I remember there was one moment when I tried to muster up the desire to have children. Matt and I had just moved in together. I got work on TV about once a year and I was performing on the road at comedy clubs occasionally, but nothing was sticking. I had to admit that against my wishes, I basically had a professional hobby. I did not have a career. I was working as a temp to make ends meet. I was filing contracts for a law office in a windowless room. The only person in the office with a worse job than mine was the pimply intern who had to make ID badges for new hires. He came by my desk with a Polaroid camera to snap my photo (by the way, I think those kinds of photos actually do steal your soul). He said, "I know you. Do you do stand-up? I've seen you around." I shushed him violently, spitting all over his camera, knowing what was about to happen if anyone overheard him. And right on cue the two women I worked for turned around and said, "You're a comedian? You don't seem funny. Tell us a joke!" I wanted to tell them the one about the girl who thought her life was going to be vastly different by the time she turned thirty-two.
I couldn't see the future that I wanted. It seemed so impossible. It was easier to picture the future that I didn't want -- me moving back to Needham, Massachusetts, and working in my former high school as the substitute teacher for the tenth-grade drama class and saying things like, "You kids think you understand "Death of a Salesman"? It's not just about not making a sale -- it's about disappointing everyone who counts on you but eventually realizing that nobody ever counted on you because you're a ghost of a person." But I had romantic love. And maybe love was all I was going to have. Some people don't even have that, right? I thought maybe it would be nice to get to stay home every day, taking care of a baby instead of temping, and who needed to be out every night doing stand-up at Joan's Pizza Place's Thursday Night Open Mic? If I had a baby, surely my hormones would kick in, I'd become really Zen like the Red Sox, and my life would be devoted to our kid. I could even be a funny mom! Maybe that was the master plan for me all along.
But somewhere deep down I knew that being a mother wasn't right for me. And by "deep down" I mean that when I pictured having a baby instead of pursuing my dreams, I would immediately feel sick; it felt like my intestines were trying to unwind and slither out of my butt.
My ex-boyfriend Thomas would always say, "When are you going to get this comedy thing out of your system? I'm ready to move to Northern California and start a family." And then by beer number four the dream became "I'm just going to go back to New Hampshire and open up a small revival movie theater. You can come with me. We'll have a family."
Thomas had had a mean father who was also a photographer. Unlike his father, Thomas was actually great at photography. Unfortunately, he kept his pictures half-developed and hidden in his closet. I wanted to invite people over to look at the work in his closet and tell them it was an art installation called Hit-You-over-the-Head Symbolism. He didn't know how to go for his dreams but he was convinced that once a baby was born, that would replace his dream. His life would be solved. He wouldn't have to try and maybe fail and disappoint himself or his father in the process, then somehow he'd make enough money showing screenings of Casablanca in a rural town to buy the family some diapers and Campbell's soup and Daddy some Merit Ultra Lights and a six-pack of Budweiser. And then by beer number six, Thomas's plan was to move to Mexico and work with animals just like his favorite guy, Jeff Corwin from Animal Planet. Even if I wanted to go to Mexico with him, kids had to be part of the deal. He always said to me, "Who's going to take care of us when we're old if we don't have kids?" Oh, I don't know, maybe the robust and thriving second-run-movie-theater community will take us in if some of those Mexican armadillos won't.
Sometimes, Matt and I would sit around the living room on a Saturday night and do our version of telling ghost stories around the campfire. We'd try to imagine what life would be like if we got "the urge."
Well, since we have no family here in California -- we could move back to Massachusetts and give up our show business pursuits. Or your mom could move here. Or you could work two jobs while I'm home breastfeeding. Or we could move to a one-room apartment so you wouldn't have to have two jobs and you could stay home and watch me breastfeed.
I admit, when I would see Matt's baby pictures; I'd get some kind of an urge. Those cute dimples. His black curls loose on his head -- his head that's a little too big for his baby body. I'd say, "Aw, I long for a Baby Matt." But then I'd head in for snuggles with Adult Matt and realize that dimple is still there; I can run my hand through those curls. I don't want to raise a little Baby Matt. I want to snuggle inappropriately with Adult Matt.
And sure, at times I got offended that Matt didn't seem to have the urge for a Baby Jen running around. How could he not want to make a replica of that girl in the picture who was trying to look so serious and Swan Lake-y in her ballet tutu on the front lawn circa 1979? (I was rocking this look long before Natalie Portman made every heterosexual guy in America lust after boobless, boney and potentially bisexual ballerinas.) Matt reminded me that he'd be a little overwhelmed with his wife and daughter in the house, both vying for his attention -- after they'd had a glass of wine -- because they wanted him to watch them dance and sing along with the movie Cabaret.
When I started to think about writing a proposal for this book, I emailed Matt to get a quote -- in his own words -- about his non-paternal instinct. He wrote back, "Jen, please don't email me while you're driving."
I think that's a damn good caretaker instinct, and what girl wouldn't be lucky to have that instinct all to her?
Excerpted from "I Can Barely Take Care of Myself" by Jen Kirkman. Copyright © 2013 by Block of Cheese, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.