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'Callie's Tally'

Betsy Howie visits The Early Show to discuss her humorous new book "Callie's Tally"
CBS/The Early Show
Betsy Howie visits The Early Show to discuss her humorous new book "Callie's Tally: An Accounting of Baby's First Year"

She explains that her book provides a detailed list of all the baby-related expenses for which Howie thinks her infant daughter owes her to chronicle the baby's first year.

Read an excerpt from the introduction:
Callie's Tally: An Accounting of Baby's First Year

Calculating Interest

I am not one of those women who has always known.

In fact, they amaze me—those women. They fell in love with the idea of babies back when they were barely more than babies themselves. And then they stuck with that notion all the way through childhood, adolescence, college, dating, that first job, that first fiancé, the struggle for stability, the search for a mate, all the way through to that little pink "+" on the home-test kit. And all the while, they knew. This and this alone would complete their journey, make whole their person, lift them to that omnipotent place where choices are clear and decisions never second-guessed.

No. That wasn't me.

I've traveled toward and away from the idea of procreation many hundreds of times since my own birth, never convinced that I was meant to have a baby or that a baby was meant to have me. I waited a good long while—a really, really good long while—for that moment when the light would break across my brain and I would see the clear-cut road through the forest, the one that would lead me happily and unquestioningly to babyland.

That light has never appeared.

And yet, on July 4, after holding my nose with my thumb and forefinger, scrunching my eyes shut and diving into the deep dark hole of unprotected sex for several weeks, I got the news. I was pregnant; I am pregnant, with child, knocked up, in the family way. And there was no turning back, despite the fact that all these unanswered questions were still unanswered.

  1. Can I physically handle it?
  2. Do I have the patience for the job?
  3. Can I still have my career and take care of a baby?
  4. Will I be able to sidestep my own neuroses, negativity, and compulsions enough to raise a slightly healthy human being?
  5. Do I have enough money?

And those are just the questions that break down into simple sentence structure. This biological-clock stuff really doesn't lend itself to grammar and syntax. It's more like one long anxiety-infested primordial scream that doesn't punctuate easily.

Even a year ago, if you'd asked me that dangerous question: "Do you want a child?" I would have taken a really deep breath and said something like this:
"How do you know I don't have a kid? Can you smell it on me? Is my fear of commitment so palpable that you can actually see it? I don't know! Why are you asking me? What? I can't hear you. My clock is ticking so loud I'm having trouble deciphering your words. No. No. No. Don't shout. It's no use. This tick is the kind of loud that makes little shake marks all around the hard edges of the sound. It reverberates through my whole body and most likely, past my boundary and into your personal space, for which I apologize but maybe you should just Back off!"

My old college pal Gale asked me the dreaded question not all that long ago. I politely informed her about the loud ticking and she said, "Oh, really? You have that? Hm. Mine's digital. I know it's there but I can't hear it."

Digital would be better because maybe the ticking syndrome doesn't signal an actual want for a kid. Maybe it's just some caveman DNA instructive that we've all grown way beyond. The procreational mandate is over, after all. Breeding now is just for kicks. But, on the other hand, maybe the ticking only happens if your subconscious knows better than you your actual wants and desires—and you really do want a kid. Maybe your deep, inner, untouchable self knows that a kid is just the ticket to tweak the whole structure of the universe and right its corners.

But ticking and biology have not been my only questions. I have not led my life in such a way as to bring me perfectly to this moment. My household is not ideal for family life and that offers up a whole other series of questions such as: What if I die and the kid is left with a father who is too old and too broke to take up the charge? Or what if he dies and leaves us all alone? Or what if I end up resenting them both because their existence has hemmed me into a life of bad writing and long commutes? What if the whole thing suddenly compels me to get married when the only thing of which I have finally become certain is that I never want to do that again?

Maybe I'm just too selfish. But here's the thing: My life has always been all about my career and I never thought it would take this long to get just one rung up the ladder. Professionally, as an actress, as a writer, I'm a nose above nothing. If what I have could even be called a career, it's only because it shows signs of forming and not because the actual hard-core matter that makes for a real career actually exists; finance-wise, stability-wise, opportunity-wise. I'm still at that point where I must make major all-consuming efforts to rise above the masses. And at the ripe old age of almost-not-thirty-something-anymore, there's no time for that kind of cogitation.

About four months ago, the boyfriend said, "People have kids for all the wrong reasons but if everyone spent as much time thinking about it as you do, we'd be extinct."

To which I replied, through a bunch of tears and snot, "See, that's the kind of support I'm looking for."

By the way, it is not lost on me, as I write this, that the questions I am presenting keep coming out in present tense. Even though I am presently tense with child and these things should have been resolved a long time ago.

