Our best friends were having a baby. Inwardly, I groaned.
“You know what this means, Frank?” I complained to my boyfriend. “They won’t be going out with us anymore.” One by one our friends had succumbed to the bothersome burdens of boring adulthood: first marriage, now children. Soon only Frank and I would be left gloriously unencumbered.
“Sure they will,” he reassured me. “It’ll just be earlier. And, um, noisier.”
He should know. His sister had a kid, a rambunctious pre-school aged brat with no redeeming qualities that I had ever observed. Frank volunteered to baby-sit every so often. I called this my quarterly booster of birth control. Each time his nephew arrived I wanted children even less.
Frank, I suspected, was a bit soft on the kid thing. He seemed to like children an awful lot for someone who claimed not to want any. Once he had even told me that if I changed my mind about having one, he might be on board with it. I said that was just his biological clock ticking.
The pregnancy seemed to last forever, and I wasn’t the one carrying the bowling ball around in my belly. Every week when we visited our friends – who had already begun the mystifying transformation from regular adults into the strange creatures known as Mom and Dad – we had to suffer through the latest revelations. The tests, the pictures, the ultrasounds, the boy-girl debate and its resolution, the design and decoration of the nursery, how soon they wanted the next kid to come along. I feigned interest. Graciously, I hoped. I was happy for them, really I was, but only in a generic sort of way. I mean, I’m glad, too, when the local team makes it to the World Series, but I still don’t watch the games.
And then finally it happened: the kid was born; healthy, rosy cheeks, ten fingers and toes, and everyone was happy, all except for me. I still complained.
“Now we’re going to have to go and see the baby,” I whined, fully aware that this was spoiled and selfish and not caring in the slightest.
“So?” Frank replied, puzzled, his warm, dreamy eyes already misting over in anticipation of witnessing the wondrous miracle of magnificent new life.
“Never mind,” I answered. It would have taken too long to explain.
For our friends’ sake, I did try. I pretended to be impressed by the wee magical creature sleeping so adorably in the pink bassinet. I expounded with delight upon how she had her mother’s ears and her father’s eyes, or maybe it was the other way around. I chuckled when Dad played peek-a-boo and made kitchy-coo noises at her. I was very convincing.
“Do you want to hold her?” Mom inquired in a hushed tone, as if it were a great honor bestowed only upon the most worthy of visitors to the baby’s shrine.
“That’s okay,” I said, summoning all of the firm politeness I could muster.
“It’s all right; you can hold her,” she assured me.
“No, thank you,” I replied, less politely and more firmly, well aware from past experience that even the least doting of new parents would refuse to believe that there could be a woman on earth who didn’t really want to hold the baby.
“Aw, come on, you know you want to!” she urged, prompting me to wonder whether she and the kid were part of a grand conspiracy to make a mom out of me whether I wanted it or not. “Here, just take her for a minute,” she repeated, dumping the kid in my lap as if it were a grocery bag I was supposed to bring out to the car. “I’ll be right back.”
So then I had to sit there with my arms out holding the kid’s head up like you’re supposed to, and wondering when this enforced bonding time was going to be over, and how many more years I would have to put up with this annoying little creature and the brothers and sisters that would soon follow it, and then she reached out with her tiny pink fist, and grabbed hold of my index finger in the sweetest, most endearing gesture you have ever seen.
“Forget it, kid,” I said scornfully. “That’s the oldest trick in the book. You’re not winning me over with that.”
A sentimental sigh ruffled the air behind my back and I whipped my head around to find Frank peering covertly at the tender scene from the edge of the doorway. “Oh, how cute!” he cried, springing ecstatically into the nursery, evidently unabashed at being so red-handedly caught spying. “You look so natural sitting there with a baby on your lap!”
“Forget it, bub,” I answered, glaring up at him. “You’re not winning me over with that old trick. You like it so much, you take it!”
He opened his arms to grab hold of the wee darling, and laid her across his chest, prompting her punctually to spit up all over it. And then another, more powerful stench filled the room, causing the dreamy mist to fall abruptly from Frank’s eyes like an old-time theater curtain over a completed movie fantasy. Staring horrified at the hand that had been supporting the baby’s bottom as if it were contaminated, he set her ruefully down in the crib and yelled for Mom and Dad to come and fix her.
“Whew!” he exclaimed, plainly disgusted, struggling to remove the spit-up from his shirt with a baby-wipe while the infant’s piercing cries rang throughout the bunny-lined nursery. “That’s why I’m glad we are never going to have children.”
I looked with new respect and appreciation at the screaming, stinking little bugger and wondered whether she and I had more in common than I’d thought. And with that I reached down into the crib, grasped the baby gently by that pint-sized fist and whispered, “Thanks, kid. You might not be so bad after all.”