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Friday, May 25, 2012

Dear Abby: How Will I Know?

It's Week Two of the Dear Abby extravaganza!   Why don't you take a few minutes to kick your feet up and give this a little read before you hop in the car to sit in traffic for six hours?  I'm pretty sure hamburgers taste as good at your destination as they do in your own backyard, so there's no need to rush into National Bar-B-Que Weekend.  And posts like this only come along once in a, week.

Last week, we explored mom-on-mom cannibalism in all its over-hyped, under-rationalized glory.  This week, we're going to put the proverbial horse before the proverbial cart and muse on another reader's question:

How do I (and my wife) know when we're ready to have kids?

Even if you know, at some basic level, that you want to have kids someday, the question of when someday becomes today is a big one.  In fact, I think it is The Big Question of most people's lives.  I'm not the first to point out that having a child is the one decision you cannot un-make.  You can transfer schools, leave a job, divorce a spouse, sell a house, and send your entree back.  But once that baby comes into the world, you will be forever defined as a parent.  You may be a good parent or a bad parent or a helicopter parent or an absent parent.  Whatever kind of parent you are, the point is you're a parent.  Switch the adjective, absorb the noun.

I think we can all agree that, if I've achieved anything thus far in the post, I've now sent today's questioner and others like him searching for the nearest paper bag.  In the distance, I can hear someone screaming, "I know I'm supposed to be taking this shit seriously, but did you have to go and turn up the volume?!?"  Yes, in fact.  I did.  It's called an INTRODUCTION. 

In my mind's eye, I had always seen myself with children.  I hoped for two, and hoped to have them when I was relatively young.  Once I became an attorney working insane hours, though, I started to wonder when I was going to be able to fit a baby into the frenetic pace of my life...and into my small Manhattan apartment.  I distinctly remember boarding the 6 train at the 86th Street station to head south to my office one morning and being hit with a wave of nervous confusion.  Don't ask me why, but at that very early hour on a muggy summer morning, I was consumed with a single question: when am I ever going to be ready to become a mother?

I soon resolved that I was going to stop thinking about it, because it was so out of the realm of possibility for my husband and I at the time.  Both of us were working at a grueling pace, we had little to no disposable income, and we had still only been married for a short time.

A couple years later, something great happened.  Well, great for me, not so great for those hoping I can shed some light on the baby-timing dilemma.  The great-for-me thing was that all of a sudden, something in me just clicked.  I powerfully and clearly and absolutely felt the need, the urge, the pure desire to have a baby.  And guess what?  The feeling first struck when I was taking the exact same subway commute as I'd been taking when I first felt so utterly whacked out by the whole proposition.  Bizarrely poetic.  Or just bizarre.  (Or statistically not so interesting, given the amount of mornings I commuted to work on the 6 train.)

I didn't question the feeling, just like I had somehow convinced myself not to obsess over my previous confusion. 

I don't think my husband ever felt a similar impulse on the issue.  When I told him about mine, he listened with a certain tinge of fear in his eyes, but it didn't take too long for him to get on board.

Given my story, when people ask me how I knew I was ready, my response is completely unhelpful: I just knew.

Maybe that's not so unhelpful, actually.  The lesson there is that life or biology or your subconscious or whatever can be trusted to throw you a bone.  Even though it's a huge question, the answer may come from as simple a place as your gut.  I can tell you that I trusted mine, and it worked for me.

On the other hand, maybe you're keeping my first response in the "unhelpful" column.  You want more concrete analysis from someone who's been on both sides of the decision.  For you, I present some practical considerations that I think can help you determine if you're ready for some company.  Of the 7-pound, 21-inch, no hair or musculature variety. 

1.  Do you have the money?

This is a crass and perhaps unsentimental place to start, but you discarded my whole "trust your gut" approach, so I'm thinking practicality is your thing.  There's nothing more practical than coming to terms with the fact that babies are expensive.  So are the kids that babies grow up to be.  Being pregnant means an entirely new wardrobe for mom.  I'm talking top-to-bottom wardrobe here, from undergarments to shoes.  Plus all the hats for the days mom is too tired or nauseous to do her hair.  The hospital stay for birthing the baby will cost thousands of dollars.  Then all the baby gear.  The diapers, the wipes, the onesies, the spit-up cloths, the crib, the changing table, the rocking chair.  And those are just the basics.  People will tell you that you need a stroller that costs more than your rent, a bottle warmer, a wipes warmer, multiple ointments and creams, every outfit you ever see in a baby-store window, and every variation of pillow.  I can tell you that you actually need none of those things, but you won't believe me.  You should just take an honest look at your finances and answer for yourself: can I afford every variation of Sophie the Giraffe, that cover for the shopping cart, and the sheep that makes noises to put my kid in a catatonic trance?  If the answer is no, maybe you should hold off.  If the answer is that you don't believe in providing for the comforts of others, maybe you should get a fish and walk away from the baby idea for good.

