I was in Walmart the other day, weaving my baby and our shopping cart adroitly through the Christmas crowds. I was in that weird ‘critical path’ zone. You know the one. It’s where all thoughts of savouring a shopping experience vanish, only to be replaced with an intense compulsion to complete every task in the shortest amount of time possible. Gone was the enjoyment of the pleasantly garish decorations and the tinny crooning of Bing Crosby serenading shoppers over the sound system.. I was a force to be reckoned with. If my cart could have had ‘go-faster-stripes’ decaled on it, or maybe some flames or lightning or something, maybe everyone else would have known too. As it did not however, I soon found myself trudging painfully behind oblivious drifters who paused at the most random and unforeseeable intervals. I was irritated beyond belief.

My baby was happy however, and this mollified me somewhat. She became especially happy when we saw a lady walking past with a very small bundle cradled in her grasp.

“Ba-ba-ba!!” Said Vee, pointing wildly at the baby.

I couldn’t help myself. In a moment I found myself cooing ‘Ooooh how gorgeous! How old is she?!’ and all tension melted away as I met a lovely first-time mom, and her 2 week old daughter. In few seconds I was up to date on the issues with feeding and sleeping, and marveling at the unspoken bond that we shared strangers though we were. I offered my experience, and only in that moment realized that I had advice to give at all. The encounter was brief and serendipitous and I wondered if the urgency I felt previously wasn’t orchestrated to make sure I met her at the intersection of ‘Pharmacy’ and ‘Toys’.  We never exchanged names, but in that few minutes my day changed and for the rest of the afternoon I glanced back lovingly at my own memories of Vee, Hubs, and I becoming a family.

Wow. The first time we all went out together, Hubs and I had not ventured out in 2 weeks. Well, he had, but I hadn’t. It was cold, and all of our baby gear still felt completely alien to us. I remember Hubs holding Vee in our living room, as I slipped into the Baby Bjorn trying to figure out how it worked and wondering how I could possibly load the baby into it without dropping her. After a few dry-land practices, we had it figured out. We were going to pile into the car and drive to Walmart. I was going to get into the back seat once we had parked, and move Vee from the car seat into the Baby Bjorn. Then, we’d have our hands free and be able to push the shopping cart, and enjoy the outing a bit.

After we had hammered out the plan, it took us 20 minutes to pack the zillion diapers and 2 extra outfits and hats and other strange things new moms put into diaper bags for 1 hour of running errands. Then, with much pep talking, we loaded into the truck. I sat in the back, and my husband, driving as daintily as he could, chauffeured us to the Walmart parking lot. After many looks over his shoulder and red lights where he asked ‘are you ok back there’ we finally made it. Now, all we had to do was transfer the baby from the car seat to the Baby Bjorn, and we’d be gold. My teeny 15 day old was not impressed with our plan. She started voicing her complaints, and being still completely new to the bloodcurdling effect of babyscreamitis, I froze. Her little legs dangled and kicked willfully and I looked from her to the Baby Bjorn which I was now strapped into, uncertainly.

“Well you can’t just stop now!” My husband’s desperate voice shattered my thoughts. He bounded out of the front seat, around to my door in order to help. There wasn’t that much he could do, but he tried his best to offer support. This meant that he stood there with arms outstretched and swaying under the baby’s dangling legs. His knees were bent in an odd plié and he shifted from one leg to another. Occasionally he made a sound like this: “Woo..wooah..ooOOOO.” Meanwhile, I was doing intense Wile E. Coyote calculations, trying to figure out how this was all going to resolve.

I can only imagine what other people saw as they walked by.

15 minutes later, after what felt like 100 attempts to figure out the Screaming Thrasher Baby/Freezing Cold/Baby Bjorn variables, we gave up. “It’s because the lighting is so bad and it’s so cold.. maybe we have to practice more at home and recreate the circumstances..” Seriously? I looked at my husband and we both wordlessly communicated: “ROOKIES.” Then we piled back into the truck, and went home, feeling dismal and defeated.

