Friday, January 21, 2011

From Concept to Conception

by Matthew Harrington

Whether it “just happens” and parenthood is thrust upon you with only nine months warning or whether there is a protracted process to determine the “perfect time”, the decision to have a child is a momentous one. Our decision to have a baby nearly 4000 miles away from our families in a foreign country known for its unhealthy obsession with David Hasselhof and Lederhosen was not in the
original plans when we moved to Germany. This was supposed to be our time to soak up the European culture and live out the waning remnants of our twenties in style before heading back to the states, where we would acquire all those things that accompany the inevitable descent into adulthood; steady jobs, a mortgage, car payments, love handles and of course, babies.

For the time being, all these things were on temporary hiatus. In the interim, we were ignoring the looming specter of the future and were instead having the time of our lives. You see; Berlin is cheap, full of young energy and bursting with creativity. From the smoky bars and legendary nightclubs open until all hours of the night, to the underground art galleries situated in the basements of abandoned factories, the city offers something for everybody. Late nights out on Saturday were followed up by lazy Sunday afternoons sitting for hours in cozy cafes with friends, eating brunch and drinking cup after cup of strong German coffee. In the summer, we would often meet up after work at one of the many Biergartens that populate the city to gnaw on a pretzel or some Leberkäse and sip golden-orange hefeweizen at long wooden tables under towering chestnut trees. Who would want to complicate this paradise with 3 am feedings and diaper “blowouts”? Who in their right mind would trade in such a brilliantly hedonistic lifestyle for a stroller and a diaper bag? It was pretty self-evident to us that this was clearly not the right time to bring a baby into the situation...or so we thought.

It’s strange how, seemingly overnight, a series of vague notions can crystallize into a single-minded impulse. I can’t remember exactly when having a baby morphed from terrible idea to great idea, but the gloomy drawn-out Berlin winters tend to make one quite contemplative. Both of us began to sense the feeling that perhaps there were some things this self-indulgent lifestyle couldn’t offer us. The demographic in our neighborhood was transforming in parallel with our thoughts. When we moved into the neighborhood of Friedrichshain in the eastern part of Berlin, it remained a bastion for leftists, artists and students, owing primarily to the cheap rents and more than healthy nightlife. Revolutionary graffiti speckled the walls of most buildings and seeing pink- and green-haired punks drinking Sternberg beer on the trains at 7 am as I rode to work was not an uncommon sight. It was dirty, but it was cheap and life was uncomplicated. This is what we loved about the neighborhood, but week-by-week we began to notice some changes at the local weekend markets. Suddenly, the sidewalks and cafes were clogged with gigantic strollers. More often than not a screaming baby would disrupt our dinner conversation at one of the local restaurants. The playground at Boxhagenerplatz, which I had previously thought was strictly for appearance, was beginning to show signs of new life. Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, but in our neighborhood this was simply not the case. Apparently, the punks were growing up.

Maybe we were just part of a larger demographic trend. Maybe it was just deep-seeded biological urges catching up with us. Or maybe it was a logical and calculated decision by two informed adults. To be honest, I’m not really sure. All I know is that at some point last winter, we were ready for this next step; nervous, but nonetheless ready. At the time, the decision seemed momentous. It seemed like the end of something that we would never get back. Now that I’m on the other side, it seems less like an end or a beginning, but rather like an inevitable natural progression. I have no illusions; having Leila has permanently changed the course of our lives. The late nights that were once spent out with friends are now spent soothing a fussy baby, and it’s suddenly a lot more complicated to jump on a plane for a long-weekend getaway. That said, when the baby smiles, I barely notice these minor inconveniences. Plus, the Biergartens will still be waiting for us (and Leila) once the snow thaws and signs of new life start budding in the city again.

No comments:

Post a Comment