Friday, February 6, 2009
Like any 'A' personality, overachieving gay couple, George and I know how to get stuff done. Among our friends and acquaintances, we are widely known for our gracious dinner parties, fastidiously over-decorated home, and forceful (some might call controlling) involvement in neighborhood affairs. As a matter of fact, my husband George has become so ensconced in neighborhood goings-on, that he has become the de facto 'go-to-guy' for our lily white, corner of Los Angeles quaintly named Los Feliz Square.
Los Feliz, the larger Los Angeles enclave we reside - which in I'm told in Spanish means 'The Happys, a happy place, or scarily entitled rich people with too big homes built on too small lots depending on which nanny, housekeeper or gardener you ask, was apparently discovered by Madonna. Madonna, pioneer woman that she is, had the 'daring' to purchase a rambling estate here 15 years ago. Suddenly, Los Feliz became fashionable and the nouveau riche (us included) arrived in droves.
George and I purchased a large, 1930's Georgian demi-manse (ancient, broken-down dump) on a wide street 'south of the boulevard' which in the old days (six years ago) meant shittier part of town. Now of course, all of Los Feliz, including our formally unfashionable street has become in demand. Drawn by the large, relatively unspoiled vintage homes, quiet streets, and 'small town' feel of the place - straight couples with small children snap up the choicest homes, then litter their front lawns with unsightly Razor scooters, plastic sand boxes, tricycles, and other beastly child-related bric-a-brac.
At the time we purchased the house, our surrogate was pregnant with our son Ethan and was but two short months from giving birth. Unfazed by the ticking clock we charged ahead with the house renovations - demolishing our kitchen, ripping out the plumbing and electrical systems and removing the 70's era brick and fiberglass 'water feature' in our astonishingly ugly backyard. We were so busy picking window treatments, re-chroming all the plumbing fixtures and selecting tile, that we glossed over the childcare needs of our yet, unborn son.
"George, don't you think we might need a nurse or nanny when the baby comes?" I asked my husband one day as we were madly polishing the vintage brass handrail on our main staircase. It was almost an afterthought, as we were readying our under-construction house for a small, intimate baby shower of no less than 150 guests. We thought it would be so of-the-moment to invite a group of our friends to a formal party in a house still under construction - it would show how down-to-earth, and unaffected we were. Who can resist eating canapes while plasterboard residue crunches under your feet and you are nearly overcome by the smell of paint thinner - so chic!) In hindsight, that party was a lawsuit waiting to happen. Silly boys that we were, George and I threw caution to the wind due to our firm belief that form is far more important than function. If one of our baby shower guests stepped on a nail or took a brick in the head - it was all part of the Tod & George 'experience' and they would later thank us for giving them such a cherished memory. Besides, unknown to our baby shower guests, the book they all signed which they believed was a 'Best Wishes To Baby' book was really a release of liability form.
"No, I don't think we need a nanny or a baby nurse," my husband responded confidently, "We're gay, we can do anything."
Maybe it was the testosterone induced high I was getting from commanding my own personal army of decorators, contractors, plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, and maids, or maybe the ingestion of too much toxic asbestos from our original don't-build-them-like-this-anymore floors and walls, but this insane logic made a kind of sense to me. After all, George and I did throw some incredible cocktail parties and brunches - wouldn't having a baby be sort of the same thing?
"Tod, I've spoken to all my best girlfriends," George continued. "They all tell me that baby nurses and nannies just get in the way. Trust me, everything is going to be just fine - I"ll take care of everything."
As in most matters pertaining to our home life, I deferred to my very capable husband. However, that nagging feeling kept returning. Like almost every other egocentric Los Angeles couple we know, George and I do very little for ourselves. We have a maid to clean our house, trainers to exercise our bodies, low calorie Zone-style food service delivered to our house, not to mention the scores of masseuses, facialists, hair stylists, and plastic surgeons in our employ - it did seem odd, that we didn't have either a prospective baby nurse or nanny standing by for the impending birth of our son. Our cavalier attitude and gay-is-better hubris would cost us dearly.
Our son Ethan arrived on the evening of July 23rd, 2002. A precursor of things to come, Ethan wasn't born so much as plucked from our surrogate's womb. (He wouldn't come out willingly, the doctor had to place a suction cup on his head and drag him out.) He opened his tiny blue eyes, yawned, looked at George peacefully, then glanced at me as if he'd seen the devil and began screaming. Now, I'm told infants can't really see clearly -they can only make out shapes and colors - but I'm pretty sure my infant son perceived I was a total douche and wanted nothing more than to hop back into our surrogate's vagina and forget this 'bad dream' ever happened.
