I have the compulsion to start off by stating some facts about myself:
- I do not hate children. I actually TAUGHT theatre to the little suckers for a few years and I loved it.
- I do not begrudge my friends having children. In fact I can't wait until my best friend has babies, so that I can live out my romantic comedy fantasy montage of two sassy gals attempting to put together a crib, and then failing and beating said crib with its own limbs. Fun!
- I do not want children now, or in the foreseeable future. My husband, my cat and I enjoy our exotic and spontaneous lifestyle of "Law & Order: SVU" reruns and spur of the moment trips to Los Chapparros, our local Mexican eat 'n' drinkery.
All this being said, I freak out a little when a friend who has children wants to hang out with kids in tow. I understand that we're all growing up and once you embark upon that late 20s to early 30s window of grown-upedness, friends are going to start pushing out babies and becoming mommies and daddies.
Due to my ever-growing need to be perceived as a functional, well-adjusted human being, I try to be totally cool with most everything that comes my way. Yet throw a young, drooling, babbling human-child into the mix and I feel my confidence waning.
Here's the problem: I clam up. Being in a classroom full of East L.A. 4th graders is one thing -- there is a lesson plan, guidelines, a goal. I know how to proceed and I can count on my skills to pay the bills. My mom-friend asks me to watch her baby while she takes a well-deserved bathroom break and I find myself behaving as if I'm on a bad date with my gynecologist -- it's an awkward situation with someone who can see through all my crap.
Me: What is that you have there? Is that a tortilla chip?
Baby: (happy gurgle)
Me: (holds Baby's hand) I like tortilla chips, too! (playfully swings Baby's hand, makes a hilarious face -- baby begins to cry.) I'm sorry! I'm sorry! That was too much! Ooooooh! Your hands are so soft! (Baby wails uncontrollably) Shhhh! Shhhh! Nobody has to know! (Baby spits up). Oh, God! What have I done?!
Mom-Friend: (returning from her bathroom break) What the hell is happening here?
I realize the above scenario seems both a little absurd and vaguely pervy, but it is a pretty fair representation of the times I've been left in charge of my friend's children in public places.
Because I have a reputation for being eccentric and kind of a spaz, friends tend to expect the weirdest, if not the worst from me. And in an attempt to thwart and disprove their expectations that I'm the friend most likely to set their kid on fire, I tend to overcompensate. It's desperation, and children smell it.
Not to mention the parents. I've had many a new mom or dad friend misconstrue my immature assholery as a judgment on their new parental status. They often perceive my attempt to be the BEST PSUEDO AUNT EVER as an inability to adjust to their new life and think that I'm rewriting our friendship.
Yes, our friendship will be different, but in the hundreds of Mommy Blogs and parent articles I've read over the years (NOTE: The first thing I do whenever a friend tells me they are going to birth a child is go online and read EVERYTHING I can about pregnancy, birth, being a new mom or dad and how it changes your relationships. Therefore I know more about parenthood than any childless sack ought to. I watched a birth on YouTube. EGADS.), I've been told over and over again to be understanding and normal. This is where I run into another problem: what is normal?
I know that having a child does not make you into some sort of mom-bot. If you loved post-mortem photography before you gave birth, chances are you love post-mortem photography after you give birth. Yet, somehow me bringing up a really cool photo I found of a 100-year old dead Victorian posed as if petting a taxidermy piglet seems trite in comparison to uncontrollable emotions, sleep deprivation and giant nipples.
I've been told that when a new mom is in the thick of the baby culture shock of sleepless nights and adjusting to her new life, hearing about the "outside world" can be a nice relief. Then why do I feel like such an asshole? What is the balance?
I really WANT to be able to relate to baby food and breast feeding. I want to be able to give advice on cradle cap and colic the way I once did on first dates and hair-dos. (I know, I know that stuff doesn't end when you have a baby, it just gets put on hold for a time)
Essentially, I want to be there for you, Friend. However, once baby makes three, I'm terrified I'll become the relic from your past. It's happened before -- it's hard to be friends with someone who isn't in your life situation because it becomes hard to relate to them.
I don't hate hanging with my friends and their kids; I really think it's more that I don't know how to conduct myself. Do I behave in our relationship as I always have? That seems potentially inappropriate or at the very least insensitive. Do I throw myself into their parent lives and fascinate myself with the inner workings of a breast pump? That seems potentially insulting or just plain odd. Oodalolly! What's a socially challenged girl to do?
In looking over all this I realize this all seems incredibly naive. Just chill out! Right? She's a parent, not pariah! It doesn't have to all be so polarized. Then why can't I find that middle ground? What the hell is wrong with me?
Does anyone else have such anxiety? Are you a parent and have a weirdo friend like me? How do you find a balance?