We begin this new year smelling of Christmas trees and baby formula, with circles under our eyes and nursing a pulled muscle from jogging.
“Why are you limping, Dad?” my older daughter asks.
“Pulled a muscle,” I explain.
“You have muscles?”
Yes, muscles that lie dormant beneath the winter wool. Muscles that usually stretch only to reach for another scoop of spinach dip during halftime.
“Hey, everyone, Dad still has muscles!” she announces with glee.
There is a lot of glee around here lately. Along the wall, the new gadgets are lined up, their batteries charging, signs of Christmas spending gone horribly awry.
“This will be a simple Christmas,” their mother warned them in November.
“Right, Mom,” said the boy.
He’s heard this threat before, but knows his mother is incapable of Christmas restraint. A sucker for the holidays, she spoils everyone with gifts that she will continue paying for in January. And February. Probably March.
She spoils everyone except me, of course. To me, she gifts a baby. It’s not even digital, this kid.
“This is no present,” I say as she hands me the bundle of boy.
“Your turn to change him,” she says.
Yes, a baby boy. Just what the bowl season needs, more testosterone. We sit on the couch, he and I, watching Kansas State beat Arizona State or Tampa Bay beat the Bears.
I spill a little something on my shirt. He spills a little something on his shirt. Gradually, we bond.
“See that quarterback?” I tell him. “He always throws to his primary receiver.”
“Always?” the baby wonders.
“By the second half, the free safety will eat him alive,” I say.
The baby blows a bubble. “I was born just in time,” he probably thinks.
Because you don’t get wisdom like this in the womb. And you don’t get 20 games in seven days, an orgy of gridiron action. Or the insight of a dad who’s been studying football for four decades.
“I wasn’t born yesterday,” I remind him. “Not like you.”
He yawns. I yawn. What a way to end the year.
“This is not normal,” the older daughter says, still stunned that her mid-40s father has had another child.
“What’s normal?” I ask.
“I don’t know, but it’s not this,” she says, gesturing at the couch.
What’s normal? Who knows anymore? Just after Christmas, Shaq married the mother of his children. No one even asks anymore why he didn’t do it sooner. But God bless him. The way Shaq’s been shooting this season, it’s probably best he didn’t wait.
What’s normal anymore? There is no normal. Goldie Hawn is nominated for a Golden Globe. Karros is a Cub. Ted Williams is a Popsicle.
Now comes word that, somewhere in the world, some nuts claim to have cloned the first baby. Not a chicken. Not a sheep. A baby.
“Of all things,” I say while reading the newspaper report.
“What do you mean?” my wife asks.
What I mean is that the world is becoming an even more amazing and maddening place. Scary. Fascinating. Beyond belief.
Just yesterday, baby-making was the result of love and commitment, lust and passion, chance encounters, too much champagne, spring fever, a sexy shirt, a walk in the woods, a blanket on the beach, a good Merlot, a blind date, an innocent flirtation, a furtive glance, or any of the thousands of other charmed events that lead to creating a new life.
Back then, babies were produced in bedrooms. Or in the back seat of the old man’s Honda on prom night. Not ideal, perhaps, but still a better bet than a clone produced by some cold-fingered technician on the night shift.
At least in the back seat, there was genetic diversity involved, not to mention a father, not to mention kismet and joy and quite possibly the hand of God, or at least one of his top assistants.
That’s what I mean.
“You’re no expert on babies,” my older daughter says when she hears my concerns.
“You’re right,” I say, “I know nothing about them.”
On the television, the Rams are kicking off to the 49ers. On the couch, a mother nods off, more tired than Lindbergh. Nearby, a baby hiccups, then whimpers.
Happy New Year, pal. Hold on to your baby seat.
Chris Erskine’s column is published Wednesdays. He can be reached at email@example.com.