It starts the second they’re born: we count their fingers and toes, then we start waiting for them to DO stuff. Was that a smile? How much weight has he gained? Are her Apgars good enough? Does he sleep through the night? To how many places can he recite pi? Will we ever stop thinking of our kids in terms of when they do what, and what it means?
We’re always anticipating their next development, but waiting for them to grow out of sucky stages and into good ones is pretty pointless. Just when you’ve learned to appreciate the good (and tolerate the bad) that comes with each and every age, the rules of the whole damned game get switched around.
Do not fool yourself by thinking that life will someday return to normal – that way madness lies. There is no more normal. Instead recognize that there’s good, bad and ugly in every age and stage.
And because it’s better by far to be prepared than to have one’s expectations continually dashed, here’s a cheat sheet for new parents.
First, the Bad News:
You Have Yet to Give Up. Because babies are, by definition, recent additions to one’s lifestyle, one’s memories of the days of efficiency, good grooming, and an intimate relationship with one’s pillow remain uncomfortably fresh. Alas, those days are gone, and it may take a while for standards to erode. Be patient.
You Are Your Own Worst Enemy. Oh, the information you’ll read! Book after book after website after website, desperately trying to get the kid to sleep. But by the time you stumble upon the magical crutch (swaddling? swing? pacifier?) that simmers little Screamy down, you’ll be so ideology-addled you’ll lie awake fretting, convinced he’s now hooked on something bad. This requires even more books to help him kick the habit. It never ends.
Elmo Doesn’t Live Here – Yet. Babies are immune to the hypnotic power of television. This will have terrible effects on your ability to perform basic acts of personal hygiene.
There is No Such Thing as a Baby Whisperer. Despite the publishing industry that relentlessly churns out those damned books (see above), there is truly no way to discipline or train a baby. Your only hope is to roll with the punches. Happily, babies have very small fists.
You’ve Got a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card. Babies provide a failsafe, eleventh-hour excuse for any social engagement or professional responsibility you want to fink on. No need for apologies or explanations, just drop a wee hint about projectile vomiting or explosive diarrhea and you’re off the hook.
Or Scapegoat, if You Prefer. Go on, pin everything on the baby. Your lack of career, your habitual lateness, the circles under your eyes, your poorly toned thighs, inability to return phone calls – you’re blameless, provided you blame the baby. (The baby won’t care. It’s a victimless crime!)
Raffi Can Suck It. Babies can’t yet request hideous children’s music. Keep listening to whatever you want, secure in the knowledge that, should your mother-in-law say “Uh oh! Uh oh!” to your baby, he can’t yet lisp “Bitches Hopping in my Tahoe!” right on cue.
The Big Weep. Babies cry a lot – which may seem like bad news, but it can be a kind of companionship, as new parents of babies cry a lot, too. If you can’t calm them, join them.
First, the bad news:
You’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat. Toddlers are babies writ large – faster, stronger, louder, heavier. When you thwart them, you will pay.
You Can’t Turn Back the Clock. You’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for your baby to walk and talk…but the truth is, mobility and language are wildly overrated. If he can walk, he’ll run away; if he can talk, he’ll talk back. Belatedly, you’ll realize you should have aimed for the far side of the developmental bell curve.
All Id, No Superego. Toddlers have a savant-like ability to suss out the worst possible moments for dreadful public pronouncements. Their phonographic recall is uncanny, as evidenced by their pitch-perfect re-enactment of the choicest rude things you said about your in-laws, right in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner.
No Appetite, Either. They’re like those mosses that survive on air alone – seriously, they go for days eating nothing. Just when you lose your mind, they decide to eat ONLY ONE THING, until the very day you purchase it in bulk, at which point they never touch it again.
You Might as Well Reason with a Barn Animal. While disciplining toddlers is permitted, it has absolutely no effect. He’ll see your wimpy Time Out, and raise you a full bodied punch in your gonads – conveniently located exactly at toddler-fist-swinging height.
