A few days ago, I learned that a childhood friend of mine was pregnant and found myself unexpectedly exuberant over the idea of buying mini-things for a mini (and quite possibly bald) person who is to arrive in Arizona sometime around the ides of March. I thought this tiny soul should own my mini “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” shirt that I once dressed my cat Moskow in and an outfit that made him look like a panda, and my heart started racing in a new unfamiliar way. Lately, I feel like that female caricature that walks around with a cartoon clock ticking over her head and thinks her ovaries are a worthy dinner topic. I see a baby and I involuntarily gurgle, or at the very least talk in the same intonation I use for my cats (pitched perfectly high for their tiny little ears). In order to combat what can only be described as a genealogical disorder (i.e., the desire to have a baby before you have a mortgage), I have taken to interviewing women I know who have children.
One told me that it was a lot like a tiny alien growing inside of you. She said this as her two sons ran out the back door, into the garden, and rolled with joy in the Michigan dune grass. She kept talking about feeling like a living petri dish and I kept wanting to tickle her sons. Another mother told me “Don’t do it!” in a voice that connoted both weariness and desperation. Meanwhile, she was holding up her beautiful blond, curly-haired boy. (He had eyes quite capable of hypnosis, as if they were spinning circles in a ‘60s “Batman” Saturday morning special, and the evil joker was saying in a voice-over, “Don’t you want your own little angel? Yes, you do. When you wake up you will go straight to the bathroom and flush all those troublesome birth control pills down the toilet, you will put on your cleanest underwear, buy cans of lemon-flavored Fourloco, and invite your boyfriend to make love on the navy blue jersey sheets you recently purchased at Linens ‘N Things.”) This mother’s mouth kept saying “No! No! No!” but my brain was already calculating which family names I would bestow on my billions of babies.
Then I saw a recent study which totally proved babies are contagious. You can even catch this virus from your co-worker’s relatives, according to the study. I started to understand a little more: I was catching a case of the babies. Right now I am in the sniffles stage with just a touch of nasal drip. But I know that soon, if I don’t take some anti-baby pills, my temperature will rise and my fever will only break alongside the walls of my vagina when little Roman — don’t steal my baby name or I’ll cut you, k? — rips them apart with his head.
This, conveniently, reminded me of a New York magazine article I read earlier this summer that somewhat tempered my baby enthusiasm at the time. It had one those front pages meant to provoke mommy blogs into staging a revolution, complete with a beautiful mom (the author) posing with a sour face. It was filled with horrific stats proving that “Mothers are less happy than fathers…” and that “couples’ overall marital satisfaction went down if they had kids,” and though kids are rewarding, ultimately they actually hinder your moment-to-moment happiness. Childless adults tend to be happier. Though mothers do indeed feel a surge of happiness after giving birth to their first, each successive child brings with it diminishing returns (and exponential expenses).
All of these studies just made me fret more about whether a life is best spent in ”moment-to-moment” happiness or in building towards a grander, more rewarding existence. A dilemma that sometimes so emotionally paralyzes me that I work myself into a frenzy watching hours of other people’s decisions on reality TV, wondering if The Situation is considering how living only for GTL is going to leave him alone on his 80th birthday, should his rampant partying not kill him before.
But instead of concentrating on the philosophical questions, I have decided to focus on a quick-fix two-word solution: diminishing returns. Children are diminishing returns, I tell myself, when looking at the mom rolling in the grass with her 4-year old girl. Diminishing returns, my internal chorus chants when I see the perfect romper for my pleading ovaries. I’ve actually taken to saying it aloud. Switching out the orgasmic cutesy sound that used to slip from my lips at the sight of toddlers with a whispery (and accusatory) “diminishing returns.” Sometimes in a half-dream, I even imagine that the mothers are looking my way not in horror, but secretly bobbing their heads to show that they don’t think I’m a possible kidnapper wandering alone through the playground and they totally agree with my assessment of children.
And so for now, this “diminishing returns” mantra is my antidote. The last stand between me and true responsibility. And for that, I hold it near and dear.