Sunday, January 24, 2016

Parenting Explained in 5 Simple Graphs

I pride myself on being well-prepared for new experiences. Whenever we travel, for example, I giddily spend months planning the optimal itinerary, which I then type up in a color-coded daily schedule making sure to ignore all the eyerolls from my fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants husband.

 Naturally, when I was expecting our first child, I reasoned that if a successful vacation simply depends on adequate forethought and research, shouldn't childrearing follow suit?

At around 8 months pregnant, after memorizing each page of What to Expect While Expecting, it suddenly dawned on me that I had no earthly clue what to do once the baby actually arrived. None of my friends had babies yet and the internet was not quite so chock full of unsolicited advice back in 2009, but thank goodness for books. Surely after populating the planet for thousands of years, humans had arrived at some sort of general consensus regarding the best practices for raising offspring, and I was confident that wealth of knowledge was shelved, ready and waiting for me, at my local Barnes and Noble.

A day or so later I found myself at the bookstore, casually selecting a few reads on parenting, my decisions mostly based on the attractiveness of the book covers. After all, won't these books mostly repeat the same things? How much could there even be to write about raising an infant? (Though I can't be certain, I believe at this point God was sitting somewhere up in heaven laughing his head off.)

That night I got my very first taste of parenting. I sat in bed, leafing through my copies of Dr. Sears' The Attachment Parenting Book and Babywise, two books which are essentially the oil and vinegar of the parenting world. As I read, I began to feel panic surging in my chest. It was like the feeling you might get if you had stayed up all night studying for a biology test only to find your exam is on chemistry. It was like ordering pizza and getting a plate of beef lomein. It was like spending 9 months revelling in all the attention and joy that comes with a first pregnancy and then OH MY GOSH I'M HAVING A HUMAN PERSON AND THESE BOOKS ARE CRAP.

"JOHN!" I hysterically yelled at my husband.

"What's wrong? Is it the baby?"


"What happened? Did you have a contraction? Did your water break? ARE YOU IN LABOR LET ME PACK SOME BAGS."

"No, no, it's what these books have to say about the baby."


I clutched one book in each hand, wildly gesturing while John adopted the posture of a deflated balloon, a mildly irritated deflated balloon. "You see, this book says if we sleep with the baby he will become a horrible person and this book says if we DON'T sleep with the baby he will become a horrible person!!"

I suppose I was expecting inspired words of wisdom from my husband who was attempting to watch a riveting baseball documentary, but all I received was silence and a slow blink which in no way assuaged my mounting concern.

"These books say the EXACT OPPOSITE thing! How am I supposed to know which one is RIGHT? I mean, I know there's no manual for parenting, but isn't there at least supposed to be a book that everyone agrees on with instructions that tell me EXACTLY WHAT TO DO??" (Though I can't be certain, I believe at this point God was clutching his sides, rolling on the floor.)

I learned an important lesson that night: parenting is a crapshoot. To be honest, in my 6.5 years of raising tiny people, I haven't learned much else, but I've taken what I have learned and turned into 5 highly informative (though severely under-researched) infographics on parenting, just in the hope that anyone googling "baby has been screaming for 2 hours now what" might find some solace.

First up, having a baby. Forget everything those parenting books have told you. Having a baby comes down to two things:

Lord help you if the baby doesn't take a pacifier, but at least you will have extra strong biceps from all the bouncing and swaying. Unfortunately, neither your toned arms nor your honed tracking skills will prove to be the slightest bit useful in the toddler stage.

Basically, you're screwed. 
I have had at least one child in the toddler stage for the past six years or so and still have not developed any telepathic abilities whatsoever, despite being given ample practice opportunities several times a day. I can't even figure out what I did at breakfast this morning to make my 2-year-old scream as if her entire family just died. Was there not enough butter on her toast? Was it too toasted? Should I have cut it into squares instead of triangles? These are the great mysteries of life.

On the upside, my nearly-4-year-old ran up to me recently holding 2 halves of his snack exclaiming, "Mommy, my granola bar breaked and I didn't even cry!!" and I swear, I have never been more proud of him.

Calm down, I know that girls can play with Legos (mine does) and boys can dance around in a sparkly pink tutu (mine does, and don't ever tell him I told you), but currently the majority of my time is spent picking stray specks of glitter off my clothing while listening to the boys replace every noun and/or verb in every song with the word 'poop'.

"Twinkle, twinkle little POOP! How I wonder what you POOP!" All the day long, friends, ALL.THE.DAY.LONG.

"I'm the tooth fairy! No, I'm the POOP FAIRY!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!"

There's a lot of information in parenting books, but certainly none that prepared me for broken granola bars, poop jokes or spending half the baby's infancy bouncing him under a humming vent in a dark bathroom. They never told me that my kids would fight over who gets to sit on my lap WHILE I WAS ON THE POTTY.

They also never prepared me for how completely and utterly these babies would overwhelm my heart. They never painted a picture of early morning cuddles or kitchen dance parties or contagious giggles (because every now then a poop joke is actually kind of funny). They never warned me about a love so fierce and deep it transforms you from the inside out.

Experience is the best teacher and there are some things you just can't learn from books.

Fortunately, internet graphs are always spot on. 

(Though I can't be certain, I believe I just heard laughter.) 

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