Z is my now 8-and-a-half-year-old son. This document was a five-page, small-print instruction list for babysitters for my then-infant–babysitters, I might add, who were exclusively people to whom I or my then-husband was related. Perhaps even my then-husband himself was meant to read this instructive screed.
Thumbing through this document from the vantage point of the present, I really couldn’t help but laugh. First of all, this thing was so clearly written by a first-time mother with helicopter aspirations in its exhausting level of detail (down to how to wipe the kid’s anus. I am not kidding). Second, it was equally obvious that it was authored by an ex-lawyer (outline form? Really?). This thing would definitely be used as “exhibit A” if I were ever put on trial for neurotic type-A-ness.
That last part is particularly funny, because now, as a third-time mom, I am so laid back that sometimes I don’t even bother to dust off the pacifier when it falls on dirt before sticking it into the baby’s mouth. No joke. She’s got an amazing immune system.
You’d never guess that, though, from these instructions. My God. I think my favorite passage is the following:
1. Short “waah”s
A. These cries mean tired, and are often accompanied by
i. Rubbing eyes
ii. Not blinking
iii. Pulling hair (his/yours)
B. Accompanied by short breaths/panting means “I want to suck my pacifier.”
i. Hold it to his mouth, help put it in, watch for it to fall out.
ii. Extra pacifiers in Tupperware container on kitchen counter.
2. Holy Hell, Insane “Someone Ripped My Arm Off” Screaming
A. These cries mean “I’m hungry.”
3. Fidgety, whiny cry
A. These cries mean dirty diaper.
i. Grunting usually means dirty diaper is in progress/on the way.
I mean, seriously. Is it just me, or is all this stuff not fairly intuitive? Does a mother who is going out to dinner and a movie really need to write out a cry translator? I can only imagine what my own mother, mother to four kids, must have thought when she saw this Operators Manual. The more I think about it, I’m fairly certain that I’m the only person on earth who has actually read this thing.
I’m so glad I found it, though, because it’s a valuable snapshot of something that could never be captured adequately in a photograph (had I even allowed photos to be taken of me after I had my first son, which I can assure you that I did not).
I wrote this document, it seems to me, because I was so scared of my new status as a parent. I was so worried that I’d screw something up. I remember that paralyzing fear. I remember, very vividly, being checked out of the hospital after having given birth to Z, and wanting to grab the nurse by the shoulders and yell, “You can’t send me home with this kid! I don’t know anything about being a parent! I’m going to screw this up! Please keep me here longer! Please!!! Just give me ten seconds–I’ll go break my leg in the hall and be right back!”
Reading this operator’s manual put me back there–into the era of sleeplessness, of fear, of neurosis–and made me so glad I’m here in the now, three kids and one husband later, knowing that it all somehow turns out okay… and knowing that you forget about all of this eventually.
You forget about how it’s “imperative” that the baby lie not directly under the mobile, but a little to the side. You forget about how you desperately sought out other mothers to talk to them, feeling like you were all on the same lifecraft together, bobbing up and down with the vicissitudes of sleeplessness.
As those slow days and quick years go by, you forget your fears (and develop new ones, of course!). But slowly, like your child eventually will, you learn how to walk. And yours, over time, will be the walk of motherhood–of authority, of confidence, of guidance and of love.