Red Apple, a store on Dundas just west of Spadina, caters to future parents. The other day I went in to shop for a stroller and I had the most intense sensation of déjà vu. I grasped the spongy rubber of the nearest set of handlebars and it felt like eight years had vanished.
My girlfriend, Chantel, is pregnant with a baby boy, due at the end of February. It’s her first pregnancy and our first child together, but we already share custody of my two kids with my ex-wife. We know what it is to be parents, even though we’re going through the same rituals as total newbies: the car-seat selection, the crib purchase, whether to go with a wrap or a Baby Bjorn.
It’s remarkable how different the process is this time around—back then, baby monitors didn’t have video. But I also feel like a different person from the one who was gearing up for his first child eight years ago. My ex-wife will tell you that I was grouchy throughout the preparations, perhaps because I was plagued by a feeling of impending doom. Everybody kept saying what they say to every about-to-be-new parent: “Your life is about to change forever.” They warned me that the baby’s birth represented the end of my freedom. They probably meant it in a nice way, as a bit of friendly advice, but I heard the refrain as though it was a curse out of a horror movie: “Your life is about to change…FOREVER.”
Plus, I was pretty certain I was going to suck as a father. Look, I had some major problems during that period of my life, most of them revolving around drug and alcohol abuse. The stroller, the car seat, the crib, and the diaper bag—each piece of baby-related equipment represented an encumbrance, a sort of parental bondage. I very much wanted children, but once my wife became pregnant, I panicked. I felt like shouting, “Wait! I’m not ready!”
Of course, no one’s ever ready. My son arrived anyway. My problems got worse, and then I got sober. My daughter was born and my marriage broke up. My ex-wife and I forgave each other and became friends again. Chantel and I started dating, she moved in, and she became a great stepmom to my kids. Along the way, I did some growing up. And I did what most parents do: I grew comfortable with my responsibilities.
Now I have a second chance to become a first-time father. Since most of the gear from my two kids has long since been handed over to friends or Goodwill, Chantel and I are assembling a new arsenal. And we’re making good time. We walked over to Red Apple the other day and it took us 15 minutes to select a stroller. When the clerk went to check on its availability, Chantel nodded at a doll that was slumped over in a floor model. “That looks safe,” she said, and my loud guffaw caught the attention of one of the store’s other dads-to-be. He shot me a look that said, “Quiet down. This is serious.” It said: “Our lives are about to change…FOREVER.”
I recognized that panic, caused by the dozens of diaphanous misgivings held deep inside of any new parent. Maybe I should have gone over and given the guy a hug. I could have told him, “Hey, buddy, relax—everyone figures it out. Sure, those first six months are a slog, but then you start getting your life back. So try to enjoy it while it’s happening.” That’s what I’m doing, anyway, now that I’ve been given the gift of a second chance at it all.