There is only one rule in our house: No babies in the kitchen. Our daughter acknowledges this rule by scurrying just past the border between the carpeted living room and the linoleum kitchen. She then sits down on the linoleum and looks back at us as if to say, “And what are YOU going to do about it?”
Bonnie’s refusal to abide even the least restrictive limitation mocks our inability to break even the most restrictive new rules about parenting. I miss the relative ignorance my wife and I had when we were pregnant with Bonnie. The other day I saw the following headline on Facebook: Study Finds Swaddling May Lead to SIDS. How is that the conclusion of a study?
Researcher #1: Our hypothesis was that swaddling may lead to SIDS.
Grant Committee: And your findings?
Researcher #2: Yeah, maybe.
Grant Committee: That isn’t much of a conclusion.
Researcher #1: Isn’t it, though?
Researcher #2: In our defense, we have already cashed the check.
As we prepare for baby number two, I feel like someone retaking a class only to learn that his notes are completely useless. Instead of All’s Well That Ends Well they’re reading Hamlet. Instead of Great Expectations they’re reading Bleak House. All that second-time parent cockiness has been replaced, slowly but surely, by those first-time jitters we thought were behind us. One thing’s for certain: My mom did not have to go through this, and not just because Facebook hadn’t been invented yet.
My grandma was pregnant with her fifth child when my grandparents moved to Panama. They were just a missionary family from Michigan trying to spread the gospel to the jungles of Central America. They spent most of their adult lives away from the family and community of their youths, battling snakes and heat stroke to set up evangelical churches in devout Catholic countries. But to hear my grandma tell it, it was never a struggle. Every time they needed to enter a new village in Puerto Rico or Guatemala, the Lord would bless them with a new baby to smooth things over. In this manner was my soon-to-be-born mom their gateway into Panama.
However, when my grandma visited the local hospital, she discovered that among other things there was an inch of dust on the windows. She didn’t complain to her doctor or find the next-closest hospital or leave my grandpa there with my uncles and aunt and return to the states. No, she did something far bolder: She bought a book. Now that may not sound very bold to you, but this was a very special book. It was a book by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, and her plan was to use it to give birth. At home.
She hid the book immediately and read it in secret so that no one would know about her plan. Not even her husband.
I can just imagine my grandparents the day my grandma went into labor in the middle of the night, her trying to hide each new burst of pain, him waking up periodically anyway. Was it a particularly bad contraction that made her cry out or did she perhaps knock her drinking glass off her bedside table? Whatever it was, she got her husband’s attention.
“Are you sure you’re not in labor, Mary Ellen?”
“Just indigestion, go back to sleep.”
“Are you sure?”
“I must have eaten a bad pepper.”
“Did you eat a pepper?”
“Oh Carl, you worry too much.”
By the time she finally gave in and let Carl drive her to the hospital, it was too late. Instead of being brought into the world in a filthy hospital, Esther Ellen Moses, my mom, was born in the front seat of her parents’ Mercury, the only brand new car the couple ever had. Carl welcomed her into the world with open arms and then carefully unwrapped the umbilical cord that was around her neck.
Whenever my mom comes to visit, she basically ignores our one and only rule about the kitchen. She also treats casually the 150 or so guidelines (not rules) we try to follow, which cover everything from how many ounces of whole milk to give with formula to how long to let Bonnie cry at bed time to how many minutes she can be in direct sunlight. Whenever she does ignore one such guideline, I just remind myself that people who were born in the back of a car in a third-world country don’t sweat the small stuff.
Or so I thought. Between writing the first line of this story and this line, I sat down with my mom and had a heart-to-heart. She confessed that she did, in fact, stress over me and that, surprise surprise, she still does. I hope that I’m not worried about Bonnie when she’s 30, but something tells me a little part of me always will be. There will always be that catch in my throat, that hoping that everything is all right.
And maybe that’s why we’re so adamant about our “one” rule. If we can just keep her out of the kitchen, everything will be all right. If we can keep her in the living room, everything else will fall in line. It’s like gremlins. Don’t feed them after midnight, don’t get them wet, and everything will be fine. Yet we all remember what happened with them. As far as my daughter goes, every time I turn around she’s managed to worm her way into the kitchen. Then again, for all her disobedience, nothing terrible has happened. And it could be worse. She could be crawling around a hospital in Panama.