As we near the half-year mark, I figured it’d be best to review what we’ve found out so far about the baby experience. With a couple of friends nearing due date, I’d thought it was best to take a quick, five-stop award tour of the best advice that I can offer anyone about bite off parenthood. There’s a lot of advice out there and even more advise about which advise to actually listen to. It can be a mutha. It can be absolute information overload. You go from the scholastic setting of college or high school to the real world where you stop learning most of what you currently know after about the second or third year. Then you’re just getting bytes of information from the crap that the network feeds you, what you might pick up in casual reading (“Highlights” magazine…f’real). Your information and intake is done in small morsels, appetizers. You get accustomed to that rhythm and your mind becomes lazy. Predictable. Anything that exceeds your brains ability to process generally bores or tires you. Then you have a baby and life ain’t the same. I can guarantee you this, if you don’t write it down or log it somewhere, you’ll forget it. That’s partially why Raising Elle is.
Either way, you’re gonna get a workout. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. And you’re not always given an opportunity to stretch it out. Take a breather.
So here’s a quick fiver highlighting the first six months. A summary for your mushy little brain that can only take in five things at one time. Trust me, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m only giving you five because that’s the most that my mushy little brain can offer at this juncture. It’s 5:30 in the morning, I’ve been up for an hour and I can’t remember what I seriously can’t remember what I ate for dinner last night. And I’ve been hearing the theme song to “Different Strokes” in my head playing over and over for no explainable reason. Y’gotta earn that burden. Welcome to parenthood, kiddo.
- CONSIDER THE SOURCE
Here it is: advice about advice. I’ll break it down like this: if it’s a book, make sure it’s sold more than a million copies before trusting it as an authoritative source of info. Even still realize that it might not apply to your situation. If it’s word-of-mouth advice, get two trusted people to confirm it. If you’re going online for information, get three different sites that confirm the same thing. Nothing bad about going online for information, but the information moves fast on there and old and outdated info doesn’t always get wiped clean or updated. The truth about opinion is that you have to use good judgement. In the end, you’re making the calls. No single author, friend, neighbor or anonymous penman for some website is raising your kid. You are. Don’t use one source and whatever sources you use, triple-check them at the very least. I know people who have handed us books saying, “This is the best book.” Says who? One person? 50,000 people? How many people’s endorsement makes you comfortable? A million is still even an arbitrary number. No advice is law. In the same way it takes a village to raise a child, it takes multiples sources to raise that baby. Don’t trust just one. If we did, every baby would walk, talk, eat and crap the same. And don’t be too proud to abandon a source if it’s not working out for you. Trust your instincts. If you think you don’t have any, two months with a baby will change that.
- ALWAYS HAVE SOMEONE TO PUT THE FOOT DOWN
In a spousal situation, someone always has to represent what I call the Damn-it-just-do-something Decisionmaker. You can waffle for days and weeks and, with a baby, days and weeks are a lifetime. Make a freaking decision. Determine who that person is in the relationship. It’s also okay to split territory on this role. My lovely wife is the decisionmaker when it comes to food and sleep (and many other things). I’m the decisionmaker when it comes to more activities and safety. Is the temperature alright? Is that a good neighborhood? Is her head secure? Is that safe? As the kid who has never broken a single bone, rarely find myself bleeding (I keep life insurance premiums low), I’m good for that kinda stuff. Plus, I got eyes on the back of my head. I don’t get taken by surprise in parking lots or dark alleys. Someone’s gotta make hard decisions and make them sometimes quickly. Someone’s always gotta put the foot down. And the most important thing to remember about this role is that you don’t have to be right all the time. The great thing about grace and being human is that you don’t have to call it correctly at all times. We make mistakes. A little something I remember from my work experience in my current position. I remember working on an issue for weeks and, while I worked, it got worse and worse. By the day, it worsened. I got called into a VP’s office and I said, “I just wanted to do it right.” He replied by yelling, “I don’t care if you (expletive) do it right, damn it, just do something!” The point is that you can wait forever and do things so deliberately and diplomatically that you spend most of your early parenthood, thinking and contemplating and not giving the world to that baby. Don’t deprive the baby life experiences because of your indecisiveness. Live a little dangerously. Learn who can put the foot down and truck forward.
