Parenthood involves a number of lessons. Sure, we teach baby how to sit, hold a spoon, and tell us “more” by pressing pudgy hands together. But as any parent knows, just as many lessons flow in the other direction. One of the ones we’ve had to learn is that new parents have to be flexible and willing to walk away from the positions about child-rearing they’d staked out in the run-up to delivery day.
We had a lot of ideas about how we were going to do things. I’ve written before about our desire to be less germ-phobic than some of our forbearers, a notion we quickly abandoned as swine flu anxiety descended last fall. I’ve also written about how travelling with baby—and the difficulties associated with cloth diapering while on the road—helped lead us to the world of disposable diapers, running counter to long-held beliefs that environmental stewardship is an important part of bringing a new person into the world.
But the list of “we’ll never”s that we’ve had to move away from seems to grow longer each week.
Inspired by a younger cousin, limited throughout childhood to a modest allotment of television time, and now immersed in an all-expenses-paid Ivy league Ph.D. program, I declared confidently, “Our daughter won’t know of the existence of television until she’s a teenager.” Less true words have rarely been spoken.
As the baby tried her first solid foods, crying tears of pain when challenged to take just one spoonful of rice, we noticed that a certain show on a certain children’s television network provided all the distraction she needed to embrace the notion that not all food comes from a bottle or mama. Pretty soon, she could sing the opening song from the show from her crib as she woke in the morning. And then she figured out which remote control was needed to access her new favorite show and deprogrammed my channel preferences in an effort to see more of her animated friends’ adventures.
I also attempted to make sure that baby’s first foods were all chemical-free, organic, and made with TLC in our own kitchen. For some reason, however, my own steamed and processed green peas just weren’t as sweet as the vat-whirled version from the store. So dozens of cubed purees went into the compost pile and baby got to play with plastic tins and jars at the end of many meals.
We also resolved before Dee even arrived to have her out of diapers before she could walk. We’d read books on diaper-free baby rearing and dedicated hours to picking up on the little one’s signals and promptly taking her to where she needed to do her business. But the signals got harder to spot, or perhaps she got more evasive in her facial expressions, because pretty soon the business wasn’t happening where we wanted it to happen but instead where she wanted it to happen.
Come to think of it, most of the “we’ll never”s that have fallen by the wayside have revolved around either eating food or disposing of waste. I suppose it’s understandable that our positions about these things had to be just as flexible as the baby has demonstrated she is, while trying to wiggle out of socks and shoes. With absolutely no experience myself prior to the baby’s arrival either changing a newborn or feeding a baby, my carefully formulated positions were in fact founded on severe ignorance.
Luckily, the baby’s been patient. She knows we have a lot to learn.
Geoffrey Rapp is a law professor at the University of Toledo and the father of a one-year- old baby girl, “Dee”.