Parenting 101: Redefining Boundaries

Boundaries are what define us, make us who we are. Things that might be a norm for someone may be downright taboo for others. We build our comfort zone within these boundaries. Everything from ‘foods we like’ to ‘the way we dress’ are defined by these protocols. We seem to panic at the very thought of stepping out of this comfort zone. Anything that threatens the existence of these boundaries threatens our very existence; yet we  are instinctively hard-wired to procreate!

‘What was I thinking? I’m not ready to be a parent!”.

All expecting parents have anxiety attacks at some point during their pregnancy which, I believe, are totally justified, as you are about to embark on a life-altering mind-shattering reality-bending journey that will change your perspectives on boundaries forever (Phew! that was a long sentence). These attacks can be triggered by things as insignificant as dropping a glass of water (“OMG! What if that were my baby?”) or while inspecting your mustard-stained white dress (“How will I take care of a baby when I can’t even take care of myself?”). Being one of those parents, I can safely tell you that when it’s time to get down and dirty, you’ll be ready no matter what. You may forget your graduation after-party, but you will never forget the feeling of holding your baby in your arms for the very first time. That’s when you’ll say to yourself: “I can do this!”.

Having said that, being a parent can push you to the limits, and then some. Forget your ‘Personal Space’ because it is about to be invaded. Not only is it a major lifestyle adjustment, it’s also a time to put things into perspective and re-evaluate your priorities. As fairly recent inductees into parenthood, my wife and I have had to readjust (a lot of) our boundaries. A few examples are quoted for your reading pleasure (inspired from personal as well as peer experiences):

1. Paranoid much?

Street food? Street cricket? Street food after playing street cricket? Wiping off your hands on a pair of jeans that hasn’t been washed for a month (or two) after you have had street food? ‘Bring it on’ is what you say before the baby comes into your life. But after you have that little bundle of joy in your hands, you turn into the King of ‘What-if’s. “What if my baby picks up germs if she crawls on the floor? What if there is pesticide residue on the fruits I’m feeding to my baby? What if my baby’s diapers are hazardous to her health?” Every single baby-threat article you read on the Internet leaves a huge impact on you, debilitating your decision-making skills, forcing you to think ten times before doing ANYTHING baby-related (or letting the baby do anything baby-related, for that matter). You seem to develop super-powers overnight, being able to see the millions of invisible germs all around your home. Every time you see your baby with a toy, you feel the need to sterilize it before handing it over to her again. You may find yourself giving someone a piece of your mind (or even going all Kill-Bill on them) if you catch them attempting to slip something into the baby’s mouth without your consent; ice cream, chocolates, candy, and sodas are some solid entries on your things-not-to-feed-the-baby list.

A good thing to know is that this paranoia subsides (eventually), albeit slowly. There will still be instances when it perks up again, but all in all, it does gets better with time.

2. Eww, gross!? Well, guess again!

Neat freaks find this the most unnerving of all. But the sooner you realize this fact, the better – BABIES ARE MESSY – Period! They pee here, poop there and vomit everywhere (it rhymes and sounds kinda catchy now, doesn’t it?). Babies are born with Extra Sensory Perception (ESP or sixth sense, as you may like to call it) and no matter how careful you are, babies seem to guesstimate the exact time to pee/poop between diaper changes (“Minority Report” that, suckers). The blow-out stories are all the rage these days and a favorite topic of discussion at parenting support group meetings.

And don’t even get me started on trying to feed your baby. Rule of thumb: If your baby doesn’t like something, don’t try feeding it to her. Otherwise, you’ll end up smeared in red cherry-flavored food that your baby is carelessly spitting out (with that aim sister, you’ll grow up to be a sharp-shooter).

My advice? Learn to control your gag-reflexes (mind over matter, baby – MIND OVER MATTER!) and don’t think too much about those nasty odors. The sooner you adjust to the situation, the better, because it won’t be improving anytime soon.

3. Fewer trips to La-La Land!

Scientists say that an adult requires anywhere between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep every day; they sure must have missed out all the newbie parents (or parents with newbies) from this study.

Our kind thrives on power-naps, coordinating our sleeping pattern with the baby’s. A two-hour uninterrupted sleep seems like a blessing. A night when you get six hours of sleep comes once in a blue moon and is a memory to be cherished until the next one comes around.

Who cares about sleep anyways? You’d rather change diapers, fight over who takes the next turn preparing the formula (“Your turn”, “Na-aan! Your turn”, “I did it at 3:15 AM, now it’s your turn!”), burp the baby, etc. Take out your favorite varsity jersey ’cause you are about to pull more all-nighters than you could have ever imagined.

