By Sandi Kahn Shelton
Excerpted from Blindsided by a Diaper by Dana Hilmer
So, you see, we had this baby. Life changed.
I don’t mean to brag, but before the baby came, we were good—really good—at going out on dates with each other. In those days, I was capable of finding my car keys and my purse at a moment’s notice without even once having to look in the refrigerator or between the couch cushions. My husband could be counted on to stay awake past eight-thirty in the evening. And—this is key—we could both locate clean clothing simply by looking in our closets. We went to movies, out to dinner, to clubs, to concerts in the park, to plays. We went to friends’ houses and on late-night picnics. It was so easy for us. We were even capable of looking across the living room at each other at, say, ten o’clock on any given evening and deciding on the spur of the moment to head out for dessert, and actually making that happen.
“Wouldn’t a napoleon taste great right about now?” my husband might ask, and within two and a half minutes, we’d have our jackets on and be pulling out of the driveway.
And then . . . well, as I said, we had the baby, and life changed. She was a delightful baby—rosy and pink, with plump fingers and toes; bright, curious eyes; and a completely round, warm, fuzz-covered head that reminded me of peaches in the summertime. The curve of her ear was like those delicate little seashells you see on the sand when the tide is going out. She had a way of widening her eyes and looking around when you spoke to her. And when she sneezed—well, she would squinch up her face and pull her arms and legs in close to her body. Seeing these sneezes, I would have to call people on the telephone to report how incredible she was.
I don’t mind telling you that this led to certain of my friends becoming alarmed. There are apparently people in this world who don’t think the occasion of a baby sneezing should lead to a telephone call, no matter how startling or charming this event might be.
I could sense that people were beginning to worry about me, perhaps even to band together to see if an intervention might become necessary. Once, for instance, when I had finished explaining to my friend Katie how the baby had a way of gazing fondly after her little fist as it floated past her head, Katie, who herself has three children, cleared her throat and said, “So, are you getting out much?”
Of course I was getting out. Very patiently I listed the doctors’ appointments, the walks around the block with the stroller, the car rides to the store to buy more diapers, pacifiers, and the special baby detergent.
Katie said, “No. I mean are you getting out? Like, have you found someone to watch the baby so that you and The Hubs can go someplace . . . you know . . . together?” (Katie believes that all husbands, her own included, should go by the nickname: The Hubs.)
Others soon started asking the same question. My mother, of all people, wanted to know if we were ever alone anymore. “I know how you two like to go out!” she sang. “I was wondering if you still remember how that’s done.” I was stunned. We were happy at home. What was the big deal? What was this horror people seemed to feel toward the idea that we were now pleasantly attached to a baby and did not need the outside world so much?
The fact was, as I informed everyone who inquired, The Hubs and I had managed to get ourselves out of the house a few times since the baby arrived. But we didn’t need a baby-sitter, I told everyone. We had wisely decided to have the exemplary kind of baby you could simply take along. It was better that way, in fact. We were too tired to trust ourselves to let her out of our sight. What if we got a baby-sitter, fell asleep somewhere, and forgot to come back home? No, really. And, besides, as I told them, it was nice having her along. Her car seat made a delightful centerpiece on the tables of restaurants, and she enjoyed waving her arms and staring at the lights. And conveniently, by the time she was tired of the décor, we often discovered that we, too, were in the mood to move on. Twice, we had even gone to the movies with her. I had simply tucked her underneath my shirt, where she had nursed and dozed for the duration of the movie. I had curled my body around her and slept like a baby myself. It was the deepest sleep I’d had in weeks.
“Hmm,” said our childless, dateless, and perhaps bordering-on-clueless friend Rob. “I would think you’d want to go out by yourselves sometimes, without having to always wear a baby underneath your shirt.”
I rolled my eyes at The Hubs. Clearly Rob didn’t understand the magnificence of parenthood and the dazzling notion that one human could nourish another using only objects already found on her own body.
Later that evening—okay, so it was 6:30 P.M., and yes, we were climbing into bed with the baby for what we hoped might be a family-style early evening nap—The Hubs said to me, “So what do you say? Should we go out by ourselves, just to prove we can still do it?”
“Well,” I said. “Okay.” I swallowed hard.
He said, “I know.”
