Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Nine Months and Change

Stepping off the bus that had taken me from the Denver airport to the mountains outside Estes Park, I arched my back in an attempt to release the knot. It's a long bus ride to trundle along in a re-purposed school bus, full of hard plastic seats reorganized to sit parallel to the road instead of perpendicular. The early September air was a lot cleaner and cooler up there, compared to the dusty and overly warm days in Kansas City.

The scenery leaves no doubt where I was. Pine trees, for one thing. And trees that are dotted across the mountains -- that's another clue. And near the tops, the trees fall away, too large to survive in the harsher conditions (and frequent snow cover) of the peaks. A world away from the flat, largely treeless area of KC where I live.

Then my phone rang. It's my brother, and after a few tense moments of fearing something terrible has happened, he lets me know that he and his wife have begun revealing that they are expecting a baby in the spring of 2015. My phone connection is very poor, but I congratulate them and promise to speak more when I'm next in St. Louis. Ben, my brother, closes by letting me know that they're only told the close family, so I promise not to tell anyone.

I did tell some people, though, which was a bursting of that promise. But the people I tell don't know my brother or his wife, and they're unlikely to then post something saying, "Congratulations to my friend Andy, who's going to be an uncle! What a great secret!" And even if they took that step, it's not going to reach anyone who's going to feel offended that Sarah didn't tell them PERSONALLY.

What I understood when they said, "We're only telling close family," is that they're trying to control the release so that certain People Who Care About These Things don't find out the good news from anyone other than the happy couple. When I lean over and tell the trombonist next to me, "my sister-in-law is pregnant," he smiles and says, "Hey, that's great. Congratulations to them." And then he forgets it, because that information is pretty far down the list on his priorities for life. And I still feel good, because it's nice to tell people good news from my life, even if it's not going to change the course of anyone else's.

Flash forward to early November. I noticed that my sister had put an announcement up on Facebook, issuing the closest thing our modern culture has to a "press release" for personal matters. Numerous comments of congratulations and well-wishing come forth. I "liked" the post, because... well... I *do* like the fact of Baby "Sarah+Ben."

An hour or so later, my brother texted me to let me know the sex of Upcoming Baby. I offered my congratulations, and that fact helped me to flesh out the flesh in my mind. Moreso than a grainy ultrasound picture can do, I've found.

But Sarah didn't indicate the child's sex in her public all-call, and my brother didn't say, "Hey, we're telling everyone!" so I won't reveal it here. For one reason, the sex of babies doesn't REALLY matter to people outside the immediate family circle. There's going to be a baby, and that baby will likely fall into one of the top-two most popular sexes. Everyone not related by blood to Upcoming Baby doesn't really have a whole lot to do other than cheer and say, "Yay, babies! Yay, mom and dad!"

The far larger and more important reason I don't reveal these sorts of things to the blog or public is that I want the family (ie. Ben and Sarah) to have some things in this process that they can control. There are any number of things that have been and will be out of parents control: medical conditions, morning sickness on particular days, the task of listening patiently to advice provided by EVERYONE EVERYWHERE.  And I don't want to take away from the fact that this information is theirs to control. If they had decided to keep the sex secret until birth, that's their choice.

I believe that the parents should have control. People seem bound and determined to force new parents into... things. Purchasing these items. Eating these foods. Thinking this way about natal psychology. Breastfeeding until EXACTLY this point and not before or after.

Or the exact opposite of everything I just said.

I don't think I've ever seen as much freely-bestowed advice as is given to parents. And the vast majority of it is bullshit.

The bullshit comes in these two flavors:

1) "It's not what I would do." This is advice that's offered as (sometimes well-meaning) gospel, usually (though not always) by people who've had children of their own. Incorrectly stems from the idea that a perfect course through childhood can be attained. Or even desired.

2) "Regrets, but not really. But really." This is passive-aggressive commentary that is designed to be like the tolling of a great bell, mournfully striking out the moments until there is never any fun (or sex or free time or love or hiking or desserts) ever again. You may also recognize these comments from their other most-offered moment: before a couple gets married. "Wait until BABY/MARRIAGE happens! No more late nights! Fun will be cancelled. Sex is concluded! Going out to dinner will be a fevered delusionist's nightmare!"

People want to be involved in the birth and raising of any particular child. I understand that -- there's that trite phrase "it takes a village" that somehow bubbled up into the political conscience of my generation, despite an utter lack of villages. And it's right to want to be involved, because it shows affection for the children and their parents. But sometimes the "involvement" goes only as far as, "Hey, I heard you're having a kid! That's great. Children are the best."

And. Done. Because sometimes that's all the ownership you're allowed.

I know: people are bursting with all the best ideas about how to raise the children that aren't theirs. It doesn't matter if you've heard from Beyonce that an all-lemon diet is best for 2-and-unders. It doesn't even matter if you know from having five babies that the best song to sing is "The Monster Mash." Just hold on to that advice, and feel free to mention it if the new parents come to you and say, "We've tried the entire catalog of Frankie Valli. And all Four of the Seasons! What worked for you?"

My course of action is to stand way back, so that I'm not confused for someone who has anything to say about babies. Is the baby fat for a two-month old? Should my 16-month be walking? Hell if I know, so I'm going to keep quiet. If the parent comes to me and says, "I could really use your help moving this piece of furniture there... for the children," then I enthusiastically help out.

Mostly because it will take the sting out of it, when I run away instead of helping with the dirty diapers.

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