Lessons in parenting (Year One)

My son turned one year old Wednesday.

This means that I can officially join the legions of parents everywhere who say (and truly mean) 'It goes so fast.'

By “it,” of course, I am referring to “money for diapers,” though it’s fair to say that it also could apply to time.

Fourteen months ago, before I had ever seen his little face, I wrote my son a long letter. In it, I explained the nervous excitement that my wife and I felt anticipating his arrival, the surreal knowledge that in a matter of days I would meet a tiny person I helped create but who I could not visualize in any meaningful way.

I wrote that I wondered about how my life would change upon his arrival. . . How many hours he would keep me and my wife awake at night crying. . . How many diapers I would have to change. . . How bad they might smell once he started eating meat. . . How we would afford his daycare. . . How we would manage to go places with him. . . What would happen if he cried uncontrollably in public? How I would handle the added stress of being a parent on top of the existing stress of owning a business, being married and playing in four fantasy sports leagues. (That was a joke. Owning a business is easy!)

(That was a joke, too.)

These were real concerns and fears. But before I could finish contemplating them all, Cameron was born.

I’d like to think that during the past 365 days, I’ve learned a few things about parenting. This may or may not be true, but at least I know more about it than my son does. We’d both be in big trouble otherwise.

I work from home two days a week to be with my son. By that I mean that I stay at home with him and get absolutely no work done at all. I wouldn’t trade it for a thing, either.

What have I learned in the past year? A few things, at least. Most parents reading this probably are far more experienced than I, but for you soon-to-be parents, take note (at your own risk):

• Prepare for the worst

My wife and I took so many parenting classes before our son was born that I accidentally earned a degree in pediatric medicine. By the time he was due, with so much information and so many scenarios floating around in my brain, I fully expected him to pop out screaming and covered in feces, to cry nonstop the first six months of his life and to sleep maybe 20 minutes a day if we were lucky. And I was ready for it all, or so I thought.

• Hope for the best

Imagine my surprise when instead, he turned out to be a perfectly quiet and well-behaved little guy who has slept 9-10 hours a night since he was six weeks old and who seems perfectly content sitting and playing in relative peace most days. Were the horror stories I’d heard about babies who didn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time for a year or more all lies? Did someone slip my kid a supply of sleeping pills when I wasn’t looking? Were we just very fortunate? Who knows. But judging from a number of friends who’ve had similar experiences, the odds that your child will be well-behaved seem just as strong as the odds that he or she won’t be. Take solace!

• Buy a swaddling blanket

My many hours of parenting training – complete with interaction with mannequin babies – convinced me that the most important skill I would need during the first several months of my son’s life was an ability to swaddle him in a receiving blanket so that he would feel secure and fall asleep. (In retrospect, this was wrong. The most important skill actually is learning how to remove a diaper and onesie covered in poo without: a) further soiling your child, b) allowing him to squirm off the changing table or c) allowing the dog to lick him during this process.)

To my dismay, however, upon his birth, I learned that our child was not a mannequin. His arms, legs and entire body could move at any time, often all at once. My swaddling talents were useless against him. Fortunately, I learned that a brilliant person had invented a blanket/bag combination into which you can place your baby, then velcro two flaps across his chest, and – presto! – he’s swaddled and content.

Buy this blanket.

• Marvel at your child’s ability to learn

During our first night at home with our son, he was in the midst of a very rare crying spell in the middle of the night. As I tried rocking him in my arms to calm him down, he stopped crying for a moment and studied me intently. The surprisingly wise look in his eyes convinced me beyond any doubt that he knew something I didn’t. Maybe a lot of things, actually.

Struck by that moment, I’ve taken great pleasure every day since in observing the way his mind processes the way life is happening around him. Later in his life, he won’t remember the ways in which he figured out how to roll over, crawl, stand, feed himself and walk, nor the expressions on his face as he accomplished each one for the first time.

But I will.

• Pack-and-plays are worthless

Before Cameron’s birth, I envisioned my work-from-home days going something like this: We’d wake up, I’d feed him, he’d take a nap for a few hours while I dealt with menial tasks like e-mail, voice mail and planning for his college education, then I’d feed him again and put him into his pack-and-play, where he would delightfully entertain himself for hours with a singing stuffed animal and a set of plastic blocks.

You can imagine my disappointment, then, when upon placing him into the cozy-looking pack-and-play for the first time, just a few feet away from my desk, he responded by screaming as if I had dropped him into a vat of ice water. The response each time since then has been exactly the same, give or take a few decibel levels.

I have since learned from every other person who has ever had a child that their youngsters responded the same way to this evil creation. Babies will sleep overnight in pack-and-plays, but expecting them to do anything else is a fruitless endeavor. Buyer beware!

• Remember why you’re in this to begin with

As people, and as parents, we tend to complain too much. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism we use, maybe we have nothing else to talk about and it just comes out, or maybe sometimes we just want to be heard. But in years past, I’ve been struck at times by what seems to be an inordinate amount of complaining by parents about their children. Nothing major, mind you, and perhaps most of them were just blowing off steam, but a barrage of little things sometimes made me wonder why they had children in the first place.

“I was up all night with him AGAIN…”

“She refuses to eat the food that I make for her…”

“He won’t ever sit still or behave when I want him to…”

“I spend my whole life taking him to school, picking him up, taking him to practice, bringing him home…”

It’s easy to lose focus at times. Occasional frustration is a real part of parenting and it happens to most everyone. But take a moment to remember what it was like in the beginning, or earlier.

When I found out we were having a son, I cried. I was struck immediately by the thought that one day, I would be able to play catch with him the same way my dad did with me years ago. On the rare occasions when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed as a dad, I think about that moment, look into my son’s eyes and breathe.

It’s been one great year, and I’m very thankful.

E-mail Citizen Publisher Tom Lappas at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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