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I remember when I was pregnant, some woman I met at a party told me that when I had my baby, I wouldn’t trust my husband to do anything with it.  When I tried to tell her differently, she cut me off and said “You say that now, but wait and see.”

Well, when I met my husband, he already had a six year old boy.  He had been Danny’s primary caregiver since he was just a little baby, because his mom had been gone a lot.  Danny was well socialized, confident, smart, healthy, with all of his digits and no visible scars.  He was missing a front tooth that he knocked out when he was three, but that had happened at preschool.

I knew that my husband could take care of a baby.

During my pregnancy, I did not bond with any other pregnant women, and it had been a few years since any women I knew had given birth.  I didn’t have what I think people call a “mommy group”.  My mom visited from time to time, but since she knows me so well she never gave me advice.  The only advice I got about mothering came from my husband when I needed it.

His advice was extraordinarily helpful to me.  I will share some nuggets of wisdom with you now:

1) When your baby wakes you up crying during the night, do not jump out of bed to attend to him.  Instead, look at the clock.  Wait a full five minutes, and if the baby is still crying then, go take care of him.  I believe this bit of advice saved me a lot of sleepless hours and created a child who learned to sleep through the night fairly early.  Five minutes can seem like an eternity when your baby is crying.  If you had not looked at the clock, you would swear it had been a half hour.  But stick it out, keep your head on that pillow.  You know what usually happened?  I would watch two minutes go by, then three…  and then the next thing I knew, it was magically morning.  What happened during minutes four and five?  I don’t know and I don’t care.  Either the baby stopped crying or I fell asleep – either way, now it was morning and everything was fine.  If I loved my husband for nothing else, I would love him for teaching me this trick.

2) What about those times when your baby seems inconsolable?  Crying and crying.  Doesn’t want milk, diaper is clean, not bleeding anywhere, cries the same whether you are carrying him or he’s lying down.  Well, not much else you can do, right?  Maybe it’s colic, maybe it’s possession, who knows?  Once again, this is a clock trick.  Put the baby in his crib, look at the clock, walk away, shut the door, and do something you like doing – preferably something that makes a lot of noise so you don’t have to hear the baby (anything involving an air compressor and a nail gun is perfect).  In fifteen minutes, go back and check the baby.  Want milk?  Dirty diaper?  Want to be held?  No – still crying?  Repeat above steps.  The basic theory being that if there is nothing that you can do to make the baby feel better, why should you stay there listening to the crying and feeling bad?  Do you think it’s good for your soul?  Luckily, my baby was seldom like this, but when he was this trick kept me from banging my head against the walls.

3) You ever go to someone’s house and when they open the front door, the first thing they say is “Shhh – the baby’s sleeping”?  Sometimes they won’t even let you in (yes, I’m talking about you, Bill).  In our house, noise played a huge role during Alex’s first few months.  Loud noises like air compressors, power saws, or violent television shows not only drowned out the sound of a fussy baby, but actually seemed to lull the baby to sleep.  We were (well, still are five years later) remodelling our home, and Alex’s nap times were perfect opportunities for me to help my husband with the work, fire up power tools, or drag debris out of the house.  I think most kids Alex’s age sleep like the dead, but he can do it anywhere, under pretty much any circumstances.

As Alex gets older, I am still benefitting from his dad’s distinctly masculine view of child rearing.  I know it’s a stereotype and not true of everyone, but look around honestly and you’ll see this is a general trend:  women are usually more careful, fussy, and hovering with their kids than men are.  When it comes to taking care of kids, men generally don’t sweat the small stuff.  Left on their own with a kid, I don’t think most men would be trying to teach it baby signs, worrying about the future psychological effects of different toys, planning elaborate schedules for eating and napping and bathing, or reading magazine articles about discipline/reward methods. When you do see a man being really fussy about his baby, you know why he’s doing that?  Because he knows that if he doesn’t do everything exactly right, his wife will be mad at him.  She might want to know exactly what time the baby pooped, exactly how many ounces of milk it drank and when, and get bent out of shape if its little shirt is on backwards.

Men seem to often have a “looks okay to me” or “how bad could it be?” approach.  Most women seem to think that’s not good enough.  Like that woman I met at the party during my pregnancy, they think that men can’t do it.  Really, they don’t approve of the way men do it.  They won’t give them a chance to do it.  But then you hear women complain about having to “do it all”.

To you young women out there (or older ones – heck, I didn’t do this baby thing until I was 39) – marry a man who you think is competent, and then let him do things.  You don’t have to do it all, and there’s no one right way to do it.

