They tell you surprisingly little before sending you home from the hospital with your squishy little baby.
I mean, we took the classes. But that was sort of like a weekend seminar on astrophysics. Then at the end someone says, “Here’s a rocket, you two. Put it in a stable orbit around Jupiter.”
OK, we’ll try.
One thing that seems obvious, however, is that you should never stick your baby in a snowbank. It’s right up there with “Do not leave your baby in a hot car,” and “Your baby is not a hammer.”
It would further seem that if you’re going to put a baby in a snowbank you shouldn’t do so overnight. Or, for that matter, when the temperature dips to 30 below zero.
But during a recent cold stretch here in Northern Minnesota my wife and I laid in our warm bed wondering about our baby, who was currently in a snowbank. The temperature was 36 below. It felt like we had one job, and we blew it.
Of course, the baby is question is almost 14 now. I suppose I should mention that. He’s as tall as me and has advanced farther in Boy Scouts than I ever did. Mostly on account of his ability to tie knots that don’t look like a pair of headphones shoved into a desk drawer.
And technically speaking we didn’t put Henry in that snowbank. He wanted to go there. He dug the snow shelter. Ensconced in layers of moisture-wicking clothing and heat trapping sleeping bags, he got a solid eight hours of sleep in his insulated quinzee. In other words, he slept better than we did.
He gets a badge. We get more gray hairs.
In fact, our oldest son would rather sleep outside all the time. He spends hours in the woods, photographing wildlife and finding wood to carve. All seasons. All conditions. Every day he does things that could kill him. And he isn’t even driving yet. Only now do I realize the full weight of parenthood. You really have to read the fine print.
But I’m also learning from Henry. For one thing, curiosity over what he might be doing in the woods pulls me off the clear pathways into nature. We’ve both taken an interest in birds, and sometimes compare what we’ve seen. And there are few who know the shame of a teenager telling his parents, “Jeez, mom and dad, get off those phones and let’s go do something.” We’ve heard this more than once.
Henry’s recent sub-zero sleepover also gave us the valuable gift of perspective. It’s hard to complain about the cold next to a kid who’s ready to climb Denali. Maybe the old mattress is OK. After all, the boy is sleeping on a bed of parking lot ice chunks. Maybe life’s greatest challenges can be overcome with the right preparation and attitude.
And those challenges include parenting. Each of our three boys is unlike the others. Henry is a latter day Jeremiah Johnson. His brothers, however, share the family trait of preferring fleece blankets and warm houses. Doug loves art and baseball. George digs math, video games and coding. Every snowflake crystal is unique and beautiful. Only when lumped together do we become something as mundane as snow.
The baby survived the snowbank because we don’t have babies anymore. We parents survive, even though our former babies grow up to do cool, dangerous and amazing stuff without us. We keep the furnace running. The house is warm. If we’re lucky they’ll come home. We’ve been pretty lucky.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).