At least I don't feel like there's a gun to my head anymore. Now that I have actually taken the dive, I no longer have to consider and reconsider the stirring words spoken to me by my gynecologist when I presented my ambivalent self to him and said I just wasn't sure how to answer the baby question.

He said in a strong yet calm voice: Fish or cut bait.

That was a strange thing for a gynecologist to say, I think. On the other hand, though, it was effective. I left his office that day nearly ready to shout, "Get in line boys, the first one to ring the bell wins."

But the fishing advice didn't stop the math—the constant numbers dancing in my head in syncopation with the ticking: 37 + 9 months = 38 - 9 months + breaking up = 38.5 + recovery = 39.25 (w/ mood-enhancing drugs) + hunting and drug withdrawal = 40 + dating and momentary blissful euphoria whereupon I lose all sense of time and believe that anything is possible + moving logistics = 41.4 + concentrated conception efforts (+ possible fertility experts and earning the money to pay for them) = 42.9 + 9 months = 43.

Or, stay with the boyfriend.

Those equations continued to assault my senses even after I pulled on the waders and tied my flies. The numbers just kept whipping by. This is why you need math. If you're in elementary school and you're reading this and you're a girl, this is why. It's also why you need to follow your heart at least as often as you follow your head because just maybe it would have been smarter to have a baby when you were twenty-seven, when you just couldn't see your way through the nuts and bolts of it. Or maybe smart just isn't what this is all about. But still, I would encourage you to study your math.

There were/are other numbers, too. The boyfriend is fifty-seven. Those calculations are pretty simple. You add twenty to everything and before you work up to anything too tricky, you're dead. That's a problem for me. And it's a hard one because I find that I get mad at him for being fifty-seven and, of course, it's not his fault. It's not like he's changed since I met him. He's always been very consistent chronologically. It's just that as things intensify, facts you knew from the beginning transform—their truth changes. Fifty-seven is really old to be having someone who is zero. He would be fifty-seven and the baby would be zero. That might be too great a distance.

Even without a baby, he—assuming all God's blessings on both of us—will die first. And then I will be left alone. I don't want to be left. Not like that. Not without warning and so irreversibly. Better to just cut the tie myself, gather up a lot of cats, and get wacky and eccentric in a slow way.

Control issues? Maybe.

There are other things about him that are a challenge, too. For example, he comes to the table with preexisting conditions, such as familial ties that could choke a horse. And there's also the fact that on some days, he seems a bit too fond of the jar, as it were. And on all days, he's got a cash-flow problem. Did I mention he's a great playwright?

When Lonnie and I first got together, I remember telling my friend Rodney about him and Rodney said, "Geez, I hope it works out 'cause he sounds like a catch." It was clear that Rodney was being facetious and I don't want the whole world to walk away with that opinion. There are reasons that I am with Lonnie and there are reasons to consider him a wonderful possible dad. The man is brilliant. He's an artist and a teacher and I've never seen anything like it, the way he gives to his students. He's dangerously charming and looks really good in fine clothing that, as a result of his dangerous charm, he has been able to obtain over the course of his travels. He would also like me to mention his culinary talents and that nine times out of ten, he does the grocery shopping and ten times out of ten he does the dishes.

We can both get nutty and we tend to fight viciously, but mostly I like this life we've set up. I like our house, I like our cats, I like the work we do and the fun we have. And all of it is about to change. Forever.

Sometimes, I can see it all, how it lies before me. And I know that I am going to die. Not now but I will and that's really upsetting because I don't want to die. Not ever. Even when I'm feeling like one lonely raw nerve ending, I want more.

I don't understand why we get invited to this party if we're not going to be allowed to stay. I want to stay. I want to stay and I want to dance all night.

This is no great leap from the baby question. It's all about not being left alone and not really dying and recreating youth. Isn't it? And yet, you can't help but recognize that having a baby is as much a giant step toward the cliff's edge as burying your grandmother. In fact, maybe even more so because it's not just a case of one less person in front of you to block your way—now there's actually someone behind you who could decide to push.

I don't want to be pushed and I don't want to fall and I won't leap. I just really don't want to go. I want to stay at the party. Forever.

Clearly, I am still not one of those women.

But even I can see that there's very little point in asking these questions anymore. What will be will be. I have exerted my last bit of control. I got pregnant. I no longer answer questions. Questions answer themselves.

  1. Can I handle it physically? I don't know. We'll see.
  2. Do I have the patience for the job? I don't know. We'll see.
  3. Can I still have my career and take care of a baby? I don't know. We'll see.
  4. Will I be able to sidestep my own neuroses, negativity, and compulsions enough to raise a slightly healthy human being? I don't know. We'll see.
  5. Do I have enough money? I don't know. Hmm.
Start-up Costs
Original Sum
(The Debt You're Born With)

December 1—Friday
I spent $614.96 on my daughter yesterday. She is now officially an American. She has stuff and she is in debt.

