She's polished and shiny, smells delicious and has shoes that go click-click-click. She has an MBA, lives in the big smoke and has an up-and-up stock market career. She jetsets.
"Oh, it's great to see you!" I blurt. "The last time I saw you was at so-and-so’s wedding, and you were, like, ELEVEN YEARS OLD!"
And in the space of that heartbeat I transformed like POUF! into a withered apple doll with an apron and babushka, an apple doll that walked twenty miles to school uphill both ways (at least on days when the horse was too lame to pull the buggy). As we sit pleasantly I catch her staring incredulously at Ben. He sits in my lap, eyebrows halfway to the top of his head where they always are when he’s soaking up the world, awestruck, his face the human equivalent of ! ! !
Every two minutes or so her head pulls away from the lecture and she gapes, feigning nonchalance but unable to resist the pull of the magnet. When it's over it spills out in one breath, words tumbling out after an hour of staring and stewing.
"Okay, I have to be quick before my mother comes back because if she hears me I'll never hear the end of it so tell me, how do you… how did you… ahh… know what to do? I mean, with a baby, when you had the baby, did you study, or did you read books, or did someone tell you, because I think I'm not a mother, and I think I want to try and be ready, you know, so I know what to do, you know, not soon or anything, I'm thinking, like, five years out, so how did you know? How do you do… that? Shouldn't I… get some experience first, or something?"
I'm determined not to laugh with affection, for the memory of being like her once. The wheels turn in the freshman brain, clicking and whirring, ancient voodoo springing to life. She's dogged, and whip-smart. In a state of disbelief that you simply have sex and then grow big and then push and grunt and then are sent home with THAT. She's craving an internship, certification, a checklist that will spit her out the other end a Competent Mother. No matter how you move through the world before you become a mother — like her, with confident strides and a straight back and the surety of hard work and street smarts — you will enter this club tripping over the threshold with all the grace of a bumbling village idiot. What I want to tell her is
I still don't know, and when they puke it sends me into a raging panic, and every time I drive the car, errr, VAN, I get ten minutes down the highway and break out in a sweat, convinced I've forgotten one of them in the middle of some parking lot, and most days I've got no idea what I'm doing, but that's okay. That's what it is, I think, learning how to be content despite being out of control. Dogpaddling peacefully in a bottomless, sticky-sweet pool of molasses. Most days I'm totally cross-eyed, but even with the neck cheese they smell so good, pheromones that match mine, like I could sniff them out in the dark from a thousand others.
What I tell her instead is Don't worry — when it's your own, you'll just know what to do.
...which is not so much the truth as it is the truth lost in translation. You won't know what to do, but unless you give up needing to know, you'll lose your wits completely.
The grandmotherly type in the grocery store leans in and says, How old, six weeks? and I say No, seven months, again, simultaneously exhausted of this exchange and not minding it. Seven months old, tomorrow's dawn. He is insatiable, and he pulls and yanks like a barbarian knawing on the leg of some fresh kill. But I remember peering through the plastic willing him to be lusty, not meek.