In her hilarious and heartbreaking new novel, Laura Zigman, bestselling author of Animal Husbandry, explores what happens when the life we've chosen isn't that life we expected it to be. And at this point Ellen Franck is rethinking all her choices.
Mired in a relationship with a man who is better at brooding than breeding, sister to a woman who can't seem to stop having babies, and working under a boss who is about to have the baby shower of the decade, Ellen knows the path to motherhood is clear. All she has to do is leave her relationship, horrify her family, find an anonymous father, and become independently wealthy.
Piece of cake.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It's not that I found Big Bird particularly attractive, it's just that I thought he would make a good parent.
I mean father.
Parent implied an extended relationship I wasn't necessarily banking on.
Not that I wouldn't have wanted an extended relationship. It's just that I was trying to be realistic. I was thirty-five, after all, and by then I knew the difference between expectation and desire; between love and lust; between boyfriends and fathers.
At least, I was supposed to know.
Contemplating impregnation by an eight-foot yellow bird is just one example of how carried away you can get when you want a child as much as I did.
You have to admit, though, that except for the feathers -- and the horizontally striped tights, and the bulging eyes, and that stupid pointy beak -- Big Bird would be the ideal parent:
He's had a stable job for almost as long as I can remember.
And you'd always know where to find him in case you needed anything later on.
Giving birth to a baby covered in a fuzzy down of yellow feathers would be a small price to pay for such exemplary paternal qualities.
My friend Amy, though, preferred Barney. She would cite his trademark song as evidence of his superior genes:
I love you. You love me. We're a happy family...
But when I'd point out how a happy family might be beyond our reach but a child wasn't -- she'd reluctantly agree.
Then she'd confess the true reason for her preference:
She liked purple better than yellow.
Telling people you want to have kids when you're not married doesn't exactly go over like The Red Balloon. It's not like everyone you know -- parents, married friends, single friends, boyfriends -- will be waiting in your own personal receiving line after some wedding or baby shower to congratulate you on having a few too many vodka martinis and transforming yourself into their vision of the living breathing female cliche.
But for once, you're not feeling like a cliche.
For once, you're not bemoaning your unmarried barren state.
Despite the fact that you are, quite obviously, drunk, you're in surprisingly good spirits.
In fact, you're feeling rather empowered.
Publicly expressing your desire to have a child is the first step to achieving it.
Obviously I understood that I would need to prepare for such a radical addition to my life -- to feather my nest, as it were.
First, I would need a bigger apartment to make room for a crib.
And a changing table.
And a Diaper Genie.
Two, I would need the crib.
And the changing table.
And the Diaper Genie.
Three, I would need more money.
So I could afford the bigger apartment.
And the nursery equipment.
Not to mention the nanny, since I'd have to keep working to pay for it all.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Amy would ask.
I'd stare at her blankly.
And then it would dawn on me.
"I see," she'd say, doubling over and slapping her leg. "So you're still planning on reproducing asexually."
For a while, I wasn't planning on reproducing at all. I thought I might just kidnap my niece and spare myself all the trouble and aggravation:
Why risk having a child you might not like when there's already an existing child you adore?
At first, my older sister, Lynn, was entertained by such displays of my passionate aunthood. Then, as the first year passed and moved into the second, and Nicole -- "the Pickle" -- became more and more of an animal, Lynn began to really latch on to the idea.
"You can have her," she'd say, staring at the floor where the screeching wailing flailing fit-throwing beast-in-a-diaper had thrown herself down in protest over an enforced nap.
But each display of histrionics only made me covet her more.
She's an animal, I'd swoon. But she's my animal.
Not that I really considered stealing her. I just liked to borrow her sometimes. Take the baby-idea out for a little reality test-drive when I went to visit her.
Pushing the stroller through the park, taking her for a ride in the family Jeep, dragging her kicking and screaming through the supermarket when she should have been eating or napping, I'd beam at passersby with the pride and bliss of a new mother.
"She's got her father's temperament," I'd say, and shrug blamelessly.
Which was true.
My brother-in-law always gets cranky when he's hungry and tired.
It was the Pickle who first opened the door to the possibilities of Big Bird as a husband and father and made me wonder whether I should, in my next relationship (if I ever had a next relationship), consider going against type (tall, dark, and withholding) in favor of something new and different (yellow, feathered, and friendly).
She and Lynn and my brother-in-law Paul had driven down from Maine to New York that Labor Day weekend for a wedding at the Waldorf, and the Saturday afternoon before the ceremony they brought her downtown to my apartment on West Thirteenth Street for her sleepover. I'd spent weeks preparing for our big night together, and before they all arrived, I checked my weekend inventory one last time.
Barney, Blue's Clues, and Teletubbies videotapes.
A pair of platform sneakers and a pair of fuzzy Cat in the Hat slippers wrapped inside their Payless boxes.
And three dresses from Baby Gap.
Lynn came up first while Paul parked the car with Nicole.
"I have to pee this minute or I'm going to explode," she said, the desperation rising in her voice. "I'm starting to think I should wear those adult diapers because I never get to go." She gave me a quick peck on the cheek before dropping the pile of bedding and clothing and Barbie dolls and teddy bears that she'd brought up from the car on the couch in the living room. She headed toward the foyer, stopped short, then turned back to me in confusion. "Where's the--?"
"The potty?" I pointed behind her to the little hallway on the opposite end of the little foyer. "It's that way."
I followed her -- forever the younger sister, trailing behind -- to the bathroom door, which she left partially open. I heard the seat cover go up, then a sigh of relief.
"You can come in," she said through the open door. "Everyone else does. I have no modesty left. In fact, I wonder if I can still pee when no one's watching me. I've probably developed some pathological need to go to the bathroom in front of people."
When she'd finished flushing and washing her hands, she came back out. Her jeans were still unzipped, and I could see the elastic band of her underwear just below her belly button as we walked back together to the living room. "I'm sorry," she said, starting to zipper herself before changing her mind again. "I haven't worn these pants in months, but they're still tight. I thought eight hours in the car might stretch them out, but clearly I was wrong."
Reading Group Guide
The discussion topics inside are intended to enhance your reading of Laura Zigman's Dating Big Bird.
1. Why does Ellen take so long to come to a decision about single motherhood? What are her biggest concerns?
2. What are the most important reasons that Ellen and Amy want to have children? How much of it has to do with what they want, as opposed to what society tells them they should be?
3. Will Ellen's decision to raise a baby on her own make her a more committed mother because she is overcoming additional obstacles?
4. What does Malcolm's pain and loss after his son's death tell us about the emotional price of parenthood?
5. Why does Ellen put up with Malcolm's inability to be intimate with her for so long? What is she getting out of the relationship instead?
6. How do Ellen and Amy's views of parenthood compare to your own? Do you relate to them or not?
7. Ellen makes assumptions about Karen's ability to be a good mother, based on Karen's personality and work routine. What does this say about Ellen's perceptions of motherhood?
8. Should Ellen find other things to fulfill her while she's trying to decide about becoming a mother or does her research fill some of that void?
9. How do you think Amy's solution will turn out? What, in the long run, would make her happier a baby within an ambiguous marriage, or a baby by herself?
10. What is it about Ellen's relationship with "The Pickle" (her niece Nicole) that is so satisfying? Is it because she isn't a mother herself that she feels so much for The Pickle or not?
11. How do Ellen's reflections on motherhood affect her relationship with her own parents?
12. What is your opinion of "Mammo"? Does it apply to you? People you know? Do you wish it did? Would you wear it as a necklace?