Archive for March, 2010

Sous Chef

Trying to prepare for the baby itself is nigh impossible. There’s just too much you can’t know about the little ball of chaos. You can’t know about personality, illness, temperment, sleep schedule and on and on. You just can’t really ever prepare fully for the big arrival. What you can do, though, are rack up little victories where you can.

There are some things you can say very concretely you are ready for. You either have a crib or you do not. You either know how to install the car seat or you do not. You either know how to prepare a meal, or you do not.

I did not, but I wasn’t thrilled about it.

I’ve been pretty lucky to live my life to date with good cooks. My Mom, my Dad (who was not the primary cook in the house, but as I got older was called in to reveal some of his signature items) and Janelle. Growing up, I didn’t do any cooking, because, well, how many kids do the cooking in their household? In college I ate as most college kids do. I prepared typical college meals that consisted of dumping a couple of packets of something into a pot and then mixing and heating them up. After Janelle and I moved in together I didn’t cook because I wasn’t really allowed to.

Janelle really enjoys cooking and baking. Janelle also really enjoys having things done her way, dammit. So, every night, almost without fail, I would ask “Do you want me to help you make anything?” and I would get a “Nope” in response. It’s basically impossible to complain about this arrangement, but it’s my way of justifying that I am 28 years old and don’t really know how to prepare anything but the most basic dishes for myself.

I can follow directions, so recipes are certainly something I could tackle. However, I’m a bit of a nervous learner. When dealing with something where I cannot very easily wave a wand and undo my work, I’m very hesitant to proceed. So, despite the fact that if I ruined some food I could just go out and buy more ingredients and try again, I’d be very reluctant to start out uncoached just because I’d mess it all up the first go. True or not, the feeling would be impossible to escape. Plus, what I want is the ability to throw down spontaneously. I would like to pick up Janelle’s ability to walk into a kitchen, look at what she has in front of her and just freestyle it into something tasty.

I first got the idea into my head that I wanted to cook more after watching a video from Robert Rodriguez (warning: harsh language) where he talks about how every man should know how to cook, and then proceeds to give a lesson on cooking one of his favorite dishes. The thing I found most appealing was his concept of having his own personal menu. I’m a fan of it in an intangible way, but it’s pretty awesome that he also has a little laminated menu guests can look it. I would like to have myself a signature set of dishes.

Being able to cook is a huge boon. It will keep you healthy when there’s no one else around you who will cook. It makes for great romantic evening fodder. And it sure as hell is going to help when, for months after the birth of our baby, Janelle ends up needing to be up all night long, every couple hours, to feed the baby. It’s nice to think about prepping and freezing meals in advance to make it easier to cook when the baby is here, but our freezer is big enough to hold maybe three days of food. Maybe.

So, I’m on a journey to learn how to be a better cook. I need to, in a couple month’s time, be ready to be able to cook a full, balanced meal and to do so in a manner that doesn’t involve my nagging Janelle for help every couple steps and doesn’t leave her sitting on the couch mulling over how I’m probably in there messing everything up.

I have no idea what I can expect from the baby. What I do know, though, is that I can make a pretty tasty side of asparagus spears, rice and boil some eggs. They may be small victories, but they are victories nonetheless. Maybe this weekend I’ll make some chicken.

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Territorial

I started out working on a more non-standard blog post. I was going to script out a fake dialogue between Janelle and me and a daycare center person where they answer all of our questions in the worst possible way. I might still try and crank that out, but I’m not doing so hot with crafting up snappy dialog lately.

So, instead, I’ll relate a brief tidbit I found amusing and then amble into a short couple of paragraphs that actually have something to do with the post title. Isn’t this the most exciting post ever?

Today at our Bradley class, we closed things, as usual, with a relaxation exercise. These all involve the mother receiving a massage from the father and have some variants applied. Today’s was that we were intended to provide mental relaxation along with the physical. So, as we are massaging, we’re supposed to relate to her a soothing scene and try to get her to focus on that and relax her body.

So, as I lean over Janelle and massage her shoulders I whisper to her: “You’re on a beach, and the sun is shining and warm and the wind is gentle, but just enough to cool your skin. The sand beneath your feet is soft and hot on the top, but as your feet sink in, the sand begins to get colder and more refreshing. You look around and there are monkeys everywhere. Hundreds of monkeys. And they’ve all got on suits of armor and they’re having a grand swordfight. Too violent? Okay. There are monkeys everywhere. And they’re all riding on ponies. And eating popcorn. Monkeys as far as the eye can see. Soooo relaxing.”

