Some free* advice for would-be parents.
1. I don’t care what the book says, you cannot know what to expect — whether you’re expecting or not. No matter how many books you read, parenting is all surprises.
Fortunately, not all the surprises are bad ones, like realizing your baby has just spit up blood she swallowed after sucking your nipple raw (true story). There are good ones, too, like laughing yourself silly when your husband expresses confusion because you asked your toddler whether she’d like her toast hot or cold.
2. Learn to ignore things. Like your well-meaning co-workers who know just how to get a baby to stop crying. And couch cushions with cracker crumbs underneath. And your own hygiene. There will be days when you’ll need to be comfortable with squalor.
3. Make a survival kit. The baby will need: diapers, wipes, a safe place to sleep, some clothes, and something to eat. You will need: a long list of people to call when you’re desperate for conversation, an enormous supply of batteries and those itty-bitty screwdrivers (do NOT be caught without replacement batteries at 1 a.m. when the swing gives out), comfort foods that won’t upset the baby’s tummy if you’re breastfeeding**, lots of comfortable clothes, an efficient washer and dryer, a freezer full of quick meals, and the ability to sleep anywhere at any time.
4. Ask yourself some key questions. And not just the more obvious ones about maturity, stability, and financial security. Ask yourself whether you will be giving up coffee and wine while you gestate and nurse a baby**. Think about how long it might be before you see a movie in an actual movie theater. Consider how skilled you really are at eating one-handed.
5. In my babysitting days, I used to think I could never have a baby of my own. I couldn’t change a diaper without gagging; I was sure that if I had to do it several times a day I’d spend my whole life in the bathroom throwing up. But now look at me: I routinely wipe poop off my hands with nary a thought except that I must remember to wash my hands extra thoroughly after this diaper change.
I am including this inspirational tale of personal growth because — well, because #3 and #4 are throwaway paragraphs and I wanted to get back to the real thesis of my parental guidebook. Here it is:
You don’t know what you’re doing, but neither does anybody else, so it’s OK. The end.
*You get what you pay for.
**This goes for you guys, too. If your baby-mama has to give up Starbucks, you better not come home smelling like sweet, sweet caffeine.