I was a volunteer firefighter for approximately five years, stopping four months or so into my pregnancy when I decided that it was in my best interest to be able to rest whenever I felt tired and eat whenever I felt hungry.  I’m sure I will write more about my firefighting another day, as certain experiences during those years were truly life-changing for me.  What I am thinking about today is how it prepared me for motherhood.

I remember when I was pregnant and a good friend of mine with a year-old daughter warned me that “the first three months are hell, but just remember that it gets better”.  I thought, “Oh, no!  Hell?!?  What have I gotten myself into?”  I wondered if there would be excruciating, searing, inescapable fire combined with crushing regret for all of my sins…  but then I remembered that people use “hell” to describe things like waiting in a long line at the bank.  So I wasn’t quite sure what level of discomfort to expect.  I knew I’d have an epidural, so I figured that part wouldn’t be so bad.

Well, turns out it wasn’t hell at all.  It was tiring, yes.  It’s no great joy to be woken by crying a few times each night.  To have to have this squalling, pooping, helpless thing so close to you for so many hours each day.  To have a menstrual period that lasts a goddamned month.  To always smell like sour milk and vomit.  To find out that babies don’t poop actual turds for months, but rather this liquidy stuff that apparently no diaper can 100% contain.  Yes, my husband did find me quietly crying on the front porch one night about two weeks after Alex was born – I am not someone who enjoys infants.

But a little perspective is in order.  Let me explain how my time as a volunteer firefighter helped me through the mini-Hades of early motherhood.

When a baby wakes you up crying in the wee hours of the night, what do you have to actually do?  Get up, walk across the room or maybe down the hall, pick up the 5-10 pound baby, change its diaper, put a boob or bottle in his or her mouth, and sit in a rocking chair.  Seriously, that’s about it.  Worst case scenario, it’s not hungry and keeps crying, so you return it to its crib and grind your teeth back in your warm bed until the crying stops (it will, eventually).

When your fire department pager wakes you up beeping in the wee hours of the night, what do you have to actually do?

You jump out of bed and into your pants, shirt, and shoes.  You throw your dog outside and run to your car.  You drive to the fire station, wiping the sleep out of your eyes, realizing that you really have to pee, and your heart is beating fast because you did not actually listen to what the pager said and so you have no idea what kind of call it is and what you are going to have to see and do in the next half hour, or three hours, or five hours.

Best case scenario:  You get to the station and find out that you are not needed.  You drive back home, let the dog in, take off your clothes, and go back to bed.  Already more time and energy spent than in a night feeding of a baby.

Other possible scenarios:  You put on your bunker gear, climb in the engine, and ride backwards through the dark, still not exactly clear on where you are going or why, because it’s actually really hard to hear the radio communication even with your headphones on.  You could arrive at a car accident where you may have to stand in the pouring rain and direct traffic for an hour, assist with CPR on a fat naked tattooed man covered in vomit, or help take off a car door so the coroner can get to a corpse.  Or at a barn fire where you have to drag around heavy hoses for a couple of hours, shovel and pick through debris for a couple of hours more, and then go back to the station to hang out the hoses and stock the engine with fresh hoses.  Or at a house where someone’s child has just died.

Stress much?  To be honest, the most common call was the car crash, and most likely I’d be the one directing traffic for an hour.  But seriously – compare that to sitting in a rocking chair nursing a baby, and the latter is cake.

So maybe there would be less whining about how hard it is to be a parent if everyone first served a few years for their local volunteer fire department.

And here’s a big THANK YOU to all men and women who continue to serve on fire departments all over this country, as career firefighters or as volunteers.  For those of you who are parents AND firefighters, you have my deepest respect.

 

Six years ago, I was a single 38-year-old woman with no plans of a family.  I was renting a tiny house and a huge barn on 140 acres of land.  I had two dogs, a cat, a donkey, and four goats.  In addition to my full time day job, I was a volunteer firefighter.  I spent my spare time donkey riding, taking long walks with my dogs, and reading in my hammock.  If asked, I would have said I don’t like children and never intend to get married.

Now here I am, 44 years old, with a life that I would not have believed had some fortune teller told me six years ago.  What I really would not have believed is how happy I am in this life.

My son Alex turned five years old a few months ago.  I’m married – to a frikkin’ knight (more on that another day).  Sir Hubby has another son, Danny, who is twelve and spends summers and Christmas holidays with us.  We own (who am I kidding – the bank owns it) a house in town, where I try to turn our little urban lot into as much of a farm as possible.  We have seven hens at the moment, at last count nineteen kinds of fruit grow on our property, and I’ve turned what was the front lawn into raised vegetable beds.

I have less spare time now than I did in my earlier solitary days, but I often spend that time in front of the computer.  So I thought – what the hell, spend a little less time playing online puzzles and write a blog!