As I turn 38 and keep stocking drawers full of dreams and half-completed projects, I’m pushing forward with one big initiative: I’m having an imaginary baby. Why not? My friend Laura and I share imaginary cocktails via instant messenger at work. I talk to my guardian angel a lot (if shadows are angels). I sometimes comfort myself with the idea of alternate universes where I’m adored and published, or in prison, maybe all of these.
Reasons why I want this baby: 1) I’m selfish. 2) My routine bores me. 3) Imaginary babies are less creepy than imaginary boyfriends. 4) I’m pretty sure I have really good advice to give. Unlike the dreamy-eyed hippies I got for parents, I will be candid. Here’s the set up: each family is a mini kingdom uniquely composed of demanding princesses with half-baked ideas about ruling. Every time you leave the house, you run into princesses who refuse to admit their titles, but like to pull rank. The important thing to remember when dealing with royalty is that there is protocol. Like any good tourist, you must observe the customs to the best of your ability and when committing a faux pas, remain polite. The other good bit of advice: It’s okay to go to bed drunk without brushing your teeth. I’m having this child because I’ve earned it—the search was long and arduous—because I’ve found the right child for me, and because it makes the commute to work that much more pleasant. And finally, because my child is fun and has good ideas.
Before my plan was formulated, my baby was hard to find. I looked for the baby in the eyes of men, sometimes in the eyes of women, but I did not find my baby. I only knew its ghostly absence in my arms weighing on me. I clutched a gaping space, not in my body, but on my body. Full of the absence of the baby I didn’t have, I carried the emptiness around like an invisible baby front pack—you’ve seen them. They’re called Baby Björns, by the way.
I’m an accomplished singleton: I make and eat delicious food alone. I’m an expert at solo lovemaking. I’m not an imaginative daydreamer, but I am close to my heart’s desires. My heart is full of invisible people — the friends and family I bring with me everywhere I go, inspiring authors and heroes whom I love, the half-baked crushes that add intrigue to my daily life. They are a rich society that is known only to me, part anchored in the world, and part whispering wishes.
The real world is, well, tangible, and quite demanding. Case in point, my friends’ lively offspring whose charms have matching drawbacks—like the bossiness and the tears, and the abundant curry-colored shit overflowing the diaper and dripping onto the carpet. These are drawbacks I would only dream of tackling in a team formation. Thus my baby, imaginary, and loaded with optional features tailored to my lifestyle. No curry-colored shit for me. I won’t deny that I long for the body warmth of a real baby, but for now, I will be satisfied with this: My baby tells me stories to put me to sleep at night and holds my hand when I cross the street, but walks at my pace and I don’t pack a stroller. This is ironic because I lust for the big-wheeled strollers ambitiously fit parents run behind. Just cause they look so sporty and nurturing, simultaneously.
My baby wasn’t born all at once. Or rather, she has been born often and dissipates back into star-stuff as needed. This process, like the singing of a song, is repetitive and allows for fine tuning or the universe’s baby-sitting, depending. She’s kind of a lease baby, but these are advantageous terms. She’s sleek and plush, and shape-shifty, like a dream car or a good pet rolled into one. But human. Making an alien would be too weird.
What’s nice about parenting is that there are no licenses and no tests, it’s your business until it becomes the state’s. You can fuck up just until the damage is so extraordinarily obvious that law obliges third parties to call in licensed professionals. Abuse notwithstanding, what scares me about parenting is that there are always plentiful bystander judgments. You’re being observed, and you are found wanting. More than usual, I mean.
Thus again, imaginary baby. Who never cries herself to sleep.
The baby doesn’t have a real name yet, but that’s her doing. She’s to pick out her name. She likes to change them up. Today she’s Roujika, but I bet she’ll go back to something a little less interesting in a few days. Emma seemed to stick for a while. I sometimes wish I had a boy so I could call him Rafael. I’m a sucker for Italian boy names. But I really wanted a girl. Girls are easier, and I can relate. I’m not sure what I would tell a boy. I’d cram his head full of feminist ideas, encourage him to read books– he’d be reviled by jocks. It would be tough going.
Obviously, I haven’t fully imagined my baby yet. Most parents enjoy a minimum of nine months to accustom themselves to the notion of parenting. So I’m taking my time getting to know my baby. For example, I’m pretty sure that my baby is a good sleeper like me, not an early morning person, but a child that likes the smell of coffee. Specifically I start the day in a leisurely fashion. My child only wakes once I have drunk one full hot cup of java. A friend suggested that I have a baby whose nostrils, when I squeezed the baby’s head, produce coffee. Now that’s monstrous. I’m not looking for a coffee maker. I have a coffee maker.
Having my baby wasn’t so hard. There was no need to locate an inseminator, no need for a pre-baby diet, special baby vitamins, or post baby regimen. No need to think about the sad fate in store for my breasts, inflating and deflating, sucked dry. My baby is body friendly. No c-section about it.
Ponder the word delivery. Delivery is a strange, ominous word. It implies imprisonment or the arrival of packages that require a signature. Your body is to deliver the goods, the giant, multi-pound, independent mechanism that wants you to spend all your money on its education. Luckily, I have no educational costs, I home school my baby while I work.
The day, as I said, starts with coffee. We take a shower, the baby scrubs my back, and I help her shampoo. We moisturize. I get dressed on my own. The baby draws the clothes she wants to wear that week, they materialize, she puts them on, and we have a fashion show. Sometimes I suggest alternate colors or fabrics, but, by and large, we agree. This takes place on Sundays; I don’t have time the rest of the week. On Mondays, the baby helps me with my commute; she holds my bags and we comment about the people on the trolley: their weird hats, their unfortunate lipsticks, their sleepy eyes. We wonder what their professions might be. My baby girl, she wants to be an archeologist or a dentist—precision instruments for cleaning either way. She doesn’t get that from me. I suck at cleaning.
Once I get to work, the baby plays with my feet while I check my email. She sings songs, and draws, and generally has a good time ripping paper all day. When I need a break, or when I feel overwhelmed, we take five minutes and she holds me close and pets my hair. At lunch, I tell her stories, other jobs, other places I’ve been. She likes it when I talk about Hong Kong. We agree it’s a cool city. At 3 p.m., I riffle through my candy drawer and the baby gives me looks because she knows I’ll complain about my thighs eventually. Luckily the baby doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth which is convenient when I’m sneaking chocolate and don’t feel like sharing. I don’t like saying no to her, so that works out.
I haven’t introduced her to my coworkers. They might be alarmed that she’ll distract me or lower my productivity. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I work harder when the baby’s around-it’s easier to do things for someone else. I am working hard and saving up for vacation. I can’t wait to show her the world.
After work, we walk home together and enjoy the changing seasons. There’s no fighting at bath time, and she likes to go to sleep early in the evening. Before I make dinner. She’s easy going. If I go out for drinks after work, she’ll let herself into the apartment, eat a little something and go to sleep on her own. The universe turns out to be a generous neighbor– It’s always Saturday night, and the universe is always available, knows infant CPR, and doesn’t eat my food or make prank calls from my landline.
This leaves me with a lot of time for dating, which apparently I should put more energy into. So she tells me, the baby, not the universe.
Sylvie Beauvais received her Master’s of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania in 2004. Her novella, Fly, Rapunzel was a finalist in Low Fidelity Press’s 2006 Novella Award Contest. She has been a writer and editor for start-ups and non-profits, but is now focused on publishing her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.