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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Seeing yourself with kids.

Let's say you found him.  Or, her.  The man or woman of your dreams.

Let's say they're good with kids.  The kind who makes your mother say, "you two are going to be wonderful parents someday."

Let's say your sister has a baby.  And then, so do some of your friends.

Let's say it's scary to hold those babies at first, because you are terrified you'll drop them, and then slowly, it gets easier.  You tickle their stomach.  They look up at you.  They smile, in that it-hurts-because-it's-so-perfect kind of baby smile.  You think, "I could get used to this."

Let's say you start acting coy to your parents and in-laws. Beginning conversations with, "well when we have kids of our own ..." when referring to you and your lover.

Let's say that this all really scares you.

*  *  *

Every single time Ross and I get together with his family, I go down this road.  I see my nephews, and I see their parents -- Ross' older sister and her husband -- and how infinitely capable they are.  So capable it feels foreign to me.

This couple has one three year old son, two twin boys, a potty-training system, mommy groups, and an awesome backyard play set.  They have a jungle-themed nursery room that Ross' little sister painted, and a race car bed that the three year old sleeps in.  They have a bright house with cushy furniture, and a TiVo with Toy Story Two taped on it, and action figures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

Perhaps this is giving you the impression that this family is rich. They're not.

What they are is selfless.

*  *  *

When I was a teenager, and on into my 20s, most of my jobs involved kids.  I have changed diapers.  I have taught yoga and dance to kids.  I have face-painted at birthday parties and I have told kid-friendly ghost stories during Family Day at Austin Museum of Art.  I met Ross while teaching, and one of the qualities that most attracted me to him was how great he was with children.  Something I had never, ever looked for in a man before. 

Once, while standing inside the main foyer of the school, in front of a big picture window that looked out toward the sand pile, I watched this tiny Indian boy get tackled by a burly, five year old future linebacker.  The latter wanted to play horse.  The tiny one, not wanting to lose face, struggled to bend his body enough to get on his hands and knees. It was really hard. His mouth was twisting, and his eyes were squinting.

Ross ran over out of nowhere, grabbed the bigger one off the small one's back, and placed him on his own back. "I'll be your horse!" he said. "Where would you like to ride?"

I fell completely in love with him.

*  *  *

I have full faith in Ross' ability to parent.  Are you kidding me?  That man was born to make and raise a baby.

But when it comes to me ... 

I know for a fact that I am one of those people who displays a curious mixture of extroverted personality traits with greedy, introverted tendencies.  I hoard my free time.  I may have sharing issues.  I hypothesize that this comes from being an only child, but with two outgoing parents. 

I am extremely spoiled with my job, which allows me to work from home; I am spoiled by my city, which beckons to me with a hundred shows and movies and karaoke bars and Prohibition-era-cocktails; I am spoiled by the house that I rent, a rambling old bungalow in Hyde Park whose charm, for now, outweighs our inability to rip up the carpet or build a fence for the backyard.  I mean, it has a creek for God's sake -- we'll forgive the pink carpeting.

So when I look down at that smiling baby, I feel not wistfulness, but a sort of fear.

That I think I want this eventually, and think I could do it, too.

If only I weren't so damn selfish.

*  *  *

The thing that terrifies me most about having a baby -- besides being pregnant itself, which I still can't quite wrap my head, much less my womb, around -- is somehow giving it the idea that I would rather be someplace else.  I don't know.  Do babies pick up on that?  Do your maternal hormones kick in and actually make it to where hanging out with your baby is the most awesome thing, ever?

I ask new moms these questions sometimes, and they say: "You'll be fine!  If you ever have kids, you will just be the best mom ever!  Don't worry.  Your perspective on things begins to change."

But then, we've all seen those parents on TV who really ARE selfish.  Really ARE neglectful.  Really ARE still living out their youth despite the very undeniable existence of their infant.  I may or may not have been reading too many grocery store tabloids lately with reality show teen moms plastered on the front.

