THE MAMA VAULT – #1 There Should Be a Test
We take tests to prove we’re qualified for all the important things in life.
We take tests to pass from grade to grade in school. We take tests before we can drive a car.
Whether we’re hairdressers, schoolteachers, chefs, insurance agents, doctors, heavy equipment operators—most all things require we take a test to prove we’re proficient—to prove we most likely will not screw things up.
Yet, in the most important job of all—the one we should most definitely not screw up—the job of parenthood—there is no test required. Zero. Zero tests. Not one.
I mean there was the little Lamaze class certificate we received before the birth of our first child. The class always put my husband to sleep when we practiced deep breathing techniques—rendering him absolutely worthless when the real deal came around. He would’ve flunked the test had there been one. But there wasn’t. I give him an “E” for effort.
So labor came and labor went. Actually there was a lot of action between the “came” and the “went”—some of which should’ve been a red flag for our immaturity regarding parenting if anyone was watching. Surely they’d have blacklisted us when we couldn’t stifle our giggles as the mama in the next room said the most shocking things in the throes of her labor. Surely to goodness! Our behavior was highly irregular.
But we didn’t end up on any blacklist.
Instead, we loaded our little bundle of boy joy in our VW Jetta on a cool spring morning. We were exactly two actual things. In shock and clueless.
We were a couple of twenty-four year olds, and the hardest thing we’d ever dealt with was college finals. And yet they were letting us take home a real-live baby just like that.
The nurse escorted us to the car and strapped him in for us. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I thought I picked up on her hesitancy to let us drive off. And who could blame her? There was no tangible gauge of our ability—like a test score or something. The only thing we’d proven was our ability to make a baby, which is no indication of an ability to take care of a baby.
I sat in the backseat to keep constant watch over our new little darling. I’ll never forget my husband making eye contact with me through the rearview mirror and saying, What do we do now?
I got nothing, I thought to myself. I didn’t say it aloud though, because I didn’t want to cause a panic.
Our mothers helped us for a couple of weeks, but soon we were winging it on our own. You know, parenting on the fly. And it was going really well, too, until we got cabin fever one day.
On that day, we decided to venture out for our first family outing–just the three of us. We felt really adult about the whole thing. So adult.
In our diaper bag were all the things we might even remotely need. We’d prepared for every possible scenario.
We strapped our precious son into his car seat and off we went. Our four-speed Jetta was a zippy little thing. One might assume a new father would take the corners slowly, being especially careful and protective of our baby boy, who was peacefully hanging out in the backseat—an infant with no choice but to trust a pair of novices with his life.
This is the way it went down.
My husband took that first corner like he was making the last lap of the Indy 500. Or so it seemed to me. He tells me I’m prone to exaggeration, so whatever. I think fatherhood triggered a spike in his testosterone levels causing him to accelerate, though I’m certainly no doctor. All I know for sure is this—as we rounded the corner, a chain of events ensued in the seat behind me.
I saw it all in slow motion—the precious infant boy, fresh from my womb only three-weeks earlier—sliding across the back seat in his car seat until it hit the center hump, at which time it flipped completely upside down, and remained in that position until it came to a stop on the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. Start to finish it couldn’t have been more than four seconds.
I screamed, Stop the car! My baby, my baby! I knew something like this would happen.
My husband slammed on the brakes and shoved the stick shift into park. I threw open my door before we’d come to a complete stop, racing around to the other side of the car. Todd opened the back door, and all we saw was the car seat upside down in the floor. We didn’t see the baby—no sign of him at all. None of his appendages were visible beneath the car seat. Not so much as one little wrinkled hand sticking out from under it to give us the all clear. Nothing in the diaper bag could fix it.
Eight-and-a-half pounds of baby sounds like a lot until it’s tucked beneath an overturned car seat. Then it suddenly becomes tiny. Invisible, actually.
Suddenly we were like two badly-behaved five-year-olds who should’ve been blacklisted from all the birthday parties for all the years.
You look first. I’m scared.
No YOU do it.
We looked at each other, knowing one of us had to do the grownup thing and actually PICK UP THE CAR SEAT AND ASSESS THE CONDITION OF OUR CHILD! Geez. Our child. See what I mean? I told you. We were absolutely, one hundred percent not qualified to have one. We weren’t proficient. Because, we hadn’t taken a freaking test!
But back to the baby. He was fine. He is fine. A-Okay. He’s a lawyer now, for Pete’s sake.
When one of us finally had the courage to right-side the car seat, we found our son held firmly in place by the shoulder straps. He was wide awake and calm as summer sea. Because he had no point of reference, he was completely unaware being upside down in his seat in the floorboard wasn’t the usual way car rides go.
We kissed on him, thanked God, and correctly strapped him in the car. We closed the back door, pulled ourselves together, and as nonchalantly as possible, climbed back in our car to continue on a new, ever-so-cautious way.
But not before we did a visual sweep of the neighborhood to make sure there were no witnesses.
Here is the excuse.
My husband and I are both children of the ‘60s. Our infant years were spent lying on the actual seat of the car, likely somewhere in the vicinity of a parent, though that fact is not a given. We do have proof my husband’s mother once placed her infant son on the back seat as she drove her car. All this to say the whole “car seat” thing was never modeled for us—because the seats didn’t exist, there was no law and our moms were rookies.
So we made it to the ‘80s, where infant car seats had only been a thing for about forty-five seconds. And we had a little problem. We strapped the baby in the car seat, but neglected to strap the car seat in the car. A rookie mistake.
Dear heavens. We were just like our parents. And all parents–past, present and future.
Which totally proves my point.
There will always be rookies. Novices. There’s a new crop of them every day. It’s like the Wild West out there.
So….I’m just saying maybe there should be a test.
Of course, I am post-menopausal now and prone to weird ideas. You should probably pay no mind to me.
That said, we could just keep winging it–keep doing what we’re doing. I mean “winging it” has produced billions of super fine human beings–most of whom have survived things that might have been prevented by a parent scoring an A or B on a test–but then again, who knows? Actually, probably not. The things probably would’ve happened anyway.
Because kids’ lives are chock-full of good things and bad things, happy things and sad things–messy, maddening, and accidental things. Unavoidable things. They just are.
Though your kid will teeter on a thousand different precipices over the years, most every time he or she will manage to fall back to safety just in the nick of time. And you, armed with a buttload of instinct you don’t fully understand and an ample supply of Band-aids and Neosporin, will be ready to make the catch. Trust me. I know things.
Because of this.
With no test to prove myself proficient in motherhood–with efforts sometimes riddled with clumsy mistakes and errors in judgment– my three still survived their childhoods. They did. So take heart, you mothers who are in the thick of all the things at this very minute. Chances are actually very good yours will survive too.