Have baby, will travel?
The good thing about people who don’t have kids yet is that they can remind you how little you knew when you thought you knew everything.
I heard a woman who has no children talk about how free and easy parenthood would be. The implication was that those of us who've found it to be otherwise are nuts.
“When I have a child,” she said, “it’s not going to change my life at all. I’ll just strap the baby on and go.”
I am much stupider since becoming a mother, so I can't be sure — but I have a sick feeling that I said similar things before I had Lucy.
Strap her on and go: That would be my battle cry.
Forget the battle. All I have left is the cry.
My education began when Lucy she got too heavy to strap on comfortably. By the time she weighed 17 pounds, carrying her in the Baby Bjorn felt like being stabbed repeatedly in the back with a fork.
Adam got it worse; by the time Lucy was that big, she was tall enough to kick him in the groin.
But even that turned out to be nothing. I would gladly suffer the backache if I thought I could take a relaxing trip somewhere.
A few months back, Adam and I realized we hadn’t taken an extended vacation since our honeymoon. So we decided to go someplace fun — San Francisco. How hard could it be? It’s a ninety-minute flight. The weather is nice. People speak English.
Adam planned a trip. And off we went. This is the life, I thought. Adam, Lucy and me. We’ll just strap her in her car seat and go.
Lucy must have sensed our eagerness to escape, because she chose the week of our vacation to go on a strap strike. A toddler on a strap strike is pure hell. Every time we tried to buckle Lucy in to her car seat or stroller, she freaked out. She freaked out so bad, even the junkies in the Haight shot us pitying looks. I swear I saw one mutter, “Bad trip, little dude?”
The worst night was our last. We went out to dinner with the priest who performed our wedding ceremony because we wanted to show him what his handiwork had wrought. Instead, we convinced him why celibacy isn’t such a bummer, after all.
It was just a short car ride to dinner, and yet, these few blocks stretched for miles. Lucy screamed the whole time. If oranges could express the pain they feel when their peels are ripped from their trembling flesh, they would make the exact sound Lucy makes when she doesn’t want to be buckled into her car seat.
Her wails were so loud, even the priest was beyond prayer. Instead, he started singing. I’m not sure what song it was, or even if it had words. I’m guessing it was an ancient melody they teach priests to use when they’re being tortured by evildoers.
I wish I had paid better attention, because I could have used that song the next day when we were heading back to Seattle.
Lucy writhed and screamed in her stroller for a mile because we had the audacity of leaving Golden Gate Park. We had to bribe her with jelly beans to get her buckled safely into the cab on our way to the airport.
We stuffed her mouth and got a silent ride. But when we were standing in the ticket line, she started picking remainders out of her molars. By the time we made it to the front of the line, she’d swallowed the better part of her hand. This made her gag, which ultimately led to worse. Right at the part where the ticket agent asked if anyone else had touched our luggage since we packed it, Lucy barfed jelly beans all over herself and Adam.
“You’ve been randomly selected,” she said.
It took me a moment to realize she was talking about going through extra security inspection, and not spontaneous toddler eruption.
We passed the test. But on the flight home, Lucy again resisted the straps. As she started peeling her psychic orange again, I could feel the hate brewing in the rows all around us.
Adam and I played toddler tennis the entire flight home, bouncing Lucy from his lap to mine and back again. She won. There were no straps. But no one killed us, either.
And that’s the thing with kids. Before you have them, you think, “I’ll just strap the baby on and go!”
But then you learn, over and over again, that the baby is a person with a mind of her own, and the older she gets, an increasingly loud say over where she goes and when. Your job as parent isn’t so much to keep on living the life you had, as much as it is to figure out where you’ll go from here.The destination isn’t always clear, and sometimes, no one is wearing safety straps. But if all it was to be a parent was to strap somebody on and go, we wouldn’t have kids. We’d have Cabbage Patch dolls. And that really would be nuts.