What advice would you offer a younger version of yourself? Parenting columnist Jennifer Bardsley wishes she could give her younger self a few tips. (Family photo)

What advice would you offer a younger version of yourself? Parenting columnist Jennifer Bardsley wishes she could give her younger self a few tips. (Family photo)

Dear 26-Year-Old Me: A letter to my younger self

Seventeen years ago, Jennifer Bardsley was a new mother. She reflects on that time in this column.

Dear 26-Year-Old Me,

You are doing awesome. Parenting a newborn is tough. Brushing your hair and putting on a clean shirt to take this picture is a huge accomplishment. I know you’re worried about the 50 pounds of baby weight you have to lose, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll walk most of it off over the next year, pushing the stroller through the neighborhood.

I can tell by the bags under your eyes that you’re barely getting any sleep. Your husband is an enormous help, but he can’t nurse the baby. That’s your job, every two to four hours, round the clock. Nursing hurts like hell and you feel wronged that nobody told you to expect that. You wonder if the pain will ever go away. No, it won’t, but you’ll get use to it. You’ll spend the next 14 months feeling like a human cow and the rest of your life being grateful that you were able to nurse. Grateful, not proud, because some moms want to breastfeed and can’t.

Let’s talk about that pacifier that someone gave you as a gift. Don’t be afraid of it. You think it will ruin your baby’s appetite, but it won’t. It would be a great self-soothing tool to share with your son if you weren’t so nervous. It’ll take you four years and another baby to embrace the pacifier miracle. Wisdom will come with your daughter.

Living in a small apartment with a baby is challenging. It’s amazing how much stuff one tiny human can accumulate. Don’t be afraid to return gifts back to the store. Space is precious. Babies don’t need a bunch of new things either. Used is usually fine. But maybe reconsider the hand-me-down, drop-side crib because that will be recalled in a few years.

There is nobody to help you but your husband. Thank goodness he’s a prince, always willing to change diapers, do bath time or rock your son to sleep at 3 a.m. Raising a baby away from your extended family is rough. You’re just starting to realize that. You knew it in your head, but now you feel it in your bones. In the dark hours past midnight, when you try to fall asleep after a late night feeding, you fret about how to solve this. Is making frequent visits to the grandparents the answer? You poor, naive thing. You have yet to learn how difficult it is to fly on an airplane with a baby. The right answer is to move to Washington.

There are hardships ahead. I wish I could say there weren’t, but they will wallop you. Right now your sweet babe is cuddled in your arms, but some day he’ll be the toddler that knocks all the books off your shelf for the fun of it. When he’s 4, he’ll flush a CD down the toilet. When he’s 10, he’ll do a back flip off the play structure at school and give everyone a heart attack. When he’s 16, he’ll get his driver’s license and you’ll have to trust that you taught him well.

But right now, 26-Six-Year-Old Me, give that baby a kiss on his forehead and enjoy every snuggle. I wish I could trade places with you for the day and give you a break, but I can’t. The days are slow, but the years are fast. You’ll be 43-Year-Old Me before you know it.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com.

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