I remember the night my parents told us about that souvenir they had placed on layaway at Disney World. It was going to take a few more months to arrive. They weren't sure what it was. Only that it was coming during that summer of 1988.
It was all very confusing. I, however, was wise in my seven years. I refused to ask further about this so-called souvenir's pending arrival.
My little sister, she of the four years, was less deterred. "So we're going to have another baby?" she asked. The record had been scratched, so why not break it in half --"How do you get a baby?" she asked. (Um, Disney World, obviously.)
My mother responded with a face that I have seen many times, especially when she was asked how she liked our dance recital, and didn't she think our prom date looked exactly like Jason Priestley, and weren't these hot dog and carrot muffins the best she'd ever tasted. Her tone was earnest but wavering, the normally stoic face a study in bemusement.
Giving the side-eye to our father, she started in, "Well, when a woman prays very hard for a baby," her voice faded out and then cut back in, "She will ask God to plant a small seed in her belly, and the baby will grow and grow until it is ready to come out."
(And where, pray tell, do Mickey and Minnie fit into all of this? What? What's a metaphor?)
After the announcement, my sister went back to her usual routine of searching the neighborhood for singing garden gnomes, while the announcement banged my brain like a meat tenderizer for days. We went to Disney World and all we got was this lousy seed? That was going to become a baby? None of the typical older sibling questions surfaced, like whether I'd have to share a room or would my parents still love me. I was seven, after all.
The part of this baby news that so consumed me was the prayers of the soon-to-be mother. I noodled this information for long afternoons until I could no longer accept its logic.
On our way to Mass one Sunday, I attempted to extinguish this ember once and for all, "So, Mom. You know how you said that when a woman prays for a baby, God will plant a seed in her belly?"
"Mmhmm." "Well then why don't you ever see a nun pregnant? Because, I mean, nuns pray all the time. Don't you think that sometimes they might pray about a baby?"
I saw the fumbling, the veering precariously into opposing traffic.
The decision to send us to Catholic school. The decision to leave The Stork out of it. The decision to procreate. The decision to inform us in advance instead of just becoming suspiciously obese and then suddenly bringing home a small crying watermelon. It was all backfiring on her in that moment.
I cannot remember how exactly she weaseled out of this inquisition.
I only remember a First Communion Party some weeks later when I overheard someone asking Mom how her older kids were handling the news of the baby. "Well, we have had to explain why nuns do not usually have babies..." said Mom. As the muffled laughter ensued, I learned one of two things: First, I learned that whenever a parent refers to something "We learned..." they are clearly mocking their offspring. Second, I learned that there was something impossibly funny about a pregnant nun that I was just going to have to figure out on my own.
With only one week until my second OFD child is due, I have learned a few more things about mockery and pregnancy and nuns. That whole praying thing? My mom wasn't lying. I can testify that God has heard and answered a thousand of my intentions, particularly the prayers I have uttered during pregnancy Please, God, please let this traffic move so I do not have to pee in this empty coffee cup. And all virgin mother conundrums aside, conception and gestation and that miracle of life really is an immaculate business.
As for the mockery I endured in my early education, that is nothing compared to the gaping mouths and uproarious laughter produced by my walking into Lower Mills Library on any given day after school.
Small children stare wildly, begging to know what is in my swollen belly. It's a water buffalo, I tell them. Because where is the fun in procreation if you can't creatively explain it to the inquiring young minds?