You have a new baby and your parental leave has begun! All those blissful weeks ahead of bonding and relaxing. My well-timed July baby meant lazy afternoons lounging by Coleman Pool and al fresco lunches with my unemployed friends.

Maybe I’d finally get around to painting the downstairs bathroom. Maybe I’d take up sewing. Maybe I’d make jam or learn how to infuse vodka with the fruits of our four plum trees. Maybe I would seek help for — what’s the medical term? Oh, right, my severe state of delusion.

So, none of that happened. (Unless the raccoons who ransacked our yard all summer started their own speakeasy.) Let’s just say there was very little “leave” in the early months of my maternity. I was terrified being home alone with my child and even more, wracked with panic if I had to take him outside. What if a bee stung him or he got a sunburn or someone coughed a few blocks away and he caught pneumonia?

Four weeks in and I was texting my boss asking if it was too soon to return to work.

“Are you even able to drive yet?” she asked.

Two years later, I look back on those 14 weeks with longing. I blew it. Granted, the New Mom Me was clueless when it came to caring for a newborn. New Mom Me was convinced she’d break her child’s tibia getting him into a new outfit. New Mom Me had no idea her child was about to be a whole lot of fun (which in my case was 14 weeks and one day. Not cool, Mother Nature.)

My time was not used wisely, but you can learn from my mistakes.

If you’re heading for leave or still on it, here are five ways to maximize your time.

1. Get It Together: Holy cats, babies require a lot of gear! I felt like Lady Gaga’s wardrobe intern given the amount of crap I was hauling. (Thankfully, no raw flank steak onsies.) Hitting the park half a block down the street required a steamer trunk and four valets. Or at least the $300 running stroller we used as a luggage cart the first three months.

Use your leave to get really good at leaving. In the early months, venturing out of the house required the following:

●  Several changes of clothes for Quinn

●  Several changes of clothes for me

●  Formula

●  Breast milk

●  Ice packs

●  Nursing pads

●  Extra bottles

●  Extra binkies

●  Blankets

●  Receiving blankets (different from blankets)

●  Burp cloths (different than blankets and receiving blankets)

●  Sunhat

●  Wool hat (The Pacific Northwest is all about layers!)

●  Socks

●  Diapers

●  More diapers

●  Extra diapers

●  Changing pad

●  Ointment

●  Body lotion

●  Nail clippers

●  Nasal aspirator

●  Bibs

●  Teething ring (you’ve all heard the story about the baby who started teething at two months, right?)

●  Diaper wipes

●  Hand and body wipes (not the same as diaper wipes)

●  Tide to Go stain remover stick

●  Toys

●  Stuffed animals

●  Hand sanitizer

●  Plastic bags

●  Nursing cover up (even though I would rather have Justin Bieber’s face tattooed on my sternum or even JUSTIN BIEBER’S BABY, than attempt breastfeeding in public)

●  First aid kit

I wish I were exaggerating about this. I’m pretty sure the elderly woman across the street thought I was leaving my husband the first time Quinn and I went out for a walk.

Yes, it’s super challenging raising a baby in the urban wilds of Seattle. It could be blocks before you find a Rite Aid! Of course there are things you should bring, like diapers and sunscreen, wipes, and food, but you probably don’t need 75 percent of what you’re packing. Whittle that diaper trunk down to a diaper pouch.

2. Fix Your Bed: No, this is not your mother talking. This is the easiest thing you can do every day to give you some feeling of control. It’s a facade, yes, but a damn good one. Hokey as it sounds, having one thing in order gave me faith that I could handle the day ahead. It usually lasted about twelve minutes.

3. Sleep When the Baby Sleeps: You’ve already heard this one, right? Maybe even thought, What a great idea! And then you brought home Baby and wanted to stab all those trusted advisors in the throat with a nipple brush.

Sleep? You think, When am I supposed to take a shower or do the dishes or pay the bills or write thank you notes or open the expired can of sliced olives that will serve as today’s lunch? Here’s a suggestion: WHEN YOUR BABY IS AWAKE! Get this — newborns? They’re immobile, not-to-mention a great audience. You can do all sorts of cool things while they’re awake and call it entertainment.

Behold! A magical box where dirty dishes enter and emerge clean! Watch as Daddy makes them disappear into cabinets!

Feast your blurry newborn vision on the deep conditioning bubbles Mommy summons in her woefully neglected hair before they vanish down the drain!

Listen to the dulcet sounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider accompanied by the rhythmic swooshing of the washing machine!

Basically, babies are cheap dates. They find the most mundane tasks innately fascinating. But just in case your child has more discernable taste, you want to add an exersaucer, activity gym, bouncy seat, or doorway swing to your wish list.

4. Learn How to Use All That Fancy Baby Gear: Two hours before returning to work is not the time to figure out how to use your breast pump. Instead use your maternity leave to learn how all those accouterments and accessories scored at your shower actually work.

My first attempt at the Moby was also my second to last. When we got to a pumpkin patch without a stroller, I realized I had no idea how to festoon a newborn to my body with sixteen feet of fabric. (The last attempt, involved an unfortunately timed bout of explosive diarrhea. His, not mine.) My husband and I spent twenty minutes in a muddy field watching YouTube videos and swaddling each other like mummies. We were way more entertaining than the hayride.

Turns out our stroller did have cup holders, the sound machine did have a timer, and the bouncy seat did convert to a napper. Who knew? Well, me I guess, had I read the manuals in advance.

5. Find Other Moms and Dads: Yes, indeed it takes a village and that village is filled with bleary-eyed, sleep deprived adults who would give their last caffeinated bean to have a grown-up conversation. Your daycare, if you have one, is the perfect place to cultivate these relationships.

Does your neighborhood have a Mom/Dad Facebook group? Are there any Meet-Up groups for parents and babies with similar interests? If not, maybe you can start one.

The benefits of seeking out fellow new parents are innumerable: commiserating, companionship, advising, babysitting, and most important, driving the support vehicle should you decide to take baby for a walk without nail clippers and a nasal aspirator.

(This post originally ran on PEPS.)

About the author: Shelly Mazzanoble is an author and playwright who has published essays and short stories with Scary Mommy, Carve, Whetstone, The Seattle Times, and more. Additionally she has published two books about Dungeons & Dragons. (Yep, Dungeons & Dragons.) She spends a lot of time writing about her two-year-old son and will continue to do so until he understands the meaning of the word “litigation.” Connect with Shelly on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog.


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