“Well, now, let’s have a look at the baby.”
This inquiry had become a regular part of our daily walk.
Every day, I’d load the wee bairn into the buggy and head to a neighbourhood of large properties set on flat streets. Books on new motherhood insisted that babies needed this daily promenade in the fresh air. With this edict in mind, we set off each day. The baby looked marvellous – toasty blankets framing a shining pink button of a face – and took keen interest in the launch of this daily expedition. Powering this barge up the Nile, however, was an ashen faced woman in sweatpants, a baseball cap and, on a good day, matching running shoes. The baby – Claire, my first – invariably and lamentably, fell swiftly asleep. The overarching sky combined with the soporific hum of the wheels knocked the kid out inside of a block. I knew from experience, however, that the wee empress would become her sparkling self – not to mention ravenous – the moment we returned home.
Of all tyrants, babies are the most adorable.
As the blocks rolled by, I couldn’t help but enumerate all the chores I needed to get to when I got home. If I was lucky, Claire would sleep for another hour and I’d have some unfractured time to slay the dust bunnies, summit the laundry pile, and decide if the thing at the back of the fridge was new cheese or vintage mashed potatoes. This baby of mine was colic-y. My days were bleary-eyed.
My decision-making skills had been eroded to that of a squirrel crossing a busy street.
On this daily walk, there was a point where I’d stop and turn around. This happened to be in front of a handsome, old, shingle-sided farmhouse. An elderly man who’d stepped directly off the cover of a James Herriot novel was generally to be found turning compost or staking dahlias. In time, I came to understand that he was a retired general practitioner, which explained his special interest in the baby. There were always questions: “How’s yer milk? Started her on solid foods yet? Och! Teeth already?!” I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a stethoscope dangling over his buttoned up cardigan. The day came when I was invited in for tea. His wife had infirmities that kept her indoors but she’d often waved from the window. The doctor – that’s what even his wife called him – gulped down his tea and returned to battling powdery mildew on the roses leaving me alone to chat with his wife.
She was astonishing. Infirm, yes, but as sharp as could be. Up on everything. Mesmerizing, too. We covered a wide range of topics. And then she stopped. Her eyes may have been locked on Claire, but her question was for me.
“And how is Mom making out?”
I didn’t answer but tears welled in my eyes.
For a moment we listened to the wind jostle the spruce tree outside the open window.
She said it was hard, babies. A surprising amount of work.
I agreed and confided that I felt I was slipping backward on so many things. My writing was all but abandoned and I wondered if I’d ever get back to the gym, let alone have a decent night’s sleep.
She poured me another cup of tea.
“You know,” she said, “Throughout my life, I always worked extra hard each day in hope of gaining a bit of free time the following day.”
“I was well into my 70s before I realized that free time never materialized. Work expands to fill time.”
We were seated at a table strewn with magazines and newspapers; pens and papers. Ashes tumbled out of a fireplace. The room was in a comfortable disarray and spoke of happy diversions. She looked at me with the wide-awake Claire cradled in my arms.
“Life is so short; so uncertain. Just take the time. Just take it.
Don’t be a slave to housework.
Be a slave to joy and experience.
Enjoy your baby.”
Of all the many baby gifts, this is one that neither of us outgrew.
This week’s question for readers:
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU COULD OFFER A NEW PARENT?
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Responses to last week’s question:
WOULD YOUR LANGUAGE LAND YOU IN THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE? ANY ALTERNATIVE WORD CHOICES FOR WHEN YOU STUB YOUR TOE?
