No matter the time of year, no matter the post, it feels like ‘baby season’. Pregnant bellies, new wiggly finger and legs, bursting mailroom bags with boxes from baby supply shops... babies and soon-to-be babies everywhere. I remember those days well, and I don’t miss them one bit.
I was a horrible pregnant person -- not at all sporting any sort of 'glow', crabby, hormonal and just plain round. I feel like I spent the better part of seven years pregnant or breastfeeding so I can say I did my time, and am more than pleased to have moved on to the living-with-children phase! I know if you are in that soon-to-be-baby phase it can all feel overwhelming and scary; you are right to give the monumental task you have ahead of you the respect it is due. However, a child in baby age is actually pretty easy. Compared to the other ages I have experienced, it is the one age (up through 6 months or so), when your child’s needs are extraordinarily basic and easy to meet: food/milk, sleep, and cleanliness. I mean, sure security and cuddling too, but all in all pretty basic. Once they advance passed that adorable-yet-immobile stage, things get increasingly complicated, especially if you’ve done your job correctly and they are independent and actively exploring their sense of self, confidence and debate skills.
Having a kid doesn’t have to complicate everything... but it will. Even taking a regular shower and keeping a quasi-clean house -- tasks once seen as a simple routine blips on your radar — will become a rare treat. Humans have been procreating for centuries; your baby is at once unbelievably unique and very much the same. How can something so little and new be so huge and exhausting? If I may offer a few suggestions that will make your life easier:
~Have a gift closet. You will rely on this heavily for your child, and increasingly as they hit school age and and will undoubtedly have at least five (but maybe more) ‘best buddies’ and s/he will get invited to many birthdays. Trust me, stock up on gifts for kids of similar ages as your kids but multiple interests. It is a sad day when they move to the cash-in-an-envelop stage (which I really don't like AT ALL), but until that point, do yourself a favor and get at least 20 options when you are home (stateside or your country of origin. I usually take my boys with me to pick. We generally get craft or science kits, lego sets, nerf balls, yard games, pool/water toys and interesting small (usually travel) games. I also stock up on ribbon, tissue paper, and boxes of generic cards to simplify the wrapping process. Do this for yourself, too. For your own friends, get a variety of gifts you might enjoy receiving as well as a few that might be appropriate for a baby shower. Coordinating drop-off/car pool/pick-up is going to be challenging enough. Don’t add having to get the gift on top of it.
~Avoid clothing angst and drama. Embrace hand-me-downs (even from other families). Buy gender neutral colors and styles. At least for the bottoms. When other people offer you gently used clothing, say yes! Do not let your child become a fashionista. Life is WAAAY too short to start concerning oneself with something so trivial at so tender an age! I’m not saying clothing isn’t important, but it definitely does NOT need to rule the day.
~Get them off that stroller. Teach them how to walk. Not only is this better for them physically as walking is an excellent form of exercise, but it is also good for their brain development as they will be able to follow their innate curiosity, stop and smell the flowers and explore every rock. They will also learn to be self-sufficient and be able to get to point B (and C and D), on their own steam, saving you a lot of chiropractic care bills later on.
~Buy shoes online if you have access to mail facilities WHEN you need them. I am a huge fan (huuuge) of Zappos: enormous selection, fair prices, and the world’s easiest return and exchange policy. There are other sites out there who offer similar services, but I’ve been a Zappos fan since child #1’s second pair of shoes (first pair had to be this big THING which is when I realized I loathe shoe shopping for children as much as I loathe shoe shopping for adults. Which is interesting because I LOVE and own too many shoes. But I digress.). Your child’s feet will grow seemingly every day. They may very well outgrow the shoes before it even arrives (even with the amazing 2 day shipping). One brand's 6 is another brand's 7. If they manage to wear the shoe for a few months, it may very well either fall apart due to the rigorous feats your child will preform while wearing them, or they will outgrow it before it even gets dirty. For your peace of mind, do not try to ‘guess’ what size/style/color your child will want for the entire school year when you are on your summer trip home. The growth rate of your child’s feet is impossible to predict. This is an even more complicated equation than SPF math. Inevitably, the size/color/style/make/model is wrong. Save the headache and heartache and get them as you need them.
~Get outside of the embassy bubble. Best way? School. Go park yourselves on the school grounds on weekends or during the summer weeks and let your kids meet other kids there. Meet their parents. If you want to get a real taste of the beauty of expat life, hang out with people beyond Americans. Please don’t get me wrong: we know and dearly love friends we’ve met who are also embassy employees. But it is also amazing to meet and get to know people from all over the world. Now is your chance to meet folks from all over the globe. Our current school feels like a mini-UN with reps from every corner. Meeting peers from all over the globe is helping our kids develop a global viewpoint instead of one that is US-centered. Having a diverse mix of friends is a great way to have the best of both worlds.
You too will benefit hugely from having friends from all over. You too will benefit from seeing parents from all over the globe successfully tread the parenting waters, using methodologies not completely dissimilar to yours. Parenting is a leveling field; we are all in this together. Perhaps one if your international buddies might be into something that would work with your child’s current issue. Or visa versa.
I wish all aspects of having kids could do easily be simplified. These five things won’t help us find World Peace or solve the global warming situation but they will simplify a few situations you’ll run into as a parent. And really, there are enough snags you’ll run into in so many other aspect; why not simplify what you can? Gives you more energy to focus on what is important: your family.