Do not allow children to mix drinks. It is unseemly and they use too much vermouth.
-- Fran Lebowitz
"Ah, shit, don't open it. I already know what it is. Look, there's a rattle drawn on the back." Catching my drift, David handed over the sticker-laden herald as if he were a postal worker handling an envelope addressed to Washington, D.C., after noticing a peculiar white powder along its edge. Using my nail, I tore open the envelope and removed the invitation card. David braced himself by squinting his eyes and nodded his permission for me to read it aloud.
"We are tickled pink and happy to say, a baby girl is on the way! Please join us for a baby shower blah blah blah. Do you want to know the date?"
"No," David answered in a clipped tone. "No need. It's not like we're going to go."
"You don't want to go?" I asked, more out of a playful urge to poke a cranky tiger than actual curiosity -- I already knew his answer. Rather than uttering the two-letter word, David rolled his eyes.
"That's another couple we have to replace," I said of our expectant friends.
"Yup," agreed David. "Too bad. I really liked hanging out with them. Oh, well," he conceded, "it's not like this is the first time I've lost friends to children." At 40-something, David's already been through this phase I am experiencing for the first time; I have only just reached the age when most people advance to the next step of the social norm -- get married, buy a house, settle down, and pop out some mini-mes.
Each time I learn that one of my friends is bursting with baby, I experience two emotions. First, I am happy for my friend, ecstatic that she (or the father-to-be, if I am closer to the male half of the couple) is getting what she wants and deserves and creates for herself out of life. Second, I am sad, in the way of a college senior at graduation who has just learned her best friend has received an amazing job opportunity in a different city. I'll visit you , I might think, but I know I don't want to live there.
When someone has a child, his or her life is transformed -- the child becomes priority numero uno , as it should be for all good parents. But to become a great parent, one must make sacrifices in all areas of life. My sisters have done this -- they scaled back their work hours, substituted Baby Einstein DVDs for primetime programming, and replaced the Crate & Barrel glassware in their cupboards with plastic sippy cups. Rather than meeting up with friends for fine dining or a night on the town, they began to surround themselves with other young parents and limited their socializing to kiddie birthday parties and gatherings at the local playground.
I don't dislike children, but I don't like them either. I don't want to "play." I want to participate in conversation, in a coherent, symbiotic discussion. It is impossible for me to obtain this goal with a child in the room. So when someone says, "I want to see you, come hang out with me and my new baby," I feel it is the same as me saying, "I want to see you, come hang out with me while I'm on this conference call for work." Because it never fails, every time I say yes and go to hang out, it takes three hours to have what should have been a 20-minute conversation. This is because my friend's attention is, understandably, focused on the baby.
What many parents don't realize is that not everybody wants to have children. Perhaps more mind-boggling is that a great many people, even those with children of their own, do not enjoy spending time with someone else's children. If you choose to reproduce, that's fine, but please do not be offended if I have zero interest in meeting, ogling, admiring, or hanging out with your kid, at least not until he's old enough to mix a good cocktail.
David and I toyed with the idea of posting a sign at our front door that reads, "You must be this high to enter." Our home is not baby-proof. We have sharp sculptures on the floor and exposed art on the walls. We have easy-to-stain rugs and soft, unprotected, Italian leather sofas. We love to have friends over to sip wine, nibble cheese, and talk about anything from traveling and world affairs to local politics and stories of day-to-day life. Desiring the company of our friends does not equal desiring the company of our friends and their offspring.
Because most of us are well trained to believe that people who like babies are good and people who don't like babies are bad, I offer this analogy: Say I LOVE to bird-watch and you know that it is the one thing around which my world revolves. I call you up and say, "Hey, come bird-watching with me this weekend!" Because you can't think of a good enough excuse to get out of it, you find yourself sitting with me on a hillside overlooking a canyon with a pair of binoculars in one hand and an illustrated bird book in the other.
You say, "So how's your week been?"
I say, "Great, how 'bout yours?"
You say, "Well, I wanted to tell you about--"
"WOW, you see that?" I excitedly point to a leafy area. "That's a Cassin's Kingbird. I haven't seen one around here before." Jamming a finger at the book in your left hand, I order you to note the pale yellow belly beneath the greenish-gray wings. "Wow, beautiful. Don't you think it's beautiful? Seeing that bird fills me with such joy! Sorry, you were saying?"
You say, "Yeah, pretty cool bird. Anyway, yesterday, Brian called, and he was all--"
"You hear that? I'm sorry, but did you hear that? God, it sounded just like a Horned Lark. I wouldn't expect one out here, but you never know." I hold one hand up, gesturing for silence as I strive to hear the call once more. After a few minutes I drop my hand and say, "Guess not. Okay, sorry, go ahead."
"Yeah. Anyway, Briancalledandsaidhisparentsweregoingtobeonthe Daily Show because--"
"LOOK! A turkey vulture! I don't mean to cut you off, but I thought you might miss it." I begin to elucidate upon the eating habits and digestive processes of the carnivorous bird, sparing no detail about the color and texture of its excrement. Then, remembering you had something to tell me, I say, "Sorry, go ahead. You were saying?"
You say, "You know what? Forget it."
Two hours after receiving the happy and sad news, I sat in my office staring at the invitation, thinking up ways to R.S.V.P. a regretful declination when David appeared in the doorway.
"Hey, is there anyone you want to ask to join us at the Prado for tonight's wine-tasting dinner?" David had a hopeful look about him.
I thumbed through my phone book to see who remained and came upon the same name staring up at me from the invitation. I'll miss her , I thought. Now she will enter the world of new parents, taking comfort in the company of others of her kind. I made a mental note to switch my friend from my "Hey, it's five o'clock, want to go get drinks at six?" list to my "Want to have dinner in a month? That should be plenty of time to find a sitter" list, and continued my search.