New drinking game: If you find yourself fourteen months into your child’s life and have just come to the realization that the majority of your parenting knowledge is either obsolete or on its way out, then drink. Drink all of it.
Only don’t. Because it’s a Monday, sure, but more because your daughter’s just gone to sleep two hours later than normal and the sound of your overweight torso slamming into the kitchen floor might wake her. Sure – you’ll be unconscious and oblivious, and while that sounds appealing, you’re parenting solo tonight and the child endangerment charges will probably really interfere with your weekend golf plans.
Here’s my point: up to now, childrearing has been mostly a game of survival. And I was good at it. It was problem solving. It was simple math. The problems that new parents face have been chronicled a thousand times, of course. As have the solutions. Things like: Feed it. Change its diaper. Do that jostle thing you learned about on Happiest Baby on the Block (which seriously probably saved my marriage.) Learn those simple steps and avoid the pitfalls (don’t shake it. Don’t scream at it. Don’t grab it by the ankle, swing it above your head and let it fly into the wall. Don’t bite its nose off (and that’s horrific. My reaction to it was visceral. But, then at the back of my mind I was thinking: “Yeah. Been there.”)) As time has gone on, the problems and the solutions have grown more complicated, but it’s simple adaptation to an evolving challenge. Now it’s much more common for the solutions to involve the steps above, but with simple additions: “sing to it,” or “distract it with what is probably an unhealthy amount of the babyfirst channel” or “For fuck’s sake, it clearly wants to go outside. Let it go outside I don’t fucking care that it’s raining!” “It eats shells and cheese. Give it shells and cheese.”
It’s parenting, sure. But it’s parenting by crisis. Learn the routine to keep the child from screaming. When the routine doesn’t work anymore, adjust the routine. Keep the child calm and happy and smiling and saying “Hi!” at everything like it’s super goddamn exciting that the lamp is still on the end table and it would be rude not to greet it. Keep her adorable and hugging and doing that thing where she runs from room to room waving her hands over her head and fake screaming because she wants somebody to chase her. God I love that.
Planning is really limited to making sure that there is enough food. There is an adult to be on baby duty. When you go to a restaurant you remember the little rubber mat thing that suction cups to the table so that when she, inevitably, starts chewing on the edge of the table, you can at least console yourself with the knowledge that she’s ingesting only the bacteria that you packed in from home.
The reason I bring this all up is because I was spared serious humiliation on the most recent episode of The Breeder's Book Club (I don't know how you would have gotten to this blog without having some knowledge of the podcast, but if you haven't listened to it, you should.) by our benevolent editor, who cut out large chunks of self-contradictory aimless rambling by yours truly (probably more because it bored him than because he wanted to bail me out, but still.) What was actually said is something of a blur to me now. We were discussing how hard we are going to push our children to succeed in school or in extracurricular activities and, like the six year old who wants to pretend he can hang with an overheard adult conversation, I just kept talking. And even while I was speaking, and certainly during every shuddering recollection of that particular humiliation, the thing that kept echoing in the back of my head was this: We don’t have a plan.
This is a revelation that has been brewing since we started the podcast (coinciding somewhat remarkably with when I read my first parenting book.) We don’t have a plan. We’re winging it. We’re just emerging from the vicious blackness of the first year of the baby’s life. We all survived. We’re all happy. We all still love each other. And, hand in hand, we are blinking our way into the blinding morning sunlight of the next couple of decades but we don’t have time to celebrate – at least not for long - because we don’t have a plan.
I don’t have a plan, but I do have a blog. And I have a podcast. And while the parenting advice that I have consumed thus far and will continue to choke down on said podcast is drivel written by shitty people, my hope is to salvage what I can from the worst parenting books we can find and to chronicle here what I’ve learned. With any luck, maybe I’ll come up with something resembling a plan. And a backup plan. And a “run away to Portugal, change my name, raise llamas” plan (I know what you’re thinking: there aren’t any llamas in Portugal. Exactly. I’ll blow that market wide open.)
Barring all of that, I’ll just complain a lot. And the next time I don’t have a goddamn clue what I’m talking about, but I can't stop talking (which, let's be honest, is inevitable,) I’m going to hope that it’s not being recorded for posterity.