Saturday, March 29, 2008

Useless Knowledge

A frustrating by-product of modern life is the constant accumulation of useless knowledge. As soon as we really learn the ropes of something, it's over: we leave, we move on, we encounter something new. Unsolicited advice may function as a kind of safety valve, a release of pressure from our bursting storehouses of hard-won but now obsolete experience. This principle applies to motherhood, certainly; if I had expected to have ten children, I might have found the steep learning curve of new motherhood to be more purposeful, like a high-intensity training camp for the Olympic marathon. But there are many other pockets of no-longer-useful information taking up valuable storage space in my brain, neural synapses that keep on firing long after the need for them has passed. Here are only a few of the once-useful tips that are stored indelibly in my long-term memory:

1986: Teen Missions Boot Camp

  • Bring a backpack. Boot Camp life involves carrying a heavy load on your shoulders all day long - water canteen, notebook, purse, Bible. An even weight distribution across your shoulders will save you from many an aching back.
  • Pack lots of cheap but useful items that you can throw away before leaving for the mission field. The 32-lb weight limit applies only to the gear you take on the plane.
  • Don't put too much effort into conserving the single roll of toilet paper you're given at the beginning of your two-week stay. If you have to spend 50 cents for a second roll, that's a small price to pay for avoiding soak-through in washrooms that don't have running water.

1987: Walt Disney World
  • The best way to get from Fort Wilderness to Epcot Centre is not the most direct: avoid line-ups by taking the bus to one of the hotels and then taking the monorail from there, rather than from the main parking lot.
  • Try the fettuccine alfredo at the Italian restaurant in the World Showcase at Epcot. Yum! (For dessert, head over to the Mexican pavilion for hot, fresh chirros.)

1988: High School
  • Don't switch math classes after the first week in September. You'll end up sitting at the front of the class, surrounded by enemies who think it's funny to mimic you whenever you cough or clear your throat. Eating your peanut-butter sandwich at 11:07 is a small price to pay for the privilege of a free period where you have the whole cafeteria to yourself and a free pass from the Darwinian exercise of normal high-school lunch-eating.
  • If you force yourself to actually talk to the smart drama-club clique members who intimidate you, you'll find that they're not as scary as you think.

1990: First-Year University
  • If you think you've met someone who is just like you - your male counterpart and soul mate - it's not because you have. It's called narcissistic projection.
  • Remember that you don't have to keep telling your mother everything. Some information really is best to keep on a need-to-know basis.

1992: First Wedding (Planning Stage)
  • Floral sailor dresses do not look appropriate on anyone over the age of 22. Yes, that includes only one member of your wedding party, but still. Your future sister-in-law deserves better.
  • While every decision you make regarding your wedding appears to be fraught with symbolic significance, it is not actually the case that allowing your future in-laws to determine the menu will foreshadow a lifetime of stifling control. Remember, you're going to be living two time zones away. It's okay to compromise.
  • When your future husband considers calling off the wedding several months beforehand, that IS a red flag.

1993: Marriage, Apartment, Grad School
  • Yes, that is too many major life changes to be encountering in a single year.
  • An outside window is a desirable feature of apartment living, even in Winnipeg. Although an atrium full of greenery may seem like a decent substitute, what it notably lacks is any kind of breeze. Unless you want to live in a sauna every time you turn on the dishwasher, get an apartment on the outside-facing wing.

1994: Moving House
  • There are many useful products available for sale at U-Haul to make moving easier. One of the best is plastic wrap - it's like a giant wheel of cling wrap that you can wind around small furniture items like bedside tables, keeping everything in the drawers intact.
  • Real packing paper is easier to use than newspaper and leaves fewer newsprint stains on your dishes.

1998: Divorce
  • You don't have enough assets to make expensive legal representation worthwhile. Decide what you want. Ask for it while your ex is still feeling guilty enough to comply. Get a cheap mall lawyer to write it all up.
  • Be grateful for the family and friends who are holding you up, carrying you through. This really is the part where everything gets better.

