There are so many books around proferring advice and top tips to new parents. Everything from how to get your baby to sleep, what and how to feed them, to how to turn them into a child genius and routines. The value of all of this information varies for each parent but one thing they all have in common is their complete silence on the real nitty gritty of parenting.
There’s nothing about the really practical stuff like how to physically get out of the house with a baby / pushchair / changing bag when you have 10 steps to your front door. Then what do you do when you do manage to get out there and how on earth do you get back up the steps again in one piece?
There have been countless situations I’ve found myself in since I became a mum where I’ve had no clue about what to do. I’m not talking about complicated things like illnesses or refusing to eat. I’m talking the day to day challenge of being out and about.
It’s as if there is this hidden test set for new parents that no-one tells you about and it’s up to you to figure out how to do something. If you succeed you lurch onto the next task with your dignity intact. When you fail you make a complete prize idiot out of yourself and get those looks of utter disapproval from the “proper” mums who passed the tests with flying colours.
Here are some of the situations I’ve found myself in over the last 15 months where some kind of instructions booklet or idiot guide would really have helped.
Supermarket shopping, at the moment (clearly I’ve just jinxed it) is relatively stress free. My daughter is very happy sitting in the shopping trolley, holding court with fellow shoppers. She hasn’t yet felt the need to refuse to get into said trolley, or have a meltdown once in it.
Proper shopping though in shops that don’t have shopping trolleys, is a whole different kettle of fish. Those proper shops have lots of lovely things that I’d like to be able to look at but can’t. They are at just the right height for fingers and sometimes feet to randomly grab out at.
Before I became a parent I always raised an eyebrow at parents who took their babies proper shopping. I vowed I’d never do it because proper shopping and pushchairs just don’t go. Pushchairs are big and therefore don’t fit in small spaces. Sometimes though, you have no choice.
I realise the smaller the space in between the rails and displays means more lovely things can be crammed in, but it also means I am constantly getting said large pushchair stuck. Cue disapproving look from everyone else in the shop (particularly from those with pushchairs who have managed to negotiate the small gaps without incident) as my daughter screams blue murder when I try and prize her out of the space I’ve managed to jam her into.
2. Music classes
How is it that every other parent in the class, regardless of their age, knows the words to all of the songs except me?? I have 2 nieces so it isn’t as if I have been avoiding the whole nursery rhyme thing in the recent past. Perhaps there is a song word gene and I missed out on it or my phone is the only one in the world that doesn’t have a song word app.
Whatever it is, I have rarely felt such a failure as I did during the few months we went to the classes. Even after a few weeks of going I still didn’t know most of the words. Any song I felt I was getting to grips with was removed from the playlist, never to be sung again.
There were occasions when my daughter actually crawled across to another parent and sat with them because she was clearly humiliated by the fact that I didn’t know the words. At 12 months she was already learning how to zone out from my voice and preferred the company of other adults to me.
3. Changing dirty nappies
This task should come with a health warning and hip flask, particularly when the nappy belongs to a teething baby. My first solo experience of changing a dirty nappy was the second day of introductions. Our daughter had a virus at the time so her nappies were utterly hideous.
Hubby looked green so I knew he was going to be no help other than by passing me the odd wet wipe. So I had to clean up the mess with the foster carer scrutinising my every move. I survived and quietly congratulated myself on the fact that I hadn’t thrown up and that I hadn’t got poo all over our daughter’s face when I took her vest off. It will get easier from now on, I thought. I know what to do now, I thought. How wrong I was?
The next day we had to take our daughter out so we opted for a trip to the park. I knew there was a nice cafe there and the toilets were nice and clean. Of course I hadn’t had to change a baby’s nappy in them though. So, after a lovely long walk round the park we couldn’t ignore the hideous smell coming from the pram any longer. There were baby changing facilities in each set of toilets but that clearly meant whoever did it was going to have to do it alone. Guess who got to do it?
I can honestly say that is still my most horrendous parenting experience to date. It’s bad enough doing it now when my daughter knows who I am and feels safe and secure with me, but she didn’t then. She was utterly hysterical. How on earth are you supposed to keep their feet and hands away from the poo while cleaning their bum and not get it all over you too? Even a basic diagram on the side of the nappy or wet wipe pack would have helped.
Our daughter was around 10 months the first time I took her swimming. I thought it would be a lovely experience for us both and would help us to develop our bond. We went with my sister and 2 nieces (who were 9 and 6 at the time) and for once I had planned what I needed to take so was feeling very smug knowing I’d covered all bases. That meant I wouldn’t be getting a look of disappointment yet again from my nieces when I said I’d forgotten something vital like nappies or milk or food for the baby.
Little miss wasn’t quite crawling but was rolling all over the place so couldn’t be left on her own. How anyone can cope with a wriggling, rolling child on their own and safely get themselves and the baby into the pool appropriately dressed is beyond me. It took 4 of us and by the time we got into the pool I was utterly exhausted.
It was quite a few months later before I dared venture to the pool without my very capable assistants and I was only brave enough to go because we went to a pool were I could take the pushchair onto the poolside. The pushchair was my saviour and the whole getting changed into our swimming gear was relatively painless compared to our first trip.
The trouble started when it was time to get out. Hubby and I had spent several hours the night before blowing up the inflatable rubber ring that was nearly the size of the car boot, so that little miss could just float around the pool having fun. She looked very cute and content sitting in it in her Disney princess bathing costume complete with little net tutu. She looked adorable.
Said tutu, it turns out, was not in the least bit practical and ended up causing little miss to be wedged in the inflatable. I spent what felt like forever trying to prize her (she was hysterical of course) out of the stupid inflatable without dropping her head first into the water.
There were plenty of diagrams on the inflatable about how to blow it up and which was the correct way to put your child in it, but nothing about how to get them out again when wedged in. Needless to say the inflatable and the costume went straight in the charity bag when we got home.
So, if anyone has a spare instruction book on how to do any of the above, please send me a copy.