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From infancy to troubled adolescence

The Guy’s Guide to Surviving Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the First Year of Fatherhood
By Michael Crider
Da Capo, 192 pp., paperback, $12.95

Acquainted With the Night: A Parent’s Quest to Understand Depression and Bipolar Disorder in His Children
By Paul Raeburn
Broadway, 320 pp., $24.95

Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs In on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help
By Abby Ellin
PublicAffairs, 257 pp., $25

Now that my eldest has headed off to college, I find myself gripped by waves of nostalgia for those early years. Not that I necessarily want to spend my days in a sleep-deprived haze, or watch my 2-year-old dissolve into a writhing mass of resentment at a moment's notice. But I'd still do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

As would Michael Crider, I suspect. His book ''The Guy's Guide to Surviving Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the First Year of Fatherhood" offers a lighthearted and humorous take on pregnancy and beyond. This book would make a great shower present for a dad-to-be, who could well be heartened by Crider's admission that he's a ''sexist pig," one who has no interest in being trapped at one of these estrogen-laden events.

According to Crider, ''Men's attendance at baby showers is a phenomenon that probably began sometime during the Clinton administration. Men were taught to get in touch with their feminine side and embrace the diversities of men and women." Crider has no patience for it. According to him showers feature ''a lot of giggling women eating dainty little snacks. And all the while they're 'Oohing and Aahing' at tiny little clothes that have pictures of puppies and Sesame Street characters on them." A little harsh, but there's certainly an element of truth in this. Crider's humor is by turns broad, sweet, and juvenile. Under ''baby care worries" he jots down one I never thought of, though in Crider's universe it's eminently reasonable: ''What if I don't burp him hard enough, and no gas escapes, which will cause him to eventually explode?" Sometimes I laughed aloud, other times I chuckled, other times I almost took offense. But not quite. Because, like the rest of us, Crider ends up enthralled.

''You'll laugh like you never have before. You'll cry more than you'll ever admit to your poker buddies. And you will feel an overwhelming sense of completeness when you look down at your child sleeping in the crib." This book offers nothing except personal and experiential words of wisdom. But it's certainly a lot more entertaining than ''What to Expect When You're Expecting." And a lot less anxiety-inducing.

Of course, it's just a hop, skip, and jump from that angelic baby girl to the glowering Goth teenager, complete with nose ring, tattoos, and purple lip gloss. In ''Acquainted With the Night" Paul Raeburn covers teenage angst and then some. The book is a blow-by-blow account of his children's descent into mental illness. A memoir that doubles as an expose, his book details the years he and his wife spent trying to get first his son, then his daughter, effective treatment. It is a painful read, often scathingly and sometimes unattractively honest, particularly when Raeburn turns the lens on his own culpability.

At every turn, he and his wife come up against incompetence in the medical establishment and the limited options available to teenagers with true mental illness. ''Children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders are among the most neglected and mistreated members of our society," Raeburn writes. ''Of the millions of American children with emotional problems, only one in five receives any medical care." And the care those receive is hardly stellar. Misdiagnoses, faulty drug regimens, and a galling lack of insurance to cover necessary hospitalizations are among the pitfalls his children survive, but it's easy to imagine many who don't. According to Raeburn, this is a system that is dangerously ineffective. He makes a compelling argument.

Abby Ellin's ''Teenage Waistland" addresses a different but no less serious health problem, teenage obesity. When she was a teenager, Ellin's parents shipped her off to fat camp, but her weight issues (a mere 30 or so pounds of heft) pale when compared with those of her subjects, all morbidly obese. Ellin interviews a host of teenagers and their parents in an attempt to discover what might help these kids lose weight. She takes a look at fat camps, boarding schools, weight-loss programs, parent workshops, support groups, and surgical procedures. The interviews with her teenage subjects are poignant, and, to her credit, Ellin avoids easy answers.

One part investigative journalism, one part self-help, and one part personal narrative, ''Waistland" is intriguing without being fully realized. Her youthful subjects are refreshingly candid about their struggles with their seesawing weight, but Ellin's take on all this research remains elusive, quite possibly because all of these solutions prove ineffective. Still, this is a worthy subject, and the final chapter chronicling her svelte, opinionated, and weight-obsessed grandmother's battle with cancer is both eloquent and moving.

Naomi Rand's third Emma Price mystery is ''It's Raining Men."

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