Fall Break

Near the end of the first trimester, Dawn called me in to the kitchen. She was sitting at the table with the newest J.C. Penney catalog open in front of her.
  ``Sit down,'' she said in solemn tones. ``I have something important to tell you.''
  ``Wait a minute,'' I said, knowing that I would need my security blanket for this--yes, it's true, I have a drinking problem. I poured myself a glass of The Juice: Iced tea made from powdered mix. I'm not proud of it, but I need it to get through the day. Then I sat down.
  Dawn looked me in the eye and said, ``We're having a baby.''
  ``When did this happen?'' I asked, flabbergasted. ``When are you due? How far along are you?''
  ``Three months,'' she replied.
  ``How is it that I didn't notice?'' I moaned.
  ``I'm serious,'' she insisted. ``We're having a baby. Did you know that?''
  ``Um, yeah,'' I said. ``I'm writing a book about it, remember?''
  ``I was just sitting here reading this catalog,'' she went on, ``and looking at all this baby stuff: Cribs, bassinets, strollers, and all that. And I was thinking, `Okay, that looks nice,' and `Oh, we need one of those,' and then it hit me: We're having a baby. We're really having a baby.''
  ``Yes we are,'' I answered. ``Yes we are. We're going to have cribs and strollers and everywhere we go we're going to have to carry a diaper bag and there's going to be another person around.''
  ``Wow,'' she said, and began flipping the pages of the catalog in earnest.

It really is quite amazing, this miracle of baby-making. For one thing, I know I couldn't put a car together in nine months, much less something as complicated as a whole person. I look at the Empire State Building and find myself in awe that it was built by human beings--and yet it's nothing compared to the complexity of those human beings themselves. And to think that each and every person is put together in a completely automated process--a little assembly-line womb--that doesn't just make my head spin, it makes it pop right off.
  And that's not even the most mind-boggling thing about making a baby. The thing that I find most disturbing--the thing that niggles at the back of my mind every time I press my cheek up against Dawn's swelling belly and say, ``Hey, Baby, how are things going in there? Nice and warm?''--is that Dawn and I have magically brought a person into the world without even asking them if it was okay. We just said, ``We'd like there to be another person,'' and in a metaphorical puff of magic smoke, there was.
  What arrogance! What chutzpah! No monarch however powerful has ever exercised their power of fiat with such abandon. No dictator however well-entrenched has ever caused such mighty works with such a slight wave of their hand. It's a powerful, incredible, magical thing we've done. We've aligned all the energy of the universe such that it brought a someone into being--and it was so easy.
  Of course, sometimes I have to wonder if we really called this person into existence, or if somewhere there's a place where souls can volunteer for duty. I can imagine that there's some place--Heaven, if you want--where souls get together and choose who will do what, which one will get which life. Knowing that they're immortal, perhaps they choose their lives the way actors choose their parts, with no regard to happiness or sadness, necessarily, but to how interesting such a life would be. ``Ah, to be the child of Chris and Dawn--now there's a challenge!'' one might say, and zip down to be conceived and born, remembering nothing of its immortality. And when it's done, the soul can return to whence it came--again, Heaven, if you like that idea--and look over its former life.
  It's an interesting idea, and one I like better than the concept of creating this person from nothing, without any regard as to whether their life will be happy or sad, good or bad. Of course, we will try to make their life good and happy, full of music and laughter and light and love and all sorts of other good things; Dawn and I will do our best to make this a happy baby, child, and then person. But this is a world that comes without instructions and without warranties, express or implied.

And I am reminded of some advice I was once given by a man named Dennis. Dennis lived with his wife and baby daughter downstairs from me and Dawn when we lived in Hoboken, and once we came down to babysit for them. Dennis was in his late thirties or so at the time, and so was a font of wisdom.
  As he was readying his daughter for us before he left the apartment, I asked him if parenthood wasn't a scary position, since I would be afraid I would screw my kids up.
  ``You're going to screw your kids up,'' Dennis told me. ``No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try not to, you're going to screw your kids up. That's just how it works. And once you understand and accept that, parenting can be a lot of fun.''
  I have a feeling I'm going to need this advice after the baby is born. I only hope I remember it by then.
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