I have always had great faith in the power of hard work, ingenuity, and idealism to accomplish just about any goal.* Call it a sundae made from Horatio Alger tale ice cream, Silicon Valley upbringing sauce, and Berkeley education on top. What some would see as burdening HR folk with a woefully under-qualified applicant, I always have viewed as offering potential employers a valuable “fresh perspective.” Of course I remember my frustration and anger when – under the battle cry of “flip-flopper” – John Kerry was hoisted on the petard of his own experience. As the commencement speaker at Viv’s Uncle Owey’s 2006 college graduation pointed out, both leadership and scholarship require one to reassess conclusions and direction based upon new information. Anyone who has been in a leadership position for any length of time and hasn’t altered or refined her stance on an issue or two is highly suspect in my book. But steeped in the rhetoric and reality of the Obamarvelous last election, I began to catch myself thinking of experience as often superfluous and occasionally even a liability.
I thus set forth into the wilds of parenthood, convinced that with vision, determination, creativity, and a few reference books, I could do just fine, thank you very much. I certainly didn’t need the help of “lactation consultants” or any of the others happy to charge me over $100 an hour to wax poetic on my parenting. Our first six weeks were wonderful. So I spent all day and night trying to calm my baby as gas rumbled through her little body – so what? Infants always battle gas and need soothing, right? Parents of newborns are always dead tired, right? I recognized that it was a bit high maintenance of her to often refuse to sleep anywhere but in a loved one’s arms, yet I was oddly comforted to know that Ian’s little doppelganger got something from her mama (“got” as in heredity, not as in our favorite new altered song lyrics: “Baby, where’d you get your bottle from? Tell me, where’d you get your bottle from? I got it from my mama; I got it from my mama”) if only a craving for attention.
Even after we curtailed Viv’s cramping to the “more manageable” level previously described, it took my mom five minutes after she entered the house to declare that something wasn’t right. Her certainty – based upon a sample size of six – changed the parameters of the problem fundamentally. Instead of looking for ways to manage the gas, including the only partially effective cutting-back-on-milk-volume strategy, we began brainstorming about how to prevent its creation in the first place. As we talked, I absentmindedly reached for my third handful of M&Ms of the hour. At that moment, a confluence of experience and dumb luck saved the day (and night). You see, my mother is the only person I know who not only can pass on chocolate, but actually affirmatively dislikes it. No one else would immediately attribute ill will to my multicolored friends and their cohort of Cadbury fruit and nut bars, gluten-free brownies, and rocky road ice cream. Just two days after I went cold turkey on chocolate, Viv’s cramping subsided to a level my mom assures me is normal, and her appetite skyrocketed.
We spent the following week struggling to keep up with Viv’s nearly constant hunger. Even a return to post-feeding pumping couldn’t ramp up my milk supply quickly enough, and the feelings surrounding supplementation with formula could be the subject of their own post (mommy culture is so pro-breastfeeding these days and my own desire to provide everything Viv needs is so strong that each little scoop of white powder screams, “Failure, failure, failure!”). But V slept five hours straight the night my mom left, woke up and nursed, slept a few more hours, nursed, laid on her back and cooed, nursed, drained a bottle of formula (which she now places her two little hands on) as she stared into my eyes, and conked out for another little blog-enabling snooze.
We all have a little bit of post-traumatic stress (Viv’s got her angry cry cued up and ready for the quick draw, E still looks relieved when he arrives home from work to find a smiling wife, and I’m a bit hesitant to experiment with laying her down after she’s fallen asleep in my arms), but it’s a different world for our little family, all because my mom’s experience gives her perspective that all my theories and enthusiasm cannot replace. Perhaps I’ll invite John McCain over and see if he has any suggestions.
* Tempered, of course, by recognition that certain disadvantages – like unequal access to educational opportunity – can create insurmountable hurdles.