I'm basically elbow deep in cake batter and trying to figure out how to film an "It Gets Better" video on my iPhone, so I'm re-running this essay because I love it. Unlike a lot of the stuff I wrote two years ago (when I was heavier, sadder, & sauced), it's actually pretty representative of how I feel so I only had to edit it lightly. Enjoy!
I've been plotting ways to get a baby. I don't want to father a baby; I just want to be around a baby. Sometimes. Today. Tomorrow I may want to be around a trapeze artist or a box of bagels. But today? Today I want a baby. I don't want financial responsibility for a baby; I do want to have the right to dote on a baby. Like a niece or a nephew. I don't want to have to change a baby's diaper; I do want to take a baby to New York for its 16th birthday. I don’t want to wake up to calm it in the middle of the night. I do want to post pictures of it on my Facebook page. I don’t want to change a baby’s diaper. Have I said that before? That’s because I really don’t want to do it. Diapers, I’ve been told, are like envelopes full of poop. I have no intentions of subscribing to that mailing list. I don't want a baby. I've been plotting ways to get a baby. I'd like to, maybe, Netflix a baby.
My brothers, like much of the free world, refuse to bend to my iron will. I mean, how many boxes of expired condoms do I have to mail to these people? True, wishing an unexpected pregnancy on either of my two brothers—both of whom are in their early twenties and just starting out potentially prosperous careers—is, well, rude. But it’s for a greater good: mine. My parents, too, keep insisting that the laws of nature prohibit them from giving me another baby sibling and they seem completely turned off by my suggestion that they just adopt a little Somalian diva (Zahara Jolie-Thomas?). I am, however, undeterred. I’m not a quitter. I never give up. Except on things that are hard. And things that I don’t want to do. And things that occur before 9 am, things that make me feel awkward, things that make me feel comfortable, things that require bending my knees, things that require clothing I don’t currently own, and the television show Heroes. This, however, is none of those things. I am resolute.
I am. I kind of want to be around a baby. For like an afternoon. But not in a creepy way. Not sitting next to the ball pit at McDonald's. Is this weird? I don't have a biological clock that I know of. So maybe this is all for naught. Like a phantom pregnancy. I don't have any actual plans for a baby. I don't want a baby. Maybe.
I don’t know why. There is nothing inside of me that is even remotely suggesting that me and babies ought to have anything to do with each other. I don’t even know if I like babies. I mean, they’re squirmy and awkward and helpless. They are essentially small versions of me. Babies, as a widely accepted concept, don’t make a bit of sense. Babies grow inside of you! They feed on human milk! Babies are aliens! They start off as an egg and a sperm! (Earmuffs Zahara). They are attached to a feeding tube at birth! They do not speak English! At all!
In my adult life I have only even held one baby. And that was a less than successful experience, to put it mildly. My friend Lisa and I were at a rehearsal dinner for one of her friends. Another of her friends had just given birth to the most beautiful girl in the whole entire world. I mean, this child is a miracle. She gets lovelier and smarter every day. Naturally, I am terrified of her. At one point during the dinner the baby started being passed around the table. As she neared me, I started looking for the nearest exit. I buried my head in my drink. I cut off my hands. Somehow, someone managed to thrust her toward me and so I grabbed her ever so gently and prayed. Hard. Lisa took out her camera and captured the moment.
How happy do I look in this picture? So happy. Like insane happy. Like the mother of those octoplets. The house all overrun with children and cats and plastic surgery bills and US Magazines with Angelina Jolie’s face angrily crossed out. Look at my eyes, though. You know what you see there? Bone-chilling terror. (The baby doesn't look too sure of this particular exercise, either.) This child is alive, I’m thinking. Anything could happen right now. What if there’s a fire drill or the Rapture or my hands suffer sudden paralysis? This is not a good idea. I stood up suddenly and started screaming, “I have the baby! I’m holding the baby!” I was essentially Sean Penn in I Am Sam. The mother-of-the-bride, who was giving a very nice toast at the time, gently asked “Can someone please take that child away from the special gentleman?"
