Monday, September 19, 2016

Be Very, Very Afraid

People keep telling us that once the baby comes, our lives will change forever.  For.Ev.Er.  And not in a good way, like when the chorus of sopranos in Handel’s Messiah sings, “Forever and ever, forever and ever!  Glo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ry!!”, if you know the part of which I’m thinking.  No, when people warn us that Baby will change our lives forever, they mean “change forever” like it’s boot camp with a catch-twenty-two stipulation in place.  I paraphrase a few real-life remarks received in recent months:

“You just have no idea until it actually happens.  I mean, you have NO IDEA.”

“It’s … I wish I could tell you it’s great.   I mean, it IS great.  But it’s a lot of work.”

“Hahahaha … Um.  Yeah.  You won’t be sleeping very much.”

“There’s just … so much to do.  But you’ll be … fine.  Fine.  You’ll be fine; I’m sure you’ll be just fine.”

“I can’t even—I don’t even know what to compare it to.  There isn’t anything to compare it to, so I’m not going to try.”

“Well, maybe you’ll get a child who doesn’t [insert hair-raising but relatively normal thing that most infants do do] like ours does.”

They’re all trying to be upbeat and encouraging, but somehow it doesn’t come off that way.  And I hasten to add, these are not secular people who plan on having zero to two kids, possibly laboring under the illusion that the planet is about to bust with people.  These are faithful Catholics in their twenties and thirties who are open to life.  They may (I don’t know) be spacing out kids with NFP to avoid Irish twin situations; but they’re quite happy and maybe even excited by the prospect of having five, eight, ten children down the road.  And yet what they convey is not joy, but fear.

Not the flower, dearest.  Dearest, he will certainly eat the flower.  Dearest!!!! ...

One further thing stands out: they are all young parents.  Most of them have somewhere between one and three children; rarely is the oldest more than five.  If we ran into more parents with older families, would they have anything different to say?  And if they did, would it be because (a) the most bitter early parenting memories fade, (b) their older children actually help with new babies, (c) they develop better coping strategies, (d) they perfect the fine art of equivocation and want to ensure the future of the human race, or (e) all of the above?

I don’t know that I actually wish people didn’t warn us about the difficulties of raising small children; after all, forewarned is forearmed.  And the warnings certainly incentivize sleeping (or trying to sleep) and exercising (or trying to exercise) and writing (or trying to write) and eating (or trying to eat), and generally just Keeping Calm and Carrying On, right up until the baby comes—which are all good things to encourage soon-to-be-parents to do.  But it might be helpful, while sounding the ominous notes of “Be Prepared!” to offer some concrete advice for taking care of little Simba when he arrives.

Not THAT kind of taking care of!  Good heavens, people.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to start cycling through a list of questions the next time someone starts into Your-Life-Will-Change mode.  If they’re going to tell me how it is, I certainly want to know …

Have you found that baby carriers/swaddles actually help keep the baby quieter, or are reports of their usefulness (like those of Mark Twain’s death) exaggerated?

(Women only:) Did you breastfeed, and do you have any tips to make that less of a hassle?

If you have a choice, do you think it’s better to let the baby sleep in your room, or in another room?

If the baby sleeps during the day, do you recommend using that time to catch up on sleep yourself, or do you read, or do you try to “catch up” (haha) on other things?

What’s the most helpful piece of baby gear/clothing/equipment you’ve used?  What’s the most useless?

(Women only:) Do you have any tips on recovering from childbirth, or any strategies that alleviated the misery during labor?

Hm.  Sounds like this is all very stressful.  What’s the best way you and your husband (wife) have found for coping with the stress?

Are there any things that you can still do to relax, with or without the children?  (E.g., are there parks, playgrounds, museums, nature walks, restaurants, etc. that you would frequent with a child/children?  Or, if you’re stuck at home with the kids all day because there’s a meltdown every time you get in the car, have you found anything that keeps them occupied and maybe even tires them out?)

I’m sure I’ll hear a lot of conflicting advice, and some of it may be completely off-base.  But at least it will be concrete leave-it-or-take-it-or-maybe-just-try-it-once-because-once-can’t-hurt advice, as opposed to …

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