Illustration: John Ritter
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.