I don't think I would ever become one of those moms.

But I do worry that my twentysomething lack of selflessness isn't just a maturity thing, but a deeper independence thing. Ross likes to say that, "we'll know when it feels right," but I honestly do think that I'll never feel "right" when it comes to my own ability to have a baby, that instead it will be like jumping off a cliff into water below, and praying to God you don't hit rocks or a tree branch on the way down, and that it's an adrenaline rush that propels you forward rather than legitimate confidence, and that when you finally plunge in, your legs kicking in explosive awareness that you made it and that you're still alive, it is joy, mixed with residual terror, mixed with relief, mixed with magic.


ChrisNAustin said...

You would be an amazing Mom. You have so much to teach and any kid would be enamoured with your honest quirky wackyness like a spinning shiny something. It does all kick in and growing with your children becomes better and more important than anything else you could ever imagine. My ex succumbed to the spoiled, self-absorbed and entitled side of herself (not to disount the other side of her I knew and loved. maybe we all have both) bailing on the commitment to me and them. To be honest, prior I think it would have been me the doubts were on given my gypsy past. You have to be ALL IN. Your kids will blow your mind every day. I couldn't sell the idea more. They're incredible.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@ChrisNAustin -- Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that, your candor and your experience on this whole thing. It sounds like you have a few kids of your own, and that you're pretty crazy about them. How many, and how old are they, if you don't mind my asking?

Lani said...

Tolly, I'm a stepmom and the minute that happened, a tiny little light just switched on and it is so fun and time consuming that I suddenly couldn't give a crap about missing a show and found ways to get the kids involved in art shows early on and take them on work appointments so they can see our work ethic even when it bores them to tears.

THAT SAID, I am terrified of popping out a baby from my own body. We had a stillborn which was sad but kind of a practice run. It made us want a baby even more. But I'll admit I'm selfish and terrified too. I think it's natural but women just get momnesia after they give birth and forget that they were scared.

Tolly, I follow you online and the few times we've crossed paths, I can tell you that I see in your eyes that you'll have that moment where a switch turns on too. You'll hold that baby for the first time and suddenly the world around you melts away and all you'll want to do is watch the baby breathe while it sleeps and it'll be an adventure for you because you already make life an adventure so you'll appreciate the small things about motherhood the way you do about your current passions. <3

Tammy Lynn said...

Wow. Great post. Does it make you feel any better that I've been with my husband for 8 years, married for 3, and I feel exactly the same way?

Unknown said...

I felt the exact same way. I in fact was adamant about not having kids. Kids irritated me. Then I got pregnant. After dating a guy for one month. I also got a 3 yr old step daughter in our relationship. Luckily he si amazing and the one. We just had to find that out backwards.

I still have selfish moments. Sometimes you have to put toy story on, give them candy and close the door. It's human. It's hard being a parent but really really amazing, and I have to agree with Chris because a kid would love your awesome quirkiness. And we take our kids to shows. They wear bose headphones and technically Emo's is all ages right?

If you never have kids you will still be awesome. You can be a fun aunt! My kids need some if you're interested. Their real aunt is the kind of mom you described above. My neice and two nephews live with us, because she is a mom when it's convinent. I would like to punch her in the head.

Sorry I am babbling, but if you decided to have children you will be a fantastic mom because you have these concerns. Just worrying about a childs feelings makes you a little maternal already. Mom's like my SIL think they are amazing moms and have no idea how selfish they

Did that make any sense at all? I hope so.

Unknown said...

Can't remember if I added that now I love being a mom. With my stepdaughter and two of my own. So we change.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@Lani - WOW. Thank you thank you for being so open and candid in your comment. I didn't know you were a stepmom! How cool is that. Your children are SO going to remember you taking them to work. My mom brought me along a few times for Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, and then a few more times when I had to stay home from school and we couldn't find a babysitter. I totally loved it, being surrounded by all those business-suited women with briefcases and nameplates. They seemed so confident and important, and I think that's inspiring for children to see (even if they roll their eyes at the time). It's DOUBLY cool that you and Ben work together, and can show your kids how that level of partnership works.

