Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Lessons*

*This and the next few postings originally were published through MetroDad, when I was asked to guest-blog in mid-March '05. I never intended to daddy-blog fulltime myself but with enough encouragement and the realization that it might help with my adjustment to becoming a Stay At Home Dad (SAHD), I decided to jump in and see how the water felt. Thanks again to MetroDad for helping me get my start.

My vitals: 30-something, Chinese American. My partner "Samantha" is also Asian, though not Chinese, thereby making our newborn daughter "L" a mixed-intra-Asian baby (now six weeks old), and therefore, of the cutest genetic stock possible. At least we think so.

My perspective: Unlike MetroDad's bright and smiling perspective on fatherhood, Poppa Large is more of the "parenthood is kicking our goddamn ass" variety.

I'll be upfront - I'm bitter at all my friends with kids who didn't adequately warn me or Sam about how hard parenthood would be. We always got the, "oh yeah, it's hard but you'll love it" line, which is usually said with the air of casualness one might apply to say, French cooking. We soon learned however - raising a newborn was not quite like making coq a vin, though in both cases, copious amounts of wine can help make the process go better.

It's my theory that newborns give off a slow-acting phermone that corrodes the part of the brain that normally stores traumatic memories such as labor and/or new parenthood. As a result, people quickly forget the difficulty of it all and are pre-programmed to tell other prospective parents that, "oh yeah, it's hard but you'll love it." It's designed to ensure the future of the species because frankly, if the truth came out, the rate of human reproduction could plummet to extinction-level event status.

In dwelling with my innumerable thoughts about parenthood, especially for first timers like Sam and I, it quickly dawned on me that there are at least three important lessons all prospective and new parents should learn. They are:

LESSON ONE: Every parent thinks they're an expert on parenting.

It doesn't matter if they have a two day old newborn or enough progeny to field a baseball team - parents think they know everyting about parenting simply because they've gone through it.

On one hand, I can appreciate where this logic originates from. Having a kid is a pretty big friggin' deal and like living through war, a serious illness or a visit from the in-laws, once you've survived the experience, it's impossible not to feel like you've gained some Important Insight. However, just beacuse you know how to change the oil in your car and replace a flat tire doesn't make you a mechanic. Flying on a plane doesn't make you a capable pilot.

Yet, ask any parent about "the best [fill in baby-related item]" and suddenly, people turn into Consumer Reports. Ask them their philosophy on parenting and they speak with the authority of Dr. Sears/Spock/Dre, et. al. In other words, parenthood turns formerly humble and unassuming people and instantly transforms them into mildly pretentious know-it-alls. (Like me).

LESSON TWO: Avoid all advice other parents give you. Including mine.*

*most of it anyways

LESSON THREE: If you're desparate enough to take any of the advice thrown at you (and believe me, you'll be desparate enough), whatever you do, DO NOT disregard CFS.

CFS = Common Fucking Sense.

Most of us in America didn't grow up in social environments where child-rearing was a communal project. If you're lucky, maybe you had much younger siblings that you remembered helping to take care of, but for many others, parenthood is terra incognito. This is why the baby advice industry is a multi-billion dollar industry: it's all designed to play on the anxieties of Paranoid, Inexperienced Parents (PIPs) who are convinced that unless they buy the right videos, books, toys, clothes, and sippy cups, their children are doomed to end up as teenage hustlers with a heroin habit or even worse: Republican.

Most new parents really only need a modicrum of basic parenting lessons, i.e. changing a soiled diaper = good. Asbestos teddy bears = bad.) The rest you can figure out with a healthy dose of CFS. However, most new PIPs are so anxious about doing something wrong, they turn off their CFS and instead, try to follow through on well-intentioned advice that leads them down the short road to hell.

Case in point: when Samantha and I gave birth to L, one of the nurses we saw in the first two days told us, "oh, make sure you burp her for at least 15-20 minutes to get all the gas out."

Think about that: do burping a baby for TWENTY MINUTES after each feeding make CFS?

No. Hell. No.

Burping is designed to get any gas bubbles out of the baby's system right after feeding and especially for newborns, burping helps them go to sleep since they're more comfortable once they've cleared an offending belch/fart out of their system. However, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't feel very drowsy if I had someone 20x my size whacking me on the back for TWENTY MINUTES.

But sure enough, as a pair of PIPs, we trotted home with L and after every feeding, we'd start playing Whack-a-Mole on her back as if we had a roll of quarters to burn. Sam would actually get angry with me if I only burped L for, say, five minutes. She'd say, "you need to do it for at least another ten minutes!" with a tone of such disapproval, you'd think I had been teaching L how to freebase cocaine.

Thank god another health professional told us, a few days later, that the initial advice we were given was ridiculous. Now, we burp for, at most, a few minutes and L seems none the worse for it.

Believe me, the opportunities to throw CFS out the window are vast and numerous, especially when you've read the umpteenth book on parenting (that, of course, your friends and family all bought you) or spoken to yet another nurse or doctor giving you contradictory advice. It's a wonder that PIPs aren't all on Paxil during the first month.

Just remember: parenthood - like pimpin' - ain't easy. If you're a PIP try to keep your wits about you as much as possible and never lose sight of CFS. And stop taking advice from other parents.

Including me.

--Poppa Large

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