Of course, one big improvement this time around is that I have experience. That is huge. The change in perspective can be summed up by my new parenting motto, uttered every time some little thing goes wrong: "They'll live." Another improvement is that we are now able to afford some hired help.
But there is more to it than that, and all the other reasons fall under one heading: Progress. In the five years since Samantha was born, our society has progressed so much that parenting is noticeably easier. It sounds fantastic, but it's true. Here are some things that seem indispensable to me as a parent now, which did not exist (or were very expensive or rare) five years ago:
- Amazon Prime - I buy almost everything from Amazon, and since shipping is free and fast (Prime is free for new moms for about 6 months), I don't worry about batching up my orders. The minute I realize I need something, from formula to a new nursing bra, I go to Amazon and order it. It's on my doorstep within two days. Not needing to bundle up two babies in the middle of winter for a trip to Target each week is incredibly liberating, not to mention the peace of mind I have in knowing that I'm not going to run out critical supplies.
- Online grocery shopping - This is a stretch because we used an online grocery service in Chicago in 2000 and New Yorkers have had groceries delivered forever. But the service we used in Chicago didn't outlast the dot-com crash, and we did not have anything in Michigan in 2006. I see that Netgrocer now delivers anywhere in the country (although the prices are pretty steep). Our local service here in northern Virginia is good enough and cheap enough so that Zoe and Leo have yet to see the inside of a supermarket. Do you hear me, parents? I have never had to take my babies grocery shopping! Ever!
- Zappos - Again, a bit of a stretch because Zappos existed before Sam was born, but I had never heard of it, and I think they started with just shoes, whereas they have all kinds of clothing now. Zappos (now owned by Amazon) not only offers free shipping, but free return shipping, which means that I buy all of my clothing online too. You have to rewire some brain circuitry to take full advantage of Zappos. Think about it: for the price of one pair of shoes, you can buy twenty pairs of shoes at a time, try them all on at home, and return nineteen pairs. Yes, you can.
- The Kindle - Feeding babies is pretty boring work. After a few minutes of bonding, you need entertainment. I don't like having the TV on during feedings, and holding a book one-handed, even a paperback, is painfully difficult. With Sam, that left me with magazines, and since a new parent's brain-power is reduced by about 50%, I couldn't handle anything more than Us Weekly. The Kindle gets all the credit for all the good books I've been able to read since Leo and Zoe were born. I'm not talking high literature - the brain-power problem has yet to be solved by technology - but detective fiction and mysteries...what an improvement!
- The smart phone - Besides reading, during feedings I often use my phone to check e-mail and Facebook. I've gotten pretty good at holding it and typing with just one hand. In fact, I take care of almost all my e-mail during feedings. That's my kind of multitasking!
- The tablet - I've finally found a use for my iPad! When I'm not up to reading or e-mailing, I turn to the iPad. It's too heavy to hold and use with one hand, but I can set it on the table next to me and watch streaming media or listen to audiobooks.
- Streaming media and audiobooks - Okay, these things were probably around five years ago, but the accessibility and selection is so much greater now, that they really count as new developments. How many of you were watching whole TV shows online or regularly listening to audiobooks in 2006?
- Digital cameras that replace camcorders - having just one photo- and video-taking device makes it much more likely that I'll take video at all, and it's so much simpler.
- Single-cup coffee brewers - Now affordable for home use. Need I say more?
Of course, there are many, many other incremental improvements. Our double-stroller is not a new concept, but it is much better than those sold in 2006. And our Honda Odyssey is just a new model, but it's the first minivan to allow three children to be seated in the middle row, all using the Latch system (the safest method of attaching the car seats). I don't think Zoe and Leo are receiving any vaccines that weren't available in 2006, but Rotateq was brand new when Sam was born, and the twins are getting Synagis (more important for preemies), which became available about a dozen years ago.
It doesn't seem possible that so much could change in so little time, but the wider context is even more staggering. Consider Dr. Harry Binswanger's brilliant exercise in perspective:
The actual living conditions for Americans of 1826 were essentially those that had obtained during most of human history. If you transported Shakespeare from 1600 London to 1826 London or New York City, he'd find little that was strange to him, only improvements on what he already knew. That would be mostly true even of bringing Aristotle to 1826. But if you took Jefferson from 1826 and transported him to contemporary America, he would think that we've become a race of gods. He couldn't even grasp radio, let alone DVDs, Mars rovers, Googling, gene therapy, and 3-D printing. Yet, it takes only two 93-year lifespans to stretch that 186 years.
In the history of mankind, an awful lot has happened in a very short time.
(Quoted, with permission, from Dr. Binswanger's e-mail list, HBL)
I imagine a not-too-distant future where mothers are making casts of their breasts so that they can manufacture customized nipples for their babies' bottles using their 3D printers, where there is a device that automatically removes the white part of a baby's fingernails, no clipping required, and where we finally have the "brain in the sky," as I like to call it - the computer from Star Trek that holds all the data you'll ever need, which you access with your voice and which talks back to you if you want it to. We're getting close to the last development already. We have Google, wireless access, and Siri. All we need now are the implants that allow us to get rid of those clunky input/output devices we call smart phones, and some refinement. That's when technology will have solved the new parent brain-power problem.
If you, too, look forward to such an amazing time, take note - you're living in it now. We are a race of gods.