Come Back With That Baby!
by Heather Underwood


To be honest, I can't believe that I have made it this far. From the first moment I held my newborn son, and still to this day as he happily gallops off to preschool, I have felt like a total impostor to the parenting realm. "Surely they will stop me here," I thought, as I trudged through the hospital lobby, loaded up like an exhausted, grungy pack mule hauling both baby and baby paraphernalia from every limb, a few days after my son, Hunter's, birth. "Can't they tell that I have no earthly idea what I am doing?" I thought, glancing around from time to time, honestly expecting a nurse with a clipboard to tap me on the shoulder and retrieve the child I had just stolen. At that point I am not sure whether I would have been distraught, relieved, or something else totally off the emotional scale, but luckily, or unluckily, depending on your viewpoint, I managed to cross the borders into my car without being halted by any loud security alarms or burly police officers.

Even after the first few tearful nights home with Hunter, my tears and his mind you, the reality didn't sink in. Through the first round of screaming jags, mostly the baby's screaming but sometimes mine too, I sat on the couch and stared at him. Weak and delirious with exhaustion, the only thought that I could manage to summon was, "When are this kid's real parents, the ones with the designer rocking chair and eager smiles, going to show up and take this all away?" I felt as if I was just babysitting for some rich, suburban family through most of Hunter's babyhood, but that feeling died off some after the fridge went empty and the parents never quite made it home to pay me. After those initial stages of new parent anxiety and plenty of "bad parenting stages" related to such things as sudden infant death syndrome (oh the anxiety of having to monitor a child's sleep when all they do at that age is sleep) came what I like to refer to as the "good mama moments." These included the infamous "homemade baby foods stage," "creative bottle weaning," and most recently the "wow, he's so smart stage." After these small turning points, I resumed a less worrisome but still quit neurotic state of living that stems mostly from the utter fear of losing a child through death (very possible!), kidnapping (would anyone really want him?), or some other major catastrophe too jarring to consider.

Even after spending what feels simultaneously like an instant and a lifetime changing diapers, washing onesies, and obsessing over every little sneeze just like every other parent on earth, I still wear the face of a newcomer to those around me. Being young is one thing, but being weird, young, and single as a parent is practically terminal if you are looking to make anything more than acquaintances. Four years down the line, I still wake up every day somewhat surprised that a child in my care is not only alive, but still in one piece (as long as you don’t count the pile of freshly severed hair from a “scissoriffic” morning bout of mischief). Though I have this rite of passage behind my belt, I still feel like an alien invader to the planet Mom that is not ostracized so much as studied, from a distance mind you. Being a part of the "mom" scene when you are hardly an adult, much less a clean-cut "normal" adult, is strikingly similar to being an immigrant wishing to be granted citizenship. You are ultimately tested on every shred of knowledge relating to the realm you are trying to enter, but in reality, the people testing you know even less than you do about the subject. (People from America have often been asked questions from the citizenship tests and most have failed miserably because they have never had to know these things.) Citizenship is simply granted upon birth, rather than earned in the way that the "outsiders" have to. The tests in the Mom world are usually so two-faced that even the correct response, "Yes, of course I breastfeed!" is met with raised eyebrows or such replies as "Well, maybe you shouldn't nurse him so much because he is getting very plump."

There really are no "right" answers, no matter how "by the book" you are doing it, so after the first year of attempting normalcy as a person and as a parent, I gave up. Well, mostly, but not completely. I conceal my copy of "You Look Too Young To Be A Mom" behind something from the "What to Expect" series. I only allow half of the eccentric outfits that Hunter insists he must wear to school (the cowboy boots, okay, but lose the AC/DC belt buckle and comb your "hawk" into something proper). We traded the black walls and Manson posters for a more upbeat circus theme, but you will often find that our stereo blasts more Nine Inch Nails than Radio Disney. Our evenings sometimes seem more like frat meetings than family dinners, but we still eat together gosh darn it! Pizza five nights a week? Why the heck not? How 'bout some video games with that? You don't want to go to bed? Well, good, now we can catch up on those movies we rented! You'd rather sleep in than go to school? Wow, me too! Maybe the other mommies don't think I'm normal, but at least my son gets me, and if his nice suburban family fails to show up before he is old enough to appreciate the utter bliss of being weird or being yourself, then I guess we'll just be strange, terrestrial life forms stranded on this planet together.


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