One Saturday a few months ago, I pulled on a pair of yoga pants and a T-shirt and went up the street to Starbucks for a chai. Soy chai, extra hot — no water, no foam. With a shot of espresso if I'm really dragging, but I don't think I was that day.I gave my order to one of the baristas — the one who gave me a free drink when I noticed her new haircut — and as I stood in line waiting to pay, the woman behind me made a point of getting my attention then very sweetly said, "Excuse me. You are just the most adorable pregnant woman I've ever seen."
In my neighborhood, I guess it's not unusual to spot a pregnant woman. She might even be wearing a T-shirt and yoga pants, ordering a latte. But damn, don't people ever learn? You never ask a woman, "Boy or girl?" "When are you due?" or any pregnancy-related question, under any circumstances, no matter how bun-in-the-oven she looks. I'd even been feeling pretty good about how I looked lately — until that day. Her oversight stung. That day wasn't the first pregnancy mix-up I'd experienced, but it still smarted. The first time it happened, I was living in New York, in the best shape of my life, browsing a clothing store in Hell's Kitchen with a friend before a Broadway show. The shopkeeper wouldn't take no for an answer; he'd all but touched my belly before I assured him emphatically that I wasn't pregnant. "Well, you shop at my store, maybe I find you something that doesn't make you look like it!" Yeah, It's kind of a sore spot with me.
Back at Starbucks, I tried to maintain my composure and the rosy glow I apparently had that morning. "Oh, thank you, but I'm actually not pregnant," I mustered, flustered. She was flustered, too, but if she'd really wanted to apologize, she could at least have bought my chai. After all, up until a minute ago, I had been drinking for two, right?
Fast-forward to the weekend before last. Strolling up Rockwell Street, hand-in-hand with the Knight in Shining Camry, feeling a little down on myself, I smoothed my T-shirt down over my yoga pants and grumbled something about what I'd do to the next person who asked me if I was pregnant. Just not in the mood, at all. Then, we passed a young couple piling out of the car for a morning in the park, with a little girl in tow. The woman was pregnant, probably five or six months in, beautifully slender but for her beach-ball belly. "There! I don't look like that, right?!" No, I should be so lucky.
So, right. In the past few months, baby fever has set in pretty hard. The kind of fever that makes you delirious, defies all rational thought. Because I know I'm not ready to have a child — I can barely take care of my friend's fish while he's away on vacation, and I kill nearly every plant I attempt to grow — but damn, this girl can dream.
We took our bagels and coffee to a park in Ravenswood and sat while a family enjoyed a morning on the playground. Mom and Dad had brought their newspapers, taking turns supervising, and their little girl was romping around on the gravel and sand, dragging a stuffed green monster by the arm. As they got up to leave, the father picked her up and swung her around, her little red pants flying up around her knees and sand spilling out of her tiny shoes in beautiful arcs in the Sunday morning light. I could have thrown up I was so happy.
I love baby clothes and baby accessories and children's toys. I wave at every toddler, hoping against hope that I'll get a smile or a shy wave back. My heart races when I see a stroller; I just have to peek inside. And I seethe with envy at every mother — even the harried, overworked ones — for reasons I may never quite understand.
A few weeks ago, the Knight took me to meet some of his family. His younger brother has twin boys who glommed on to me the instant I walked in the door, and I loved it. They were shy about it at first, but as soon as the grown-ups sat down at the table on the patio, the Hot Wheels collection came out, and my long legs became their racetrack. I left the house thinking, "Man, it's completely fine that those are not my children," but I was moony and wistful and baby-crazed at the same time.
There's a kind of finality in the idea of having kids, even more than getting married — because goodness knows most marriages don't last anymore. But creating a family, taking that leap with someone else and acknowledging that you're ready to care for something tiny and helpless until it's strong enough to go out on its own? I mean, yikes…but wow. Getting to that point, feeling ready to be at that point? That means you've really made it.
Maybe what I anticipate the most in having a child — someday, someday — is the clean slate that comes with it. You can be everything to that child that your parents weren't able to be. No matter what's happened in the past, your kids won't know it until you decide to tell them, and they will adore you if you do your job as a parent well. And you'll adore them regardless of what they do, because that's what it means to be a parent.
When it's just us grown-ups in the room, I can take one big, immature step back and recognize that I have a long way to go before I'm ready for all that. When I am ready? Look out, world. Then look up my baby registry and send me gifts. Lots of gifts.
But I promise to let you know when I get there — whatever you do, don't ask.