2000: Second Wedding
  • You are a "bride," even if your mom says you aren't. This is the marriage that will last. Don't feel like you have to act as if it's second best.
  • Yes, it's illegal to climb up on the WWII-era tank for your wedding photos. But kids climb on that tank all summer long, and the photos are going to turn out really well. Don't let mean passers-by ruin your day.

2002: TTC
  • Save yourself time by purchasing a fertility thermometer right off the bat. At least it will save you several months of suspecting that you're pregnant when in fact you're not even ovulating. Get a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility and take notes.

2003: Pregnancy, Birth, and Post-Partum
  • Although What to Expect When You're Expecting is evil, there's not much that's better on the market right now. What to Expect the First Year will be useful; so will Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Do not read that copy of Baby Wise your friend loaned you. Do not - I repeat, do not - read anything with the words "attachment" or "Dr. Sears" on the cover. Dr. Jack Newman's guide to breastfeeding is a useful reference, but it is not a book you should be reading cover to cover. When you get the blocked milk ducts, then it will be time enough to look up the problem in the index. (The solution, by the way, is hot compresses, lots of nursing, and lecithin supplements.)
  • When you get the baby home and he's desperate with hunger and your milk isn't in yet, remember that this is the hardest part, right now. It will never be this hard again. (That is to say, it will get harder right around ten weeks when the baby starts doing nursing strikes, but after five weeks of hell that problem will be mostly resolved and nothing in parenthood for the following four years will even hold a candle to it for sheer soul-crushing hardness.)
  • Remember to apply for parental leave. As absurd as it sounds, this does mean that you have to apply for contracts you have no intention of fulfilling. It's not up to you to figure out how to finish your contract the month after the baby is born; you're allowed to start teaching a course and then take leave part-way through.

2005: Baby #2
  • Here are some things that will make your life easier: napping/changing stations in every room in the house; summer weather (July is a GREAT time to have a baby); co-sleeping for the first couple of months; soothers.
  • Stop reading Babycenter. There's something out there called the blogosphere, and if you find a few mommy-blogs now, it will save you from months of unnecessary Flylady-inspired housecleaning as you look for some kind of structure during those months of maternity leave.

What about you? Any words of advice to share that you no longer have a use for in your own life?


TEOM? said...

Someone should have taken your mom aside and given her a good talking to for not wanting to call you a "bride."

kittenpie said...

You can skip into something without the prerequisite if you make a deal.

It may be living out a childhood dream to join a dance company, but if you do it during university, you still have to concentrate on school. This WILL impact your ability to pull the marks you'll need later.

You're not as much of a dork as you think you are. People really won't laugh at you if you manage to open your mouth and talk to them.

Maybe somebody should have pushed me harder to challenge my fears. Actually, that still applies, because I hope to use that to remember to push Pumpkinpie a bit.

Magpie said...

Yeah, take care of your fertility before it up and leaves you. Otherwise you end up a first time mother at 42. I wish someone had told me.

Veronica Mitchell said...

When you don't have a knife, a school ID is handy for spreading peanut butter.

Hairline Fracture said...

When it comes to hairstyles, bigger is not better.

You will meet your soul mate, so relax and stop falling in "love" with either a) guys who don't know you exist or b) arrogant jerks who like to play mind games.

You will not die if you make a B. In fact, in ten years you won't even care what your GPA was.

It's okay to ask for and receive help.

Beck said...

Retrospective knowledge is such a JERK - nothing I've ever learned seems to have any current application. Of course, it might.
Okay, good advice for other people?
1. Throw OUT that copy of What To Expect While You're Expecting.
2. If he gets another girl's phone number while he's with you, he is perhaps not the man of your dreams.
3. Eating more then one doughnut in a sitting is not a good idea.
There you go: my collected life's knowledge.

Amanda said...

I seem to have forgotten everything, or found a practical application for every little tid bit.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Not a summer baby - too hot and sweaty while breastfeeding 12 hours a day!

Doesn't matter how many kids you have - you keep learning non-recyclable material...

nomotherearth said...

