I am afraid I have frightened at least one couple into never having children.
I was the guest at a girlfriend’s house, an old high school pal whose son is just a few months older than Elle. We had just settled the two babies into their beds and cracked a bottle of red wine with her neighbors, a friendly couple who have no kids, just Border Collies.
“I mean, it wasn’t that difficult,” Kalee, this friend of mine whose basement Elle and I were crashing in for the weekend, continued as she settled into a chair across the table from me. “I tuck him in and normally he’ll stay in there with his book. He might cry for a while, but he’ll eventually settle in.”
I had just finished telling her how impressed I was that Derek was in a big boy bed already, and that he would actually stay in it and fall asleep there shortly after lights out.
“You know, Elle is still really having a hard time with the going-to-bed thing.” I shook my head, rolling the stem of my wine glass between my fingers. Kalee, along with all my other mother friends whose children sleep, had been at the receiving end of many of my sleep-deprived banters about my child’s aversion to bedtime. “She’ll occasionally not put up a fuss, but that’s only when she’s super tired. But honestly, she can get so worked up! You are so lucky that Derek’s always been a sleeper.”
“Well, it has gotten interesting now that he knows how to open the door,” Kalee admitted. “But we just put the baby gate up in the doorframe, and so far, it..”
“Ahem.” Andrew, Kalee’s husband, shifted in his chair. “So, I saw there was a new kid out there mowing the lawn today. Where’d you find him?”
Andrew kindly threw a lifeline out to the other guests sitting at the dining table, who both looked as comatose as if they had just spent the last hour sitting with senile Uncle Al at the nursing home.
“Oh! He was awful!” the lady neighbor quipped, obviously relieved to have something else to talk about besides forced bedtimes and big boy beds.
“I know, I may need to borrow your lawnmower tomorrow,” her boyfriend quickly interjected, shifting the discussion to the appropriate amount of money one should pay a teenage mower of lawns, and isn’t it expected that the piles of clippings be raked before leaving? The sidewalks swept, at the very least?
Kalee and I took the hint. Not everyone finds the finer details of a 1-1/2 year old’s sleep habits as absorbing as we do. Lawn-mowing, on the other hand, is a much more appealing topic.
There are the things people warn you about in motherhood. The lack of sleep. The inability to keep a house clean. The post-weaning need for a Miracle Bra.
But no one ever warns you that becoming a mother is like contracting a disease, in which your mouth spews nothing but gobbledygook about your kid.
Not five minutes after the lawn mower discussion, Kalee and I were back at it. It was unintentional, I swear, that once again we had steered talk away from what hors d'oeuvres would be served at tomorrow’s garden party to the appalling fact that Derek’s daycare occasionally served cocktail wienies and Hot Pockets at snack time.
“It’s true. I’ve seen it. It’s the real deal – the big jar of wienies floating in water,” Andrew threw in. (Yes, the disease affects fathers as well, just to a lesser extent.)
The three parents in the room were well on our way to spiraling into the vortex, this time in discussion about whether natural local milk that was delivered in a glass jar was better than the organic stuff you get at the supermarket and other weighty topics. I happened to glance over to the neighbors, who were truly looking ill. I steeled myself, making a silent commitment to STOP TALKING ABOUT MY KID. It worked for about three minutes. Then we were back at it, lured in by the mention of macaroni and cheese. Would kids at the party eat homemade, or would it have to be Annie’s? Derek and Elodie, of course, eat whole-wheat noodles in their mac ’n’ cheese, but would the others?
Kalee and Andrew’s longsuffering neighbors finally got up to leave. They were exhausted, they said, and by the look of their drawn faces and glazed-over eyes, it appeared as though they truly were drained. We had spewed so much baby-talk that it had actually lulled them into a state hovering just above unconsciousness. They needed to go walk their Border Collies. Reconnect with the real world, where full-grown people mow lawns and eat hors d’oeuvres.
To redeem myself (the obnoxious friend who rudely ostracized all of the evening’s non-parents with my incessant baby chatter), I cracked a joke – to let these people I had just met know that I do realize what it may seem like – but really, I’m not so kid-obsessed that I can’t relate to people who aren’t parents.
“So, after all this baby talk tonight, you’ll probably never want to have your own!” I laughed.
The long-suffering neighbors couldn’t even pretend that I was funny. They left. We shrugged our shoulders, took the rest of the bottle of wine into the living room, and talked about our kids until 2.