I’m tempted to go into a long, philosophical commentary on the magic and unexpected joys of finding out you’re going to be a parent the first time.
But the truth is, one morning before your trip to San Diego with your husband (or whoever), you’ll tell yourself “my period’s late. I wonder if I should bother packing tampons.” Then you’ll go to the bathroom alone, pee on a stick and wait for what seems like the longest minute of your life to examine said stick’s result. Turns out you won’t need to pack tampons.
The anxiety begins that second. Am I walking right? Should I be talking this loud? Am I eating enough vegetables? Is living near the freeway going to cause a birth defect? All of it. And then you remember how much you hate other people’s little kids, and maybe you should have thought this whole baby thing through before you got knocked up (even though for the past year you’ve developed a strange penchant for taking care of living things like plants and fish to fill the void of a baby in your life).
But wanting a baby didn’t seem like a good enough reason to actually have one.
Case in point: other parents. There are those who warn other couples – verbatim – to “Enjoy your freedom now because everything changes when you have kids,” or “You really need to work on your marriage and sex life because once you have kids, you won’t have time for either.” All they’d conjure up is an image of a loveless, sexless marriage spent in sweatpants talking to other mommies about how “totally worth it” our stretch marks are.
“No, but seriously, it’s great…really a blessing,” they add, panicked that anyone would suspect they don’t love their children. “In fact, we want twelve more. Don’t we, honey?!”
It all seems kind of masochistic.
For practice, I bought a betta fish and brought him home only to find him out of his bowl, on the table, with a look of defeat on his orange face. My niece had warned me I had filled his bowl with too much water. “He’ll jump out and die,” she screeched. I had thought, “Who died and made you the Fish Whisperer?”
But it turned out that she was right, and I’m an asshole.
If I’m this incompetent as an owner of the most low maintenance fish, what am I going to be like as a mother in charge of a human baby? What if I forget to feed him or give him enough sunlight? What if I drop him or take the wrong baby in a cart at Target? And if I do take the right baby, what if he grows up to be a jerk, or a drug dealer, or worse – those guys who wear Ed Hardy shirts and smoke E-hookahs (not ironically)?
And unlike the hapless betta, if something does happen to my son, I can’t run to Petco next door and buy another baby that looks exactly the same, and never tell my niece what happened with the first one not only because I don’t want to break her heart, but really because I don’t want her to judge me.
The overly dramatic inner turmoil didn’t end there. I needed to make a pact with my husband not to turn into “those parents.” The ones who inundate Facebook feed with details of their kid’s bowel movements or hold friends hostage until they hear a “funny story” or watch a 45-minute clip of their kid’s terribly boring dance recital to some horribly inappropriate Niki Minaj song.
And for a long time I thought this indifference (OK, fine, malevolence) meant that I’m not meant to be a mother, not a good one at least, and was mildly alleviated when I was told “You just hate other people’s children,” by emphatic friends. “You’ll love your own.”
And a part of me honestly believes this triteness. And for good reason.
After college, when I was trying to “find myself,” I ended up finding myself at my sister’s house, crashing in her guest room. “Just a few months” turned into four years, and before I knew it my two nieces – then 3 and 6 years old – pretty much owned me. Looking back, I realize I had experienced everything I hear parents complain about.
I’ve been screamed at, sneezed on, knocked head first into a mirror. I’ve made breakfast, lunch and dinner, and remade them if they weren’t the right shape, color or texture (which they never were). I’ve woken up in a cold sweat because a big red dog named Clifford was going to crush me with his big red paw, and dressed up to attend funerals for both real and pretend pets. I’ve helped with the mundane school drop-offs and pick-ups, stayed up late to engineer ginger bread houses, supervised play dates that turned into a tampon arts and crafts workshop, chatted with highly medicated yoga moms, and volunteered at school events where I was reprimanded by a 9 year-old vegetarian for offering him a hot dog.
I’ve also come home to heart-shaped cheese sandwiches, treated to “spas” with questionable homemade soaps and an impromptu concert of their hit single “Orly is the best aunt ever” performed on stainless steel kitchen appliances. I’ve held these little girls, read to them, kissed them and listened to them seriously lament the many injustices Squidward faces in Bikini Bottom.
And I realize these kids have heart. Sometimes lice. But mainly: heart.
They’re the reason I’ve learned that unconditional loves exists. I learned that someone can drain you of all your physical abilities and drive you to the point of not even recognizing yourself as an individual who deserves more than leftover mac n’ cheese and a soggy bagel. That when you lose one of them at the Rose Bowl, you swear to become religious and donate to some polar bear fund–if only the God you sometimes believe in (when you’re desperate) would make sure you find her safe and sound.
You love her so much, and also really want to avoid making that call to her mother. Dear sister, on a scale of one to ten – ten being the highest – how upset would you be if I lost one of your kids, for like ever?
Of course, I know the plight of a parent is far greater than an aunt’s, yet I imagine this is what parenthood feels like (and maybe war): emotionally and physically exhausting, but you’re bound by duty and love. The best I can do is to make sure my kid grows up to be a happy, compassionate and smart individual who’ll recycle and contribute something meaningful to society.
I know I will be one of those overly proud parents who–even covered in pee and spit-up–will swear that this is the greatest experience of my life. I know this, because I’m already anticipating his arrival by reading to him every day, cleaning and organizing the house. I don’t want him to think he’s moved in with a couple of savages who can’t get their shit together.
Sometimes I’m emotionally wiped, crying during a moving Subaru commercial with my mouth full of mango sorbet while simultaneously rubbing my belly with coconut oil for the third time that day. The anxiety of parenthood is sometimes overwhelming, but the reward I suspect – I hope – is greater.
Wonderfully hilarious and fantastically written piece. Makes me thankful to be an Auntie!
The important thing isn’t to panic now and try to cram in all that stuff those doomsdayers tell you is about to be lost forever, the important thing is to realize in the midst of arguing over sleep training that you’re still the same people as adults, and that you’re a team despite and because of this adorable, amazing, screaming little tyrant. It’s going to be okay, even way better than okay.
I love every word of this.
Fab post and a wonderful reminder of the moment I saw the stick, after years of trying to conceive, and suddenly thought: OMG what have I done! I don’t want to be a parent! (and don’t worry, that all changed when I saw that smooshed up face for the first time!)
Great post! I just passed it on to a friend of mine, who is pregnant and was just complaining yesterday about how people seem to be trying to bring her down with their unsolicited words of wisdom and doom! Enjoy it. Do it your way and ignore the “seasoned” parents when they warn you about the state of your future. It will be awesome.