We did eventually make it back out that night. Though it involved both Hubs and I getting more ‘gear practice’, we felt on top of the world when we finally broke into the neon surrounds of the store as a family. Huzzah!

In honour of my anonymous new friend who hasn’t slept in two weeks, and all new moms everywhere, I would like to share my top 5 mom tips from this first year.

1.       It does get better.

  • You will figure out your routine as a new family. Then you will lose it. Then you will get it back again, and on it goes.
  • You will be able to leave the house in less than 3 hours.
  • You will figure out how to balance a shopping basket on your arm while you push your stroller, or how to breastfeed in a car, or other feats that make you wonder why all moms don’t have their own extreme reality shows.
  • You will sleep again (albeit small intervals, but still).

2.       Breastfeeding does not have to suck. Ha. No pun intended.

  • Lanolin cream rocks. Before feeding, after feeding. Heck, there are times I think my kid’s first solid was actually lanolin.
  • Take a break if you need and don’t beat yourself up. Pumps are there for a reason.
  • 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, 1 month.. Breastfeeding is great for as long as you want to do it. Every bit counts. Don’t let people judge you if you want to go to the bottle.
  • Get the little accessories that make things more fun, like the cute feeding bracelets, privacy covers, or labels for pumped milk. Added bonus? Being organized means you don’t feel like you’ve got Grade A mommy brain all the time.
  • Breastfeeding not only let me bond with my baby, it also let me catch up on the Gilmore Girls, Boston Legal, House, and a variety of other DVD programming. Loved it.

3.       Do not live in your house coat. Sleep in your yoga clothes instead.

  • If you’re sick of not being able to get dressed or have a shower, do I what I did. I went out and bought a ton of cute yoga/lounge outfits and slept in them. They were my 24 hour uniform. If someone dropped by, or I had to run out, well, I was already dressed. It was a small victory, but it was a victory nonetheless.
  • I totally still do this sometimes. The novelty does not wear off.

4.       Being a good mom means taking care of yourself.

  • Learn how to say ‘NO’. For example, ‘No thank you, we’re not having visitors tomorrow’. Or perhaps, ‘Thank you for the advice, but we’ve got a great routine already’.
  • Learn how to say ‘YES’. For example, ‘Yes, I need to have a shower. I’ve been wearing this yoga outfit for 3 days now..’ or maybe ‘Yes, I would like you to come over and help me make dinner/watch the baby/clean my house.’

5.       It’s ok to indulge.

  • Forget about losing the baby weight. Just focus on being healthy and keeping your baby happy. The weight will come off. And if it doesn’t, you can go out and have fun shopping for new stuff.
  • If you think you’re going to keep up the ‘no caffeine’ thing after you’ve had your baby, I admire you, but you’re nuts. Regardless, coffee or tea should not bring your guilt and nor should an occasional drink.
  • Time for you, doesn’t mean ‘Oh good, the baby’s down. Now I can finish doing all the other chores I haven’t done in a month..’ It means, sit down, eat bonbons, flip through the latest trashy magazine, do yoga, catch up with a friend on the phone, sleep, finally upload those pictures to Facebook.. you get the idea.

Much like yoga, the first year of parenting teaches us humility. It also teaches hilarity, and reaches highs and plumbs lows that are exhilarating as they are unanticipated. Remember that at the end of the day, no matter what happens, and no matter what someone’s Pick Up Put Down Stop Crying Magic book says, or what someone else’s website touts as gospel, you know best. You are the one that has to be ok with it. And if you’re not ok with it, neither will your baby.

If you are ever feeling alone and overwhelmed and wondering ‘what have we done!’ just remember that we are all rookies. And whether your kid is 15 days old, or 40 years old, we’re all going through things for the first time. The questioning never ends, but neither does the joy.

From our family to yours, we hope you have a beautiful 2010 holiday season, filled with happiness and great memories.