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Study-Hall Slacker

My wife wants me to read more. When she first brought this up, I eagerly talked about buying a hammock to spend my Saturdays in, leafing through old Archie comics, while she watched our girls. The look I received is the one she usually reserves for men wearing trench coats on sunny days.

What my wife, Susan, meant was that she wants me to read about parenting: What to Expect the First Year; Parenting for Dummies; Secrets of the Baby Whisperer; and all the parenting magazines. Ever since our daughter, Isabelle, was born almost three years ago, Susan's been on a crusade to get me to read more extensively about child rearing, and it heated up again when our second daughter, Lorelei, arrived seven months ago.

My wife has this crazy notion that with a little self-education, I'd be better equipped to bathe, feed, and put our girls to bed, not to mention handle baby-related emergencies. And she has this idea that if we have a united front in our parenting style (by reading the same stuff) from the start, it'll help us shape our children into decent members of society who throw their trash away and don't spit off balconies.

"It's not like I never read about parenting issues," I remind Susan. "Every month, I read Babytalk from cover to cover."

"You read your column or articles."

"That shows how much you know. I also read the letters to the editor, to see if anybody has written in about my column or articles."

Though she may have a point, I believe that what prevents me from immersing myself in parenting tomes is the same gene that keeps me from asking for directions at a gas station when I'm hopelessly lost or from referring to the instruction manual when I'm hooking up a DVD player. Obviously, I must be some genetic throwback to my caveman ancestors, men who wrestled mammoths with bare hands and didn't rely on assistance by going into a 7-Eleven or calling a 1-800 help line. I like doing things on the fly, figuring problems out as they arise. I don't read parenting books, I told her, because of how I'm wired. My wife has her own theory about my theory, but because of some of the language involved, I'm not allowed to print it.

Still, deep down inside I know that if I were hooked up to a lie detector or given truth serum, I'd admit that I don't read more parenting books and articles because my wife does. She carries the load, while I coast. My ignorance is bliss. When it comes to learning about our kids, I've been like the college freshman who only wants to take the fun classes, opting for the "History of Rock 'n' Roll" instead of bio-anthropology or finite mathematics. I'd sign up for the "Playing Peekaboo with the Baby" class, or the "Taking the Baby to the Park" class. In fact, I'd major in that if I could. But with the "Baby Has a Rash" or the "Baby Is Teething" seminar, I'm like the student cribbing off the notes of his lab partner. My wife, comparatively speaking, is the A-student, the teacher's pet who's on track for graduate school.

Geoff Williams is a Babytalk contributing editor and freelance writer in Loveland, Ohio.

Catching Up

In the end, I've probably fallen behind on my parenting homework because, at least sometimes, I'm scared: I never mastered the art of giving a baby bath (as I owned up to last month in this column) because I'm afraid I'll drown our children; I never read up on starting solid foods because I'm afraid of choking the baby; and I didn't study diaper-rash treatments because...well, okay, because it's gross.

But one evening I was in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner when I heard the sounds of splashing and giggling wafting down from the upstairs bathroom. Susan was giving little Lorelei a bath and  -- from the sound of it  -- they were having a great time. As I listened to the rubber ducks squeaking and the plastic cups clinking, I have to admit, I felt a pang of regret. I mean, which memories would I someday be more likely to treasure? Laughing and splashing with Lorelei, or cleaning the remains of Hamburger Helper off of our plates?

It may be a blissful existence to remain ignorant at first, but really, Susan is the one reaping all the rewards. There's definitely a point in which giving a baby a bath is one of the fun classes, but I've never stuck with my studies long enough to find out. I'm also finally understanding that it's a disservice to my daughters not to learn as much as I can about their physical and mental development. It's like sending them on a high wire with just half a net to catch them.

So I am making a pledge: I'm going to pick up one of Susan's books on parenting, read the section about baby hygiene, and learn how to give Lorelei her nightly bath. If that goes well, maybe I'll move on to the other chapters about rashes, temperature-taking, and that other intimidating one on gastroesophageal reflux disease. It will be hard to give up the Archie comics, of course. Still  -- who knows?  -- maybe I'm on my way to becoming the parenting bookworm my wife already is.

But first, I'm buying a hammock.