Advice for New Parents

Dear Tricia,

When I was pregnant with Rosie, I went to a fabric store.  I had never quilted before, but I wanted to make a blanket.  Standing there in the aisles of fat quarters, I found myself drawn to certain colors and patterns: paisley, roses, vines, dusky pink, sage green. As I connected the baby in my belly with a certain physical vision of where she would live and what colors would tuck her in at night, I felt linked to her in a way I hadn’t felt before that point. She would be a little woodland sprite of a baby, in a magical midwinter’s forest - or she wouldn’t - it didn’t really matter, what mattered was that I found a way to connect to her when I couldn’t see her yet.

The quilt I'm sending you today is my fourth baby quilt, and I still feel like a total novice.

Seven years into parenting, and I still feel like a beginner in that, too. I think kids change too quickly for you to ever feel like you’ve got a real strong handle on parenting. But as I finished up this quilt over the last couple of weeks, I kept thinking that the things I need to remember to be a better quilter are also good advice for a first-time parent.  

It’s not like you asked for my advice. But don’t you know me at all? I love telling people what to do. Here goes:

Write it down. You won’t remember later.
I started this quilt almost a year ago, and then set it aside for a few months before finishing.  When I came back around to it, I couldn’t remember exactly how it worked. Had I cut the triangles this way, or that way?  Had I pre-washed the fabrics, or not? 

When you’re in the middle of it, you think you’ll never forget how old she was when she took her first step, what it was that made him smile for the first time, or when she finally starting sleeping through the night (note: the medical definition of “sleep through the night” = a five hour stretch). But I’ve already forgotten. It doesn’t have to be a baby book.  Get a small, inexpensive notebook you can carry around, and when something lovely happens, write it down. Here are sample entries from an old notebook: 

9/6/11 Instead of saying “yay” or “woo hoo” when she’s happy, Rosie says “yay hoo!”

9/14/11 Owen has smelled like a grape jolly rancher since the day he was born.

Trust your instincts. 
My quilt squares were not coming out right.  I followed the instructions, but still the corners weren’t matching.  So I re-read the instructions, tried again, and failed again. I abandoned the instructions. Instead, I tried to understand what was underneath the instructions. I tried to understand the project holistically rather than as a series of steps, and then I trusted my instincts.

If he’s not sleeping, or won’t stop crying, or wants to eat every twenty minutes, go back and check the book. Call your mom, ask Google and Facebook. But in the end, your baby is a person, not a project, and people don’t always go by the book. We’re unpredictable and individual. Sometimes following all the right steps just doesn’t work.

If the expert advice is failing you (and honestly, so much of the "expert" advice is contradictory, depending on which experts you ask), trust your instincts.  God chose you to be your baby’s mother, and that tells me that you are the most perfect mother in the world for your particular baby. 

For me, sewing is play: I try things I’ve never tried before, even -and especially- when I don’t exactly know what I’m doing. I like to experiment and see what happens. 

See where those points don't match up?  Hopefully this is not the end of the world.

See where those points don't match up?  Hopefully this is not the end of the world.

Tricia, I basically never know exactly what I’m doing when I’m parenting, and I’m guessing this is true for most of us. It’s all experimental. If you’re hoping to do it perfectly, you’re going to need to adjust those expectations. Just experiment. Play. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes and that, most of the time, these mistakes will not be the end of the world.

Get comfortable.
Sometimes your iron will burp up rust-colored steam and water droplets, staining your white fabric for good. Sometimes your baby will do the same, minus - hopefully - the steam. Parenting is a messy business.

You might be one of those people who feels an immediate bond with her baby, an overflowing well of love at first sight. That doesn’t happen to everyone, though, and that’s ok too. For some of us, love grows more slowly, as we get to know our kids, and deepens over time. 

You might be someone for whom mothering is all rainbows and lollipops. Or, you might find, in the early months of motherhood, that you are slipping into the darkness of postpartum depression. Statistics suggest that one out of five new moms does suffer from some form of it. Be kind to yourself. 

Quilts are about comfort, after all. They’re about warmth and cuddles and naps and taking bits of old scrap fabric and making them into something new and beautiful. They are about grace and transformation, not perfection; honestly, I think that’s what parenting is mostly about, too.

We don’t know yet if your little one is a girl-child or a boy-child, so I made this quilt less with gender in mind and more with you in mind - to me these colors and happy prints are all you. If they don’t suit your firstborn, feel free to save this quilt for your second, or pass it on to a niece or nephew.

Love always,