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The Best Parenting Advice I’ve Received

Outside Playtime

Enjoying a little time out of the house

I know, I know: talking about the best parenting advice I’ve received is like talking about the best colonoscopy I’ve gotten. Who really likes getting parenting advice? Who is truly helped by the lady in line at the grocery store who helpfully informs you that your child shouldn’t be using a pacifier?

Yet, I’ve been given some parenting advice — some from friends, some from family members and some from perfect strangers — that’s really helped.

Here are some of the gems I’ve collected along the way:

1. Take Care of Yourself First

I know how this sounds, and I know how hard it is to do. When you hear that heart-wrenching cry, you levitate out of your chair like Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters and arrive at your baby’s crib with no memory of how you got there.

But it’s not a bad idea to take a moment for yourself before you run to your baby. I didn’t do a good job of taking care of myself when my son was very small. I remember rarely napping during the day and being hungry all the time.

First, I started having dizzy spells, which is scary when you have a baby in your arms most of the time. And then, my milk supply began to drop off rapidly. It scared the crap out of me, and I had an epiphany:

You can’t take care of this baby unless you take care of yourself first.

I started fixing myself a one-handed snack while holding my hungry son so I could feed myself while I was feeding him. I forced myself to nap a little more and drink more water, even if that meant I had to take the time to fill my glass while the baby cried. When you have a baby, taking care of yourself is a selfless — and necessary — act.

2. Leave the House Every Day

It was my second trip to the lactation center. Things weren’t going perfectly, and I was more than a little frustrated. And then, in walked an angel who gave me not one, but two indispensable pieces of advice, both of which I’ve included on this list:

Leave the house every day, even if it’s just to walk down the street.

She was so right. I’ll admit, some days, I only make it to the backyard of my house. But even just breathing a little fresh air seems to restore my sanity and makes everything seem a little easier.

3. It’s Not You, It’s Your Baby

Okay, not necessarily. But it could be. During my visit to the lactation center, I confided to the consultant that breastfeeding had been pretty challenging. And then, she said something that freed me from my guilt:

You know, it might not be you. It might be him.

That hit me like a brick on the head. I had never considered any scenario where my son was less than perfect! But acknowledging that she might be right about that allowed me to say, who cares if we’re not perfect at this?

So many things in parenting are a team effort, and just because you’re the parent doesn’t mean you have to take all the responsibility for any failure.

Although it got easier, breastfeeding was a challenge every single day until I finally weaned my son, and it was still worth it. And now, when I think back to our breastfeeding days, I don’t think of the struggles; I think of those early mornings when the sun streamed through the window and I sat in a comfy chair with my son. My heart aches a bit, and I long for those days gone by. (But only for a moment.)

4. Pull a Toy Switcheroo

I was in a toy store with my mom perusing birthday gift options for my son, and as we were ooo-ing and aww-ing over all the new toys, a shop worker generously offered this wonderful advice:

You don’t need to buy a bunch of toys — just put half your child’s toys in the closet, and then switch them out with the other half two weeks later.

So I tried it, and when I got the old toys out two weeks after having stashed them away, I was shocked. My son’s response was kind of like how I feel each time I rediscover Gouda cheese: It’s cheese that tastes like bacon! Why don’t I buy this ALL THE TIME?

In addition to my son showing renewed enthusiasm for his old toys, I was amazed to see how much he had progressed in two short weeks. Instead of banging his toy piano on the ground, he sat and pressed the keys one by one. Entertaining for him, rewarding for me and economical for all of us.

5. Don’t Wish Away Even the Tough Moments; They’ll be Gone Before You Know It

This piece of advice came from one of my most amazing mom friends. I’ve come back to her words so many times since my son was born, often in the midst of one of those “tough moments.” Every time I think of this, it calms me down and gives me the strength to shrug off whatever challenge I’m facing.

In just one short year, I’ve found my friend to be so, so right. So many moments, good and bad, are indeed gone before you know it. No matter how many people tell you the time will fly, you’re never prepared for just how true it is. The good stuff, the bad stuff: it’s all part of the wild ride. And in its own way, it’s all good stuff.

Yes, there were those nasty early diaper blowouts that you thought you’d never in a million years miss. And then you find one of your son’s tiny newborn diapers. You hold it close to your heart, remembering when he was so little and helpless and smelly and sweet.