And, thank you dearly for your vote of confidence. :) Who knows? Maybe we'll get pregnant at the same time someday, and I'll call you on the phone saying: LANI, I'M CRAVING PEANUT BUTTER AND PICKLES? IS THAT NORMAL? WILL IT HURT THE BABY?? And you'll talk me down. :)

@Tammy Lynn - Um, yes. When and how did you guys meet? Ross and I have also been married for 3 years (Oct. 20 wedding), and met 6 and 1/2 years ago. Wow. Isn't it weird to think about being with your spouse for nearly a decade?

Idea. If, by the next time Gogol Bordello comes to town, we are both baby mamas, we can multicast the show in our living room and jam out. :) Because the lead singer of Gogol Bordello = Raffi (on speed.)

@Anastasia - WOW! You know? I met a girl just the other day who got pregnant from a guy she had been dating for like, 2 weeks, and their daughter is AAAWWWEESOME. They are really awesome to each other, too, so even though the whole process happened "backwards," they are as happy and thrilled to all be together as other families who've done it the "normal" way. Sounds like you and your little family, too.

How awesome is that that you still take them to shows? You wouldn't happen to know who Danielle Thomas and Adam Garner are, would you? They have a little parenting column on Republic of Austin. Anyway, I think that's the exact kind of parents they will be. :) Austin kids just grow up to be the hippest things ever - and I bet yours will be no exception! Thank you for such an inspiring point of view.

AND, wow - you have a big family! I am amazed at all the children you raise!! Damn Anastasia. The moment I get pregnant, if I get pregnant, I think I'm calling you on the phone for a pep talk.

Tammy Lynn said...

Colin and I originally met while working at Whole Foods in Austin many, many years ago. I had to move away to Vermont, move to Oregon, break up with my ex and come home for the holidays before we "re-met" and started dating after he played a show at my sister's work 8 1/2 years ago. Guess it was fate!

And, yes, totally crazy that our "together" 10 year anniversary is coming up soon. Doesn't seem like it's been that long...

I'm all in on the Gogol Bordello multicast. Although, I think Colin might just haul the kid down to the actual show. He's a big GB fan now!

Anonymous said...

We have been married almost 4 years and have been together over 7, but we still are not ready for kids, and wonder if we really will ever be. We worry about our selfish lifestyle and how it would translate to a life with child. We wonder when we will be ready for a new addition to the family that, while probably will be the best thing to ever happen to us, will change everything.

I have always had a job that involved children, and love them deeply, but I struggle with the thought that a child could actually be in our life. I enjoy my life with my husband and the wonderful time we have with one another. We get to have adventures, and a child will change that. Which is why we are soaking in all that alone time now because one day that might change.

Thank you for this post!

Kay said...

Tolly, I can't imagine someone who could be a better mother than you will be someday. You are terrified because you want to be the best mom possible, to grow something wild & unruly (to steal a lyric from the Dixie Chicks), to rear a creative, artistic, empathetic offspring. Yes, children ruin your social schedule for a good decade and a half (sometimes more). Yes, you go from being a party grrrl to a potty again??? girl overnight. Yes, a child is a huge time suck and you will never be as self aware (better term than "absorbed" which really does NOT apply to you) again in your life...yes, EVERYTHING changes. But.You.Will.Not.Care. Sure, you'll have moments when you miss the ability to leave your house on 5 minutes notice, to dash off to a happy hour where you can tipple as many classic cocktails as you wish before cabbing it home at an ungodly hour...but in actuality, when you & Ross find time away from your sweet babe, you will continually bring up your child in conversation.

