My friend Scott from grade school, who now has a three year old son, told me that he believes that we are hardwired to forget the first six months of parenthood.  He thinks that this is G-d’s way of ensuring the continuation of the human race.  While I don’t know of any scientific studies on postpartum amnesia, I am struck by the blank faces of friends and family when I ask them about their experiences raising their children in the first six months, and the vague cheery comments that they do make are quite different than the misery described by parents still in the throes of caring for a young infant.  I am sure a few anecdotes will stay in my memory once my son grows, such as the Jamaican nurse who cheerfully changed Alex’s diapers while we were in the post delivery ward and explained that she used to work in a nursing home and that little butts are a pleasure to change.  For the benefit of future parents however, I have decided to write down a few of my experiences of early parenthood before my own amnesia kicks in and this period is forever erased from my memory.
When Nicole told me that she was pregnant, I had a barrage of conflicting emotions.  While there was certainly joy and pride, there was also a heavy dose of apprehension.  I had managed to reach the ripe age of 37 without ever changing a diaper, and I had absolutely no regrets.  While I knew next to nothing about raising babies, I did know the types of changes that having kids has on otherwise normal people.  My interactions with close friends who I would hitherto go out with for long evenings of fun and laughter and engaging conversation, after having kids would be reduced to occasional telephone calls monopolized by their children’s colds or ear infections.  I could never understand why it would take my brother hours trying to pack up his car to go anywhere, and was horrified to realize that he required a large van to fit all the accoutrements of parenthood required for his family of four.  Nicole on the other hand, her face would light up whenever she saw a baby or small child.  To her this was all joy.
Well, ready or not, Alex was born and joined our family.  I felt a transformation occur in me immediately after his birth, as he was handed to me in the operating room (Nicole had a C section).  I suddenly cared about another human being, one that weighed only 9 pounds, more than myself.  It was humbling and elating at the same time and the unfortunate friends who called me in the hospital were subject to lengthy monologues about my 1 day old son and his birth that seemed like the most interesting topic in the world to me.  But endorphin highs don’t last forever. I took two weeks off from work and they were a blur of fetching diapers, bottles, wipes, pacifiers, and other tools that had meant nothing to me before.  The difference between a number one and a number two nipple suddenly became of utmost importance.  My beloved, uninterrupted sleep was, alas, but a distant dream.  Inevitably though, we adapt to change, and having Alex in my life became normal.  I no longer expected to sleep through the night, go out to restaurants or concerts or movies, or even watch a television show in its entirety.
Ever since visiting villages in Africa where babies exist contentedly with no baby products other than a cloth with which they are tied to their mother’s back, I have had a mixture of disdain and respect for the entrepreneurial spirit that created a multi-million dollar industry out of baby products.  I have now come to the conclusion that the creators of baby products are too busy dreaming up new products to sell to misguided but well-meaning parents at inflated prices to ever have children of their own.  How else can one explain the tiny snaps on Alex’s pajamas which make dressing a squirming crying baby a herculean feat, or the cute elephant baby lamp with the switch hidden behind the trunk in precisely the most difficult spot to reach at 3am with a crying baby in one arm?
Nicole and I live by ourselves and her mother, a pastry chef in Atlanta, helps out as much as she can. Shortly after he reached two months, my parents visited us for Alex’s first Hanukkah and we were pleasantly surprised when they offered to babysit on Saturday night and let us have a night on the town.  What we took for granted for most of our lives was a cherished gift now.  We left the house giddy with excitement and in those brief hours of freedom, beer never tasted so good and live music in downtown Decatur never sounded so sweet.  While I have visited over half the countries in Africa, and a good handful in the rest of the (unfrozen) continents, I kick myself now for not doing more while it was easy; and I never realized how easy!  I’ve never been to Costa Rica, Cuba, or Jamaica, and the idea of going with baby Alex sounds more like a booby trap of untold disasters than a vacation.
We discussed how we would raise Alex, and had agreed that Nicole would stop working and stay at home to take care of him.  It did not occur to me how big a job this is.  I had imagined that Alex would be sleeping most of the time and that she would be free to cook, clean, pursue her online degree, and basically live a life of leisure.  I could have maintained my delusional thinking if not for the fact that, on occasion, she needed to go somewhere and I was forced to take care of him by myself.  Alex is almost three months now and we are in Florida on our first vacation since he was born.  We are staying with Nicole’s friends in Hollywood.  We decided to drive and I admit to a certain smug satisfaction that we were able to fit everything we needed in the car with some free space to spare.  We left Atlanta Saturday afternoon and miraculously little Alex slept for most of the drive.  We considered driving all the way but fatigue and a heavy fog made us stop in central Florida  at an Econo-lodge run by a kindly Indian lady in Kissimmee who gave us a 10% discount on the room.  The next day it was an easy three hours on the southern turnpike to Hollywood.
