Have movies and magazine articles given us a skewed idea of what to expect from our close friends immediately after having a new baby? Is it the result of living in urban centers (we like to think our fridges would be filled with casseroles if we lived in, say, a small Texan town) or are our childless friends simply in the dark when it comes to what we actually need? (Is anyone else reading this in the voice of Carrie Bradshaw?) We asked our gal Kathryn Jezer-Morten to expand on our dilemma. Her answer to the problem? Google Calendar.
The summer before I turned 22, I got mono. I had just graduated from university and I was living at my mom’s in Vermont, working as a cook at a restaurant. The mono turned out to be pretty severe, and I was out of commission for a while. I lay in bed while the brilliance of summer blazed on day after day, and it sucked. But what I remember most from that summer is how wonderful my friends were. One drove up from New York to visit me in my sickbed. Another brought over a stack of movies and books. There were ice cream sandwiches delivered to my bed. What’s amazing to me about this now that I’m a grown lady with two kids is that I was living at my mom’s at the time, already being more or less waited on hand and foot. I loved them for it, but my friends were carrying coals to Newcastle.
I was reminded of my mono summer of love this past November, when I had my second son. Exhausted, destabilized and hungry, I could have used some of that excess of support as my family and I adapted to having a fourth member in our midst. (Note: To everyone who DID drop off food and stop by, thank you, I love you, you are wonderful, now please stand by while I make my point.)
I wrote recently that community support is often replaced by consumption, especially when starting a family. No doubt, spending ten minutes looking for a gift online and paying for shipping is easier than trudging over to someone’s house carrying something homemade, then entering their living space and trying to gauge how long they want you to stay. I think part of this has to do with our increasing obsession with the specific needs of young babies, which can be downright terrifying for people who don’t have kids. I suppose it’s no wonder everyone wanted to hang out with me when I had mono and no one wanted to when I had a newborn. There was no rogue element in my mono period. It was just me, in bed in my pyjamas, vaguely but not seriously contagious. Tell all the dirty jokes you want, I’d laugh at all of them. But me with a 9-day-old creature attached to my breast? What kind of jokes are you supposed to tell then? Do new moms even like jokes? (Hint: Yes.)
Another indication that time is more valuable than money these days is the success of online fundraising efforts. We’re funding our friends’ projects at breakneck speeds, but doing mildly inconvenient errands for friends with new babies wouldn’t even occur to most people. It certainly didn’t occur to me before I had kids.
What most new parents need more than baby booties and organic cotton swaddling blankets is time and energy. Perhaps instead of creating baby-gift registries on Babies R Us, new parents should share a Google Calendar with all their close-by friends, and ask that everyone sign up for a meal or a trip to the grocery store or just a “hey, do you guys need anything from the dep?” text message now and then, to bolster the family unit during their first month together. I’m no fan of Google Calendars — they stress me out A LOT, actually — but you get my drift. Having friends around the house might help new parents feel less anxious about their new babies, too. There’s nothing like company to help speed the return to normal life along.