Having a child, from what I’ve heard, is a miraculous event in which you and a loved one create an entirely new and utterly loveable little being whose every gurgle bonds you closer to your partner, whose tiny toes are so cute you (oddly enough) want to bite them off, and whose first smile erases all memories of not having been invited to your high school prom. Then one day the baby starts crying. And it doesn’t stop until the mother weighs 300 lbs, the father stays out all night drinking with other fathers, the toaster is broken, the mother and father hate each other vehemently, everybody hates the baby (who at this point is still crying), and then the baby turns fourteen and announces that it hates everybody and is leaving to go to its prom. Parents, particularly mothers, repeatedly tell me this story and then thrust out their lower lips and give me that look that says, “I’m so sorry your existence is small for not having one.” Never being sure what to say to that look of pure pity, my kneejerk response has always been, “Please go wash the throw up off your shirtfront.” That part is in my head. What comes out of my mouth is, “Maybe someday – although I’ll be one of those cool parents who just sticks the baby in a papoose and travels around South America.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what that would actually look like. For one thing, I don’t think the neck problems I developed while snowboarding would appreciate the weight on my back (or front) and for another thing my sister has pointed out that this would literally only work for the baby’s first few weeks of life. After that they start demanding things like food and iPads and the whole plan would fall apart.
But I’m not ready to give up the dream just yet. Perhaps the Andes were a bit of a stretch. I actually hate the great outdoors (which are not that great to begin with) and I assume any progeny I put forth might also object to tents and bugs (plus a baby without access to a hairdryer is just obscene). I’ve also seen that Kevin Costner movie where the mother falls off the waterfall and an isolated tribe of leftover Aztecs raises the baby until the mother’s ghost shows up in Seattle to complain, and Kevin Costner is basically tormented into going back to the waterfall to kill himself – where he instead finds the damn baby. Of course by that point the baby had gone decidedly “native,” as they say, and while they rolled credits about 30 seconds after the reunion, I have the feeling things weren’t going to go well when they all returned home and the baby started spearing other 4-year-olds in its Seattle preschool.
Still needing a response to these non-stop parents with all the pity, joy, and throw up, I have finally decided to explore some non-papoose options for travelling the world with this eventual infant. I’m a non-traditional kind of adventurer anyway – and staying home to bang my head against the wall while watching All My Children for the next 20 years is no longer an option because they pulled the show off the air.
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This seems like the simplest option because as soon as you step on board a cruise ship they give you a buffet ticket and take your baby away. I have seen this happen, although I don’t know (nor did the parents on my most recent cruise seem to ask) where they take the babies to. I have a feeling they actually whisk them out a side door, off the boat entirely, and leave them in a San Diego daycare center. If any overly attached parents do manage to pull themselves away from the conga line long enough to try to visit the baby, ship personnel just hand them the one “trick baby” they keep below decks. The daiquiri fountain in the ship lobby is actually designed to make such obsessive parents drunk enough not to notice that the baby isn’t theirs (they’re all very alike before age three, no?), plus the baby is trained to vomit on cue at which point the parents immediately give it back and hurl themselves into the nearest group hot tub without rinsing off first. This is why I tend to go on Singles cruises, but once I have this baby I’ll need to make certain sacrifices.
Now, because I wouldn’t want to risk coming back with sunstroke so severe that I actually take the wrong baby home (someone else’s baby might have IQ issues), I am leaning more toward Norwegian-style cruise lines where the babies are enrolled in “Viking Training Camp” off the coast of Greenland. This is great exercise, fun for the babies, and the only incident I can find of this going horribly wrong took place in 2001 and was clearly the mother’s fault for trying to breastfeed before removing the baby’s Viking helmet. Around-the-world cruises are also a good option because you can stop in China and have someone teach your baby Mandarin so that it can get a job when it leaves college.
