Friday, January 7, 2011

First-Born Becomes Lab Experiment

First-Born Becomes Lab Experiment
by Vicky DeCoster

“The first-born child is like a lab experiment and the parents are two mad scientists with absolutely no hypothesis.” –Vicky DeCoster

On the day our son was born, my husband and I stood next to the bassinet in the hospital room and stared the tiny human being that lay inside sleeping. “What do we do with him now?” my husband whispered in my ear.

“I have no idea,” I whispered in return. It was true. To date, the only mothering experience I had attained was with a doll that, by the time it became a teenager, quite frankly looked like it had been mutilated in a horrifying attack by a grizzly bear in a remote section of the woods. With no hair, an amputated leg, and a mustache drawn with permanent marker, she looked nothing like she had when I first discovered her under my Christmas tree several years earlier. It seemed I was already destined for failure.

“They don’t come with instruction manuals,” my mother-in-law announced when my son was just a few hours old. I nodded as I attempted to fasten his diaper with sweaty, trembling fingers. “Let me,” she said as she swiftly secured the diaper and swaddled my son in 3.5 seconds flat. She handed him to me with a smile. “It’ll get easier,” she reassured. And with a comforting pat on my arm, she was gone. As if he knew the only person who knew anything about how to care for him had just left the building, my son opened his tiny mouth and screamed bloody murder while I breathed into a paper bag in an unsuccessful attempt to stop hyperventilating.

As my son’s life began that day, my husband and I learned to rely on a wing and a prayer as we muddled our way through the art of parenting. We scoured magazines, books, and public restroom walls for valuable tips and advice on how to raise a self-confident, intelligent child destined for Harvard or Yale—not a juvenile delinquent who would consider his greatest achievement teaching all the other innocent neighbor children how to smoke, blow up mailboxes, and properly throw dirt clods at passing cars.

Without sounding too egotistical, I think we did pretty well as parents. We happily encouraged our son through every milestone. We potty trained him—even after he left a “deposit” on my new living room carpet; we cheered him on at sporting events—even when he accidentally scored a point for the other team during a basketball game; and we supported his decision to play drums—even though his daily practice sessions in the basement caused us to lose fifty percent of our hearing. We gained so much confidence in our parenting skills that we actually decided to adopt a daughter. Things were going swimmingly well.

Then, he turned sixteen.

“What do we do now?” my husband whispered into my ear.

“I have no idea,” I whispered in return.

Suddenly, everything I had learned about parenting up until that point was tossed out the window like an old wad of gum. Desperate, I asked for advice from friends who had already parented a teenager. It was like I was asking for the number to the infamous red telephone in the White House. One friend sucked in her breath between her teeth, causing a frightening hissing sound, before she asked, “He’s sixteen already?” I nodded. “Ohhhhh,” she said sympathetically, “Good luck.”

Left wanting more, I asked another friend for advice on how to parent a teenager. He gazed into the distance as if remembering. Suddenly, his eyes clouded over and he looked like he might be sick on my shoes as he made a weak attempt to reassure me, “Don’t worry. No matter what, this will all be behind you in two years.”

Finally, I called my mother-in-law for her advice. After all, in my house she was now a known expert on swaddling, diaper changing, baths, and potty training. Surely, she knew everything about parenting a teenager. She had raised three boys after all.

She picked up the phone on the first ring. After I told her what I wanted, she replied, “I knew you’d be calling me eventually.” I anxiously anticipated any piece of useful advice she could provide. “I only have one thing to say.” I sat on the edge of my seat and waited for female version of Dr. Spock to enlighten me with her wisdom.

“I just hope he doesn’t have his father’s genes.”

I guess I’m back to relying on a wing and a prayer.

Award-winning humor writer Vicky DeCoster is the author of Husbands, Hot Flashes, and All That Hullabaloo! and The Wacky World of Womanhood. Vicky’s been published in over 60 magazines, books, and on several web sites. She lives in Nebraska with her husband and two children where she is working on her third book of humorous essays. Visit her at

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