Everything’s Still Their Fault. Toddlers make even better scapegoats than babies, so you can keep riding the wave of shiftlessness, sloth, frumpiness and forgetfulness. Actually, since toddlers can trash a room as expertly as any rock star, you can take it up a notch and let your house go straight to hell, too.
They Sing Like Canaries. Worried your in-laws are violating your healthy snack rule behind your back? Toddlers are born stool pigeons, eager to turn over state’s evidence in a heartbeat.
Don’t Feel Guilty – It Builds Vital “Watching Skills.” Say hello to television – your new best friend. You may now shower in peace.
You’re Live. Preschool is parenting without a net. Is your precious darling a biter? A pusher? A non-cleaner-upper? You’ll find out – and so will everyone else.
Time to Get Ill. Preschool will bestow at least one rhinovirus a week on your child, which she’ll pass on to you. Unfortunately, Blowing One’s Own Nose is a sadly neglected part of modern preschool curricula. And her perpetual snot drip makes your preschool child much less appealing.
And No Time for Much Else. Between pick up and drop off, preschool lasts all of seven minutes. (And she’ll be home sick 50 percent of the time, anyway.) Make no commitments you can’t break. Don’t even sign up for a yoga class – why stack the deck against yourself?
The Alibi Lives. Forget that vague pressure to “do” something with your free time – like we said above, you won’t have any. If your kid’s not home with a cold, you will be. Cut yourself some slack, and if you DO luck into a free morning, blow it reading magazines and drinking coffee. No guilt.
You Can Always Go on the Lam. No matter what, the stakes are low. Preschool will not appear on anyone’s permanent record. So your baby bit the teacher – so what? Feign disillusionment – you were told there would be organic snacks! – and hightail it to a rival school across town.
It’s Not Required. If it’s really not working out? What the hell – yank him altogether. You’ll save a bundle on tuition – and Kleenex.
They’re – How to Put This? Not as Cute as They Once Were. Sometime between first and second grade, the transformation begins: your sweet-smelling toddler morphs into a swaggering ruffian. Overlarge front teeth and smelly feet are the tip of the iceberg: there will be attitude; there will be head lice; there will be mandatory dioramas detailing the life cycle of the dragonfly, due tomorrow.
The Milestone That Dare Not Speak Its Name. Finally, your kid can reliably wipe his own ass. Entire DAYS may pass in which you don’t interact with another human being’s bowel movements.
On the Other Hand: It is possible to have an objectively interesting conversation – say, about the life cycle of dragonflies – with a school-aged child.
Where Did They Come From? The term “tween” was invented by corporate marketing executives; given this hateful origin, the demographic’s pretty much what you’d expect. Old enough to approximate many of the true teenager’s most loathsome characteristics, your tween will cling to childish ways whenever it’s inconvenient for you. For instance, instead of sneaking drinks, they’ll count yours.
It’s What Your Great-Grandfather Thought About The Beatles. Their music is atrocious, yet horrifically catchy. Insipid lyrics and dopey synthesizer riffs will colonize your brain, permanently displacing all that moral philosophy and metaphysical poetry you studied in college.
Fifty Ways to Say “You’re Grounded.” The gadgets they love – the iPod, the Wii, the Nintendo DS, the holy cellular phone – are ripe for confiscation. This makes discipline a total no-brainer.
Time to Get Mean. Though they lack the wherewithal to get into serious trouble, tweens are plenty obnoxious, which gives you ample opportunity to flex your authority. Think of it as a low-stakes rehearsal for adolescence, which draws ever nigh. (Brace yourself.)
And Lame. Really Lame. Overnight, the sweet child who doted on you will find your very existence acutely embarrassing. Skip the hurt feelings; seize the power instead. Remember how embarrassed you were when she threw that epic tantrum in the grocery store at age three? It’s payback time.