Having a baby is one of the few big events in life that you typically don't practice in advance. We have rehearsals for weddings, plays, graduation, sports games, recitals. But when it comes to being a parent, we just read a lot of books, go to some classes to learn about childbirth, tour the hospital, and wing it after the baby arrives.

Not in my house, we don't. For one thing, I married an actor. He likes to rehearse everything, even dinner parties. For another, I've dabbled in theater myself and I know the benefits of dry runs. Plus I'm a true Girl Scout. My purse (and now my diaper bag) are always stocked with just-in-case supplies. I'm something of a fanatic about being prepared.

But how do you really rehearse being a mom? It's simple. Ever heard of a doll?

So there we were in the month leading up to my due date, the excited expectant parents. I was 8 months pregnant, but I'd had my hospital bag packed for weeks. I'd been keeping a $20 in my wallet at all times in case I went into labor when my husband wasn't around and I had to take a cab to the maternity ward. And then there was all the baby stuff we'd gotten as gifts.

My husband had already managed to put the contraptions together. But night after night, we'd sit and stare at them, wondering how they worked.

"Let's practice using the stroller," he said to me one evening after dinner. Good idea, I thought. Living in New York, we'd be taking our daughter out in it all the time. I didn't want to have to figure it out on the fly.

I grabbed my childhood doll, Franca, and sat her in the stroller, strapping her in. We wheeled her around the living room, the dining room, down the short hallway to the baby's room. But it didn't stop there. We pushed Franca in the stroller out of our apartment, down in the elevator, and out the front door of our building. We walked her back and forth along the sidewalks in our neighborhood. We practiced using the brakes, the wheel locks. We tried folding it and opening it back up. Passersby would peer into the stroller, poised to coo over another cute baby, and their smiles would turn to confusion, then amusement. Many of them laughed and pointed. But we weren't deterred. By the time our walk with the doll ended, we knew the ins and outs of that stroller. We knew exactly how to use it.

Next came the car seat. One weekend when we were visiting my parents in suburban Philadelphia, we decided to practice. Out came Franca again. We propped her up in the seat and tried using it with the base and without, which we'd have to do when we took taxis. We angled it the way you're supposed to to ensure the child's safety. We pulled the seatbelt across and buckled Franca in. We clicked the seat in and out of the bulky, gray base. At times we got stuck or stumped and were out there fumbling with it awkwardly. My parents and brother came outside now and then to laugh at us and crack jokes. Franca endured it all quite patiently, her wide blue eyes in a permanent glassy stare. By the end of that little rehearsal, we were pros at yet another important piece of baby equipment.

Other days found us practicing using the stroller and the car seat together, the swing, the bouncy seat, the bath. We drove to the hospital and back so that we could time how long it would take on the big night.

All this meant that when it was actually showtime, we were ready. We knew our lines. We were comfortable with our props. And that made the dramatic leap into parenthood that much sweeter. As for Franca? She now has a new friend who's just about her size. And she couldn't be happier.

How did you prepare for having a baby? 


Image via Lara604/Flickr