Just Thinking: Some life experiences are fine to avoid

·4 min read

Years ago, a list of life experiences I hadn’t had yet appeared in an area publication. I remember only two: “I’ve never driven in a funeral procession” and “I’ve never found a baby on my doorstep.”

I was much younger then, and the second item strikes me now as pretty peculiar. Did I expect to find a baby on my doorstep? Did I believe everyone, sooner or later, finds an unclaimed baby?

Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett

To be clear, althoughI was young when I wrote this list, I wasn’t third-grade young. I was married-mother-of-one young and not as young as all that. I suspect I believed I already had navigated most regular life experiences and was now waiting for a few outliers – like finding an abandoned baby – to fill out my Life Bingo card. Or something.

I’m embarrassed to have been that ingenuous. Yes, the list was intended to entertain, but it still leaves me rolling my eyes now, which tells me some people were rolling their eyes then. It’s cringey, like reading the letters I had written from church camp.

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I did know, as that new mother, that babies either improve a person’s character or reveal the lack of one. New parents must find within themselves qualities they’ve likely never needed before: endurance, the ability to consistently put another person first and the strength to do without sleep, regular meals or any kind of predictable schedule. I recall being amazed at my own unsuspected reserves of patience. What do you know, I remember thinking as I walked my fretful baby, patting her tiny back.

In fact, I now have driven in a funeral procession, though I take no joy in saying so because I remember the funeral. As for the rest of the life-experiences list, it’s no doubt in a file cabinet somewhere, to be found by my children after I’m gone.

“Did she think everyone finds abandoned babies?” I can hear my daughters and sons-in-law saying. To them I say no. No, I do not look outside every morning, expecting to see a wailing bundle on the step. I do not ask, “Where is that baby?” though, saying it now, I hear Talking Heads: “What is that beautiful house? ... Where is my blanket-wrapped baby?”

Perhaps I’ve matured to the point of no longer believing that any day might bring drama, flurry and news-making incident, or perhaps I’ve just moved on to believing in different drama, flurry and news-making incident. On several occasions, I’ve been surprised by a small animal on the porch – a kitten, a baby rabbit. Once two dogs who had escaped their yard wound up at our back door, where they waited who knows how long for the door to open. When I did open it at dawn, they spilled into the kitchen like water, so eager were they to come indoors.

“There are dogs in the house!” I shouted to my husband. We already owned a dog – I’d been letting her out when the two visitors came in – but my use of the plural was enough to bring him downstairs to meet our guests – a springer spaniel and an enormous brown Labrador retriever with a head the size of a jackfruit. Together they surged into the living room and then milled around aimlessly, like party guests who had arrived too early.

It’s experiences like this that keep me hoping, I suppose. Those dogs showed up years ago, but you never know when a morning could offer me similar excitement – more dogs, or perhaps a donkey. I’d like to see a donkey on the porch.

I’m past expecting one, however, just as I’m past expecting a baby to show up. No babies, please. Take any infants to a fire station or a hospital, where people know what to do and do it, without any unnecessary hand-waving and shouts.

The other day, I bought a friend a birthday card with words by Ingmar Bergman: “Getting old is like climbing a mountain: You get a little out of breath, but the view is better.”

That’s true, you know. The view really is better. And, yes, sometimes, if you’re lucky, the view includes something lovely, and you get to keep it for a while.

Email Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Just Thinking: Baby on doorstep is experience OK to avoid