I just passed my three year anniversary of becoming a stay at home dad. There was no ticker tape parade. There were no high-fives or any smacks on the ass. The mail got delivered today, the Little Man's preschool was open and there are no known Burl Ives' songs released about this day. I also forgot all about it. It was just any other day.
Over the last three years, I have learned a thing or two. We're talking about practical, useful information, the kind of insight that people would kill for if it was political or religious. Then again, maybe you like to read parenting books or have more than a platonic relationship with your Kindle Paperwhite. Then feel free to move along.
The thing with parenting handbooks (aside from baby and toddler 411, those two were gems for us), aside from there being too many to list, is that they are all useless. They all have the same mundane and you're-a-moron-if-you-don't-know-this general knowledge chapter list. If you have seen Knocked Up, you are prepared, or at least as prepared as the books can get you and whatever questions they answer. I'm not saying that they don't serve a purpose. For the Mrs, I think it was more mentally soothing to her to read about what would be happening or what to expect even though it all went out the window as soon as we arrived home with The Little Man for the first time.
Here are a few practical, useful things you should know that no one or at least not may people will tell you before you become a parent. These are things I wish I had known beforehand. Things they never mentioned in the all day birthing class - instead we watched the birthing video (awful thing to make people watch), we learned what the size of a baby's stomach is at one and two months (that turned out to be oh-so useful at 3 AM when The Taz couldn't be soothed; that's not even useful as a fun fact) and lastly how to put on a diaper (let's just get this out right now, if you can't diaper your child without professional instruction then maybe parenting isn't for you). No. This will cover none of those topics. And for that you're welcome.
1. Diapers leak.
They sure do. A lot. And we're not just talking about pee. Try as you may, but if your child has bowel issues, the elastic only holds so much. You'll try to size down in diapers. Then maybe size up. You'll switch brands. All to no avail. Infant poop is not like your poop. It's...well...it's different. The intestines are all getting worked in. Perhaps new foods introduced either physically or maybe through mom's milk. It's going to happen. Hopefully you'll be lucky and the explosion (they're not always as simple as a leak...think more of pipes bursting...yeah you got it now) will happen at home, but it can happen anywhere and you will undoubtedly will not be prepared. At least you are now forewarned.
2. Like your Doctor.
The interview process is fine and dandy and even recommendations from friends can be helpful, but in the end it's you in there with the Doctor and your kid(s). Your personality may not jive with theirs and if it doesn't, then switch doctors. You don't need to have the "it not me, it's you" conversation, just call the office and ask to switch doctors (and FYI, it's always them and it is never you). Assuming you are planning to stay where you are, it's important to like and feel comfortable with your child's pediatrician. Some of them are there because they love what they do, and some are there because they are doctors. It's easy to tell the difference, just trust your gut and move along.
3. Kids get sick. A lot.
This has been the hardest lesson to learn and more so to accept. But this is an unfailing truth. Your kids are like sponges for two things, curse words and viruses, and after three years of staying home with the boys I'd rather them cuss me out than have to administer another dose of Children's Tylenol. However, I suspect, that I'll get that wish in about 12-13 years if I play my cards right. And if you have two kids, it's generally even worse as they volley the virus back and forth until they knock it out or off to you. What's even worse is that there is often little you can do to help them. When you get to your third or fourth sick visit to the doctor's office in as many months, you start wishing for stupid things like infections. Infections have cures. Viruses take time. We have dealt with RSV (respiratory scyntial virus) for the past two years. Hearing your kids cough like 80-year olds with emphysema is not pleasant and the doctor's comment that "just think of it as each cough is one cough closer to health" doesn't make it better. The good news: year over year the infections get less and less dramatic. The bad news: they continue to happen year over year.
4. Rectal temps are the only temps.
I had a hard time with this one. I wanted to use every other device out there from temporal thermometers to underarm readings. They are useless. I don't know what it is, but popping a thermometer up your kids poop chute is going to give you valuable and accurate information, as much as it may pain you to do so. It is better to know this going into things than vice versa. It will save you money and time. And as much as you think your four month old may hold this against you later in life, you are wrong. Just lube it up, put it in and move on.
5. Having two kids is twice the work.
I am an only child. I don't know what it's like to have siblings. But I had one son before I had two. I naively thought that I had this whole infant thing down pat. Diaper, feed, rock, repeat. Even on basic levels, my boys could not be anymore different. The Little Man was relatively easy as an infant. Taz, not so much so. The Little Man was a vegetable hoarder. The Taz...what are vegetables? The Little Man has always been a cautious little guy. The Taz just wants to be let out of the cage. Aside from the fact that I have diapered and fed both boys, nothing about them is the same. What one likes, the other may not. Unless the thing liked is a toy, then they both want it because the other one has it; this is one of the few eternal truths of siblings. What works for one boy, may not work for the other. One may require no child proofing of your home, while the other may require a SWAT team level of security. Don't assume. Don't ever assume. When you assume, you end up like me.
6. You. Will. Never. Sleep. Again.
I used to judge good sleep by a solid, uninterrupted night of 8-10 hours. I now find myself thinking that 5-6 will get the job done and that 3-4 is good too. Even when I have the opportunity to (which I can count on two hands over the past almost four years), I still don't sleep soundly or late. I wake up naturally, albeit groggy around 6 every day and either get out for a run or scour the internet on my phone for an hour or so until the kids are allowed to get up. This is not the result of a few early wake ups as much as it is years of Pavlovian experiences when my kids wake up screaming at odd hours. I used to go into their room to check on them, but have learned that 99% of the time that they just have bad dreams sometimes and then quickly get themselves back to sleep or into a better dream. Give them 5-10 minutes to sort it out and then if they don't get back to sleep then check on them, if you don't hear anything then try and get yourself back to sleep. Try is the key word. Now my dog scratching himself at 3 AM, the Mrs tugging on the sheets or the AC/heat kicking on wakes me up and keeps me up for about 30-45 minutes at a time. The stupid thing is I still set an alarm.
7. Development charts are not the end all, be all.
A lot of pediatricians live and die by the developmental charts. They are these sometimes overly generalized and absurdly specific lists of what your child should be doing by what age. Some doctors use this chart as an accurate measure of developmental success and failure, while others realize that kids all have their own time tables. The Little Man did not start talking until about 16-18 months. Taz is 19 months and doesn't say much besides his grunts for "yes" and "no", "dada" is an all encompassing term, "cat","dat" for when he points at something and supposedly he said "dragon" the other day for the Mrs (I am sure that is going to be a useful word going forward). Both of the boys have had tremendous comprehension from an early age, it's just their speech that has been slower to come around. We've never been terribly concerned. We have The Little Man in speech therapy now and he is doing fine. Our sole goal is simply to do as best we can to see that he is starting on the same playing field as his classmates when he enters kindergarten. Maybe we will have to do the same with Taz. Who knows? But don't put too much weight in or lose sleep over the chart. If your child is healthy, happy and active, then you're doing a great job. Everything else will fall into place as it should.
Hope that some of this helps you out. I think this sort of information would have been useful to me earlier on. But then again, maybe I would have forgotten it all as soon as we got home from the hospital that first time.