Okay, okay. I know I’m supposed to be telling you about Burning Man. And I will, I swear. There is so much to tell you, so you won’t be disappointed that you had to wait this long. But, I mean, honestly. How can I possibly start? At what point do I jump in and just start rattling it all off? My plan was to sort of break it down, day by day, make it sequential and all, just to make it easy on us both. Stretch it out and write down the epic adventure that it was. But, because it was just that life-changing, and because I haven’t had one spare moment to myself since I got home to really write one single eloquent thought about it, and because, within 72 hours of getting home, I jumped on a plane to NJ to visit my family, and because I have been completely distracted by this gorgeous stretch of beach I am staying on, I am going to stall and tell you about something far more interesting. First, first, I am going to tell you about the meat department at the Strathmere, NJ, Acme Supermarket. But first let me tell you why I’m at the Acme in Strathmere, NJ, in the first place.
My sister and I are visiting CLH’s cousin Renee (and her husband Steve) in south Jersey. Renee just had her first baby. Back in February, she asked me to be with her during the first few weeks of the baby’s life and I said yes. I was so honored when she asked me I actually broke down in tears. So, being here with my sister is a big deal to me. Renee is the oldest of CLH’s gaggle of cousins and I have always felt a special kind of kinship with her.
It’s also a big deal, because, up until a few years ago, before my peers started having kids of their own, I was scared to DEATH of having children. I mean, really, really scared. And the fear was multi layered. The first layer had everything to do with my fear of psychologically screwing the kid up. And I had a whole litany of excuses to defend my when-hell-freezes-over answer to the question of motherhood. There was the Well-I-don’t-want-to-bring-a-child-up-the way-I-was-brought- up-and-aren’t-we-all-destined-to-repeat-the-mistakes-of-our-parents argument that I used for a long time. And then there was Well-there’s-so-much-to-know-about childrearing-and-I’ll-never-know-it-all-and-i’ll-probably-do-something-I-should-have-known-better-about-and-what-lawyer-is going-to-defend-a-mom-that-should-have-known-about-honey-and-botulism-and-newborns? argument.
Several thousand dollars and years of therapy later, my attitude is: it doesn’t matter what I do, the kid’s gonna need a few years on a leather couch himself to work out all the stuff I’ve absolutely blown as a mom and it’s gonna be okay. He’ll have a long list to work on, of course, but, then again, who doesn’t? He’ll probably cite Mom’s annoying ability to deduce that BOTH SIDES of an argument are valid. Her obsession about the order of the spice drawer but utter disregard towards the mold in the shower. Making him eat tofu. FORCING HIM TO LISTEN TO JAZZ.
Whew. So, after that was all cleared up by the psychologists, the second wave of neuroses hit. And these stuck around for years. The ones having to do with my physical ability to actually extrude a living thing from my lady parts. I have a short torso, people. Not exactly baby housing material. I’ve been known to faint at the thought of getting a paper cut. Cough syrup gets me high, and a single cup of coffee? A single cup of coffee can turn my heart into Kool-Aid Man: it will burst through my ribcage wearing Bermuda shorts and yell “OOOOOOH YEAH!” to thirsty, despondent children. Given all this sensitivity, how in the hell would I be able to withstand hours, nee, DAYS, of excruciating labor pains? How would I be able to endure the morning sickness? The heartburn? The lower back pain? The sleepless nights? Not to mention the parts no one talks about: the way your nipples get cracked and hard from breastfeeding. The perineum tearing and the subsequent stitches. The -gasp- hemorrhoids, people. Let’s not forget the hemorrhoids. How could a person whose heart can’t handle a common breakfast stimulant handle the endurance needed to squeeze a very large thing from a very small hole?
