Mommy dimmest

Anna Quindlen

May 12, 1992|By Anna Quindlen

I THINK sometimes about a girl I met in Brooklyn. She was 14, and pregnant and philosophical.

"If Vanise does it, I can," she said, Vanise being the neighborhood dim bulb, the girl whose conversation ranged from a giggle to a shrug, whose own mother said that if you looked in one of her ears you could see daylight.

Vanise had had a baby, and she was so dim that it was commonplace for her to order a slice at the pizza place and then discover she had no money and be obliged to cadge a buck from a boy. (There was some suggestion of a causal relationship between the slice, the cadging and the baby.)

The bottom line was this: If Vanise could do motherhood, then motherhood couldn't be too tough.

I guess the girl is 19 now, and the baby 5, and Lord knows what happened to Vanise. I thought about them both, and about all the rest of us who produce hostages to fortune, when some manufacturer unveiled a pregnant doll called Mommy-To-Be, a Barbie wannabe with country-western hair and a swelling midsection. What do you think it means that mine was delivered barefoot?

The doll reminded me of Vanise for two reasons: because it shows the world is full of people who don't have good sense, and because it suggests that having a baby is easy.

It has a removable belly, and when you take out the baby -- anatomically correct, which is a whole lot more than you can say about the mother -- a nice flat stomach pops up in its place, thereby reinforcing the bellybutton theory of birth so beloved by 5-year-olds.

The process is a cross between a C-section, a tummy tuck and an Easter egg hunt.

This isn't the way I remember it, but I guess there wasn't a big market for a sweaty wild-eyed doll with a hospital gown up around her armpits shrieking, "The next person who tells me to breathe is dead meat!"

It's always been this way. Our toys taught us being a mother was simple. Betsy Wetsy, Tiny Tears -- what easy babies they were.

Today dolls are more sophisticated, but no more realistic. They have a baby doll that crawls and falls, but it does not fall against the leg of the coffee table, gash its little head and need to go to the emergency room at the same time that the twins are in the tub.

No Colicky Cathy, who wails all night unless you walk her. No Adolescent Alex, who does not speak for six months and then breaks the silence with a call at 1 a.m. informing you that he's gotten popped on a DWI. No real-life Mommy games.

(I never knew any boys to play Daddy when I was growing up. What kind of game would it have been to walk out the front door and make yourself scarce for 10 hours?)

The job that seemed so easy when the babies were plastic turns out to be the hardest one you ever have when they're flesh and blood.

The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and torturous, involving and utterly tedious, all at the same time.

The world is full of women made to feel strange because what everyone assumes comes naturally is so difficult to do, never mind to do well.

No doll teaches this. The best exercise in understanding it is one sometimes given high school kids. They're handed an egg on a Friday and told that they have to take care of it all weekend.

Most of them start out with enthusiasm, naming their eggs, dressing them, drawing little faces on their blank whiteness.

But soon it begins to pall. They hunt around for someone to leave their egg with so they can go to the movies. Some of the guys try to talk girls into tending their eggs.

One boy I read about hard-boiled his egg and then carried it around blithely in his pocket. I'm nervous about his prospects as a father, but I'm convinced he'll become a U.S. senator.

By Monday morning the eggs are broken.

We rarely admit that carrying something fragile with you, in your hands and your heart every minute of your life, is one tough task. I wonder sometimes how the 14-year-old and her dim friend wound up managing it, or if they did.

The thing I find most annoying about this Mommy-To-Be doll is that she has a smile frozen on her face. Take off her big belly, pop out her baby, and she smiles and smiles.

Motherhood is a snap. So simple. So easy. No stretch marks. No varicose veins. No pot belly. No problem.

No way.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.

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