This is what Janelle has to deal with.

Now, to topic…

Janelle is pretty officially in the nesting stage. She specifically wanted to be the one to assemble the baby’s crib because she wants to begin putting her stamp on the nursery. I think that I have also entered into the male form of nesting: territoriality.

We are by nature social creatures, so I don’t mean that I’m scaring off the neighbors and trying to eat their children to ensure my dominance in the pack. I am, however, finding myself quick to defend our little homestead. I’m noticing this most in the arena of creepy-crawlies. It sounds silly, but it seems to be a measurable change. I’m pretty quick to act in snuffing out pests whereas previously it was something I would tackle grudgingly, always kind of hoping Janelle would feel like doing it herself rather than asking me to handle the dirty work. Now, though, bugs are intruders. They are both a blemish on the investment that is this home and a danger to my impending offspring. So I set phasers to kill.

I even killed a black widow the other day. Granted, it was done with a can of RAID and then a shovel to finish the job—it’s not as if we engaged in single combat with switchblade knives—but I hate me some spiders (HATE) and it wasn’t even something I blinked about. I knew in a very rational way that while a black widow wouldn’t be a problem for me even if I were to be bitten (I’m too large and not so foolish as to forego treatment on a bite), it would likely be a very big problem for an expectant mother like Janelle.

I won’t be placing pikes in the front yard onto which I can impale my conquests as a warning to other interlopers, but I was pleased to note that my immediate reaction to protect my home and my family, from even a very small danger, was there. Janelle can build the crib… I’ll start setting up the turrets.

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Stealthy

This is actually a third attempt at a post. Hopefully this one sticks. You’ll see the other two one day, once I’ve made them suck less.

This is advice that doesn’t apply to an expecting parent specifically, but it may apply to them especially. Stress is a stealthy thing. I haven’t been feeling particularly stressed, not in any way I’ve been hugely conscious of. I’m busy, but that’s been my M.O. since high school. So I don’t think anything of it. Par for the course. But I’ve got new things that are in the background. The baby and the home are carving out spaces in my brain that I’m not aware of.

If I think of my brain like a computer file server, I’ve partitioned it out into different pieces. Let’s make it easy and say my brain is normally split into three even parts: work, relationship, miscellaneous to-do. Now that I’ve got new things to focus on, the system administrator that live in my brain has carved out new partitions for house and baby. The thing is, though, that my brain’s capacity has not increased. So if I now have new partitions for these items, I have less room for everything else—I just don’t realize it yet.

Well, I do now, but that’s because my body let me know it was an issue. Early evening on Sunday, I realized my left jaw was sore, like I’d been chewing gum only on that side for days and the muscle had gotten tired. Monday and Tuesday this progressed into muscle pain that would make me wince whenever I started to chew or clench my teeth at all. It has faded now, but only after a pretty healthy amount of massage over the last two days. I’m almost 100% sure that I’ve been clenching and grinding my teeth, probably while I’m sleeping, as a way to vent my stress.

I don’t tell myself I’m stressed, but if I step back and take stock of my day, it’s pretty clear that I am. Today, for example, I’ve sent out 30-something e-mails and fixed at least 20 entirely unrelated issues BEFORE NOON. Even on a day that I consider a slow day, I probably send 30-40 e-mails and solve 10-20 different problems. Then when I get home, I’ve got at least seven house projects and two or three baby projects or decisions to deal with. Maybe back when I didn’t have the house and baby to deal with, everything I took care of at work was manageable in my brain, but no longer.

I need to learn to pace myself better. Maybe I schedule blocks of time for myself to spread out my tasks. Maybe I head home early a couple days. Maybe I need to delegate more tasks. But I need to do something, because you can’t shrug off duties related to the baby until later. If you don’t handle these things in advance, they become small disasters later on down the line. My fix here is a pretty simple one: make a to-do list, preferably a physical one. Put a limited set of items on that list. Maybe one is hard or multi-part, the others, maybe three to five of them, are all easy. Don’t think about anything else except those items, and when you finish them, cross them out with a big, bold pen stroke. Each one is a victory, and being able to visual that and physically express it is important.

