Things I Never Knew Until I was a Parent

A few years ago, I didn’t want children because the stakes seemed too high in the anxiety department. But my partner did. Let me tell you, my friend, there is much joy ahead. Relax. But do brace yourself for a personality transplant. And keep these things in mind.

You become less self-conscious

I recently attended the Rhyme Time class at my local library. Singing half-forgotten rhymes with accompanying hand actions in a circle of 30 people was an experience anathema to my personal sense of self. But I did it. Because when you’re a parent, you have to extend yourself.

Last time I did a VIA Institute personality assessment, my score for self-consciousness was off the chart. Now I sing in the street. I improvise new entertainment all the time. Furthermore, I don’t care if adult peers witness my inventions. Karaoke would once have been a private hell, but now I’ve been able to scratch it off the ‘Do Never’ list.

The unparalled power of distraction

Smoking cessation therapies are often about feeling the craving, acknowledging it, taking ownership. When I quit smoking years ago, my strategy was to become attention deficit whenever I had the urge to smoke. Brush TV. Watch teeth. The effects are now obvious. But I did quit.

I’ve learned that the same works with children. Forget focusing on good behaviour and bad. They don’t understand—they’re primal. Accept that they have fangs and wings, but when they do something disagreeable to you: DIVERT! DISTRACT!

By all means take away that ciggie butt she just picked up, but replace it with something better. Give her that water bottle lid. Just imbue it with magical mythology while you do. And make sure it’s not a choke hazard. Or you’re in trouble. You can only do the switch-trick once at a time.

If the water bottle lid is a choke hazard and you want to switch again to the AMAZING TOILET ROLL TRUMPET, she’ll call your bluff and go back to that nicotine-stained filter.

Gregarious and egregious may be one and the same

If you are not a natural conversationalist, you may find it easy if your child is your main conversation topic. But that, my friend, is a mistake. In the perception of others, these two similar-sounding words could become one and the same

Example: I am hopeless at keeping in touch with people. I recently sent a card to an old pal who had sent one to me. I lay the card on the floor and gave the child a pen.

“Draw a picture for BB?” I asked my one-year-old. “Just a squiggle or something.” She eventually made a scrawl over the floorboards, some of which landed on the card. I took a closer look. A jagged V and a half-swan swirl. Genius!

I drew a dotted line around the picture like the x-space around a logo, preserving the artwork’s integrity with a healthy clearway.

ORIGINAL ARTWORK BY SUSANNAH ROSE, I wrote in small uppercase letters. And in brackets below (Prodigy!)

About three the next morning, I thought about the eye-rolling gifs I had seen that day. Heed this warning: your child no doubt has highly advanced physical, intellectual and creative capacities. But please make sure some you have other conversation topics. Not everything is about the child.

The power of ‘the Thing’

“Have more,” I kept suggesting, pushing cubes of watermelon to her little mouth.

Thirty minutes and half a watermelon later, our one-year-old was wildly ricocheting off the walls of her ‘cubby’ (i.e. cage bed) like a loose ball-bearing in a pachinko machine.

Instead of calling an exorcist, my partner told me to do ‘the thing’. The thing’ is a fingertip head-and-eye massage and it works nearly every time. She was asleep in ninety seconds. Go tenderly and slowly so she doesn’t realise at first, then the gentleness and rhythm will suck her into a daze, and then into the sleep land.

There is a world of mind-expanding television

I used to enjoy watching surreal and arthouse films. Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou, and Godard’s Alphaville were favourites. But In The Night Garden on ABC Kids TV is the trippiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s mesmerising, sedating and has a dark edge. With colourful stuffed toy characters in cocoon-like sleeping pods, and an unseen narrator, it’s a richly polysemic text. I have banned the child from watching it because I am unsure of the messages. But I love it.

There is much anxiety and fear bringing a little ‘un into the world. But little gems lie along the path as well. Take these tips on board and be edified.

Can you add to my list?