As I type this, it's the night before deadline, and my child is standing next to me asking for crackers. It's a safe bet that just about everyone else contributing to this story is in roughly the same boat. It all happened so fast. We met somebody, we kissed, we knocked boots, and boom! The result is that a whole lot of those author bylines you see in the paper every week are now bylines of full-time, overworked parents.
Most of us are first-time parents with just one child, and something that freaked us all out after spreading the our-life-as-we-know-it-is-definitively-over news of impending baby-burbling was the repeated warning from others that it changes everything. This, frankly, did not compute. Because, really? Everything changes? That's a heavy thing to lay on anyone who's spent a lifetime cultivating a strong individual presence. How could having a kid erase all of that?
The truth is that it doesn't change everything—or at least, it doesn't have to. A lot of people use being a parent as an excuse to stay at home, shop at Target, not hang out with friends and generally be one of those parents about whom people say, "Oh, Brian has a kid, and I never see him anymore."
It doesn't have to be that way. You can be a parent and still be yourself, and do a lot of the things you've always done and, yes, with the aid of those baby earmuffs, you can still rock and roll all night and party every day. Just follow our handy guidelines below—offered by Bohemian writers, all new parents, who are hands-on in the throes of making sure a tiny human being stays alive.
Also, never, ever ollie over your baby. (It's Photoshopped, people!)—Gabe Meline
By Leilani Clark, mother of She-Who-Is-Yet-to-Be-Named, in utero
What to Expect You're going to feel like shit the first few weeks, and possibly the entire pregnancy. There's no way around this. Not only sick, but also tired—exhaustion the equivalent of what one might feel after climbing Mt. Everest. During my first trimester, the sick-and-tired could only be absolved by indulging in cravings that basically had me eating like a third grader. Peanut butter, string cheese, chocolate chip cookies and Thousand Island salad dressing. Pre-pregnancy, I wouldn't have touched this ketchup-and-relish mess, but now I can't get enough. Oh, I'll eat a salad, but you can be sure that it'll be doused in a disgusting amount of Thousand Island or, in a pinch, Ranch. And nobody can say "yuck," because I'm freakin' with child, you hear?
What You'll Need You won't need much, though health insurance would be a big plus. Be prepared to expand your food budget. Since I can't drink beer or scary amounts of coffee, food has become my only solace. And, oh yes, you will need a new bra, and probably another one after that, because those suckers just keep growing. Also, elastic-waist clothes will be the best things ever, except for maybe a comfortable couch and pillows on which to kick back, ride the waves of nausea and moan miserably, "I feel so goddamn pregnant, blaaaaargh!"
What You Don't Need Forget about overpriced stores stocked with fancy maternity wear. Once I put the word out to friends, my closet filled to overflowing with hand-me-down big-banded jeans, pastel blouses in extra large and stretchy skirts. Granted, my fashion standards have become positively Midwestern, but I don't give a rat's ass. I'd rather spend my pregnancy money on 20 tubs of frozen yogurt than a dress that I'll only wear for seven months. And unless your baby has health issues, don't bother renting one of those Doppler fetal heart monitors. Really. What's wrong with just assuming everything's OK and waiting for your midwife or doctor to check the heartbeat? Nothing.
How to Deal Food is beautiful. Yes, you shouldn't use pregnancy as an excuse to eat the entire bag of cookies, but for God's sake, indulge a little! It's also OK to take a nap on the couch instead of cleaning the kitchen or writing a Pulitzer Prize–winning essay. In fact, rest should be the rule and not the exception. Find a good online forum (check out Baby Center to start) where you can read about and chat with people who are also growing a fetus. But step away from the Google search! It'll have you thinking that your baby's going to come out with three noses, eight eyeballs and an affinity for Exorcist-style head spins within three clicks.
By Rachel Dovey, mother of Edith, age two months
What to Expect You'll be caring for a creature whose skills and abilities are less "functioning human being" and more "cute potato bug" while getting very little sleep—losing control over the things you do and say is par for the course. Calling your sweet baby girl unholy names when she just won't stop screaming is perfectly normal, and she won't remember it. Telling a roomful of acquaintances over dinner that sometimes your breast milk sprays AT LEAST two feet is also normal, but you may not get invited back.
What You'll Need Think of yourself as a big-game hunter on safari, but replace the camo, tranquilizer gun and butterfly net with swaddle blankets, Moby wraps and a bouncy chair. And keep the tranquilizer gun around—stowed right behind the changing table, or just under the crib—for emergencies. If you're one of those annoying purists who "doesn't believe in heavy sedation via dart syringe," you can also keep a pacifier tucked away.
What You Don't Need Unsolicited advice. You can't perform every parenting trick that each concerned mommy, auntie or former child of an awesome mom approaches you excitedly in the mall to tell you about. Otherwise, your poor infant would be left in her co-sleeper all day to cry it out and learn valuable life lessons. She'd be drinking a daily thimbleful of ouzo to keep her regular. She'd have rubbing alcohol on her feet to keep her cool. She'd be triple swaddled to keep her warm. And she'd be walking with the help of Vick's Artificial Legs for Newborns™.
How to Deal Brainstorm fake baby gear to pass the time, and then patent it. Dread the day that iPhone Solitaire tells you "Congratulations, you've played 3,000 games!" Read, in between feedings, burping sessions and diaper changes (in other words, read comedians' memoirs or British satires about the Thatcher era—things you can always come back to). Don't sweat the sink full of unwashed dishes or the half-eaten pickle that's been sitting on the counter for three days. Remember, while this intense time might seem difficult, your lovely baby girl will someday smile, look you in the eyes and tell you sweetly: "No."