My late father in law would say Jiminy Cricket in an effusive tone. It was only later on that the whole family realized that, as a devout Catholic, he could not say Jesus Christ. Today my daughter uses his expression which keeps my sweet father in law’s memory alivePatricia Gray
I have been pretty good about not using really colorful language, especially when my boys were young. Heaven forbid they got caught swearing and said their mom taught them! But the older I get the more I use the S word. I find it really rolls off my tongue and describes everything about the last 18 months. But the F word is reserved for special occasions, like your suitcase got sent to Idaho and not Phoenix. And still, try as I might, that S word keeps popping into my head.Sue Hector
I come by my potty mouth honestly – I worked in a newsroom for many years! But now in polite company I try to exchange that offensive word with the one our Prime Minister’s father once claimed he used – Fuddle Duddle!Jan Mansfield
It was May in 1973 and I was in charge of a geological field party near the Mackenzie River in the NWT. This was one of the first bush camps that had females – a graduate geologist, her assistant, and my wife – the cook’s assistant. About a dozen guys made up the rest of the crew – mainly geologists, students, a pilot, the mechanic, etc. When it came to swearing, the basically-young crew was, at first, on their best behavior and controlled themselves very well when in mixed company – as did the young ladies. Sometimes a lady would exclaim “Sugar!” when everyone knew she meant “S–t!” Whenever one of them let the real word slip out, the cook would spread the word and, since a female used it, it became acceptable in normal bush conversation. So it progressed through the summer. Fortunately, no really obscene words were added to the vocabulary. When camp was finally broken in mid-September, the integrated camp helped show that females did belong in the bush both technically and socially. It was a break-through summer.Mike Murrell
A few years ago, while touring London’s Westminster Abbey, my wife and I entered one of the smaller Royal burial anterooms, where we and about twenty others quietly gathered to view the tomb and artifacts. Breaking the silence, one of the visitors let fly with two sneezes straight into the air. This angered me, and forgetting where I was, exclaimed in a louder-than-planned stage whisper, “Cover your mouth for chrissakes!” I was thankfully spared immediate spontaneous combustion.Warren Korbin
I can completely relate to your article, thank you. My experience with stand-up comedians is a disappointing evening with Whoopi Goldberg. Her show was so foul mouthed it ruined the performance. When I get the urge to express my frustrations, I let go of some really good Dutch swear words: no one understands other than meBert Smulders
In the 1950’s my favorite acceptable expletive was ‘cheese and crackers got all muddy’. Maybe it’s still around?B Morrow
Don’t compare yourself to other new parents. I’m glad I had my kids before social media took over as I think it’s harmful for new parents to see images of “perfect people parenting” on Instagram.
….from a Grandfather. When you are enjoying the outdoors with your little one, lose the smart phone. You are so absorbed in looking at the phone, you are missing so many teaching and helping opportunities that form a stronger bond with your children.
They will be that old for today. What will you have missed?
Time is not on a new Mom’s side.
That is a great column, sharing out wise advice to moms and all others alike. Thanks! I’m better for it.
Sleepless nights of a new mom reminded me of my Baby #1. He was born a perfect nine pounder at the top floor of St. Paul’s Hospital. My husband and I were to join our friends, including the physician who delivered him, at the On On Restaurant that night, but my water broke. My friend, and doctor advised that I go to the hospital when contractions were quickening, and she would keep in touch with my progress. Late in the evening, she was informed he was ready to enter this world, and in arrived my doctor. As I was grunting and pushing, she said, “By the way, On On was delicious”. Baby #1 was colicky and I did as you, pushed him up and down the street, me, sleep deprived, and crying for my failure to console him numerous nights. To my rescue, two houses down, my lovely neighbours, retired family doctor and his wife, welcomed me into their house, offering me soothing words and a cup of tea. The doctor, went to his shelf, and offered me a well used book: DR. Turtle’s Babies, authored by Wm. J. Turtle, 1900. It was my reference right through until the boys went to grade school. I later learned he co-authored this invaluable book.
Baby #2 was much more manageable, sleeping 12 hours every night for months. But that wonderful book carried me through chicken pox, numerous colds and coughs and any other ailment that kept me awake through the night. Until my neighbours moved away, they always would beckon me to their home, catch up on my child rearing experiences and a soothing cup of tea.
Being a young mother of 25 with four babies under 6yrs . My advice would be to take people up when they offer to help ! Don’t try and do everything yourself or be afraid to ask for help . Even if it’s just taking the kids outside for an hour while you have a shower by yourself without the little fingers poking under the door because we all know they will find you !! LOL
Do not try to be too quiet around a new baby!
They will have to be able to sleep in the real world. So vacuum, have the tv or radio on, talk, and let them become accustomed to some noise early in life.
They’ll thank you when they can tune out noise to read, sleep on planes and put up with noisy roommates.
I come from a musical family. I hear beautiful melodies and lullabies in my head. However somehow between my brain and my mouth, the melody definitely goes off tune! But my babies still loved to hear me singing to them. So don’t be shy – sing to your babies!
