Nothing anyone can tell you will fully prepare you to be a parent.
I received that message often 6 years ago as my wife and I anticipated the impending birth of our first child. And I’ve dispensed that advice plenty of times since to soon-to-be-parents as I am now a grizzled veteran dad with three kids.
The context of that advice, though, tends to deal with practical things.
Nothing can prepare you, for instance, for the level of sleep deprivation you experience as a new parent. You will never be more tired, and there’s just no way of knowing it.
Nothing, too, can make you fully comprehend the lifestyle change you are about to encounter. Many basic freedoms you once took for granted – like going to a movie or even showering pretty much whenever – are transformed into logistical battles.
Schedules now revolve around naps, feedings and the general well-being of a tiny human for whom you are majorly responsible – which is probably why I also tell people that the biggest adjustment is going from 0 to 1 kids and might be the reason (other than the fact that they’re awesome and you’ll never experience a type of love like this) we now have three.
What we seldom talk about, though, in the “you can’t be prepared” discussion is this: worries and fears.
And this is the point where the tragedy of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (AP photo of the two from a Lakers game last month) and seven other people who died in Sunday’s helicopter crash intersects with my life – any parent’s life – and burrows in so deep that it can’t help but force something else out.
To be a parent means to worry about your kids, to be constantly reminded of their strength but also their frailty. Bringing in a new life make you profoundly aware of death, and you will never make yourself sadder than to think about the unthinkable happening to your child.
So you worry – not all the time, not even most of the time or even some of the time. But you also become a sort of amateur actuary, assessing risk and trying to diminish it without spoiling the business of being a child. I’ll find myself walking through the living room and almost instinctively nudging a toy from the middle of the floor to the side to decrease the likelihood of a tripping hazard.
If you’re going to jump off the couch, at least use more pillows. Hold my hand when you cross the street. Sure, you can ride that ride – just not that big one. You can become convinced that the most mundane things could end in danger.
Your fear is tied to your love, and both are limitless.
This nonstop battle between vigilance and letting go? There’s no way to prepare for that. No way.
The Bryant news, then … there’s no way to describe it other than a nightmare.
Using a helicopter as transportation? It sounds dangerous but is generally very safe – the kind of thing a parent would worry about, usually for no good reason other than it comes with the job.
But then it crashes, and it pierces the bubble. Bad things happen, even if you know they don’t happen often. You can’t always protect them. You can only do your best and hope.
I’ve been trying to think about Bryant – the all-time great basketball player, the flawed man who once stood accused of sexual assault – in every possible context. The complete and complex picture of Kobe is important, and there are a lot of ways to process this news.
But all I can think about is a dad who flew in helicopters to beat traffic and preserve his family time, who died with his daughter, what those final seconds might have been like, why it happened, and how Vanessa Bryant, suddenly a 37-year-old widowed mother of three, feels right now.
And the truth, as always, is that nothing can ever prepare you for this.