By this I mean a long series of structured trips involving wine, museums, and lectures about why we still can’t seem to get all of those stolen masterpieces back from the Nazis. As far as I know, most of the Nazis are dead or in prison; it seems like even my baby could wander into East Berlin and simply load the paintings onto its big wheel and leave. This issue aside, a trip focused on culture and art history seems like a wonderful plan because the baby will be learning about chiaroscuro and I will be drinking. Suddenly I understand how new mothers feel when they keep yelling “What was I thinking!?” as a baby in a papoose now seems like the wrong plan all along. This, if anything, is the trip I myself was born to take. By the end of two weeks I will have a baby who can stand at a lectern and wax philosophical about Michelangelo then lead me back to the hotel in a drunken stupor. If I’m not mistaken, this is why Italians have babies in the first place (that and the Catholic birth control thing, which is easily overcome by leaving any “accidental travel baby” behind in a monastery, which in turn are what monasteries are for in the first place, etc. It’s all very cyclical. See Circle of Life.).
My only concern, I suppose, is the noise level. Museums are places of quiet reflection; perhaps quiet conversation about why pointillism is a cop out. They are for strolling and Giotto not strollers and drool — and the last time I laid eyes on a child under five on the Daru staircase at the Louvre I believe I called the authorities. But I was young then too – and, to the child’s credit, humans of all ages are supposed to sob the first time they see The Winged Victory of Samothrace. If my baby didn’t sob…well, let’s just say “See Monastery.” For those who do desire some time alone with the Titians, I should also note that a baby left alone in the Prado gift shop is far less likely to be kidnapped than a baby surrounded by adults in an Anaheim Toys “Я” Us. And, of course, if you really want to cater to the baby (and if you can stomach it) you could instead take it to a museum of modern art where it can run freely, slop Kool-Aid on the drivel, and point at all the Rothkos and say, “I could do that.” It would be one of those wonderful and rare parental moments when you realize that your baby is right and it’s the rest of the world that’s insane.
At first glance, this seems strange. But the fact of the matter is that babies get into trouble in certain types of places. Places with working light sockets, for example, or places with bright colors to distract them or happy music that they’ll then sing over and over and over until you call Lufthansa and change your return destination to Bellevue. Balkan nations have none of these things – and to be honest no one will notice you and your baby because they’re all far too focused on the only thing that actually matters in the Balkans, which is making money illegally. A recent study showed that 96% of Macedonian men between the ages of 12 and 82 are involved in organized crime, which sounds dangerous until you realize that most of that organized crime involves three and only three black market commodities: cigarettes, caviar, and girls. The bad news is that all of this is true. The good news is that babies 1.) are bad with lighters and don’t tend to smoke until the second grade, 2.) are chronologically close enough to having been an egg that caviar makes them a bit nervous, and 3.) if you have a girl baby it won’t be eligible to be kidnapped until it’s at least out of diapers. Having a boy baby is no concern either, because Slovenian shopping outlets are not yet selling Adidas tracksuit onesies and your baby can’t be recruited into the criminal lifestyle unless it’s wearing one. Please note that you actually can buy Adidas baby outfits on Amazon.com, but for god’s sake don’t bring one as a joke (see Russian Mafia Sense of Humor).
While the avoidance of bad things is all fine and good, what – you may ask – is the upside to this Balkan baby escapade? Well the answer of course lies in Serbia, where my baby would have a 9 in 10 chance of becoming a professionally ranked tennis player in the next 10-12 years. Serbia, a country roughly the size of SoHo, currently has the number 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 15, and 106th player in the world (the 106th guy has no arms). Given that Serbia has very little money, no tennis courts, and balls made of rocks tossed over from Bosnia, this is really quite impressive. If Ana Ivanović can learn to play tennis in an empty swimming pool between NATO bombings, surely my baby can learn to play tennis at my Belgrade Best Western. All of this suddenly makes the Balkans a close tie with the cultural tour. Learning about art is all fine and good, but smoking black market cigarettes and eating caviar while my baby wins Wimbledon wouldn’t be half bad either. Of vague consideration is Croatia, where my baby would instead be destined for the NBA, but I would only set foot in that country with a boy baby because a lifetime of watching the WNBA ranks right up there with being in the Balkan sex trade.
