“It’s okay. The baseline is rejection, right?” Says Bonnie, updating me on the latest adoption “scenario” result.
The baseline is rejection. God—so much of life summed up in one phrase.
Bonnie got the email that morning. New mom, just had the baby. No plan. Looking for adoptive parents. Social worker is headed into the hospital to show the mother options. We’re—Bonnie and I—an option in a sea of options. We’ll be in one of the books that gets put in front of the birth mother. Will she choose us? If she does, we have to be ready, now. Like yesterday. Ready to take that baby because the mother is ready for us to take it and that’s that. Baby or not? You want it? You in? Baby or not? Reply yes or no. Order now while limited supplies last. This offer will expire soon.
We’re in. We reply yes. We sweat out the day. Annnnnnd… We are baselined.
It’s hard to think about what life will be like when and if it actually happens. “Disruptive” doesn’t even begin to cover it. I can’t even hold a new baby. I’m awkward as hell around them. I don’t know what they want. I don’t find them cute. I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. There has gotta be something. Got. To. Be. I don’t trust myself. Can I really do this? Everyone else makes it look so damn easy and I make it look so hard. It spills over into all the other things in my life…
I work seasonally. It’s not a great recipe for having a baby and I know it. It’s great for being a married couple without kids, lots of time, and a zest for adventure—but not for a life with kids. Steady, dependable income. Work, benefits, work, benefits, work, benefits, work, benefits…. I know that I need them. I punish myself for not having them ironclad and clear. I wake up every day and think about what kind of a job I want to do next. Should do next. MUST DO NEXT.
What can I do next? Here I am, 36 coming fast, the safety off the trigger on the baby-bomb, no corporate experience outside of 6 months being a glorified PR content writer. Bonnie and I could, at any moment, have a kid thrust into our life. It’s scary as hell. I’m not prepared. I never feel prepared.
“No one is prepared, Dirk.” <– Everyone Ever.
EE says that. But if that’s true, why the hell do so many people want them? Babies, I mean. How have I been on this road so long and still not become prepared for a baby? Surely someone was prepared. I dated girls that, months into our relationship, were weeping about how they weren’t married or having babies yet. Goddamn that is a lot of pressure on a man. “WHY HAVEN’T YOU MARRIED AND IMPREGNATED ME YET!? I HAVE NOTHING TO PUT ON FACEBOOK! THIS IS YOUR FAULT!”
I get it. I mean, I dumped that girl, but I get it. I get the need and that you don’t understand what having a baby does to your life until you have a baby, but damn.
I look at job listings on LinkedIn and Indeed, and there are so many jobs that I’d rather be lowered into a vat of acid than do. I spent the first 10 years of my life swinging from top of profession to top of profession, like Tarzan through the tree-tops, beating my chest and shouting my name as a went. I’m spoiled, but successful. Is my next 30 years all about picking a cubicle, writing about “how to make productive habit” listicles, and trying to help my millennial coworkers feel like they’re making a fucking “impact?”
“We’re looking for an awesome personality to be part of our fast-paced, dynamic industry leading culture. This is an incredible opportunity to be part of a exceptional corporation that’s up and coming in the world of widget sales. The person who works here has to be ready to go above and beyond”—STOP IT! SHAME! Stop it, HR people. Some of us have actually worked in amazing, once-in-a-lifetime jobs and went above and beyond the vast population of this Earth to get there. Shoving me behind a desk so I can call leads and update shared spreadsheets is not an exceptional life experience. It’s baseline. Base. Line.
I hate how this is correlates in my feeble man-bran; Baby = frustration & employment prison. Me, a man without an identity. A man with no real idea where he is going or wants to go. A man who relentlessly and mercilessly punishes himself internally for failure. I feel like one of those couples that thinks having a baby will fix a marriage instead of just making it a million times worse. And by “couple,” I mean me and the voice in my head. I don’t want to lay that on my kid—the kid that, in a 48 hour cycle, just appeared in our lives. I don’t want to lay that on my wife, the woman I love more than anything in the world. But it’s my personal baseline. ‘Till death do us part.
But Bonnie and I are not baseline people. We hate baseline. We’re doer’s. We’re achievers. And sitting ‘round here, orbiting this adoption planet, waiting to see if there is any life on it, is brutal.