High School grades are only important inasmuch as they get you into university.

Most baby advice is helpful, but all bets are off till the "100 days of hell" are over.

Don't buy a stroller just because your sister-in-law liked it - really consider your lifestyle and needs. And if you're going to have two close together, just buy the Phil & Ted's one. Igbore the price - it's worth it.

And ditto to your breastfeeding advice.

Apparently, I'm a font of useless knowledge because I could go on and on..

niobe said...

If you're wandering aimlessly somewhere near Amsterdam and, because it looks like it might rain, you go into an antique store, where you see a 19th century woodblock print by a Japanese artist with the improbable name of Yoshitoshi and there's something about the colors and the lines of the violent figures and the calm and distant sea that makes you unable to stop staring at it, go ahead and buy it. Even though it means that you won't have enough money left for your train ticket back to Strasbourg.

Kyla said...

Summer babies are BAD news here! It is well over 100F by then and you will surely want to die.

The What to Expects are only useful is your child is typical. Otherwise it is a big exercise in self-torture.

Kit said...

The Annabel Karmel Baby Food Recipe books are fun when you are at home alone with your first child and need something to do. Your second child will eat from a jar and the third child will just get the family meal whizzed up to baby food consistency - vegetables first and adding more of it as they get older. They will all grow up strong and it may be a total coincidence that the first child is the pickiest eater of them all at nine years old.

AnneK said...

2005 for me - Marriage, first job, living by myself in a big city. Agree with you. Too many changes in one year. And I loved that one about narcissistic projection. I know I have gathered a lot of useless knowledge as well over the years, just can't think of any right now.

On a completely different note, what did you think about A Generous Orthodoxy? I saw it in your library.

Jenifer said...

I feel like most of what I know is useless knowledge!

Karen said...

Now I know all those things too! I also trippped over flylady on my way to the blogosphere. It was a narrow escape!

Bea said...

Anne - I liked it - but I find McLaren gets pretty repetitive after awhile if you read too many of his books.

Lisa b said...

hmm wavering on whether to play along because the only things in my head are
"be careful what you wish for'
'never trust a doctor'

Emily said...

Could you write a book of all of your useless information? That way you could take it out of your head and put it on the page. It is beneficial to someone. It may be expired, but still fraught with wisdom.

susiej said...

Planning a big wedding. Big mistake. I love this post... so creative.

Marian said...

I could probably com e up with volumes on this one. Most baby information, which is so important when you actually have a babe in arms, becomes obsolete the minute you don't. At least it occasionally becomes relavent again, and may someday be very useful when grandchildren. Moving a lot definitely leaves you with a very large store of useless knowledge-- roads, shortcuts, landmarks, places to go and find what you need. It makes me ridiculously eager to have pointless conversations about such minutia when encountering someone who actually lives in or has visited one of my former stomping grounds.

JCK said...

But, you could write an advice column, no?

Let's is OK to let go of breastfeeding and switch to formula if your older child, at the advanced age of 10 months, is pinging off the furniture, falling and basically getting minor injuries while learning to walk...and while you are desperately trying to be a "good mom" and breastfeed your newborn. You will survive 2 babies 10 months apart.

Sus said...

I love the moment you realized you not only do not need to tell your mother everything but you SHOULDN'T. Lesson Learned.

How about Chupito is the Spanish word for "shot?"

Or ever knowing how to do a presentation in Powerpoint.

Her Bad Mother said...

Coca-Cola, chocolate milk and tylenol help with a hangover.

Which, HA. A) I haven't had a drink in forever, B) even if I were to have a drink, the hangovers of a thirty-something parent just aren't treatable in the way that they are for twenty-something singletons, and C) coca-cola and chocolate milk? EWW.

Kathryn said...

Actually, that all sounds like useful knowledge. :)

Anonymous said...

what's wrong with Babywise? I like it....P.S. Love this blog, it's a great balance between mommy-ness and cerebral-ness.

Bea said...

