The Observer seems to have a lot of friends right now who are expecting babies come this summer. Our best to all those of round tummy going into this sweltering season. The Observer smiles upon you with the making of the elaborate gesture of blessing, and all that.
Everybody always wants to give new parents advice, and The Observer is not exempt. Just the other day, a friend who is expecting twins told us that the worst part of pregnancy isn't the morning sickness or the weird cravings or being nauseated by Burger King commercials: It's the advice-tinged horror stories people are willing to tell you just because you're pregnant and they were once, too. It's the checkout-line version of The Hook-Handed Maniac on Lover's Lane, we suppose: 105 degree fevers and death dives off monkey bars, eyebrows meeting coffee table corners and pennies jammed into wall sockets.
The Observer and Spouse only have one young'un our damn selves, not having needed more due to the lack of a plow for them to pull or some bass-ackward religion that demands we smoosh out Soldiers of Yahweh as fast as we can, feeding them brown beans at every meal. The Observer has, however, learned a thing or three during our ongoing stint as Dad. So here's our advice for new parents, horror-story free:
1) DISREGARD MOST ADVICE: Kids aren't made on a blueprint from interchangeable parts like a toaster. Because of that, there's a good chance that most advice you're going to get in terms of their day-to-day care may not work on your kid. It's not your fault when it doesn't. And for God's sake, stay off the Google.
2) YOU CANNOT F*** THIS UP: You will feel like a failure sometimes, guaranteed. You will feel like a fraud. As much as you don't want to, sooner or later you'll come to the point you'll yell at your kid. Here's what the parenting books don't tell you, though: Children are like little drunk sociopaths. They have zero empathy, care for personal space, or self-preservation. And because of that, they can drive you a special, bright purple shade of crazy sometimes. And so, you'll yell. Not now. Later. You'll feel terrible afterward. But don't beat yourself up about it. Finally blowing your stack from time to time doesn't make you a bad person, even if that's the one thing in the world you wanted to avoid. The trick is: Keep it rare, and drown any moments of anger with 10 times the love, and love is what they'll remember. Also: Take up a hobby that allows you to pound stuff with a hammer.
3) NO, SERIOUSLY. YOU CANNOT F*** THIS UP: Kids are resilient. We evolved from creatures that lived high in the canopy of the forest, clinging to their mothers' backs and occasionally falling off, and we're all still here. The Observer knows it's terrifying to think about, but they're going to whack their heads, split elbows on the driveway and eat stuff off the floor that a raccoon would think twice about, but they'll be OK. Here's what lots of people don't understand: Falling makes us stronger. Falling lets a kid know she's not made of glass and gives her an awesome respect for what her body can take. It lets her know that if she falls, she can get right the hell back up again and keep going. That's what life is about: keeping going. Remember, you're not a caretaker or a cop. Your real job is preparing them to be on their own. As much as you'll want to put them in a giant hamster ball so they don't get hurt, hang back a bit. Watch them rise, dust themselves off, and realize they can.
4) DON'T FORGET ABOUT EACH OTHER: After awhile, you're going to feel like being a parent is your job. The problem is, when you start feeling that way, you'll inevitably start to see your co-parent as a co-worker. We're not just talking about the 3 a.m. feeding and diaper-changing years, either (You're going to be so tired during all that stuff that you wouldn't want to go out if Mary Poppins showed up and offered to babysit). No, we're talking especially about down the road: day care and soccer practice and new puppies and trips to Disney World. There's joy in all that. True, unexpurgated joy. But we promise you, if you don't set aside regular, guilt-free time to spend with the person you loved enough to make a baby with, one day, one or both of you will look up and think: Who am I? And the moment you think that, you've already got one foot out the door. So hear this, and remember it: When you carve out time to share with your Significant Other — not just dates, but conversations that don't include kid concerns, kisses by the sink, moments where you plug in a Sesame Street DVD and just go be still and quiet together for as long as you can — you're not really stealing from your kid. In fact, you're giving that child something to aspire to — a person who sees his or her mother or father as a hell of a lot more than just a mother or father. They'll need that example down the road, when they step into the barrel and head over Niagara Falls themselves.