A Deserted Island
Putting my baby in a papoose and traveling around South America is, of course, a metaphor; a refusal; perhaps a denial. What I actually mean is that I refuse to consider having a baby until I meet a mother who has not become a frizz-haired walking hobo of baby paraphernalia. You see, the lack of sleep isn’t necessarily my issue, nor is it the tragedy of watching people who were once literate and sophisticated quickly reducing themselves to the single repetitive act of shoving a tissue at a writhing baby’s face and telling it to “Blow.” I am confused by the fact that babies’ noses are constantly encrusted with some sort of disgusting substance despite all of this blowing business – but my real issue is the stuff. It’s the stuff that makes parent-people no longer people-people. People-people explore and take vacations and discover and have curiosity and peace and bubble baths. Parent-people have stuff. And more stuff. They have bottles and baggies and pumps and teething-rubber-thingies and nine types of extra everything and enough binkies to pacify Detroit. They have wet stuff to make things dry and dry things to make stuff wet, and they cannot leave home (let alone the country) without seven kinds of pontificating Elmo and 85 flavors of Fig Newtons because they never know what this bouncing bundle of bad manners might turn beet-red and commit Harikari over next. All-in-all, there’s a reason we won’t get behind these folks at airport security – assuming of course that parents would ever do something as asinine as travelling with any 10-lb creature that requires that much stuff. It takes less brouhaha to transport yellowcake uranium from continent to continent than it does to take your baby to your neighbor’s house.
Despite the appealing nature of lolling around Tuscany with a baby who can distinguish a Malbec from a Merlot, I am not an idiot. I must face the fact that it’s very likely my cultural tour plan would still leave me with one of these screeching Seppuku 7-month-olds, because there would invariably be something it had…and then dropped…and then life would be over. And since Eastern European gangsters don’t appreciate it when your baby pees on their shoe, I would also very likely still end up as one of these hobo diaper bag people if and when I ever left the Belgrade Best Western.
So, as far as I can tell, the only way to have a baby and truly avoid the things that worry me the most is to raise it on a deserted island. Taking into account statistics on typhoons, tsunamis, and killer jelly fish, the safest bet would be a tiny Greek Island somewhere between Paros and Mykonos. (Paros has a hospital and Mykonos has a Calvin Klein.) And by “deserted island” I do not mean tents and bugs, for I would build a lovely cabin of bamboo and what not, and I wouldn’t constantly have throw up on my shirtfront because I’d be wearing a string bikini and the ocean would be oh-so-close. My baby would grow up like I did – fairly naked, fairly primal, swimming before it can walk, and catching lizards through the cunning use of an attention span. It would only suck its thumb until I got it busy climbing trees. And if it screamed in the middle of the night (well for one thing no one’s going to work in the morning) but I also assume that carefully walking a baby into crashing waves would either distract it or scare the shit out of it long enough to change the subject. I would, quite simply, be Tom Hanks in that shipwreck movie except that my volleyball named Wilson would be a baby (named Wilson) and I’ll be damned if I’ll let it float away. I have yet to recover from that movie scene.
Which actually brings to mind a rather crucial final point. As diverse as these baby travel plans might be, they are all shockingly bereft of one very important thing: Walt Disney. It will sound like a stretch to say, but if you travel the world for long enough and go to remote enough places and meet enough mothers wearing nothing but sarongs and smiles, you will quickly come to wonder if it is Disney movies that are teaching our babies to be assholes in the first place. I expect my island infant to cry from time to time. But I do not expect my island toddler to scream bloody murder in the night because scary things might be coming to kill it, nor do I expect my island 8-year-old to have low self-esteem the first time it sees its own reflection. Perfect princesses, tiny waists, monsters in the closet, things that go bump. Witches who put you in comas, circus freaks who put your mother in a cage, fires that destroy everything your Bambi-heart holds dear. Terror, greed, death, lying, envy, sloth, and endless violence. My baby would be better off in an Adidas tracksuit.
All of which means that – yes, perhaps the papoose was keeping me away from the diaper bag – but it was also keeping my baby away from all the binkies and Barbies and DVDs that would be in it. Strapped to my back, climbing a mountain, holding my hand in a museum, or splashing around the waves in the moonlight – all of these plans seem to involve isolating my baby from the modern world and none of them involve quick-edit cartoons that ruin neural pathways or the psyche-searing horrors of Snow White. Except for the already discard Viking Training Camp idea, I might actually be onto something. For if I’m going to spend the rest of my life chasing a screeching beet-red baby around the beach with a palm frond yelling “Blow,” it’s at least…one day…going to be a good person.