4. Health-(un)conscious!

Health is just one of those things that we take in stride. “This flu takes its time. It’ll go when it’ll go; no need for the doctor!”. This one comes straight from personal experience. My wife and I hate going to the doctor’s and taking medicine, so boundary-wise, the doctor stays out unless its a life-or-death situation.

Do you know that your health is as important as the baby’s health? Now, we rush to the doctor as soon as we ‘think’ something’s not right with us and get right to the pill-popping, so as to prevent something that may (or may not) happen to us in the near future. “Who’ll take care of the baby if I fall ill?”.

5. Welcome home, Mr. Fix-it-all!

Men are hard-wired to fix things around the house. Contrary to popular belief, some of us aren’t! We are the (lazy) kind that hire all sorts of specialized professionals to do the job (and do it right). We don’t mind paying a small amount of money to get the job done and have no ego-problems whatsoever; why dabble in something that you might end up ruining, right?

Unfortunately for the men belonging to my category, there are no specialists for fixing complicated baby gadgets. You will invariably end up (coaxed into) assembling these yourself when your wife threatens to fix them on her own (Egad! Who turned on the ‘ego’ switch?). Swing sets, strollers, feeding chairs, wardrobes, cribs and walkers are just the tip of the iceberg. These things keep on coming right at you one after the other as your baby ages, and thankfully, this whole ‘building stuff’ craze kind of grows on you. The trick is not to take this new-found power to heart; better leave the plumbing to the professionals (TRUST ME!).

6. Old dog, new jargon!

Growing up, we all have this innate fear of spellings, of learning new words, of somehow being able to express ourselves more eloquently. Throughout our formative years, we are coaxed into learning words that only a handful could know, let alone pronounce (try ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ on for size). Whether you are preparing for your SAT or your GMAT, your GRE or your TOEFL, this curse keeps haunting you. But once your educational nightmares are behind you, you just learn to slide by with the bare minimum (unless you are an author), letting the word processing software take care of all you vocabulary needs.

And then you decide to have a baby! It all starts with an innocent ‘weaning’ here, an idle ‘septic’ there, and without even realizing it, you are drowning in words like ‘meconium’, ‘nebulizer’ and ‘asphyxia’. You would be ridiculed in the presence of other parents if you dare ask the meaning of one of these words. What happens next? Well, the words just keep coming at you full-speed and all you can do is absorb them as fast as you can; dodging them is not an option as you never know when they might come in handy.

7. Count and Lady Ga-Ga!

I have always been a big fan of people who are not ashamed to ‘express’ themselves in front of babies; we were born to make funny faces, talk gibberish and produce strange sounds. Even when I was single, I used to love doing silly things to make babies laugh (they just seem to make this world a little brighter). Most of my male peers acted as if such people were stark raving mad for pulling such stunts in public; sorry if I sound too sexist, but most (see? no stereotyping!) females are born with a mom-switch, which turns on as soon as a baby comes into their field of vision, and I personally love this fact. Now, I can’t help but stifle a laugh (or chuckle) when I see one of these holier-than-thou (male) friends of mine (nothing short of a big-can-o’-crazy) pulling all stops at trying to make his baby smile/laugh – talk about pushing boundaries!

At the end of the day, you may think you can’t take it anymore, or that you deserve a break. Well guess what? You’re in for the long haul. Life for a parent revolves around a series of firsts. Just when you think you have reached your breaking point, the baby will do something so trivial, yet extraordinary, that will make it all worthwhile. The first time your baby smiles, the first ga-ga, the first step, the first caress, etc. are just some examples. This and the fact that you get to watch yourself grow right in front of your eyes is downright exhilarating. Forget the days when you used to hang out with friends as soon as you got off work; now all I can think of is getting home and sweeping my baby into my arms.

Note to self: BE PREPARED FOR EVERYTHING!

