- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

It was mid-May, and the hospital had just discharged me and my 2-day-old son. Obviously, my husband and I thought the nurses and doctors were out of their minds. Letting us leave with this newborn human being seemed at least as irresponsible as letting a defense attorney do neurosurgery or a hairdresser litigate a death-penalty case.

My husband and I would like to think of ourselves as educated and street-smart after all, we have made it in this dog-eat-dog world for a combined 63 years but were we up to the challenge of a lifetime: taking care of a newborn? I, an only child, and my husband, the youngest of five, had barely changed a diaper.

Three months have gone by, and I am pleased to announce that after what seems like a thousand lessons in child care, my husband, I and the little guy, amicably nicknamed the Little Viking (referring to our partially Nordic heritage and to the little guy's fierce temper) are in one piece.

We have changed hundreds, maybe thousands of diapers (scary, considering they cost at least 20 cents each) and even have started giving advice to new parents about such intimidating things as erythema toxicum.

Two months ago, a red rash spread like wildfire across the Little Viking's body. It scared the heck out of me. Immediately, I was on the phone with the doctor, who rightly treated me like the neurotic mother I was, assuring me it was nothing more than erythema toxicum, or, as I now tell other concerned mothers, "infant acne."

Soon to follow was the Little Viking's first cold. He sneezed and wheezed and could barely eat because his nose was so stopped up. Again, I was on the phone with the doctor's office. I could just see the office personnel's reaction: "It's her again. The neurotic one. The one who won't leave us alone." But what's a little embarrassment when your 2-month-old has such a serious condition?

The doctor assured me the little one would be OK. But was there nothing I could give him? No, only Tylenol, was the response. Also, no need to call us unless his temperature soars above 101 degrees. I interpreted this to mean, "Don't call here again. You may not think so, but we do have patients other than your son."

I am happy to report that the little guy recovered from his cold, but only after making me seriously ill for a week in fact, my first week back at work.

Aside from multiple calls to the doctor's office, I spent several mornings there in person for the little guy's routine visits, of which there are quite a few in the first months. The first one occurred when the Little Viking was 5 days old.

It was my first excursion with him outside the four walls of our house, and I was as nervous as I was at my first piano recital 25 years earlier. The nurse, confident and competent, if not a bit brusque, looked at the Little Viking, who was screaming his head off, and said: "What's the matter with him? Is he hungry?"

I responded with a confident "Yes" and proceeded to feed him, even though I really had no clue what the matter was. After all, I had only known the little guy for five days, and our conversations, needless to say, had been pretty one-sided.

It also was during that first visit that the Little Viking decided to go to the bathroom for a second and very loose time right as I was changing his diaper in the examination room. The mustard-colored stuff went down my shirt and onto the floor. Fortunately, I had a cardigan wrapped around my shoulders that I used to cover up and pretend all was as it should be when the doctor entered.

Other than visits to the doctor's office and minor health concerns, there's the everyday stuff to learn: feeding, sleeping, bathing and changing diapers. They may seem like a piece of cake at least a lot easier than working a regular day job, right? Not necessarily.

The newborn communicates in a very limited way, by crying. (Incidentally, it's a sad thing that humans enter the world crying, while it takes us weeks, sometimes months, to learn how to smile and laugh what does that say about humanity?) It's your duty to try to figure out the problem. One of the most challenging aspects of this is the lack of regularity and consistency in the baby's behavior. You think you have figured out their habits and wishes, and then they do a 180 on you. Imagine if you had a boss like that (my sincere condolences if you do).

There are, of course, basic tricks of the trade that you learn and that hold up pretty well, despite your child's whims, such as good burping and diaper-changing techniques. As far as burping goes, I learned not to put a lot of pressure on the Little Viking's belly when I burped him, as this would cause him to throw up his meal instead of releasing air bubbles.

Changing diapers, I discovered, also requires some strategy and a certain amount of dexterity, at least when it comes to our little man, who is very regular. To avoid the type of incident we had at the doctor's office, the diaper changer has to be quick and precise, or a new batch of the green, sometimes brown, stuff will land in an undesired destination, such as on your shirt.

On a more erudite note: I remember, way back when I was studying political science, one researcher philosophizing that a nation has to be flexible and make turbulence its friend to thrive in this volatile, ever-changing world. Raising a child seems to follow the same paradigm. We always hear about the importance of patience and love in successful parenting, but don't forget to add generous doses of flexibility, along with humility and as much humor as you can possibly muster.

Gabriella Boston is a features writer for The Washington Times. She and her husband welcomed their "Little Viking" in May. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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