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Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars



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About this ebook

The classic New York Times bestseller from actor/comedian Paul Reiser, a book that the San Francisco Chronicle calls “an out-loud laugh on every page,” is now available in trade paperback for the very first time. For fans of Reiser’s long-running sitcom Mad About You, with Helen Hunt and Hank Azaria, for readers of comic memoirs like Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and “for the couple considering parenthood as well as for parents who are decades past their days of diaper changing…this book hits home and hits the funnybone" (Chicago Tribune).
Release dateMay 8, 2012
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Paul Reiser

A seasoned actor, writer, and stand-up comedian, Paul Reiser has appeared in many films and television shows, including cocreating and starring in the critically acclaimed NBC series Mad About You. He is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Couplehood, Babyhood, and most recently Familyhood. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids.

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Babyhood - Paul Reiser

In the Beginning

Okay, so here’s what happened.

We’re on a plane, my lovely wife and myself, sipping a tasty beverage, eating as many really salty nuts as we feel like, enjoying a perfectly bad movie together—in short, having a grand old time.

We had been married several years, gone through the rosy early parts, through all the scary stuff that comes immediately after rosy, and navigated ourselves successfully through enough little ups and downs to land on our feet and know with confidence that we were very good together and very much in love. Life was very nice.

So we’re on this plane, and across the aisle from us was another couple, about our age, traveling with their two children—a two-year-old girl and a very new boy who, though tiny in stature, had a crying scream so piercing, it was annoying people on other planes.

The parents looked like hell. No kidding, they just looked like life had taken them by the ears and twirled them violently around in circles until finally, exhausted, weakened, and drained of even the capacity to imagine joy, they were flung into the seats next to us.

The little girl was running up and down the aisle, tripping on people’s luggage, screaming when anybody talked to her, and screaming a tad louder when everyone tried to ignore her and not talk to her. The baby was wailing literally without pause from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters.

Somewhere over the midwestern states, the two-year-old took a couple of bites of airline macaroni—and then reconsidered, shooting the remains quite dramatically onto her daddy’s jacket.

The mom, whose hair was graying before our eyes and caked with baby spittle and something else puddinglike, was spending the last of her waning energy trying to shield her eyes from her squirming infant’s fast-flying fists.

When not occupied roping in their children or apologizing to the growing numbers of irritated passengers around them, the Dad was busy either bending or reaching to find one of a truly frightening number of carry-on bags, collapsible strollers, fuzzy toys, and assorted burdensome baby paraphernalia.

There was virtually no conversation between the two adults. What words were spoken were in the form of barked orders, desperate pleas for help, and bitter assignments of blame.

Why are you letting her eat that?

I didn’t.

What—she opened the jar of macadamia nuts herself?

No, she must have gotten it from the—

Just take it from her.

"I will, if you just give me a second here . . ."

My wife and I, plastic champagne cups in hand, watched this circus for a good long while, then turned to each other and simultaneously said, "May the Lord protect us from ever becoming that."

Now, lest you think us unkind, let me point out that we’re actually very nice people. And, in fact, we had always planned to have kids ourselves someday. Not Today, and not necessarily Tomorrow, but definitely Someday.

However, as we observed these people, we had all the reason we needed to push Someday back even later on the schedule. Watching this unfortunate display, all I could think was Why? Why do that to ourselves? Now that we had finally figured out how to successfully live together as two people, why would we want to jeopardize everything with a whole new human being for whom we’d be responsible every moment of every day for many, many years? I mean, the Couple Dance is tricky enough—dancing as a threesome would have to be impossible.

Three has always been tougher than Two. Think of any of your famous threesomes. The Three Stooges? Look at the anger there. My bet is that before Curly was born, Moe and Larry could play together for hours without even a single poke in the eye. Huey, Dewey, and Louie? Donald Duck never had a moment’s peace. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? I rest my case.

Over the years, my wife and I had each argued convincingly every reason both for and against starting a family, but had somehow managed never to share the same opinion on the same day.

What if we want to travel?

You can travel with kids, I would counter.

Not to Africa.

Who’s going to Africa?

I’m just saying, hypothetically. What if we wanted to pick up and go to Africa?

"Do you want to go to Africa?"

Not particularly.


"But, someday, I might . . ."

The problem with this type of argument is that on closer inspection, when you list all the things you fear you’d have to give up if you had a kid, you can’t help but notice it’s actually a pretty pitiful list.

What else? What specifically are you afraid you’re not going to be able to do with a kid that you do now?


Fine. Are we really going to forgo being parents so we can nap?

Maybe . . . And what about going to the movies?

You can still go to the movies with kids.

"Yeah, but not whenever I want."

This is where the argument starts to crumble: When you realize you would consider not having a child just so you could take an occasional snooze and be available to see Batman Retires the same weekend it comes out, you have to take a good hard look at yourself and acknowledge, I am a shallow, shallow person.

Which, if you need it, can be a perfectly valid reason for the against team.

"Hey, we can’t have kids—we’re too shallow."

On the other hand—batting for the "maybe we should have kids team—we both saw the appeal in creating an entire new person who would be, in essence, a tiny us." We spent a lot of time deciding which features of ours we’d want to pass down, which ones would be better off to skip. We started engineering the ideal combinations.

Your eyes, my nose.

My teeth, your ears.

Your feet, my wrists.

You become like mad German scientists, though without the genocide and blatant disregard of other countries’ borders.

You do, however, step on unforeseen land mines.

"Your hair, my gums."

