The Books Aren’t Helping

by Emily Hauser

My own children are already 8 and 12 years old, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that children in possession of a surprising number of years were once, to a child, babies. Indeed, as The Hairpin’s very own Nicole Cliffe is about to discover, the baby phase — for which childbirth classes, pregnancy manuals, and complete strangers in the line at Whole Foods are more than happy to prep you — is stunningly brief in duration. It’s the whole “childhood” part that no one thinks to give you a heads up on.

Everyone and his/her mother and/or father jokes about the baby exhaustion. Nominally, at least, parents-to-be are prepared for that. If Nicole has read any of the books, she’s also nominally prepared for endless laundry, the possibility of projectile vomit, and the fact that many new moms seem to cry rather a lot. Within the first three months, she and her childbirth-class-disrupting man will be experts on all this and a great deal more.

But there’s all kinds of stuff that comes up a station or two down the pike that no one ever mentions as they get all dewy eyed over your swelling belly. And so, as a loyal reader of The Hairpin and a great admirer of Ms. Cliffe’s work, I decided to take it upon myself to render unto her a hearty and entirely unasked-for “heads up!”

But where to start?

*Drums fingers on desk*


Dear Nicole:

You will learn to recognize the smell of your own toddler’s excrement in a room full of My Gym participants. Also, in these classes, and in every other child-centric event you ever attend, you will discover that the world is positively chock-a-block with insufferable children who you will, in fact, be required to suffer. Like (as but one example) the three-year-old Neanderthal who whacked my then-18-month-old first-born with a truck. A metal truck.

Such an event didn’t feature in any of the parenting books, and when it happened to my son, I was blessedly stunned. I say “blessedly” because if I hadn’t been stunned, I might have whacked the cretin right back. As luck would have it, his mother swooped in and I had time to compose myself. But, even when the parents don’t care (and, gentle readers, I assure you: They often don’t), you still can’t go around smacking toddlers willy-nilly. (And if the cretin happens to become your kid’s BFF? Well, FSM save you.)

Another unmentioned yet immutable fact is that when one’s babies age into elementary school, one suddenly finds oneself doing elementary school homework again — because when your children are but wee, their homework is your homework (whether you like/understand it or not), as you guide them and help their little synapses hold up under the strain. And because no adult ever gets to point at a six-year-old and bellow “He forgot it at home!”

Oh, and the errands! Oh, the endless, numbing, repetitive-stress-syndrome errands. Your car and/or feet will undertake to propel themselves to certain locales all by themselves, as you watch your priceless munchkins learn to seek out and recognize corporate trademarks (my son’s first spelling word? “I-K-E-A”. Hand to God). You will learn which grocery stores accommodate young bladders, and you will find that you actually prefer these to any of their potentially less-expensive competitors. And of course, there will be errands that never get done. For several years, the post office was something of a Holy Grail for me, its location and parking options making it just that one notch too complicated on most days.

Having said that (having said all that, and having left much unsaid, too), the other thing no one tells you that a day comes when you’re humping down a stretch of sidewalk, and kid A is at chess club, and kid B is clutching your hand, and the dry cleaning got dropped off, and the birthday supplies got picked up, and you have a handle on that work assignment that’s been dogging you, and you suddenly feel a little frisson of revelation: As unimaginable as it remains, you’re one of those people at whom you stared in wonder in the days following the + on your pregnancy test. There’s a rhythm here, and (to your own astonishment) you’ve found it.

And as this thought hits you — heads up! You may tear up a little because here’s the other thing no one tells you: Out of nowhere, regardless of what you’re doing or how old they are, random thoughts of your children will hit you like a ton of bricks, and you will go weak at the knees. The way she grins as she pulls a hat over her eyes, the way he talks to himself on the way to bed, the arms around your neck, the whispered confidences at night.

Oh, Nicole and non-cord-cutting-Baby-Daddy-to-be, there’s so much no one can write down in a book, and most of it happens later. Some of it is unpleasant, some of it more difficult than you can imagine. But a lot of it is a new kind of wonderful.

Good luck, and may the birth and all that comes after be full of that wonder!

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer, mother of two, and frequent renderer of heads-ups to the unsuspecting. She recently did a guest stint at Feministe and blogs at Emily L. Hauser — In My Head and Angry Black Lady Chronicles.