Boot Camp, Baby (Week 1)
It sometimes happens, even in the best families, that a baby is born. This is not necessarily cause for alarm. The important thing is to keep your wits about you and borrow some money.
— Elinor Goulding Smith
Hey, welcome home! Cute little baby you’ve got there (and I emphasize little
). But you’ve got everything ready, your nursery (or your bassinet by the bed), your supply of baby clothes and diapers. The pediatrician’s twenty-four-hour emergency hot line tacked to the wall in big black letters so you can read it no matter how little sleep you’ve gotten. Thirty-five receiving blankets at the ready, sent by every well-meaning friend or relative who had to buy you something. Baby dishes and cups and swings and gadgets you won’t even look at for another six months. You’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re set.Useful Terms
Before now, the patois of parenthood bounced off your nonparent Teflon coating. You didn’t need to know anything about varicose veins before you were pregnant, and you were blissfully ignorant of stroller brands and day care costs before now as well. No longer. Now that you’re parents, you’ve got to learn how to talk the talk.
Parent shoptalk is mostly euphemism. Nobody will ever come right out and say what he means, relying instead on several layers of padding to shield you from reality. Other terms are pretty straightforward ... they’re just completely meaningless to the average nonparent. Here are some of the basic new terms and euphemisms you can expect to come across in your new life as a parent.Apgar test
A test developed to describe your baby’s condition at birth on a scale of 1 to 10, using color, cry, and movement as a barometer. No more, no less. But of course parents still tell you when their baby scored a 10. Bowel movement
Poop to you and me, or insert your own personal descriptive noun here.Fontanel
That scary soft spot on baby’s head where the skull hasn’t closed yet. Don’t worry, it will go away soon.Layette
A color-coordinated newborn outfit set. Something a lot of the older women in your family will buy for you. Your newborn won’t notice at all except to spit up all over it.Moses basket
A soft, pillow-lined basket for your newborn to sleep in. Much smaller than a bassinet, and much more chichi than the version Moses went down the river on. You’ll pay a lot more for yours than Moses’ mom did for his.Nipple confusion
What happens when baby tries both a bottle nipple and a real nipple and, apparently, gets the two confused. Lactation enthusiasts consider this a dread condition that will thwart your effort to breast feed.Onesie
A one-piece baby outfit with snaps on the bottom. For diaper changing, you novice!Receiving blankets
Soft, pastel-colored baby blankets that you will swaddle baby in during the early days and use for burp cloths very soon after that. This is fine, since you have hundreds of them.
Then why are you looking so scared?
This is it, guys. This is what you worried about from the first time you ever had sex right on through those Lamaze classes. This is your first week of parenthood — or as many more-seasoned moms and dads refer to it, Boot Camp Time. This is where all your reading, all those baby first-aid classes, all that time spent scouring the Internet for more information leaves you high and dry. It was nothing but primer, you’ll soon be realizing. Background information. A good base. Now that you’ve actually got your baby in hand, the all-important hands-on experience starts.
Yes, I know how you feel. I distantly remember my first week as a mom: my glowing parents doting over their new grandchild, changing a few diapers, stocking our larder with food and then deserting us; the mysteries of breast feeding still undeciphered; the visiting nurse; rampaging hormones.
One emotion surpassed all others, however. Abject, stomach-turning terror. I remember the very first night after my parents left. Luke and I sat on the floor staring at each other, with every one of our parenting books open and cross-referenced as Annie lay peacefully sleeping in her bassinet. Around 10 p.m., when we had begun to think that maybe everyone had been exaggerating about the amount of sleep we could expect in the first three months, Annie began to cry, softly at first, and then building into a prolonged wail. Then she wouldn’t go on the breast. Then the neighbors knocked. By the third night of this, my husband made the profound observation that the most difficult thing to come to terms with was that we couldn’t just put her back in the box when we’d had enough. This was forever. We were parents. Nobody else was going to deal with it. We would not be hitting the snooze bar on our alarm clock for at least a decade.
You’ve heard of sink or swim? Better start kicking those legs.Your Parents’ Revenge
Remember back when you were a surly teenager, vexing your parents by dying your hair unnatural colors or getting yourself kicked out of school? Remember how your parents would wag a weary finger at you and say some variation on the following: “Just wait until you have kids”? You, of course, would sneer and ignore them because you were not planning on being the suburban, breeding type. You were going to be a rock star. Or a poet. Or a famous anarchist. Naturally, you would not ever be having kids.
Now that you’re more evolved, you may have forgotten episodes like these. But rest assured, your parents have not.
Sure, your folks are probably thrilled with the latest addition to the family, and are no doubt secretly amazed that any kid of theirs grew up to take on the responsibility of a child. But beneath these shiny happy feelings lurks something darker. It’s the need for some small measure of revenge. No mere human can resist the urge to finally laugh and say “I told you so.” Not even your sainted mother is immune to this urge.
Now that you’ve just had your first child, now that you’re feeling more vulnerable than you can ever remember feeling, and now that you’re experiencing emotions we don’t have words for, your parents are going to let you have it. Don’t think for a moment that they’re not watching you, gleefully thinking to themselves, At last! Revenge is mine!
Mom and Dad are old hands at this parenting stuff. They did it themselves and were probably ten years younger than you are now when they did. They know what’s coming, and you and your mate only think you do. You’re not fooling them, either. They know you’ve never changed a diaper before today.
The first small act of revenge on you from your parents comes early. It hinges on one small fact that you, in your hormonal stupor, may have overlooked until now:
When the crying gets too loud, your parents can leave.
You’re the parents now. Your own parents have waited for this moment for many years. Indeed, they may even have calculated the cruelest moment at which to look at their watches and slip out the door (usually when the baby wakes up for the night).
Contrary to popular belief, parenthood doesn’t start when you give birth, although it sure as hell feels like it. Nor does it officially start in the hospital, where a group of skilled professionals are mopping your brow and bringing you food. Even if you are “rooming in,” that is, spending your first precious night after birth with baby instead of parceling it out to the nursery, you’ve still got a professional nurse coming around every few hours to make sure your gross ineptitude hasn’t killed it.
Excerpted from Planet Parenthood by Julie Tilsner. Copyright © 2001 by Julie Tilsner. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.