Her name is Callie. She's not born yet. She'll show up in March. I'm not suggesting that she has to pay me back right away but eventually...

I mean, I'm not going to use this stuff and she did make me puke for five months straight so it's not like I haven't already given of myself. Anyway, regardless of whatever payment schedule she decides to arrange, I think it's a good idea to start a tally since eighteen years is a long time to remember. It's always best to keep notes.

So...

I'm doing my shopping at Albee's up on Amsterdam because it's where everyone shops. Albee's doesn't have everything; they just have the stuff they've decided is best, which is good because the research on the many thousands of items I'm told I need is becoming overwhelming and I really don't want to start billing Callie for time yet. Billing for hours at this point seems somewhat subjective and unfair since she isn't here to approve the expense. Again, I want it understood that I'm only charging for those items that are mandatory. Later, when she starts requesting optional items, I'll bill for those. But that will be fair since she will have approved the expenditure.

Here's the rule—I ask this question: Would I be spending this money if the baby didn't exist? Yes? She doesn't get billed. No? The kid owes. It's simple.

Anyway, Agnes, the woman who works at Albee's, just found out three days ago that her daughter is pregnant and although she's none too amused, she is already deciding which items she'll be purchasing for her grandchild and so, I'm just getting Callie everything that Agnes will be getting for her grandchild. It seems like the most reliable and efficient research I could do.

To tell you the truth, I think Agnes is actually adjusting nicely to her daughter's news. She would just prefer it if she were married. I tried to comfort her by telling her I'm not married either. She smiled a little at that. Her eyes widened and she nodded once to the side. But in the end, I'm not sure she was exactly comforted.

Anyway, about the McClaren 2000—they say it's the Cadillac among the strolling set.
December 2—Saturday
I've decided I should include medical bills. Here's my thinking—I wouldn't be going to the gyno every four weeks if it weren't for Callie. And all those tests and scans—they really are hers.

See, the doctor said, when they found those three fibroids during the second ultrasound, that 50 percent of women have them but they never know it because they're not scanning their uteruses on a regular basis. So there you go, it's that simple—most women don't have these procedures unless they're knocked up. Therefore, it's a Callie expense.

And by the way, I'm only including those things that are not covered by insurance. I'm not looking to make a profit here, just an accurate accounting for future payment—no interest charged.

In reviewing medical bills, I have come across a few other early expenses that I consider viable for inclusion.

I want to point out something—I am not charging rent and Callie is definitely in my space. I see little difference between what's going on in my body and what goes on in apartment buildings across America. My body is not currently available for my use and/or pleasure and yet, I am not asking for a dime. I just wanted that stated for the record in case anyone is thinking this approach is harsh and/or unfair to the unborn.

It's time for all of us to wake up. We've already raised three generations, at least, who are in serious personal entitlement overdrive. I want Callie to be better than that. I want her to know how to take care of herself. I want her to know how much life costs and what things are worth. I want her to know what she's worth.

I would also like to get some money back.
December 7—Thursday
Just back from the pharmacy—

Seeing as these vitamins are, in fair measure, responsible for the endless gastric distress I have experienced lo these many months—I have absolutely no problem billing for them. And, just for the record, I'm picking up the tab on the Tums.

Now, as for the ding in the fender—the other day, Callie's purchases from Albee's arrived while I was out getting a bagel. When I returned home and pulled the Subaru into the garage, I was so startled to see a pile of large boxes covered with pictures of baby heads stacked in my garage that I temporarily misplaced the brake—or my foot—and drove into a ladder neatly stored along the wall (unlike the chaotic pile of baby-head boxes).

I tend to think I will not bill for this, but I do want it recorded. Would I have hit the ladder if I had returned to find my garage as I had left it—full of carefully arranged grown-up toys and absent of baby-head mayhem? I think not. Enough said.

That brings me to the issue of cord banking—that is, the harvesting of the blood (read: stem cells) from the umbilical cord at the moment of birth. This, it seems to me, is a foolish thing not to do. Imagine (GOD FORBID in capital letters) finding yourself in a situation where you need those precious stem cells and realizing that because you didn't grab the cord when you could you are now going to have to stand by and watch the clock as the country is searched for a match. No. I think there's little choice in this matter.

The only question that does remain is this: Who pays?

Now, Callie could obviously benefit from this little storage plan but so could anyone in her genetically linked family, and if she sees it on her bill and gets the slightest bit agitated about this arrangement I've set up...well, suffice to say, she could get stingy and that could get ugly.

