In many ways, this last summer was a fairly uneventful one for me. I worked two jobs, one a fun, laid-back retail gig, the other a messy, crazed but also fun-when-the-boss- wasn’t-looking and you could sample the ice cream (as in, “What does vanilla taste like again?…Oh. Right.”) position in foodservice. A “Position in Foodservice” is the phrase you use on your resume to describe the kind of job in which you are denounced by angry tourists, sponge up endless trails of spilt ketchup, and come home each night smelling like french fries and questioning your self worth. In any case, this was a typical summer in all respects except for one: It was the summer of Baby Fever. Baby Mania. Baby Envy. Call it what you will, I had it but good.
I couldn’t tell you why. I have always more or less liked children, although during the last few years of college, it’s been mostly for their novelty. I didn’t see very many of them around Bard’s campus (and I’m sure there’s a good reason for that), so when I did, there was usually a little jolt of surprise as I remember that they exist. It’s a pleasant jolt, but it’s not by any means a jolt of longing. But this last summer, something within me clicked, or snapped, or kicked in, because everywhere I looked, I saw people walking around with their kids and I stretched my hands out feebly, trembling with jealousy. It was amazing, how abruptly the feeling arrived, considering its tenacity. It unnerved me completely. I felt as if, all of a sudden, I was the target of an insidious and diabolical advertising campaign, designed and launched by the most cruel and heartless executive of all, Nature. All around me, mothers cavorted with their babies, as slogans flashed beneath them. “You Got the Right One, Baby”, they said. And, “Enjoy BABY!” and sometimes “Baby: It’s the other Baby meat.” I don’t know how I withstood it.
I also wonder how long this obsession would have kept up under less fortunate circumstances. As it is, I am relieved but slightly sheepish to report that my baby craving vanished entirely once I was in the prolonged company of actual children. My brother Sam and his family came out to visit for a week near the summer’s end, bringing with them Sammy, age 4, and Natalie, who toddled. The kids were sweet and well behaved and said the darndest things; I on the other hand, disappointed myself by falling far short of my goal of being known and recognized far and wide as “The Cool Aunt”. Damn it, I wanted to be the Cool Aunt. Instead I was Aunt Molly, who stealthily polished off the mac-and-cheese at dinner even though she suspected it was for the kids, who probably weren’t too big on lobster salad rolls. So I like both. Is that a crime? Aunt Molly told Sammy that she couldn’t take him down into the cold, dark garage to get some toys one evening because there were bats there. No, they weren’t mean bats. But they probably would be if you woke them up.
Instead of Aunt Mode, I found myself back in the familiar territory known as Big Sister Mode. It is a mode in which you press your advantages. When your sibling is seventeen years younger than you, however, that is really easy to do, and also makes you a bad person. I was never a predatory sort of big sister, mind you. My tyranny never went further than the occasional clumsy manipulation, usually something along the lines of, “Let’s have a race to see who can finish her cookie first. Go! Ok, you win. Hey, look how much cookie I still have. Ha, ha.” Etc. Repeat as necessary until either your sibling’s memory or her motor skills are sufficiently developed to render the game ineffectual or dangerous. In any event, yeah. I discovered that for me, a baby was a bad idea not for the usual reasons, but because I would probably end up competing with it, the consequences of which are too dire to even imagine.