Just don't read the comments.
A few weeks ago, one of my posts (a slightly altered version of "Pumps, Dumps, and Baby Bumps") was picked up by a news outlet and shared on their website dedicated to family topics (check it out here). Hot damn! I felt like a million bucks -- minus any actual bucks because no one paid me.
In the introduction to my post, I explain that I was an older first-time mom; Pork Chop was born just shy of my 37th birthday. From there, I went on to do what I do best: complain about stuff while also describing the output of our various body holes. It was a pretty light-hearted piece, peppered with equally light-hearted vagina references. Typical stuff.
In the post, I grumbled about alcohol-adulterated breast milk and "push presents," but steered clear of the big no-no topics: politics, religion, and TV spoilers. "Everyone's gonna love me! I'll finally be cool and popular," I thought to myself. So I gobbled up the comments on the post, soaking in every effusive "LOL!"
Yeah, there was that one dude who referred to me as a "typical American broad" bent on divorcing my husband and taking his "house, boat, train, [and] plane" for myself, but he was, obviously, way off base. I have no interest in the train; it takes up too many parking spaces.
Then, way down at the bottom of the comment thread, I spotted it. A comment that actually made my breath catch in my throat. To paraphrase: "We had all 3 of our kids by the time I was 32. How dare you endanger the life of your baby by waiting until you were middle aged to become a mom?"
I don't remember the hour or so after I read that comment, but when I came to, an empty bag of Tostitos lay on the bed, my face was slimy with wrinkle cream, and I'd composed a lengthy list of synonyms for both "heartless" and "super twat" in my dream journal.
Every middle-aged, baby-endangering fiber of my being wanted to respond to this woman, this mom, to explain to her that I hadn't married until I was 35; to tell her that my son was and is healthy; to point out that, by her logic, my child would have been better off never having been born than to have been born to a 37-year-old biddy like me. But that emotionally constipated crab bag didn't want to have a conversation about my choices. She just wanted to land the Internet equivalent of a sucker punch and then slink away. Furthermore, I don't owe some anonymous crotch snot an explanation for my procreational choices. I thought about responding. I really, violently thought about it. But the words, like my breath, seemed caught in my throat. And by the time I began processing how deeply hurt I felt, the comment was gone -- either deleted by the commenter or removed by the admin.
But, like it or not, Mrs. Mommier Than Thou got me thinking about what it means to have a child later in life. When my son reaches school age, I could end up in the PTA along with parents I used to babysit. Just when Pork Chop is hitting his teens, I'll be hitting the bottle, I mean my 50s. If my kid decides to marry one day, I might be enjoying our mother-son dance from the comfort of my Hoveround mobility scooter. And what if I have another kid? I'll need a daily Geritol infusion just to survive the sleepless nights, the demands of breastfeeding, and the toxically stupid judgment of self-righteous Internet thunder dumps.
|Haha! Where did this baby come from and where did my walker go?|
Yet, given the chance to go back 10 years, to have my son while I was still in my 20s, I wouldn't. Simply put, I am more equipped to be a parent now than I was back then. And here, for the benefit of that anonymous oozy wound of a human, is why:
- I'm healthier now than I was 10 years ago. In 2004, I was smack dab in the middle of graduate school and, as luck would have it, also smack dab in the middle of a health crisis. The migraines I'd suffered off and on since early childhood had finally decided to make a full-time commitment. What had been an every-few-months inconvenience became an almost daily descent into excruciating pain. Doctors took my blood, shot me full of Botox, scanned my brain, sent me to physical therapy, suggested I have heart surgery, put me on a chicken and rice diet, prescribed a junkie's worth of medication, and then sent me the $10,000 bill. And yet the pain persisted. I didn't so much have a "come to Jesus" moment as I had a "bring it on, Jesus" moment -- I begged God either to heal me or to just give me a stroke and get it over with. Long story short: While I am not healed, per se, I am in a significantly better place, but getting to that place has taken years. I can't imagine trying to mother a houseplant, let alone a newborn, while I was in my old, sickly state. My breast milk would have been equal parts nutrient and narcotic. I would have had to slur my way through "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." By comparison, nowadays, I feel like a damn Amazon. Put some coffee in me and I can change a loaded diaper while doing the Hokey Pokey (true story).
