At first there were none, and everything was peaceful. Then, the first one showed up, and then another, and I began to worry. Then, as the years passed, more and more reports of their impending arrival flooded in, and I began to panic. Now, it’s clear that they will win, and it’s only a matter of time. Nearly everyone will succumb, and although I’ll hold out for as long as I can, I realise that one day too, I will give in.
I’m not talking about an alien invasion – well, not quite. I’m talking about babies. A few months short of my thirty-second birthday, many of my friends are new parents, and the signs are clear that within a year or two, they’ll constitute a majority. Already, there is a worrying shortage of people to stay out late and do foolish things with, and it’s clearly just a matter of time until the invasion of the body snatchers (well, they invade their mothers’ bodies for nine months, anyway) is complete.
Last weekend, I went to a beachside barbeque and met, for the first time, the freshly-minted offspring of some of my oldest friends. All the kids were cute, and all the parents were tired but delighted by the additions to their families. The conversation centred, naturally, on parenthood. Funny stories and helpful parenting tips were exchanged, and everyone just seemed so – what’s the word – happy.
So I sat there awkwardly, not having much to contribute to the conversation. I didn’t dare to actually handle any of the babies, of course, because of the clear and present danger of being covered in drool or worse, and also because I couldn’t remember how not to drop them. Ultimately, I retreated to the one place that was guaranteed to be a baby-free zone – the barbeque itself, where I talked to a few other babyless refugees about a range of non-baby subjects. It came as sweet relief.
As I watched the grilling sausages, I thought about how ironic this situation was. At uni, I’d been one of the younger, dorkier members of this particular social group, and felt my relative lack of wildness keenly. (This was before I started writing for The Glebe, of course, and my membership of the A-List became indisputable.) But nowadays, I’m one of the few who’s regularly awake in the early hours of the morning for reasons other than a crying baby. So, I felt a little out of place again, just as I had in those early days of getting to know them, but for the opposite reason. I wasn’t the square guy, sitting in the corner at a party in the backyard of some terrace house, looking at people who were cooler than me. Now I was the sociable guy whose friends had inexplicably swapped mixing cocktails for baby formula. I was feeling tired and had bags under my eyes because I’d been up half the night with some friends, but the bags under their eyes were substantially bigger because they’d been up with a screaming baby.
But as the afternoon progressed, I realised something. The parents were looking at me, partnerless and with no prospect of scoring a baby of my own except through misadventure or outright theft, and they still felt a little sorry for me. Once again, I was missing out on the richness they had in their own lives, and once again, I couldn’t be a full member of the club. It wasn’t that they thought it was cool to have babies and that I was lame because I didn’t. It was more that they’d stopped caring about what was cool, because they had more important things – and people – to worry about now.
As I drove home, I tried to calculate exactly how far away I was from reproducing. Even if I’d met someone suitable at that very barbeque, it’d surely take me at least four years to get through all the stages of committing, moving in together, perhaps marrying, and then actually managing to produce a kid. And then, at another barbeque with these friends in five years’ time, my kid would be the odd one out, sitting in a pram helplessly while all the older kids ran around and played games. And I realised that if I want to give my child every chance, including the opportunity to be the cool older one in the group that their old dad never had, there are only two solutions: adoption, and finding some younger, daggier friends.