Some parents believe that when a certain Very Big Milestone rolls around — I’m talking about Baby’s First Birthday, of course — that when you finally reach that epic moment, a full year after baby’s big debut, that any mom and dad with a shred of sanity left should simply give the kid a cupcake, slam a shot of bourbon, share a high-five and call it a day. Or a very early night.
And to that I say — and I’m quoting my dear friend Danielle, mom of four, here — Oh, hell no!
By all means, put the baby to bed when it’s time — or let the li’l tyke snooze in his smash cake. But then party on, girlfriend. ‘Cause Baby’s First Birthday ain’t … about … the … baby. This party is for you, Mama! Yes, you! You who got split stem to stern, pooping out the equivalent of a 10-pound watermelon. You who nursed every 45 minutes — twenty-four/seven — for months. You who endured colic (aka Is this kid ever going to stop crying?) and can still function on three hours of sleep … or at least do a good impression. You who mastered the fine art of changing a diaper blowout without letting a drop of shit hit the floor. You with spit-up down your back and pureed prunes in your hair. You. Who. Didn’t. Kill. The. Baby.
Well done. Have a canape. The mini-quiches are delish.
But I am being totally serious here. Check the confessionals on our friend Scary Mommy’s blog. Every mom knows that the first year with the first baby plays like an extended run of Survivor meets Lord Of The Flies. So, you came through it without sprinting away from home … voting your hubs off the island … ending up in a body bag … or checking into rehab? High-five! That necessitates the kind of shindig that would dwarf Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Or at the very least one of Kim Kardashian’s weddings.
Given that house plants have been known to wither and die in my care, when my son turned 1, I was so deliriously happy that I hadn’t squished him, dropped him or forgotten him somewhere in my sleep-deprived stupor — I went all out. I invited every mom and dad I knew from Mommy & Me, hired a caterer, rented a couple of bounce houses and brought in a margarita machine. (Though, that last one might have just been for me. And I can promise you, there wasn’t a jigger of tequila left when the rental guys picked it up again the next morning.)
I wanted to hire a sky-writer to spell out “WE DID IT! HE’S ALIVE!!” over our little nabe AND have the cheer squad from our local high school bounce through the streets, chanting, “WAY TO GO MOMMY, WAY TO GO!!” But my husband thought that might be a tad overkill. So I settled for loading up the party play list with songs, like Looks Like We Made It and Alive & Kicking. Folks, I partied like it was 2099! (Which is about the time I expect to be done paying for the kiddo’s college education.)
My point is, there are going to be plenty of birthday celebrations in your baby’s future. You will inevitably book magicians and face-painters and balloon-animal makers. You will fork out bazoodles for plastic party-favor gizmos that other moms will throw directly into the trash. You will do crafts, decorate cookies, pet farm animals and spend way too many hours at Chuck E. Cheese. You may even arm 40 kindergarteners with plastic light sabers, draft a high-schooler to play Darth Maul, feed them sugar, then set them all loose in the backyard. (Though again, that might’ve just been me.)
Yessiree, your kiddo has a lifetime of birthday parties ahead that are all about him or her. But this one … baby’s first birthday … this one’s for you, Mom. You earned it. Salud!
Thanks to Kirsten Gillibrand, my 7-year-old now knows all about how babies are made. Not that New York’s junior senator actually sat down with the boy to lay out the facts, with infographics and pie charts and Wikipedia references — though if I’d thought she would have obliged me, I’d have certainly asked her.
No, the good senator was the subject of an NPR Morning Edition profile I was listening to recently on the drive to school. NPR is my go-to station in the morning for the 10 minutes of news I might pick up to keep me connected to the larger world that exists outside of Cartoon Network, the Disney Channel and PTO scuttlebutt. My kid never listens to NPR. He’s usually far too engrossed in whatever book he’s reading on his Kindle to even notice something as old media as the radio. Or me (also old, I might add). Which is why I never get more than a distracted Uh … or, on a good day, an Uh, okay, sure … when I ask him anything while we’re in the car.
