Wake Up and Smell the Fingers

7.10.2012

By Dan Bucatinsky

When I adopted my first child, everything changed.

I’ll never forget the day we first laid eyes on Monica, coming down the escalator at LAX. We’d talked on the phone a bunch of times, and we’d noticed how she had a loud, slow, gruff voice. Her mother told us she got nervous around new people and did not like to be photographed. We immediately pictured a clinically obese girl with thick glasses and a stained Hello Kitty sweatshirt, teetering on the edge of “mentally challenged.” She turned out to be a beautiful, wide-eyed, tough-talking, pack-a-day teen in stretch jeans and her boyfriend’s football jacket, as if she had literally been conjured from the pages of a Don Roos screenplay. The sacrifice she was able to endure? I am forever changed by her and inspired by her strength and courage. OK, she could’ve learned a thing or two about birth control. But she always insisted “birth control just doesn’t work” on her! I kept wondering if it wouldn’t have worked better had she remembered to take it out of the box and put it in. Or on. But then, imagine if she had? Unfathomable. It was Monica’s lack of impulse control that made the creation of our family possible.

The whole experience bonded us. And then, in that delivery room, Don, Monica, and I held hands as first Eliza and then, two years later, Jonah were cut from their umbilical cords -- and from their nine-month lifelines to Cinnabons, Mountain Dew, and Marlboro menthols. Tears streamed down all our cheeks. It was clear, as sentimental as it may sound, that our kids were born out of the hearts of three people. Not just two of us. And not just the one.

It’s funny, though, becoming a “Daddy.” I fully expected to discover what that director had spoken to me about, the “father within.” But what I never imagined -- what I could never have ever predicted -- was finding the mother within. If I could have stuck a boob in Eliza, I would have. And I always became defensive when people assumed I didn’t know what I was doing. Like when we would be traveling and every woman on the plane would offer us important advice, like “Don’t forget to feed her” or “Air pressure makes baby’s ears go ouchy.” I’d be, like, “Really? And here I was about to stuff her in the overhead compartment!”

It’s like that Elizabeth Stone quote: being a parent is like deciding to “have your heart go walking around outside your body.” I wanted the world to know that something had changed in me. Shifted. On a cellular level. Something that made certain things like her gestures, smells, and particular smiles make me want to burst into tears. What is that? Sadness? Joy? Pride? Being a parent.

Back in the bathroom, Eliza looks up at me with a little shrug. It’s cute. But clearly I’m meant to do something, say something. I wasn’t prepared for this. Why wasn’t this in any of the books we read prior to having kids?

“Hey, listen, polka dot. It’s your body and you’re the boss of it. Yeah? But not so much with the fingers in your, you know, front tushy, OK? You just want to keep all of your areas, um, clean.”

Not bad, given I had no lead time to prepare my response. Anyway, it’ll have to do. But let’s face it. “Front tushy” instead of just saying “vagina”? I got work to do.

This is an excerpt from Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight, out now

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