No amount of education or reading could prepare us for our new life. Our son took us by surprise. He strode into our lives and conquered us.
Within hours of his birth, he had made us his servants, loyal subjects to a new ruler. We thought we were prepared; we thought we’d be in charge. Both my wife and I are teachers, and both of us have a long history of working with children and youth dating back to our adolescence. My wife has taught in multiple parts of the country, and I have taught in B.C. and in London, England. We had babysat for family and friends. We had even worked in the kids’ centres on cruise ships with children from around the world. Unsure if that was enough, we went beyond our own experience. We read the right books, observed our friends with their kids, and even spied on strangers in coffee shops, all the while forming theories about parenthood and how we could improve on what we saw! But all of that made little difference once our son arrived. He was cute to be sure, and a good thing, because right from the start we were challenged.
We were quickly overwhelmed and felt that we had lost who we were. But eventually, with a little patience and a few tricks, we began to re-invent our life. Here’s our how-to guide.
Overcome your fears.
For the first week and a half we became shut-ins, seeing our family but ignoring our friends. We felt that we couldn’t handle any visitors and even phone calls and emails were too much for us. We didn’t venture out of the house for days. But thinking back, that was a mistake. Small outings are good practice for bigger outings and with each trip that the three of us took to coffee shops and grocery stores, our confidence improved. It is amazing how liberating it feels to take a trip to the local library for the first time after the birth. Having friends over was fun. We appreciated having the company, and friends with children of their own understood that the house might be a mess. They would even take him from us for an hour or two and let us escape together to another part of the house.
Divide and conquer
We were nervous to look after him alone so at first, did all bottle feeds and changes together. This soon wore us both out. Neither my wife nor I got a break, and we became exhausted from lack of undisturbed sleep. Finally, in desperation, we decided that we needed to take turns, and we forced ourselves to do a change and feed on our own. We quickly gained confidence and enjoyed the free time it allowed us. We discovered WhiteNoise, an app for the iPhone. It helped our son settle down quickly. We also used an app called Pocket Informant to keep track of appointments.
A number of books were helpful, such as The Essential First Year and Your Baby and Child by Penelope Leach. Unlike other books on babies, these two books focus on allaying parents` worries and fears. Leach tells you how new parents feel and explains what your baby is experiencing. Her tips are practical and illuminate what your baby is experiencing. Dr. Harvey Karp, in his book The Happiest Baby on the Block, has a different approach. He sets out a program designed to soothe your crying baby by explaining an infant’s need to experience a fourth trimester and what you can do to help create one. Following Dr. Karp`s advice meant that our son rarely cried and when he did we had the skills to calm him quickly and efficiently. These books helped us make the chaos of parenting feel more manageable.
Accept small mercies
We learned a number of tricks that helped us re-create a semblance of our former life. Usually an avid reader, I couldn’t find the time or energy to dig into a good book. So, I chose to start small and instead of reading a novel, I selected short stories – Sherlock Holmes were my favourites. They offered the escape of a novel without the commitment. I also listened to audio books while I drove or did housework. We watched many movies while we did feeds. We found that we could borrow and request most Hollywood movies and TV series from the library for free which meant we had a never-ending supply.
Rediscover the kitchen
Eating healthy homemade meals became a challenge. I had always liked to cook and used to spend a lot of time making nutritionally balanced meals, but once our son arrived we became so busy and exhausted that we soon began to order in pizza and eat fast food. It was Norene’s Healthy Kitchen, by Norene Gilletz, that got us back on track. The recipes in her book are healthy, easy to make, and don’t require complicated ingredients. They always turn out well and taste great. With this cookbook, which is packed with nutritional information and healthy cooking tips, we were able to eat well once again.
Discover the baby sling
Part of the struggle with having a newborn, especially one like our son who prefers not to sleep during the day, is the inability to do chores and hobbies. We found ourselves constantly needing to hold our son because as soon as we put him in his bassinet or in his swing, he would start to cry. As Penelope Leach explains, babies crave contact comfort: they need to be held or touched most of the time. This meant that we had no time to ourselves. Looking around our apartment, desperately searching for something to offer some relief, we found our baby carrier. It is made by Babybjörn and although they are expensive to buy new, they are well worth the money. With my son strapped to my chest, I could carry him around the house as I did dishes and tidied up. It also gave me the freedom to read a book or work on the computer. It gave my son the contact comfort he needed and kept my hands free. Even if he started out fussing and crying, the Babybjörn won every time, and he would soon be dozing contentedly on my chest.
Tidy – sort of
Having many visitors as well as all the baby paraphernalia has made keeping a clean home difficult. We can no longer spend an afternoon cleaning, so we began to adopt my mother’s policy: never go anywhere empty-handed. As we move from room to room, we make a point of picking up at least one thing that doesn’t belong and putting it away. It is surprising how quickly this makes a difference to the general mess. We extended this policy to include general cleaning such as the bathroom mirror and dusting. A little bit at a time makes the clean up manageable.
Our life now is different. Some things are lost, but more have been gained. At times I feel like we travel around with an A-list celebrity. It’s like partying with Justin Timberlake in which even the most exclusive clubs open their doors. My dad will now park his car on the street to give us preferential parking when we arrive. With just a call, we’re welcome for dinner at my parents’ any night. People who before wouldn’t venture far from their neighbourhoods, now visit us at home. Even plans for a friend’s destination wedding were cleared with us. What would be better for us – Hawaii or Whistler? Could we do Tofino?
We are content to trail behind him as his entourage, building his ego and constantly flattering him like any good lackey. He’s our son. He’s perfect.
Published in June, 2011.