TEN BEST LESSONS OF PARENTHOOD
Pay attention to the experts
My sister, Alice Callahan, is the real expert on parenting. She’s leveraged her doctorate and experience as a mother into an excellent blog, Science of Mom, and has landed a book deal. So the first lesson is, read everything you can from people who know what they’re talking about.
Our daughter, who is five weeks old, has no problem with outings. We’ve taken her to see a movie, a voting-rights protest where police disarmed a man, the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market, where dozens of people swooned over her; and the Hispanic League’s Fiesta in Winston-Salem, where Sones de Mexico rocked the parking lot. She slept through it all, tuning out everything. So next time a crying jag hits around 2 a.m., we might be looking for a 24-hour rave.
Be involved as a dad
The best advice I’ve received so far comes from my old friend, Jenny Urie, in Kentucky —’herself a new parent: Jump in headfirst and don’t think that only mama can do it. “Besides nursing,” she said, “you can do it all too!”
Poop isn’t really that big of a deal
Mastering the art of the diaper change is a point of pride with me, and I know with my brother in law, Rob, too. Poop is not really gross when it comes from a baby, and a good bowel movement is a thing to cheer. Use lots of wipes, clean in the proper direction, be gentle and talk her through it. If you get those right, the baby usually appreciates it.
Burping is cool
Similarly, effectively burping a baby becomes a skill worthy of boasting. Accurately gauging the baby’s milk intake is key. Wait too long and you risk giving her indigestion. Too soon and you risk unnecessarily upsetting her by disrupting her feeding. It’s important to position her head on your shoulder in a way that makes her comfortable. Your back pats should have just the right amount of umph. But a good baby burp — a thorough clearing of congestion and pressure in her chest —’is something to behold.
You’re on her schedule
I was warned and I knew it, but I didn’t really appreciate it until I learned from a first-hand experience. When you’re at home taking care of an infant by yourself, it’s folly to plan anything — say wash the dishes, start a load of laundry or, God forbid, write a story. It’s nothing to comfort an inconsolable baby and realize three hours have blown by.
Speaking of which, I am well acquainted with the five S’s: swaddling, shushing, side, swinging, sucking. They work while you’re doing them, but once you reach the point of exhaustion from bouncing your knees, wrapping and unwrapping a child, and shifting her from one position to the next, as often as not the crying starts right back up. I distrust the doctor shown in the how-to video instantly calming babies like some dog whisperer or snake charmer, and suspect some judicious editing went into the production.
Sticking with it
That said, even if a child that’s been fed, changed, burped, held and cooed to, it feels satisfying to stay with her and let her know that you love her when she continues to cry. Knock on wood, I haven’t yet had to give up in frustration and walk away from a crying baby. In the few times when she’s cried for extended periods, just when I thought it couldn’t go on much longer she settled in. (I don’t judge any parent whose baby is subject to excessive crying; every child is different.)
People help you out when you become a parent
The baby’s mom and I are overwhelmed with the generosity of our friends and family’s. Not only have we received gifts like a swank baby stroller and Pack ‘n Play, but we’ve accumulated a seemingly never-ending supply of diapers. We have more outfits than we know what to do with. And I did not expect people to deliver pre-cooked meals and come over and clean our house. Somehow, it seems only right that everyone should get this treatment once in their lives, whether they have babies or not.
People treat you well when you become a parent
I don’t completely understand the rationale, but society seems to encourage parenthood, even if our social support system hasn’t quite caught up. Even people who I’ve butted heads with in the past come up and offer congratulations, tender advice and ask if I’ve been getting any sleep. The kindness and goodwill is like an offset for the exhausting job of parenting.’