The first time I held my niece Sarah, she pooped on me. I would have thought that it was kind of cute but her brother Henry did the same thing to me when he was an infant so I can’t help feeling that they’ve been coached.
Obviously, I don’t have kids. Don’t get me wrong – I think having children can be a wonderful thing. It’s just never held any interest for me. When I was a little girl, my friends would talk about how many kids they’d have someday, and what they’d name them, and I’d think, “We’re in the second grade. I can’t deal with that. Let me learn long division first and then we’ll discuss.” I dreamed about having good friends, a nice house, or maybe talking to Johnny Carson, but the idea of kids just wasn’t on the agenda.
Consequently, I’m not all that comfortable around babies. I think they’re adorable, but they make me a little nervous. They stare at you with those little eyes, like they know you haven’t called your mother recently, and frankly, they’re a tad disappointed in you. And they’re always a little sticky. Fresh out of the bath, smelling like powder, and…a little sticky. At some point I get the inevitable question: “Do you want to hold her?” If I’m not related, I usually decline. But with my niece and nephew, I had to give it a go. And it’s unbelievably awkward, which is weird because I know how to hold things, generally. But one little nine-pound baby, and I feel like I have two right hands and I just know that I’m doing it wrong. I’m positive that if I shift my weight one tiny bit to the right the baby will go springing out of my hands, making me feel like a nervous student on Day Two of a “How to Juggle Chainsaws” home-study course. So when I first held Henry I was as stiff as a board, and he gave me a look that said, “You have got to be kidding me.”
I know, I know. It’s just a baby. I need to get over myself and get comfortable with it. Or maybe people need to stop handing me their children. I don’t really like to pick up my cat, either.
Look, babies are adorable. I unabashedly love baby feet. I like picking out baby clothes. But I do not enjoy discussing the actual babies at length, much less the birthing stories. And it’s a tough situation, because most new mothers do. Not really having much to contribute to the inevitable conversation, I’m forced to continually stifle my inner monologue:
“And then the pains started shooting through my whole body…”
“Then they had to CUT (insert very personal body part here)…”
I don’t want to.
“There was blood and goo everywhere…”
For the love of Mike.
“I was afraid I was going to poop!”
We’ve just met.
“The first time I used a rectal thermometer…”
I’m begging you.
“He spit up all over me. And I couldn’t figure out why it was green…”
Is he an alien? Just a theory.
“You want to hold him?”
And these exchanges always, always happen with women I don’t know very well. Why? Are they trying to get me to see what I’m missing? If so, rock on and message received. My actual friends don’t do this. My childless status is probably a bit of a relief to them, and I like to think that they know that they can call me at any time and I will never start the conversation with the words, “Can I call you back? I just got peed on.” A big problem here is that due to my lack of comfort around the wee ones, I tend to talk to them as if they were tiny adults. The first time I met my friend Isabelle’s baby, I actually tried to shake hands.
“Um, how do you do?” I said, stiffly. “Um, he appears to be leaking.”
“Oh, sorry about that. He’s teething. Here,” she said, handing me the baby. “Let me go get a bib.”
So there I stood, holding little Aaron in front of me like a bag of flour. Face to face, I felt the need to fill the awkward silence.
“So, how do you like the Sox this year?”
It doesn’t help when parents dress their children like tiny adults. Isabelle had a baby-sized corduroy jacket hanging in Aaron’s closet, and honest to God it actually had elbow patches on it. Give him a little briefcase and he’d be my Uncle Saul.
“It’s adorable,” I told her. “But where’s he going to wear it? Court?”
It doesn’t get easier when they get a little older. My nephew Henry is at the stage where he’s very opinionated and bossy, which I guess comes with the territory, but it’s a little off-putting taking orders from a four-year-old. The first time I went to David’s house to see Sarah after they brought her home from the hospital, Henry was very protective, like a bouncer at an exclusive club.
“You can’t touch the baby,” he insisted. “Only I can touch the baby.”
“Well,” I replied, sweetly, “Your daddy says I can touch her. It’s OK.”
“But I say just me.”
We seemed to be at an impasse.
“Maybe later, then,” I offered.
I jokingly threw up my hands. “OK, then!”
“Don’t worry,” David said. “Just wait until he’s busy with his toy parking garage. You can play with Sarah then.”
“As long as you’re sure it’s OK,” I replied. “I don’t want to get put on report or anything.” I paused for a moment. “Wait – Henry has a toy parking garage?”
“Yeah,” he said, “It makes five car horn sounds and has two different sirens. We haven’t slept in weeks.” He hung his head. “My mother-in-law bought it. I think she secretly hates me.”
One thing I have learned, by watching the parents around me, is that the parenting never stops. Even at my age, my Mom worries when I’m alone, and is convinced I’m not dressing warmly enough in winter. My Dad still checks on my car, and offers the odd bit of life advice. When David was four, for example, he wanted to be a fire truck. Not a fireman – an actual fire truck. Now, every so often, Dad will call him and ask how his former career plans are progressing.
“So, are you a fire truck yet?”
“No, Dad, not yet.”
“That’s all right, son. It’s all about setting goals.”
I have a feeling I’ll never be a “natural” with babies. And I’m totally fine with this. Rather than feeling like I’m missing something, I prefer to look at the childless life as its own kind of adventure, filled with sleeping seven or eight hours in a row, clothes free of spit-up, and the option of white furniture. It also gives me the chance to be the beloved aunt, the bearer of finger paint and fruit roll-ups. When Henry and Sarah get older, I will show up wearing sequined sneakers and a matching hat, and whisk them away to the zoo, where I will make up stuff about the animals. Then, when they’re tired and cranky, I will hand them back to their parents.
And then I’ll go home and most likely spill something on my white furniture, but I won’t tell them about that.