There were those days when you had to change your baby’s outfit six times because he spit up heroically each time you wrangled him into new clothes. And then one day you pack away those tiny outfits that no longer fit. You long for the days when you dressed him in precious outfits that only a tiny baby wouldn’t look ridiculous wearing, and you find a few of your tears make their way into that plastic bin.

There were those 4 am wake up calls when your baby cried out for you, and you stumbled to his bedside, wishing you weren’t the only person able to feed him. And then he starts to not need you as much as he used to, and you long for the days when you were his everything.

So please, trust me. Don’t wish away the tough moments. Don’t long too much for the next stage or the next milestone. It will all come and go so fast. In the meantime, hold your baby close, breathe in the smell of his tiny head and relish in the moment — it will be gone soon enough.

A Life More Ordinary

Three times in the past three days, I’ve been mistaken for someone else. At first, I concluded I must have a doppelganger preceding me everywhere I go — walking my neighborhood with two dogs that look like mine, frequenting my favorite coffee shop, browsing titles at the library.

But then, another thought occurred to me: perhaps I’m not as unique as I think I am.

We all want to think we’re extraordinary, don’t we? There are so many vehicles available to fan the flames of that idea: Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest … so many ways to say, “Look at me! Look where I am! See how witty I am?”

Growing up, I was small. Short, skinny, bespectacled and knobby-kneed, I didn’t exactly command attention when entering a room. I was notable mostly for how thick my glasses were, but enjoyed a brief period of fame by hypnotizing my fellow classmates. I recall spending an entire sleepover in the school gym getting my friends to mumble incoherently (although, realistically, they were probably faking it) and feeling like a powerful sorcerer.

I was neither popular nor unpopular; neither a mean girl nor a Key Club altruist. But I always envisioned a time when I’d be a famous artist, or a bestselling author. My drawings of trees and appaloosa horses would command thousands at auction. I’d travel the globe doing book signings. I’d sing and dance through the hallways of a New York performing arts high school with a troupe of my fellow students following behind in perfect dance-step.

For years — and my heart beats with mortification as I admit this — my ATM pin was 3-2-6-3.

F. A. M. E.

I can’t — and don’t — blame my kid for the fact that I never did those things. It’s not like I became a teen mom and all my hopes and dreams went out the window. I had plenty of time to do extraordinary things before Hudson came along.

Getting married, buying a house and being a mom to two dogs and a baby — those are about the most ordinary and clichéd things a person can do. And yet, I feel I’m finally doing something special.

Part of growing up and becoming a parent is making peace with a life more ordinary than the one you may have envisioned for yourself. I’m not saying any of us should settle, or that we shouldn’t still strive for the extraordinary. But when you’re a parent, you often find yourself taking the road more traveled.

When I was pregnant, I came across a poem that resonated with me in an incredibly powerful way. Part of me felt uncomfortable with the notion expressed in the poem, as I don’t believe it’s healthy to live my dreams through my son. And, I don’t plan to give up on my plans for my life — that just isn’t the example I want to set for my child.

But my son came along at a time that wasn’t the most convenient for my husband and me. Throughout my pregnancy, I felt apprehensive about the heavy responsibilities of parenthood. I wondered how being a mom would change me, and if that change would be for the worse.

And sometimes, I wondered if my time to lead an extraordinary life was over.

I say, no. My love for my son is extraordinary. My responsibility is extraordinary. The work I have yet to do to be the best mom, wife and friend I can be is extraordinary.

My life is ordinary. My child is — well, he’s mine. One shining, extraordinary accomplishment in life.

To My Child

You are the trip I did not take;
You are the pearls I could not buy;
You are my blue Italian lake;
You are my piece of foreign sky.

You are my Honolulu moon;
You are the book I did not write:
You are my heart’s unuttered tune:
You are a candle in my night.

You are the flower beneath the snow
In my dark sky a bit of blue;
Answering disappointment’s blow
With “I am happy! I have you!”

― Anne Campbell

G Is for Gratitude

Old Friends

Flanked by a lot of mom power

It’s pretty well established that pregnancy is an emotional time for a woman, and I am no exception.

I can hardly watch TV anymore without evoking a rushing river of emotions. Any onscreen character serves as a stand-in for my baby, and I find myself straining to figure out what made that child grow up to be a hoarder, or smoke crystal meth or leave her bra straps hanging out of a tacky outfit.

It’s no picnic for my husband either. The other night I watched a program where one character had been born with a vestigial tail. This prompted me to cry out, “Oh my god! What if our baby has a tail?! Do you think it would show up on the ultrasound? Should we have it surgically removed or just leave it on there?”

