There are many things you are not told when they show you the door out of the maternity ward with your infant. It's probably for the best. After all, you just discovered that your placenta looks like a pepperoni pizza and now you'll never be able to eat one again - not because you're grossed out but because you accidentally saw the US Weekly on the waiting room table with Nicole Kidman's before-and-after pregnancy photos.
It is in this diet-clouded, sleep-deprived, nerves-stripped state that you find yourself talking to other mommies and daddies. You meet them in mommy-and-me baby swim class (where the baby only wants to nurse - and why not, they're floating right there!). At infant story time (which the baby sleeps through and yet you still sit through the entire reading complete with finger actions of The Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly). And especially at the pediatrician's office where, face it, every kid is snot-nosed and crying.
You learn real fast what the hot buttons are. I don't care how good at finessing things you are, if you bring up one of these topics, be prepared to be sentenced to the land where Every Opinion Is Law and dissenters will be forced to read all 700 comments on the Cookie website about the Amanda Peet interview.
1. Breast feeding. The rule is as follows: if you do not have breasts you are not allowed to speak. You may nod occasionally and tell the funny anecdote about the baby accidentally latching on to your hairy nipple, isn't co-sleeping great? But you may not have an opinion. If you do have breasts, by all means go Maggie Gyllenhaal and use them. Just don't get into a discussion about it.
2. Sleeping. Whether to cry it out or not. Whether co-sleeping is like tatooing S.I.D.S. on your baby's forehead or nature's introduction to bondage bliss. Whether BabyWise is child abuse or the best thing since Miracle Whip. It's a mine field. Avoid arguing about it and spend more time doing it.
3. Homeschooling. Kids need homes. Kids need school. How parents combine the two is none of your business. Yes I know you think their kids are weird. They think your kids are sociopaths. Everybody offended? You're welcome.
4. Vaccines. Would you rather your child die a horrible death from polio or get autism from thimeresol? Amanda Peet stepped in this one and is still dragging her foot on the carpet trying to get it off. Both sides of the argument can be summed up thusly: Dare to protect your child and the other parents automatically assume you mean theirs harm. You don't vaccinate? You're a parasite who's taking advantage of society just because you can't bear needles near your baby. You do vaccinate? You're perpetuating a system that poisons children for money.
Amanda Peet's real mistake? Daring to give other parents advice. She should know by now that the only answer is a wistful smile and a silly anecdote. Anything else will bring down the wrath of a thousand bloggers upon your head.
Follow Charlotte Hilton Andersen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CharlotteGFE