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7 Things I Used to Be Cynical About Before I Became a Parent

Photograph by Twenty20

Before I had kids, I thought I was cool.

Wait, that's not true.

Before I had kids, I thought I knew what was cool and what wasn't. And there was a lot about parenting that definitely fell on the "uncool" side of the equation.

However, once I actually became a parent and I experienced all of those things that used to make me judgy, I found myself softening, weakening … understanding. Maybe my friends with kids weren't all idiots. Maybe those lame things had some inherent value that my cold, dead, cynical heart couldn't see until I was experiencing them with my own kid sitting on my own shoulders.

Here are 7 things that I once regarded as lame in the extreme, but that have since completely won me over as a parent.

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1. Children's Menus at Restaurants

Most kids' menus are normally just a variation on the same theme—chicken fingers, hamburger, cheese pizza, mac and cheese, PB&J, etc. That said, I've come to appreciate (on some level) ANY restaurant that caters to young patrons. That DOES NOT mean that there should be TVs blasting on every imaginable surface. Too many gross "family" restaurants make that mistake. All I need is a kids' option on the menu—kid-sized portions of normal, non-chicken finger entrees are the best—and for the staff to not roll their eyes when I show up with my 9-year-old. That's it. Extend me those few courtesies, local restaurateurs, and I'll love you forever.

2. Disney World

If you have a kid who still believes in magic, it can be profoundly moving to watch them experience those moments.

It is EASY to eye-roll at Disney Parks. "Why would you ever want to go to Disney World and give a corporation your money when places like Rome and Yosemite exist?" But then I went to Disney World with a kid and, very quickly … I got it. Are Disney Parks expensive and tightly controlled? Yes, but they're not hiding that fact. (Rome isn't cheap either.) Disney is artificial, but artifice can be transcendent when it's done right. And, mostly, they do it right. The parks are clean, insanely tourist friendly, and designed to manufacture "magical" moments around every corner. And, if you have a kid who still believes in magic, it can be profoundly moving to watch them experience those moments. Is it really the "happiest place on Earth"? Hell no. But, when approached with the right attitude, you can have a legitimately great, immersive vacation at a Disney park, which is something I never thought my inner Scrooge McDuck would admit.

3. The Tooth Fairy

Of all the mythological icons of childhood, the Tooth Fairy seemed like the least defined and most creepy. Where did she come from again? What does she need the teeth for? But, as my kid has gotten older, I understand the need for a Tooth Fairy more and more. It's not about the money. It's about celebrating life milestones. Your kids are literally shedding their baby selves and transforming into something more mature. And, somehow, we chose to celebrate that passage via an incremental system of magical rewards. I love that. It's poetic and mythical and so much sweeter and cooler than a friggin' Easter Bunny delivering chocolate.

4. Kids' Music

I was adamant. "We are not listening to The Wiggles or Raffi or KidzBop in the car!" I was going to be the parent that got his kids into The Clash or The Dead Kennedys way before anyone else. But, as a dad, I did spend a fair bit of time listening to what's known as "kids' music" and you know what? Some of it is GREAT. First of all, Raffi totally has his charms. Second, there is an insanely deep and talented body of musicians—REAL musicians—who lovingly make music for young audiences. And that doesn't mean simple or dumbed-down music. That means AMAZING music that speaks to the interests, anxieties and passions of younger children. And that's a tremendous thing for kids to experience AND it makes long car trips a lot less painful. If you want a starter course on really killer kids' music, check out the "Kindie" movement or beyond-awesome groups like The Pop Ups, The Not-Its, Moona Luna, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, the Okee Dokee Brothers or Frances England. (You'll thank me later.)

5. Exersaucers

It was an aesthetic nightmare I couldn't live without.

They look like giant, obnoxious, bouncy baby prisons. They smell like bleach, old milk and plastic. They take up way too much space. And they look like they were designed for those fat future people from Wall-E. All of those statements are true and yet I ADORED our exersaucer. It allowed my kid to stand up and turn herself around 360 degrees, on her own, for the very first time. And, most importantly, I could jam it into the bathroom doorway and take a shower while keeping an eye on her when we were home alone. It was an aesthetic nightmare I couldn't live without.

6. Food Allergies

When you have no past experience with food allergies, it's all too easy to treat them like they're the remnant of some fad diet. "What's the deal with peanut-free tables? We didn't have all these when I was a kid ... " But then you become a parent and you meet kids with really serious allergies, and you meet parents who understand that people get annoyed by food restrictions at schools but "I just don't want my kid to die." I had another parent say that to me once and it was shattering. I never sneered at an allergy warning ever again.

7. School Pictures

The first time my daughter's school picture order forms came home, I was sarcastically excited. "Ooh, should we get her the fall backdrop or the full-on laser background?!" But, after we received the final prints, I was surprisingly moved. Yes, they're awkward, but I found myself really appreciating that weird headshot. That picture that screams "I was here" in an oddly official capacity. Then you get the class picture where you get to see your kid in context with the rest of the kids in her grade, all saying, "Hey, this was us. Just so you remember." I'm never going to buy the really expensive package or the optional retouching (so tacky), but just having that little ID photo from that one year of her life meant more to me than I'd like to admit.

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What did you used to roll your eyes at before you became a parent? Juice boxes? The Berenstain Bears? Was there something that you thought "I'LL NEVER" but now you can't live without? Let us know in the comments below.

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