In the entire first year of our daughter's life, we left the house together without her exactly once, when she was two months old. It didn't end as I would have expected.
It was Mother's Day. The sunlight hit the mid-afternoon park at a dreamily just-so angle. A slice of pizza from the local pizza place was the right mix of chewy and soft; the cold Yazoo beer a gulpy swig of perfection. For three uninterrupted hours, I was "free."
But by the time I arrived back home, I was completely engorged and in pain from not having nursed, a tidy reminder of my new biological entanglement. Not that I needed a physical reminder, because practically everywhere my husband and I had gone as expecting parents, from well-meaning coworkers to complete strangers, we had been treated to a verbal foreshadowing of the struggle to come.
"Boy, are you in for a big surprise," they warned, as if we had just unknowingly signed up for an adjustable-rate mortgage.
Of course, parenting and unsolicited advice go together like stripes and cinder blocks, but what we hadn't expected was how quickly our cellmates would urge us to break free from the clink of our self-imposed chains, scale the walls of confinement and hit the town for a giddy few hours as often as possible — or whatever it took to maintain sanity.
"Seriously, GET a babysitter," one advised a mere few weeks in. "You won't regret it." or "Can't your parents or your husband's parents watch the baby?" "Can't you get your sister to watch her so you can go away for the weekend?" "Haven't you found a daycare yet?"
And always, with the constant refrain: The baby comes into YOUR life, not the other way around. Had we had actually had a baby, I wondered, or simply gotten a goldfish?
If we were looking for other friends with babies to commiserate with over our newfound hermitage, they were too busy on vacations overseas, out seeing new movies or taking their baby to Bonnaroo to be around for a quick chat.
Then, Facebook photos of friends and acquaintances began to confirm what we'd suspected was happening to everyone but us: People with babies were getting on with their lives immediately. Look! Here was a 6-minute-old newborn attending a cool brunch in a beer garden. Wait — why is this 6-month old going to cooler rock shows than we are?
Maybe the pictures lied and seconds outside the frame there were tantrums and scowls, but the damage was done: It looked like having a kid was supposed to look like something you did on the side, like starting a fake band or starring in a little community theater. It could be tedious but only momentarily. Its obligations ought to be minor, at best, and could not be allowed to get in the way of one's social cachet, cultural with-it-ness, last-minute vacations or weekly get-togethers.
Meanwhile, we stayed in, night after night, rearranging ourselves. Initially it wasn't even voluntary — sheer exhaustion and recovery from childbirth made it impossible to even pretend to want to care about pretending to want to care about talking to someone about whether the band Best Coast was full of shit or not.
Then, as time wore on, the grounds shifted to ideology.
Perhaps, at least initially, early parenthood should be a period of confinement, I wondered. A mental and physical test of one's ability to focus, channel and redirect. A meditative retreat into a new self, a quieting down of all the usual clatter.
Sure, we went out into the world with our baby. But rather than try to force her into our existing excursions, we tried new ones that might force us to consider the city - and our lives - from a new angle. Rather than become frustrated at staying in evenings, we relished the ability to live a low-key existence and go to sleep early, which strengthened our relationship and made working the first year entirely possible in spite of lots of waking up in the middle of the night.
Not isolation! But confinement. And not just because you've given birth to an entirely new person that you should probably try to get to know more earnestly than any other half-assed effort you've ever trotted out before.
Not just because this has changed your relationship to your partner forever, and it would be wise to sort out the new rules and figure out how to keep negotiating how you'll get to do Your Shit and he'll get to do His Shit and the baby will get to do Her Shit and you'll all be awesome and happy with all your collective shit figured out.
But rather, aside from those few free-floating months after college when it's OK to be directionless, or if you're lucky enough to get mono as a working adult, there are but a handful of times in life when you can be reasonably excused from having to show up to the outside world and give a shit without a whole bunch of hassle. And most of them don't come with the added benefit of making you a better person.
I say having a baby is one of these times. Why bother hustling to prove you're superhuman when you can hunker down, dig in, get to know this new fascinating person in your life (I'm talking ‘bout your baby, not your wrecked vagina) and confront some of the more wildly interesting emotions one may face as a parent, a woman, a lover, and a person on earth?
What better time to stop breathlessly chasing the newest pop culture/consumer-driven iteration of a rehashed warmed-over fill-in-the-blank, and instead to get down in the trenches for some good old-fashioned reflection? This is important shit to do. Will it really kill you to not know what happens on one season of Community?
In the end, despite many well-intentioned booze-stained Get Out of Jail Free cards slid over to us knowingly, we'd gone soft. We could not simply spawn and move on. We wanted to bear and care (ugh). We wanted to birth and have mirth (yikes). We wanted to procreate and let it marinate (sigh).
Or at least, you know, not go out for a while. Luckily, when we re-emerged, we found the world pretty much exactly as we'd left it. Which was a lot less than the world could say of us.
Tracy Moore is a writer in Los Angeles. She's left the house today, she swears.
Image via africa924/Shutterstock.com.