Before our son was born, if my husband, Chuck, and I walked into a room together for say, a Christmas party, he immediately set about making everyone feel at ease by asking them ice-breaking questions while I hovered by the dip and counted flecks on the ceiling. Chitchat, in my opinion, was a cumbersome activity. It seemed pointless to make small talk when a) you might never see the person again, and b) people wanted to talk about themselves while you provided the captive (literally) audience.
And, quite honestly, I was socially lazy. If someone set about probing me with questions, I was happy to oblige. (How do you think Chuck and I met, anyway?)
Enter our son, “Junior.” When Chuck went back to work after Junior was born, I was unprepared for how quiet the house was. I mean, eerily quiet. The first few days, the sound of dust balls skittering across the floor didn’t bother me so much. By day ten, the silence between my blob of a baby and me had me crying incessantly.
Something had to give. And clearly, that something was my mouth.
For someone who preferred to stand back and let others—especially my husband—do the talking most of her life, this was no easy feat. I chose the least painful route: instead of sticking a pinky toe into the frigid waters, I dived in. I started babbling at Junior and oogly-googlying everything in the house. I played music and sang out loud until I was breathless. I danced with the cats and made them “talk” to Junior. Some days I did jumping jacks around the living room while shouting random words I like. I even finished with a jubilant “yeah” and applause.
It was exhausting. It felt wholly unnatural. But it needed to happen. My pre-maternal casing was old and brittle. I had to grab myself—and life—by the proverbial nuts. People had warned my husband not to marry me because I was so uptight. Now I was bellowing “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain,” falsetto and all, at the grocery store.
This news might not be earth-shattering to my fellow moms who are dancing right alongside me but to my husband—a man I have known for eleven years—it’s akin to remarrying. We often don’t realize how comfortable we are in our roles until our partner changes his or her do-si-do to a waltz and we’re left standing on the dance floor, wondering who the hell that guy with the tuba is. It took Chuck some time to adjust. (I think he was a little jealous—gasp!—that he wasn’t the only one leaving parties with five new best friends.)
My newfound gift of gab wasn’t limited only to social functions. In fact, I found myself striking up conversations with strangers; as a result, I felt more connected to my community and the world into which I brought a child. And isn’t an engagement with our planet and its inhabitants one of the best fundamental gifts we can give to our children?
Now that my son is approaching a year and a half, I look back at my former self with wonder and regret. Wonder because I’m amazed Chuck fell in love with such a wallflower and then adapted to my new role with such bemusement; regret because I willingly let others speak for me for so many years of my life.
Well, I’m not on the sidelines any more. In fact, do you see me? I’m the one yelling the alphabet with a stuffed monkey on my head. I look ridiculous. And I don’t care.