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The Moment You Know You're No Longer a Brand-New Parent

Photograph by Twenty20

To my old college roommate, who I was visiting after years apart, the slow, sliding door of my minivan must have looked like the opening of the gates of hell.

My family poured out with sticky hands and stinky bodies after eight hours on the road together. My husband and I creaked upright, trying to work blood back into our extremities. My 4-year-old tumbled from the car, sticky and hyper as a puppy escaping a cotton candy factory. The baby, 9 months old and sporting most of the contents of several squeezy pouches, desperately needed a bath and a fresh diaper. We’d even brought the dog for good measure.

By contrast, my friend and her husband had recently had their first child, an angelic 4-month-old with soft hair and big eyes. In anticipation of their growing family, they’d bought a large suburban home where we would be staying the night on our way back from summer vacation, catching up on lost time and meeting the new baby.

“Come in!” her husband entreated us. “Make yourselves at home!” Which was sweet of him, even though we were incapable of doing anything else.

My friend and her husband were tired and daunted new parents, but they weren’t yet exhausted, frazzled and outnumbered. Their home was cool, calm and dotted with babyhood props: a nursing pillow on the sofa, a play mat on the floor. Because their daughter is not yet mobile, magazines and telephones sat unmolested on coffee tables.

“This is great!” said my friend, cheerily. “It’ll show us all the places we need to babyproof!” As she said this, my crawling baby knocked a hand-held vacuum off a low shelf. Our 4-year-old grabbed a remote and began smashing buttons. “'Octonauts,' please!” she demanded. Our dog discovered their cat. My husband and I each grabbed a beer.

Through all of this, the baby of the house sat nestled in her mother’s arms, looking on and, I’m sure, thanking her lucky stars she hadn’t been born into THIS circus.

As I spouted frantic reassurances, I remembered my own early months of parenting and was thankful she didn’t throw us out then and there.

After dinner—their daughter eyeing us from a bouncy chair, mine most resembling hungry but picky pigs at a trough—the moms took the kids upstairs for bath time. I stripped mine down and tossed them in the tub as our hostess and her pink-cheeked girl sat to visit with us.

Which is when I remembered all of my 4-year-old’s rashes.

She has sensitive skin at the best of times, and it had been enflamed by a week of hiking, swimming and generally being outdoors. We had visited a pediatrician on our vacation, who had given us creams intended to prevent contagion or any other worst-case scenarios, but the angry eruptions still glared on her skin.

“Yeah, I’d noticed downstairs that she had some rashes …” my friend trailed off, warily taking in my daughter’s blotchy body.

“We’ve treated them!” I announced, apologetic and panicky. “All week! She’s just got sensitive skin! She’s not contagious! Or, well, if she was, she isn’t anymore!”

As I spouted frantic reassurances, I remembered my own early months of parenting and was thankful she didn’t throw us out then and there.

After bath time, we settled everyone down for the evening. Our older girl made herself comfortable on their sofa to complete her "Octonauts" binge and both couples made preparations to put their babies to bed. Our friends retreated into their room. I didn’t witness their routine, but I imagine it involved softly sung songs and snuggles. As is our wont, we lay our 9-month-old down, gave her a pat and left the room. She shouted for a bit as we grabbed our beers and took them outside.

About 15 minutes later, the new father came out to join us.

“I heard your baby crying and thought you were still putting her to bed,” he said.

“Oh no, she’s still crying?” I began to rise, figuring the new surroundings may have made it hard for her to get to sleep.

“No. Did she stop on her own?” he asked.

My husband and I smiled and clinked bottles. We may have some dirty, loud, ramshackle kids, but our experience has given us a few tricks up our sleeves. So, we did what any seasoned parent would do—we tipped back our drinks and took in the view of their lovely garden, each silently thinking, “That koi pond will never last.”

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