Giving birth to my daughters came with its share of surprises, including some of the questions asked of me by strangers. The first time someone said, “Where did you get her?” it took me a full minute to realize that the lady cooing over my child assumed that she was adopted.
Both of my daughters carry the beauty of my husband’s Korean heritage. If he’s not around, people wonder where they came from. They guess it’s not from me.
Although I know the question is posed without malice, after a few months of sleep deprivation, I was tempted to answer each “Where did you get them?” with either (a) “Walmart” or, (b) “I ripped them out of my uterus and I have the scars to prove it.” Usually, I held my tongue.
My second-favorite new-mom question was, “Is she a good baby?” That one stumped me almost as much as the first. There’s really only one possible answer, right? You can’t say “Actually, no.” (In my groggy state, I wanted to reply, “She’s mostly good –except for when she’s smoking stogies in the basement.” Or, “Be careful. She bites.” My husband was not amused.)
Of course, I know the expectations behind the question of “goodness” in a baby. “Good” babies sleep through the night, don’t cry, and have the right number of wet diapers. They eat when they are fed, and are content when they are not.
If you have a child — if you’ve ever met a child — you can see how ridiculous this sounds. By that logic, there are no good babies. We might as well start saving for therapy now.
So why does the question persist? What are we looking for when we ask if a baby is “good”? Because, honestly, the nurses told me in the hospital that the return policy is fairly rigid, even when they do wake up ten times a night.
In the last few weeks, I’ve realized that a “good” baby is a lot like a “good” puppy. (That may be because we just got a puppy and he eats up most of my day, including the time I should be writing. Or sleeping. But, obsessive components aside, bear with me for the comparison.) A “good” puppy is housetrained, follows commands, and doesn’t eat your shoes. The problem is that all puppies have week bladders, excessive spunk, and an instinct to chew everything. They can’t be good. They can only be puppies.
Babies and puppies — and novels under revision — are too wiggly for precast molds and static definitions. Just when you think you’ve got the nightime schedule down, there’s a growth spurt or a tooth pushes through. Everyone is up all night. If you teach Fido not to chew up your Manolos, he goes for the Guccis instead (In our house, it’s Payless and Old Navy, but you get the drift). Just as you iron out your plot, a main character jumps a bridge or steals a heart or drowns in a February lake.
The ultimate failure of “good” is why we, as a species, resort to Puppy Love, that head-over-heels blindness to faults, an amorous inattention to pimples, an ability to overlook the hidden backside of Cute. Puppy Love keeps us from drowning in the failure of unreasoable expectations. It exposes our definitions in the places where they fall apart.
We love babies and puppies and newborn novels because they have such potential. Anything can happen. Two a.m. is a time of undreamt revelations, small curling fingers, contented puppy “huffs”, the sudden conflation of language into a story’s heart. “Good” cannot capture such marvelous unwinding. It’s too small, too fragile, too cramped with the banal.
My kids sleep through the night now, with the exception of occasional nightmares. The puppy doesn’t. Neither do the stories. None of them listen to me particularly well, and though there’s no cigar smoking in the basement, there are lots of broken, spilled, and gnawed up days.
If someone looks at my daughters now — or my dog, or my book — and asks, “Is she good?”, I know exactly what to answer:
“No, not at all. She’s so much better than that.”
Though, if I get another “Where’d you get them?” I’m going with “Ripped out of my body.” It has such writerly flair.
What do you love with blindness and gratitude for all its wondrous mess? Who or what is the object of your truest Puppy Love? Please share!