For Sheila–some advice as she embarks on her greatest adventure

Dear Sheila—

As motherhood nears, I wanted to take some time to share some of my hard won experience with you.  In doing this, I am fully aware that my desire to give advice is far greater than your desire to receive it.  In fact, one thing I can reliably predict is that in the next 25 years (I can’t speak beyond that) you will be getting a constant stream of advice, good and bad, solicited and unsolicited, from friends, family and total strangers you meet in the supermarket.  It is easy to have contempt for these people, but remember, it is an uncontrollable urge, and soon you will be one of them.


There are some other things I can reliably predict.  For example, I know that in the next 24 months, at least seven out of the following ten things will happen to you.

1. As you grow closer to your due date, women will tell you horrible labor and delivery stories.  No one knows why women inflict these stories on other women who are about to give birth, but they inevitably do.  Since men have been allowed into delivery rooms, sometimes they tell awful labor stories, too.  This is even more disconcerting than when women do it.

2. Once you have given birth, you will attempt to tell your own labor and delivery story.  No matter what happens to you, your story will be topped by someone else in the room, probably a relative of your husband’s.  If you are in labor for a week, then have a caesarean followed by the unexpected delivery of twins, there will be a woman in the room who was in hard labor for a month, followed by an emergency caesarian, followed by an allergic reaction to anesthesia, followed by the unexpected arrival of quadruplets.  This is a game you cannot win.  Bow out gracefully.

3.  From the day you give birth, no one will take your picture again unless you are holding, standing next to or in some other proximate position to your child.  This will be true until you have grandchildren.  Then you will have to stand next to one of them to get your picture taken.

4. After the baby is born, Brian will come home from work one day and find you in your bathrobe.  You will explain that when you got up that morning, your two top goals for the day were to take a shower and get dressed, but for reasons you are no longer able to enumerate, you were unable to achieve either one.

5.  One day, Brian will walk through the door with a big smile on his face and inquire, “How’s my baby?”  It will take you a few moments to realize he does not mean you.  These will not be good moments.

6.  On a hot summer day, your baby will explode.  That is, more poop will come out of your baby than seems possible given his size.  If you are lucky, this explosion will take place on a changing table.  If you are unlucky, it will take place in a car seat or on your Great Aunt Ida’s lap.  At a family wedding.

7. Someday, you will be at an important business meeting in a business suit and you will feel an uncomfortable dampness.  It will take you a few moments to realize that milk is leaking from your breasts.  Don’t worry.  No one else can see it.  Women’s business suits were invented for just these occasions.  There is no other plausible explanation for women’s business suits.

8. Some person, probably of your parents’ generation, will utter the phrase, “You mean he doesn’t do X yet?”  Where X will mean, roll over, sit up, eat solid food, sleep through the night, or speak Japanese.

9. Another person, also probably of your parents generation will say, “You mean he still does Y?” where Y will mean, uses a pacifier, wears diapers, comes into your bed at night or lives at home.

10.  In the next two months, you will make up a song that goes, “Go to sleep, little baby, please, please, please, please, please, please.  Daddy’s cranky.  Mommy’s brain-damaged from the la-ack of REM sleep.  Go to sleep, go to sleep, before Mommy starts screaming.  Because Mommy’s afraid, if she starts she will never stop.”  Eighteen years later, when you are lying in bed waiting for your son to return from his senior prom, you will remember this song with perfect clarity.

But What of the Advice? 

So enough of predictions—what about the advice?  Well, at the moment, Rob has an EBB (Everything But Bachelors) from UCLA and is working nights at Kinkos. (Lord help us, not even days at Kinkos.)  And Kate is lying on the couch waiting for Vogue to call.  Not that she has contacted Vogue in any way.  She is just waiting for them to call. 

So I am not feeling like I am in any position to give advice.

One Last Prediction..

However, I will make one last prediction—and that is this.  It will all be worth it.  Every bit of it. 

Before I had children, friends used to say, “We’re (exhausted, broke, hungry, living without privacy, living without sex, living with a tiny dictator who is running both our lives), but it is worth it.  And I would look into their deeply circled eyes and think, My God, some people can rationalize anything. 

Here is the amazing part–Once I had my own children, I realized they were right.

