockdown in your home with your newborn and your wife for two months, until that happens. And now I know: I’ll be all over the map of sanity.

These are strange times. The pandemic, the impeding collapse of the economy, should we have brought a child into this hard world? The world has always been hard, and like every parent, I knew the first time my child smiled at me that the answer is a resounding yes.


Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at lifestyle@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.

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