At first, it’s all so subtle.
You have a baby. The baby needs to eat, and you have these tremendous jugs with which to feed him or her. You use them. All that is needed for this child’s survival, really, is you. That is overwhelming, but also refreshing. Because mostly, you never want to be apart.
For three months or so, you have a room stocked with diapers and onesies and wipes and other things people told you babies need. A friend gave you her toddler’s entire wardrobe, and you have a closet full of green and yellow jumpers (if you didn’t find out) or blue and pink, depending on your baby’s sex. You barely need to go out of the house. Spit-up is the new perfume, laundry and diaper cloths are in disarray in your living room. You eat frozen pizza and cheese sandwiches and sometimes, fruit. If you’ve managed to avoid going back to work for a while, you think, “Kids aren’t so expensive.”
And they’re not, yet.
But then you reach the end of the clothes that fit. It’s winter, and your kid needs socks that actually stay on. Joey, that neighbor baby, was wearing some really cute shoes and you want your baby to look cute, too. You don’t like the stroller you registered for, and you want to check out those Maclarens everyone is raving about. Then there are toys. Your kid doesn’t have enough toys, does he? Something for his mouth and something that jingles and makes music. And wasn’t there a thing that you can put in the crib that magically makes your kid sleep? Wasn’t there something like that someone told you about?
So you venture out, and you begin to do what every other mom with a baby or kids is doing: you shop. You spend hours wandering through the aisles of some megastore that offers everything you could imagine: diapers, baby food, scarves, cheesy crackers, slippers, alarm clocks, televisions, bouncy balls, dish towels, and now, even fresh bananas.
You are the target of seemingly every marketing campaign and billboard within a 25 mile radius. You want to be the skinny woman in the pictures whose hair has been blown dry, whose toes are neatly painted, who perpetually has a white paper coffee cup to her lips. She is smiling. Can you buy a smile? Magazines and catalogs you never saw before now magically land in your mailbox and for months, taunt you from dusty surfaces of your house. Stupid products like “jean-diapers” now seem fascinating, and you stare at them in the store the way you used to gaze at paintings by Picasso and Modigliani in your city’s art museum. You are a mother, but you are like a child, excitedly grabbing at items with “.98” tacked onto the end of their cost.
Now, you must go back to work. There are so many things to buy, including wine and tequila. (Those are necessities.) Money seems to flutter from your wallet like autumn leaves. So soon, there is tee-ball and soccer and birthday parties. There is preschool, childcare, babysitter fees so you can go to the dentist without a child wiping his nose on your pants. There are loaves of bread and cheese to buy, yogurt cups with Disney characters, chicken nuggets in the shape of withering dinosaurs. What is Gymboree, and should you sign up for it? And while you’re at it, you deserve a new handbag, a little something for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll wonder if you’ve disappeared.
How did you get here, inside a Tom Perrotta novel? When did your yard start to resemble an abandoned toy store, your marriage, sibling rivalry?
Before all of this, life was consistent, even boring. Now, despite routines and lists and schedules, the rules are always changing. Life transforms before your very eyes, while babies sleep.
You remember that time only from pictures stacked in a junk drawer, and one night, your eyes bleary with the day’s mix of quiet and noise, you find one of yourself as a young girl. You are in a Halloween costume, one arm on your hip, your son’s eyes atop your cheeks.
That’s when you remember, your heart falling through your chest, that it all goes so very, very fast.
Image: “Suburbs and Wires” by sleep in the fog via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.