During the long ride home from our Christmas meeting with the relatives down south, we start to talk about what the future will hold for us if we don’t have kids. If it never happens and if the baseline rejection persists for the next few years until we decide we no longer want to do this. Try for this. “I don’t want to be sixty when my kid is graduating from high school.” Says Bonnie.
“I don’t want to be sixty,” says me.
Is there a window when this becomes unfeasible? I think. For someone else, maybe no. For us. Yes, yes I think there is. And we’ve got a leg through that window already, simply because of our age and lifestyle. For us there is a time in life to have children and a time in life that one needs to stop waiting and hoping and just get on living. That’s true, even if you’re using your own tools and no the government’s.
I used to hate thinking about planning my life out, where I’ll be in 5 or 10 years… “I don’t want to know. Takes the fun out of it.” <– Things I Used to Say.
Now I long to be able to map things out. Will I be at a cubicle? Will I be my own boss? Will we be here, in Ohio, at PTA meetings, giving some teacher hell for not seeing all my kid’s latent talents? Will Bonnie and I get that house in Hawaii and live on interest from money saved by not having kids? Will we go south, where it’s warm, or stay here, where it’s gray and freezing? (SCREW YOU, OHIO). Can we go on that trip, or do we need to save the money for the adoption expenses? Can we live a little more, or do we keep living less so we can live times three instead of two… if and when if and when.
What the hell are we doing?
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Did you say something? …. No? ….. ‘Cuz I thought I…No? …. Okay…. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. *Head hits the table* Can we go now?
I’ve looked into getting my teaching licensure. I’ve looked into getting my UXD degree. I’ve looked into getting a bookkeeping certification. I got the MBA. I got the PMP. I bought a rental property to fix up and rent. I’ve waited as actively as I can but, I don’t want to be in Ohio. I don’t want to live in the house I’m in. I don’t want to work a crap job. But I’m willing to do any and all of it for this, to be prepared for the thing I don’t think I’ll ever be prepared for.
This sounds like a recipe for disaster…
“You’re prepared,” says Bonnie. “More than you know.”
At Christmas, Bonnie took our 2 year old niece, Audrey, back to the hotel we were staying at to swim. I objected. I was not interested in babysitting. It had been a long holiday in a small house with a lot of people. I was done with kids and people. I was not prepared for more.
Bonnie wanted to be an aunt for an evening, the closest thing she gets to being a mom, and may ever get. So, I sucked it up. I went to the pool. I sat near by while they splashed and giggled. But Audrey would not swim. Despite enough flotation tools to keep the Titanic from going under, she would not float on her own. “I’m scar-wurd.” She’d say. Boys come into the pool, 12 and 16-ish. She calls to them, “hey, boys!” But she won’t swim. She’ll flirt, but she won’t swim. She’ll splash, but she won’t swim. She’s never been safer, but she won’t swim. Every time Bonnie tries to pull her out deeper into the water, Audrey cries. The baseline was rejection. For nearly an hour, the baseline was rejection.
I’d had enough. I stand. I go poolside. I roll up my pant legs. I step in next to Audrey. She is intimidated. She knows me as reserved, foreboding uncle Dirk. I look her over, saying nothing. Audrey, the little girl I just built a giant fake ice castle for; the little I girl drove 8 hours to deliver said castle too, does not know what to do with me or what I’ll do with her. “Look at me.” I say, squatting down on the pool steps. She does. I am scarier than the pool. “Hold my fingers.” I demand. She grabs them with one hand, the other clutched tightly on the stair railing. She’s hyperventilating now. “Take a deep breath.” I say. She does. “Again.” She does.
Her breathing calms.
“Say ‘I’m brave.’”
“Say, ‘I’m brave. I can swim.’”
“I’m bwaave, I can swim.”
“Mommy and Daddy will be so impressed.”
“Mommy-Daddy so pressed.”
“Are you brave?”
She shakes her head, yes.
“You are brave. You’re the bravest little girl I know.””
She nods, yes.
“Now let go, and swim to Aunt Bonnie.”
She turns. She lets go. She leaves the steps. She floats to Bonnie, less than two feet away. We shower her in praise. Bonnie takes her on a victory lap around the pool. Audrey waves at the boys. She is proud. She is bwaave. She can’t wait to show mommy and daddy.
I go back to my chair, to silence, to life momentarily above the baseline.