Friday, November 25, 2011

Blissful ignorance: Aug. 22, 2004

Oh, Ben. We really had no idea what we were getting into with Ben. We wanted a second kid; more than anything, we wanted that second kid. But that second kid absolutely beat our asses. Parenting is the most humbling experience this life offers. Parenting Ben -- who is a tsunami of hot temper and devastating charm and fierce will and irrepressible whimsy and did I mention hot temper? -- has been exhausting on every level.

This is the column I wrote back when I thought I had some inkling of how tough it would be to have another kid. I was, as usual, clueless.

Sometimes I miss the days when I didn’t know any better

    I was not scared the first time I sat in a tiny, two-man raft and watched the Ocoee River churn and swirl.     

    I was 22, and trying to impress a very athletic kayaker guy I had just started dating. When he offered to take me down the Ocoee River in a tiny, two-man raft, I told him I’d love to go.

    At some point on our trip through the rapids, though, I got nervous. I’m not the best swimmer, and I had neglected to mention that to Athletic Kayaker Guy. But I put on a brave face as my grinning date slammed our little craft through the cold waves.

    Then, at a rapid called Diamond Splitter, I tumbled out and ended up flipping around in the water like a lost shoe. Athletic Kayaker Guy managed to haul me back into the raft. I finished the trip determined to conceal my terror.

    "That was great," I crowed as we pulled our little craft from the water. "I loved it."

    Athletic Kayaker Guy immediately began planning our next Ocoee trip.

    "Sounds good," I chirped, fighting the urge to weep.

    A few weeks later I was in the little raft again. I’d had a knot in my stomach for days anticipating this trip. My mouth was dry. My head hurt.     

    "Ready to go?" Athletic Kayaker Guy asked cheerily.

    I nodded. We went. I felt queasy. I fell out again. When the trip was over my date looked at me. "Are you OK?"

    I shrugged. Bravado was beyond me.

    "I wasn’t scared the first time because I didn’t know what to expect," I confessed. "This time I knew what was coming and I was terrified."

    We broke up pretty soon after that. He said I had a "low adventure threshold."

    Speaking of adventure.

    A few months ago I sat on the cool, white edge of my bathtub and watched two pink lines materialize on a home pregnancy test.

    This is the second time I’ve done this.

    The first time I was flat-out delighted. I was going to have a baby! I was going to wear cute maternity clothes and be a lovely, round pregnant woman and lose all that baby weight in three months, and be instantly cured of my lifelong fear of newborns by the arrival of one of my very own. 
    Jack is 4 now. He made us a family, and he makes me happier than I knew I could be. He also made me a lot wiser about the realities of motherhood and my own limitations.     

    One jarring lesson my son taught me is that my fear of babies did not go away just because I became a mother. I survived Jack’s early infancy on a moment-to-moment basis, and spent a large amount of it wishing I were at the office, where I almost never have to clean up bodily fluids or walk the floor with a wailing infant at 4 a.m.

    I vividly remember offering my 1-week-old son $1,000 if he would just please, please stop crying for one minute.

    But we survived — we even managed to have a little fun — and now I have an enchanting 4-year-old best friend who is left-handed like his mother and sits cross-legged in my lap while we read "Go, Dog. Go!" and other scintillating classics.     

    And now those pink lines again.

    This time is happy, too. After more than 2 years of hoping, my husband and I thought this wouldn’t happen for us. Sitting on the edge of my bathtub I cried a little, and said a silent thanks to the universe.

    I also started bracing for the stuff I didn’t know about the first time around.

    I am not, it turns out, lovely and round during pregnancy. I am fat and lumpy. Also, once it gets big enough, this baby is going to want out. That part is just no fun AT ALL. 

    They say you forget the pain. They lie.

    I’ll be 33 when this baby gets here, and there’s no telling when I’ll return in earnest to the career I still miss. Our already difficult financial life is about to get impossible.

    And here we go back into the dreaded land of diapers, spit-up and food-as-projectile.     

    But there’s the other stuff, too. There’s that smell they have, little babies, that back-of-the-neck smell that releases all those happiness chemicals in my brain. There are all the firsts: first smile, laugh, word, step. There’s the first time you hold them, that moment when they take irrevocable possession of your heart.

    I’m wiser this time, and I’m happy. But I have to admit I’m scared in a way I wasn’t before. Bravado won’t do me any good.     

    Here we go. Hang on.

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