NOTE: This article was intended to give you a peek at the lighter side of parenthood and in no way discourages you to be parents. My life is a million times better with my daughter and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Parenting for Dummies: The First Trimester

What goes on in the labor room, stays in the labor room. Some progressive hospitals let the dad into the labor room to enjoy (seriously?!) the whole 360-degree birthing experience, but more often than not, the dad and the couple’s close relatives sit in the waiting area, praying for the health of the mother and the baby. Just like in the movies, the father-to-be can clearly be distinguished from the lot as the one pacing the entire length of the dimly-lit corridor, biting his nails (or indulging in some alternate idiosyncrasy), waiting for the nurse to come out with some good news; a scene straight out of a silent movie. It could be hours, even days (God forbid), till you hear from the hospital staff, and when you’ve given up all hope, a nurse sporting blood-splattered scrubs (the source is better left unnamed) bursts out of the labor room screaming, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” (or a boy). What follows is nothing short of a miracle; the silent ambiance is ruptured with shrieks of joy and cries of “Mubarak Ho, Mubarak Ho!” (meaning Congratulations). From my personal experience and fairly recent induction into daddy-ville, a possible sequence of events that follow include:

  1. shedding a tear (or two) of relief, or even a full-blown outburst (believe me; no one will judge you)
  2. seeing the baby for the first time
  3. shedding a tear (or two) of joy – again; no judging
  4. checking on the mother’s health
  5. sharing sweets with everyone
  6. seeing the baby again
  7. your mother and your mother-in-law arguing over who she resembles
  8. saying the Azan (Muslim call for prayers) in the infant’s ear
  9. seeing the baby some more (you just can’t seem to get enough of her)
  10. having some more sweets (Pakistanis will be Pakistanis)
  11. shortlisting baby names (if you haven’t decided on one yet)
  12. meeting your wife together with the baby and crying some more
  13. giving the baby something sweet to taste (honey, in most cases)

And then the baby comes home, bringing with it, two invisible companions (who are very real in every other sense) named “Sleepless Nights” and “Ceaseless Crying”. You have no choice but to welcome them into your humble abode; no compromises. Waking up at hours unheard of somehow becomes routine. People at work mock/pity you as you walk into your office with bulging red eyes. You seem to be running to the doctor every time the baby sneezes. You used to think your wife was high-maintenance; well guess again! The formula milk and the diapers, the cleaning wipes and the bouncers, the bottles and the sterilizers, the rattles and the swings, and loads of other things-that-shall-not-be-named, don’t come cheap; and don’t even get me started on the filthy expensive vaccinations. But wait; there’s another intruder that creeps into your life and needs no invitation; “Postpartum Depression”. Your wife’s mood swings, an essential part of her hormonal imbalances, may drive you to the edge and back; tears of joy might turn into a crying frenzy on how she would be a terrible mother. In her defense, after what she’s gone through, she deserves a breakdown or two (hmm… make that a hundred). As a loving husband, you must hold her hand through all the highs and lows, and make sure she knows that you are there to support her no matter what.

The last paragraph should pretty-much sum up your life for the first three months after the baby’s birth. But as soon as the baby crosses over into her fourth month, most lucky parents (myself included) see a visible change in their lifestyles. The baby becomes more responsive, starts cooing, even ga-ga-ing at times, might even recognize you, bestow you with a smile or two, and seems to settle down into a sleeping pattern. Sleeping for four (maybe even six) hours isn’t just a dream anymore. Life somehow seems much more settled. There are a few outbursts, a tummy-ache here, a little gas there, but all-in-all, you feel blessed after having gone through what you have in the early days.

My daughter is a little over five months old now and she keeps getting more adorable every second. I can barely restrain myself from taking a bite off of her cheek. There’s so much she has to offer, be it a sincere smile, or a gentle caress, but more than anything, she has drastically changed my perceptions on learning; it’s NOT a one-way street as perceived by most new parents. Read my other post entitled What my five-month old taught me for further details.

NOTE: Being a father, I’m writing this article from a dad’s perspective and from my own personal experience. Even though it has a lot of religious and cultural influences, you may be able to relate to most of my experiences.

What My Five-month Old Taught Me

We spend all our lives trying to mold our children into ideals, but we somehow miss so many things our children can teach us, even as infants.  Here are twelve things I learned from my five-month old daughter:

1. Persistence is the key to getting what you want, when you want; crying always works

2. Curiosity might have killed the cat but it won’t kill you

3. Change is healthy, even if it’s just a loaded diaper

4. A smile can change any situation from bad to good

5. Don’t be afraid to try out new things even if they aren’t edible

6. Appreciate the little things in life, even if they’re as insignificant as the ceiling fan

7. Don’t care what people might think about you; just let it rip

8. Time shouldn’t limit your abilities to do wonderful things

9. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying; you’ll eventually learn to sit on your own

10. Hold onto the people you love as if it’s the last time you’re holding them

11. Raise your voice; you won’t get any milk if you aren’t heard

12. Be content with what you have; drinking milk everyday is enough to keep you alive