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My baby isn't really a baby anymore -- in just a few short days, she will be one. And somewhere in the last couple of months she went from a cuddly little lump to writhing anaconda with opinions. Tentative tastes of rice cereal have transitioned into a daily smorgasbord of human foods, some of which invariably pollock our dining room walls. Toys are no longer objects of quiet contemplation, but are now slated noisy deconstruction. Everything that can be broken has been, and the component parts reduced further still.

Along the way she's also become a hell of a lot of fun. We love taking her new places and giving her new things just to see what she'll do. Even the mundane is suddenly miraculous. A trip to the local home improvement store to purchase yet another set of child-proof cabinet latches becomes like a day at Disneyland. There is just so much to experience out there, and all of it is so freaking cool.

I never thought we'd get here. The first few months were rocky on an epic scale. Every experienced parent I know assured me that it would get easier. And it did, granted. But that tidbit of advice is worthless at 3 a.m., when you haven't slept for the better part of a week and you are helpless before a screaming newborn, whose cries can't be soothed. At that point, what you need most is a superpower -- the ability to stop time so that you could catch a nap, say -- not well-intentioned bon mots from someone who is well rested and taken a recent shower.

For even the most prepared expectant parent, reality hits like a bear digging through a dumpster, shredding the contents of your life in its hungry pursuit of a yummy chocolate bar. Even the happiest, most competent and freakishly stable new mom or dad has had at least one dizzy moment where they wondered how the hell it all went wrong. Most mere mortals have moments like that on an hourly basis.

If you don't completely lose your mind (and even if you do a little), you can't help but learn a thing or two over the course of a year. And I could hardly call myself a parent if I didn't feel compelled to share it:

1. It really does get better. Really. Keep in mind that it will probably get worse again, so absorb the sunshine while you can.

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2. Martyrdom isn't its own reward. Consider this one of the many places where my philosophy diverges with that of the Catholic church. For years, women have been encouraged to live vicariously through their families, sublimating their needs for the greater good. Needs, however, still have a way of spurting out, often in strange and damaging ways, which do more damage than simply doing what you need to do. My shrink is often fond of trotting out the old war-horse about airline oxygen masks, about how the flight attendants caution you to secure your own yellow cup before attending to your children. While that's true, it calls to my mind images of what I'd actually be doing in the event that the aircraft lost its pressurization. The terror kind of occludes my shrink's point, at least to me. So, in short, do what you need to do. Paint. Read. Walk. Sit and stare at the walls for all I care. Do whatever it takes so that you can breathe. Screw the people who want you to shut up and take what they give you. Which leads to... 

3. Everyone wants to tell you how to raise your baby. On one of my first mall outings with the newborn, as I was walking back to my car, a large older woman muttered just loud enough that I needed to put socks on the baby. Rather than point out that socks had been on the child's feet when we entered the mall, and that she was more than welcome to figure out for herself where they'd been stripped off and dropped, I flashed a nervous smile and slunk back to the car, feeling like I had no business being a mom. The same holds true for the kind soul on my favorite bike trail who informed me that the baby needed to wear a hat, because she'd be blinded each time we walked into a clearing. Or that the baby'd be sub-moronic because I didn't breastfeed through the first year. Or that day care would make her maladaptive and mean. Or that I was a selfish shrew who had no business bearing young because I went back to work.

(3b. Moms are scrutinized in ways that dads never are. I can count on the fingers of one fist the number of times my husband has been taken to task for going back to work after the blessed event. We could send the baby to a really good trade school if we had a dime for each time I have been. At this point, there is nothing that I do for the niblet that he couldn't do equally well. Some things, he does much, much better and vice versa. That's why there's two of us. Still, I'm the one who is a bad parent because I dare have other interests.)

Fine, I say. Your choices are yours. And mine -- for better or worse -- are mine. Unless my pediatrician cautions me that I am doing something dangerous or foolish or both, I'm going to continue to follow one of the few pieces of advice he's ever passed on. Trust your instincts. The rest will follow.

4. Keep only two parenting books in your house. One should be a good reference tome, preferably with full-color pictures of rash taxonomy and a primer on poop. The other should be one parenting guru whose advice you agree with. More than that and you'll just make yourself crazy. 

5. Like horseshoes, close enough counts. At the risk of sounding like a bad self-help book, the journey is very , very, very long. If you worry about every pebble on the path, you're going to be too stressed out to enjoy the ride. There is a lot of room for course corrections, once you start to rediscover where the hell you stashed the map. It will all be OK once you find your footing.

Watch out for that first step, though... it's a doozy.
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About the Author:
Adrienne Martini has been a theatre technician, apprentice massage therapist, bookstore bookkeeper, and a pizza joint waitress. Eventually, someone started paying her for her words and an editorial mercenary was born. She has written theatre reviews and features for the Austin Chronicle, blurbs about tofurkey and bottled water for Cooking Light and a piece about knitting summer camp for Interweave Knits. During the day, she fields freelance gigs and is gainfully employed as an editor at Metro Pulse, Knoxville, Tennessee's weekly voice. At all hours, she is mom to Maddy, who will be a big one- year- old in June, and wife to Scott, who declines the mention of his age. Email Adrienne at: shaken@austinmama.com



 

I I I I I I I  

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