Sometimes people ask me: "Dave, what is the essence of parenthood?"
I always answer: "Lowering your standards."
For example, recently I was in a restaurant, having a bite to eat with my brother-in-law, Steve. And when I say "having a bite to eat," I mean "not having a bite to eat," because also on hand were my daughter, Sophie, who is 11 months old, and Steve's daughter, Juliana, who is 15 months old. They're "toddlers," which means they have figured out how to walk, but they have no destination in mind. In fact, it is not altogether clear that they have minds.
But they have plenty of energy. During a standard restaurant meal, a standard toddler can easily toddle 58 miles in totally random directions, while your hamburger cools and eventually reverts to a frozen patty. You have to follow toddlers closely at all times, because they could cheerfully toddle right out the door and into the path of a cement truck.
So Steve and I were clumping along behind Juliana and Sophie as they wandered aimlessly around the restaurant, pointing at things and saying what they were. Juliana actually knew the right words for some things; Sophie called pretty much everything "duck." This is her favorite word, and she applies it to anything that is remotely duck-like, including pelicans, certain trees, and Vice President Cheney.
Anyway, the two girls were pointing at a vending machine (or, as some prefer to call it, a "duck") when I suddenly noticed a distinctive fragrance in the air -- what the French call "eau de doody." Somebody had definitely done something. I knew it wasn't me, and I ruled out Steve, because he is 352 months old.
I said, "Do you smell that?" And Steve said, "Yes." Without another word, we both executed the same maneuver, which consisted of picking up our toddlers, pulling out the backs of their diaper waistbands, sticking our noses down there, and taking a whiff.
"It's not Sophie," I said, greatly relieved.
"It's definitely Juliana," said Steve, staggering slightly.
My point is this: Most of us grow up believing in a set of core values, and one of them is that we will never sniff another person's butt in a restaurant. But parents do this kind of thing ALL THE TIME. I don't want to get too graphic here, but under certain conditions, when the take-a-whiff method is not feasible, veteran parents will check a diaper by what is known as the "dipstick method."
And hygiene is not the only area where parents of babies have to lower their standards. There is also the area of intellect. When I'm home alone with Sophie, there are entire days when the single longest sentence I say is: "Down came the rain and washed the spider out!" Also I am reading a lot of books with names like "Conrad Cantaloupe Has a Sad Day." As far as I can tell, modern children's books are written by people who (a) get paid by the page, and (b) are hitting the bourbon pretty hard. The books all sound like this:
Page One: "Conrad Cantaloupe was sad."
Page Two: "He was very sad."
Page Three: "He was sad, sad, sad."
Page Four: "He went to see his friend Earl Eggplant."
Page Five: "He said, 'Earl Eggplant, I am sad.' "
Page Six: "Earl Eggplant said, 'Why are you sad, Conrad Cantaloupe?' "
Page Seven: "Conrad Cantaloupe said: 'I will tell you why I am sad, Earl Eggplant.' "
Page eight: "But not on this page."
And so on. It is no wonder American students get such lousy test scores; they grow up listening to this dreck, while parents in foreign countries are reading to THEIR babies from literary masterpieces such as "The Brothers Karamazov" ("The Brothers Karamazov were sad. They were very sad. They were sad, sad . . .")
Also, did I mention that my car, which used to be spotless, now contains roughly 250 million free-range Cheerios? But I'm not complaining, because it's all worthwhile when I look at my baby girl, and she looks back at me, and her face lights up with a smile that tells me I am very, very special to her. And then she calls me "duck."