So—I guess I'll cover the initial $1,050. That covers the collection kit, cord-blood processing, maternal blood testing, and the first year of storage.

The ongoing annual storage fee will be discussed at a future date—possibly when Callie is capable of discussing.
December 15—Friday
New tennis shoes have been purchased long before I really needed new tennis shoes because I found myself hobbled by midday yesterday—swollen ankles, puffy feet. I was walking like my water had already broken. It was pathetic.

The shoes are a size 10.

I've never worn a size 10 in my life. I wear an 81⁄2, maybe a 9. I will bestow these shoes upon young Callie at the moment of her birth though I must say, I hope she does not grow into them. Size 10 is big for a girl. I'm hoping her feet are more petite than that.

By the by, I'm sorry she didn't have a say as to color or style but the shoes were needed now. There was no time to wait.

I trust this is temporary—this 10 thing. Neither Callie nor I need to be buying a new collection of shoes at present.
January 5—Friday
Before the holidays really get away from us, I have a few observations I would like to put down for the record.

I took it upon myself to drive home to Michigan this Christmas in order to, among other things, bring back my grandfather's cradle. I also wanted to help my mom deal with the real estate broker and get the basement cleared of forty years of accumulation.

You see, Mom's moving east. She's going to buy a house down the street so that Callie will never be tossed off on strangers or into the arms of by-the-hour hired help.

No. Not for Callie. Callie will be with Gramma.

Now it could be said I'm going to save a bundle in child care and that may very well be true. But, on the flip side, Callie is going to benefit tenfold from my mother's grace and generosity and my good management and planning.

Which brings me to another point. Obviously, there are enormous costs being incurred as Mom begins the segue from her old life of living alone in the American Midwest and workaholicking herself into a seven-day-a-week work style to her new life in colonial New England as a retiree who will spend some fair portion of her time caring for her one and only grandchild. But she has said nothing of these expenses to me and therefore, I am making no note of them to Callie.

But there is a larger issue at hand here and it has to do with networking. Bear with me.

While home for the holidays, I spent a good amount of time with my old pals Cindy, Tammy, and Diane. We go back to single digits. We've known each other a long time. They have three kids each. They live where we all lived once. Diane actually lives in the house in which she grew up, which (until a recent move by Cindy to a bigger house) was a straight shot out of Cindy's kitchen window. Their kids go to our old schools.

I've lived a very different last twenty years from them but for some inexplicable reason, we can still laugh at the same things. They don't, however, any of them, approve of my plans for the nursery. They wanted to know what colors I'd chosen and how I was planning to decorate. I just kind of looked at them stupid. Then I said, "White. The room is white now and I don't plan to change it."

They looked at me like I was not only insane but also in no small part evil. I tried to explain to them that my house is from the colonial period. It is very simple in design. It wouldn't feel right to gussy up a nursery-type room with that ceiling border ducks-and-balloons wallpaper trim. And to paint the room a soft yellow only to paint it back in a few years seems like a waste on many levels, not the least of which is financial, and that is definitely a cost that would land in Callie's column, and therefore, it should not be incurred until she requests it. So, that's it—the day she says, "Something in a pale yellow, please," we'll hop in the car and make a run to the paint store and not before.

Additionally, it has been my feeling that if you fill a white room with baby-size things, a bed with bars, and a large variety of animals that don't move unless you grab them by the neck and rattle them around while making them talk in funny voices—then that room is going to look like a nursery. And life is proving me out nicely on this point.

Getting to the networking point: Callie made a nice haul over the holidays, particularly when you consider the fact that she doesn't even live here yet and she really doesn't know anyone. Regardless of those handicaps, the girl had a considerable number of packages under the tree—not to mention her own handmade (stuffed to the brim) stocking.

She got: cow shoes; red moccasins; a green velour French pantsuit; a Stuart Little doll with suitcase and pj's; a fur-trimmed hat; a bib, bag, and hat with matching duck design; a train that hooks together magnetically and spells her name; eight hand-me-down outfits in excellent condition; a pair of festive socks; a Tanglewood T-shirt; two signed limited-edition prints (one of a shoe and one of a pacifier); a rubber duckie; and a pair of overalls.

The room looks like a nursery. Trust me.

And why did she get these things? I don't want to belabor my input and/or importance here, but it is because I have amazing friends and that didn't just happen overnight. I have cultivated these friendships over many years. It took a lot of living and wrong turns and right choices and I have chosen well.

My friends are successful, smart, caring, generous people, and Callie is reaping the benefits of those connections. It's called networking and it's a valuable thing. But—and note this, loud and clear—I offer these connections to my beloved daughter free of charge and with a happy heart.

From "Callie's Tally" by Betsy Howie. Copyright ©; September 30 2002, Tarcher, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.