When Andy and I got married, I had two nieces that I adored. There was First Niece, daughter of Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister. First Niece was a flower girl in our wedding. When I met First Niece as a baby, I had her out of her carrier and in my arms in under two seconds. She repaid me with a massive diaper blowout (while her parents laughed for ten minutes), but all is forgiven when you are First Niece.
Second Niece was Big Brother’s six-month-old baby girl. Big Brother brought her to my co-ed Baby Shower. I carried her around while he kicked back mojitos.
Don’t get the idea that I am a Baby Hog. You know, one of those women who appear to be magnetically pulled toward every bald creature in diapers that smells like Johnson & Johnson’s? The kind of woman who salivates until she gets to hold the baby and glares at anyone who dares suggest she might give the baby up? (Never mind if the baby is screaming its head off and stretching its arms toward Mommy.) THAT is a Baby Hog.
No, I am not a Baby Hog. Any predisposition toward baby-hoggishness was crushed by my four baby siblings. Starting when I was ten, my parents knocked out a kid every year for four years. I changed a lot of diapers and quickly learned to wear a towel on my shoulder. I became an expert rocker, swayer, singer, soother, and burper. I made a ton of money babysitting as a teenager, but the ongoing onslaught of screaming kids and chocolate milk shampoos drove me out of neighborhood houses and into the mall.
I went to work in a snotty women’s clothing store for the rest of high school. The pay sucked. The hours sucked. The customers were entitled and bitchy.
So much better than babysitting.
When my first boss in the entertainment industry brought her newborn to the office, I gave her more than one lesson in childcare. And then I spent some unpaid overtime locating the ultimate nanny because I would rather have taken dictation until my fingers fell off than taken care of a baby again.
If friends with babies needed to eat, I held their babies. I made the babies giggle. And as soon as I could, I handed the babies back.
Screaming baby on a flight across a continent or ocean? Pah! There’s never been a baby I couldn’t entertain into silence on an airplane. One toddler hunted me down repeatedly – from First Class, no less – with a board book.
But I would never, ever, EVER ask to hold any baby.
Except for First Niece and Second Niece. They were special and I had to hold them. Maybe it’s the siren call of Ashbough DNA.
Maybe it’s because my late mother loved babies (obviously). Those two nieces would have been her first grandchildren, and she would have been the Mother of All Baby Hoggers with them. But she was gone. So I baby-hogged them for her.
I made sure the photographer got pictures of me with Flower Girl First Niece before the wedding. But Second Niece napped after family pictures, then disappeared to nurse until after our wedding dance. As soon as I saw her, I pounced.
I scooped her out of my sister-in-law’s arms. “Oh, great! Where’s the photographer?”
My sister-in-law was dubious. “Are you sure you wanna take her? She just ate.”
I grabbed a napkin off a table and chucked it over my shoulder. “It’ll be fine.”
“Sometimes she spits up—”
I spotted the photographer on the other side of the room. “No problem!” I hoisted Second Niece up to my shoulder, patted her on the back, and made a beeline for the photographer.
I made it about twenty feet. Then Second Niece reared back in my arms, gave me a huge smile, and proceeded to throw up all down the front of my wedding dress.
I made a sharp about-face and took Second Niece back to her mother. Second Niece’s mother and Big Brother laughed until they realized that Second Niece had coated herself as well. Still snickering, Big Brother went off to change his daughter’s outfit. I grabbed a napkin and wiped off my dress as best I could.
My sister-in-law continued to titter. “I did warn you she might spit up.”
“‘Spit up?’” I echoed incredulously. I rustled up yet another napkin and hoped it was Big Brother’s. “I’ve taken care of LOTS of babies, and that ain’t no little ‘spit up!’ No. You cannot call that anything but Exorcist-worthy projectile puke.”
“It’s not that bad—”
“It’s like a fireman aimed a hose of sour cottage cheese at me and sprayed. Repeatedly.”
Sister-in-law tittered again. “At least it’s the same color as your dress.”
It was, indeed. The true color of the silk was apparently “Baby Vomit.” Who knew? Within a few minutes the fabric was dry. There wasn’t even a water mark, on the supposedly “unsteamable” silk dress. A few more minutes, and I was used to the smell.
Big Brother returned. Second Niece sported a cute new outfit.
He held her up. “Do you still want a picture?”
I backed away. “No, no. I think I’m good.” And I was. Any last glimmering flame of familial baby-hoggishness had been utterly extinguished by partially digested breast milk.
More Ashbough babies have been born since I got married.
I will hold them, if asked, so their parents can eat.
I will rock them, or walk them, if their parents make a request.
And I can still keep them from crying.
But I do not seek those babies out.
I doubt I ever will.
As for my wedding dress, I had it cleaned and vacuumed sealed for long-term storage. When I picked up the box, the man behind the counter smiled at me. “It’s all set for your daughter some day.”
I shook my head. “It’s not for my daughter. It’s for my niece.”
After all, Second Niece staked her claim very, very clearly.