I don’t think my friend coined the term (though I certainly credit him), but having served several months in Baby Jail, I’m finally ready to talk about my experience.
The similarities are overtly evident—like County, lights-out comes pretty early and there isn’t much to do besides read and lift weights. (Reading becomes exponentially more arduous with a screaming tot in your ear. And I don’t own any weights.)
So you do what you have to. To survive. You make a friend early and then shank him on the yard one Sunday afternoon to prove your mettle. Okay, that one really doesn’t apply here. Not because you wouldn’t do it, but because, as you’ll find, you have no friends in Baby Jail. Nothing but time to sit and think about why you’re here.
It’s true that parenting is rewarding and fun yadda yadda yadda. But what they don’t tell you is that it can also be a lonely existence. It makes sense when you think about it, because you’ve run your ship aground on No-man’s Island. Going out with friends is always early, brief and limited in stature, not to mention a struggle at best. So your best social option is to have people over. But not everybody is comfortable visiting Baby Jail. Even with wardens on duty, some people just aren’t ready to see what life is like on the inside.
Friends without kids will quickly divide into two categories: 1. those that have friends or family members with kids and therefore like them and are comfortable with them, and 2. those who don’t, and therefore don’t know how to act around them and presume hanging out with you now will be like going to Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday.
I always fell into the #2 category myself. I’m from a tiny family, and while my wife comes from a huge family, out of all of the cousins, we are the first of the generation to have a baby. I look back and feel like a schmuck now for the way I behaved around the couple of friends I do have with babies. But I wasn’t a schmuck, just blissfully ignorant.
I always differentiate sympathy and empathy like this: If your dog was run over by a car, and I also had a dog who was run over by a car, then I can totally empathize with you. I’ve been in that very situation, enduring all the same emotions. Sympathy would be if I either A) I don’t have a dog (and maybe never did) or B) I have (or have had) a dog, but never one that decided to dance with rush-hour traffic. Therefore, I can only imagine what you are feeling. Maybe I have a vivid imagination, but without a pancaked dog on my resume, there’s simply no way to truly empathize.
This is only compounded by the fact that you don’t have any parent friends, either. Newborns can’t do much, most notably, make friends, be social and have play dates. They mostly just lie around, cry, sleep and eat at fairly regular intervals. Even if you have friends with kids, they are generally older kids. Kids that play hide-and-seek and eat dirt and torture small insects. Until your baby can munch on his own clod of dirt, he is on lockdown. And so are you.
But you can at the very least talk to your parent friends. They have good ears to bend, because they can empathize. And empathy is like an open, breezy summer window here in Baby Jail.