R. Solomon

Rich Solomon and his two sons.

It was just over two years ago in rain-drenched Seattle when my wife and I welcomed our oldest son to the world. Like most new parents, we attended a class ahead of time in order to better prepare for the impending long nights.

We just welcomed the arrival of our second — and decidedly last — kiddo earlier in March, another boy. Originally, we had no plans to take another parenting class. We’d only just done one three years ago. How much could it really help? Still, all children are different. We understood that the experiences we had with our oldest son — who hated pacifiers and swaddling, but rarely had outbursts and always slept through the night — wouldn’t necessarily translate to tiny terror No. 2.

The initial class we took was meant to be universal. The room was full of people from other cultures. While some of their concerns and plans weren’t applicable to my wife and me, there was a reassurance in seeing that new parents of all kinds share similar anxieties. Fear is universal, and it can run deep in new parents.

I was still editor of the newspaper when we learned that we were expecting again. Everyone I shared the news with was congratulatory — though their enthusiasm diminished when they learned this wasn’t our first child (it seems only first-time parents are targets for nonstop nosiness). More than a few asked, “Are you doing Jewish Baby University?”

“We took classes before,” I always replied. A response, but not an answer. My wife and I hadn’t fully closed the door on the idea of another prep course, but there were half a billion other things that still needed to be done, all clamoring to take priority. A refresher wasn’t high on the list.

“It’s not about what you learn,” was the response, followed by a clarification that “it’s about who you meet” and ending with an emphasis on “a chance to be a part of a cohort of other Jewish parents.”

Enough different individuals brought up Jewish Baby University’s parenting connections that we had to listen. Either there was actual value here, or we were being astroturfed.

“My daughter did Jewish Baby University, and my grandson in college is still friends with some of the other children he grew up with from their class,” one proud grandfather told me unprompted.

Having relocated from Seattle only a year earlier, a sure-fire way to make more parent-friends was appealing. Plus, our original class didn’t touch on any Jewish customs, traditions or perspectives.

So we went. Yes, we did encounter a lot of repeat medical information. Not everything shared by the guest speakers was new to us. And when you’ve been through the real thing the demo presentations lose some of their surprise factor. 

But hearing a mohel explain the circumcision ceremonial differences between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox families? That was fascinating.

I smiled when the class covered Sephardic and Ashkenazi naming. My oldest is named after my deceased grandfather. The two never met, but my son certainly inherited his great-grandpa’s stubbornness and extraversion.

And it worked. Now, I receive invitations to dad dinners and parenting extracurriculars. We have a private Facebook group to compare notes about strollers and post pictures as the babies are born one by one.

My wife has another mother she can text with when it’s 3 a.m. and she’s up breastfeeding. When exhaustion is a shared experience it’s diminished in severity. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m still under the covers, and I hear her wearily pad to the bassinet to feed a hungry monster.

Child-rearing isn’t meant to be siloed, where your family is on a separate island away from everyone else. It’s easy to feel melodramatic about the future when your newborn has been wailing for hours. Knowing that this is a shared experience across other new parents helps us see the forest for the trees and not lose sight of how temporary those sleepless nights are.

But if you’re like me and in a new locale, that built-in network of support is absent. So it can’t be understated how important is it to create new local connections.

The Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix’s Jewish Baby University helps do that.

And is it essential that you know how to keep your infant alive? Sure, they help teach you that too.

Both you and your child will benefit. Built-in playmates to socialize with as they age? Sign us up.

For perspective, less than two months since we first began JBU classes, I have received many more invitations and had more interactions with our cohort than I did with any non-family member during our first pregnancy. Either my circle is wonderful or my non-parent friends all thought I died when I announced impending fatherhood. Maybe it’s a little of column A and a little of column B.

So don’t cheat yourself, your spouse and your upcoming miniature dictator out of something truly great. As a parent who did it both ways with my two sons, I can definitively say that attending a Jewish Baby University class is one of the best parenting decisions you can make prior to your child’s birth.

And if nothing else, you’ll meet people to later commiserate with over what it’s like to live with a little tyrant. JN

Rich Solomon is a tired father and the general manager of the Jewish News. To learn more about Jewish Baby University, visit bjephoenix.org/programs/baby-university.