Friday, November 9, 2012
On Babies, and Confessing to an Abiding Disinterest in Same
About two years ago, I looked around, mentally tilted my head to one side thoughtfully, and said to myself, All of these people are going to start having babies pretty soon. I started joking to R that we're going to need to make a new batch of friends.
Two years ago, the first of our married couple friends had a baby girl.
Eighteen months ago, a good friend reported an unexpected pregnancy, now my eleven-month-old fairy godson.
A year ago, my cousin and sister waved around sonogram images.
Approximately six months ago, the first baby girl's parents had twin boys, and no fewer than three other sets of married friends announced upcoming births.
All those weddings that happened over the last five years? Warning signs. Big red fucking flags.
Chatting online with R tonight (he's been on another continent for the last six weeks), I repeated, jokingly, that we need to get cracking on these hypothetical new friends, given that three babies are due to arrive after the new year.
Secretly? It's not really a joke.
Secretly? I don't really like children very much. Yes, I have one, and yes, I was a early childhood substitute teacher at our Waldorf school for a year, and yes I know what to do with an infant. Yes, I can recite A. A. Milne poetry with the best of them. Yes, babies are indeed quite adorable, some of them anyway. But that doesn't mean that I want to be around them very much or come into contact with any of their bodily fluids or excretions. Or their food, for that matter, as it stinks and usually is found smeared in inexplicable and unexpected places.
The thing is, mine is grown up, almost, and I am both glad about and ready for that. I've made a point enjoying her tremendously at every stage while simultaneously refusing to look back. I've never wished Twelve back a stage. I'm okay with other seventh-grade-sized children in small doses, but I'm just not interested in the smaller ones, for a variety of legitimate and completely morally indefensible reasons. Babies are cute for about seven minutes, and then, since they are still doing pretty much the same thing that they were doing seven minutes ago, they get boring fast. As soon as they can scoot around, they start to mess things up, literally (as in the wanton destruction of whatever's within reach) and figuratively (as in no more casual last-minute evening plans with their parents). They're annoying, they interrupt constantly (often deploying one or more bodily fluids in the process), and they often make terrible noises for no discernible reason. When they become coordinated enough, some of them even touch you without permission, something I find discomfiting even when bodily fluids and food residue are not involved. The bottom line is that kids are gross; have I mentioned that kids are gross?
I know, I know, the parental pot is calling all the other parental kettles black. Am I not allowed to do that, since mine is thirteen and her impact on my life is fading? That's not accurate, actually, given that between volleyball, physical therapy, orthodontist appointments, and riding lessons, I'm not sure that my calendar has ever been more dominated by child-related entries. But those things feel more like things that you do with other people and less like things involving children.
I'm loving barreling down the tracks of adolescence and keeping one eye on the light at the end of the tunnel at the same time. I recommend this approach, actually, because it's realistic and because, let's face it, it's working pretty damn well with Twelve (n = 1). As I told my sister the other night, our whole job as parents is to make ourselves unnecessary. We've got eighteen years to do this, but woe to the parent who waits to start that process until the week before high school graduation.
I did not have to start moving Twelve intensely in that direction quite as soon as some; one of the things for which I will be forever grateful to the universe is that I was able to stay home with Twelve for almost her first two years. Mind you, I was married to a douche canoe and we lived in the basement of his grandparents' house (in which his father also lived), but the reason they're called silver linings is that they shine brightly in clouds of total shit, and even though the carpeting was orange shag and the grandmother's shrill harping audible, my whole life was devoted to the care and feeding of Twelve, and I loved it.
I find Tillie Olsen's short story I Stand Here Ironing incredibly moving because it reminds me that Twelve and I were given a tremendous gift that too many mothers and daughters aren't: The mental, emotional, and financial freedom to nurture and be nurtured. Between the reminder that being able to give my daughter the gift of nurturing care was and is only possible because I was given the same gift by my mother and the reminder that I must carry a deeply-felt burden of respect for those who are denied that experience, that story gets me every time.
Just because I spent the first year of the new millennium contentedly with my baby does not mean that I want to repeat that process with everyone else' babies. Wearing my Minored in Philosophy hat, I can justify this by pointing out that when I had a small child, I spent time with a) people with children, b) people who liked children, and c) no one, so it is not inconsistent of me to be uncomfortable with children now. When Twelve was old enough to interact with adults with minimal obnoxiousness, I took her into more and more adult-oriented spaces and invited child-free adults to participate in our life to the extent they wanted to. If someone had chosen not to become part of our lives because they didn't like children, I'm not sure I would have noticed, but if I had, I would have figured that I didn't really care what they thought anyway.
The problem is that I still like the people who are reproducing so prolifically, and I'd rather not write them off entirely. I'm just afraid that their lives are going to change so much that we won't fit into them anymore unless we participate in all of the smeary, stinky, noisiness of childhood. Many of them are friends with each other, peripherally at least, which means that our group social events are going to become more and more kid-oriented, just as my life becomes less and less so. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, I'm just not particularly interested.
Ugh. I may be the worst person on the planet. I'll think about it some more and try to decide if I care, and hopefully no one will smear mashed squash on my couch in the meantime.