NEW YORK, JUNE 15, 2011 — Can you imagine life without the Internet? I can’t – at least, not these days. As a kid, I collected stamps, but now, I only write e-mails. It’s been years since I’ve mailed a letter! And sure, I still carry around a copy of The Economist in my bag, and I continue to rely on books for knowledge, but more and more, when I want information, I turn to Google.
I can’t imagine what a blessing the Internet must be for today’s newbie parents. There are thousands of websites devoted to parenting, offering advice on everything from the early stages of pregnancy to the college application process!
All I had when Maia was born were two books: a Japanese book I found in a nearby bookstore, detailing the development of a baby in its first year, and a thick encyclopedia-like English book for mothers, dealing with all the parenting issues of newborn babies and toddlers.
I’ve learned a lot of things from books. Back in the day, I barely knew how to boil an egg, but after trying every single recipe in a Japanese, a Chinese, and The Good Housekeeping Cookbook, I was able to cook banquets and full course meals at a moment’s notice. Of course, no one ever saw me flipping the pages constantly, obsessive-compulsively measuring all the ingredients with my cooking scale and measuring cups and spoons.
So, I assumed I could also learn how to parent from books. I was confident that I would master the intricate technique of mothering by following the recommendations in every chapter. I read both books from cover to cover several times before Maia was born, and went back to them for answers to questions I failed to anticipate.
The first year was a piece of cake, a walk in the park, a picnic. Maia did exactly as the Japanese book predicted, step by step, in the perfect order. She rolled over, sat, crawled, talked and walked at the precise time the book said she would! Not a single unpleasant surprise.
That is, until my husband decided to raise his hand – both hands, even – for an assignment to Lagos, Nigeria. Enthusiastically, he volunteered to be posted to a country so far away from Japan that in order to get there, we had to fly to Anchorage (yes, those were the days) and then to London, and finally to Lagos.
We had already spent two years in Monrovia, Liberia so I was unfazed by another African assignment. I was an old hand with experiences that made me feel well-prepared. I completely forgot to factor in the needs of baby Maia. Like the adults, she was required to get vaccinations for yellow fever and hepatitis! That was in addition to the vaccinations scheduled in a child’s first two years: DPT, MMR… a whole alphabet soup of vaccines in a span of a month!
Maia has a good memory. Even as a child. The first time she was vaccinated, she actually needed to get two shots – I was able to distract her with toys for the first jab of the needle, but when the nurse came at her with the second, she took everyone by surprise and with a whack of her tiny hand, sent the offending instrument flying across the pediatric ward!
There was nothing in the parenting books on how to subdue a tot during multiple vaccinations… and back then, there wasn’t Google to turn to for tips either!
By the time I got to Lagos, I was in virgin parental territory. I was totally on my own, with only my budding maternal instincts and common sense to rely on in raising this increasingly unpredictable tiny creature.
Maia always took a nap after lunch, and it was one activity I very much enjoyed doing together. But all of a sudden, one fateful day, she decided she didn’t need a nap. She stubbornly refused to climb into bed. Not even when I threatened to leave her alone! She completely ignored me! Even stomped out of the room. And she was barely two! I had no idea what to do.
Google, Google, where were you when I needed you!
Still, to be fair, Maia was never difficult. She rarely misbehaved, and definitely not in public. She was a model pupil at her school, an international preschool for toddlers where she spent three hours every morning, learning to interact with other children.
I was told that she always paid attention, and never failed to follow the rules. So imagine my shock when, on the day that it was my turn to help out in the classroom, Maia became a rulebreaker! It was the end of playtime, and she refused to put away her toy trains! I knew she liked the trains because she talked about them when she came home from school, but she was always careful to share, and she always put them back in the storage baskets when it was time for something else.
But on that day, she clung to the train and would not listen to the teacher. Instinctively, I knew what she was thinking! Mommy was around, and Mommy was going to make sure that she got to play with the trains as much as she wanted! After all, Mommy loved Maia!
There was no script in the parenting books for this scenario, but somehow, I knew that I had to forcibly remove the train from Maia’s hand, and put it in the storage bin. I did that, and in anger, Maia turned to desperate measures. She lunged towards me, grabbed my foot, and sunk her teeth into the leather of my shoe. She bit my shoe and wouldn’t let go! I removed my foot from the shoe, and Maia was left with a shoe clenched in her mouth.
I looked at the teacher, silently asking for help. She suggested that we both go outside for some fresh air. Maia was wailing, and all I wanted to do was gather her in my arms, combing the shops of Lagos for a toy train to placate her with!
By the time the adults and the children went back to end the rest of the morning, Maia was quietly sitting in her usual place in the circle, waiting for the teacher to start reading a picture book, the last activity before going home.
I found my shoe right beside Maia, put it on, listened to the teacher reading, and after saying our good-byes, Maia and I left to go home. Hand in hand as always.
Maia never bit my shoe again, but that was not the last time I despaired for parenting advice.
There’s a lot that you can learn from books. And now that the internet has placed so much information at our fingertips, there’s a lot you can learn from a simple Google search, as well. But there are some things that you can’t predict – some things that you can’t find in the glossary of a parenting book, or in the million how-to pages of the internet. As a parent, there’s only so much you can prepare for, because sometimes, kids can surprise you. Sometimes, even the most well-behaved kid can turn the tables, like Maia, pulling a Mike Tyson on my shoe. And in situations like those, the best a parent can do is improvise… and go with your instincts.
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