What’s the matter with my gums?

"Nothing. Okay, your gums, my nose, your lips, your laugh."

Your voice.

My toes.


"Yeah, because your toes do a funny thing—how the second one sort of drapes over the big one."


"So, nothing, on you it’s cute. It’s a trademark. I wouldn’t dream of taking it away from you. But as long as we’re starting from scratch, why saddle a kid with that kind of thing?"


So, my toes, your skin—

And numbers. I’m good with numbers, he could have that.

And my enthusiasm for soups.



At one point the lady with the kids noticed us staring. I got embarrassed and turned back to my in-flight magazine, which had an article on squirrels. (When you’re on a plane, you start caring about things you ordinarily wouldn’t.)

My wife, on the other hand, who is much nicer and can be—when she has to be—more mature, smiled and struck up a conversation.

Your baby is just beautiful.

The woman was visibly moved.

Thank you . . . I hope we haven’t made too much of a ruckus . . .

No, not at all.

My wife can also lie more convincingly than most people I know.

Do you have kids yourself?

No, but we’ve been thinking about it . . .

Which wasn’t really a lie, but didn’t reflect the larger truth: We were thinking about it now only because the woeful reality that this woman and her husband called their life had all but convinced us to spend our years childless.

The woman smiled.

You know, a few years ago, we were exactly like you. We used to get on a plane and pray we wouldn’t sit near anyone with kids.

Oh, we don’t mind sitting next to kids, my wife said defensively. "We love kids."

Hey, you don’t have to pretend. I understand. But things change. You’ll see. Before we had—


The sound of her daughter’s head slamming into the coffee cart brought the conversation to a halt. And as the woman dealt with this newest emergency, my wife turned back to me and pulled my headphones off my head.

She thinks we don’t like her.


‘Why?’ Because you were staring at her.

We looked over, guilt-ridden, and saw this woman, who was now less of a cartoon show and more of a real person, as she held her daughter in her lap and kissed the child’s freshly bumped head.

That’s so sweet . . . , says my bride.

Mm-hmm. Very sweet.

I want to have kids, she says.

Hey, who said different?

But not right away.

"No, I know. We’ll have kids, but when we’re ready."

Right . . .


"But I don’t want to wait too long . . ."

No, we won’t, I assured her. We’ll wait, like, you know . . . just the right amount of time.

I’m well aware that not everybody gives the if-and-when of having kids this much time and deliberation.

A lot of people have kids who, frankly, didn’t mean to.

Many people choose to have no kids at all and live quite happily.

But most people have kids simply because you’re supposed to. The rule book says once you get married, start churning ’em out. It’s just the next step, part of that nonstop momentum that keeps us all sprinting through life.

If you’re a young single person and you meet someone you like, why not take the next step? Go out with them.

Of course, you can do that only so long before it’s time to—take the next step. Get engaged. Get married. And no sooner do you become Man and Wife than everybody in the world starts giving you that annoying smile-with-a-head-nod that says, "So? When are you taking the next step?"

We constantly up the ante. We’re a species that just can’t leave well enough alone. Animals don’t have this problem. You never hear snakes say, Ideally, we’d like two girls and a boy.

They just do it. They procreate because that’s simply what you do. They know that if they don’t perpetuate their own species, no one is going to do it for them. Especially snakes. Because, to be totally honest, no one is that thrilled about getting more snakes. Nobody. You, me, other animals—no one walks around thinking, "Snakes. Boy, we need to send out for more of them." Snakes, therefore, must take very seriously upon themselves the business of making baby snakes.

We, however, can’t claim to be having babies for the sheer survival of the species. There’s no real shortage of humans out there. We’re not doing it for mankind. We’re doing it for ourselves.

And it’s not even for a specific purpose. Like years ago, when families needed kids to work the farm. Most people I know pushing strollers aren’t doing it because they need strong-backed young ’uns to work the soil. It’s much more self-centered than that. We want to have kids for us. We believe that children will make us complete; they will make us whole.

Plus, we want someone to drive us around when we’re old and nasty.

This is a big motivation for a lot of people.

"Even if we don’t necessarily want a kid right now, we are going to want someone to take care of us in our golden years, and if we don’t hurry, we’re going to be driven around by, at best, a nine-year-old."

It becomes a matter of which self-centered impulse you want to service; the need to be free and unencumbered now, or the need to secure yourself a caretaker to whom you can be a huge encumbrance later.

"Let’s see . . . we’re going to need someone to put our things in order, someone to take all our junk when we die, and someone to take care of us and worry about us before we die . . . I don’t know anybody who’s going to do that . . . I know—let’s make someone. Let’s manufacture a whole new person, and then that’ll be their job."

Then the thinking becomes, "Well, what about after we die? We don’t want this kid to be alone, do we? I know—let’s make another kid, for the sake of the first kid." And what kid wouldn’t like that distinction?

"You’re our first child—we wanted you. On the other hand, you, our second child—you’re pretty much the spare."

The inevitability of old age forces you to do The Baby Math.

"Okay, so if we got pregnant right now, I’d be forty when the kid is born, which means . . . let’s see . . . when I’m sixty, they’ll still be in college . . . when they start a family of their own, I’m almost seventy, and if they wait even a couple of years to have their first kid, I’ll be older than my grandfather was when he died . . . Okay, this is no good. It’s too late. We missed it."

It’s the greatest thing in the world.

I had to take off my headphones again.

I’m sorry?

"I was just telling your wife—it’s the greatest thing in the world. It’s certainly

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