I do not possess a maternal instinct. Blame it on me being an only child, or growing up at the end of a long road in the boondocks of the north shore where no kids lived, or maybe that I fell face-first out of my crib more than once before the age of three, but I have never been a “kid person.”
My mother handed me off to a caregiver as soon as she got home from the hospital, so perhaps this lack of bonding capabilities is genetic. I don’t know. What I do recognize is that I’m better equipped to write a research paper on particle physics, create a new kind of fire, or thread a needle with only my left hand in the dark than I am to be left alone with a child under twelve for even a few minutes. I don’t have patience or the ability to refrain from talking about things like anal fistulas or skull fucking, let alone to pretend I know anything about diapers or playsets or that blonde trollop from that animated movie Freezer or whatever.
I can immerse myself with the acts that create babies, but I cannot even approach an actual baby.
Which is why it was a decidedly poor choice on my part to have my first continuing education class following my massage licensure be a four-day long course to become a Certified Educator of Infant Massage.
Foolish, foolish move.
To my defense, I took an incredible class during massage school called Prenatal & Infant Massage. Blessed with a capable, witty, soft-spoken teacher, I got hooked on the idea of prenatal massage, even if the first class convinced me that birth control should not be optional.
Soothing the bodies and psyches of mothers-to-be? Laudable, purposeful, and fun. Massaging the parasites after they emerge from those bodies? Terrifying, purposeless*, and dumb.
Science break! There is indeed a point to infant massage. Countless non-woo studies have shown that applying gentle touch to newborns, especially preemies, serves numerous benefits for the child, including improving growth rates, aiding thermoregulation, and being a viable option for treating nasty digestive troubles like colic. But when it comes to healthy, full-term babies, after taking this course, I don’t think there’s much of a need for having massage as it is to be taught. While we were instructed in a routine to demonstrate on a doll and teach new parents, I believe any soft touch and affection given to a tiny human is beneficial, but it’s my opinion that this is something that doesn’t need to be instructed in a class setting, let alone for $150 a pop.
My experience with rubbing babies prior to the course was antiseptic enough; I had rubbed a three-pound, twenty-inch, baby-shaped lump of fabric and plastic for a handful of minutes during my Pregnancy & Infant Massage class during school…and I’d been lucky enough that a friend who had taken the class before me had let me have her doll.
“I don’t need this,” she’d said as she haphazardly handed the mock baby to me from the trunk of her car. “I was gonna throw it out anyway.” I continued the tradition, passing along the infant stand-in to another student who I knew would need it during the following term.
So when the instructor of the CE course contacted us to see if we needed a doll for the class, at the cost of $49, two things came into my mind:
- We would be massaging dolls.
- After spending nearly $700 on the class itself, bitch should have thrown in a free doll gratis.
The cost of this endeavor was high, and apparently going up, but I figured it was worth it. I mean, there’s science behind the practice, and it would be helpful to those new moms who I’d (hopefully) massaged during the course of their pregnancy. Besides, it was a CE course that seemed easy, unlike the real shit I was interested in. I liked the idea of aiming low to begin my career. Rubbing dolls in a room filled with strangers in Manhattan for less than a week didn’t seem so bad.
Let’s start with the basics: massage therapists, on the whole, are weird. I am not exempt from this description. But while the snarky, medicine-obsessed, tattooed midget is a rare form of bizarre, the probably-gay, married white guy is not.
He was there. So was the out-and-proud male equivalent of Rosie Perez, who was taking the course to be able to teach, as well as to prepare his husband for their eventual family. The rest were women, not all of them MTs, some of whom were occupational therapists. One student was an early childhood program director, and there was one retired old lady who strongly resembled Roz from Monsters, Inc. who was taking the course as something to do.
There were twenty-one of us in total, just enough for me to be able to text during the lectures without seeming too rude, and just few enough that I would seem like an antisocial asshole when I refused to talk to anyone during our breaks. Both of which were what happened during the duration of the four interminable days.
Allow for me to state a few facts about myself. Other than being devoid of any motherly qualities, I am not cute and cuddly on the whole. I show affection by remembering details and worrying excessively, and when I truly love and care I will get extremely angry for no reason and say things that make me seem like I feel the opposite about you. I do not snuggle. I do not nest. I do not sing lullabies or cry in front of groups of strangers when relating stories of things I found “beautiful,” as the male, effeminate therapist did.
