Somehow never having taken care of a baby, let alone a newborn, I managed to diaper, feed and rock my baby to sleep with relative ease. Here’s a list of things I should have focused on preparing for before my baby was born. Much like the “what you really need on your registry” list, this nitty-gritty reality of welcoming a baby into your home is everything the books don’t tell you.
1. Learn how to eat all of my meals with a newborn strapped to my chest.
Like most newborns, my baby doesn’t enjoy leaving my side, at least during daylight hours that don’t involve meals or tummy time. Two weeks in my husband’s coworker sent out an email offering a Baby Bjorn for sale. Best 20 bucks we ever spent. Who knew a kid weighing in the single digits could wear out your arms so much? I’m sure one day I’ll remember how to eat without my head turned to the side.
2. Master the art of working with an open flame with a newborn strapped to my chest.
Never again do I want to hear what a poor athlete I am. I can manage to chop vegetables, pour out boiling hot water and stick a casserole in the oven without so much as disturbing the napping baby hanging off my front. Where’s the Olympic Gold for that? I can tell you where it should be – on my freaking wall. Thank God I took that typing class in high school so I can write with a newborn strapped to my chest. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article right now. Point made.
3. Personally sleep train in 2 hour cycles…
The first time our baby slept nearly 5 hours straight I nervously asked my husband if we should wake him up. “Are you crazy?” he balked. Fifteen minutes later the baby was wailing, but we threw ourselves a party anyway. Word of warning: That trend was short lived, as were many others. Don’t jinx anything and just count on being awake. A lot.
4. …with animal noises playing in the background. Loudly.
If you have a newborn that sleeps quietly, mazel tov. I’ve been able to identify the noises of horses, cows, pigs and chickens coming from my sleeping son. Maybe he’ll wind up working in sound effects. One thing is for sure, he’ll never need a microphone. Right now, I have to sleep with earplugs in and a pillow over my head to drown out the noise. Even with that I can still hear him well enough to know when he’s about to cry.
5. Prepare never to nap again.
Sure, for the first couple of weeks they sleep. Then, if they’re anything like my kid, they don’t. When I called the doctor’s office to ask how to handle a one month old baby that wouldn’t nap, they balked. After getting tossed around to several people I got a nurse who suggested we have him tested for GERD. “He eats like a horse and barely spits up. He only cries when he’s over tired,” I explained. “Really, he just wants to play all the time and stare at everything.” The best response I got: “Good luck.”
6. Book a cleaning service for at least the first six months.
My husband finally got around to mopping our really sad looking kitchen floor at 8 o’clock on a Sunday night. Some folks are okay with mess. We’re not. Experienced parents, feel free to laugh at our pet peeve. Whatever it is that really gets on your nerves – the sleep deprivation, the mess, whatever – get help. Either book a family member or hire a service. You already have enough on your plate.
7. Practice making all my dinners for the week on Sunday afternoon.
We packed our freezer before the baby arrived, but even that stockpile lasted only so long. Learning how to make a weekly (or monthly) meal plan and breaking down what I can and can’t do in advance has made my weeknights so much easier. It’ll help you too, especially if your baby is prone to witching hour madness.
8. Cultivate an appreciation for eating cold dinners.
Of course witching hour hits right during the main mealtime of the day for most Americans. Recall Ralphie Parker’s observation: “My mother hadn’t eaten a hot meal in over 15 years.” Yep, that’s motherhood for you. On the bright side, you feel like you’re in college again. Only this time your assignment is 24/7 with no deadline in sight.
9. Mentally map out several nap-inducing routes in my region.
Never will you enjoy a country drive so much as when you have a cranky baby who won’t nap. Sure, you’d rather be sleeping too, but at least you get a few mental minutes to yourself with a beverage and the music of your choice.
10. Learn how to have a really good out loud conversation with myself.
There are only so many times you can repeat, “So what are you thinking? What do you see?” during the course of the day. Here’s what I do to get my kid to sleep: I sing the alphabet song. Then, while we listen to classical music in the background, I wash dishes and spell out everything I touch and see. It’s a good thing I always loved English class. It’s also a good thing that English lessons bore some people, including my son, into a peaceful rest.
11. Find entertainment value in constant repetition of simple actions.
Bought your kid books? Start reading them repeatedly now. As tired as you are, pay attention to what they like and be ready to do it ten times a day, minimum. He likes that turtle toy? You bond with that sucker, give it a back story, make mental friends with its extended family members, and be ready to share it all with your baby who is mesmerized by a simple ball of colorful fluff.
12. Train myself to slow down. A lot.
Recently one of our writers covered an article in Cosmo on pot smoking moms. The idea of illegal drug use making you a better mom is ridiculous. But, I get it. Millennial moms have been acculturated into processing information and moving at high speeds. To mentally and physically slow down to a newborn’s pace is a huge challenge, especially if you’re coming off the drive of the working world. Think about it: When is the last time you actually took an entire hour to eat your lunch, let alone do some simple stretches or just stare at a toy? Slowing down to your child’s mental level is one of the most frustrating challenges of motherhood. It can also be one of the most relaxing. It’s as if you’ve gone on vacation to a foreign country and you need to acclimate to the time zone and pace of life.
That’s it – having a baby is like going on vacation…a lifelong vacation, filled with spit up, sleepless nights, endless cuddles and priceless smiles that make the lifestyle changes pretty simple after all.