October 23, 2006

Schadenfreude or bad manners?

"Enjoy ____ while you can, because soon, you won't be able to anymore!"

There are a number of phrases that could fit in that blank. Sleeping. Eating in restaurants. Going on vacation. Privacy. Sex. My marriage. A social life. My cute little purse. Disposable income.

I'm not even halfway through my pregnancy, and I've heard them all.

Coworkers, casual acquaintances, and even strangers say this to me on a regular basis. They always follow their statement with a self-satisfied laugh, as if they have stumbled upon the most brilliant and perfect thing to say to a hormonal woman going through one of the biggest changes of her life.

Usually, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe this is their attempt to be helpful. Maybe they think that, by preparing me for the worst, they are sparing me from a huge disappointment when the baby arrives and I realize that I can't, in fact, just leave the kid in the car while I go get a facial and body wrap.

Or maybe they just don't realize the impact of what they are saying. Maybe they truly consider the epitome of humor to be the story about the dad who went to change the baby's diaper, then threw up all over the changing table, so the mom had to clean up multiple types of bodily secretions.

But there's a part of me that suspects these comments come from a darker place. It's that part of the human psyche that wants to undermine other people's happiness, rationalizing the differences in our own life decisions.

"You bought a hybrid? You know, they really don't save that much in gas money."

"You're getting a master's degree? My cousin has a master's degree, and she's so overqualified for office jobs that she now works at Barnes and Noble."

"You're going to Europe? I heard that everything is expensive and they hate Americans." [cynical response: 'Not all Americans, just jerks like you.']

Being truly happy for other people isn't something that comes naturally. When I drive through a wealthy neighborhood and look at the mini-mansions with their panoramic mountain views, I don't think "How wonderful for these people." Instead, I often think "Why don't I get to have this?"

But I would never look someone in the eye and say, "Sour grapes." I wouldn't stand in your beautifully landscaped back yard and say "You're going to be miserable trying to mow this in the summer." I wouldn't ride in your new car and tell you it's a gas guzzler that will cost a small fortune to register at the DMV.

There is no reason to say those things, except to squash the other person's joy. If I've been asked for input on a decision that hasn't yet been made, that's one thing. But naysaying without invitation serves no constructive purpose; it is just cruel and ill-mannered.

Yet almost every week, someone feels the need to inform me that dirty diapers smell bad, that newborns cry loudly, and that childbirth is painful. They also enjoy telling me that even if Rasbaby is an angelic infant, I will get my due share of misery in the teenage years.

There's no way for me to dispute this line of reasoning, of course, because it's all hypothetical. The more I protest and say "I will continue to enjoy life, just watch me!" they just laugh, as if I'm so naive it's comical.

After a while, all the naysaying begins to take a toll. I start to think about all the things I am giving up. I think about all the discomfort and exhaustion and expense that await me. I start to wonder why I made this decision in the first place, and I even start to resent Rasbaby.

That's when I remember who these naysayers are, and I ask myself why I am giving them the power to make me feel this way.

I've noticed a couple of things about these people:

1. They aren't my close friends. Some of my friends will occasionally share a horror story about labor or potty training, but they also say positive things like "Your baby is going to be so sweet," or "When you see them smile at you, it's worth all the effort." The people who drop the most negativity on me tend to be those who hardly know me.

2. No one ever naysays in writing. I've written plenty of blogs on the topic of pregnancy, and no one has ever left me a comment saying "Kiss your social life goodbye" or "Glad I'm not you!" Maybe seeing those sentiments in writing makes one realize how ugly they truly are. Or maybe you all are just kinder, more compassionate people than the population at large.

I don't expect everyone to be happy or excited for me and my pregnancy. I know that, every day, I cross paths with people who don't have the secure home life I enjoy, people who aren't able to have children themselves, people who have a lot of problems with their own children, people who don't like or want kids, and people who just don't like me.

Unless you're in the last category, and you're actively trying to hurt my feelings, please take a step back. I don't expect you to say a lot. I don't expect you to be overflowing with joy and excitement. I don't expect you to rub my belly.

Just say "Congratulations," and move along.

Or don't say anything at all.

Silence is precious, and from what I've heard, I won't be experiencing any for the next 18 years.

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