I waited 42 years to be a mother (thank goodness) but it has been profoundly amazing. I still wasn't responsible enough, rich enough or capable. Hell, when we were signing our paperwork to get out of the hospital I was amazed that they were letting us leave with our son. I rushed Jaime out, worried that "they" would be on to us and cut us off at the door to take back the baby we were so obviously incapable to deal with on any level of good parenting. Hah. Turns out, we are doing just fine. And so will you.

Dad said...

Ha ha! You a mom. Don't be kidding! The center of the universe for the only child is ...... you! Until you have a baby. Then the world stops turning around you. The planet tilts on its axis. And the center of the universe is suddenly a tiny person -- yes person -- who makes demands and shouts commands right out of the womb. You have to learn the language, but you do. You have to guess and fill the needs, but you do. And you get happy and sad and frustrated and glad and proud and exuberant and happy to be in the adventure.

Lela said...

Tolly, you sound like the inside of my head! It's a bit hard when people ask me "when are the babies coming?" it takes all I can not to say, "They'll come once we've figured how to do it!" or some other snarky inappropriate comment. I've figured out that preparing yourself for the possibility or the inevitability of being a parent is a process in itself. So, much luck to you in sorting it all out. As for me, I just need a little more time before we can get to that point, so you are SO not alone in all this!

Unknown said...

As someone in their 20s, I can absolutely relate to the fear. I love my life of independence, living downtown, travel, late nights. I mean I travel sometimes for 2 months out of the year on my 'work abroad' trip. The thought of having kids scares the crap out of me. I can't even have a dog because that would require too much of my attention. Then I wonder, well maybe I wasn't meant to have children. Luckily for me, my boyfriend is supportive of either decision. I am slowly working on seeing myself married...the kids thing can wait another 10 years.

I think you hit on an important thing though. As our generation grows into adulthood at a later age, we put off things that our parents did when they were our age. It doesn't make it right or wrong, just different. Check out this article in the NYT about the 20somethings. It's not directly related to kids, but more of a sociological analogy of what is happening in our generation. It might shed some light :)

Unknown said...

I don't know them but I am about to go check them out.

And I am here for pep talks anytime. And cookies.

ChrisNAustin said...

Hi Tolly! Don't mind you asking at all. My daughter, Kya, turned 8 last Tuesday and my son, Ian, 6 two weeks prior. My wife and I had sex once a year, like clockwork, every February. Very odd. Just kidding. Come on now. :) Great feedback here. I have to laugh, I didn't have them over the Thanksgiving break, will for Christmas, but need them if only to keep settled. 4 days/nights on my own in this great city of ours is exhausting.

bsimms8907 said...

I know I'm just repeating but I think you'd be the coolest mom ever (except for maybe my own mom) :)

Christi@Rumination Avenue said...

I don't think there ever is a way to not be selfish. That being said, I think we can be selfless a good majority of the time and moms have to be (if they are any good at it). Just based on the fact that you worry about all that, means that if you decide to have children, you will be good at it.

I always say there is NO perfect time to have children, if we planned 'em we'd never have them. At least that was true for me. I struggle with not having as much time to myself now that I have a 3 year old and 19 month old, but enjoying their existence is rewarding. Plus, I know that one day, I'll have tons of time to myself and I'll be moaning about missing them.

Good luck with whatever you decide, you guys would have some cute kids, though.

Carolyn said...

