Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How To Survive Babies



We thought we knew it all.

Breastfeeding was old school—we made it new school. Gloria Steinem said to burn our bras and leave our kitchens—we burned her book on our way back home. Chef Boyardee was the king of canned suppers—but we planted gardens and bought Mother Earth News. Where our parents failed, we focused on perfection. “If only we’d been as smart as they are,” good old Mom and Dad might have lamented. “It’s okay,” we’d have answered. "You just weren’t as well read.”

So we swung the pendulum, ditched TV dinners, and saved the next generation from the failures of our own. Wrap our babies in Pampers? Not on your life. Cloth diapers hung from our clotheslines like flapping flags of freedom. Unscrew tiny, overpriced jars of smashed peas for our toddlers? Are you crazy? Not when we could smash veggies ourselves and freeze them in ice cube trays. Leave our priceless cherubs free to play in the backend of old station wagons while we tooled down the highway? Listen—our generation was the first to ever strap a kid down like a bale of hay while we told him to stop crying about it and eat his Cheerios.

We knew the right way to wrangle babies and weren’t afraid to enlighten the public. Just to prove it, we ditched public school and educated the kids at home.  Finally, we told our teens to kiss dating goodbye, determined to navigate them unscathed through the dangerous years of puberty.  We were on a mission. They’d grow up smart, they’d grow up responsible, they’d grow up with straight teeth. And if anyone doubted our credentials, all they had to do was keep their opinions to themselves.

But in all the back-to-nature dreams we chased—abandoning our modern culture for the foreign fields of do-it-yourself—not one trusted professional ever told me the secret that would have saved my exhausted sanity. Not even the venerated Dr. Dobson (who I listened to with the devotion today’s moms ascribe to Dr. Oz) ever focused on the family issue that threatens every single generation with extinction.

How to make a baby stop crying without spending the rest of your life in prison.

Oh, stop it. If that sentence shocks you, you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a baby. Or you’ve never been an exhausted parent running a household on three hours of sleep garnered in fifteen minute increments over the last two days. Or a firefighter on a 48-hour shift. Or a firefighter parent with a newborn at home.

Sleep is freaking important. As are firefighters and baristas and caffeine and anything else that spells survival.

I’ve got two beautiful grown children and two amazing in-law children. I’ve been a grandmother for nine years. There are six little birthstone jewels dangling from my grandma necklace and 3,249 photos of the world’s most beautiful kiddos suspended somewhere in a cloud. I’ve been around. But last month I witnessed the answer to the burning question that haunted my childbearing years, drained the natural red from my hair, and pruned up my facial skin in a public display of defeat.

My son is a pastor and a stay-at-home dad who sometimes cares for three kids and two babies at the same time—two little girls and a seven-month-old son of his own, and the daughter and five-month-old son of a friend. He’s already got me beat in the experience department by a ratio of 2.5 to 1 with those numbers. I think. 

Anyway, my husband and I visited his home one morning just as the borrowed baby was losing his mind in the living room. I once read that the sound of a baby crying on your shoulder registers at 115 decibels in your ear, which is louder than a chainsaw. This kid was pushing the tachometer at about 225. The room was reverberating with the sound of not-silence.

My son picked the boy up, tried to work out some inner angst or inner gas or something—also a technique Dr. Dobson never discussed when I most needed it—and finally carried him back to the master bedroom. The screaming suddenly stopped. Now, I’ll admit, I was tempted to panic and resort to prayer and fasting. To my odd relief, the crying started up again only to be followed by absolute quiet after a few more seconds. Then my son came back to the living room and sat down, completely relaxed.

I was afraid to ask. But I did anyway.

“What did you do?” I questioned.

“About what?” he asked calmly.

“To make the baby stop crying?”

“I swaddled him,” he said, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

“You swaddled him,” I repeated, transfixed.

“Right. I wrapped one side tightly and he calmed down. He started to cry again and I wrapped him in the other direction. Then he closed his eyes and fell asleep. He’ll probably nap there for at least an hour.”

“You didn’t even give him any Dramamine?” I asked incredulously.

My son raised his eyebrow and ignored the admission, er, question.

“You simply . . . swaddled him.”

“Yes.”

{swod-l} verb.  The art of creating a baby burrito for the sole purpose of comforting a screaming infant so he feels secure and will Go.To.Sleep.ThankYouJesus. Tah dah.

Fury filled my inner soul.

Swaddling??!! There were no charts on the walls in my pediatrician’s office which detailed this technique when I was in charge of babies. No exposés in Mother Earth News to enlighten the tired masses of motherhood in my generation. Dr. Dobson could have saved a lot of trees by addressing the need to swaddle babies before they all turned into strong-willed kids whose parents required his book to get them through the toddler years. For heaven’s sake, couldn’t one single pastor have pointed out from his pulpit that the Bible mentioned the swaddled Christ Child for a reason???

Swaddling. My daughter knew about it. My son knew about it. I’ll bet even you know about it. Where did everyone in this generation learn about it when nobody I hung around had ever ever heard of it?

I.Am.So.Humbled.

So here’s my advice to the millions of moms and dads trying to navigate their  way through an ocean of internet opinions all intent on turning them into a twenty-first century model of parenting perfection. Let it go. Buy fake diapers. Stock the pantry with purchased baby food. Use formula if you have to. 

But for God’s sake, learn how to swaddle your baby, even if it means giving up the dream of home schooling and expensive orthodonture. The key to survival is, and always will be, sleep. Lots and lots of sleep.

I’ll bet even my parents knew that. 

I need a nap.

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