Where Do Babies Come From?


Where do babies come from? How were my genes mixed up with my husband’s to create this being — this person who is so clearly not like me, so clearly not like her father, but is in fact, her own original work?

Her looks are a smokescreen and a lie. They prove that she is ours, that no switching at the hospital took place, which is reassuring. But it’s also confusing. I have heard that we are “twins” more than once, and I agree that we look very much alike. But that isn’t a whole, undiluted truth, either: I don’t pride myself on my beauty, and when I think about my face at all, I accept it ambiguously. “Yes, yes this is my face,” I say to the mirror. An everyday, generic looking face. But Zelda is terrifically beautiful to my eye, and I don’t think that it’s bias. I think that I would be willing and able to accept and admit if my daughter were less of a looker, but out she came, the most beautiful face I’d ever seen. But if we look so much alike, and I am not, by my own standards, “a looker,” while she is… what does that even mean? And who cares what she looks like, anyway?

But the thing that makes me ask, “Where do babies come from?” more than twenty years after my sex ed class is this: No one told me she would seem to have nothing in common with me, despite looking just like me. No one told me that a quiet, withdrawn and laid back person would mother a baby who my friend Lisa described as the Mayor McCheese of Greenpoint. Recently, we were on the East River Ferry, making the trip from DUMBO back home. Zelda was chilling in her stroller at the foot of the stairs, where the upper level of the ferry meets the lower. Without fail, every time the ferry stopped to let people off, Zelda would begin waving and smiling at the people as they came down the stairs to leave the boat, as if it were her job to greet them.

She waves at little kids on the subway and cashiers at the grocery store. She makes new friends wherever she goes. She charms even the most cantankerous strangers, babbling away at them. Since she learned to crawl, setting her free inevitably results in her making the acquaintance of everyone within a fifty-foot radius. She’s happy to sit and play on her rug with her books alone, or bang on her little piano for a few minutes, but what she lives for, and craves, is interaction. Not affection or attention, but back and forth constant conversation. Movement. Changes of scene and crowds. Museums full of people, airport security lines where she has a captive audience desperate for cheer. She is a social being who is happiest when surrounded by people — an audience.

I love this about her. It’s not just that she is full of life, a happy or smiley baby. She is overflowing with an energy that is original and funny and good humored. She is aggressively outgoing, relentlessly disarming. She is living her best life, a hundred percent of the time.

Early in the morning, every day, I wake and listen to her on the baby monitor. She is working things out down there. She sits in her crib for half an hour every day, alone, in the dark, talking to herself. There are no words but there are sentences. There are questions. Declarations. She whispers to herself sometimes now. Controlling the level of her voice is one of the things she is working on, a recently acquired, though not-yet refined, skill. She is the busiest person I have ever known.

I don’t know where this came from, this relentless positivity, this zest for life which seems to come from deep within her and seep from her pores. Certainly not from her parents. I’m a classic hater, and though her father can perform for a room and captivate an audience, I wouldn’t say he enjoys it. Internally, we’re both anxious homebodies. I’ve got about five close friends, most of whom I’ve known since I was a child, and that’s only if I include one who died three years ago. If I don’t, I have just four. It’s not that I don’t have flashes of enthusiasm; I do. An errant laugh, an accidental moment of brilliant “anything is possibleism.” But I can’t recall a day of my life where I wasn’t at least somewhat over the whole show, born old and shaking my head. Part of me is simply… unimpressed and unsocial. I need time to myself. Lots of it, and I did even when I was a small child. It’s how I was made.

And though it seems late in the day for me to be acquiring better social skills, Zelda is forcing me to: She can’t talk, so I’m often left to fill the gaps between her smiles and advances, making friends with moms and subway riders, cashiers and passersby. In a few months she’s accomplished what I hadn’t in four years: I now know all of my neighbors; I say “hello” when I see them and often stop for a few minutes to chat. She has made me more social, too, despite myself.

I hope this lasts. I hope she persists. That her enthusiasm isn’t squeezed out of her, that she is consistently this impressed, this engaged and this smitten with the planet and its human offerings. I hope she never learns to shrug. I hope she never learns to say “meh.” I hope she keeps waking up, toothily grinning at herself in the dark every morning.

THE PARENT RAP is an endearing new column about the fucked up and cruel world of parenting.