As I was leaving the pediatrician’s office yesterday with my 6.5 year old daughter having a stomach issue, I watched a mom leave ahead of us. She was carrying her baby in the ubiquitous baby car seat carrier that most of we moms have used – the kind that clips into a base in the car and has a handle so you can carry the dang thing around with you. Don’t get me wrong, all three of my kids lived in their car seats as babies since for two of them, it was one of the only places they would sleep. But I’ve come to hate those things. With a passion. Because there is no way to carry one without either putting your back out of joint, or delivering a series of bruises to your leg. And that’s what this mom was doing: carrying the car seat in her left hand, right hand raised as a kind of ballast, with a diaper bag the size of Tammy Faye Baker’s make-up case and trying to make it all cooperate so she could open the door.
Bump. Bump. Bump. Every time that damn car seat wacked her the side of her leg, I thought one thing over and over: I hate babies. Which is probably a pretty strange thing to hear from someone who brought three of them into this world, but it is the truth never-the-less.
I know, who the hell hates babies? There was a time I would not have put myself on this list, let me tell you. I was the baby-loving dork at all family or even strangers’ events cooing over the babies and offering to hold them while the exhausted mother went to the potty by herself. At one time, I was just as cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs for babies as the next ovulating woman.
I mean, look at this baby. Who could hate those chubby cheeks and that little mouth is just begging for the chance to coo at you or break into a full-on drool-fest? At one time, I would have looked at this stock photo and felt my heart melt. But now my heart has hardened into a substance stronger than steel. Because now I hate babies.
You see, I had one. A baby, that is, and he scared the hell out of me. The first time I patted his furry little baby back in an attempt to get yet another burp out of his aching tummy and heard the awful sound of my palm smacking his skin, I freaked out. That was the last time I ever burped a baby without a Onesie on him/her. Seriously. Each of my babies had enough undershirts to fill three dresser drawers because I was so terrified I would hurt him/her by lovingly patting his/her back.
And those brief naked moments when I bathed them, well, my heart still bangs around in my chest thinking about the abject terror I felt. Dear god, it was like bathing a seal. But a seal with a hole in its skull covered only by a flimsy layer of skin so thin I could monitor the pulse!
You see, I am what is known in technical terms as an “anxious parent” and now, babies actually terrify me. This here is my youngest. In two days, this photo will be four years old. Looking at my little birthday boy today, I love how sturdy he seems. How he just came up to me and asked me to do up the snap on his Levis and said, “Mama, remember when I was two and a half and I couldn’t do buttons?” I love listening to him tell stories and use words like “hypothesis” and “quite interesting”. But what I love most of all, is not having to worry if his wee little neck is going to break trying to hold up the watermelon of his head.
As an anxious parent, the weak musculature of my children’s necks is about the only thing I don’t currently worry about. Tummy aches are cause of worry. (Does my daughter have acid reflux, GERD, an ulcer, or just the flu?) Each and every time one of my three children uses either of the two sets of stairs in my home, I shout, “Hold onto the railing!” Considering their bedrooms are upstairs and the tv and toys are downstairs, there’s a lot of shouting in my home.
I cringe when they run along ahead of me on the short walk from the bus stop to the house – waiting for each crack in the sidewalk to reach out and snag their little feet. “Slow down! Please hold my hand!” I beg them to no avail.
I worry. All the time and about every freaking little thing.
The worst though was on the particular day in this photo. We’d been home from the hospital no more than a week and we were all in the kitchen, eating dinner. Mister E joined us for dinner from the comforts of his bouncy chair – close enough that I could rock it with my foot if need be. I got up to clear my plate, and as I carried my plate from the table, this little voice whispered in my ear. “What would happen if your knife slid off your plate right now and hit the baby? Would he live?”
Every day, all day long, I worry about things just like this. If my daughter’s knee slips as she kneels on the counter in hopes of snagging the box of cookies I’ve hidden rather poorly on the upper shelf, would she break more than an arm when she fell? If my 10 year old were to fall down our stairs, what is the likelihood that he would break his neck instead of just bruising his tailbone? Is there a particular stair tread that is the end of the “death danger zone” or are they all just as deadly?
The really terrible thing to this whole insanity is that I was a dare devil as a kid. Or, perhaps more aptly, I simply was a kid. And as a kid, my ability to think through an potential situation was pretty average. I once decided to practice my gymnastics floor routine on the 2×12 that spanned the hay mow of the barn. Twenty feet above a concrete floor. Have you ever noticed how much spring a 2×12 has when it is a good 20 feet long? I’m pretty sure that during the handsprings, both ends levitated.
One time I lost my footing climbing into the grain elevator. At about thirty feet. Finally, at about twelve feet from the concrete floor, I managed to wrap my hand around a tangled rope. Good thing it was my arm that got good and wrenched and not my neck. Or the car accident I had as a high school senior when I hit some black ice and chose to go off the cliff versus hit the approaching log truck. How handy that sapling was between me and the 800 foot drop to the water below. Each and every time I came close to having a life changing experience as a kid, I just dusted off my hands and went back to doing my thing. And I never, not once, thought about just how life-changing all those experiences could have been. And just how wrecked my mom would have been over each and every one of them.
And now that I’m a mom, I am all too aware of just how fragile life is. I have three children I would throw down my mantle of pacifism for in a moment’s noticed if they were ever threatened by bully or bear or even a bunny rabbit. Being a mom has done that for me. But it has also made me terrified of the “what if” and especially the “what if I am the cause of their pain?”
So, please don’t be insulted if I don’t hold your baby. It is a beautiful baby and I will adore it just fine from a safe distance of three or four feet. And the whole time, I’m going to worry that if I had to change its minuscule clothes, I might break its little arm off or something equally tragic. Because I don’t really hate babies. I love them. But I can barely cope with the fear of hurting my own kiddos. I can’t possibly take on worrying about anybody else’s babies.
And my littlest baby angel, here is my birthday wish for you: May your happiest today be your saddest tomorrow. May you find all the good friends you could ever desire to travel your path beside you. May you someday find your one true life partner and know in your heart completeness and joy. May each birthday be a gift and may you always be happy to see more candles on your birthday cake. May you always be willing to wear silly hats. May laughter fill your heart and home. May the sidewalks be smooth, the stairwells be safe, and may you always be able to run when you so desire. And may you always know how much I have loved you – from the first moment I carried you, in my heart, my body, my arms, and my soul. I love you Mister E.