Baby Steps

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My daughter and I have a love-hate relationship. She loves to interrogate me at length about my past, her favorite subjects being my most embarrassing moments and the opposite sex. She lectures me on being an overprotective parent and tests how high she can raise my anxiety before I detonate.  She feels I should be honest and thrilled to share my most private thoughts with a 16 year-old who promises not to utter a word of what I confess on Twitter, Instagram or to her best friend, Madeline. She, on the other hand, hates reciprocating. If I dare ask about her day at school, she stares at me vacantly, retreats to her room with a bag of Goldfish and slams the door.

When she announced one day after school that she had big news, my first reaction was shock that she was initiating a conversation with me. At last, I thought! An A in Algebra, a perfect score on the dreaded SAT, perhaps she was being inducted into the National Honor Society.

“Yeah, so I’m having a baby,” she muttered as she walked by me, checking her text messages. “Do we have any food in this house?”

“What?” I shrieked, glaring at her tummy. “How did this happen?”

“I don’t know why you’re freaking out,” she said. “It’s my life that’s totally screwed.” She grabbed a bag of Oreos from the pantry and headed towards her room.

Panic overcame me as I raced after her. “What are we going to do?” I cried to the locked door. My daughter could not even remember to charge her cell phone, much less take care of a baby.

“Please open the door!” I yelled, trying to make myself heard over Lana Del Rey. “We need to talk.”

She shoved a piece of paper under the door.

“Child Development Assignment,” I read with teary eyes. “Students will learn proper parenting skills by adopting a computerized baby for a three day period. Student will learn the proper care of newborns and infants, including their physical, mental, emotional and social development.”

I wiped my nose on my sleeve and whispered a prayer of thanks.

She brought home her 10- pound bundle of toy the next weekend. “Isn’t she cute, Mom?” she gushed. “I named her Evi. She has her own car seat, diaper bag and milk bottle.” She smiled down at the infant, proud as any new mother and rocked her in her arms. “Want to hold her?”

“Uhm, sure,” I answered and she gingerly placed my new granddaughter in my arms.   I peeked at the plastic face. “What a…doll!”

“Can you hold her while I go to the bathroom? Just be careful with her!” she warned eyeing me suspiciously.   “Support her head. She’s very delicate.”

I forced myself not to roll my eyes at her instructions. Babies are actually stronger than we think. I recalled the time my older daughter fell off her changing table and hit her head on the corner of the bedroom wall, leaving an egg shaped hole in the sheetrock. She was unharmed, never brought an illegitimate baby home, computerized or not, ended up graduating high school with honors, and was currently a freshman in college.

Evi whimpered and I reflexively began to jiggle her in my arms. I unwrapped the pink blanket and peered into the tiny face. A shiver ran through me as I was met with a vacant stare. The whimper turned into a wail. I was clearly having a difficult time bonding with the new addition to our family.

I examined the screaming infant. She was hairless with perfect toes, clearly taking after the other side of the family, and odorless. I smiled as I recalled my sweet babies born with full Elvis sets of hair and adult sized eyebrows, smelling faintly of pee-pee perfume. I bet this baby made perfect poop pellets. No explosive diarrhea for little Evi.

“Mom! Do something!” my daughter screamed from the bathroom, shocking me back into the present. “If she cries too long I get an F!”

“Me do something? You do something!” I cried in frustration as my daughter burst from the bathroom holding her iPhone. “And you better hope there’s an app on that phone for how to be a good mother!”

She snatched the baby from me juggling her phone and the milk bottle. It occurred to me that as accepting as society was becoming, the only thing deterring a teen today from an unwanted pregnancy was the inconvenience of holding a baby and texting at the same time. When I was younger, there was no practicing motherhood with maybe babies. Sheer terror discouraged me from coming home pregnant, never mind the fact that I had never had a boyfriend. In fact, death from parental wrath would have been my first choice of punishment. It was more merciful than banishment to a remote village in Greece where I would be forced to lie that I was a widow, wear black for the rest of my life and raise my baby in shame.

My daughter held the bottle to Evi’s lips and instantly the crying was replaced with small sucking sounds of contentment. “See, she just needed a bottle,” she explained, suddenly an expert on motherhood. “It’s easy. Next I’ll burp her.”

See how easy it is doing that on two hours of sleep wearing cabbage leaves in your bra, I thought, as I retreated to my room. You wouldn’t be feeling so perky if little Evi had been pulled out of your body with an angry pair of forceps after 12 hours of labor. See how many Instagram selfies you shoot when your stomach takes on the consistency of an underinflated waterbed.

That night her friend Madeline came over to see her precious “niece”. The girls took great pains to feed and bathe Evi and change her perfect little diapers. They took her to the park and for ice cream and posed her for a thousand photos in each of her outfits. Auntie Madeline even offered to sleep over to help with the nightly feedings. The three fell asleep watching movies, one big happy family. It was all fun and games until 3 AM when the girls were exhausted and baby Evi wanted to play. I put a pillow over my ears to block out the crying, which by now was not only coming from the baby, and willed myself to go to sleep.

The next morning my daughter stumbled down the stairs wearing saggy sweatpants and a baggy, wrinkled t-shirt, her hair frizzed into a massive mane around her face. She squinted at me from behind a pair of crooked glasses, dark circles rimming crescents under her eyes. She had aged 10 years overnight. She looked manic, menopausal, murderous. She looked… like me. I could hear Madeline snoring from the couch upstairs.

“Rough night?” I asked.

“I literally hate my life,” my daughter moaned. “Babies suck.” She rested her head on my shoulder. “I did everything for her, fed her, burped her, changed her diaper but she just kept crying. I can’t go anywhere this weekend. I don’t get why anyone would even want a baby. What do you get in return?”

I pulled her to me and rocked her gently in my arms. “Poor baby,” I crooned. “It gets better.”

We did not dare go to church that Sunday. Neither of us wanted the whole congregation to think one of us had just given birth. I could imagine the scandalous whispering in the pew. “I noticed the mom had packed on a few pounds, but I just thought it was middle age spread… Isn’t that the girl who’s always on her phone? She seemed like such a nice girl. It must be the mother’s fault…”

Instead we stayed in and watched old home movies, laughing until we cried.  My daughter made fun of my perm and shoulder pads, while I grew melancholy watching her take her first steps across the TV screen and stumble right into my arms.  We took turns holding Evi one last time.

“Motherhood sure is tough,” my daughter decided as the movie ended and she looked down at the peaceful baby in her arms, “but I almost hate to see her go.”

The shrill ring of her phone broke the mood and I watched her face light up as she recognized her big sister’s voice.

She glanced at me. “Yes, she’s sitting down. Why?”

I waited expectantly through the pregnant pause that followed.

“You have big news?” she asked.   “What is it?”

Adrenaline took over and I bolted from the room.

No news is good news. The life I was born to lead in a secluded Greek village high up in the mountains was long overdue. I would catch the first flight out. I could play a convincing role of a grieving mother.

And black, after all, is so slimming.

baby

 

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