To wit: “Fletcher, how was school today?”
“Fletcher … you’re on fire.”
“Uh … okay … sure … huh … Whaaaa?”
See what I mean?
But when the Morning Edition reporter described how Gillibrand was made of such steely stuff that she’d endured 12 hours of painful pre-labor contractions when pregnant with her second child, all because she didn’t want to leave her committee meeting, that little tidbit, THAT my son heard.
“Mommy –” came his still-little-boy-voice, mere seconds later from the backseat. “Do boys have babies? … Do I have to have a baby?”
And with about seven minutes left of the drive to school, I realized THIS WAS IT. The Moment that most parents dread even more than swimming lessons, potty training and busting open the first Lego kit that has more than 20 pieces. We were about to have The Talk.
I still remember when my mom had The Talk with me. I was 6. We sat down. She came prepared. She had a book. With pictures. I think one was of Michaelangelo’s David, who, on reflection did not live up to that maxim about the size of a man’s hands, which in David’s case were, um … quite huge. Sigh … anyway … My mom was great. We read the book together. She answered questions. We spent time talking about the Sperm + Egg = Baby equation. Never once did she get embarrassed or hedge a question.
I didn’t think much about this particular Hallmark moment until years later when I noticed that friend after friend would tell me that their moms never had The Talk with them. Or that they’d simply been handed a book and a box of maxi pads and were left to piece it all together on their own. I was grateful my mom had the confidence and comfort level to be so direct and matter-of-fact with me. I’d planned to do the same thing for my son. I just hadn’t planned to do it on this particular morning. Otherwise, I’d have spent some time rehearsing. And maybe doubled up on my anti-anxiety meds.
But perhaps it was better that I was caught unprepared and so had to handle this on the fly. I’d read somewhere — no doubt in one of my many How Not To Screw Up Your Kid Too Horribly books — that the trick to navigating these kinds of potentially land-your-kid-in-therapy-for-life conversations was to respond as if you are a prisoner of war. Provide only the information requested and nothing more. My 7-year-old had asked about babies. So given our time constraints, I figured I could skip the hot-n-heavy part and go straight to the Cliff’s Notes version of baby-assembly mechanics. There’d be time enough for the sex portion of The Talk later. Much later. Like when he hit middle school. (And don’t think I didn’t know that delaying would also give me four more years to stockpile the small cache of prescription anxiety meds I knew I’d need to keep calm and carry on through that ‘tween minefield. Hey, there’s a reason they call that stuff Mother’s Little Helper.)
But back to the task at hand. With five minutes left and counting till we’d pull into the drop-off lane, I calmly explained that Daddy has sperm –
“Sorta like tadpoles …”
And Mommy has an egg –
“No, you can’t scramble this kind of egg … you just can’t … because we don’t eat these kinds of eggs … yes, they’re small … much smaller than your thumbnail, yes…”
And I wrapped up with the explanation that after the sperm and egg meet up (sidestepping how for the moment), they go into a special sack in Mommy’s tummy, where the sperm+egg can grow into a baby.
That was easy, I thought as the school came into view. The facts of life in under five minutes. And I hadn’t even sweated through my super-high-powered antiperspirant that I’d been fortunate enough to swipe on that morning.
“So why was that lady hurt?” my boy asked.
“When it’s time for the baby to be born, the sack starts squeezing to push the baby out. Like a tube of toothpaste. That squeezing is what hurts.” I explained.
“So, do boys have babies?”
“Oh good,” he said, clearly relieved, as we turned into the school’s drive. “I was afraid I’d have a tummy ache like that lady on the radio. I do not want to have a baby because I do not want to have a tummy ache.”
Ah … well then. Maybe I did answer the wrong question. But at least my boy still got the answer he needed.
A version of this essay originally appeared on Lifescript’s Health Bistro blog.