Perhaps this would be a good time to tell something about the baby that I might have forgotten to mention. She did not believe in sleeping at night. That’s right: she was only two months old and yet she already had a policy against it. During the day, she took fabulous naps, but at night, if, by some careless accident, she happened to slip off into sleep, she would jerk herself awake immediately and look around, almost apologetically, as if we might think her rude for not paying closer attention.
And, oh yes, one more thing: having awakened herself that way, she insisted on being taken into our bed with us. She wouldn’t even hear of leaving us bereft of her presence by going back to her bassinet. We therefore spent most of our nights with a baby cradled between us, or else with one of us walking her around and around the dining room table, singing songs to her. When it was his turn, The Hubs claimed her favorite go-to-sleep song was “Go, Speed Racer,” from a cartoon show he’d watched as a child. I tended toward “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall” because it had so many verses and didn’t require much memory power.
We were so tired that we were perhaps bordering on being mentally ill. And so we started making plans.
Right away I could see this was not going to be so easy—nothing like the old days, that was for sure. I sat down and made a list of the obstacles that stood between us and an evening out:
- Must find perfect baby-sitter.
- Must figure a way of getting milk from breasts into bottles, enough to last baby for entire evening.
- Must find evening clothing that: (a) fits rounded post-pregnancy body; (b) does not have visible milk stains; (c) is not technically in the bathrobe, sweatpants, or maternity category.
- Must summon missing organizational skills. Important to locate car keys, shoes, jacket, and purse before the moment comes to leave the house.
These are, of course, major obstacles, and solving them took a little while. Katie, hearing of obstacle number one, actually volunteered to baby-sit and promised me she’d walk the baby around the dining room table endlessly if necessary, and she would sing every bar ballad known to man. But she had conditions: I had to really try to have fun—pre-parenthood fun—and I had to make a rule that we wouldn’t spend the whole date talking about the baby.
Not talk about the baby? Was she out of her mind? What else was there to talk about? She suggested I make a little list of possible conversational topics in advance. I thought up two things and jotted them down in a little notebook: “Best inventions of the last century” (I planned to nominate pacifiers and wind-up swings), and, on another topic altogether, “Why, on a menu, does the word Florentine mean you’re getting spinach?”
Katie laughed at me. Okay, so I knew these weren’t the most fun topics, but at least one was about culture and the other about cuisine, so I figured they could carry us through to dessert, and then we could go home again.
Next, to solve the breast milk dilemma, I actually went to the drugstore and bought a breast pump, the cheap kind with the glass vial attached to a little bulb thingie that looks like a squeezable bicycle horn. The woman in the store assured me that all a person had to do was to hook this up to the nipple, and breast milk would just flow like an open faucet. “Do it while you’re nursing the baby on the other side,” she advised. “Then the milk just gushes.”
Ha! Other people’s breasts might fall for this, but mine weren’t fooled by this gambit for one second. They knew they were being asked to commit fraud here, and no bicycle horn was going to trick them into giving up their hard-earned milk. By relentlessly pumping and squeezing and cursing and sighing and finally mooing, I was able to collect two and a half ounces over the next several days. Which I then dropped on the floor and spilled when I tripped over a box of diapers.
I called Katie to tell her that I would probably not be able to gather enough breast milk again for at least the next twenty years and that going out was an overrated enterprise anyhow. Katie said I should just nurse the baby before I left, and in case of a starvation emergency, she’d give the baby a little bit of formula. Formula, she said when I gasped, had been known to actually nourish babies. It wasn’t going to be the end of the world. Reluctantly I agreed.
Second obstacle overcome. I turned my attention to finding something to wear.
Through some miracle, I managed to find, on the floor of my closet, a pair of stretchy black pants I’d forgotten about and a silk tunic top that had yet to be spit up on. If I sucked in my belly very hard, I didn’t look as though I were five months pregnant. I could even button the thing, and that made me so happy I did a little victory dance with the baby.
The big night came at last.
I found my car keys at the bottom of the diaper bag, underneath a soiled diaper and a half-eaten granola bar. I was able to locate two matching shoes, one underneath the wind-up swing and the other under the plastic baby bathtub. My jacket was crammed into the bottom of a shopping bag. The Hubs managed to locate a clean shirt and some socks that very nearly matched each other, and we were off. Leaving the house was not easy. I had to run back several times to
tell Katie things she might not know: the baby sometimes squirms in your arms, and it’s important not to drop her. Also, she prefers a clockwise movement around the dining room table. We never go counterclockwise. Never. And had I mentioned that, really, two and half seconds of crying was all we thought we could bear? So don’t get her used to crying more. Please.
