After meeting lots of babies and having four of my own, I feel that I have at least five nuggets of wisdom to offer anyone who finds themselves in charge of a young child.
1. They can smell fear.
Babies, like horses, can sense when their keepers are afraid of them, as well as when their keepers are afraid of totally rational things like blankets coming alive and sneaking across the floor to smother said babies. With your firstborn, everything is a new experience, and everything is fraught with potential danger. You make yourself crazy, and you probably make your baby crazy, too. When the second one comes and he is an “easy” baby, you may be tempted to believe that he is a gift for surviving the first baby, but it’s probably more likely that you’re a bit more chilled out about things.
2. They know when they do not have your full attention.
Have you ever been nursing or rocking a baby with your mind overflowing with all of the things you are going to do as soon as you get.this.darn.baby.to.finally.go.to.sleep? Have you noticed that on these nights, bedtime takes even longer? My theory is that they have to receive X amount of attention before sleep can be achieved, and the best and easiest way to reach this mark is to focus on the baby at hand. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by how you’re going to eat a piece of cake while standing in front of the fridge and then will be pouring yourself a glass of wine and finishing the movie you keep falling asleep through. Focus on that baby. Send her happy thoughts and all your attention (in a totally boring way that makes them not want to stay awake). You’ll get out of there faster.
3. Two words: Murphy’s Law.
Murphy’s Law as it applies to babies goes something like: If you forgot to pack an extra outfit, your baby will produce a giant, outfit-ruining poop. (This can totally be used to your advantage if you’re worried about diaper output.) See also: If you burp a baby without a burp cloth handy, you’ll be spewed upon (conversely, if you do use a burp cloth, there will be no spit-up). This especially applies when you are wearing clothes that are appropriate for wearing out of the house. When you manage to put on an outfit that fits/matches/is clean/does not involve stretchy fabric, take precautions whenever you are within several feet of your baby and his orifices.
4. They have impeccable timing.
They will stop screaming in their car seats right before you reach your destination. They will take a long, blissful naps on the days you have to be somewhere at a certain time. When you tell another person (out loud or in writing) that your baby has been sleeping for an hour and OHMYGOSH how awesome is this?… your baby will wake up. Tip: If one of these epic naps happens and you need to get to that birthday party, proclaim loudly and often that your baby is taking a long, blissful nap.
And, of course, they know when, ahem, adult activities are happening and interrupt accordingly.
5. It is hard to be a baby (and it eventually gets to be less hard).
Oh, when babies are tiny, they want you to know: THIS IS THE MOST MISERABLE I HAVE EVER BEEN. MY LIFE IS HORRIBLE. EVERYTHING IS THE WORST. Your little one has just been evicted from the best house ever—it’s the perfect temperature, you never feel hungry, it’s got great ambient noise that’s never too loud, the lights are dim. You may think you’re doing them a favor and changing their dirty diaper, but what they feel is cold and uncomfortable. Sometimes they get mad at boobs, which feels like it makes no sense, because boobs are a baby’s favorite thing. Popular baby complaints include: the milk is coming too fast, the milk is coming too slow, the nipple looked at me funny, Mercury is retrograde, I have to burp, I am tired, I am NOT tired, it is growth spurt time, I like to hear myself cry.
But it’s usually nothing to do with you, or your boobs, or your milk. The vast majority of the time, the answer to “Why is my baby crying?” is “Because it is hard to be a baby.” Don’t take it personally, or try not to, anyway. It’ll pass. Tomorrow you may not have to deal with a baby shrieking while you’re trying to feed her because the growth spurt will have passed. A couple of months from now you’ll stop and notice (not out loud; see #4) that no one has cried for half of a day. And then you’ll probably cry because your baby is all grown up and practically in college, because it’s hard to be a parent, too.
(Adapted from my post at Sowing the Suburbs.)