A friend of mine in university had mismatched thumbs—the thumb on her right hand was long and lean, while the thumb on her left looked like it had barely survived a hitchhiking mishap. It was short and stubby and just sort of, well, meh. She loved to show people her thumbs at parties. Some people put lampshades on their heads. Others run naked across the football field. Heather showed us her thumbs. While her abnormality was a festive favourite, mine was not. Because when you’re born with the affliction I was, you don’t show it off —you endure it. Mostly in silence.
I was born—wait for it—without a biological clock. In that space between my ovaries and my heart, there was a looming a clock-shaped vacancy.
I just didn’t hear the ticking. And when I did, I dismissed it as being nothing more than a grenade. You know, one to avoid, not embrace. I never pressed my nose against a jewellery store window, dreaming of the day a man would spend two months’ salary on a ring to prove his forever-love. I never fantasized about where I would register. I never stuffed a pillow up my shirt to see my faux-pregnant profile in the mirror.
Throughout my twenties, as colleagues began to start families, I stood back and watched their lives shift, shaking my head in a combination of confusion and, well . . . no, just confusion. I was convinced there was no expression more vulgar than the one used by an excited lunchmate longing to share her latest life development: “We’re trying!” Ugh. Time and again, I was left unwittingly visualizing my naked co-worker straddling the ape she married as, together, they “tried”. You may be “trying” to make a baby, I would think, but I am “trying” to eat my lunch.
What was the appeal, I wondered? A malfunctioning respirator was cuter to me than one of those cone-headed aliens extracted from a woman’s innards. The sleepless nights. The mustardy diapers. The once chic living rooms now dotted with what could only be likened to Toys R Us shrapnel after a GI Joe-spawned airstrike. How was it every parent could think their baby is the most gorgeous being ever, when—it was an undeniable fact to me—all babies look exactly the same? It was my own form of baby-racism. I could not possibly tell any two babies apart.
As my late thirties took their place in my rear view mirror, the influx of well-intentioned people asking if I would like to have children only grew. Each time, I would answer the same: “Oh, someday.” Believing, as those of us born without a biological clock do, that despite the candles on the cake, we are getting younger every year. (In the interest of full disclosure, I believed the Brad Pitt film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was based on a true story.)
While I knew intellectually that I would have kids one day—it seemed like the thing to do—I just never felt ready. I still needed to live in the South of France and become fluent in the language of my grandparents. I still wanted to take a pottery class and make my own much-coveted bowls, a timeless gift if ever there was one. No, I needed to focus on important things like the continual building of my career. When my mother would call, I would answer the phone “Very busy and important, how may I help you?” I was, after all, an ad copywriter, and there were financial institution’s taglines to write, fast food tray-liners to craft, 30-second TV spots to spend 120-hours obsessing over. I remember one campaign was so incredibly stressful on account of an unreasonable Creative Director with a habit of throwing the figurative baby out with the bath water, that on a drive to a client presentation as I passed a homeless man on the street, I was slapped with an awakening. I looked at him sitting on slats of folded cardboard, in his tattered jacket, grime smeared on his wrinkly cheeks, and I made the starting realization: “What I wouldn’t do to trade spots with you today.” Yes, I’d take a hungry day on a dirty corner over the perceived nightmare of my workday ahead. I soldiered on.
And yet, this was the career whose dedication to which left me bereft of the readiness to say those words I’d been hearing the last decade-plus. “We’re trying.” (Ugh.)
Alas, after several trips to the lab and multiple encounters with a turkey baster and a credit card, the day arrived when our “trying” resulted in a plus-sign on the pee stick. After nine months of all-day morning sickness—payback from the baby, I’m sure, for 40 years of eye-rolling—it was time to meet the monkey.
She was funny and quirky and old and new, all at once. And the split second I saw her, I knew I liked her a lot. But it was 34-hours later when “it” happened. As I placed the small green hat on her little baldhead, without warning I was run over by an 18-wheeler Love Truck. It was like a door opened to a room in my heart that I never knew existed; it was filled with marshmallows, and candy corn, and those fluffy white kittens that play with luxurious rolls of high-end toilet paper. I was convinced the maternity ward had hired a choir to sing outside my room, but no, turns out, it was just angels humming in my ear.
Perhaps it was hormones. Perhaps it was pain medication. Perhaps it was just a heavy drip of love-serum in my IV. But suddenly, I got it. I wanted to wipe her snotty nose. I wanted there to be pudding on her face so I could do the mom hand-lick and wipe it off. Suddenly, I was a love-drunk mom. By the time my daughter was 35-hours-old, I knew I’d do the whole thing over again. (And I have.)
Today, I’m still a step behind in all things mom-related. I listen to the moms who know about upcoming community events (I don’t), the best ballet classes (I don’t), and what to do when your baby is colicky (I don’t). I watch the women who make breastfeeding look as easy as breathing, knowing my milk came in one boob only; a boob I named Pamela Anderson. (The other, I named Kate Hudson.) I see those moms hiking with babies snug in their carriers and know that for me to get a carrier clasped, I have to post an ad on Kijiji looking to hire half a dozen assistants in search of odd jobs. And when it’s finally clasped, my layers of back fat permeate the straps so much it looks like the face of a wrinkly Shar Pei puppy. I watch the moms with strollers that cost more than my bathroom reno; the ones you can push with one finger while sipping a skinny London Fog, and I feel like the Hunchback of Deep Cove as I thrust against mine, which – with four wheels that go in different directions – requires a bit of choreographed precision. I marvel at the moms who leave the house with that one thing I’ve yet to remember: snacks. I wilt as they pull out their sliced, peeled, and de-seeded grapes in little sealable bowls designed in Sweden. (Until recently, I believed goldfish were aquatic beings that lived in a bowl. Not a cheddar cracker.) My style of momming falls in the camp of: “Let’s wing it!” I refer to my gut on a daily basis, despite the fact that on most days my gut simply shrugs its shoulders as if to say: “Hey, don’t look at me,” as only a gut with shoulders can.
The way I see it, there are four types of people. Those who march ahead of the band, those who march with the band, those who march behind the band, and those who march alone. None of us is wrong. None of us is better than or worse than. Because from what I can tell, there is no clock. There is no grenade. There is only the staccato beat of a stick against the drum of life’s music. And where you position yourself amidst the song and the dance is entirely up to you. As for our kids, it’s not about fancy strollers and peeled grapes. All we need to do is love them. And love them. And love them.
That’s my best party trick yet.
Mary-Jo Dionne is a writer, editor, performer, and speaker, whose work has been called “a masterpiece of urban satire that will have you laughing so hard you’ll glow.” Her one-woman show “Glowing: A Reproduction Production” was called a “real-crowd pleaser” by the CBC. She is principal of Mary-Jo Dionne Productions and mommy to 3-year-old Majella and 6-month-old Burgess. Find her at MaryJoDionne.com.
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