Comes with instructions

As every long suffering wife or female partner will readily testify, it is absolutely verboten for men to read an instruction manual before plugging in a piece of technological gadgetry. Any male choosing to even remove the ‘How To…’ guide from its plastic will have his membership of the Men’s Union terminated with immediate effect, a punishment which also applies to any man choosing to ask for travel directions or for assistance finding a product in a shop. 

Clearly, this can cause problems. I spent more than half an hour attempting to hook up my laptop to the TV on Friday night, despite the fact that a quick trip to the basement and the abandoned pile of various manuals would have probably saved me all the effort. And I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve walked out of a store without the item I needed, only to find three months later that the thing I had expensively imported from Guadeloupe or Ulam Bator was on a shelf there after all. 

Call it stubborn male pride, call it fierce independence or call it bloody-minded stupidity (a title that The Special One is not without merit in using), but whatever it is, I just can’t help myself. Whether it’s a $5 piece of tat or an expensive hi-tech bit of kit, instructions may as well be written in Chinese, such is their value to me. 

Of course, children – our highest of the hi-tech gadgets, after all – are perfect for somebody with this kind of attitude, as they come without any kind of manual whatsoever, and you just have to figure it all out for yourself. Unless you live in New York City, clearly, where babies really do come with their very own instruction book. 

Don’t worry, the manual isn’t pushed out alongside your newborn; they tried that for a while, but they had problems getting the sharp corners through the birth canal. Instead the city simply sends you the instruction pamphlet when they postmail the birth certificate to you. It’s conveniently entitled “Your New Baby”, just in case you get it confused with the manual for your answering machine, and it purports to be from Thomas Farley (MD, MPH), the commissioner of the New York City Health Department. 

Not daring to risk my membership of the Men’s Union, but also not wanting to miss any valuable parenting lessons, I took the booklet to the smallest room in the house and settled down to bask in its glorious authority. I feel that there are some essential tips that I need to share with you all: 

1. Coming at the start, as page 1 has an alarming tendency to do, you have to imagine that page 1 contains the essential stuff that new NYC parents need to know – the vital facts, just in case you only read one page. The three points that the aforementioned page 1 mentions are “enjoy your baby” (a critical reminder when you’re changing a vivid orange nappydiaper at 3am), “talk to your baby”, and – of course – “limit TV”. That’s right, New York parents have to be reminded not to let their kids watch TV before they need to be told about trivial stuff like, you know, feeding and medical care. It’s no surprise that the “how to comfort your crying baby” section over the page suggests “turn down the lights and turn off the TV.”   

2. Apparently, you should “never shake your baby”. It’s helpful suggestions like this which explain why I never pick up instruction books.   

3. “Keep Your Baby Safe” is the helpful advice of one section. I think that Thomas Farley has heard that I can never remember in the morning where I put my wallet and keys the night before, panicked, and put this section in. Although if that is the case, I don’t think that putting the baby “on the hook by the door” is the solution to anybody’s problems.   

4. Does anybody really need to be told “Don’t Let Anyone Smoke Around Your Baby” these days? And don’t even get me started on “Keep Your Baby Away From Poisons”. Although to be fair, I’d accidentally left Brit Out Of Water Jr playing with a pile of arsenic when I went off to the bathroom to read this pamphlet, so I was mighty relieved that New York City was tipping me off to this inadvertent danger.   

5. In the 2009 list of The World’s Most Ridiculously Obvious Statements, “Be The Best Parent You Can Be” ranks only one notch lower than “Don’t Introduce Your Daughter To Tiger Woods”.   

Incidentally, the final section of the manual is entitled “Planning Pregnancy” giving details of emergency contraception usage among other things. I can only imagine that this is New York City’s little joke at the expense of new parents, gently telling them that if they’d only read this booklet then they wouldn’t be in this sorry mess in the first place.

The one thing I’m still puzzling about is where the remote control for the baby is. She makes an awful amount of noise when she’s hungry, and it’d be useful to be able to use the mute function. Of course, if we’d splashed out on the Sky+Tivo baby, I’d be able to fast forward through the diaper changes too, but you can’t have everything.

14 thoughts on “Comes with instructions

  1. Brooklyn

    Unless your daughter’s pediatrician is a witch doctor, or you are taking the “I’ll do it myself” thing to a whole new level, how did you avoid receiving “What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff.”

    Without that tome (whose publication statistics musr rival those of the Bible since Moses came down from Mount Sinai), how can you hope to determine whether your child is ahead of, on, or below the curve in bodily waste production?

  2. Brooklyn

    Expert or not, I cannot believe “What to Expect the First Year,” was not thrust upon your family, whether or not you spurned it or re-it distributed by the Brooklyn “box-on-the-sidewalk” method.

    It’s like Xmas music at this time of the year, whether you like it or not, there is no avoiding it.

  3. Kate

    Just had to say that I’m enjoying your posts immensely. I’m a Brit living in Brookyln, who just gave birth to a baby girl 2 months ago. It’s a all so true, but be grateful that they spelled your name right on the birth certificate. You would have thought that they would re-issue a new birth certificate. Oh no – they cross out the mistake and write over it, but you also get a letter that accompanies the certificate saying what they have done. We have the joys of the passport office later this week to get a rush passport to get us back to England next week. I’m sure that will be a lot of fun!

  4. Dylan Post author

    Thanks Kate – glad you’ve found the blog…and congratulations! We have to get a mistake changed on our two month old daughter’s birth certificate too, and then get a passport…in fact, are you my wife?!

    Trixie – better than ‘runt river’ surely??

  5. EiNY

    At Beth Israel, last month, we had to sign a form stating that we had declined to watch a video about the dangers of shaking a baby before we could leave the hospital!

    It’s a sad but, I assume, all too common fact, that plenty of NY babies go home to smoke-filled environments where they are not well cared for.

    Speaking of smoking: What the bloody hell are we meant to do when we go on our annual Christmas pilgrimage to visit the in-laws in Denmark in years to come? Christmas Day would not be Christmas Day without being forced to sit around a large table with a dozen Danes chain-smoking in front of their grandkids. It’s one area where the Danes, sad to say, are woefully behind the times.

  6. Dylan Post author

    I agree about the smoke-filled homes, Paul, but I’m not convinced that a small pamphlet is going to make those people change their behavior!

    Oh, and Brooklyn, our pediatrician would know better than to give The Special One the book, for fear of being beaten around the head with it…!

  7. Kate

    Dylan – maybe we just have parallel lives! I don’t know which part of BK you live in, but if it’s around the Carroll Grdns/Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill area, The Special One might be interested in a new moms (mums) group that meets up a couple of times a week. Would be nice to have a fellow Brit to commiserate with.

  8. Brooklyn

    “Lisa – we keep our milk in The Special One, so that doesn’t help…!”


    “our milk”? In that case, if I come over to your house for tea or coffee, serve it black, please.

  9. Mr Potarto

    I find the remote control is lying next to me in bed. When I hear crying, I jab at the remote control with my finger and after a bit of groaning it goes off and quietens the child.

    Re. “birth canal” – I always imagine an old colourfully painted narrow boat being pulled along the birth canal by a shire horse. I’m sure I’m not the only one…

  10. Brooklyn


    The remote control may be operated by less physical effort than Mr. Potarto’s finger poke:
    You should be able to work the remote control by feigning unconsciousness when crying wakes you in the middle of the night.

    It worked for me back in the day.

  11. Iota

    What? You thought “limit tv” was an instruction to parents? Oh my. Just how long have you lived in the US?

    It was an advertisement for the new parenting channel “Limit TV”. Watch out for the offers coming through the mail.

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