After our wedding last October, my wife moved into my place and it took less than a month to learn a few things: The life-size Elvis cutout actually does look better in my office than the living room. Fully functioning window shades go up and down. The acceptable number of logo glasses to have is zero.
Those early lessons seem quaint, because five months into our union, Jenny and I found out that a baby is coming in November. I really don't know much about being a husband. I know even less about being a parent, but, even in my cluelessness, I'm confident in my knowledge of one thing:
Smart people say dumb stuff when faced with someone else's pregnancy.
When I broke the news, I was prepared for the variations of, "That's a scary thought," "Sorry for the kid," and the always hysterical, "You sure it's yours?" The digs are understandable. I know me, and I still find it unbelievable that I'm going to be someone's voice of reason, but I'm adjusting and enjoying the final days of reading a newspaper uninterrupted.
It's the other comments that are stunning. Some people offer good wishes, but then they don't stop making words come out and what follows is rarely helpful -- tales of endless nausea, the risk of gestational diabetes, the sister who was the same age as Jenny and lost the baby at the point that we're at. One person cited a Harvard study showing that happiness forever decreases with the birth of a child.
We're Jewish -- and even if we weren't -- a simple "mazel tov" also works.
My wife and I are not naive and we're not kids. I'm 43. She's 39. One appointment with a genetic counselor let us know that bad things can and do happen. But aside from avoiding cigarette smoke, roller coasters and deli meats, there's only so much that we can do to control this centuries-old tradition. And while we put on a good public face, we're still overwhelmed by the prospect of having to regularly feed and clothe another person, let alone having a writer/comedian and a therapist/yoga instructor help that child one day with math problems.
I understand the supportive intent, but what would really be helpful is the name a good pediatrician and the offer of no-longer-used, in-full-compliance baby stuff. Do that and you can tell me anything that you want. Call it pay to play.
We're not shunning all responsibility. Some of the feedback we invited in. When the self-imposed first trimester gag rule was lifted, and we were still giddy and stunned, we shared possible name ideas, believing it was a harmless exercise. Yeah, I know. Rookie mistake. But it wasn't without merit, since I learned that I don't really care about what reminds anyone of an old girlfriend or pet. Again, it's our fault for sharing, but please, just nod unconditional approval and express support, even if you don't mean it.
While veteran parents are trouble -- they're cocky and revel in what we're about to face and they no longer have to -- the biggest problems have come from first-time expectant parents who are just a little more pregnant than we are. All of us know nothing, but they know three weeks more stuff, and in their effort to have control of something in their unraveling lives, they haze us with questions, testing how much we've read and how prepared we are.
I used to answer honestly, but that brought little joy and did little to give me any sense of control. What kind of car seat are you buying? "Not using one. We're trunking. It helps develop balance and night vision. I can't believe that you haven't heard." We're co-sleeping of course. "We're going with a thin mat by the refrigerator. It's the Earth Method, well-documented in Scandinavia for advanced development, but I'm sure that a conservative approach should be adequate for a state school." Another thing that I've learned is that any hint of northern European origins sends the newborn crowd into a tizzy.
I suppose that I should say that the above is a joke. We're not using trunks or mats with our baby. We still could use some gear, though, and a math tutor in about 14 years. Those were not jokes.