2.  Do you have the space?

When a little bundle of joy first arrives, the only free space really required is a bassinet for sleeping, a flat surface for diaper changing, and your front torso for holding.  Then that bundle morphs into a more three-dimensional object and starts doing things like rolling over and crawling and teetering and tottering and walking.  Then that three-dimensional object morphs into a tornado and spends years running, hiding, and jumping.  Usually when you're trying to get them dressed.

So you're gonna need some space.  For the little person itself, and also for all that gear I mentioned above.  If you live at the L.A.'s Staples Center or one of the homes Brad & Angie are not currently using, then you can skip this step.  You're fine on space.

Otherwise, consider the following.  When we lived in Manhattan, my daughter's stroller was forced to serve both as a baby vehicle and as a piece of furniture -- it was so big relative to our tiny "foyer" that we had no choice but to hang coats on it and store snacks in it.  You're going to need to be able to dedicate sections of your counter-space and shelves of your cabinets to bottles, baby food, teething crackers, formula, and every cardboard box with a Sesame Street character on it that your local grocery store sells.  Your bathtub needs to be able to contain hundreds of plastic water toys.  And no one has more swag than your kid.  It's like the world is their personal gift shop.  You're going to need some storage space.

3.  Do you have the mindset?

While money is important and space is helpful, I think there is no bigger hurdle to be sure you can jump than "mindset."  You can lie to yourself about your earning potential and about the shabby chicness of your kid sleeping on a dog bed in your living room/dining room/kitchen, but now is the time for brutal honesty.  Don't mess with yourself on this one.  You've got to be able to handle your own truth.

I'm going to tell you some things that come with the territory of being a parent.  It's impossible for you to ask yourself now if you're ready for any of these, because no one is ever "ready" for them.  What you need to ask yourself is: "Am I dry-heaving, breaking out in hives, or doing my unattractive cry when I think about any of the following?"  If you are having these or similar bodily reactions to the upcoming list, congratulations, you're the lucky winner of an easy answer: now's not the time for you to have kids.

Being a parent means, in part and in no particular order:
  • Never eating an entire meal sitting down or empty-handed.
  • Having to plan for every possibility - wet diaper, dirty diaper, bored child, thirsty child, hungry child, child with a cold, child with dirty hands, child with a friend with a cold or dirty hands, car-jacking, apocalypse (the last two might be unique to me) -- every time you leave the house.
  • Sleeping soundly only from 9:00PM to 9:45PM.  On Tuesdays.
  • Lying a lot.  White lies, but still lies.  Because there are only so many ways to try to rationalize with a toddler about why "all the toys" can't come home with us.
  • Never going to see a movie again.
  • Answering questions about things you never knew could prompt a question.
  • Becoming a doctor.  You're the one who has to figure out why your 3-month-old is crying hysterically, how to soothe the gums of a teething baby, whether the tick had embedded or not, if that's a temper tantrum or paranormal activity, and where on the spectrum of actual injury an invisible gash to the knee falls. 
  • Getting comfortable with saying words like "boo boo," "potty," "listening ears," "cooperating time," and "don't make me say it again."
  • Becoming an actor.  Because the public cannot see or guess at the embarrassment/fury you're containing as your daughter strips naked, smacks you in the face, and yells "I'M NOT READY TO LEAVE!" when you tell her church is over.
  • Watching Aladdin every night for three months and realizing that if you were given one wish from a genie, it'd be for a weekend.  A real one
  • Never sitting still.  Unless it's because it's 9:00PM on a Tuesday and you're sleeping.
I'm hoping these are helpful, but I'm guessing your Siskel & Ebert review is somewhere in the neighborhood of one middle finger, all the way up. 

I'm sorry.  There's no easy answer. 

Except the trust your gut one.

Now, are you free to babysit? 

Submit your idea or suggestion for a "Dear Abby" post by emailing me at All the other, intricate details of this something-for-everyone are explained here.

1 comment:

  1. This (and a visit to Babies 'r us on a saturday morning) should be required reading for anyone thinking they are ready to be a parent. Love it!