Advice abounds for new parents, and I got heaps of it like anyone, but in my experience, it was so vague and foreshadowy as to be kinda useless. Taken together, it sounded like some comically exasperated Greek chorus dying to be ignored: Behold thoust shall not sleep again/Thine dreams the stuff of air/To think thoust thoughts of yesteryear/Shall lead but to despair. Huh? You mean my life is, like, never going to be the same again?
To be fair, parenting is about a lot of vague concepts: patience, discipline, compassion, the will to live. Seriously, if you don't have the will to live, it's really hard to make a sandwich into a fun shape — lots of people take this for granted. But early on, it's more about the little stuff before it's about the big stuff. In fact, I'd venture to say it's mostly about the little stuff, and what I still continually find surprising is how quickly you have to come up with the little stuff on the fly, turn on a dime, abandon all your most cherished assumptions and do whatever it takes to get the crying to stop/sleeping to start/tantrum to subside/eating to commence.
I'm talking, of course, about your kid's vaccination schedule. Kidding! I'm talking about the practical stuff you wish you already knew how to do that would have made it so much easier to raise a toddler.
If there was one big thing I'd do over before I became a parent, I'd have gone to the Zen Circus Clown's School of Yum Yum Fun Bits, because this is the only place I know of that would have taught the types of skills I most lack on the wacky wild kool-aid style parenting-a-toddler ride — balancing endless patience with maximum comedic entertainment value. Such as:
Strong arms, legs plus silly laugh.
Whoa boyza is there a lot of literal lifting going on in parenting. Not the kind that you become good at by picking up a lot of, say, magazines. Do you have any idea how many stairs there are out there? Like, a bunch. And they aren't funny in the least.
Fast cutting while being fun.
Baby can't eat regular bite sizes for a long time, so you have to choppy choppy. What, you thought she would enjoy working up a good appetite over a nice glass of wine before dinner while you figure out how to trim back fettuccine? Get to snippin', and get to impersonating a duck please, stat!
Access to an endless, constantly refreshing collection of random, wildly varied, new and exciting objects, preferably hidden in secret pockets in all your clothes.
These are not toys, per se. These are gadgets, tools, whiz-bangs, whatchamacallits, thingamajigs, and a number of other items that are potentially dangerous for baby, in some way essential to the home, but that you must give over to the baby gods for their destruction as part of the sacrificial lamb. My baby has no favorite blankie or stuffed animal, but she does have two favorite cracker-and-saliva encrusted voice recorders, a favorite cracker-and-saliva encrusted 3G iPhone, a favorite cracker-and-saliva encrusted (sealed) package of plastic screws, a favorite cracker-and-saliva encrusted tire pressure gauge. And they beat out every present she's ever received hands down in mitigating a meltdown.
At least five different "voices" for reading books.
How's your old lady farmer's wife voice these days? Decent? How about your moocow? Meh? What can you do with a bunny that likes to chomp things? Nothing to write home about? Not only can you not just read to your kid like normal, but under no circumstances can your Dr. Seuss voice come anywhere NEAR your "A Mud Pie for Mother Pig" voice. And don't even come to me with a third-rate horse neigh.
The ability to lie completely still for three hours, transcending all your biological needs.
This one's not about externalizing, but internalizing. It's great for people who are already interested in meditation. Lying next to a baby who is just almost asleep for two hours while you desperately need to pee/eat/ scratch an itch/cough brings up strange, existential questions, like, Is it possible to reabsorb all this pee and somehow be "beyond peeing?" Can you cough into yourself? Inquiring minds.
The ability to balance incongruous objects with enthusiasm.
Did you know you'll need to be able to pick up two coffees, two muffins, car keys, groceries, diaper bag, and still carry your kid at the same time upstairs with a stroller while changing her diaper and singing the ABCs? I certainly didn't. I thought I had all the time in the world to master this complex task. Please, future parents, if you have access to a small dog or a monkey, practice now — you won't regret it.
Repetition to infinity with the same fresh, exciting delivery.
One day I read "Moo, Baa, La La La" eight times. It's short, granted, but still, round about that fifth treatment that duck quack was thin and tired. I'm a mere mortal here, folks, flesh and blood.
A vast repertoire of funny sounds.
Squishy duck quack, plane buzzing for takeoff, the particular way a rhinocerous snorts. There are a lot of animals in kid land, all waiting desperately to be animated by you. It seems like a real gas, but I'll tell you what, I struggle every single day to make an elephant trumpet noise. How was I supposed to know that would be my daughter's favorite animal? Don't let this happen to you. Learn from my failure. It's not too late!
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her elephant sound just comes out like a sad little trumpet.