Having small children is an incredible amalgam of love and infatuation.  It’s the infatuation that catches you by surprise.  It’s like falling in love, but with everything speeded up like a movie in fast forward.  It’s got all the elements of your first crush–the desire to see the person all the time, the need to constantly touch that is so strong that you will actually contemplate waking up a sleeping baby, even though you know it is crazy.  And until your son goes off to pre-school and begins to make his own friends separate from his life with you—here is the thing: You will know every single thing about him.  You will never know anyone else as well.  And until that part of his brain that makes him a sentient, logical human being begins to kick in and rule his life—he will know everything about you. He will know when you are there, but not really there—and he will call you on it.  He will know when you need a laugh and when you need to cry and when you just need to be patted gently on the back.  In your lifetime, you will achieve no greater intimacy.  That is the infatuation part and that gets you through the hardest physical part of parenting and it is its own reward.

The like all great relationships, as the infatuation matures, it becomes a bedrock of love.  You will love your son and it will be for life. It will help you understand how your parents love you.  The love part gets you through all the rest.  As parenting becomes less physically demanding, and more and more psychologically complex, it is the love part that gets you through and it is its own reward. 

Not that there aren’t a lot of hard days and nights ahead of you.  Nights especially.  Night feedings.  Night visitors in your bed.  Nights of dealing with crazed adolescents who are “sleeping” over.  Nights waiting for the sound of a car turning into the drive.

And funnily enough, through all of that, you will never question whether it is worth it.  Because you will know that it is. 

So Sheila, best of luck to you, and to Brian and you embark on this wonderful, awful, crazy adventure, because luck is a big part of it.  I know you will be phenomenal parents.

4 thoughts on “For Sheila–some advice as she embarks on her greatest adventure

  1. Barb,
    What touching words and wonderful advice! THANK YOU! This made me laugh and cry- let the emotional roller coaster begin! How true your predictions are- #1 is already in full force now. Why people have to tell you bad labor stories is beyond me… and #4 happens sometime now without even having the baby here…(sit at the computer in the morning, things get busy, all of a sudden it is six at night and I am still in my PJ’s hunched over my laptop…)

    We know we love this little guy and we haven’t even met him yet! (although I told my doctor, I thought he might be a kangaroo with the way he kicks all the time). I know we are about to begin a journey of “firsts” and when Prom night comes, I might wish he was 2 months old again when I knew he was safe in his crib vs hoping he gets home safely!

    We have waited a long time for a little one and we can’t believe that in 4 weeks or less, one of our biggest dreams will come true.

    I truly treasure your friendship, advice and support:)

  2. Sheila shared your link with me, and I am so glad she did.

    Barb, this is absolutely phenomenal. I am still laughing at #10 — the words to that little song are SOOO true, and so funny. On one such night, my husband actually promised Jack a car as soon as he is old enough to drive if he would only sleep. (Not surprisingly, there will be no car – at least from that particular late night negotiation).

    Thanks for posting this in a place that could be shared. I really enjoyed reading it. Also, I had started a little book of advice (journal) for the parents-to-be that has entries from from friends & family that I had email addresses for …. if it is OK with you, I will print this and include it in Sheila’s book?

    – Lisa T. (Sheila’s cousin, and the little man’s godmother-to-be )

  3. When I first read this on Friday night, Mary Ellen and I were at the office after hours and all was quiet. We obviously started reading it at the same time because we were laughing in unison at the same jokes. (“This is a game you cannot win. Bow out gracefully.” and “There is no other plausible explanation for women’s business suits.” are just classic Barb.) When we each reached the end, you could tell because it got very quiet, and all you could hear were little sniffles on either side of the cube wall. And no, it was not allergies. The ability to make people laugh and cry in the span of less than 3 minutes is a true gift, and you’ve got it!

  4. Oh my lord, sooo true all of the advice…on number 10 in particular…

    Nica Rae Nica rae Veronica Rae I love you Nica Rae
    Daddy’s gone now go to sleep pretty Nica Rae
    Tomorrow will soon be here and I’ll take care of you

    etc….I know it word for word!

    And number 7! Been there done that…Barb, what a sage. Sheila…much love

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