This was something you couldn’t learn by heart out of a book–not that she hadn’t tried. (from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling)
I love this little tidbit about Hermione in the scene in which the Hogwarts students are first learning to fly because I so identify with her.
I have always been a by the book kind of gal. I love to read, I love to follow directions and then see things turn out as promised. I love the details and the extras. I almost never skip the acknowledgements, afterwards, or forwards of books. I am not one of those cooks who can just throw stuff together and make something marvelous–I am good at baking because if you follow the directions exactly, it turns out so perfect. I am uncomfortable with cookbooks and recipes that say things like, “Salt to taste.” I want them to tell me down to the quarter of a teaspoon how much salt.
Naturally, when Jon and I first decided we were ready to start having babies, I picked up books about getting pregnant and when we found out we were expecting, I had no fewer than seven pregnancy books stacked up on the bedside table. I followed all of the rules. No hot tubs, no lunch meat, no caffeine. I slept when my body told me to sleep. I exercised regularly but not too hard. I took my vitamins.
And then I had a miscarriage anyway.
For the first time in my recollection, the books let me down. I followed all of the rules and it didn’t guarantee a healthy baby in the end. It was something completely outside of my control.
So when I was expecting Benjamin, I didn’t crack a book for months. I listened to my doctor. I prayed a lot. I realized that people have been doing this for centuries all over the world without books. If I had an unusual symptom, I would look it up in one of the two pregnancy books I kept just to see if it was something that warranted calling the doctor or not. I stayed far away from Web M.D. In this way, I maintained my sanity throughout the wonderful months of pregnancy.
And when Benjamin was born, I had to learn everything from scratch. Breastfeeding. Bathing a baby. How to sit up by myself after a c-section. How to arrange my day around his needs and still get a shower. They do have books on all of these subjects, but I found myself unable to learn anything from the how-to variety parenting and baby books. Rather, I was fascinated by watching other mothers and by reading mommy memoirs detailing their triumphs and mistakes in the journey of mothering. I had read a booklet about how to swaddle a baby, but I learned how to do it by watching the nurse in the hospital room. And a few weeks later, I learned how exactly my son liked it by paying attention to his cues. It was wonderful.
The parenting books are so different in their instructions and opinions that it’s hard to know which ones to follow. It’s a “to taste” kind of thing and that makes me uncomfortable at times, but if I buck up and do it, I end up with something that works for us. I have a friend on facebook who frequently asks for baby advice from any moms who happen to be out there. I really admire her willingness to ask and sometimes I cringe at the vehemence of some of the opinions expressed. I always want to remind them that it’s not like baking. Everybody is different. We all like different amounts of salt. Some of us like to schedule strictly from day one of a child’s life and some of us like to let them nurse and sleep whenever they seem to need it. In the end, they all turn out pretty much the same. The only difference I can see is in what it does to your own stress level and the relationship you develop with your child. Trying so hard to follow someone else’s method is fruitless if it makes you crazy regardless of if it works for a dozen others. When you find what works for you, you find peace and joy in motherhood.
For those of us who like the rules and the guarantee of getting it right if you follow them, it can be uncomfortable to learn things by experience instead. But it is the kind of uncomfortable that is so wonderful because in the end, it feels like flying.