Animated movies frighten me. Amusement parks nauseate me. Zoos bore me. These facts alone were enough to convince me that I should never have kids. But there was more. I couldn’t draw. I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t catch a ball without wincing. Candy, I liked. Halloween, not so much. Presents? Delightful. Party games? Detestable. Themed bedrooms? Primary colors? Clowns? I’d take a pass. In short, I lacked all of the requisite interests, skills and qualities to be an engaging, entertaining and desirable parent.
“You’d make a great mother, you’re so warm and caring,” my friends said. But as I’d learned from teenage baby-sitting, warm and caring, like a dollar an hour, went only so far. To keep kids happy, you needed a bag of tricks. Mine was empty.
In my 20s, married but happily childless, I was a hit with my nieces and nephews. I attributed this surprising phenomenon to the fact that, with a love of fashion and french fries and empathy for even the most trivial adolescent dramas, I had more in common with them than their parents.
By the time I reached my 30s, it seemed like everyone I knew had children. Even those more Grinch-like than me had taken the plunge. Their kids seemed content. Could I take the risk? I consulted my friend Benay.
“I’m just not a plop-down person like you,” I complained.
“What do you mean?”
“You enter a room full of kids, plop down on the ground with them and instantly they adore you.”
“Don’t be silly. You’re exactly like me.” For a friend, she didn’t seem to know me at all.
Nevertheless, after countless internal battles, I gave birth to not one, but two baby girls. I was thrilled but terrified. What had I done? I’d had doubts about amusing one baby, how would I handle two? One was company, two an audience. “Remember,” my mother advised. “Kids are happy just playing with Tupperware.”
“You promise you’ll take them to the zoo?” I asked my husband, Larry, the first night we brought Willow and Chloe home.
“And Disney World?”
“And the movies? You know how scared I get.”
At the beginning, my shortcomings went unchallenged. With tiny toes to admire and fingers to suck, Willow and Chloe hardly needed me for entertainment. No requests for roller coaster rides or film screenings were made, but then again, they couldn’t talk. I was cautiously optimistic.
And then, one night, I was tested. About a year old, the babies were eating dinner when abruptly all chewing and babbling ceased. Four eyes stared expectantly at me. Stunned by the silence, I stared back. Wrong move. Instantly, one began to cry, the other to wail. Distraction was needed, action required. Remembering my mother’s advice, I grabbed a few measuring spoons (like Tupperware, right?), distributed them and hoped for the best. No such luck. Beyond spoon therapy, their screaming continued. I was at a complete loss when suddenly desperation bore inspiration. Casually, I sauntered toward them while whistling and glancing around as if oblivious to their presence. Without warning, I stopped, leapt toward them and shouted, “Beeblo!” Miraculously, the crying stopped, and—to my amazement—was replaced by laughter.
“Again, beeb-lo,” they sang in unison.
Again? I thought. They want more? Who was I to argue?
And so I “beeb-loed” again. And again and again.
“Guess what?” I said later to Larry. “I’m fun”
“I knew you were.”
The next day, encouraged by my success, I tentatively began to sing “Rainbow Connection” to Willow and Chloe. Struggling to remember the words while suppressing the suspicion that my neighbors could hear my croaking via baby monitor waves, I managed to finish with a dramatic “the lovers, the dreamers and me” flourish. My reward? Clapping, laughing and shouts of “again.”
Buoyed by my triumph, I decided to take the babies out to lunch. Why haven’t I done this before? I wondered, gazing contentedly at their smiling faces just as silverware began to fly, hair to be pulled and fellow diners to be deafened. A book, a puzzle, even a spoon hanging from my nose did nothing to stifle their enthusiasm. Parched from pleading, I took a sip of water and then, perhaps by divine intervention, did something I hadn’t done in years – blew a gust of air into my straw creating a dazzling eruption of glorious, gurgling bubbles in my glass. Instantly, havoc-wreaking ceased and begging for bubbles commenced.
Maybe I’ll make a decent mom after all, I thought, lying in bed that night. Almost asleep, panic hit. Sure I’d been successful with “beeblo,” the song and the straw but there were minutes, hours, days, decades to fill. More material was needed. How did that paddy cake clapping go? What about the teapot song moves? Was Hopscotch still in? And which one was Mary Kate and which was Ashley?
My worry was wasted. As it turns out, I’m a hit with the toddler set. Despite my dislikes and deficiencies, I have many hidden talents. I can trace hands and feet, roll Play-Doh into both big and small balls and make a puppet talk. But that’s not all, there’s more. I can create wind (courtesy of my hair dryer), pop bread from the toaster and tell captivating once-upon-a-times. Somersaults, I can do. Funny faces, I can make. Books, I can read. Exceptionally cozy, that’s me.
I admit, I’m on borrowed time. Willow and Chloe will soon realize that the world is filled with folks who can sing on key, draw actual birds not just check marks and transform ordinary hot dogs into dazzling octopi. Any day they’ll discover that “Finding Nemo” is not a hide-a-seek game invented by Mommy but a hit movie Mommy’s too scared to see and that a trip to The Disney Store isn’t quite the same as "going to Disney". Concerned? Not too much. After all, as it turns out, warm and loving (and the occasional zoo outing) can get you pretty far.