Anon - I'll tell you what's wrong with Babywise: it assumes that a newborn should be treated the same way as a two- or three-month-old baby, so every time my poor infant fell asleep after nursing I freaked out (completely unnecessarily) because he wasn't following the feed-play-sleep routine. Maybe under hormonally neutral circumstances, I could have taken its advice with a grain of salt, but in the midst of my new-mommy panic, that book (along with all the other ones I read) exerted an influence of pure terror over my mind.

Christine said...

having your ex-boyfriend video tape your wedding is a BAD idea.

planetnomad said...

If you must give birth to 10 1/2 pounds of baby, it is easier to do it in installments.

With twins, it only gets easier. The hardest time is when they come home from hospital.

The point of a wedding is the beginning of a marriage, so don't stress when you can't afford to do it exactly like the magazines--you can always spin it to make it sound more romantic anyway.

You are thinner/look younger than you think. Relax and enjoy it.

No one else even notices that zit that seems so large in your mirror.

kurrabikid said...

I have to say ... that is a brilliant and original post. Nice one.

andi said...

Classic! I especially loved the ones about the babies - I have many of the same remnants kicking around in my head. Other than that, I forget a lot of things.

Swistle said...

That post was so good, and so interesting, it left me feeling kind of weak and wrung out. I started out cutting things to paste in the comment section as favorite parts, but there were too many.

Also, I want to sneak up behind your mom and give her a big shove for the "not a bride" thing. That's crap, and crappy. said...

Buy one expensive good quality suit and you'll have it forever.

Does anyone wear a suit anymore? Do you really want a suit forever?

Luisa Perkins said...

Fantastic post. Though I must say, I found What to Expect the First Year even more evil than What to Expect When You're Expecting.

I'm in total agreement with teom? on the "bride" issue.

My useless knowledge? Trying to manage a jazz club that is open until three a.m. every morning while carrying 18 college credit hours with classes that begin at eight a.m. five days a week will wreak serious havoc on one's otherwise pristine GPA.

Bea said...

AM - I bought that lovely, good-quality suit a few years ago, wore it to one job interview - and then had babies. I will never be able to fit into that suit again.

minnesotamom said...

Things I've learned:

Wear shoes that don't match your outfit (or your purse) once in a while.

If you eat right and exercise well 90% of the time, the other 10% can be spent eating really yummy cookies.

Susan G. Komen gives a lot of money to Planned Parenthood.

p.s. I think the Babywise thing works better for some mothers/babies than others. Started Anja on it her first week home and you can still set a clock by her naps and feeding times. Next baby? Maybe, mabye not. :)

Minnesota Matron said...

Love this. It has taken the Matron nearly a decade to restore her sense of self after a bout of self-inflicted attachment parenting.

Carrien said...

I love Dr. Sears books. Had to say.

I'm with you on the wedding planning though.

Don't bother taking pictures of and getting addresses of everyone that you bonded with at camp, then seminars, then those 10 week long courses. You will never see any of those people ever again, and you will not keep in touch. In years to come you will show your kids your photo albums and there will be a bunch of pictures of people you haven't seen in 10 years and they will be bored and you will feel very lame.

Instead, take pictures of the places you've been, the cool things you saw, and the family that will still be there in 40 years. That will be relevant to you and your kids 10 years from now.

Alpha DogMa said...

Can you please post photos of the floral sailor dresses. Pleeeeeeeeeeese!

If you are a woman -- hell, in Canada if you are a gay man -- and you are having a wedding you are the BRIDE! There is no wiggle room there. At. All.

Kimberly said...

Those dreams you are having where you're standing in the back of the church in your big poofy dress, staring down the aisle, and asking your Dad if you really have to are really nightmares. And yes, they ARE trying to tell you something.

If your initial reaction to the realization that you have lost your engagement ring is a feeling of lightness, pay attention to that.

4 months and 12 weeks are not interchangeable concepts when discussing birth control.

I bet your wedding photos were AWESOME.

Oh, and it's easy to get an extension if you just act confident that you deserve it.