To commemorate my tenth article detailing the misadventures of the first-time father, I thought I would offer something that is freely given, but can be worth more than gold—advice. Here are 10 tips to ease the transition from mentally stable, well-rested adult to addled, murmuring parent. Consider these the “what-to-do’s” from someone who tried all the “what-not-to-do’s” first.
1 – Get a good stroller. There are many unnecessary luxuries and avoidable expenses when it comes to buying things for your baby. Strollers are the exception. Your stroller will be the most important baby-related item you own. Research strollers as thoroughly as you would a car — I recommend buying a consumer’s guide — and find the one that fits your lifestyle. Go to a store that has a lot of the mid to top-tier strollers on the floor so you can test drive them (Bye Bye Baby in NJ is one such store). Expect to pay what it would cost to spend one night in a really, really nice hotel. When you consider all the time your baby will spend in her stroller, the expense seems sensible.
2 – Water is the most plentiful natural resource on our planet, and once your baby starts teething, drool will be the most plentiful form of water in your home. If I had to make a movie about parenting it would be called “There Will Be Drool.” Our son drools so much that CNN should have a camera shot of his mouth running 24/7 while they broadcast. I cannot offer enough ridiculous hyperbole to prepare you for how much drool will fill your life.
3 – Our pediatrician gave us wonderful advice on our first visit: Have a routine. It was never too early to start trying to get our son to sleep when and where we wanted him to sleep, and eat when and how much we wanted him to eat. Getting a newborn to stick to a routine is like getting a frightened cat to do the cha-cha. It’s not easy and it doesn’t go exactly as you want, but if you stick with it, before you know it, the cat is doing the Charleston.
4 – Parents talk about crying more than Eskimos talk about snow. You will end more sentences with “crying” than you thought possible: Is he crying? Why is he crying? Did he stop crying? Is that him crying? I think he’s going to start crying. Are you crying? It goes on and on. To ameliorate the crying, learn the word “swaddle” and use it. There are many books and classes on swaddling and I recommend you read or take one. Knowing how to swaddle is the most important sanity-keeping trick a parent can employ, narrowly edging out the ability to open a wine bottle with drool-covered hands.
5 – If you are having a baby or have an infant who still gets up at night, here’s something you can look forward to – the first time your little one sleeps through the night. It is one of the five or six best things that will ever happen to you. When I think about the first time my son slept through the night, I tilt my head back, stare into the nearest heaven and grin for ten minutes. It is that good. It might take 10 weeks, it might take 100 weeks, but the time will come and it will be wonderful.
6 – You may lead a placid, annoyance-free life now, but I warn you, that will change the second time you have to button those ubiquitous tiny metal snaps on your baby’s clothes. The first time you will bemusedly say something like, “Hmm, these little buggers sure are tough to close.” But by the second time you will be screaming questions about how a deity who loves us could allow for the existence of such joy-devouring things as these tiny metal buttons
7 – A baby is the paramount of beauty and perfection, with one major design flaw – fingernails. I still haven’t figured out why babies are born with these tiny box cutters on each hand. They have no muscle control, they have skin as delicate as silk, and they have a horrific instinct to swipe themselves across the face uncontrollably? For the first three weeks I thought there was a raccoon living in the closet of our nursery that would mercilessly claw at our son’s face at night. Whether you clip, file, or chew them off, make sure you keep an eye on your baby’s fingernails, before she scratches one of hers out.
8 – Diapers, it’s not you, it’s me. In an early article I wrote a heartfelt panegyric to diapers. That was before our son starting eating solid foods. Now, let’s just say diapers are not the same disposable sanitary product I fell in love with and changing them is no longer a loving act of convenience and pleasantness. I am guilty of giving my heart to something too soon, before I knew what I was really getting into.
9 – My wife and I, as a couple, were not arguers. As new parents, we were Ali-Fraser sans gloves. It is to be expected, because there is no way for the new dad to mentally prepare to find his happy, quiet home invaded by a crying, irrational, uncommunicative creature who is given to unprovoked tantrums…and her baby! Basically, you’re both not at your best after Baby #1 – you’re scared, you’re exhausted, and neither of you knows what to do, but you’re sure the other one knows less than you. It takes a while for a happy couple to transition to a happy family, but rest assured, it happens and you laugh about it later, usually with other couples who experienced the same thing. Remember, early on diapers are great and your marriage is stinky, after a few months, the reverse is true.
10 – “Enjoy it, it goes by too fast.” You’ll hear those seven words again and again, and when those first sleepless weeks feel like years, you won’t be able to imagine how time could feel normal, let alone pass so fast you might miss something. Every person with kids of their own who meets your new baby will say something about cherishing these times because they grow up so fast. You will think that maybe this is just something everyone says, but sooner than later, when your newborn is getting closer to being a toddler, and teeth pop up and the crawling starts and he is eating solid foods and one day you walk into his room and that little helpless infant you brought home just yesterday ( it seems) is standing in his crib smiling at you. I now look at pictures of Henry when we were still counting his age in weeks, and I can’t believe how much he’s changed just when I thought he would stay the same for a little while at least. Everyone says the same thing, and everyone is perfectly right: enjoy it. They grow up way too fast.