Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hello 12, Hello 13, Hello Love

When I was just shy of 13, my aunt gave birth to her first child. I was ecstatic. Though I had always loved and adored my brother, I was only 5 when he was born, and I hadn't yet formed an adult appreciation for the miracle that is a baby.

The way I see it, some instinct kicked in with the onset of puberty. Hormones pulsing through my veins, I longed to see and hold babies. I wanted, more than anything in my life, someday to be a mother.

I carried around pictures of my new cousin in my wallet, made a baby-themed hook rug for his nursery (yes, I seriously did this), and relayed cute anecdotes about him to anyone who would listen. I signed up for parenting classes that involved lugging around a sack of flour and calling the teacher at prearranged times to let her know we were doing our "late-night feedings." Such classes, naturally, were designed to show us how much work it was to care for a baby so that we might be less inclined to become pregnant as teenagers. I had no intention of becoming pregnant as a teenager, but, for me, the classes did nothing but add fuel to the fire of my interest in all things baby, which probably lasted at that strength until I hit college age. I recall thinking how, if I were born in the Middle Ages, I most likely would have become pregnant at around that time in my life, and perhaps that was how nature had intended it all along.

Even recently, while attempting to read about the various crib-drop mechanisms currently in use, and different kinds of breast pumps, and finding myself bored out of my skull and longing to find a rerun of Curb Your Enthusiasm on one of the HBO channel variants, I recalled that earlier time, that time when I was so enthusiastic about babies and everything that had to do with them, and briefly wondered if maybe modern society had made a mistake in not structuring life in such a way as to capture this youthful baby-loving energy among would-be mothers.

Here's the thing, though: at 13, I loved babies and had an insatiable curiosity about them, but I had absolutely no idea how to raise one. Sure, I could keep one alive and out of trouble for a while, and make funny faces and get laughter, but I didn't know anything about encouraging language skills, teaching object permanence, ways to introduce new people into their lives, the right things to say in response to difficult questions, etc. Essentially, I was a good, loving babysitter. I was nowhere near being ready to be a parent.

Now, my energy is more limited. I'm not squealing with glee at the prospect of getting out of my cozy, cozy bed so that (two!) babies can feed from my body and then I can remove the resulting poop from their skin. I couldn't care less how the crib mechanism works, as long as it's safe.

Yet, I have revised my earlier opinion. Energy levels and enthusiasm aside, I think modern society has really gotten it right.

This past weekend, I was at a tag sale with my parents. The busy woman in charge had a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter that everyone was oohing and aahing over. While her mother tended to a customer, I successfully navigated her away from an all-too-appealing rusty weathervane by asking her to show me the (much smoother and rounder and safer) concrete frog right nearby. She did so joyfully, pointing to two concrete frogs that sat, side-by-side. She went back and forth between the two, and seemed to know that they were different, but wasn't sure how.

"Big frog?" I asked, pointing to one. "Little frog?" I gestured towards the other, while also blocking the sharp edge of a hanging mirror with my body. I repeated myself and listened while she tried her hand at speaking these words.

"You've got it, Arabella," my mother nodded approvingly, reassured that I probably wouldn't be leading her grandchildren, by hand, into a pit of fiery snakes. "Distract, protect, and engage."

Much more important work than enthusiastic and sweetly-intentioned hook rugs and encyclopedic knowledge of breast pumps, don't you agree?


Blogger Tits McGee said...


Lovely post.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous wordgirl said...

I loved babies. It was the older kids whom I assumed I wouldn't like. Now I know I love every stage. It took kids to teach me that.

1:27 PM  
Blogger V-Grrrl said...

"Distract, protect, engage"? Oh my God, your mother has parenting down to three bullet points. Does she work in PR? Can she advise President Bush because frankly I think "distract, protect, engage" could describe a good foreign policy!

Great post, and I'm with Wordgirl--I love every stage.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Heidi said...

Yeah, I'm not really a baby person. I like them when they get a little older.

That said, I am currently distracting L with a video so that he doesn't break my laptop. (Or was that supposed to be protect them?) And he's not intereste in the bunny grahams I just offered him, so he's definitely engaged.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

This is/was me exactly. I've always known I wanted babies, kids, small people, whatever, but I have wondered whether my urges were suppressed by society when they were biologically the strongest....
And "encouraging language skills, teaching object permanence, ways to introduce new people into their lives, the right things to say in response to difficult questions" - what is all this of which you speak???

4:25 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

And oh my god I can not stop singing Up a Steep and Very Narrow StairWAAAAAYYYYY....

4:26 PM  
Blogger mamalujo1 said...

Lucky babies. Great post.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

I'm still cracking up at the thought of MY 13 year old self taking that baby-class. You see, my Mom had my brothers when I was 10 and 11. I KNEW what a handful it could be... And although I loved them, I had no interest in doing the morning feed thing.

I would have made cookies with that sack o'flour instead. hehe

You're going to be a great Mom Arabella.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Arabella said...



8:18 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

I never loved babies. I still don't really love other people's babies, I hope this doesn't mean I'm doomed to let my kid play with fiery knives someday :o)

I'm cracking up at the idea of your 13 year old self lugging around a bag of sugar or a water balloon or some such approximation of a child. If they really wanted you to not get pregnant as a teenager, they would have made you wear it around your waist. That'd be an excellent deterrent.

4:06 PM  

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