By Jessica Dur Taylor, mother of Mallory Mae, age six months
What to Expect At times it feels like your life has been hijacked, like you will never enjoy a movie, prolonged foreplay or a full night's sleep again. You may feel like you're more intimate with your washing machine than your spouse (especially if you're cloth diapering). And yet, corny as it sounds, it really does go by so fast. Three months ago, she thrilled us with a smile. Now she's scooting across the kitchen floor, laughing and shrieking, sitting up to eat mashed sweet potato and sucking her big toes, sometimes both at the same time. Now is the time to savor each leap over the next developmental hurdle and the emergence of true personality.
What You Need Time to get goofy. Babies care not that you are tone-deaf or have rhythm, but that you are willing to wiggle and gyrate, yodel and hoot, preferably all at the same time. I'm amazed at all I can get done while entertaining Mallory—dishes, gardening, vacuuming, even a little weight lifting. As for stuff: some of the most potent baby accoutrements are likely gathering dust in your closet. My previously neglected giant Pilates ball can bounce away even the crankiest mood, and my husband's old harmonica has become our secret weapon for long car rides. And some form of sturdy carrier is essential since, like all primates, babes do love to be in arms.
What You Don't Need You don't need all those toys that claim to make your offspring smarter. Mallory may be temporarily distracted by that Baby Einstein octopus reciting the colors of the rainbow in three languages (Mon Dieu!), but in five minutes she'll be bored with it and resume drooling all over my lap-top cord. You also don't need new stuff. Save your cash for happy hour. Blankets, breast pumps and Baby Bjorns can all be found in great, barely used shape at consignment stores and in other people's garages. Besides, no new BPA- and PVC-free toy that rattles and squeaks can yet compare to her empty diaper-wipe bag. Go figure.
How to Deal Give up trying to Do It All. Laugh at her farts. Save the dangly earrings for date night. Make time for date night! Check your email later. Make friends with fellow parents and stroll your babies around Spring Lake. Treat all those (maddeningly contradictory) baby books like boxes of free stuff—take what you need and leave the rest. And don't be afraid to change your tune. After six months of cozy bed-sharing, I've gotten tired of waking up with Mallory nestled in my armpit and with my neck kinkier than a fetish party. Good news: infants, like pets, are utterly adaptable and trainable, as long as you are consistent and patient.
By Gabe Meline, father of Lena, age three
What to Expect A lovely, incessant chorus of "No," "I need," "Gimme" and "Leave me alone," mixed with a constant, high-pitched whine emanating from a snot-encrusted nose. Refusal of all foods other than mac and cheese, and refusal of all activities other than watching Ponyo for the 413th time. This is also the time for potty training, and though number one comes easy, number two usually means hiding behind the curtains for 40 minutes and then ruining a perfectly fine pair of Hello Kitty underwear.
What You'll Need Sorry, y'all: Netflix. Yo Gabba Gabba is a godsend for parents perplexed by Elmo, and Wonder Pets is similarly weird, in a good way. But don't load 'em up on TV—this is also when they'll love books, thousands of which can be found in thrift stores for cheap. Lena loves Corduroy, Are You My Mother?, the Sweet Pickles series and Frog and Toad—and chances are you did, too, when you were a tyke. A tricycle or push-bike can really while away the late-afternoon grind before the cocktail hour, and if you're a cyclist, a child seat on your own bike helps, too. You should also have a camera, in order to uphold the fine tradition of cursing your godforsaken child to sleep and then subsequently sitting sentimental and weepy-eyed in front of the computer while clicking through hundreds of photos of your sweet little angel.
What You Don't Need As with all stages of parenting, reading books, going to workshops and listening to "experts" can often make you even more anxious and paranoid about your parenting skills. The only expert is you. Remember to breathe. Avoid buying plastic big-box junk you know you'll just throw away in two weeks. Be wary of any product or philosophy that preys on fear, as there is an entire industry of this. People who look into your eyes and say "YOU HAVE TO SIGN UP FOR PRE-ENROLLMENT AT THIS FRENCH CHARTER SCHOOL" should also be dealt with cautiously.
How to Deal In lieu of a Xanax prescription from your doctor, make sure to take some time off. Find a good, dependable babysitter. At this stage, finding adventurous things for both you and your child to do together is key—camping is great, because kids love nature. Outdoor concerts, baseball games, bike rides and the ocean have also worked well for me. Embrace all those hokey-ass activities you did as a kid, like Train Town, Howarth Park, the Mexican circus, the municipal swimming pool, the family series at the Wells Fargo Center, the Russian River, the cartoon matinee and the Rose Parade. Complain about how all these things used to be better, while remembering the power of free, simple pleasures. If all else fails, just bang your head against the wall. It works!
By Stett Holbrook, father of Everett, age seven
What to Expect As your kid enters first grade and beyond, you'll find he or she straddles two worlds: toddlerhood and childhood. They get long in the limbs, lose teeth as if they were spitting out sunflower seeds and finally graduate from a car seat to the simple bliss of a booster seat. And yet in many ways they're still babies who have nightmares, wet their pants, throw tantrums over sock colors and want you to hold their hands. Savor it.
What You'll Need Patience. The sleepless nights of infancy may be over, but now that your precious one is a full-fledged walking and talking child, you'll need a calm demeanor to handle the iron will and debating skills of a growing child. Cocktails (for you) are helpful, too.
What You Don't Need TV. Plastic toys. And sugar after 3pm.
How to Deal Connecting with other parents is great. Slowing down and letting your child set the agenda for a change is good. And striving to listen and connect with your kid and really see and hear him can work wonders—for both of you. "They grow up so fast" is the world's most unoriginal parental insight, but like most clichés, it happens to be true.