A friend of mine had babies way before anyone else. We were still doing our undergrad degrees at University. But My roomate knocked her up, he did, and then he got a grown-up job to pay for a mortgage on a West End house. She became a stay-at-home mom who took the staying at home thing very literally. Now they are a family of five.
I didn`t see her much while she was having babies. I didn`t drop by. She was on the other end of the city and I didn`t think she'd really want me to. I was, after all, more so friends with him and he was working all the time and she probably had a lot of other much better friends looking in on her.
A little while back we were at the same house-warming party and I, having been on my Thanks For the Casserole, Biotch riff for some time already, told her this:
"I'm sorry I didn't come visit you when you were having babies. Now that I know how hard it is and how isolating it can be, I really regret not dropping by with a casserole or something."
She grabbed my arm and pulled me in closer. The conversation got intense quick, despite the fact that we were talking about something that did not actually happen and over 15 years ago at that.
"I would have loved that." She said, emphatically. "Why didn't you?"
"Well," I replied, backing my face away from hers to a slightly less uncomfortable distance, "I guess I just assumed you had, you know, lots of other friends probably and I felt kind of strange with visiting babies. I didn't know much about babies, honestly, and I spent a lot of time partying and going to bars and hanging out in pot-clouded rental suites writing sketch comedy and being, you know, a grunge princess. I didn't really feel pure enough to visit babies."
"I would have loved to hear about those pot-clouded rental suites," she insisted. "I would have loved for you to hang out and to hear about your life. We could have drank a beer."
"I know," I said. "I really get it now. And I just sincerely regret not bringing over a casserole and want you to know that."
Then she set down her wine glass a little too hard so that she could hug me and she sobbed, "Thank you. That means so much to me."
When I was leaving the party she yelled after me, "I'm going to bring YOU a casserole. You have tons of babies. I'm serious. I'm coming over with casserole!"
She never did. It's okay. She has a teenager, a tween, and a grade-schooler. She's busy. She lives on the West End. And she's a gluten-free vegan so any casserole would probably involve the sturdy combination of lentils, cabbage and cumin. But that's hardly the point. The point is her drunken, teary pledge meant something to me. It was nourishing.
If I'm to be completely honest, though, and this is my honest to Betsy venue for complete honesty, I'll need to admit that there were a few other reasons I didn't visit her than the ones I mumbled at that party.
1) I didn't want to have anything to do with babies -- I thought they were boring and strange and not something any reasonable 20-year old should bother herself with.
2) The West End is a long ways -- what if I expended all that energy to get there and it was boring? Then I, heaven forbid, would have to experience boredom.
3) What if I got there and the situation was not boring but heart-wrenching? I'd have to do something about it. There'd be children involved, after all.
4) What if the baby was barfy? What if I saw something gross? What if I smelled something unpleasant? What if she was breastfeeding and I saw her boobs and it made me feel funny? What if it cried and the sound irritated me and made me feel anxious?
So, to summarize: me, me, me, me, myself, and me.
Are these the same reasons so many of my friends, acquaintances and my lousy stinking siblings didn't drop in on me to visit my new arrivals? Of course.
Babies are boring or shrill and new parents tend towards the extremes of baby-struck bliss and bottomless need for the companionship of other adults.
I don't feel that way anymore -- I like newborns. I like the way they smell.
I like new parents too. I like how intense they are. I know how transformational becoming a parent is and I like the way it changes couples.
And I get new parents. All they really need to hear from you is that you think their baby is very beautiful, you think they are doing a great job, and you give at least half a flying crap that a whole new person has emerged into being, into their lives, a person they are hopelessly, desperately in love with.
That's why people who have had babies tend to drop by with a casserole or a pair of booties. They know new parents need a little fuss. Just a little can go a long ways.
I went to visit my long-time friend, the one my university roomate knocked-up, the one I didn't drop in on while she was having babies, the one who now has a teenager, a tween, and grade-schooler. I took my kids on a field trip to her artist's studio just the other day.
She's been working-from-home all this time as an artist as well as a stay-at-home mom. And this summer she was awarded a huge and juicy contract by the City to create something gigantic and beautiful. She has a crew of other artists working under her and by day and by night she is making this thing in a make-shift North-end studio.
I brought a plate of carrots from my garden and some other veggies. "In case you are stuck in some sort of Tim Horton's vortex," I told her, "and you need the nutrition."
One of her artist underlings, the feather-bedecked thick-glasses wearing one, looked wryly at my yoga suit, my veggie plate, my three children, and me.
"That's when we know it's time to switch to Ceasar's," she said, gesturing towards a very well-stocked bar. "Clamato is full of vitamins."
It was obvious that this gift would go limp in a corner until someone mercifully tossed it in the garbage.
My kids were on their worst behaviour. The little one would scream unless I held her in my exhausted arms. The bigger one just rolled around on the floor saying, "Boring, boring, boring, this is sooooooo boring." And the middle-child spelled off copying his older and younger sister by turns.
My artist/mom friend obviously enjoyed my mortification. She was jubilant about it. She dug how much trouble it was for me to leave the house with three small kids in tow. And she relished the fact that I came by to visit her because it is an acknowledgement that I am proud of the amazing thing that she is doing -- that I am curious and fascinated by her life which is, at the moment, far more interesting than mine. Ironic, huh?
I feel so much closer now that casseroles have been exchanged, not literally but meaningfully.