When God was passing out biological alarm clocks, I'm convinced that mine was somehow defective or missing batteries. Here I am, about to give birth any day now, and my maternal instinct is still A.W.O.L. at the 11th hour. Maybe it's just cold feet, but as ready as I am to have this baby, another part of me wants to make like a busy little beaver and build a little dam down below and keep him inside me until I'm good and ready -- if ever. Because as difficult as it is to have a baby inside me, I am sure it'll be unimaginably hard once he's on the outside. I've held two, maybe three infants in my entire life and know next to nothing about taking care of babies. Sure, I've read some books and taken a class or two, but I still don't feel remotely prepared. I just can't believe that you need a license to drive, a business license and even a license to fish, yet any idiot like me with working gonads can have a child.
Every time I walk by the nursery, instead of getting all dewy-eyed and mushy, I recoil in shock. First of all, just saying the word "nursery" and not be referring to a gardening store, but to a room in my own house is totally surreal. Secondly, it looks like a baby boutique took a giant dump in that room. Talk about tricked out -- there's an explosion of colorful receiving blankets, a diaper genie, a fancy sleigh crib, plush toys, musical mobiles, baby boy clothes and every other baby frill imaginable. It looks like a psychedelic Pooh playground. But what really gives me the shudders is the bassinet. Maybe it's because bassinets have been used to such good sinister effect in movies like "It's Alive" and "Rosemary's Baby," but that bassinet really gives me the heebie jeebies.
Speaking of "Rosemary's Baby," what makes this such an excellent horror movie is that it's an allegory about the maternal instinct. The scariest part of the movie isn't the revelation that Rosemary has given birth to the anti-Christ, but that she's given birth to the anti-Christ and still has tender maternal feelings towards him! I think it's safe to say that when you are the spawn of Satan, you probably have a face that only a mother could love. And it's that deluded, unconditional parental love that I am simultaneously dreading yet worried that I may not develop. Not that I think my son will be born with the mark of the beast on his head (but sometimes I wonder when the baby is using his head as a battering ram against my bladder), but will I fall in love no matter what? And if I do, what will become of me? Will I turn into one of those insufferable parents who imagines that everybody else in the world is as captivated by the antics of my offspring as I am? Will I start sending Christmas cards with my son's picture, tell cutesy anecdotes about him until my friend's eyes glaze over and brim with tears of boredom, hold people hostage with excruciatingly boring home movies or spit into a Kleenex and wipe my son's face?
To childless, self-absorbed, self-anointed hipsters like my husband and me, parenthood used to seem so dreary and intolerable. From the outside, parenthood resembles a religious cult where only the converted truly understand and become enlightened. Formerly vibrant friends transform into zombie slaves at the beck and call of their Gymboree-clad, tyrannical masters. Covered with formula and spit-up, their dark-ringed eyes are open, but nobody's home. They haven't slept for weeks, haven't had sex for months and seem to be a shell of their former selves. Yet when they talk about their child, a change comes over them and their faces glow with evangelical zeal as they talk about how truly amazing parenthood is, their eyes alight with rapture as they describe their son or daughter's first smile. And at that moment, I am intrigued and vulnerable to indoctrination.
Oddly enough, I've even found a glimmer of hope from the unlikeliest of maternal role models -- my own mother. As I've expressed in a previous entry, my super stoic Korean mom doesn't have a sentimental bone in her body. Every Mother's Day card or gift I've ever given her ends up directly in the trash. Yet she still shows her maternal instinct in strange and mysterious ways. One day we were out shopping for shoes together and we each bought a pair. Later that night, I was rudely awakened by the phone ringing. I answered the phone and sat up in concern when I heard my mother's voice. In her staccato broken English she fired, "Minsun, don't eat gel in the shoes!" Totally confused and incredulous I asked, "What the hell are you talking about?" She sighed in exasperation and repeated, "The shoes we buy today, don't eat the gel okay? Very dangerous!" Although I was truly baffled, I just promised not to eat whatever she was talking about and hung up.
It isn't until I turn on the lights and glance down at the shoebox on the floor that I realize what she's carrying on about. You know those little grainy packets of Silica Gel that are supposed to absorb moisture in the shoebox? They say plainly, "Do Not Eat" all over them. And it suddenly dawns on me that my wacky mother was seized by an irrational fear that maybe I was going to have an irresistible urge for a midnight snack and would turn to my shoe box to satisfy my cravings with Silica Gel. My first impulse was to be incensed and insulted. How stupid does she think I am? I mean since when do shoes come with a snack included? And furthermore, I am a grown woman with an English degree from UC Berkeley - I can certainly read a warning label that clearly states "Do Not Eat" much better than my mother with her immigrant English. Yet she acts like she saved me from the brink of Silica Gel poisoning.
As bizarre as this story is, it crudely embodies what being a mother is all about. No matter how complicated the relationship is between my mother and me, I know that she loves and worries about me. And I know that I'll spend some future sleepless nights as a parent, perhaps worrying about something equally as inane and obscure, but I doubt it. Although pregnancy lasts a seemingly interminable nine months, motherhood lasts forever. Maybe I'll find my missing maternal instinct or maybe I'll find that I had it all along. But I do know that once I enter this parenthood cult, life will never be the same again. Luckily, I don't have to change my name or shave my head, but I think I'll be doing a lot of praying.