When we arrived Nicole went with her friend Jackie to buy provisions at Target and left me at home with baby Alex and Jackie’s husband Mathew, a big lumbering teddy bear of a man from England who makes a living by repairing yachts.  Machismo forces me to casually accept responsibility for Alex when Nicole has to run errands or needs some down time, but the reality is much harder than I pretend.  Shortly after she left he started to cry.  He had just finished a bottle so probably was not hungry.  I changed his diaper and he continued to cry.  I rubbed his tummy while he lay on the changing table and then attempted to join Mathew on the couch and watch tv (with Alex on my lap).  That lasted for around two minutes.  I then tried everything in my book of tricks to make him calm down, all the while I cursing Dr. Harvey Carp and his 5 S’s.  Mathew finally decided that I needed help and fixed a bottle and started hovering around.  He gave me a peculiar look as I sheepishly asked if I could use his vacuum cleaner to calm him done.  As Alex’s mood continued to deteriorate and the cry started sounding more miserable than I have heard before, I finally broke down and tried to call Nicole to come home.  It is difficult to describe how unpleasant the incessant sound of one’s crying baby can be and how helpless I felt at my inability to soothe him.  I decided to try a bath, and in the middle of this operation (which I had only performed once at home and that too under close supervision from Nicole), a boy I had never seen comes up to us, tries to play with us, and starts to pee in the toilet next to us.  A woman then and wedges herself between myself and Alex in the bath tub.  I did not recognize her and was too wrapped up in my inability to calm him to introduce myself.  Yet I did not resist when she quickly started helping me and then took over.
A common theme in my thoughts these past two months is how difficult it is for us, as two married parents, to raise this one child.  I know that we are very fortunate and that many people are forced to raise a child as single parents with much fewer resources than we.  Nevertheless I am still struck by how hard and all-consuming this is.  A few days ago I prepared a lunch of rice and fish to celebrate a friend who recently acquired his US citizenship.  He was from the village in Ghana where I was worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer, although we had only met once during my service.  Around eight years after I left Ghana, he called me from the JFK airport.  As I struggled to remember him, he explained to me that he just arrived in New York and needed help.  While serving in the Army in Ghana, he had met an American soldier who had encouraged him to come to New York and promised to help him find work.  To his dismay, his friend reneged on his promise when he called him from the airport.  He then called the only other person he knew in America, and reached me in Atlanta.  Although I explained to him that I wouldn’t be able to drive to JFK to pick him up (as he requested with only a limited grasp on US geography) I explained to him how to take a bus to Atlanta and helped him as much as I could to get settled in Atlanta.  It  was a comfort to me to be able to speak the tribal language I had learned in Ghana, share stories from the village, and eat familiar the foods that he shared with me.  During the lunch I told him of our struggles and asked why it seemed so easy to raise children in Ghana.  He said that it is because in Ghana there are always people available to help out.  Whether this is a relative or a neighbor, one is not stuck with the responsibility of caring for a child alone.  I tried to imagine knocking on my neighbor’s door and asking her to take care of Alex for a day while I took care of some errands as my Ghanaian friend told me they do regularly in Ghana, and I could only smile.
Shortly before Alex was born I attended a lecture by Dr. Harvey Carp, pediatrician and author of the best selling parenting book: Happiest Baby on the Block, and was surprised to discover that there were very few attendees.  Apparently his competitors in the happy baby business were trying their best to shut him out.  He recounted that he started researching what makes babies cry after reading a study about the average cry time in different societies in which he learned that among the !Kung tribe (the ! is pronounced by clicking the tongue) the average baby cries for less than 10 seconds.  Well, baby Alex cries for a lot longer than that despite our best efforts to calm him.  A few years ago when visiting Botswana, I had the good fortune of being able to visit the !Kung tribe, whose existence I had first learned about while studying Anthropology in college.  A friend and I joined a group of !Kung as they demonstrated their traditional hunter gatherer lifestyle, including digging for roots, collecting leaves, and making fire by rubbing sticks together.  A young bare breasted !Kung woman in the group had a baby with her and it didn’t  occur to me at the time to marvel at how quiet and content the baby was, or the ease with which the baby was passed around the group.
As this stranger in Florida lovingly rescues me from my crying baby and Mathew hands me a much welcomed drink, I finally felt like I was on vacation.  That night Shiri (the Israeli woman who stopped Alex’s meltdown), her husband and their two beautiful children, Jackie, Mathew, their son Hayden, Nicole, baby Alex, and myself enjoyed a barbecue and a wonderful sense of community.  Although Shiri’s authoritarian Israeli style may have dominated, we all collectively supervised the children, and the stress that  overwhelmed me as I tried to cope with Alex single-handedly drifted away like the scent of a dirty diaper.  As I basked in the glow of the rum and cokes and the camaraderie of three sets of parents, it finally dawned on me that two is not enough to raise a child.
While I can’t replicate the society of the !Kung or the Ghanaians, I have come to the realization that we need some form of a community to raise our child.  Although it may sound ludicrous in our world where independence reigns supreme, I have therefore asked my mother-in-law to move in with us.  I have realized that our tiny two-person world is too thin to raise a baby.
The one piece of advice that I would give to prospective parents who want to know what they’re in for in the first six months is talk to parents who are still caring for their newborns and ask them to tell you the truth.  Oh, and don’t believe anyone who promises to make your baby the happiest on the block.

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