Motherhood doesn’t come easily to me.
Don’t get me wrong, The Boy is thriving and I love him more than I ever dreamed possible, but parenting just isn’t a natural talent of mine.
Remember when you learned to play basketball for the first time, in gym class, and you slowly realized that some people just don’t have any hand-eye coordination? It’s sort of like that. When my friends hear my questions and concerns and frustrations about being a mom, they’re thinking, Why can’t she just put the ball in the basket?
An example: When The Boy was but a wee thing — a month old, perhaps — my friends encouraged me to venture out. Start small, they said. Run a quick errand, or get a cup of coffee. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is.
So I did. I made sure he had a full belly, then put him in a fresh outfit. Perhaps more noteworthy, I put me in a fresh outfit. I packed an extra set of everything and set out for our two mile journey to the nearest coffee shop.
The drive was pleasant enough. It was a sunny day, and when I looked back every five seconds, The Boy was oblivious, content.
My friends were right, I thought, it’s nice to be out. We arrived uneventfully at the coffee shop. I unclicked his bucket seat and carried him in.
It was about two o’clock on a weekday afternoon. Aside from the baristas banging around behind the bar, it was quiet. On a momentary break from life, the patrons were all quietly reading or pecking on a gadget or sipping coffee. It was an oasis. We had all escaped, including me. I was out.
I walked to the counter, gently set the bucket on the floor, and dug around for my wallet. That’s when the dream started to unravel.
Just as the barista asked what she could get for me, The Boy started to whimper. Oh crap. I reached out with my foot and tipped the round-bottomed bucket ever so slightly, to make it rock, and then quickly ordered a medium coffee to go. Maybe if I acted like I knew what I was doing, it would all be okay.
For his part, The Boy was not amused. The whimper quickly turned into a fuss. My shoulders crept skyward, toward my earlobes. Please tell me this isn’t happening.
The fuss turned into a cry, which quickly escalated into a howl. I tossed some money on the counter, grabbed the coffee, and then turned and froze, staring down at my son. How was I going to carry this heaping bucket-o-Boy and a cup of hot coffee at the same time? And even if I could manage that, how was I going carry all that AND get my keys out AND unlock my door AND heave him back into the car? I needed another arm. (Octopus mamas must have it soooo easy.)
The Boy kept howling, red now. The bubble of our communal oasis had been burst — pillaged, sacked, plundered. I could feel the intensely hot laser beams from everyone’s eyeballs, staring. Now that I think about it, this explains why I broke out into a sweat. Will someone please remind me why hot coffee was a good idea?
I had to get out of there. I tucked the handle of the bucket into the crook of my strong arm and grabbed the coffee with the other hand. I lurched like a zombie towards the door — bucket-toting arm lifted for leverage, coffee arm almost fully extended in anticipation of the now-certain spill, which would surely land directly on my infant son’s face and scald him beyond recognition. Really?, I chided myself. Hot coffee?
Outside, scorching tears of frustration, embarrassment and ineptitude sprang from my eyes as I ditched the cup in the garbage can and continued toward the car. Once there, I looked him over. His diaper was dry, his belly still full. Nothing was poking or pulling or pinching him. Why was he screaming? Had I somehow dislocated his arm? Were we being pursued by machete-wielding guerrillas, unbeknownst to me? I looked around, just to be sure.
I eventually gave up, clicked his bucket back into the car, and drove home. He screamed the whole way. In fact, he screamed so loud and for so long, that he started to lose his voice. (I challenge you to find that in a parenting book.)
Against my better judgment, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you and admit to something unflattering and quite uncourageous. The thought that was going through my head as I pulled into the driveway was this:
I went and had a BABY and now I’m stuck in this HOUSE for the rest of my LIFE.
I’m about as extroverted as they come. The thought of having to choose between staying home and breaking out in hives from the stress of “being out” was unbearable. I felt as though I’d just heard my own death knell.
Things got better, of course. The Boy grew and changed. I grew and changed. I went back to work, which helped. He learned to crawl, then walk, then talk. He’s no less demanding now, actually, but at least we understand each other.
Here’s another unflattering admission: When I’m in quiet public places, like coffee shops and churches and movie theaters, and I hear a baby screaming, I secretly like it. Even more so when it’s a mother, and she looks flustered, mopping her brow. Isn’t that terrible?!
I’m not taking joy in their frustration, mind you; I’m just relishing the fact that I’m not alone.
Actually, I like to think of it this way: I’m curing myself of a quite-serious inferiority complex, one fussy baby at a time.
In hindsight, a tiny coffee shop was not the greatest venue for a first adventure – I didn’t realize just how loud a baby could be in small quiet space.
My second mistake was actually ordering coffee. What I should have done is ask for a cookie – a highly portable, room temperature, easily-scarfed-if-I-suddenly-have-to-carry-my-kid cookie.
Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Dried Cranberry and Chocolate Cookies, Food & Wine, November 2011
1 cup quick-cooking oats (or regular rolled oats)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips