Kate Zahnleiter was raised by a single working mother and a television. She writes that “not a day goes by in which I’m unable to relate something which occurs in real life back to an episode of something I watched as a child, teenager or young adult.” In Life and My Box, Kate shares the lessons she has learned from TV.
One of my best friends is having a baby. Not as we speak (although maybe—I don’t know when you’re reading this) but soon. Very soon.
At her baby shower, it became obvious that this isn’t an isolated incident. There were small children and suspiciously round stomachs everywhere (yes, mine was one of those stomachs, but it’s still the festive season and mine was created by trifle and brie and inactivity). I’ve made peace with the fact that she’s pregnant, but I’ve only just realised that once the pregnancy ends there’s going to be a baby. And now I’m terrified. Not of the baby itself, even though the 3D ultrasound pictures revealed that it looks exactly like Voldemort, but of the idea that we are old enough to have children. Babies need attention. Like, constant attention and care. Like, you can’t just put an electroshock collar on them to stop them making noise, or forget to water them while you go to Victoria for two weeks.
A few other friends have cottoned onto the concept of procreation and are in the early stages of planning a family as well. While it’s fun to play Face Swap! with wedding photos to see how monstrous their children will look, or remind them that they have to name their son Wadrian because of that bet they lost four years ago, the reality is it’s only a matter of time before I’m surrounded by a whole bunch of tiny horcruxes. Worse than that, recent conversations with colleagues and intrusive family members about my plans for the future are often accompanied by pointed looks at my midsection, as if to remind me that inside is a perfectly good uterus going to waste.
The thing of it is, I’m starting to feel like part of the cast of Teen Mom or 16 and Pregnant. Sure, I have about twelve years on these girls and understand I won’t actually be a mother once my friend’s baby comes along, but I empathise with anyone not quite ready to face up to any sort of responsibility. If these shows have taught me anything—and I believe they have—it’s that having a baby will cause you to develop a severe anger management problem leading to an incarceration, or else you’ll be required to attend court appointed residential rehabilitation for six weeks (actually that might not be such a bad thing because in rehab, teen mums get to sleep a lot on outdoor wicker furniture and wear slippers all day and receive sage wisdom from a “spiritual therapist”, who is really just a counsellor who goes around touching bellies a lot, and I quite like people touching my belly so long as they’re doing it non-judgmentally). It all just seems like too much effort. Plus I don’t really know what I’d be able to bring to the table once children come along, since being needy and having small hands is sort of my thing.
Most of the teen mums believe the best way forward in this parenting gig is to just do it and hope for the best. Though sometimes they choose baby names which almost warrant a Departmental notification, in general they seem to do a pretty good job. I’m sure that my friend will not only choose a beautiful name for the Dark Lord, but will also do an excellent job of raising it. So far, the baby even seems pretty cool. I have felt it kick. I have seen it moving around while it practises the unforgiveable curses away from the eyes of the Ministry. Maybe we’ll end up being friends and have fun hanging out together like some of these teen mums seem to with their kids. At the very least I should probably try to demand slightly less attention and not taunt the baby, even though I know how to read and drive and I don’t live with my parents anymore, and could totally beat it in a race or a fight.
I’m sure I’ll make peace with this eventually, and in the meantime I’ll just think myself lucky that in high school I had no game and couldn’t speak to boys without mentioning how snazzy my new pencil case looked or how I had this weird mucus thing I couldn’t cough up properly. Because there’s no way I could ever talk fast enough to be Lorelai Gilmore. If I’d given birth in as a teenager I would have called the baby Dana Katherine Scully Zahnleiter, regardless of gender, and I would have taught it to run in heels and encouraged it to always look a little pissed off and made sure its first words were, “Mulder, it’s me.” Though if I had a child now I would call it President Laura Roslin Zahnleiter—another gender neutral name—and dress it in power suits and again make sure it always looks pissed off and instead of crying I’d get it to just yell “I am coming for all of you” whenever it wanted anything. Perhaps there’s no really difference between having a baby then or a baby now—I don’t know how anyone can be ready for that.
Lesson learned: When asked out on a date in high school, it’s probably better to stay home and read X-Files fanfiction instead.