It was the one question our prepared-for-anything columnist never prepared for, and it threw her for a major loop. But hey, what did she expect?
It is 2003; I sit eating a joylesss dinner as my pal Mamie attempts to soothe my wailing infant. She pats her back, she rubs her tummy, she sways, bounces, vibrates, runs water, hums softly, offers the kid a check for 17 hundred bucks—Mamie is nothing if not pragmatic (she's also smart, beautiful, and currently reading over my shoulder). But Julia Claire Labusch is having none of it. She is inconsolable. And so am I.
The shard of my brain that is still capable of rational thought is grateful beyond measure that colic is my daughter's only health issue, but I am a shell-shocked, sleep-deprived, single mother whose 5-week-old infant spends every night, from sundown until 2 A.M., crying so hard that I have no idea what's keeping her purple little head from actually exploding. The situation has caused me to come up with an entirely new definition of panic. I used to think it was something you'd do if your house was on fire or a giant grizzly bear was attacking you or your psychiatrist was taking August off or Stouffer's announced it was discontinuing its macaroni-and-cheese line, but these nights of Julia unhinged have shaken me to the core. My hormones are playing ping-pong, the front of my shirt is soaked in breast milk, and I can't remember the last contact I had with a bottle of Pert Plus.
"Mame," I holler above my daughter's nonstop shrieking, "can you stick around long enough for me to take a shower?" How does seven pounds of baby produce such nerve-shattering noise? Mamie yells back, "Well, I know, but that certainly doesn't make you a coward." Again I attempt to be heard over Julia's unrelenting sobs. "No," I yell, "I said shower, not coward, SHOWER... I'm asking if you can hang out while I grab a fast shower?" Mamie cocks her head and looks vaguely horrified. "But why would you ever want to do that to Matt Lauer?"
It would be pushing it to say that I come out of the bathroom "daisy fresh," but I am able to name the day of the week, the president of the United States, and the number of calories in one mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cup (36...and, for those of you playing the home game, two grams of fat), which is all Mamie needs to declare me competent enough to get through the rest of the night with Captain Colic. It is time for the dread baby handoff, wherein she summons the strength to refrain from shouting, "Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last" at the top of her lungs and I summon the strength to refrain from begging her to stay a little longer—maybe just through junior high.
"This is so [insert the curse word of your choice here, as I don't recall which one I went with] hard," I say to my friend. She looks at the two of us, one crying hysterically, one trying her best not to, and asks in her usual straightforward, Mamie way, "What did you expect?"
Well, ain't that the $64,000 question! I mean, really, what did I expect? I remember lying in bed every night of my third trimester, staring at the empty crib and trying to picture the baby that would soon be sleeping in it, and I remember being sort of stunned when the Julia Claire Labusch in my arms looked nothing like the Julia Claire Labusch in my head. And, Jules, if one day you happen to be reading this, I only mean you were far more lovely than anything I could ever have dreamed of...and also really, really bald.
Anyway, the what-did-you-expect thing pops into my mind with alarming regularity. Only these days it doesn't necessarily pertain to parenting.
A Few Things I Never Counted On (Plus What I've Actually Come toExpect)
Why does a package of the test strips I need to check my blood sugar levels every day cost $79.97 here in the USA, while those very same strips cost $42.97 in Canada? I expect to feel the occasional pang when I see someone who is tall and tan and blonde and lovely, but I never expected to find myself deeply jealous of diabetic Canadians.
I never expected that the money I don't spend on healthcare would be spent on umbrellas, but it turns out I lose an average of five to 31 umbrellas each and every year...sort of like Mary Poppins with early-onset dementia. I can't remember who said it (see dementia reference one line up) but it's absolutely true: To fall in love with your umbrella is to flirt with nihilism.
I want politicians to quit cheating on their wives. But I don't want them to knock it off because they're breaking a sacred vow—as far as I'm concerned, that's between the guy and whomever he swore to cleave only unto—and it's not because when he gets caught, it keeps everybody from focusing on the fact that the sky is falling. Nope, the reason I favor fidelity is that I'm just so tired of feeling stupid about this stuff. Embarrassing as it is to admit it, every single time one of these governors or senators or mayors or congressmen or presidents claims to be faithful, from Gary Hart to John Edwards to Mark Sanford, I believe him. There, I've said it. It's 2009 and I still expect integrity from men in power.
You couldn't pay me enough to return to my wonder years. For one thing, women wore way too much Charlie; for another, I had a most unfortunate perm. Still, each morning when I look in the mirror, I expect to see the face I had at 19 looking back at me. Frankly I don't know who this other chick is (or where she got that extra chin), but she sure seems tired, and it's starting to freak me out.
I now know that there will be more nights when my daughter will cry and I will feel inadequate and lonely and none too thrilled to see her get a Mohawk, just as my mother kind of hated the great perm of '79. But here's the thing: I do expect life to get easier (I know, I know—this from the woman who trusted Hart, Edwards, and Sanford), but it's true.
I can't put my finger on exactly why I expect life to get easier—maybe it's as simple as the idea that children grow and memories fade and time heals and the world goes round. Maybe it's the comfort of knowing there are Mamies in the world, friends who show up with a box of blueberries and a funny story and the strength to let you go limp when you need to, or maybe it's just that I finally figured out that life can turn on a dime—I've learned to expect the unexpected.