My hands started to tremble and my eyes started darting around the room in search of a place to put the child. I was like the least coordinated 3rd grader during the final seconds of Hot Potato. Again.
The baby moved ever-so-slightly in my hands and I said to myself, Rowdy, you will not drop this most beautiful, precious creature. And so, panicked, I set her down on the table in front of me. Which is a shame because I had just filled my plate up at the buffet for the third time. What does not come out of baby clothes? Barbecue sauce. You know what also does not come out of baby clothes? Absolutely everything else. Hence, bibs. I’m not really sure why people even clothe babies. Just tie a body-length bib on it and call it a day. This makes sense to me. Here’s what doesn’t make sense: bibs on adults. Are people sitting down at Red Lobster, tying the plastic bib on and then pouring entire bowls of melted butter down their shirts? Eating seafood should not be a daunting experience.
When I worked at The Chart House people would always ask for bibs. And then act shocked that we didn’t have any. I’d be like, “Ma’am, you are on a fancy date with the Governor. Even I, your server, am wearing a tie. This lobster costs $100. There’s no way in New Jersey I’ll be tying a plastic bag around your neck this evening. You’re 57 years old. Work it out."
I suppose, then, I should at least learn how to hold a baby before Netflixing one. The looks of dismay around the table at the rehearsal dinner were a little embarrassing. Most of my friends have opted for bar tabs and beach time shares over babies, but it can’t last forever. And dear Lisa, it seems like every week someone else she knows is getting preggers. Sometimes I would look at her while she opened up birth announcements like she was the black girl in 28 Days Later. The last non-zombie in all of England. (We sometimes think we live in England.)
Not that parents our age are zombies. But it's contagious, the baby fever. Whenever I’d find her packing a bag on a Saturday morning, en route to a baby shower, I’d slip a surgical mask in her bag and whisper, “I’ll have my phone on me in case of trouble. And if they charge at you, go for the head.”
The world I live in is not a world where babies exist. Sometimes I wonder if the world I know ever will. It’s a strange thought, this sudden over-whelming desire to change the entire shape and size of your life. Not to mention the shape and size of your uterus. But, then, one wonders if its much a conscious decision in the end. It’s like Joan Didion says, “It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends.” One day you’re no longer a child. You're some other person, some adult, someone who wants to raise a child, someone who wants to sacrifice and plan. Somebody’s mommy, someone’s daddy. It happens, clearly, but it mystifies me.
This is one of the reasons I'm glad I have little chance of accidentally having a biological child. The thought of suddenly having to raise of child without, literally, years of planning drives me to near catatonic terror. A girl at my office discovered she was pregnant when she started showing. We were all pleasantly surprised and were eager to find out how far along she was. She came back the next day and delivered the news: in one day she had gone from being a childless 21-year-old to being 5 months pregnant. I started bringing my catcher's mitt to work just in case this clearly over-achieving fetus decided to cut out early. Can you imagine? She had, basically, a 4 month pregnancy. Where do you even start?
Children are like a college-level course in life skills. I am comfortable rocking my GED in that area. Children get the measles. And report cards. And they all have a strange smell from 3rd grade until 5th grade—it’s like erasers, sweat and suntan lotion. Children think the sky is the end of the universe and that the ocean is the end of the world. Children do not know what Saved By The Bell is. Children think the Jonas Brothers are cool. Children get sedated at the dentist do this:
This is exactly how I used to act every day. I'd wake up, count my fingers, scream and ask, aimlessly “Is this going to be forever?” This is not Daddy behavior.
Maybe something will change. I mean, obviously, something will change. Everything changes. Most of all my opinions. But for now, I’ve been plotting ways to get a baby. Maybe. But I think we’d just chill. I wouldn’t teach it about constellations or tying its shoes or help it find its nose. Not yet, at least. We’d just sit back and talk about how much we have in common. We both like naps and staring at the wall. Neither one of us understands how most things work. We can’t really walk without falling down; we cry; we want our mommies. We grow up so fast.