So when my sister and mom planned a baby shower extravaganza for me — with two events in two days — the crazy cocktail of hormones coursing through me was already lining up the perfect storm. Then the A/C quit.

My poor sister, in an effort to satisfy my average temperature of about 135 degrees, had cranked her A/C down so low the night before the first shower that the unit froze up and quit. As we watched the temperature inside climb to 80 degrees, my sister snapped into action. Armed with a hair dryer, she was able to thaw the unit out and get the A/C working, with about 45 minutes to spare.

By this time, the layer of deodorant I had applied to my entire body was about as useless as a vestigial tail. But, all things considered, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping my overflowing emotions in check. That is, until I opened the first gift.

What I thought was a published book called, “Parenthood From A to Z: Everything That Nobody Tells You Before You Get Knocked Up,” turned out to be something so much more special. As I flipped through the pages, I began to notice some familiar photos: me rocking my Bugs Bunny glasses at my first communion; me playing my super-cool flute to some preschoolers. Suddenly, I realized that the book was actually created for me by my college roommates.

In addition to being some of the funniest women I know, these gals have collectively brought 20 children into this world. (That’s a lot of mom power.) They gathered up their best bits of advice and handed them over to be compiled by my dear friend Kennedy, who’s the kind of girl who’s so smart and talented you just know you’ll one day be boasting that you knew her when.

I’ve now read their book countless times. Each time I do, I think how helpful, touching and well written it is, and how many moms I know who could benefit from all its helpful tips. So, with all credit given to Kennedy and the Playground girls, I thought I’d share a little bit of it here.

A is for Advice. Everyone’s an expert … As a parent, you become a magnet for unsolicited advice and criticism. Every once in a while, these “words of wisdom” are actually helpful, but most of the time, they’re either bad or just not right for your family. Here’s our two cents: pinpoint your “core” advisors — those that you trust the most for advice on parenting. They know your family and lifestyle better than the stranger in the grocery store or your nosy neighbor, and can help you make the choices that will work best for your child. As for all that unsolicited advice, decide if there’s anything in it you can use and ignore the rest.

D is for D-cup. Your much-admired D-cup only remains while breastfeeding. Then your breasts D-flate. Also note that breastfeeding may not be as natural as you think it should be. It can take a lot of work, including help from your husband. You are not a bad mom if you cannot do it.

F is for Forgetfulness. You are not losing your mind, and you are not alone. Parenting uses up the majority of your brain, so don’t be surprised when you find yourself forgetting even the simplest things. Go back to the basics: simplify, repeat names, write things down and give yourself extra time. Most importantly, be patient with yourself when you’re making that return trip to the grocery store because you forgot the thing that sent you there in the first place.

H is for Hormones. Postpartum hormones are a crazy, crazy beast. You are elated one moment, then drowning in a flood of tears the next. The physical and emotional enormity of giving birth and the realization of being a mother tend to hit home once you leave the hospital, which is when those crazy hormones overload your system, causing anxiety and stress. Don’t despair — it’s completely normal and won’t last.

N is for Negotiation. Never negotiate with terrorists — as in the ones aged 2 and 3. As your child gets older, negotiation can help him or her feel empowered while building trust and strengthening family ties. Pick your battles wisely, and remember that negotiating is not about winning or losing.

P is for Poop. You will become obsessed with your child’s poop. It’s a little gross, but completely normal. Just know that poop comes in many different sizes, shapes and colors, and just because it’s a little green one day doesn’t mean your child is hosting some horrible intestinal parasite. Beware of the poop shooter and turd thrower; they’ll get you when you least expect it.

Q is for Quiet Time. You will dread the day that your toddler no longer takes a nap. “Quiet time” to the rescue! Spending time alone in his or her room every day will help your child develop patience, focus, creativity and imagination. And while your “break” may not be as long as it used to be, you’ll still get some much needed “quiet time” yourself.

U is for Unit. Boys are obsessed with their “units” from the very beginning. Relax. It’s normal.

Z is for Zoo. Your child’s stuffed animal collection will start out innocently enough. Each holiday, birthday, or other occasion that calls for a gift, however, will serve to grow it exponentially. At some point, it may get so bad that the stuffed animals themselves begin procreating. Don’t let your house turn into a zoo. Keep the most special ones, and donate all of the rest.

Playground Girls: I am overcome with gratitude. I love you all and feel incredibly blessed to have you in my life.

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