Week 19 ~ August 19, 2005
~ Making the Bootie Call
Today one of our aquarium fish, the one we like to call "Stumpy," mysteriously passed away. I discovered him laying on his side at the bottom of the tank after I got out of the shower this morning, waving his little fins and pumping his little gills, all to no avail. By nightfall, he'd given up the ghost and gone to the great big aquarium in the sky. His carcass is still lying at the bottom of the tank, waiting for Mik to give him a "burial at sea." I would do it myself, except for a traumatic experience a few years ago when, after I'd tearfully deposited an immobile aquarium tenant in the toilet bowl, it started twitching and scuttling around on its side, and then lingered almost an entire day, during which I didn't have the heart to flush it down, even though it was impeding use of the only toilet in the apartment.
I guess I'd never really been worried that my maternal instincts wouldn't kick in. What I didn't expect was that these protective instincts would run so completely amok, so early in my pregnancy. When Stumpy first started getting abused by the alpha fish in the tank, I pulled up a chair and spent half a futile hour watching over him cowering in the corner and rapping on the glass to try to chase the bullies away. I cried the morning we discovered that the meanies had nipped his fins and most of his tail off (hence his name - but they did grow back). And it's not limited to our pets, either - CNN's coverage of AIDS orphans and malnourished children in Niger, a documentary about 5-year-olds in Philippine jails, or thinking about the short, hard lives of the 10-day old puppies being sold out of a burlap sack outside the subway station here in Beijing - anything that involves suffering babies, human or animal, instantly has me in tears, a complete wreck.
Of the need to protect and nurture everything and everyone around me, the most recent manifestation (and probably most disturbing to the people who know me) is a new compulsion to knit, particularly baby sweaters and soft shoes, more commonly referred to as "booties". Three months ago, I didn't even know how to knit, but somehow between my last trip home in July and now, I've acquired half a dozen "Knitting for Baby" books, a few sheep's worth of yarn, and "frequent knitter" cards from every yarn shop in Fairfield County, New York City, and the Beijing Central Business District. So far, I've cranked out four and a half tiny sweaters, a couple of hats, and a few pairs of booties.
I feel no similar urge to buy baby things--I've been to the baby stores, and sure, the outfits are cute, but the compulsion to buy tiny baby clothes is definitely less strong than the compulsion to make tiny baby clothes. Again, I wonder if this is a pregnancy thing or if it's just me. When I was nine, I remember spending an entire summer afternoon making little paper top hats for the family of chickens we kept in our backyard. That was obviously before I had fully developed my product management skills, and I hadn't really thought through the process of convincing the chickens themselves to cooperate. Anyway, when it comes to making clothes for your future kid, you gotta think that practice makes perfect. I mean, in general, you definitely don't want to hear, "Awwwww…. Cute baby… but what is that thing he's wearing?" Photogenic or not, cute or not, the way your kid turns out is ultimately in the hands of God and genetics, but you can damn well do something about how you dress him in the morning.
But I digress. Tomorrow, we have our appointment for the Level 2 ultrasound, that magic day when one can find out if it's going to be little Doug or Dougweena (names suggested by our good friend Doug, whose wedding we missed this weekend, so I feel compelled to mention his contribution). We are an average of 55% in favor of NOT finding out: Mik is 60-40 against, and I'm right down the middle at 50-50. His reasons are simple: surprises are fun, and although he has a strong hunch that we are having a girl, he claims not to have a preference for one or the other. Most of my reasons for wanting to know are practical, yet ultimately inconsequential, as well: Should I be putting the buttonholes on the left or right sides of the baby cardigans? Will I be able to go nuts buying embroidered baby dresses when we go to Manila in October? I'm definitely not of the pink-for-a-girl-blue-for-a-boy school of interior design, so there's not much impact on any nursery or baby equipment decisions. My biggest reason in favor of finding out is so we can concretely move on to the baby-naming decision and start attaching real names to the little guy (or girl). In my impatience to meet my baby, it just feels like having a name to call her (or him) removes some of the abstractness of the pregnancy, not to mention the mildly annoying necessity to provide two versions of every pronoun.
In the end, I put it at a 90% probability that we'll make our decision while in the taxi on the way to the doctor's office (and yes, that brings us to .9*((.6+.5) / 2), which still adds up to a "no"). Although knowing the gender of our baby would still provide plenty of opportunities for happy surprises come January, not knowing until then really appeals to our sense of "old school." For another 21 weeks, Mik and I will just have to suck it up and keep saying "he or she" when talking about the baby and put up with friends and family coming up with cutesy temporary nicknames to refer to him or her. And unless the urge to knit is supplanted by some other new thing this pregnancy decides to spring on me (the need to design tail and fin armor for my remaining fish, perhaps?), all I can say is that by January, we should have a fine collection of booties, spanning every non-gender-specific color of the rainbow.