- BE MONEY-MINDED ALWAYS
If you’ve never kept a budget, now is the time. You have to watch where every penny is going. There’s an industry that has been built, sustained and is perpetuated on the basic principle that new parents are freaking suckas. They buy the dumbest crap. They make the most ill-advised purchases because of fear. Fear of being a bad parent. If you don’t have this, you suck. If you don’t use this, your kid’s gonna be dumb. Your child really should be speaking in complete sentences by the time they’re 16 months old. You can make that happen by buying this course. Always watch what the insurance is paying or that they’re actually paying. If they don’t, know why. The whole system is littered with pitfalls, exemptions, policy changes. If you don’t keep up with it, it’s like having a slow leak in your checking account and next thing you know, you have a flat tire because you didn’t watch where it was going. You can’t spend money like you used to. Hobbies change based on what they cost. Interests are realigned and prioritized based on their financial impact/payback/return on investment. That’s where running champions everything else. It’s healthy, cheap as hell, you can do it anywhere and no level of skill or equipment required. Plus it puts years back on your life so that you can spend them grandchildren…maybe even great-grandchildren. Time to grow up, take control of the pocket book and stop spending money like such a doofus. Don’t be a sucka for pretty packaging with words like “best” or “new” or “more.” Everything comes at a price. No one’s losing money at retail except for the customer. Be smart. Be a creature of habit. Practice. And get your spouse in on it. All that effort is wasted if it’s only half of the house practicing money-mindedness. I’m frugal as hell so I’m a perfect teammate in this one.
- THE TRUTH ABOUT RECALLS
Part of the fears of a new parent stem from recalled goods. Something’s wrong with the stroller or the food is tampered with possible beetle larvae. I’ll say this, the most important of the recall process is this: register your products. When they put little cards in the boxes that have little boxes to write the individual letters of your name, address and serial number for your products, they do that so they can contact you if something happens to that product. If you don’t do that, they can’t contact you. If they can’t contact you, you’re on your own, kid. I’d say that’s the most important part of recalls is your initial action of registering your products. Secondly, it’s understanding that not all recalls warrant frenzied response. This one’s a toughie and I might catch some flack here. Recently, a company recalled their video baby monitors because of two strangulation deaths. Now, “more than a million” were recalled and I’m no statistician, but two out of more than a million sold doesn’t really mean I’m even lifting a finger over this recall. That would mean that your baby has a .000016% chance of death with the use of this product.
No doubt that the two deaths are tragedies. Horrible tragedies, but like most recalls happen, a formal suit is brought against the manufacturers regarding their products by the families of a child who were injured, made ill or died during the use of a product. At which point, possibly some money exchanges hands and then, reluctantly, the company puts out a formal recall. But it begins, in this case, with some negligence in the use of the product. I don’t know if a recall is warranted because two families didn’t think about having a cord snaked through a baby’s crib. You can hear millions of parents groaning while saying, “Well yeah! Of course you don’t do that.” Truth is that baby’s can die a number of ways using consumer products, but recalls come out of blame. They sometime come out of parents struggling with the loss of a child and being at fault. I don’t want any child to die, but I don’t buy into every recall as a class-A reason for worry and panic. I might just use duct tape to fix it. Recalls are companies sometimes just being sensitive to litigation. Research it. Do the math. Make a cautious and studied decision, but you’re not a bad parent because you don’t take action. I’m not endorsing apathy or negligence. Just education and reason. Make sure to send in those registrations of the product. It’s postage-paid. It doesn’t take anything but two minutes to complete.
- YOUR BABY MIGHT JUST BE HEALTHY
Same principles here. Your baby might just be healthy. I know it’s hard for parents to admit sometimes. We always think something’s wrong with our baby and it’s harder to admit that there’s absolutely nothing wrong. It’s a paranoia, I think, that stems from the fact that babies can’t tell you what’s wrong and you have to arrive at a solution yourself. Through this process, I think many parents over-diagnose things. Crying might just be crying. And gas might just be harmless gas. It’s sometimes a freaky experience when you’re in between routine visits to the pediatrician and you’re expected to, pretty much, just figure it out on your own. It sometimes leads to this process of calculating, approximating, investigating tirelessly to loosely diagnose our kid with early scoliosis or some sort of rare lung condition. We dismiss simple daily ailments. We tend to think everything is terminal. We care too much. I’m not saying we care less, but that we care carefully. Look around at other kids. Seek advice. Seek another source. Don’t seek comfort, seek advice. Big difference. Anyone would be glad to tell you there’s nothing wrong with your baby. If that’s what you ask, they’ll likely tell you that. Seek advice. The question is not, “Is my baby healthy?” Instead, it’s “What would you do about this?” Avoid “yes” or “no” questioning when seeking advice. Don’t let a sniffly nose or endless crying lead you to levels of despair and worry that consumes you. Your baby will sense it and it’ll make matters worse. Remember the nature of babies. They cry. They’re petri dishes for bacteria and contamination. They’re gonna get sick. They’re gonna pinched somewhere. Sickness is healthy. Colds help strengthen a baby’s system. They build character. Don’t put the baby in the bubble. Let the baby live. Don’t smother them with doctor’s visits. Don’t poke and prod them trying to get to the bottom only to find out they just have diaper rash. Your baby might just be healthy.
I gotta baby singing to me through the baby monitor needing some lunch. Stay up, soldiers.
And take my advice with a big ‘ol grain of salt. Remember, consider the source, this is my first rodeo. I can only speak from what I know. Not what I don’t.