[Since this was written eight years ago, some attitudes have changed. Also, Helen Fielding has given us an installment wherein Bridget Jones becomes a mother, and from all reports, it isn’t pretty. I’ve refused to read it because I prefer the Bridget Jones of my late youth.]
Monday, May 29, 2006
It’s Memorial Day and I’m tired of thinking about the war dead, the high cost of crappy plastic cemetery flowers, and why it is everyone else I know has cookouts but I mostly have bowls of Fruit Loops.
So let’s talk about babies. It seems timely. The media can finally quit telling us that Baby Jolie-Pitt is about to be born, has been born, has been given the name of a Golden Retriever, has been made an honorary Namibian princess, etc. (The downside, of course, is that we’ll be back on Britney-watch.)
Also, in other celebrity baby news, it seems Helen Fielding, the author of _Bridget Jones’s Diary_, has just had her second child at 48. I like this story because it gives me almost a decade to keep motherhood on the table. I keep a list of “older” mothers just in case–at some later date–I need a role model.
That said, today I visited a friend who recently had her first baby. A little over a year ago the two of us got together for the ballet and dinner, where she confessed that she was thinking of having a baby but she really wasn’t sure she wanted to, had never wanted kids, had never seen herself as a mother, etc. (I encouraged her, for the record. It seems like a thing you are supposed to do if you can.) Then about three weeks later she wrote that she was pregnant and so she guessed the decision had been made. Before Baby, we met in bars and talked about men and what we wanted to do with our lives. Today we met at Bob Evans. On the surface, she looked as fresh and well-organized as she always has, but something was off. She seemed scattered and a little unsure of herself. She kept apologizing. She confessed that she knows nothing about babies and so still has no idea if he is exceptional or below average in what he does, though what he does mostly is chew things and smile. She said that while she used to think about climbing the corporate ladder, she now suddenly wants a job where she can work less than 40 hours a week and wear comfortable shoes. I felt both sorry for her and a wickedly envious. There’s this cocoon around a mother and a new baby that third parties can’t quite penetrate.
She’s younger than I am and I (being so very old and so very jaded) have lived through several of these get-togethers in the first six months of Baby’s life and it is wrist-slittingly tedious while the two of you try to re-navigate your friendship since you are no longer in the same boat…or floating on the same body of water. I’m sympathetic to how hard this transition must be for the parents. In fact, on a couple of occasions with close friends, I’ve enjoyed watching the transformation and hearing about the feeding schedule and quality of diaper contents and the features on the Bebecar Stroller (which costs more than my first vehicle) and how really, you just can’t be a GOOD parent without a Diaper Genie. I take mental notes so I can have rational discussions about things I know nothing about with whomever has the next baby. And maybe I take notes in case my ovaries are as hearty as Helen Fielding’s. Maybe.
I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool single people who “understands” the trials and tribulations of marriage and a childless one who totally “gets” what it is to be a mother, so admitting any of this is like blowing my own cover, but here it is: when friends have babies it totally sucks. At least it does in the early days because suddenly the glow of the spotlight shining on the baby is just wide enough to shine a bit on you and expose something you’ve never known before about your own life, which is this: it is silly and insignificant. I want to be clear: this has nothing to do with the mothers’ attitude. For instance, my friend today generously praised my writing and asked several questions about my life, but then when I went to tell her, the baby would coo or shake his stuffed cow and we would both stop mid-sentence and grin at him like a couple of idiots. She asked what I’d been up to, and nothing I’ve been up to seemed noteworthy. Perhaps if I was making scientific discoveries or brokering peace in the Middle East I wouldn’t feel this way, but mainly what I’ve been doing is eating Fruit Loops on Memorial Day and that hardly qualifies as news. I’ve been to Ireland. I’ve taught some classes. I’ve flirted with some men. But how can we discuss that when she so recently brought new life into the world and here it is sitting before us, filling its diaper?
We gave up after awhile. We made faces and weird sounds at the baby and assured each other regularly that he really is the most beautiful, smartest, and most cheerful baby ever. When I pulled away, he was screaming at the top of his lungs, his mother looked pained at the thought of the hour long drive she had in front of her.
I cranked up the Pearl Jam in my own car where there were no little eardrums to worry about, which is another kind of satisfying.