My younger brother and his wife are just about to deliver their second child. As the bossy, overbearing, experienced, perceptive, insightful and wise older sister, I believe it is my duty (because of my exhaustive list of qualifications) to relay some very pertinent information to him in regard to upcoming changes in his parenthood.
Now that I have had a few (ahem, seven) babies of my own (all of whom are still living on this earth and none of whom have disowned me as their mother up to this point), I feel compelled to share a small slice of reality-pie that is soon to be delivered door-side and served à la mode.
To you, Dear Brother, and all future fathers of two, here is a very simple guide to keep you from screwing this up:
Beware the humming.
If at any point, you arrive home from work and your dear wife is outside on the porch softly humming, “What a friend I have in Jesus,” you’re in for it. Hymn-humming is a code for she’s temporarily lost her mind and can only sit on the porch in a rocking chair and stare absently into space. Don’t interrupt her.
Just go quietly into the trashed living room, hold the wailing baby and quietly scrub the poop and Sharpie off the sofa. Do this with a weeping infant in one arm, while consoling a hysterical, naked toddler who is stomping on your feet, clutching your legs and hitting you repeatedly in the butt with her fists. The 15 minutes you spend doing that sums up your wife’s entire day. It’s really no wonder she’s lost her senses.
“But it’s only two kids,” you might say. Yeah, but it may as well be 10, so shut up and grab the mop. There’s pee on the floor.
Give extra compassion.
Take time to give your wife extra love. Give lots of hugs. Hold her closely and stroke her hair. Make no comment about the fact that her head is an oil slick, that your fingers got tangled in all the snarls and that an endangered species of small birds is now nesting there. Your wife only gets a shower once every eight days, so it’s best to make all of your observations silently. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll make no comment that her chest smells like sour milk and that her leg hair is now as long as yours. Instead of mentioning your observations aloud, tell your bedraggled wife that motherhood looks good on her and that she’s as attractive and as beautiful as ever. In other words, you need to lie.
Do not ask when she’s going to start working-out again.
Let’s not place unrealistic and fantastical expectations on a woman who has just created an entire human being a mere fortnight after she delivers, m’kay? For the love of elastic waistbands, that’s just not wise.
This may come as a shock, but she isn’t going to begin Zumba class next week. The best you can expect from her are random bouts of loud crying jags. If she musters up enough energy to dance around the house to “Thriller,” see it for what it is—a warning that your sleep-deprived-zombie-wife (who is still getting a small bit of exercise) needs a day off.
Make dinner for yourself.
While you’re at it, make some for her too. Your postpartum wife has eaten goldfish crackers and string cheese for each meal. Between the toddler tantrums, diaper changes, nursing and up-all-night feedings, there is just no energy left to put together any type of meal plan that would actually make sense to humans.
Hint: Clean up the kitchen after you’re done. Make it tidy, but not so clean that she feels worthless or guilty that she couldn’t accomplish such a simple task in her day. There’s a very fine line between being helpful and acting superior because you managed to get 20 entire minutes to yourself to clean something. A good man would leave a few crumbs on the counter to show his wife how much she is really needed. If you aren’t brave enough to approach this line delicately, then forget the whole thing and order Thai food.
Hold the dang baby.
If your wife asks you to hold the baby, then it’s your job to hold the baby. Don’t turn around and set him back down. Otherwise, your wife (and your baby) will both know you’re an imbecile, because you can’t follow very basic instructions. This will result in your baby updating his Twitter feed with frequent requests for more intelligent parentage. Please avoid this trap, for yourself and men everywhere. I promise you won’t have to hold him forever—just long enough for the mother of your child to do something she’s longing to do, like eat with two hands without hearing a screaming infant.
Learn to eat like your wife does.
You love your wife. If you wish to endear yourself to her and create a moment of camaraderie and bonding, try eating dinner one-handed. This would best be done by securing the use of a small, livid octopus and suctioning it to your left nipple. Be sure to wrangle that slippery (and seething) mollusk using only your left arm while trying to politely eat cold lasagna. Now, hold your plate and stand up to do this. There, you’ve nailed it.
NEVER WAKE A SLEEPING MOM.
Dear God in heaven. If you ignore all my other tips and only heed one piece of advice, this would be it. If the mother of your children is (finally!) sleeping, do not wake her up in order to ask stupid questions or make stupid statements. There are acceptable reasons to wake a sleeping mom, but let’s be honest and admit that you have never come across one yet. I realize this can get tricky, so I’ve included some sample scenarios to help you out.
Acceptable: A tornado is coming and you have to get down to the cellar.
Unacceptable: To ask if she remembers the login password to your fantasy sports league.
Acceptable: There’s a (large) fire in the kitchen.
Unacceptable: To ask, “Do I own a raincoat?”
Acceptable: The bathroom is flooding, and you need to locate the water shutoff.
Unacceptable: To ask why the television remote is covered in Desitin.
Acceptable: There’s an unstoppable natural gas leak coming from the furnace.
Unacceptable: The toddler has a gas leak.
Good heavens, just let the woman sleep. Figure some stuff out on your own. That’s what Google and Siri were created for. It’s OK to muddle through and do your best. Sure, she will yell at you later for doing it all incorrectly, but don’t you get it? When she yells, she’ll be rested. It’s the safer option for you. Trust me.
There are other hints I could offer, but it would put you at an unfair advantage, and it’s best for your male counterparts if you flounder a little like the rest of them.
My final word of advice is this: Enjoy this time with your young family. Kids grow quickly and soon these tough months will be part of your past. Keep some memories tucked away for laughing at later. The baby will stay asleep someday. Your wife will feel normal again soon. Be as helpful as you know how to be. You won’t do everything perfectly, but you also won’t screw up too badly either. Unless you forget to place that order for an octopus.