Matt Knutson: The things you learn after having 1st child

Published 9:01 am Friday, January 27, 2017

Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.

“A year ago we were slowly walking around the halls of the birth center waiting for Gracelyn to arrive, and today we’re chasing after a 1-year-old,” I reminisced with my wife as we wrapped up planning our daughter’s first birthday party. In a matter of moments, we became parents to an amazing little girl who has been keeping us on our toes ever since. I thought I’d take time this week to reflect on this beautiful chaos that our first year with Gracelyn has been.

I remember that first night in the hospital in the middle of the night while Sera was sleeping. I was holding Gracelyn in my arms since she was refusing to sleep in the hospital bassinet, and it really began to sink in that this little one was mine to care for, and my life was forever changed. Nobody is a better parent than you are for you child, but that first night, with the screaming and helplessness, I did briefly wonder how we could possibly do this. A year later and I still have those fleeting moments of doubt. Thankfully, our daughter typically times those moments with a ridiculously adorable yawn or giant smile and you realize that even though you may not feel fully equipped all the time, you can handle this moment.

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Here’s a few highlights and lessons learned as a new parent:

You’re not really in charge, and it may be awhile before you feel like you have any control over your life. Being a parent is one of the most selfless things I think I’ve ever done. Does Gracelyn need to eat, have her diaper changed, or require my help falling asleep? That’s all on us, and no matter what we’re doing, we stopped it to meet our daughter’s needs. As she’s gotten older, it’s gotten a bit easier, but we’re still running on her clock a good chunk of the time.

People aren’t exaggerating when they talk about how little sleep you’ll get. There’s also likely nothing you can do to prepare for it. I had anticipated the first few days of little sleep. I had not anticipated the following months. This little girl’s sleep routines seem to change faster than some of her naps, and adapting seems futile at points. We still try, despite her best efforts to spite us.

Babies can intentionally disobey you. At first I thought she was too little for this, but for real, she’s knowingly choosing not to follow the rules sometimes. If you put locks on the cabinet kitchens, Gracelyn will find the one that you haven’t installed the lock on and thoroughly enjoy opening and closing it, even if you’ve told her not to do it. If you take your eyes off her for one minute, you’ll find her in the dog bed despite some incredibly impressive efforts on your part to stop her. After a full year of calling her Gracelyn, she still pretends she doesn’t know her name when we’re giving her a warning. Most other times she’ll look at us as we call her, but not when she’s doing something wrong.

You can teach a child to love books. Our first Imagination Library book came about a month after Gracelyn was born, and while she had no clue I was reading to her, books are now her favorite toy. Whenever we’re sitting in the living room (filled with too many toys), our daughter simply brings us book after book to read to her. Sometimes I’m disappointed that she’s not too interested in the other toys, but my dad-heart grows three sizes every time she hands me a Dr. Seuss book.

Every day brings a smile. Now, there are definitely some days where you’re not smiling the majority of the time. I recall one day in particular where Gracelyn’s diaper leaked and she puked on Sera within minutes of one another. It’s hard to recover from a day like that, but even that day there were still many smiles. There’s something magical about being a parent. When you care about and for something so much, it becomes one of the most fulfilling pieces of your life.

Simply put, it’s been the best year. I’ve never been pulled in so many different directions and experienced so many different emotions. The journey of parenthood is more than about raising a child, it’s about discovering a new side of yourself, too. I’ll leave you with one more piece of advice that I take to heart – and it’s from another newspaper columnist.

“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money,” — Abigail Van Buren, of Dear Abby fame