“I don’t think I’ve ever been to a baby shower before.”
This was Mike’s confession to me as we were walking up to the door to our friends’ home, Saturday afternoon.
Had I realized this earlier, I would have though of some way to punk him. Maybe made up some fake baby shower etiquette to share with him in the car. But, right then, on the spot like that, I couldn’t think of the right thing to say that would freak him out just enough for us to laugh about it later, but not enough for him to bolt. These things take some finesse and the look on his face had me worried.
So I just shrugged.
“There’ll probably be mimosas.”
The mom-to-be greeted us with a huge smile, wearing a flattering, floral print dress. Back when I was that far along with either of my pregnancies, you’d likely find me in a baggy pair of overalls that gave me the profile of Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazard. On alternate days I’d switch between one of the two knit tops that still fit. On dressier days, I might wear shoes. I could go on like that for a couple weeks.
This was a couples’ shower, which I hoped meant it would be light on the traditional baby shower activities. Anyone suggest Mike try to guess the girth of the guest of honor, or what kind of chocolate bar was melted into a baby diaper, and the bolting thing would likely happen, prank or no.
I pocketed the car keys, just in case.
There weren’t any games, thankfully. There were mimosas and a table full of food. A few guys sat in the living room watching a football game. A group of young women were on the porch with a hot glue gun and a basket full of ribbons and flowers. I think we were supposed to make a party favor or something for the new baby if we felt the urge.
I offered Mike cash if he would make a craft. Just for a photo op. It was a no-go.
Instead we sat in the mid-life corner, with the rest of our gang of parents of teens, empty nesters, and hip grandparents. We talked about our dogs or our jobs or the next trip we were planning.
I thought about the soon-to-be new parents and the hurricane that was about to hit their household. I thought about what their lives would be like when the diapers didn’t smell remotely like chocolate, and the cute baby headbands made this afternoon would be put away because plastic beads and glue-gunned flowers are choking hazards.
I think I’ve said before, I’m not a bit nostalgic for the baby days. I don’t have the energy for that amount of work on that little sleep wearing clothing that always manages to attract a stain or four before I can even leave the house.
But I do remember what it felt like, on the verge of something powerful and frightening and hopeful, in the days just prior to the arrival of our first son. I remember praying we had what it took to not screw up in such a way that he’d tell stories about us one day in therapy.
Back when we were still just talking about having kids and one of us was pretty sure we wanted them and the other wasn’t so sure, I remember not being able to put my finger on what the big deal was. You pop out a couple of shrieking gooey, slobbery maniacs, who demand every second of your time, attention and energy, make you broke and cost you sleep. And if you’re lucky they grow up and don’t ask to move back in when they’re broke and may even have a couple of shrieking, gooey, slobbery maniacs of their own.
And then you can sit on a patio with some of your friends and drink mimosas and talk about dogs and trips and jobs and the like.
I’m still trying to find a way to articulate what this all means. The parenting thing. What’s the big deal? Since becoming parents, from moment to moment during the last couple of decades we’ve swung from anxiety so intense it feels like suffocating, to episodes of side-splitting laughter, also often so intense it’s a little like suffocating. We’ve fallen asleep at 8 pm on the couch and been woken before dawn the next morning. We’ve coached and chauffeured and chaperoned. We’ve put our foot down. We’ve been too lenient. We’ve taken credit for their successes and sought forgiveness for our failures.
And now that we have a couple of nearly-grown people ready to launch, for better or for worse, their own lives, I still don’t think I can tell you what it all means.
Except they still make us laugh, they still challenge us and worry us and inflate our egos and infuriate us. They still cost us money. They eat all the chips before I can get to them. They put dings in my car and keep dirty dishes in their rooms. We say they’re going to be the death of us, but we’re not as exasperated as much as we’re wondering if, when they finally do leave, we’ll see them nearly as much as we’d like, and if we’ve taught them enough to handle their own shrieking, gooey, slobbery maniacs, and all the other hurdles they’ll face without us.
Our shower gift to the young couple was a small stack of books. If the new parents are lucky, they’ll come to a point where they know every word on every page of those books and others, and the feeling of reading them while half asleep to a little person who turns the pages with pudgy fingers, her hair smelling like that lavender shampoo that’s supposed to make her drowsy.
“More, read more,” she’ll beg, and they’ll relent.
Every single time, they’ll relent. And probably without wondering what it all means.