Monday, January 4, 2010

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

Babies are okay. I have been known to hold one, managing to look reasonably comfortable, but I can't say I actively seek out the job. Not one of those women overrun by maternal urges, I don't often find myself nuzzling an infant and drinking in the aroma of baby powder. My sensibilities may have descended from my father. I once asked him if he was sorry that I hadn't provided him with grandchildren and he answered, "What, and have them run up to my car with jelly fingers?"

My mother was enamoured with infants, the smaller the better. At home with the tiniest of subjects, she was undaunted by their size and fragility. She often expressed a desire to have a third child, but Dad was nowhere near the same page. With a brother eight years my senior, I often wondered if even I was in the script. Realizing that my birthday, September 1, was exactly 9 months after New Year's Eve, I asked, "Mom, did you and Dad plan to have me?" She answered slyly, "I did." I still wrestle with the image of my mother in a negligee with a noisemaker.

My own parental instincts have been pretty much limited to puppies. I have been disappointed and delighted by the canines, and occasionally wonder how well I would have fared with a human. Still a work in progress, the jury may be out on the results of my development, but God knows my mother gave 110% during my formative years. She was the "Neighborhood Mom", chauffeuring kids to movies, school picnics and practices. Her tolerance was drawn from a bottomless well; she withstood my screaming tantrums, answering with, "Do you want something to cry about? I'll give you something to cry about." She never did. Maybe she should have.

I think that I might have been a good mother if it hadn't been for that little thing called sacrifice. The thought of passing along a part of myself was intriguing (or bone-chilling), but I never wanted to stop whatever I was doing long enough to seriously consider the task. What was I doing, anyway? Ah, yes- waitressing, painting, playing the banjo, living in New York City, moving upstate, decorating the apartment, decorating the house, mowing the lawn, raking the leaves. As far as Mom was concerned, the list read like the minutes from a session at the U.N. Living vicariously through my life, she could romanticize my most ordinary days and glorify the slightly unusual ones. While working out at the New York Health and Racquet Club, Farrah Fawcett and Tatum O'Neal walked into the room where I was doing an exercise for my butt. Farrah asked if I would show it to her, so I gave her a demonstration which lasted all of three minutes. Of course, my mother bragged to her friends, "Do you know that Joan works out with Farrah Fawcett?" I'll never have a more motivated publicist or a bigger fan.

My lack of maternal desires aside, I really do love little girls and could have been easily swept away in a daughter's world. I would have provided her with memories of swimming pools, shopping trips and Broadway plays. She would have been advised to adjust the price of a new blouse before she modeled it for her father. We would have had our little secrets.

While delivering Christmas gifts to my father's neighbors, I stopped to visit Kim and Dan Natitus, a wonderful young couple who moved in next door to Dad. Nearly a year ago, they were blessed with the smiles and sweetness of a baby named Julia. I sat on the floor and was warmed by her easy acceptance; she rested against my knees as I played with her hair and held her hands. Clearly in love, Kim's eyes widened with every move of her little girl. I like to imagine my mother looking at me that way.

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