- I'm more financially secure than I was 10 years ago. Quaint though it sounds to pop out a baby while one is in graduate school and/or employed at a soon-to-be dot-com bust company, I prefer my present circumstances. In my 20s, I paid my dues -- taking classes, working at low-paying jobs, sometimes putting in 50- or 60-hour work weeks. Had my son arrived back then, I would have been forced to choose between finding daycare on my measly budget or quitting my job outright. But because Pork Chop didn't explode onto the scene (a birth metaphor I promise never to use again) until I was in my 30s, I had more money and more experience under my belt. Not that I keep money under my belt. I'm an editor, not a stripper. But some of the experience may be under my belt. Wink wink. My point being, of course, that I had the means to choose a really fabulous daycare for my son when I decided to go back to work full time. And when our family moved from Maryland to Virginia, my employer valued me enough to agree to a new, more family- and distance-friendly work arrangement: I telecommute part time. For my family, this is the best of all worlds: I have enough money to pay for part-time daycare, I can continue to work and keep my skills and resumé up to date, and I get to spend more time watching my son just be my son (i.e., throw metal kitchen utensils on our new hardwood floor and then cry when he trips over the garlic press).
- I like myself more than I did 10 years ago. In my mid and late 20s, my bod was a rock. A ROCK, I tell you. Washboard abs, sweet guns, a butt so fine my friends dubbed it "the glory." Now I have a frowny face where my belly button used to be, and "the glory" is looking pretty faded. But it's all good. No matter how many hours I spent on the treadmill, I always felt miles away from perfect. At some point in the last decade, I gave up on my dream of becoming the world's first short, pale, pear-shaped Victoria's Secret model and instead focused on what I love: my family, my writing, my career. And wouldn't ya know it? My ass got a lot squishier but my self-esteem grew some impressive muscles. In my 20s, I wouldn't have been prepared for the horrors that pregnancy and motherhood visit upon the body. And in the long, hard newborn nights, self-loathing is a miserable bedfellow. Yes, I'm softer. Yes, I wish my boobs would reanimate. But what I want more than a nice rack is to show my son that there is worth in pursuing what you love and in loving yourself for having the courage to pursue it.
- I still had a lot of dumb in me 10 years ago. Nowadays, I relish a date night with my husband or a night out with some friends. Give me a babysitter and a designated driver, and I'll show you a woman who knows how to throw down at a moderately fancy neighborhood restaurant. "Another glass of sangria with your tapas, ma'am?" Hell-to-the-yes (on the third Wednesday of every month)! But a decade ago, I'd be more apt to wile away an evening or seven in a bar called The Community Inn, where Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup was proudly featured on the menu and where I could sidle up to a drunken moonshiner named Dead Eye who carefully explained, while poking a finger into my boobs, that I was a "squirrel with a small brain" who should "run far, far away!" Hypothetically speaking. What I'm saying is that I didn't always make sound choices in my 20s. I sometimes (often) put adventure before personal safety. And though I occasionally pine for the days of, hypothetically speaking, chatting up colorful would-be murderers, I know that I need to be there for my son. This means skipping a lot of late-night booze-a-thons, putting money into a college savings plan rather than into a pair of knee-high sexy frontier girl boots, and not eating cookies for breakfast (within view of my kid).
- I hadn't met my husband 10 years ago. I couldn't have given birth to my son without Shelby. Literally. I'm pretty boss, but I haven't quite mastered the art of spontaneously generating another human. When Shelby and I finally locked eyes across a crowded online dating site, I just knew. If it weren't for a dearth of available flights, we would have eloped to Vegas on our second date. But because the airlines conspired against us, we went a more traditional rout: engaged within 9 months, married 9 months after that, and pregnant 9 months into our newlywed bliss. It's not just that Shelby is an amazing dad -- the kind of dad who hogged time wearing Pork Chop in the Bjorn, who made pint after pint of baby food from scratch, who was more distraught than our son during vaccinations -- it's also that Pork Chop just wouldn't be Pork Chop without that 50% dose of Shelby genes. Our son loves to take things apart, to carefully inspect the pieces, and to make surprisingly good attempts at putting it all back together. That's pure engineer DNA. The boy is wildly independent, a bit easily frustrated, but always ready to tackle a new adventure, be it scaling a baby gate or fitting a golf ball into his mouth. That, albeit terrifying, spirit of adventure is pure Shelby. And, just like his dad, my kid makes me laugh every single day. Was waiting a decade for this family, the one I have right now, worth it? You bet your big, stupid ass-face it was, lady.