Owner’s manual (noun): An instruction booklet/user guide provided by the manufacturer with every baby contraption that is absolutely useless and should be tossed aside only to be grudgingly unearthed and unwillingly referred to after giving up on hours of frustrating guesswork.

Also See: An idiot’s guide to setting up a pack ’n play.

And THAT is the correct definition of a manual. You’re welcome, Merriam Webster.

Millenial first-time parents confront the user guide

As millennial, first-time parents, husband and I eagerly welcomed our new iGen baby and the sophisticated gadgets that it came with — the crib, the pack ’n play, the bouncer, the travel system, the car seat, the play gym, the steriliser, the breast pump, the bottle warmer, the bath chair, the changing table, the booster seat, the walker, the baby safety gate and the baby monitor. These are all everyday devices that the tiny creature required to be raised, nurtured, entertained, loved and fed.

Whether they were bought online or in-store, these devices came in the form of assorted puzzle pieces randomly picked up from the assembly line, rolled up in bubble wrap and sealed in compact boxes with cryptic manuals/user guides that were crammed with instructions, warnings, guidelines and disclaimers — clearly manufacturers of baby products assumed new parents were idiots.

It was when we unboxed the product did we fully understand why the insert was considered so precious. There were all kinds of guides: a few were small, simple with to-the-point instructions. Some like the user guide for the bottle warmer evidently believed in the trial and error approach and letting the consumer figure it out themselves. The baby monitor’s manual went from cold to just down right rude: “Open. Change battery. Close. Don’t die, jerk.”

Then there were the pessimistic, alarmists. Products and manuals that had ‘WARNING’ labels, a long list of DON’T’S and SIDS statistics written in BOLD all over it and were somehow still certified baby safe.

‘Children have STRANGLED in cords’

‘WARNING: FALL HAZARD’

‘WARNING: CHOKING HAZARD’

‘INFANTS can suffocate’

‘The APOCOLYPSE is REAL.’

Precisely what an already paranoid, sleep- deprived, inexperienced new mother needs to be reminded of as she rocks her delicate, newborn to sleep.

Then there were the enigmas — puzzle pieces determined to challenge notorious Ikea assembling with lengthy manuals that required the cryptanalysis skills of Alan Turing, a degree in advanced aeronautical engineering and a Worx SD Driver.

Written in fine print in the remote corner of the box was the warning — ‘ASSEMBLY REQUIRED’ — a perfect trap for novice parents and the ultimate relationship stress test. If you couldn’t set up a Pack ’n Play together, you weren’t equipped to raise a baby together.

Our game plan was simple. We would chuck the booklet in the drawer (safekeeping it for warranty purposes only) and Ethan Hunt, who also happened to be my husband, would roll up his sleeves determined to do the impossible. His mission, should he choose to accept (which he always did), was to assemble the said item but without the manual. He proudly claimed to be a man of Lego and Mechano. Manuals, a lot like asking for directions when lost, were evidently an insult to man’s intelligence. The only instructions worth reading and following were the ones on the juice boxes that said: ‘Shake well before use.’

Written in fine print in the remote corner of the box was the warning — ‘ASSEMBLY REQUIRED’ — a perfect trap for novice parents and the ultimate relationship stress test.

In short we were winging it. Like a determined toddler smacking a round peg into a square hole, we fiddled with pieces and pressed them together till they fit — testing their breaking points in the process. Eventually one of us would take a break to pop some bubble wrap — that would be me — and the other would unearth and reattempt to decode the manual — that would be him. A heated debate would ensue followed by a pathetic attempt at the silent treatment.

Then as soon as a piece would click together, we’d reconcile, reunite and resume with our initial strategy. In the end, we’d have our Pack ’n Play on all fours complete with the bouncer, bassinet and changing station in place just like it showed on the box. Only ours had come with a few seemingly spare screws — clearly extras or so we hoped.

A little pressure test, which included both of us trying it out, and it would be proudly (and smugly) be declared complete and fit for use.

There were some hiccups. A few times we unscrewed battery compartments only to realise they did not need to be unscrewed (admittedly not our proudest moment) and jammed the car seat between seats after giving up on the complex weaving of an intricate web of seat belts, safety harness and buckles that it required. And we were more than happy to return the knotted baby wrap that was designed for origami experts and those mastering the ancient art of Ohniamaki.

But we were content in our exciting and adventurous manual-free world, solving complex mysteries without scrutinising diagrams that had not been drawn to scale. It was when our infant wailed, and we struggled to decode his subtly non-verbal cues, did it occur to us that a user’s manual in his case would have been nice.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 30th, 2017

Opinion

Editorial

Debt trap
Updated 30 May, 2024

Debt trap

The task before the government is to boost its tax-to-GDP ratio to the global average by taxing the economy’s untaxed and undertaxed sectors.
Foregone times
30 May, 2024

Foregone times

THE past, as they say, is a foreign country. It seems that the PML-N’s leadership has chosen to live there. Nawaz...
Margalla fires
30 May, 2024

Margalla fires

THE Margalla Hills — the sprawling 12,605-hectare national park — were once again engulfed in flames, with 15...
First steps
Updated 29 May, 2024

First steps

One hopes that this small change will pave the way for bigger things.
Rafah inferno
29 May, 2024

Rafah inferno

THE level of barbarity witnessed in Sunday’s Israeli air strike targeting a refugee camp in Rafah is shocking even...
On a whim
29 May, 2024

On a whim

THE sudden declaration of May 28 as a public holiday to observe Youm-i-Takbeer — the anniversary of Pakistan’s...