Seeing yourself with kids.

Let’s say you found him.  Or, her.  The man or woman of your dreams.

Let’s say they’re good with kids.  The kind who makes your mother say, “you two are going to be wonderful parents someday.”

Let’s say your sister has a baby.  And then, so do some of your friends.

Let’s say it’s scary to hold those babies at first, because you are terrified you’ll drop them, and then slowly, it gets easier.  You tickle their stomach.  They look up at you.  They smile, in that it-hurts-because-it’s-so-perfect kind of baby smile.  You think, “I could get used to this.”

Let’s say you start acting coy to your parents and in-laws. Beginning conversations with, “well when we have kids of our own …” when referring to you and your lover.

Let’s say that this all really scares you.

*  *  *

Every single time Ross and I get together with his family, I go down this road.  I see my nephews, and I see their parents — Ross’ older sister and her husband — and how infinitely capable they are.  So capable it feels foreign to me.

This couple has one three year old son, two twin boys, a potty-training system, mommy groups, and an awesome backyard play set.  They have a jungle-themed nursery room that Ross’ little sister painted, and a race car bed that the three year old sleeps in.  They have a bright house with cushy furniture, and a TiVo with Toy Story Two taped on it, and action figures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

Perhaps this is giving you the impression that this family is rich. They’re not.

What they are is selfless.

*  *  *

When I was a teenager, and on into my 20s, most of my jobs involved kids.  I have changed diapers.  I have taught yoga and dance to kids.  I have face-painted at birthday parties and I have told kid-friendly ghost stories during Family Day at Austin Museum of Art.  I met Ross while teaching, and one of the qualities that most attracted me to him was how great he was with children.  Something I had never, ever looked for in a man before. 

Once, while standing inside the main foyer of the school, in front of a big picture window that looked out toward the sand pile, I watched this tiny Indian boy get tackled by a burly, five year old future linebacker.  The latter wanted to play horse.  The tiny one, not wanting to lose face, struggled to bend his body enough to get on his hands and knees. It was really hard. His mouth was twisting, and his eyes were squinting.

Ross ran over out of nowhere, grabbed the bigger one off the small one’s back, and placed him on his own back. “I’ll be your horse!” he said. “Where would you like to ride?”

I fell completely in love with him.

*  *  *

I have full faith in Ross’ ability to parent.  Are you kidding me?  That man was born to make and raise a baby.

But when it comes to me … 

I know for a fact that I am one of those people who displays a curious mixture of extroverted personality traits with greedy, introverted tendencies.  I hoard my free time.  I may have sharing issues.  I hypothesize that this comes from being an only child, but with two outgoing parents. 

I am extremely spoiled with my job, which allows me to work from home; I am spoiled by my city, which beckons to me with a hundred shows and movies and karaoke bars and Prohibition-era-cocktails; I am spoiled by the house that I rent, a rambling old bungalow in Hyde Park whose charm, for now, outweighs our inability to rip up the carpet or build a fence for the backyard.  I mean, it has a creek for God’s sake — we’ll forgive the pink carpeting.

So when I look down at that smiling baby, I feel not wistfulness, but a sort of fear.

That I think I want this eventually, and think I could do it, too.

If only I weren’t so damn selfish.

*  *  *

The thing that terrifies me most about having a baby — besides being pregnant itself, which I still can’t quite wrap my head, much less my womb, around — is somehow giving it the idea that I would rather be someplace else.  I don’t know.  Do babies pick up on that?  Do your maternal hormones kick in and actually make it to where hanging out with your baby is the most awesome thing, ever?

I ask new moms these questions sometimes, and they say: “You’ll be fine!  If you ever have kids, you will just be the best mom ever!  Don’t worry.  Your perspective on things begins to change.”

But then, we’ve all seen those parents on TV who really ARE selfish.  Really ARE neglectful.  Really ARE still living out their youth despite the very undeniable existence of their infant.  I may or may not have been reading too many grocery store tabloids lately with reality show teen moms plastered on the front.

I don’t think I would ever become one of those moms.

But I do worry that my twentysomething lack of selflessness isn’t just a maturity thing, but a deeper independence thing. Ross likes to say that, “we’ll know when it feels right,” but I honestly do think that I’ll never feel “right” when it comes to my own ability to have a baby, that instead it will be like jumping off a cliff into water below, and praying to God you don’t hit rocks or a tree branch on the way down, and that it’s an adrenaline rush that propels you forward rather than legitimate confidence, and that when you finally plunge in, your legs kicking in explosive awareness that you made it and that you’re still alive, it is joy, mixed with residual terror, mixed with relief, mixed with magic.