For reasons I explained last time around, we are having our little she-creature in Austin, which has a reputation as the hipster heart of Texas.
But whatever enlightenment has pooled in this wet spot in the center of the Lone Star State, it did not seem to spill over into the Perinatal Clinic, to which our OB/GYN has dispatched us, in order to screen for every infant malady known to man. All well and good, until, filling out a form by the frosted glass window, the beehived lovely in charge of our application raised her eyes and asked, in a tone somewhere between blasé and pre-chunk blowing, “So, like, are Jews Caucasians?”
I just looked at her. “What?”
This time another nurse-slash-receptionist type stuck her head out, doing little to hide her distaste, and barked in a voice loud enough to rouse the New Mommy! magazine readers in the far corner of the waiting room, “Sir, we have to do a Jew Panel.”
For one brief second I thought I saw the ghost of Mengele waft over the counter. He used to measure noses with calipers, to sniff out latent Smites.
“Jew Panel,” she repeated. “We don’t get a lot of your people around here. We need to check for Tay Sachs and Cystic Fibrosis.”
Turning away, I felt a dozen sets of Texan eyes upon me as I rolled back to take my seat beside my blue-eyed blonde-haired Viking-ette girlfriend. She saw the look on my face. “Jesus, baby, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” I lied. “I just hope we make it back to the car without getting rounded up and sent to some Panhandle Auschwitz. Most places, they at least try to pretend they don’t hate you.
“They don’t hate you. It’s Texas,” she said sounding like the guy who tells Jack Nicholson, Come on, Jake, it’s Chinatown, at the end of the Polanski movie. Right after John Huston shoots Faye Dunaway and scoops up her wailing, product-of-incest daughter.
Happily, all tests proved negative, but even without that soupcon of regional bigotry, there’s a certain weirdness to every aspect of childbearing. Especially now, when Tiny Screamer could be popping out any second. Nine times a day, my girlfriend and Future Mom asks me to reach over and feel the baby kicking. (And, forgive me, I’m not going to say BabyMama; it reminds of pinstriped barely post-pube Hollywood agents who greet each other with “Whassup Dawg?” and “Yo, Homey!” like they’re straight out of Compton, instead of straight off of Wilshire Boulevard, in Beverly Hills. And I say this with love.)
“Look it’s her little foot,” my girlfriend will coo. And, no doubt it is. (I mean, it couldn’t be a shiv, could it?) But to me the whole deal still feels like touching a weasel trapped in a water balloon.
Truth be told, the whole concept of carrying a baby feels like transporting a body in a trunk. As though, at the end of term, instead of the obstetrician in scrubs, Joe Pesci and Deniro will waiting with shovels and hacksaws. I’m not proud of this, but every time I put my fingertips to the roving baby-bulges, I half expect hands to come bursting out, like the ones that Catherine Deneuve hallucinated exploding out of the walls in Repulsion.
Mind you, I couldn’t be happier about looming fatherdom. It’s not the bundle of joy that’s the issue here. It’s all the stuff leading up to it. For one thing, when you’re going to have a baby, other babies know. I’m convinced. You can see it in their eyes. The way they glare you at you out of their Peanut Shell adjustable baby-slings, as if to say, One of us is on the way. Be ready, Sucker! It’s the opposite of cuddly. Cross paths with a toddler in an airport, a deli, wherever, and you can almost hear them, mocking. Better man up, Shlomo, cause a lovable four-limbed poop-grenade is about to blow up your life. Whoever you are, unless you’re at the Mitt Romney car elevator, full-time night-nurse, live-in nanny and diapers-woven-from-hundred-dollar-bills end of the spectrum, you’re going to be reduced—or nominated—to Wiper-in-Chief.
But even that’s fine. I had no problem manning the Pampers with my first child, still the proverbial apple of my eye. Mind you, now she’s twenty-three, meaning, for some time now, that I’ve been free to obsess about myself and not worry my hoary little head about meeting her every need. Even now there is no certainty—the world being what it is—that something heinous might not happen to her, but chances are this would not involve falling out of a crib and crushing her soft spot, or eating glass off the floor. Without a doubt, at twenty-three, I might have done some glass-eating. But thank my lucky stars, my First Daughter, thus far, has shown no such inclinations. She’s talented, smart, beautiful, and clearly the product of her mother’s genes. (Otherwise she’d be waxing a unibrow.)
No, wait—I have to stop! Contractions coming faster and faster! In fact, we were halfway to the hospital, on the line to the doctor, who announced that it was probably just a Braxton-Hicks contraction. What are Braxton-Hicks? They’re the Milli Vanilli of imminent childbirth indicators, faux-squeezers that mimic actual contractions, by way—some theorize—of giving the soon to be mom a taste of the real thing. “Practice contractions,” as the doctor explained it. Of course Braxton-Hicks sounds like a British art-band from the 70s. The Fripp & Eno era. But they’re an actual medical occurrence. Source of many a false alarm. And so, we turn around. And head back to the launching pad.
Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.