Whelping a child late in life is transmogrifying. No, I didn’t deliver her on a blanket in the garage, if that’s what you’re thinking. Still, the event changed me—from a ferociously feminist freedom fighter, forever festooned in khaki, jingling with keys and handcuffs, smelling of eau d’ pepper spray and Hoppe’s Gun-Cleaning Solvent—into a diaper-carrying, talcum-wearing, book-reading, night-walking, fried-weenie-cooking mommy.
Having given up my lengthy and successful career, I found that rattling around in a country house with a nattering infant for company was enough to turn my brain to whirled peas. I plastered, painted, and wallpapered. I ripped up carpet and put down ceramic tile. I decorated and redecorated. I cleaned cabinets, refinished woodwork, rearranged furniture and wondered what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life. But, gazing in thrall at the child with whom we’d finally been gifted, I knew that even if Bill came home to find me gibbering in the corner with my eyes rolling around like ball bearings on a linoleum floor, I was not going to work away from home until our daughter was much, much older. Forty seemed like a good, round number.
Looking at the skill set I brought with me from my ‘other’ life, I found that I could do any of the following: drive an automobile at blinding speeds, on two wheels, sometimes on no wheels; recite the Miranda Warning by rote in both English and Spanish—‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say…Tu tienes el derecho de silencio…’; shoot, reload and shoot some more while running, squatting, falling down and/or hiding; creep into dark buildings, climb in or out of broken windows, kick in doors, crawl in dirty crawl spaces festooned with black widows and scorpions all waiting for an opportunity to bite or sting me; talk down drunks and dope addicts; talk up the depressed; interview victims and witnesses; interrogate suspects; collect the dead; process crime scenes; kick, hit, wrestle, and do anything else to stay alive; write tickets, end arguments, break up fights, testify in court, and restore family harmony. I could also write reports.
So I took over a room in the house, proclaiming it ‘my office’. I bought a computer and every other piece of office equipment I could imagine ever needing, and I became a writer.
Oh, I know; it sounds so glamorous, so exciting, so lucrative!
This is how my day sometimes went:
- 0530: Arise (think ‘Dracula’ or ‘Night of the Living Dead’), and get dressed—a generic term meaning, ‘put on one of several ratty-but-endearing caftans’.
- 0535: Prepare breakfast, working around the dinner dishes from the previous night because the grown-ups in the house were mesmerized by the child in the house and so unable to perform simple tasks.
- 0600: Drink coffee while sitting in the living room rocker, strategically placed in a shaft of sunlight, book basket at hand.
- 0605: Baby awakes, demanding instantaneous and solicitous diaper change.
- 0610: Return to rocker with baby.
- 0610-0700: Read to and feed baby, pretending she has any earthly idea of what is going on. Baby plays with feet, blows bubbles at father, makes interesting intestinal noises, husband exists room swiftly as though pursued by a gang of killers. Make requisite trip to the changing table down the hall.
- 0700: Husband leaves. Large production made of his departure, with liberal baby kisses, etc.
- 0705: Drag baby swing into dining room, strap baby in place, wind up swing. Give baby small white bear.
- 0706: Begin cleaning kitchen.
- 0706: Baby throws small white bear into dog water dish.
- 0706: Respond to crying baby. Retrieve now water-logged bear. Squeeze bear out in sink. Comfort crying baby. Put baby back in swing. Put bear in bathroom for drying in clothes dryer later in the day. Give baby hard plastic rattle.
- 0707: Baby throws rattle into dog water dish.
- 0707: Decide to let baby fuss. (I worked in the jail. I can do this.) Baby wails, screams, squirms. Dog becomes concerned. Dog checks on baby, gives me a dirty look and grabs rattle out of dish.
- 0708: Take broken rattle away from dog. Retrieve pieces scattered in living room. Clean up water in dining room. Baby still crying. Give baby a pacifier. Pick up water dish, carry it to bathroom. Return to kitchen. Note that pacifier is on dining room floor. Baby crying again.
- 0710: Pick up baby, take her down the hall to her crib. Wind up mobile, give baby another stuffed animal. Take walkie-talkie-sized baby monitor to kitchen. Baby sleeps.
- 0740: Dishes done, kitchen clean. Dishwasher running. Slug down last of cold coffee. Hungry. Eat handful of dry cereal.
- 0740: In bathroom, brush teeth, brush hair. Observe mascara and eye shadow cooties on face due to failure to use makeup remover the previous night. Apply makeup remover. Dog whines and barks at front door.
- 0742: Rush to living room to avert canine chemical spill. Open door, dog runs out and immediately races off after a rabbit. Stand in yard, screaming at dog drawing attention of neighbors leaving for jobs in town. Dart—barefooted and wincing—into neighbor’s pasture where dog’s rear end is protruding from old car body. Bottom half of caftan now full of cattails, dead grass and sticks. Grab dog, drag him back toward our property. Dog thinks this is a game, wrenches free and begins running in huge circles. Catch him, but run through a red ant hill, the occupants of same finding that caftan has some appeal.
- 0750: Step into foyer as a red ant bites me between the shoulder blades. Pull robe off over my head and throw it on the porch. Dog immediately grabs it and drags it around the front yard while I, naked, realize the baby monitor is in the pocket. Run down hall and grab another caftan, go outside, retrieve baby monitor which is now lying in middle of yard. Dog and discarded caftan are missing. Begin brief but fruitless search. Hope dog chokes on caftan or gets run over by the county truck—or both.
- 0800: Go back inside. Realize that makeup remover foam has dried on face and I look like I have rabies. Clean off face, apply moisturizer, brush dead grass and sticks out of hair. Sweep bathroom and foyer floors.
- 0815: Baby still asleep. Creep quietly to office, turn on lights, boot up computer. Reread acceptance of on-spec query for magazine article. Type cover page, set up document, build headers. Poise hands above keyboard, crafting opening. Dog barks furiously at front door.
- 0825: Let dog in. Caftan still missing. Baby awakes.
- 0825-0900: Change and feed baby.
- 0900: Put on actual clothes and shoes. Put baby in backpack and dog on leash for a short walk. Open front door, find brutalized caftan on porch with note. “Saw you wearing this yesterday morning, so figured it must be yours.”
Over the years I’ve been met with skepticism, of course, about being a writer. Unlike a physician or an attorney, I have no diploma with which to proclaim my expertise. I have no local covey of clamoring clients, all chiming in with stories of my skill. I have, nevertheless, prevailed. That baby grew up, unscathed by my scattershot parenting. The dog lived a long and irritating life and has been replaced with a succession of other dogs, and I’ve managed to produce a very diverse body of work, sometimes only a syllable at a time. I don’t carry a baby monitor anymore; I have a ‘smart phone’ instead—which proves daily that it is much smarter than I. Life continues to interfere with my work, simultaneously short-circuiting thought and providing fodder for other stories.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.