Having a baby is a lot like being inducted into a secret club. Or a fraternity. The first six weeks of motherhood are the hazing period. Only instead of swallowing goldfish and streaking through the quad, you're getting sprayed in the face by tiny streams of pee and shlubbing around the house with your boobs hanging out (because lucky you, your nipples are chaffed and cracked and the best remedy is to let them air-dry after every feeding. Although I'm sure you won't hear your husband complaining.).
Recently a couple in our neighborhood had their first baby. Before they were pregnant, they used to zip around in their sporty cars, the husband sometimes on his motorcycle, go on date nights, and basically enjoy the life of any couple who has yet to join up with Phi Beta Pooh. Jeff and I would watch from our driveway and wave, and then mumble something like Lucky Bastards to each other as we dragged economy packs of diapers from the back of the car and hollered at one or both of the kids to do not under any circumstances pick up that dead worm from the driveway, put that mulch in your mouth, or pee next to the garage downspout--for God's sakes everyone can see you there, can't you at least try to be a little discreet??
But a few months ago while out walking I spotted the female half of the couple sporting what was obviously a round, pregnant belly. (And believe me, I am not one to ask a women if she is expecting unless the woman is like, going into active labor and begging me for drugs.). So I struck up a conversation with her, during which I congratulated her, asked he when she was due, if she knew what she was having, and told her how impressed I was that she'd lived across the street from me for two years, seen the antics of my children and still decided she wanted one.
Then she said to me, "I'll probably be running over to you for advice once I have this baby."
"Really?" I asked, truly flattered that I must look like I actually know what I'm doing. Which I couldn't imagine was the case. I mean, doesn't she hear me shouting at my children pretty much every day, especially when the weather is nice and my windows are open? Do I really look like I have it together when I'm chasing my children down to get them into the car, or when Rollie is happily watering the shrubbery with his own personal stock of Miracle Grow, or when I'm out washing my car with them and having to constantly keep them from either drowning each other in the hose spray, or soaking me so that I look like I'm desperately trying to attract attention from the landscaping company that never fails to drive by on my car-washing days? (Shut-up, Jeff...I do too wash my car more than once a year.)
Anyway, we spied the balloons tied to the mailbox, the various visitors pulling in and out of the driveway, and Jeff and I knew the day had arrived, and these poor suckers could kiss their date-having, motorcycle-riding days good-bye. A few days passed, and we didn't see any signs of life from the house. The shades remained drawn, the garage door shut, the lights eerily dimmed. It was like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory...nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out.
After Jeff reported that he finally saw the husband hustling into the house armed with bags of fast food, I decided to offer to make dinner for them one night. Because I was seriously so ravenous and so unable to do much of anything those first few weeks of Rollie's life but breastfeed my demanding little infant and shuffle around the house in a daze with my boobs out like a zombified Lady Godiva. If it weren't for other people bringing me food, I would have been left to nibble on battered moles left on my doorstep by neighborhood cats.
So last week I brought over one of the only edible dishes I can prepare, along with a six-pack of beer. The new mom invited me into a house that had yet to see the battle scars of a kid who is old enough to draw on carpeting or use wall space as his own personal booger despository. And when I asked her how things were going, she sighed the sigh of a woman who has recently discovered that it's actually possible to get negative sleep in one night.
"I think his nights and days are mixed up," she told me. "The doctor said the baby's using me as a human pacifier. He eats every two hours, even at night."
Man I felt bad for her. Because that is exactly what I went through four years ago. How long ago it seems when I was the one without make-up, a shower, a scrap of self-confidence that I was any good at this whole 'mommy' thing....Actually that pretty much describes me yesterday.
All I could really do was shove food and beer at her and assure her that soon she would learn to function on nothing but dry cereal, Diet Coke and three hours of sleep. Because the only reason it gets better is that you just get used to it. You make it through the initiation, you make it through the bleary-eyed crying jags, the desperate attempts to get your baby to take a damn pacifier or locate an appropriate spot to nurse him before he explodes in frustrated anger that your boob isn't in his little pie-hole like Right This Second. You get used to doing more laundry than a prison inmate, and hearing Nick Jr. shows singing away in the background, and regretting every bad thing you ever did to your parents because you are now a strong believer in the karmic synergy of the universe (which means I am in for an interesting round of adolescent bullshit from a certain female child of mine).
And sometimes you love it all so much that you decide to do it again. And again. And, so help you God, again. That's when you move from a regular member of Phi Beta Pooh to the high priestess of the Fraternal Order Of People Who No Longer Go On Vacations To Places That Don't Have Grown Men Dressed As Cartoon Characters. They're an elite bunch. I'm still trying to figure out the secret knock. It sounds suspiciously like wine being uncorked.