Posted by: laughs4dads | December 8, 2010

N-n-normal P-p-parental N-n-nervousness

Today I’d like to talk to all my readers who have just become, or who are about to be, first-time parents. (But the rest of you can listen in.)

One of the problems with being a first-time parent, aside from the fact that you have to have a kid in order to be one, is that nothing really prepares you for it.  No, that’s not quite right.  You are prepared, but you don’t believe it.

Your feelings are like this: you’re sure your child will grow up to be president, or head of a major corporation, or a very talented performer, if only you can get through the first few months without dropping her.  There is just so much to worry about, you know you’re going to screw up something and that, when you do, it will ruin your child’s entire life and cause her to resent you so much she’ll put into a really awful retirement home.

My wife Barbara wasn’t really like this.  She launched herself into motherhood with a wealth of confidence.  This may be because she had two younger sisters.  I am an only child.  In the beginning, I handled my daughter with all the care I had once used to dissect a frog in high school biology. I was terrified that something would go wrong. I remembered how that poor frog ended up.

Perhaps the ultimate symbol of parental nervousness is the nursery monitor.  This is, essentially, a one-way walkie-talkie.  You put the transmitter in the baby’s room and you keep the receiver at your side at all times in case the baby has an urgent message for you. After all, it’s not like she can text you yet.

The nursery room monitor is a very silly thing.  Unless you live in a house the size of Rhode Island, you will hear your baby cry without the need of advanced electronics.  Babies are very good at letting you know your presence is desired.

But, of course, parents don’t buy nursery monitors to hear their babies crying.  They buy them to hear their babies breathing.  When you are not up all night trying to get your kid to go to sleep, it is reassuring to lie awake all night in your bed listening to your child sleeping soundly in hers.

When Casey was born, we lived in an apartment in Manhattan, and Casey’s crib was on the other side of a wall. A thin wall. Nevertheless, we dutifully used a monitor, and we would never get much sleep, because when Casey slept soundly it meant “with sound.”  Lots of it; she snored like a bear.  It was like having a muffler-less car idling alongside our bed. And we’d hear it in surround sound: from the monitor and through the wall.

To make matters worse, I used to hear what we came to think of as phantom cries.  I’d be laying there and I’d hear crying over the monitor, so I’d go into Casey’s room (which was a small section of the living room), only to hear the contented pig-like noise of a deep sleep.  This happened often, and it was really starting to get to me.  Barbara ridiculed me in front of our friends. (These were our childless city friends, from our pre-Casey days, who already thought we were crazy for having a kid in the first place.  Now they thought I was really losing it). 

But then, when Casey was four months old, we moved to a townhouse in the suburbs, and my condition seemed to worsen.  I was still hearing the phantom cries, but now they were different phantom cries.  Sometimes I’d even hear phantom mothers singing phantom lullabies! 

I was ready to take a nice long vacation in a place where they wear tight, backward jackets when I realized that our receiver was picking up transmissions from our neighbors’ house two doors away.  It wasn’t Casey I was hearing, it was Jenna!  And the singer of the phantom lullabies was her mother, Becky!  The stupid frequencies were crossing! 

Once I knew this, it was only with great restraint that I did not take our transmitter and scream into it “Hey, mommy, I want some water.  Now!”  Since Jenna wasn’t talking yet, this would have come as quite a shock to Becky, whose breathing could have been quickly revived by her husband, Eliot, who’s a doctor.

Anyway, as far as nervousness goes, let me calm you down.  There’s nothing to worry about.  No matter what you do, no matter how careful you are, your kid is going to do something perfectly awful somewhere along the way, and you are going to be blamed for it.  Remember, it’s a proven statistic that only 47.6% of known psycho killers were dropped on their heads as babies. 

By the way, the other 52.4% were once put to bed without a full burping.

(Just kidding.  I’m sure you’re burping your kid just fine.  You are, aren’t you?)


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