"So, what's it like?" I asked. "You know, being a mom and all."
It was Easter morning, and Cayden and I had stopped by Bear Creek Park to meet up with my old high school friend Val, who I'd only seen once or twice since we'd graduated from high school. We were the best of friends way back then, vacationed in Florida together, played on the tennis team together, worked at Sonic together. But somewhere around senior year we had a falling out and neither of us can remember why. Petty high school drama, I'm sure. But thanks to the the beast that is Facebook, we were back in touch, catching up on each others' lives.
"It's fun," she said, holding her 3-year-old's hand on her left side and her 2-year-old's hand on her right. "But it's exhausting."
We were walking at a snail's pace because that's as quick as their short, chubby legs could walk. I was trying to guess how long it would take us to get across the bridge to the playground on the other side. I squeezed Cayden's hand.
"I can imagine! You popped out three kids in three years!" I said. "I don't know how you do it!"
If it had been our high school reunion, Val would have won "Most Changed." In high school, Val was a bad ass. She had tattoos. She cussed like a sailor. She didn't give a shit. She didn't have boyfriends. She didn't do relationships. Sometimes she'd forget to wash her hair. She was spunky, smart, sassy. She was hilarious and hard care. I would have voted her least likely to get hitched and pop out kiddos rapid fire.
But some day we all grow up and become who we're supposed to be. And Val was supposed to be a loving wife, a proud mother of three, a devoted Christian. Someone who gave a shit.
"It's definitely not easy," she said. "But it's amazing."
I could tell she meant it. I'd kept up with her Facebook updates and notes. I'd clicked through all of the pictures of her brand new bundles of joy. And in every picture with her babies' chubby cheeks pressed up against hers, she had the biggest smile. The most genuine smile. She was happy.
We finally reached the playground Val turned the kids loose on the wood-plank bridge between two slides. The three of us watched as the boys stomped up and down the wobbling bridge with no fear.
Growing up, I'd always been great with kids. I started babysitting at 9 years old. I was a nanny after college when I couldn't find a magazine job. I babysat in NYC to save enough money to feed myself. I loved reading to them, watching their trippy cartoons with them, listening to them bang on random instruments.
But I realized that when it came to my friends' kids, I was totally awkward. I was the same way when Colbie had her daughter a few years back. Do I pick him/her up? Am I allowed to kiss their little baby cheeks? Can I put him on my shoulders and let him reach the monkey bars? When they're older than 2, how do I talk to them? Baby voices? What kinds of questions should I ask? "Hey there little fella! What's that you got there? Oh, a bug? Cool. OK, yeah, don't eat it. Put that shit down."
I can't explain why that happened to me. I never thought twice about those things when I babysat, but for some reason when it's one of my friend's kids, they just become these weird, wobbling little humans that completely baffle me. Or maybe it's something completely different. Maybe it was because I was finally at a point in my life where having my own family would be a very real thing some day and the thought of those tiny humans being my responsibility someday was totally freaking me the fuck out.
"So, what about you two?" Val asked, looking at me and then Cayden. "From what I've read, yall have a future planned. Are there kids in that future?"
Cayden and I looked at each other and then at the two miniature humans on the playset. Another boy on the play set who looked about 5 said, "look at me, daddy!" right before he swung into a pole, crotch first.
"Dude, that kid just racked himself," I said, pointing to the little boy crouched over holding his crotch.
I tried not to laugh. I was so not ready for kids.
"Someday," Cayden answered for me. "We haven't even had the chance to live together yet, so it will be a while before we add anyone else to the mix."
Val smiled at us and nodded.
Truth was, I wanted her life. I wanted a big family. I wanted the unconditional love I saw between her and her boys. I wanted a house decorated with kids toys and sticky fingerprints. But I didn't want it yet. Or any time soon for that matter. But it was nice to see that one of my old best friends was living the life I wanted to live one day.
We spent the next hour or so catching up on each other's lives in person, filling in the blanks Facebook had left. And then clouds rolled in and I felt a raindrop on my shoulder.
"I guess it's about time we headed over to Mom's house for Easter dinner," I said.
"I better get the boys back to grandma's house," Val said, wrangling up her tiny humans.
"It was so nice seeing you and your family again. I'm so happy for you," I said hugging her.
"And it was so nice meeting the man who made you so happy!" she said, nodding at Cayden.
We promised to see each other soon, and headed off to our respective families. At my mom's house, while watching Cayden and Meg's boyfriend share the stovetop while they cooked glazed carrots, rice pilaf, and roasted potatoes, I realized I already had a big family and plenty of unconditional love. My Mom's house was decorated with dog toys, not kids toys and muddy pawprints instead of sticky fingerprints. But it was exactly what I needed for the time being. Tiny humans could wait.