Not Suitable for Children
by J.D. Munro
"So why don't you just adopt?" my friends all want to know, crossing their legs and wincing when I tell them about the latest procedure. After all, it would be the politically correct thing to do. Bring back an orphan from Bosnia or Kosovo and parade the wide-eyed infant around as proof that I really am the wonderful person they know me to be, not this sudden medical-technology-crazed, bio-time-clock-obsessed slave of my ovaries and basal body temperature.
"Don't you remember the Bob Newhart television episode?" I say. The one where the adoption agent inspects Bob and Emily's apartment, and Bob has to say in that stuttering way of his that he's willing to give up his private study for a nursery?
Give up my study? Where am I supposed to go for peace when my husband starts singing, "Please don't fiddle with the Oreo middle," or revs up to the Fig Newton climax, complete with one-legged flamingo stance?
And, really, who's to determine the square footage necessary for a creature the size of my cat? Is there a formula I missed while I slept through high school trig? Let's get real, here. A kid could fit in my sock drawer and not know the difference. Don't we, as parents, get to determine when he's ready to sleep apart from us, like when he gets his college diploma, maybe?
Okay, I'm with Bob; I'd give up my room tomorrow if someone left a swaddled child on my doorstep, clutching one of those mysterious monogrammed lockets with a daguerreotype of a melancholy woman inside, or half a perfumed handkerchief with the surname initial torn off. But I have never understood how the Newharts managed to be calm while that agent determined whether they were feasible parents. Invite someone into my home to decide whether I'm worthy enough to take in someone else's unwanted children? Our house isn't even big enough to inspect, for god's sakes. We would have to buy a new 3-bedroom, 1.5 bath with security system, fenced yard, and attached three-car garage (complete with mini-van equipped with air bags) at the end of a cul-de-sac before filling out the application. And put up happy family pictures in the hallway instead of the watercolor of two carrots fucking.
And what would the inspector say about my bookshelf, with the de Sade biography and the obvious penchant for Anais Nin? The tarot deck and The Story of O? I know that looks like a carving of a larger-than-life (more's the pity) erect phallus, but, trust me on this one, it's priceless art with spiritual significance. Would you like me to smash it?
Or our dresser? Would he paw through the underwear compartment? Find the crotchless panties? Discover the sex toy drawer, the one we're always afraid the dog sitter is going to get into? I mean, if the official has problems with the lack of nursery space and Nabokov, what on earth would Herr Comrade think about the vibrator in the shape of an over-sized, pink plastic lipstick, stored with extra batteries? Or the double-ended dildo, pointing in obscene two-pronged accusation, the black one with leather straps we got while high in Amsterdam? So what if we've never actually used it, as if he would believe that, pacing around our house in his black ankle-length opera coat, impatient because we've interrupted him on his way to a 20th anniversary occasion with his wife, mother of his seven blonde children, all boys, who sing in the choir and know the Boy Scout motto by heart. And, fuck? oh, God, I would have to learn not to swear.
He asks us what we do for a living. He's trying to catch us out in a lie, because we've got all of that written down on two feet of forms, the carbon quadruplicate kind where you have to throw the whole thing away if you make a typo.
My husband, who has cut off his beautiful ponytail for this interview, answers that he finds employment for people on the county's sexual deviancy list, and I murmur and cough that I earn money as a secretary, but that if we had a child I would stay home and earn extra pennies writing about the pleasant adoption experience and how fulfilling and complete my life is now.
I would publish my piece on tending roses without environmentally-damaging chemicals, blasting off aphids every morning with the hose like a Martian ray-gun. Woo! It's a really great way to get out latent aggression. Of course I would never employ this method during water rationing periods. I lay my hand on my heart as I smile at him, but he doesn't smile back, and I can't make out his eyes behind the mirrored sunglasses.
He asks me what else I write. His questions have no question marks, so screw Strunk and White when you're dealing with the caretakers of orphans.
Oh, God, do I have to tell him about that really dark period when I wrote gay porn, manic and ribald buttock worship? But I got it out of my system, yes I did, though my husband and I had really hot sex while I was writing it, and he wishes I would write some more. I can't seem to get myself to throw the stuff away, because some day I just might write that classic, yes, I will, and Oprah will select me, and then they'll publish my underground erotica the way they did Anne Rice: Jennifer Dawn Munro, writing as Jay D. Shaft. The erotica will actually be the stuff that makes my name, that catapults me onto college class lists and into feminist conferences. I already know what I'm going to wear to the conference, you know that butchy pair of black slacks and wide leather belt with the heavy silver buckle? If I can still fit into them, that is.