Oh friend! Whichever road you go down will be the right one. I have to agree though...that there is NO perfect time to have kids. You just kinda have to jump in without testing the water.
As a young(ish) mom I can say that you can balance ME time and family time. It took me a few years to get into the groove....but now I enjoy my "work" days swinging in a park or swimming in a creek or bouncing at a bounce house and it isn't bad work at all. THEN in the evenings I get to experience all the glories of this fantastic city. I might not go out as much as I would if I was childless...but I cherish each moment more now than I ever did before.
I remember before I had kids ( vaguely ) and I thought that once I had a baby I would put on a jumper and some comfortable shoes and taxi my kids to preschool. I thought I would head to bed at 9pm and I would never see my friends. I thought that I would forget what good music sounded like because my ears would still be ringing from Kids Bop 5. But for me, it isn't like that at all. My kids have helped to remind me of who I am...and that person does not wear comfortable shoes and listens to brilliant music. I see my friends several times a week and sometimes I stay out to late and regret it in the morning....but people without kids do that too. If you decide to take the plunge....let me know and I will take you out with my housewives and we will show you how it is done. Change is scary....but kids are not...most of the time anyway.

Kim said...

I can totally relate to feelings of selfishness. There are some things that I am not ready to give up yet. I still have urges to do reckless and moronic things. For instance, hitting my head on a stripper pole is funny now but when you have kids, that's just really sad. Maybe still a little funny though. Anyway, I doubt I will ever feel 100% ready to have kids but I do not want to go through life never experiencing motherhood. The good news is we both have amazing men in our lives to help raise our children one day while we're off at happy hour :)

ps - You are a wonderful person and you will make a great mom. Have faith in yourself and know that your friends will always help you too. Love ya, girl!

Catherine said...

"it will be like jumping off a cliff into water below, and praying to God you don't hit rocks or a tree branch on the way down, and that it's an adrenaline rush that propels you forward rather than legitimate confidence, and that when you finally plunge in, your legs kicking in explosive awareness that you made it and that you're still alive, it is joy, mixed with residual terror, mixed with relief, mixed with magic."

You've just described motherhood perfectly! I've been a mom for twelve years already and still feel what you described on a daily basis!

As hard as it is to be a mother, I fell like there's nothing as rewarding in life as raising a child... overcoming all of the struggles within yourself as a woman- the selfishness (because that's totally normal), the desire to do non-kid stuff, to be like you were before you had kids, to make it all just work..... what you are feeling and thinking about means that you are totally going to rock motherhood!

Rachael Carnes said...

It'll all work out just the way it's supposed to. Kids pick the right parents for them... And it's fun. In the meantime, enjoy napping, and movies, and staying up late.

Hope to meet you someday!

xo Rachael

Lacy said...

This is such a great post Tolly. Very honest and brave of you to share your fears about kids. I felt the same way you do, not super comfortable around other people's kids or babies. I still feel that way now. Once you have a baby of your own, you get into a comfortable groove with them that isn't the same with anyone else. And yes, I think you have to put yourself aside for a while, in order to devote 100% to your baby. I just tell myself it won't last forever. Even my boys now are pretty independent at a year and a half. We can go to the library and they can play while I read a magazine or just watch their little faces as they take in the world. It's all worth it for their smiles and hugs at the end of the day.

Renee' said...

I came across this blog while looking up various Austin blogs and I adored this post. I feel the exact same way you do, but with a slight twist. I already have a five year old son. And as much as I adore him it scares the crap out of me to have another one. He was a complete surprise to my husband and I. I was a mess the entire nine months, scared out of my mind. But I found out that I am not completely clueless when it comes to raising another human being. But now everyone is looking at us to have another and it scares me. Whether it's two, five, one, or none it's still a daunting thought. We don't want to jump into anything. So for the time being, we adopted a Boston Terrier and consider her our ugly daughter :)

PS - Bookmarking this blog. Love love love it.

SharaLynn said...

I bought my pregnant friend a card that says: "Are you happy? Really happy? I mean, double-extra delirious, jump-for-joy happy? But also nervous? I mean, cross your fingers, sweaty palms, can-I-really-do-this nervous? Okay then, you're ready to be parents. Congrats!" Isn't that a good one?
I feel like you most times when I think of the baby subject. I also get really worried about money and the world we live in. Seems like so many kids are f-ed up. Of course, my husband and I always say, "Our kids would never be like that!"
I too am an only child...Are you also Pisces?