And If You Don’t Know, Now You Know: Learning as You Parent

Lying in Savasana in a yoga class last week my blood pressure started to rise when I heard a new student talking to his girlfriend. If I were her, this would have been grounds for dumping him. Dude audibly exclaimed throughout class leading me to ponder “Who doesn’t know that you keep silent during yoga class?”

I don’t necessarily feel proud of my impatience and annoyance, but it sent me down the rabbit hole of thinking about all the things I didn’t know until I knew them.

Sort of like the “I was today years old” meme, except related to parenting and things that matter, and not branding and logos like Arby’s (Sound’s like “R.B.” like roast beef, except it’s actually from the name of the founders the Raffel Brothers) or Staples (the “L” in Staples looks like a partially unfolded staple) or FedEX (the negative space between the E and X in the name look like an arrow).

When I asked my friends if there was something they learned as a parent that it seemed like everyone else already knew, my friend Julia deadpanned, “Everything.”

I admit to having felt like that many times when someone looked at me curiously when I had a lightbulb moment. Sort of like how his older brother reacted when my 11-year old realized a few days ago that the Pooh characters “Kanga” and “Roo” go together to make the word “kangaroo.”

There’s just so much about parenting you can’t know until you experience it and there’s so much of the experience that we just don’t share candidly with one another.

For me, the biggest revelation came in how much pregnancy ravages your body and how awful that feels. No one talks about that until it’s too late and you’re already a part of their ripped open, stretched out, decimated club. No one ever tells you your house will never be clean again, either. Remember this the next time you rush to clean your house and make it perfect before your childless friends come over for dinner. You do them no favors by not letting them see what real life looks like on a day-to-day basis with dog-hair tumbleweeds peeking out from under the sofa, a sink full of dirty dishes, and toddler toys dominating your living room. But I digress…

Another shocker for me? Babies do not emerge from vaginal births looking like the Platonic ideal of infant hood with round heads and even features.

This lack of knowledge led me to tearfully ask our pediatrician if my son would need surgery to fix his folded-over ear and smushed in nose.

Other friends shared some horror and surprise at the physical tolls of pregnancy, but some of my favorite stories dealt with how little we knew about babies and all the minutiae required for that brief period of tiny infanthood that you never need to know again. Seriously, things like learning to suction tiny noses and wrap baby burritos seem so important, but then, as soon as you become an expert, you don’t need to do it. Wasted knowledge.

Of course, we focus on lack of knowledge right now and one of the funniest stories I heard came from a friend who never knew that most newborns sleep with their eyes partially open or that they can make facial expressions in their sleep. “My mother could not stop laughing when I said the baby was possessed. Every time she slept, it was the same…eyes half-open, rolling around in her head, smiling then grimacing. It was downright creepy.”

Another friend hilariously shared that she never knew that baby and toddler boys experience erections. Not only did she, like all boy moms get to experience what it feels like the first time they pee on you when go to change a diaper, but like the rest of us in Club BoyMom, she also learned that just like with teen boys, toddler boys also have very little control over their penis. “We were in the middle of Target when my three-year old started crying. When I asked what was wrong, he just shouted, ‘My penis feels weird and it’s sticking out! It won’t go down!’ I wanted to sink into that floor and disappear. With no idea what to do, I called my husband in tears and all he could do was laugh.”

I still remember sitting in a Mexican restaurant about 11 years ago, having lunch, with a friend who had just had her first child. A seasoned pro with a toddler and a newborn at that point, I came ready to drop some knowledge. Somewhat hesitantly my friend said, “The doctor said it’s time to start feeding the baby cereal. Can I ask you about that?” Expecting her to ask if I started with rice cereal or maybe if I fed my two organic or conventional cereal, I said, “Sure.” When she said, “So, do you just put the Cheerios in your food processor and grind them or do you add the milk first?,” I very nearly choked to death on a tortilla chip as I tried to stifle my laughter. I then explained infant cereal, what it is, where to procure it, and why you start off with it, all the while wondering how she had made it that far in life without knowing about its existence. Frankly, this still baffles me.

Like my friend Julia said, when it comes down to what we don’t know about parenting and kids before we take on this responsibility, we really don’t know everything…every single thing baffles us. And it’s probably a good thing we don’t know what we don’t know. Otherwise, the enormity of the task would so overwhelm us, no one would want to take on the job of becoming a parent.

What did you realize you didn’t know after having kids? Let us know in the comments.

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