On being a know-it-all jackass
In grad school, I had this super brilliant classmate. I might have had a crush on him, except he spent his days elbow-deep in monkey brains (already gross enough, but in addition he told me a bit too much about cleaning the little metal caps that go over their skulls when the electrodes are not in use, and how the monkeys liked to throw their shit around [who can blame them, given their circumstances], so it was really just an impossible visual). ANYWAY, because he was quite smart, he talked a fair bit in class. I remember him endearingly asking me one day, Am I that kid in the class that everyone hates because he talks all the time and is such a boring know-it-all and everyone wishes he would just shut up? I certainly knew the kind of kid he was talking about. Maybe you have one in your group of friends or in your workplace?
I am beginning to fear that in the baby group I go to, I am that kid.
I’ve taken all three of the Buns to my local parent center baby group because it’s a very warm environment and it’s, you know, somewhere to go. It was a total life-saver when Bun Bun was tiny and I desperately needed the company of other new parents as I navigated the bewildering world of infant rearing. Back then, I recall not really wanting to hear from the parents of second or third children, because they were so…unphased by shit. I mean, Bun Bun was an easy baby, so I was mostly unphased by shit (except being sure she would die if I took my eyes off her for a moment), but I had questions, and didn’t know what to expect from one week to the next, and I remember agonizing over massive-feeling decisions like when to stop swaddling her and when to move her to a crib and whether she was taking the right number of naps…
Now when I go to the baby group, I try to just listen. I don’t want to be that kid. I don’t want to minimize the challenges that seem small from my august perspective, but that are huge when you’re confronting them for the first time. I also don’t want to minimize the struggles of parents with actually hard babies or situations by being blasé about things like sleep or feeding. But it’s hard to not talk. I have learned some shit in the past almost-five-years.
Probably the most important thing I’ve internalized–because I would have said I knew it before, but now I really know it–is that there are many paths to the same place. For example, when confronting the Mountain of Getting a Child to the Place Where it Can Manage Sleep Without Caregiver Assistance, there are many routes to the top. Some parents have no choice which one they take–they have to take the one with the snow and the ice and the super-steep incline and the falling boulders because of the baby they got. Me, I get to hop on the tram that goes directly to the top. (My other babies were good at sleep, but Bunter is gobsmackingly good at sleep. I am wary, but gratefully enjoying cocktails here on the mountaintop while it lasts.) Some parents choose to bypass the tram and take the nice gentle sunny path because they enjoy looking at the flowers. Some choose to take the snowy, icy path. In some cases they do it because they have been convinced they have no choice. Most of us get there in the end, and the outcome is pretty much the same.
So it is with many parenting choices. There are mountains where I choose the icy path because of my own beliefs. When I find myself feeling defensive about my choices or judgmental about those my fellow parents make, I try to visualize that mountain, crawling with parents all doing their best. I wave to the people on the tram as they fly by and say save me a seat at the bar! I offer my ice axe to those floundering next to me. Plus, the joy of parenting is that there are ever more mountains, a whole vast range stretching off to the horizon.
One of my favorite people in the whole internet is at the bottom of a great many mountains, all rather suddenly! I wish I could pack her a knapsack with good, sustaining foods (pemmican?) and make sure her boots have grip and gently nudge her towards the tram waiting area. But I can’t, really. All I can do is offer to be a know-it-all jackass any time she needs one and look forward to having a drink with her at the top.