Exploiting My Baby* *Because It's Exploiting Me

On Second Thought

General StuffTeresa Strasser3 Comments

Even after 19 months as a mother, it’s not unusual for me to notice the car seat in my rearview mirror and for just a second think what is that doing there and whose car am I driving?

The gauzy vision of giving birth and instantaneously becoming a heavenly, patient, luminescent creature who instinctively knows what to do with her child? Wipe that from the cosmic Etch A Sketch.

I’ve been a second-guesser since way back. Let me tell you, it’s not one of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," and it most certainly doesn’t make parenting a nonstop joy. Just when I think I have an excellent idea about childrearing, it isn’t long before I send it back to my frontal cortex for a thorough and punishing review.

Gymnastics seemed like a great idea, for example. Build muscle, coordination and social skills, kill a couple of hours and come out with the ability to do a “front roll.” The place even has a coffee machine. I was feeling pretty enthusiastic about my find, until my son’s feet broke out in a rash accompanied by a fever and followed by vomiting.

Rinse, and repeat four times since we began gymnastics. Yeah, I’m like the Dr. House of moms. It took me a mere six months to realize that my child climbing on the same foam mats as 17,000 other toddlers in the greater Los Angeles area wasn’t such a good fit for his immune system.

Bela Karolyi would have been gentler on my child than pediatric drool. That was a landing I did not stick.

Really, I’m not sure how long I can play the new-mom card or when I’ll know exactly what I’m doing.

When choosing my pediatrician, I waited for that this is the one feeling, but settled for, “I like Canadian people.” And I loved her, mostly because she was a young mom with a child about the same age as mine. As it happens, she missed the viral infection and gave me some ineffective skin cream. And let’s face it, anyone with a toddler is hard to reach by phone, my doctor being no exception.

I know I didn’t know, but what do I know? I faltered on the beam big time.

Showing him an Elmo video on my phone seemed a brilliant distraction once when he was sick in the middle of the night. Now, every time he sees my phone, he freaks out and screams for “Elmo’s Song.” Don’t open Pandora’s box, because it’s filled with technology and Sesame Street characters.

Almost every bad idea could have been a great idea. If I hadn’t been up the past three nights tending to a kid with a fever, I could see that better.

That’s the paradox about new parenthood. Much like Navy SEAL training, we are expected to learn fast, under pressure, without sleep, and it’s life or death. Except you can’t ring the bell and bail (at least that’s how they did it in “G.I. Jane”). You can’t give up. So that leaves trying and failing, second-guessing, feeding him apples only to learn they make him choke, choosing a sitter only to find out she likes beer and hates clean dishes, buying generic diaper cream only to realize you never, ever go generic below the waist.

When the baby is well and we’re all rested and rash-free, I can embrace the trial and error nature of the whole endeavor. The rest of the time, I still can’t believe I’m actually behind the wheel. And as has always been true of my non-metaphorical driving, I’m not much for orienteering. I get there, but not without lots of backtracking and some dodgy U-turns. The best I can do is endure the scenic route.