It seems that for most of the population, getting married and having children is a pretty cut and dry decision, with a majority responding, “Yes! Of course! What else would I live for?!” I did not fall into this category.
I grew up the youngest of three kids. I didn’t mother hen little brothers or sisters or cousins, and babysat only occasionally for a couple of neighbor kids who were so well behaved that they quite literally could have taken care of me. And by my sophomore year of college, I was certain that having children would interfere with my life plans, which at the time were:
- Drop out of school and travel throughout the US living in a tent.
- Travel to Europe and sleep with foreign men.
- Move to Key West to bartend, live out of my car, and guide snorkeling tours.
I accomplished the first goal, went back to school, met my husband, watched Under the Tuscan Sun and thought, “well, if this marriage thing doesn’t work out I might still have a shot in Europe as a divorcee,” and decided to save the Key West life for retirement. That being said, after marriage I was still uncertain about parenthood. I remember telling a close friend that there was a good chance that we would decide we were ready to have a baby the same way we had decided to get a second dog: by having a few too many drinks at happy hour and realizing that we really, really wanted one right now. Uncertain or not, I knew we would be as likely to pass up the opportunity to have a baby as we were to turn away the little mutt that showed at our home a few days after turning in a late night online adoption application to the local animal shelter.
So when we found out we were pregnant I tried to make up for my unease and inexperience with preparation. I read What to Expect When You are Expecting cover to cover, quizzed my doctors, and wrote down advice from friends. But it turned out that reading, writing and analyzing simply cannot prepare you to comfort a crying baby. It should have been simple, it was for the grandmothers: pick up crying baby, rock, hum, sing nonsensical lyrics, watch lovingly as baby drifts back to sleep.
The problem was that I didn’t know a single word to a single lullaby, was sleep deprived beyond belief, and had a baby that clearly knew he was in the hands of an amateur. I improvised the best I could, memorized the words to a couple of Bob Dylan songs and spent hours walking the floors of our tiny house and the sidewalks of our neighborhood in Minneapolis. And then one night while walking circles in the kitchen, that crying, pooping, wrinkled little man in my arms looked at me and smiled. I looked back at him and laughed in surprise. He likes me, I thought with amazement, he actually likes me! Dylan’s lyrics no longer fit the moment, and I searched my memory for something more upbeat. The only song I could think of in that instant was the 90’s classic, Baby Got Back. “Oh. My. God. Becky. Did you see the size of her butt?” I sang in my best white-girl rap voice. It was a long way from The Itsy Bitsy Spider, but it didn’t matter. I sang, we danced, he grinned. It was the first time I truly understood the joy of parenthood.