Monday, May 5, 2014

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My Four-Year-Old Wants A Baby




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In the living room was an explosion of baby dolls wrapped in blankets.

Babies lined the sofa, the chair, the carpet and rug. One was on the desk, and another on the desk chair.

Norah was cradling a blanket in her arms. She was in the blue shorts and “I love Mommy” t-shirt that she wore to bed the night before, and her hair was matted from sleep. She looked a lot like Mel after a long night of being up with a baby.

It was early Saturday morning, around 8AM. Norah, my four-year-old, had been up for who knows how long taking care of her babies.

Like most kids her age, she’s an early riser.

“Daddy,” she said. “Would you like to see my baby?”

This is not the first time Norah has asked me if I wanted to see her babies. And every time she does, it freaks me out.

“Sure,” I said.

Norah pulled back the blanket, and wrapped inside was an empty Mac-N-Cheese box she’d pulled from the recycle bin in the kitchen.

“Isn’t she beautiful?”

Norah looked up at me with big blue hopeful eyes.

It was then that I realized half the babies in the living room were not actually dolls. Her maternal instincts that morning had reached out to stuffed animals, remote controls, shoe boxes, really anything that could be wrapped in a blanket or a bath towel. She’d wrapped up my church shoes, an apple, a banana, a pillow, another blanket... She’d even wrapped two running shoes in the same blanket. I assumed they were twins.

It was a nursery full of offspring birthed by random objects.

There were real dolls in the room, too.

I’m not sure the exact number of dolls Norah has, but I think it’s somewhere between a million and infinity.  Sadly, we have encouraged this by buying Norah all these baby dolls. Mostly because caring for her babies keeps Norah entertained, and because she looks adorable lugging a baby doll around the house.

Each baby has a special name. There's Chubby Baby, Cinderella Baby (this one has a tiara), Cute Baby, Silly Baby, Sad Baby, Poo Poo Baby… I could go on, but you get the idea. It seems like no matter how many babies we buy Norah, she always comes up short, and resorts to wrapping random object in blankets or towels.

She’s done this for some time, but it seems to have gotten worse since Mel became pregnant with our third child.

“Yes,” I said. “Your baby is beautiful.”

“I just want to have a hundred babies. And I will love them all.”  As Norah said this, she squeezed the wrapped box against her chest hard enough that it crumpled beneath the blanket. She said it with excitement. Like she wanted to get started now. Like she couldn’t wait to get knocked up and start working towards her goal of populating a college auditorium.

As she said this, I couldn’t help but wonder where her baby obsession came from. I know it didn’t come from me. I didn’t even want to have kids. I liked the idea of being childless. Sometimes I still daydream about it. Having the TV to myself. Never watching another Disney or Pixar film. Sleeping through the night. Only having to worry about cleaning my own ass. Thinking about leaving the house, and then immediately doing it, no preparation or yelling or searching for lost shoes. Not having to fight the urge to throw a punch after taking a child-size shoe to the crotch.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids. They bring a lot of joy into my life, but Mel was the one who wanted them. Not me. When I was a child I didn’t even want a pet, let alone a baby. Mel had to really break me down to get me to say, “Ok. We can have one child.” And the fact that we were about to have a third child was a real testament to Mel’s ability to make me her bitch.

The thought of 100 babies freaked me out. It made me worry about Norah’s future. It made me wonder if she was going to be one of those girls who believed that having a baby is the only way to feel loved. The kind of girl who gets pregnant in junior high because she thinks it might make her happy.

The kind of girl I dated in high school.

She was a strong-mouthed redhead who pushed people away because she was angry and depressed. Her family life was not ideal, and so she felt that having a baby was the answer to finding someone who truly loved her. She brought it up regularly, telling me that we should have a baby. It was terrifying. We were both 16 years old and making minimum wage ($5.15 an hour) at Pizza Hut. We both had acne and no health insurance.

And what I find the most terrifying now, as a father, is the thought of one of my children making a baby before they are financially and mentally mature enough to care for it. I’m 31, and sometimes I think I’m not financially or mentally mature enough to be a father. Some months we barely make ends meet, and I still laugh at  fart jokes.

One of my children having a baby in high school is one of my biggest fears.

I didn’t mention any of this to Norah because it seemed too weighty for a four-year-old. But I wanted to put an end to this baby obsession now, before it turned into teen pregnancy.

“Wow!” I said. “One hundred babies! You don’t want 100 babies. That’s a lot of poopy dippers, crying, and sleepless nights. Sometimes they throw up in your mouth. Or shoot pee in your face. Your brother used to poop in the tub! Real babies are kind of gross and smell and they take a lot of work. A real baby isn’t fun at all. In fact, they are kind of a pain. You don’t want a baby. What you want is a good book. Let me see if I can find you one. I’ll read you a story.”

Norah looked up at me with a slack jawed expression. She was clearly offended. “My babies will not be stinky! And they won’t poop! They will smell like, like, like…” she struggled to find the right word, “like cute! Please stop saying mean things about my babies!”

She held the swaddled box of Mac-N-Cheese close to her chest, stomped her foot, and stormed into her room. 

 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley

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