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.
- 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.
- 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?