Try not to neglect some self-reflection as you focus more and more on external things, like a tiny new person. If you’re no good for yourself, you’re certainly no good to them. After all, aren’t the best managers people who can practice what they try to teach? Manage the items you can and celebrate all the victories you can claim, large or small.

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Day Off

I had a nice weekend of not doing anything but snacking and having some pizza and playing video games with my brother and sister in law (and now finally own Mario Kart thanks to them!). And, here on Sunday night, I’ve decided to continue that trend and not really write a post.

And that, I suppose, is enough implied advice to merit a post.

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The Shmoopy Stash

Janelle and I are still trying to finish getting the new house all settled and cleaned. It’s slow going, since we really only end up having time to work on something every other day. Making matters slower is the fact that we tend to approach a project, and then find some reason why we should wait before tackling it. Maybe we’re missing some furniture we want. Maybe there are boxes in the way that need other things to be finished before they can be moved and emptied.

I set out to tackle our guest bedroom. I wanted to organize a desk and filing cabinet, as well as populate a hutch with books and miscellany. I didn’t get very far. But I did manage to uncover the Shmoopy Stash.

If you don’t feel like watching that clip, “Shmoopy” is the apex of sickening romantic cuteness. The Shmoopy Stash is therefore then all the constituent parts  that comprise the romantic cuteness. Janelle and I each have one, though it’s not a formal arrangement. When I told her I had found the Shmoopy Stash I had to take a minute to explain to her what in the hell I was talking about. We just each happened to hold onto a bunch of keepsakes from our relationship. Post-it notes, letters, postcards. They cover a pretty solid swath of the start of our relationship.

In the course of cleaning and moving about in life, I think there’s a tendency to get rid of things like this, but I would caution against that. Janelle and I get along great, don’t get me wrong, but our relationship lacks the sense of shattering urgency it started with. Just like every sitcom marriage you’ve ever seen, things have cooled down since the heady days of our youth, lo these many eons past. I can only assume it will morph further in a couple of months (!) when the baby arrives. Distractions abound. Soon they will stampede.

The Shmoopy Stash is a perfect capsule of that time. It’s a bit of inspiration. Sure, there’s the occasional picture of a much skinnier self that carries with it a tinge of pouting, but by and large everything you keep will be a piece of kindling. Reading through letters written to each other during our first summer apart (we had only dated for a couple of weeks before Janelle moved up to Seattle for the summer with her parents) and being able to read and remember how much our relationship wasn’t just a general fact of our lives—the way your heartbeat is just one of those things your body does to keep you alive—but was an active and driving focus of our priorities was invigorating.

We’re committing to changing now. It can’t be escaped. When that baby arrives life can never be the same again. It’s the single thought that makes me nervous (outside of “How would I protect the baby in the event of ninjas?”). How will I like it? What will it be like? There’s never, ever any way to tell. You simply can’t prepare for it. I have no idea how it will affect Janelle and me. Sure, I have hopes and expectations, but I’m not so naive as to bank on them.

What I do know is that the Stash will always be upstairs, piled unceremoniously in the bottom drawer of a boring plastic storage unit. It will be filled with absurdly overwrought emotions and pining and epiphanies. It’s the architecture of us and the foundation of this new family. I know that just a minute shuffling through it will remind me that while life will never be the same again, there’s always one thing that I can set my heart on.

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Mad Libs

I almost wasn’t going to write a post tonight. I’ve been pretty tired, and Tuesday’s are the hardest days of the week. In order to help Janelle’s morning blood sugar levels stay down, we take a walk for 20 minutes after breakfast. This means that in order to have the time for our full morning routine, plus a full breakfast (rather than one we bring to work and eat) and a walk, we’re up at 5am each day. On days we have class, we have enough time to get home, eat dinner and sit for a bit, and then we’re in the car on the way to class. We usually don’t get home until just before 10pm. I was planning on just finding some wacky YouTube video and posting it as a throwaway post.

But then the workbook we read in class provided a save.

We went over a sheet of paper that was a series of lines of encouragement that the coach (typically the code-name for Dad in the Bradley system, but really anyone who is assisting the mother to give birth) can say to the mother to help her get through the process. Each suggestion, though, hand one or two blanks inserted into it and in class we discussed the things that you could say in those spots to the mom.

