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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