BABY P AND ME
When I was seventeen, I thought I was pregnant. I was only mildly perturbed, because while I'd always imagined that I'd have some kind of fabulous life after high school, it was still just a vague idea at that point. I figured my parents would be a little disappointed, but get over it eventually. I'd have an air of romance about me for a while, and then a cute baby to play with at the end.
I've been thinking a lot about that non-pregnancy since I've been playing fake housewife here in New England. I took care of lots of babies when I was a teenager, and never doubted that I would have a few one day (four, including one set of red-haired identical twins.) My plan was to get married at 25 and start having kids when I was 27. I worried that I'd be kind of old to begin such a thing, but I wanted to travel and live in the city for a while first.
I know I don't need to re-list all of the things I'd never done at the point in my life when I made these plans: drunk a latte, eaten Thai food, used public transportation, taken a taxi, spent more than a week outside Ohio...
I was always a good, accommodating kid. I lived with someone who became unpredictably and disproportionately enraged fairly often, and I learned early to keep quiet and smooth things over and volunteer to give up whatever privilege or possession I had that might save my sister (a rather vexing and provocative kid) and I from an eruption. I was easygoing and laid back. I rolled with it. It was a major part of my identity. I never questioned that it was the best way to be.
When I moved away at eighteen, it was like that scene in Pleasantville when everything is suddenly in color. I discovered a new, selfish side to my personality, and I made a new life to go with it. I still don't get every ting I want, but I get most things. The primary and most important gift I give myself is freedom from strife and demands on my time. I guard my physical and emotional space zealously, and I don't let anyone raise their voice to me or criticize me. (This has been kind of a bugaboo on the job front.)
This is slightly unhealthy, I know. I promise to go back into therapy as soon as I get insurance.
Anyway, I've basically fashioned a second, better childhood for myself over the last few years. It's worked out well. Giving one's twenties over to hedonism is as American as apple pie. But now that I'm turning 30 in a matter of weeks, being a hedonist is starting to feel kind of dumb. I don't drink much any more. As you've all been made painfully aware, I don't smoke. I eat a lot of vegetables. I read as much as I want to. I buy what i want, watch what I want. The most generous thing I ever do is take my dog for a walk.
Before I turn this into yet another essay about my sub-optimal personality, the kid question. One other thing I lost or abandoned when I left home was the baby lust I'd had since I was eight. People were already telling me what a good mother I'd be then. If I'd had that baby I wasn't pregnant with at seventeen, everything would have been fine. I'd have had some surmountable odds to over come, my family would have rallied around me, I would have stayed put in the town I was born in and most importantly, I never would have missed this other life because I never would have known about it.
Instead, here I am with my aging ovaries and shaky "career" and a sneaking suspicion that I'm not the marrying kind. My mom would probably be happy to help me take care of any baby I could conjure up with a sperm bank, but she'd want to do it in Ohio and I just don't see that happening.
Because I clap both hands over my eyes quickly as soon as the idea presents itself. Sometimes I get bruises. They're a good reminder.
I've learned two things about myself from spending all of this time with the adorable and demanding Baby P: First, I still have excellent baby wrangling skills. I mean, I'm good. I can always bend him to my will with my mad song-styling and distraction skills (and if you think that bending a 5-month-old to your will is nothing to brag about, my advice to you is to remain childless.) I mix a mean bottle, and I have the ability to spring out of bed fully alert if he cries out in the night, no matter how tired I thought I was.
Second, as much as I love him, and as unbearably sweet as it is when his face lights up as soon as he sees me and he lifts his arms to be held, I'm also incredibly grateful every time he falls asleep or reinforcements arrive. Babies, though they smell good and make amusing squealing noises, are a little tedious and stubbornly immune to rationality. They don't understand the importance of finishing the article, or reading until the chapter break. Sometimes, they cry for no reason, and quite frankly I like to be the only person in my household who is permitted that luxury.
Maybe I would have been better off maintaining my false illusions about the feasibility of having a kid on my own. I really wish I had a few more years of my twenties to figure this stuff out.