Being fairly well bored, I took a break from doing mental anagrams of random words in the booklet (protip: great way to pass the time when bored) and decided to play Birthing Coach Madlibs.

First Stage Labor

  1. “Concentrate on your hands being loose, and deadly, and flashing gang signs.”
  2. “The stronger the contraction, the more you have to shotgun a beer.”
  3. “You’re doing a grunty job.”
  4. “Isn’t my wife doing pantsless things!”
  5. “Picture your cervix rampaging like a Mongolian horde.”
  6. “The discomfort in your back means the baby is moving into a new tax bracket.”
  7. “Think about the baby moving contraband through your checkpoints.”
  8. “You’re doing something!”
  9. “You look pretty sweaty, actually.”
  10. “I love pie.”
  11. “Think of yourself as a leaf floating on a huge, sweaty hippo.”

Second Stage Labor

  1. “Hold your breath as long as is humanly possible.”
  2. “Push to the point of generating escape velocity.”
  3. “You’re doing stuff!”
  4. Mediocre job!”
  5. “Completely crush the doctor between your thighs and recoup your energy.”
  6. “I can see the OHMYGODWHATISTHAT.”

I’m pretty sure Janelle’s going to be the most encouraged Mom in that hospital once I’ve given her these inspiring gems.

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The Path of Awesome, Part 1

I consider it to be a moral imperative that in the course of fatherhood (note that I typo’d that originally as “farterhood”, which is pretty damn funny) I not only steer my child off the path of hoodlumitude, but onto the path of maximal awesome.

To know awesome is to be awesome. It is possible for an appreciation for awesome to go awry (see: frat douche), but I think it should be a pretty critical point of instruction for any child. My parents saw to it that I got a healthy dose of quality through my formative years and I have managed to become a pretty Rad Dude™.

I’ve been trying to think up a bit of a curriculum and figured I would bullet point some of it here. Feel free to contribute.

  • Episodes IV, V and VI are the only ones that matter.
  • Orcs are NOT something Blizzard Software came up with.
  • James Cameron may be kind of an a-hole, but dammit, he’s earned that right with Aliens alone.
  • You have to like James Brown.
  • Arsenic and Old Lace is funnier and wackier than most anything else out there, 70 years later.
  • It’s difficult to find a better way to pass 90 minutes with friends than by mocking a terrible film.
  • The Hunt for Red October should probably be something you’ve seen at least a dozen times before leaving for college.
  • Calvin and Hobbes is wonderful and Bill Watterson is a genius.
  • Nobody likes Nickelback.
  • It might be convenient to play games with people over a network, but you can never beat being able to flaunt your crushing victory face to face.

And if you ever wonder why there is such a preponderance of web articles that are just lists of things, I came up for this post Sunday night while fighting off the urge to sleep. Lists = easy. I am, however, serious about contributions to this list.

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There Will Be Poop

The birth of a child is a bit of magic, but the act of labor is decidedly not. It’s the ugly that comes before the pretty. Movies have taught us that labor is a pregnant woman walking around, totally fine, and then suddenly gasping that “gasp My water just broke!”.

SMASHCUT TO: INTERIOR HOSPITAL DAY

Now there’s a woman on a bed, sweaty with mussed up hair, a doctor between her knees, alternating yelling about how “YOU did this to me” to the father and “Just give me DRUGS” to anyone else. Minutes later, a baby! Shazam!

Now, I don’t want to bring your world crashing down around you, but movies are inaccurate (Just ask my friend Alex one time about ballistics in action films, it will be enlightening). What you see in a film is, as it should be, the action-oriented portion of labor. What labor actually is might be more akin to playing World of Warcraft: it’s a grind.

Just so I don’t lose like 65% of my audience with that reference—you can’t just enter a hospital and come out with a baby. You check into a room and proceed to, you know, labor for a long time. Only after keeping at the act of labor for a long time can you reap the reward of a baby. This is, of course, not considering a scheduled Caesarean.

Labor averages out to around 8 hours. Not 8 hours of fun at Disneyland. 8 hours of THIS BLOWS. The pain of labor is, for the bulk of it, contractions of the muscles in the uterus as they draw back and prepare to start shoving the baby out of the body. They come in waves with increasing frequency. Once they are up to around one every minute or so, it’s go time. On top of that pain, though, many Mom’s will also find themselves with crippling back pain, or pain in the ligaments around the pelvis. Then there’s also the fatigue and tension resulting from being in pain on and off for basically an entire workday. And don’t even talk to me about the episiotomy (seriously, don’t).