I’m not going to lie to you and say that the date was a roaring success. For starters, the restaurant lost our reservation and said we’d have to wait an hour, so we left and went to a fast-food place that fed us in five minutes.
“What shall we talk about?” I said to The Hubs, blinking in the fluorescent lights. “Katie says we have to try to think of some topic besides the baby.”
“I agree,” he said. “What did we used to talk about?” We couldn’t remember.
“I think when we were out, we used to talk about the food,” I offered.
“Oh. I can do that. These fries are good.”
I was about to initiate a discussion about my Florentine-means-spinach discovery, but then he suggested we play hangman on the placemat, which was fine with me. His first entry was the baby’s name. My eyes filled with tears.
“That’s it,” I said. “I have to call home.”
Katie said the baby was fine, and when she heard where we were, she said that we were pathetic and hopeless and we should just go somewhere else and have a good time. I looked at my watch. We had been out of the house for twenty-two minutes.
“We want to come home, because there’s no place to go,” I told her.
“Go to a movie, go bowling,” she said. “What, are you socially impaired or something? Walk along the beach. Go make out in the woods. Just go have fun.”
I hung up the phone and looked at The Hubs. “You don’t want to go to a movie or bowling, do you?” I asked him.
He didn’t. “Let’s go grocery shopping,” he said with a sigh. “That would kill some time, and at least it’d be productive.”
I kissed him in the car for having such a brilliant insight. He kissed me back. He said the baby made him so tired he sometimes couldn’t think straight. I said I didn’t think I’d ever have enough sleep again and that my IQ points were dropping by the hour. I told him I couldn’t even work a breast pump, and he laughed. I confessed that often it was four o’clock in the afternoon before I managed to get out of my bathrobe, and that I’d taken to eating vanilla frosting out of a can rather than think up something for lunch on some days.
We strolled through the grocery store, holding hands. He read me the nutritional information on the boxes of macaroni and breakfast cereal, using a crazy German accent. We sang along with the Muzak. I asked him what the finest invention of the twentieth century was, and he said it was the supermarket, hands down. I couldn’t remember what I thought it was, which made me laugh. We were laughing so hard I started to feel sorry for all the single, harried people in there, rushing past us to pick up prepared foods and then rushing back out again. When we got to the frozen food aisle, we said this had been an insane idea, thinking we could go out on a date. We weren’t daters anymore.
“We’re cocooners,” The Hubs said. “Hopeless cocooners, and we need to go home.”
I said, “Let’s go,” and we raced each other to the car.
It was only eight-fifteen when we got back to our house. Katie and the baby were cuddling in the living room watching a movie together. Katie smiled and shook her head at us when we brought in the groceries, and said we were the most pitiful individuals she’d ever met in her life.
The baby hadn’t had to drink any formula. She hadn’t cried or needed to be walked yet. It was still early. We’d have a night of “Speed Racer” yet to come. I felt a wave of crazy relief as I took her out of Katie’s arms.
Of course, The Hubs and I did finally learn how to go out on dates again, just the two of us. We learned how to say good-bye to our child, find our shoes, and make a run for it. We even learned to have conversations once we were out, conversations that did not have to do with children, to turn back to ourselves as people rather than simply parents.
Standing there that night, though, next to the frozen dinners, I caught a glimpse of the truth: we were never really going back to the way we were before. We were forever altered by the startled awareness that the two of us had become three, and that part of our hearts were forever after going to belong with this child, no matter how many times I’d have to say good-bye to her and close the door.
Our daughter is seventeen now, a senior in high school preparing to go away to college next year. Tonight I watch her doing her homework and combing her long brown hair in front of the mirror, and I am nourished by the memory of a time when we lived with her in our own delicious, tiny universe. It was like being in love, the way the three of us shut out the world and found completeness in a string of hazy, milky, sleep-deprived days, as blurry to me now as a faded, jerky videotape. The world beckoned, but on a night of french fries and Stop & Shop, we learned to hold it at bay until we were good and ready to let it in.