Telling The Truth Will Make You Feel Better
There I was, complaining about my trouble shedding the post-baby pounds that seem to have a grip stronger than the Lycra in Christina Aguilera's clothing.
"Don't worry," said my childless and recently married friend, Lynn. "Most women take two years to return to their pre-pregnancy weight."
The information went a long way toward helping me feel better about the gap between the button and the hole on my favorite pair of jeans, but its full significance didn't strike me until we sat down to dinner. "Is juice OK for Benjamin?" Lynn asked. "You know, researchers believe the growing rate of childhood obesity in this country can be contributed largely to the increase in juice consumption among American children," she explained. I eyed her thoughtfully as I settled my son into his seat. Not that I didn't appreciate the nuggets of information Lynn was tossing casually into the conversation -- in fact, I already was planning on recycling them for my own use. No, it was the source that was surprising. Since when had my upwardly mobile, silk pants-wearing, career-centric friend started reading parenting articles? Then I realized -- she's doing research!
I should have recognized the symptoms. Way back in my B.K. (before kids) days, I thought I'd be better prepared for motherhood if I read everything ever written on the topic. From The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy and What to Expect When You're Expecting to Child Magazine and Parenting, I consumed them all. After all, forewarned was forearmed.
In my case, though, the descriptions of labor, delivery and the resulting aftermath so alarmed me that I wouldn't let my poor husband within 15 feet of me for the next six months. Fortunately -- though some days I do have my doubts -- hormones and my biological clock won out. But oversaturation with grisly details is only one of research's possible side effects; another is the lure of false security. Here's how it goes: You're about to embark on an 18-year-long sea voyage on the good ship Parenthood. The passage is known to be fraught with perils, from riptides to seasickness to even a Loch Ness Monster or two. But descriptions of the scenery along the way are enough to make the trip pretty tempting. All the same, you're scared witless. Will your fellow passengers tease and torment you, just to relieve their own boredom? Will the isolation of being away from your former life leave you writhing with cabin fever? Will the constant diet of chicken nuggets and French fries leave you with scurvy?
You try to quell your roiling nerves by investigating the trip. You read travelogues by those who've taken the voyage before you. You research what cartographers and meteorologists have to say about the route. You buy all the equipment and tools available. And you start to think, "Hey, this isn't so bad. I'm ready." But you aren't. The information in those slick, full-colored travelogues may be interesting, but its usefulness when you're face-to-face with a tidal wave is negligible.
Parenting experts write about the easy topics, ones that can be neatly summarized and dissected in a two-page article or between the covers of a book and illustrated by slick photographs and clever diagrams. They don't tackle the hard, squishy stuff, like how to tell at a glance if the cotton candy, three hot dogs and large lemonade your daughter just ate at the county fair are about to be spewed all over the backseat of your car. They don't try to explain that one day your kids are going to make you mad enough to make you want to do physical damage to something, mad enough to scare you and them, mad enough so the only solution will be to turn your back and walk away for a self-imposed "time out." Or that some days you'd give anything to be back in your hose and high heels, dealing with people whose worlds don't consist of Blue's Clues, cheese sticks and the life-threatening question of whose cupcake has the most icing.
They also don't explain that despite all of the above, all your sacrifices, stacked end to end, will simply shrivel up and blow away when held up against the pure joy of being called "Mama" for the first time, or seeing the light go on in your kid's eyes when he sounds out his first word, or being the one -- the only one -- to be able to make the nightmares go away.
Nope, none of the experts can tell you the really important things about parenting. But I can tell you this: Go ahead and book that passage aboard Parenthood. Then toss the guidebooks overboard and get ready for the ride of a lifetime.