1 August 2015

Babies! Babies EVERYWHERE!

Being a woman of a certain age—okay, okay, early thirties, with mid sliding in faster than I’d like—it’s inevitable that I have become an aunty to several children several times over. “My” first child was a bump before I realized what that bump meant, when her proud mother sailed in, stomach out in a flattering black dress that disguised that bump from long range viewing until you got very close and you could see that barrier between the two of you. 
Scary things, babies.
 

I’m always struck by that perfect physical metaphor of contrast—the bump, the baby curled up within is indeed a barrier—the few layers of skin and sinew and beyond that a hollow, a womb, a receptacle where human life is growing rapidly, day by day, it may as well be an ocean for what the mother is experiencing and for what you on the other side cannot. And then there are the expressions on their faces when they take your palm and slide it gently to the base of their stomachs so you can feel the little ripple of a baby kick, so much greater on the inside than to me, the casual observer.

And then the babies themselves emerge, at first meeting not very impressive at all—they’re so small, so curled up into themselves like they want to return to where they came from. They make smacking noises with their mouths and they cry ineffectually and they’re soothed by whoever knows what to do in that situation. Six months later, and they’re a completely different kind of beast, alert and awake and alive and sitting up and reaching out and you wonder, “Was I ever like this? Did I ever find mystery in a fob of keys or just watching a new someone’s face as they enter a room? When was the last time I felt so motivated to rise up, to stand on my own two legs and when I fell to get up again and keep going until the standing became as natural a part of me as breathing?”

Here’s what happens though, when you’re on the other side of that barrier, the velvet rope keeping them in and us out: your lives change. Not just that of your friend’s, but also of yours. You start to juggle schedules in a way you never had to before, not even if your friend worked a punishing job, because even jobs have a weekend. You drift away for the first three months, unable to identify with that shattered expression that comes from sleepless nights, that lack of concentration when you’re in the middle of one of your best stories. You begin to learn to ask about a new person each time you check in with your friend: how are you? And how is baby? And finally, maybe, how is husband or life partner?

You learn to socialize in a different way. You learn to lower your voice at nap time, you learn to pat a small, sleeping being on his back as he finally goes to sleep. You hold a two year old on your lap, reading to him as his parents potter around you, responding to his endless questions with a patience you didn’t realize you possessed. You learn to ask the right questions. You respond to “Aunty,” until the child is old enough to form your name on his or her own and then you respond to whatever version of your name comes out of her mouth. You try not to be insulted when the child of someone you love very much declines your affections.

Then too, you make new friends. These are the people you run into at cocktail parties, the people you’ve been saying you “must meet” for some time, and now when you’re all on the other side of that rope, you have more in common than you realized. With them, you talk about men and work and you enjoy long, leisurely evenings with no one having to go home until they actually get sleepy.  You open the second bottle of wine. You don’t have to tell everything in one meeting, because you know your next won’t be that far away, since your schedules match. You enjoy the company of these new people, banded together as you are, thirty something and childfree.

You say “childfree” instead of “childless.”

And then, like they’re coming home from a long voyage, your parent friends return. You start to get text messages, phone calls, invitations to see them again, and you go, and it’s not the same, it’s never going to be the same, but it’s deeper. You have so much you want to say, and they do too, and you’re in a place with your new friends and your old ones, and the barrier’s almost down and you can see into this party that everyone’s having without you, and you can smile and say, “Thanks for inviting me.” 

(A version of this appeared as my column on mydigitalfc.com)

3 comments:

  1. Me too! This one's particularly well-written, Em. Lovey words!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Being a new mother myself, this was a good read from the affection-showering and pampering aunt's point of view :)

    ReplyDelete

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