Instead of sharing my experience with today’s young mothers, I wish my daughter in law could have enlightened me as a new mother- her practical, organized ,selfless and mindful approach to my granddaughters is inspiring.
1. Prioritize the baby’s care above everything but your mental health. If you’re suffering, you can’t care for the baby properly. Get professional help if you need it.
2. Rest when the baby does.
3. Take people up on their offers to help, especially with meals, cleaning, and watching the baby so you can shower.
4. Don’t worry about how you or your home look when people visit. Any visitor who cares about either needs to be commandeered to help out!
5. No drop in visitors!
6. Did I mention rest when the baby does?
The old adage, time is short, enjoy them while you can, rings true. I miss my two little children. They’re both adults now and one with 2 little children of his own. After visiting them, to their parents dismay both children, figuratively speaking, are still running around upside down on the ceiling, yelling, screaming, and laughing ….. because I miss my two little children.
I enjoyed reading your story about “Time is not on a New Mom’s side;Take it Anyway”.
My advice to new parents?
As a “Mr. Dad” in the 1990’s, I was able to be at home during the day(I worked at night, 4:30-8:30PM) with my two young sons. I loved to do sports and Outdoor activities, so I decided to “Adapt my lifestyle to incorporate my children into it”. For example, I loved to cross country ski. I bought a ski sled so the boys could sit comfortably inside the sled and I pulled them around Hollyburn ski hill for some 10 years. As they got older, I carried skis in the sled so they could begin to ski a bit. This is the style parents in Scandinavia used, I just borrowed it. Later, our family enjoyed skiing together.
I also liked Wayne Gretzky’s advice to parents: “Let your children try lots of different sports, let them experience them for themselves, do not focus on one sport.” I used this advice to good effect when my sons were young. It worked well for us.
I raised 3 Children.
My best advice would be to try to capture moments, big or small, in your memory. Many people are caught up in taking pictures that sit on albums or on the phone. It’s not easy to make a mental note at the special times, but long term memory sticks with repeatedly visiting that memory.
One of my favourite memories is of my youngest son at bedtime when I would sing some songs with him. He would start to giggle, at my singing I’m sure, then I would laugh. We would go back and forth giggling at each other, trying to stop and failing miserably. He’s 29 now and says he doesn’t remember, but I do…..oh I do!
Thanks for the memories!
Having raised three children to adulthood, without a doubt the best piece of advice my husband and I ever got was from total strangers:
While out with our firstborn in a local eatery in Dunbar, two grandparents approached us and asked if they could pass on the best advice they ever got raising their own children! Heck YES! They suggested CANDY DAY! Make a point of visiting the local Macs, 7 Eleven or corner store and buying a bag of penny candy that gets eaten on only that day of the week. We picked Saturday and we were dogged in our quest that our children got candy every week! My husband would wagon and walk the kids up to the local store and let the kids choose whatever they wanted for a quarter, which soon became a looney and then a tooney! Older, my daughter bargained candy for Archie comics! We never once had a problem steering by the supermarket checkouts as we’d always say, “Better have a good look at what’s here because Candy Day is only _____ days away! Brilliant!!! Good luck!!!
When our son Trevor was 5 he had a neighbour boy come over for a play date. We had recently installed new carpets so I asked the little boy if he could please remove his shoes. He was so excited about the visit that he wasn’t listening to me. We then heard our son say “My Mom only asks once.”
So, be consistent, only ask once and don’t disappoint them if they don’t listen.
Having a baby was something to really plan for to me; the house, savings, education fund planned and time. Time to play, to feed, to nurse, to stay up all night. It all just seemed so much and perhaps impossible too, until the best advice that I ever received was, you either want children or you don’t there never is a perfect time.
If you are a perfectionist, you will need help. I painfully found this out after three children in five years. I regret some of my behaviour as a mother particularly in those early years. Bullying, ordering, bossing, scolding and warning are not the same as loving discipline. Not only do those actions degrade your child/children; they can break their spirit. As well, the stress that comes from such behaviour is unhealthy for the whole family, including you. Nothing is more important than loving your children, keeping them safe, and gently teaching them to become caring, productive adults.
I enjoy your column!
My Mum gave me this advice: Whenever the baby is put down for a nap, dive into your own bed for a nap, too. I did this, and even during their afternoon naps when they were four or five or six, I would decree a quiet time for all kids and me, too.