Even if I don't confess this phase to the agent, it's there on the shelf where he'll find it when he goes through my personal journals to prove that I have a poor relationship with my mother and lust after my father, no, that I have a poor relationship with my father and lust after my mother. There's no mistaking the subject matter with the title of my masterpiece, my gay porn manners treatise, "Pride and Penetration."
Then he'll find the final incriminating piece of evidence, the bathrobe stolen from the Love Motel in Japan, the building with the quarter-sized Statue of Liberty replica on top. I lost my virginity there with an American sailor, and we overflowed the bath water onto the floor with the weight of our bodies. This moldy bathrobe is all that remains of that day. The agent shakes it at me. "If you had really repented, if you were decent, you would have mailed this back!" My husband didn't know I still had that, so there goes my marriage as well as my hope of imitation procreation. How could I possibly explain to this inspector the remembrance of the pair of us sneaking down the back stairs of the motel, giggles smothered in the stolen robes? How that boy had sailed off to the Persian Gulf, been kicked out dishonorably because of alcoholism, and I had never seen him again? That he was a Catholic and probably had dozens of children by now, and, hell, maybe he could spare me one, could you track him down, maybe? But the inspector won't let me evade the question, "Did you? Did you?" He shakes the bathrobe with the upraised hand and torch monogram on the breast pocket. "No," I cry, "we didn't use condoms!" and all is lost. I can see what he's thinking: "No wonder God didn't want you to have children."
Why must I explain that all I have is this bathrobe to remind me of what I once was, of what that boy, what we, could have been? What form, what check-marked box, what inspection could indicate that this was about innocence and joy, about hope and love? What carbon copy can explain the deeper love I have for my husband, love that comes with age, and which a child would forever bond? What application can determine what I deserve? What anybody deserves? It's not like a Home Equity Loan or the GRE, for crying out loud. How many people would pre-qualify for parenthood? What form could have foretold that Nancy the prostitute would care for street urchin Oliver Twist?
Take my friend, who, late in her pregnancy while painting the nursery (with toxic paint, I'm sure) got an itch up her butt and scrawled obscene graffiti in baby blue all over the walls. Nobody stamped "denied" on her application and enforced an evacuation.
Do sperm, having passed an entrance exam, queue up at a border crossing checkpoint, scanning a dossier on parental pre-quals they are handed like those programs you get from blue-haired ladies at the opera? The mustachioed tadpole licks his finger, or perhaps wears one of those little rubber finger caps, as he thumbs through the stack, flipping back to check a cross-reference, humming as he concentrates. He comes to a locked-brake halt. "You watch hockey?" He closes the dossier and executes a spectacular suicide dive out of the queue. The next tadpole takes his place. "You have overdue library books?" The judges award his dive an 8.6. On they march. "You snuck a grape in the produce department?" The last tadpole, handed the dossier, sighs. "You're addicted to Masterpiece Theatre but don't pledge to public television?" His dive earns the gold.
No. The only test biological moms have to pass is being able to direct a urine stream onto a thin stick (the things they never teach you in college).
This little wand of hope turns blue if she's aimed correctly, if her husband has aimed correctly, and if the sperm has practiced his laps, managing to swim up the correct channel and hang on like one of those burrs that stick to your pants cuff while hiking; no amount of shaking will dislodge the tenacious bugger, and no matter how many times you think you've picked it off, it shows up again on an errant sock or between your sheets in the middle of the night.
I snatch the cheap terry robe from the agent's Nosferatu fingers and hold it to my breast. No, no, no, I won't rip it up, and where the hell was that, anyway? I've been looking everywhere for it.
Adopt? I would be arrested when he publishes his findings in the Ballard News Tribune! I would be publicly displayed as a bad example by intolerant extremists, stripped naked and humiliated by cellulite. Of course, if I survived, I might actually have a chance at publication.
Try to explain to him that not all motorcyclists are Hell's Angels, that we really are going to take the rusted lawnmower in the yard to the dump, and, good lord, I don't know how the dog manages to get a hard-on even though he's been fixed for years! I boot him out the door, the adoption agent I mean, not the dog, bellowing, "Get out! Get out! Get out!" I turn to the dog. "Put that disgusting thing away!"
Adopt! You must be out of your minds!
©2002 by J.D. Munro