December 02, 2000

Free Baby with Every Melon-Baller

Despite what your father may have told you, there is, in fact such a thing as a free lunch. At least, this was my wife’s argument for why we should host a kitchen show in our home. For all the free stuff. However, what my wife certainly could not have forseen, was that we found out that she was pregnant approximately two hours before this kitchen show was to begin. For those of you who don’t know, a kitchen show is an in-house demonstration of miraculous cooking products that you never knew you needed until you went to the kitchen show. I allowed my wife to hold the party under the conditions that this meant she might actually cook me things and that she not become a kitchen show salesperson herself. She agreed and, at the time, it seemed to be a minimal inconvenience. However, now the day had come, I’d just found out I was going to be a father and I was far too busy trying to discover who sucked all the air out of our apartment to play happy host to a dozen giggling women.
It wasn’t long before, Bonnie the Kitchen Show Lady was at our door and quickly cluttering our immaculately decorated home with plastic containers and hip-looking utensils. As she unpacked, she told my wife of all the free things she’d be receiving. That word “free” suddenly had new meaning to me. In roughly nineteen short years, I’d be looking at college tuition.
We assumed that my wife was three or four weeks along and discretion told us not to tell too many people. However, by the time I had returned from Bonnie the Kitchen Show Lady’s car with her second load of hip utensils, she and my wife were discussing pregnancy and labor. “I had to tell somebody” my wife explained.
As the minutes passed, the guests began arriving and for a brief moment I thought that this might be a nice retreat from my worries. Here were a dozen people who had no idea what was going in my head, or in my wife’s uterus for that matter. Perhaps, it could be a welcome break from thoughts of babies and hospital bills. And yet, despite the fact that only my wife, myself and Bonnie the Kitchen Show lady were aware of the situation, there were a number of moments where someone made reference to “when you have kids” or “getting the buns in the oven”. (I’m not making this up, they really were putting buns in the oven.) And at each of these, my wife and I and Bonnie the Kitchen Show Lady would exchange knowing glances. Well, at last, salvation arrived. My friend had come with his wife. We quickly escaped and headed off to a driving range to do manly things.
Although we were free from talk of juicers and suds pumps, I found that the word “free” followed me that day. Upon arriving at the driving range, we realized that my golf clubs were not in my trunk and that we would have to rent some clubs from the establishment. However, Scott, the Driving Range Guy, offered to let us use some of the demonstration clubs for free. These were nicer clubs than a golfer like me deserved, but I accepted his offer and we began to hit. After our first Jumbo bucket, we decided to go for another and I asked Scott, The Driving Range Guy if I could buy a soda. He handed me a cold drink out of the refrigerator behind him and said “They’re complementary.” Free! I couldn’t believe my ears. I decided that this place was quite possibly Shangra-la. Here, there were no worries about babies, there were no cooking demonstrations. Instead, there were free beverages, nice golf clubs and the feeling that I was above average at something… every fifth swing.
We returned to find the women louder and more spread out. Pouring over their catalogues trying to decide how they could get the most “free stuff.” Now mind you, this particular kitchen show company holds to the motto: the more you spend, the more you save. This, if you think about it, is simultaneously paradoxical and diabolical. So, these ladies are trying to decide if they should spend twelve extra dollars on a melon-baller so that they can get the free plastic square that “magically” scrapes things off of dirty dishes.
My friend and I sat down at a safe distance from the fray and he was quickly handed his 4-month-old daughter and I was handed my 3-month-old niece. And for a brief moment, while we were sitting there with these kids on our laps, I imagined myself as a dad, gently bouncing my child around a room, showing him/her off to friends and family and having him/her fall asleep in my arms. Then, the word came to my mind again. Free. Certainly, raising a child has its sacrifices and costs. Certainly, fatherhood, as an institution, has its joys and its pains just like all of life, but the fact that I get to experience it makes me rich beyond my dreams. And I’ve done nothing to deserve such favor, I’ve not earned this privilege. It’s free.
This was certainly a timely reflection, because just then my wife showed me the list of hip utensils and plastic containers that she had ordered. The event wasn’t quite as free as she’d described it. But it would only be a matter of time before we’d be receiving a number of things we didn’t know we needed until the kitchen show and two hours before.

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