When it’s time for the baby to arrive, the doctors will begin asking a very tired woman who has been in pain all day long and has either been trying to keep herself as relaxed as is humanly possible or is medically relaxed from the waist down to push. All I’m saying is that it’s entirely common for the baby not to be the only thing to make an appearance in the delivery room.

Not being prepared for all this can make for a pretty miserable labor experience. I’ve been reading and taking classes about it, but I’ve only just now started to grow acclimated to the notion that labor is going to be very awkward. We’ll be in a small room (very likely a shared room), there will be pain and grunting and private moments in a reasonably public space. We’ll both be uncomfortable, she’ll be in pain and I’ll spend the entire time feeling helpless because she’s in pain and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Had I gone into the labor experience figuring it would be anything like how it is always portrayed, I think I would be both disappointed and useless. But I know better. I’m ready for Janelle to be in pain and I’m ready to sit for about 8 hours and massage her back (stories abound of fathers with arms sore for days after the labor). I’m ready for her to be grumpy and in need of patience. I’m ready for it to be rocky and claustrophobic and funky. I’m ready for a wrinkly, angry looking little baby.

And I’m ready for the poop.

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Fear Itself

There are two things that are a bit at odds with one another when preparing for a baby. On one hand, you are told to try and avoid stress. It causes tension, which can cause a host of other bodily discomforts. It causes blood sugar levels to rise, dangerous in the case of mothers with gestational diabetes. It’s just bad news. On the other hand, you are advised to keep yourself informed and prepared and information has a tendency to cause stress.

Learning to sift through the many info streams that are coming your way to find the tidbits that are helpful is a tricky art. Allow me to impart a bit of wisdom that has guided me through many years of heavy internet browsing and maintain my sanity: never read the comments. Ever. You may find yourself reading an elucidating article by an erudite author and figure that the readership may have some worthwhile input that can expand upon the topic. You are wrong. Just go along about your business and open another webpage. There are lots of them! Some aren’t about porn!

This rule includes most forums as well, as they are really just extended comment sections. Janelle and I recently had to agree that she would stop reading through the forums on The Bump. While browsing through to get some information and read about experiences of other mothers with gestational diabetes, she found herself in the High Risk Pregnancy area of the forum. She found herself reading posts from mothers who, in their forum signature (a bit of text and/or graphics that tails every post they make, much like an e-mail signature would) have photos of their premature babies with captions detailing how they died shortly thereafter. Mothers that, using an automated signature tool the forum has, list the dates that their stillborn children would have been had they survived. And, as you would expect, the posts in this area are filled with the kind of horror stories that will keep a mother up at night.

But you can trust books, right? They’re filled with facts and information meant to inform you and make you safe. Well… not always. The world of pregnancy is fraught with warring factions. There’s vaginal delivery versus Cesarean. Breast milk versus formula. Day care versus home care. Bradley versus Lamaze. Books written in favor of any of these options tend to treat the opposing camp as if it were comprised mostly of sociopaths who only make the choices they make so that they can be in defiance of the natural order of things. Many of these books are thinly veiled propaganda.

We are taking a Bradley class currently, and I’m a fan of the major tenets of the system. Natural childbirth, a focus on relaxation techniques for the mother, a focus on nutrition and exercise to prepare the body for childbirth and an aversion to the use of drugs in childbirth. I don’t find any of the alternatives to these methods to be abhorrent. Janelle and I simply have a preference. So we signed up for a class. Imagine my surprise when, for our recent reading assignment between classes, I found that I was basically reading Dr. Bradley’s Little Red Book instead of a bit of background information regarding drugs used in childbirth.

The article begins by telling me that in 1987 an Associated Press article “linked teenage drug addiction to the use of childbirth drugs by their mothers” and that other reports have linked childbirth drugs to teen suicide. Correlation does not equal causality, for all you statisticians out there. Then, two inches below this on the page, it claims that 98% of children delivered are delivered with some form of drug administered. *insert spit take here* I was astonished. Child birth drugs cause teen drug use. Oh, and 98% of children are born using childbirth drugs. CLEARLY THERE IS A CONNECTION. With numbers like that, I could make a pretty convincing case that eating breakfast also causes teens to want to kill themselves.

