Twenty soccer girls came over for spaghetti. And of course, wanted to pass the baby around. The noodles were sticking to the bottom of the pot, so I was in the kitchen stirring. Cheap pot. In between slicing garlic bread, knife-testing the brownies, and otherwise getting in Mouse’s way, I checked on the mump every few minutes. 

Negligible anxiety. Mostly just the thought of anxiety. The expectation of it. A little tightness in jaw, but not much. Surprising. Am I making progress? Does the anxiety of an over-protective first-time father diminish with time?

Walking to the coffeeshop this morning, sky pink-orange with sun, I dug deep. Fall is coming. Which means family time. A trip to Minnesota for a wedding. Which reminds me, I should call the groom. Thanksgiving is coming, more family. And Christmas, the mother-lode. This tightens my chest with astronomical amounts of anxiety.

It’s not family-time per se. My uncle Mike makes sicilian spaghetti sauce worthy of orgasm. My sister-in-law and mother-in-law have the hospitality genes that I must have mutated into anxiety or social separation in me. My dad’s looking forward to an outdoor ice-water swim. My father-in-law is stocking the frig with good spirits, anticipating the reunion. Who’d I miss? My dad’s wife makes hummus that renders chips unnecessary. Spoon it up. I could go on. 

Why was it groovy for the soccer girls to ooh and ahh, smile at the drooling mumpa? Several answers come to mind, as I J-walk Hancock Street. 

  1. The girls didn’t attempt to coach, hint, suggest, or co-parent. Perhaps this is a function of age gap. They’re 18. I’m 31. The knowledge presumption is strongly in my favor. Not to mention, I teach English at their school. And Mouse is their coach. We both occupy positions of relative authority. I’m at the top of the food chain. 
  2. The time of interaction was brief. Two hours. In and out. This limited time span made the interaction easily swallowable at the outset. And kept me from choke-blurting givemethebaby givemethebaby givemethebaby, as I would have said or displayed non-verbally if the baby session had been longer. 
  3. While the girls like (or even love) little mumpa, they’re not obsessed with her. Equally demanding their attention is their iPhones, each other, Coach Kate, and even me. Which is refreshing.  

During a recent game, I spoke with a mom of one of the soccer girls. Mumpa was with me, sleeping in the stroller. The mom told me her daughter is graduating now. Doesn’t know what to do. Has a boyfriend. Wants to be with him. Asked me what I’d advise. Since we were sharing, I laid out my problem. Tears came to her eyes. The thought of my daughter bringing another human to the world, she said. She couldn’t finish her sentence. Tears, tears, tears. It’s like the joy of childbirth all over again. Except without any of the work, she said. I nodded. 

I am not without empathy for doting grandparents, aunts and uncles. 

Since the therapist pointed it out, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my own grandparents. I have two living grandmothers and one grandfather. One paternal grandma emailed me recently. Told me my writing was smut. For godsake stop, she wrote. Make your father proud, she said. Technologically incompetent, or just plain vicious, she sent the email seven times. 

On the other side, my mom’s mom and dad. Since my mom died, I’ve called three times, I’d guess. Each time, my grandpa has answered, and expressed his surprise at my call, and queried about why I haven’t called sooner. Then continued to remark about how it’s a grandchild’s obligation, to call. Said he has to hear about my life from others who in turn read about my life on Facebook. Very frustrating, he said. Then switched gears, asked about what I’m doing to support myself. If I’m a lawyer yet. Neither my mom’s father or mom’s mother came to my mom’s funeral.My cousin has since explained that the grandparents were in poor health. I don’t hold a grudge. My grandma just sent me a birthday card, so it's clear they love me. But, if I were in poor health, I’d crawl cross-country along the shoulder of a winter interstate, skinned knees, bloodied palms, dragging my hospital IV before I let my child get buried without me. 

The real kicker is this. If my mom were live, I’d want her to be all over the baby. As if she were a good omen, the more time, more touch, more advice, more goo-goo ga-ga, more photos, more videos, more more more, more ooh ahh, more love, more oh my god she’s gotten so big, more oh my god look at her eyes, more oh my god she’s smiling at me…the better. The kicker is that my mom’s dead. And with it, this sentiment.