When I was 33, I had a baby. I also had no clue.
Backing up a few weeks, I really, really wanted a baby. We tried for months (boxers instead of briefs, no hot tubs, counting ovulation cycles, and learning to sleep on my back with my legs in the air to keep the little swimmers going in the right direction), until finally a little pee stick changed our life with the blink of a bright blue stripe.
It was at that moment that I realized I knew absolutely nothing about babies. I’m talking zip, nada, nyet. The second-to-the-youngest of six kids, I never helped raise any younger siblings, and my summer jobs while growing up didn’t include babysitting. And now I was pregnant. What have I done??
Resolving this deficiency the only way I knew how, I promptly rushed to the bookstore and bought every single baby parenting book in print and spent the next several weeks studying them with the intensity of a law student cramming for the LSATs. Huge mistake. Huge. However many books you have, that’s exactly how many differing expert opinions you’ll get on the subject of early childhood development. Getting close to my due date, I was a frustrated, teary mess, convinced I now knew less than before and that no matter what I did, it would be wrong. Without question, I was going to wreck my baby.
Jake was born shortly thereafter, and all evidence indicated I was right. He had a screaming cry that would wake the neighbors in the next county, and every time he belted it out, I knew I was failing. “What’s wrong with him??” Hubs would shout over Jake’s raging. “I don’t know,” I wailed. “I don’t know.” Even when I got it right, I was fearful and anxious. All. The. Time. I was going to drop him. I was going to accidentally drown him. I was going to leave him somewhere and forget where I put him. I was going to say or do something that would scar him for life.
Hubs finally decided we needed some help “just until I got the hang of it.” Advice from my mother invariably started with, “You know, not every woman is a natural mother,” so that wasn’t an option. He suggested his mom. Yeah, no. Think Marie on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” with slightly more snark. Even broaching the subject brought on a tirade of “Tsk, tsk. Mothering is something women just know how to do, dear. But if there’s something wrong with you, well…” Next choice.
We finally decided on help outside the maternal family tree. Someone who could teach me what to do and make sure I didn’t kill the baby while learning. We called a local agency who immediately sent out a nine-foot-tall amazon named Angelica. I don’t know what Ange did in her past life, but clearly it wasn’t childcare. When she pulled into our driveway, the first thing out of her car was a mile-long leg encased in skin-tight jeans and stilettos. She insisted that Hubs had already hired her. “He’s got early dementia,” I told her. “I know he’s only 35, but it’s genetic. Talk to his sibs. If they remember they’re related. Now off you go.”
We contacted a new agency and scored. Bing was fabulous. Close to my age, she was from the Philippines, spoke several languages, could cook dishes from around the world, and most importantly, was a whiz with babies. From the second we brought Jake home, they were besotted with each other. (More than one friend suggested that if she ever slept with Hubs, I’d be out on my keister. WTH. I wanted to marry her too.)
Bing taught me to feed, diaper, rock, bathe, and change a tiny human without breaking him. When it took almost a week for my milk to come in (breasts swollen to the size of the Andes Mountains, and totally nonfunctional. Even my body sucked at mothering), she dried my tears and Jake’s, and taught me how to bottle feed him without guilt.
Jake was the undisputed king of his castle. He didn’t learn to walk until well into his second year because he simply didn’t have to. He’d point to where he wanted to go, and “Bing-Bing” would pick him up and deliver him to the appointed spot. Needless to say, King Jake and I had a few go-rounds on the weekends, when Bing-Bing was in the city. We compromised. He walked on Saturdays and Sundays.
When it was time for Jake to learn to talk, she taught him Tagalog, which would have been adorable except for the fact that Jake’s parents didn’t speak Tagalog. We spent his an entire year endlessly repeating, “Speak English, Jake. English.”
And so it was that we raised young grasshopper together and Bing became family, living with us until Jake turned three. (There was that one teensy stumbling block on the day Jake called her “Mama.” I cried for two days, then announced a new game, where Jake and I would sit on the floor, I’d point at him and he’d yell “JAKE,” then I’d point back at me and he’d yell “MAMA.” We played it for hours, until all confusion about who was what was eliminated. I wasn’t sharing this one.)
Three years later, Bing agreed to marry a man who lived in Southern California, so with many hugs and equally as many tears, we said our goodbyes.
Bing taught me that children are resilient and that love is more important than skill for a new mom (Although knowing how not to drop the baby should be practiced during pregnancy, not post-partum. Just sayin’.) She taught me that it truly does take a village, and I feel less guilty knowing baby Jake was loved by so many. Someday I’m sure Jake will tell his children about Bing-Bing.