Among the activities of the week that I can still recall from the traumatized vortex of sticky, screaming PTSD that is in my skull, there was the instruction on such massage techniques as “Ears, Cheeks, and All Those Chins,” “I Love You!” and “Sun and Moon,” which included singing.
Oh yeah, and actual babies.
Babies. There in the room. With their parents. Next to me. Behind me. Around me. Babies…everywhere.
Along with their parents who we were to teach how to massage their real, live children on our dead-eyed dolls as though we had an emotional attachment towards them. And we were to continue to instruct, even when the tiny terroristic sound cannons went off one by one or if they stole a size 6.5 black ballet flat and crawled off, sticking the shoe in their mouth, while the shoe’s owner – me – was to look on, frozen in fear and shoeless.
When I tell you that the highlight of my week was hitting a UPS truck on 33rd Street while in traffic, thereby giving me a viable excuse to arrive over a half-an-hour late on day number three, believe me.
On the first day we had to name our dolls. Then we were told to sit in an intimate circle, where we were to say our “baby”’s name and the reason why we named them as such. We went around: Violeta, because it was a family name; Vincenzo, because her daughter had named the doll at the breakfast table this morning; Sarah, in honor of a pregnant friend…The circle got to me.
“Grumps. Because he looks like a Grumps,” I said.
My doll was wearing a pink onesie and a pink hat.
After a moment the circle continued, but clearly my role in the tribe had been set. That is the Crazy One. Let her make her braid invisible licorice inside of her yurt in peace.
I started going to the bathroom for longer and longer during the duration of the course, and while I concocted a brilliant excuse having to do with PCOS and diarrhea, nobody questioned, nobody seemed surprised. My incessant reaffirmation as we went around the room that I both did not have and did not want children, along with my constant citation of studies instead of warm-and-fuzzy baby stories, and perhaps my choice of baby name, led to the group as a whole to decide that I shouldn’t teach any actual infant massage to, well, anyone, and allowed for me to lead the discussion segment of the session at the very end of the class.
Obviously everyone but me knew that I shouldn’t be there. But I was enlightened to this fact, and quickly. It took no more than one sharp, shrill, hour-long scream courtesy of a seven-week-old named Desi for me to consider walking out and giving up while gaining $700 of relief…and that was before the shoe incident. (Different baby.)
Instead I stuck it out, even after one of the kids urinated on a pillow that the mother handed to me before proudly adding, “He went twice!” Even after my SI joint fired off searing angry memos to my brain after sitting on the floor for so many hours in a row. Even after the mandatory team-building exercise and instruction to treat our dolls like actual babies at all times.
The final stand-off between my self-will and conformist tendencies came during our practice session before the parents arrived for the class. As we performed our stomach ‘routine,’ the instructor taught us a lullabye in Hindi. We were to sing it to the rhythm of our strokes. It meant something nice and benign, like “you are loved, precious baby” or “I love you, sweet baby,” I don’t know. What I do know was that the word “baby” was present in the three-sentences that made up the song’s lyrics, among the mumbo-jumbo of syllables and consonants I did not understand. It sounded like an incantation summoning the devil.
Hard limit: I do not sing. Especially not lullabies. Especially not in groups.
The instructor soon noticed that I just sat, staring at Grumps, rubbing is seamed, cloth belly, with lips joined in a hard, unmoving line.
She sang louder. The class continued their chorus. Everyone was lullabying to their dear quasi children but me.
She made eye contact with me but I was unwavering. She swayed and rocked to the song, and the other students followed suit, pitching and heaving their torsos as they sat cross-legged, chanting and petting their dolls.
After the lullabye went on for long enough that students started looking around wondering if this was some sort of initiation rite and we were going to have to start sipping some Flavor-Aid, the Mexican standoff came to a close. We were done. No more singing. I had won, my fully-grown, non-reproducing body still silent and still.
Fuck this, I thought to myself.
Fuck you, the instructor probably thought.
So that was my last week, a lesson in how aiming low can sometimes cause the bullet to ricochet back into you. I won’t be teaching five couples how to massage their new infants on my own, which, along with a test packet, is part of the certification process. (Nobody fails, by the way. One of the more astute students had asked.)
I will never, ever become a Certified Educator in Infant Massage and, as it turns out, those CE credits won’t count towards my extended licensure anyway. But, hey, at least I can feel confident the next time I have the argument that, no, even though I’m getting into those biological alarm clock years, I will never be delusional enough to consider having children.