The article then begins to discuss the so-called “-caine” drugs, thereby linking things like Novocain, epidural drugs and street drugs like cocaine. It then begins to reference cocaine-addicted mothers who reported that their drug use resulted in a passive baby that fueled their own resentment of the child. In the next sentence, it makes the lofty assertion that if street “-caine” drugs are unsafe, how can any “-caine” drugs be safe? Then it casually tosses in the idea that taking these drugs could result in later child abuse. Really? Really? You’re making the assertion that habitual drug abusers using an unregulated and un-dosed amount of an illegal narcotic is the same as a one-time, carefully controlled application by a trained profressional in a medical setting? I understand that you want me to really try and avoid drugs during the pregnancy, but please do not insult my intelligence with fear-mongering.

Okay, okay. I’m done ranting. Maybe.

Beware your source. Take the information you gather with a grain of salt. Do not spend your time terrifying yourself or believing that everything you read is the gospel truth. Most literature based around a particular birthing practice is intended to educate and baptize. You are meant to spread the good word of your chosen method and to renounce the evils of all other practices. But really, it’s all about you. Just because some other woman had a horrible experience does not mean you will. You want to give birth in your bathtub? Go for it. Is your pain tolerance so low you need an epidural? Load it up. You’re having your baby and no one else’s and there are so many mitigating factors involved in every individual birth that it is just this side shy of totally useless to be concerned about what happened in any other scenario.

Fit the education to you, not the other way around.

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Moderation

We were driving home the other day when Janelle told me a story about a co-worker of hers that brought her new baby in to visit with everyone at the office. It was a tale about the co-worker’s husband, who, it turns out, is mostly a fan of holding his baby when the baby is asleep. This is because a peaceful baby is a baby that he doesn’t have to worry about messing anything up with. Mom and Dad had learned that their baby, when upset, can be calmed by the particular white noise that is generated by their bathroom fan. One day, while it was Dad’s turn to care for the baby, Mom went upstairs and made a video of the hard work Dad was up to.

She took her video camera to the bathroom and showed her baby, all swaddled up and carefully laid into the bathroom sink, and then panned over to Dad sitting on the toilet (not using the toilet) and watching the baby sleep peacefully while the fan whirred overhead.

It’s a fairly simple, cutesy sort of new-parent story about the quirky, almost McGuyver-y lengths that parents sometimes go to to placate a child and keep their own sanity. I, however, was immediately in investigation mode like I was one of the Hardy Boys.

“They don’t want to train the baby to need that bathroom fan to sleep. Or the sink. That would get weird pretty quickly.”

“And if the baby keeps crying and won’t stop, there’s got to be something else that’s bothering him. Maybe he’s tired or needs to be changed or there’s too much stimulation for him. Something like that.”

And then, finally, after a couple more blocks of driving, “That is kind of funny, though.”

That’s when it struck me that I am already, months before my baby arrives, walking down an annoying, if not dreary, path. It can be very easy to assume that the books you read teach you what you need to know. I’ve read several books about babies at this point. Clearly, I am an expert. Your baby is crying, eh? Why don’t you recount the circumstances to me. I will solve this problem with book learnin’.

My world will soon expand to include more persons who are new parents and will bump my bond with people I already know who have children up a little higher, to Comrades in Arms. Do I really want to be the know-it-all? The guy who rolls his eyes at every shared horror story or amusing little vignette because it doesn’t match up with methodologies I’ve read about it books and notions I have about raising a child?

Nah, not really.

I’ve always been a bit of a stickler for the rules and the way you’re “supposed” to do things. Make no mistake, there is a right way to raise a baby, but it will always end up being your way, whatever that ends up meaning. It won’t be the way the book tells you to do it, or your friends or even your own parents. There’s so much information to absorb before and after you have a kid that it can be easy to assume that that information and advice is the sum totality of raising a child. It was what raising a baby was about at some point, but not your baby.

Quirky baby stories should be appreciated, because you will very soon be living your own. Advice should be taken for what it is: entries into a reference library. Don’t study the books you read too hard. Study the baby you have, and that will tell you everything you really need to know.

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