We took our son home the following day - and what followed (I've repressed much of it) was a nightmare of mismanagement, incompetence, and flat-out terror. Naively, I had been lead to believe that babies slept most of the time, cried only when they were wet or hungry, and would be an adorable, stylish accoutrement to my Prada suits and Gucci shoes. Nothing could have prepared me for the bouts of insomnia, incessant shrieking and inability to be left unattended for a nano second panic attacks exhibited by my son. Five frightful, tortuous days passed with neither George or I sleeping more than 1-2 hours. On the sixth day - I entered our garage, glanced at the big, black Mercedes parked there and contemplated killing myself. My death by carbon monoxide poisoning would be a fitting end, releasing me from the clutches of ROSEMARY'S BABY upstairs who I'd insanely come to call 'El Diablo.'
I had officially entered sleep-deprivation, bat shit crazy land.
I telephoned my shrink, and told her I had suicidal thoughts. Psychologists are apparently trained to identify lethality in a person's suicide threat on a scale of 1 to 10. I was probably a 12. Hysterical, I broke every speed record zooming over to her office. I sat on her sofa and cried for two straight hours. My shrink listened compassionately and determined that I was suffering from a type of neurosis usually exhibited by new moms. That's perfect, I thought, even my insanity is fruity.
She recommended thrice weekly visits to probe the depths of my anxiety. I did the calculations in my head - at $300 a session I would be spending $900 a week to figure out why my son hated my guts? That's fucked up. Suddenly, my father's voice clearly rang in my ears. LIke Obi Wan Kenobi who in Star Wars encourages Luke Skywalker to 'trust in the force,' my father's disembodied voice said, "Hey schmuck, what's your problem? Do what I do when facing an insurmountable problem - throw money at it! Jeez, are you a putz or what?!"
Suddenly, a feeling of utter peace and serenity came to me. I politely excused myself from my shrink's office and drove straight to my own office. I emailed absolutely EVERYONE George and I knew. Alarmed by the hysterical tone of my email plea, a friend of a friend of a friend volunteered to send her own baby nurse as she wasn't due for another two weeks. As I drove home to my husband and the newly arrived Antichrist, the old Tod slowly returned. Gone was the weepy, stressed-out, near suicidal maniac suffering from a condition usually reserved for women. This was a powerful, in-control, MAN happily surrendering his parental obligations to an exorbitantly paid WOMAN.
Helen, the opinionated Australian baby nurse arrived right on schedule. She quickly and pragmatically took inventory of our desperate situation and with a tsk-tsk look on her face concluded that George and I were incorrectly feeding, bathing, swaddling, comforting, and/or caring for our baby.
She immediately pried the crying baby from George's grasp and said dryly, "I'm rather surprised, generally gay men are so prepared - so organized. You two are total amateurs."
Defensively, George opened his mouth to speak - but didn't. Resigned, he threw in the towel and allowed our Australian Mary Poppins to take over.
"Well, I'll let you two girls get acquainted." I said and hurriedly left the room.
An hour later, the baby had fallen asleep and Mary Poppins came downstairs to view the wreckage of our home. As she meandered through each of the rooms, her expression changed from curiosity, to concern, to one usually reserved for murderers and rapists. She scolded us for our careless indifference to hidden 'dangers' such as open electrical sockets, sharp edged coffee tables, our lack of childproof latches on toilets, cabinets, and drawers and worst of all, the complete absence of baby gates on every door, staircase, threshold, and landing. She labeled our house a veritable 'deathtrap' and marveled that our son hadn't already died from asphyxiation, electric shock, or worse. Content that that the Australian cavalry had finally arrived, this soldier broke ranks and passed out on the living room sofa. I slept for 28 hours straight.
Mary Poppins stayed and assisted with Ethan for a couple of days. After nearly urinating in my pants due to my inability to unlock any of the newly installed toilet guards, not to mention the relentless barrage of a 'thousand-ways-your-baby-can-die' lectures, George and I decided that Mary Poppins had to go. As I stood on the porch waving goodbye, Ethan snug and quiet (for a change) in his baby sling, Mary Poppins gave me an over the shoulder wave - the usual look of constipation on her face giving way to one of pity. She had clearly drawn the conclusion that our baby was doomed. As she carefully picked her way down the front stairs of our home, nimbly stepping over loose nails, termite infested shingling, razor blades, screwdrivers and discarded bricks, she turned slightly and said, "You know, all this stuff is a hazard, if the baby steps on one of these nails, he could get Tetanus. Do you know where the nearest pediatric hospital is?"
I hadn't the foggiest idea.
"Of course I do." I responded.
Unconvinced, she got into her car and drove away. I glanced down at my sleeping son, kissed him gently on the forehead and thought if he someday stepped on a rusty nail, ate a discarded razor blade, or stuck his finger into an uncovered electrical socket George and I would deal with it. After all, we're gay we can do anything, right?