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Free Parenting Advice for Orson Swindle on the Arrival of His First-Born Child

Dear Spencer,

Congratulations on the arrival of your first-born child! Everyone in the blogosphere shares your joy as you and your wife welcome this new addition to your family. Over the last few months, I periodically have thrown stray pieces of parenting advice your way, over e-mail and while tailgating and suchlike, but I’m sure most of that rolled right off of your back as still fairly abstract, so I wanted to share a few things I have learned upon the subject over the course of the last seven years, to do with what you will now that such suggestions are very much concrete. These, in no particular order, are they:

If it has mass, it can be used as a pillow. Up until this point in your life, you probably have had fairly inflexible definitions of such concepts as "pillow," "minimum amount of sleep needed," and "personal hygiene." These definitions have just changed dramatically for you. You’ve probably figured out the last two already, but the first will take some time. When your little one becomes even relatively mobile, you’re going to spend a lot of your time laying on the floor in a sleep-deprived supervisory role. This will require a modicum of comfort with a minimum of movement; accordingly, you will come to view bunched-up blankets, shoes, blocks, and other uncomfortable objects as suitable places to put your head. Accept this.

Paul Reiser is right: babies can alter the space-time continuum. There will be times when you are left alone with your child for an afternoon and you will pour your best efforts into keeping the kid entertained. You will be proud of how you filled four fun-filled hours . . . until you look at the clock and realize it’s only been 20 minutes. Don’t panic; "Baby Einstein" videos will restore the normal flow of time. I’m sure you remember hearing about "Baby Einstein" videos during Ricky Bobby’s prayer in "Talladega Nights."

You are a married man with a minor child who owns real estate. You need a will. Not this will, either; a real one. I don’t mean to be morbid, but this is one of those things that, frankly, wasn’t that big a deal before but is an enormous deal now. If you don’t have one, get one. I can do it for you, I can recommend someone in your area, or you can take care of it on your own, but, seriously, take care of it.

You know those books your wife bought while she was pregnant? They have editions for the first year of parenthood, too. Buy them, but don’t expect to be able to read them like you read the ones about pregnancy. You know the ones I mean. What to Expect When You’re Expecting. The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy. You probably read those (or, more likely, had them read to you) in their entirety, because, while you’re expecting, there’s a lot of prep time. There is no longer any such thing as prep time. Everything in your life now operates approximately on the same schedule as boarding the last helicopter out of Saigon, and that’s just the way it’s going to be for a while. However, there will be times when you will need the follow-up editions of these books as reference sources. Buy them and keep them handy.

When push comes to shove, Elmo is more tolerable than Barney. Barney is merely saccharine and annoying. The beauty of "Elmo’s World" is that every episode follows an identical template, so you can amuse yourself by treating it as a game of "Mad Libs." Take this sentence and fill in the blank with the noun or verb of your choice for your private enjoyment: "Today Elmo is thinking about ________." The episode writes itself. This will get you through an awful lot of children’s television. Barney, though? I’ve got nothing to help you with Barney.

The first six weeks are the hardest part (at least until the teenage years, about which I have heard but which I have not yet experienced). There will never come a point at which either of you regrets the decision to start a family. There will come a point at which you wonder whether you were ready for this. Don’t worry. No one’s ready for this. You can prepare for most things in life; a college internship can prepare you for a job, renting your first apartment can prepare you for owning your first home, and dating exclusively can prepare you for marriage, but there is no training with live ammo---no pet ownership, no keeping your nephew for the weekend while your sister is out of town, nothing---that can prepare you for this. It’s like the old Jerry Seinfeld routine about the guy on "That’s Incredible!" who caught the bullet in his teeth: "How did that guy train for that? Did his buddy toss it to him a couple of times first? Then did he say, ‘All right, Jim, it’s going to be coming a little bit faster this time’?" Nature throws you right into the deep end, but you get the hang of it, and, about six weeks in, babies figure out how to sleep for fairly lengthy stretches. That’s when you realize you can do this. In the meantime, trust me when I tell you you can do this.

If sleep is an option, sleep. No kidding around, man. Do it. Sleep. You’ll think about using the times the baby is asleep to get other stuff done. This is hubris and folly. Learn to do these things with a baby, which you’re going to have to do, anyway, and, when the baby sleeps, you sleep. If you choose to ignore this advice, you will wind up sending me a Facebook message telling me I am right. Guaranteed.

The key to a lullaby is to keep singing in a soothing voice. All else is of secondary importance. Babies can’t understand a word you’re saying. Is it rhythmic and calming? Then you’re good to go. I once sang my son to sleep using a standard lullaby, only to realize three and a half lines in that I didn’t know the words. I winged it, kept moving, and wrote a song that worked on the fly. The lyrics went like this:

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
And, if that mockingbird don’t sing,
Mama’s gonna buy you some other thing
And, if that other thing don’t work,
Mama’s gonna feel like a great big jerk
And, if that makes Mom feel real bad,
Mom’ll find a way to blame it all on Dad
And, if Dad says, "Hey, that ain’t right!"
Mom and Dad are gonna have a great big fight
Like the fight you might have heard
When Dad asked, "Who the hell bought this mockingbird?"

For what it’s worth, I found "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd to be particularly effective and appropriate as a lullaby.

This is the biggest, best, most important, most fulfilling thing you will ever do in your entire life. Everything you have ever done prior to this has been merely a prelude and is of no significance whatever. A year from now, what little you remember of your life a year ago will seem like something that happened to another person. You have been preparing for this your whole life, and you are two wonderful, loving, and decent people who will do a marvelous job of providing through nurture the means for your child to achieve at a level as high a nature has made possible. This new life in your midst is a blessing to you both and the three of you will be enriched in ways you cannot imagine by your presence in one another’s lives. We could not be more happy for each of you as you embark on this journey together.

By the way, if you send your kid to the University of Georgia, you’ll get the HOPE Scholarship and save a bundle with the benefit of in-state tuition. I’m just saying.