And then I was invited to witness a live birth. In 2001, my best friend’s sister was about to give birth to her second child, and she invited me, CLH, and a choice few other folks to be present for the birth, which was to take place in her home. And sure enough, it was all my worst nightmares come true. I could hear the wails of pain from blocks away. I was nearly frozen with fear before I even stepped foot in the house. When I got inside, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My friend’s sister volleyed back and forth between gut wrenching moans and making happy, idle chatter as the contractions got closer and closer together. I was beside myself with fear and confusion. My modesty radar self destructed as this naked woman let herself be led from one position to another by the midwife, and finally into the birthing tub by a small army of people. Naked! Naked, pregnant, and wailing and moaning like she was dying. I didn’t know what to pass out from, the primal fear this wailing triggered, or having my mind implode at the sight of so much pubic hair in public.
And then the baby came. And no one died. And the sister was in control of her birth experience the whole time. And she was happy afterwards. Really, really happy. And the baby was happy. And both were healthy. And the world didn’t explode and no one bled to death and I made it out without fainting.
And it was after that birth that I got to thinking, wait a minute. That wasn’t so bad. Which led naturally to, Hmmm. Hold on a second. I could probably do that. Drastic, right? Like, what kind of a logical jump is that? Like, I, too, could probably skydive over an active volcano blindfolded! But I’ve figured out that it’s not logical, this whole child-rearing thing. It’s supposed to do things like turn your world upside down and make you think that pushing a wiggly, pokey, bundle of flesh out of your body while being consumed by the worst pain of your life is actually rewarding.
Which is why I eventually had to shove aside the stream of unending questions that issued forth from my over-thinking brain after witnessing this birth. Like how on earth am I going to calm a crying baby in public? A crying baby that doesn’t speak English. Or spend leisurely hours in the ethnic food aisle at the supermarket with a toddler? Or listen to This American Life uninterrupted EVER AGAIN? How am I going to take a shower when it is old enough to crawl? Doesn’t the baby need 24 hour supervision? Doesn’t it have the ability to snap its own neck? Doesn’t it suffocate when it’s laid on its back before the age of six months? Or is it the stomach? JEEEZUS, I DON’T KNOW, JUST LIKE I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THE HONEY AND THE BOTULISM. And the next thing I know, I am tearing my hair out and screaming, Oh Dear God, I’ve killed my baby because I wanted to take a shower.
And I tell you all this because I feel so honored to be in this baby’s life with this entirely new perspective on parenting. It makes being here feel like I’ve worked through a lot of issues and come out the other side a little more wise, and a little more, well, adult. And it gives me an enormous appreciation for the hard work it takes to be a parent. And that sometimes, despite your best efforts, your kids still do things to disappoint or embarrass you. All your lessons about manners and appropriate public behavior go right out the window and you have to just regroup and start over and that’s okay too. And that, sometimes, your greatest work can come undone in the meat department of an Acme Supermarket.
So, my sister and I are standing in front of the fish case at the Acme supermarket here in Strathmere after a long day of driving. We’re making a special seafood dinner for Steve and Renee and we’re arguing over the amount of shrimp we need. The supermarket is so poorly stocked, we’re wondering if there’s been a war down here in Strathmere and that Steve and Renee just forgot to tell us. We’re hot, we’re tired, we’ve got low blood sugar, and we’re trying to make a dinner out of mouthwash, flounder, and ice cream, the only things left in this supermarket. While we’re waiting for our fish to be weighed and packaged, a group of three adults and a boy come down an aisle and pause a few feet away. The boy looks to be about five years old or so. He slithers away from the adults, and while they are talking groceries, he furtively writes something in the condensation on the outside of the meat case. He scurries away, thinking that no one has seen him. But of course, having been around a newborn for a few hours, my mommy senses are heightened, my kid-tracking-beam is turned up to eleven, and I have been watching this kid out of the corner of my eye the whole time.
The shrimp is handed to us just as this kid sidles up to his adult supervision, and suddenly, I see what he’s written on the glass.
The kid has written “maet butt” on the glass.
I’ll spell it once more just in case you’re not wiping the tears out of your eyes yet: maet butt.
And suddenly, all the fury inside my sister and I over how much shrimp to buy and the fact that we’re starving but there’s not one piece of edible produce in the whole joint… well, that just melts right out of us and we are holding our sides we are laughing so hard at maet butt.
Because THAT little prank? That is what makes all the hemorrhoids in the world ALL worth it.
Welcome to the world, little Tre.