Archive for July, 2011

As I was breastfeeding the baby this morning, I noticed a crusty little spot on his forehead, as if a bit of glue had dried there. I then noticed another spot toward the side of his head. And I saw that the tip of his widow’s peak, a wispy little tuft of hair that can be made to curl to the right or the left, was stuck to the left by the same sticky substance. Apparently, someone at the party last night was holding a drink over him, and it had dripped onto his forehead.

a neighbor holding eddie at the party

We take the baby to cocktail parties. It’s not like we go to one every night, but we have nice neighbors who like to drink, and it’s not uncommon for several of us to be talking on someone’s porch, and before long, a pitcher of cosmopolitans is brought out. Last night, for instance, our neighbors Chris and Janet, who are Francophiles, threw a Bastille Day party. I had a glass of wine, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the one who dripped alcohol on the baby’s forehead. I say that because I barely saw him the whole night. He was being passed around from neighbor to neighbor. Everyone wanted to hold him.

It wasn’t always like that. When we first brought the baby home from the hospital, we didn’t allow anyone to touch him – unless they were a blood relative, and even then, the list was limited to just me, Bruce, and my mother. We blamed it on our pediatrician, saying he advised us to have a no-touch policy – which he did – but it was a suggestion we readily adopted. We feared our baby would get typhus or cancer, or even a cold, before we’d even gotten to know him. He seemed so fragile back then, like paper. Now, we pass him around like a bag of potato chips, and I welcome it. It’s like having a group babysitter.

“Oh, can I hold him?” our neighbor, Cindy, asked.

“Knock yourself out,” I said, unlatching the seat belt that was holding Eddie into his little rocking chair.

After Cindy had her fill, the baby was passed on to Terri and then Lee and then Steve and Dave, Karen and then her husband, Tom. He must have gotten the sticky bits on his head somewhere between Dave and Tom because up to that point, I was keeping close tabs on him, and that usually involves me brushing my hand repeatedly across his forehead and around the top of his head. Up until Steve, there was no sticky spot.

It’s not that we’ll let just anyone touch our child. We had a yard sale a few weeks ago, and the baby was particularly fussy as we were trying to get everything set up. Our neighbor, Carla, offered to hold him as we carried boxes of items to sell down from the attic. As we unpacked everything and spread it out on tables, Carla paced back and forth on the sidewalk holding the baby, answering everyone who asked if the baby was for sale. A couple with a young boy walked by, and the father said to his son, “That baby still has a soft spot on his head just like you used to have.” The father then touched his son on the back of his head, and the boy swatted his father’s hand. The next time Bruce and I turned around, the boy was touching the back of Eddie’s head.

another neighbor holding eddie at the party

“Carla, can you bring the baby inside?”  Bruce said sternly.

But we like that our neighbors, who’ve become good friends, want to hold our baby at these parties. We can still join in on the festivities, drink, socialize, catch up with gossip, and not be inhibited by having a baby in tow. We just toss him into the sea of hands wanting to hold him, like a rock star might fling himself off stage into the crowd. It’s the only time we can get away from the baby and engage in adult activities, because the fact is, we’ve had a god-awful time finding a babysitter. While everyone seemed like a potential sitter when I was pregnant, they all scattered after the baby was born. I feel like the abominable snowman marching through a town square in Salzburg, and all the townspeople have run into their houses and shut their doors and windows.

I don’t just want the occasional babysitter. I want a mother’s helper for a couple of hours a day so that I can start working again, from home. I started searching for someone by putting the word out. They say if you ask for something, the universe will give it to you. So I told everyone I know that I needed a babysitter, but the universe must have been busy because no one came forward.

It hasn’t helped that every time I meet a potential sitter, Eddie begins to cry inconsolably. It would be like seeing the car of your dreams on the dealership floor, and as you walk over and open the door, the wheels fall off. I recently went to an open house for a friend who was opening a jewelry store, and I asked her daughter if she was interested in babysitting. She said she wasn’t available but perhaps one of her friends might be. Two of them happened to be at the opening, but as soon as I began talking to them, Eddie started to wail. As I explained what the job entailed, I started buckling Eddie into his stroller. I continued to tell them about the job, craning my neck backwards as I wheeled my screaming child out of the store.

Another woman from the opening, who used to babysit for my friend’s daughters, said she would keep an eye out for potential sitters. When I passed her on the street a couple of days later, she said, “I’m still looking. I’ll –”

I couldn’t hear what she said after that because Eddie started screaming so I kept moving.

yet another neighbor holding eddie at the party

A few days later, I plucked from the refrigerator a handwritten note that was passed on to me by a 13-year old who lives down the street. She was offering her services as a mother’s helper. The card was so detailed and lengthy and the handwriting so neat, I thought she must be mature well beyond her 13 years. I would put my five-month-old son’s life in her hands.

I invited Fawn over to watch Eddie yesterday (her mother named all the kids after woodland creatures).  I wasn’t too concerned about giving her a try as I knew I’d be home if she needed me. She arrived a little early – a good sign – and her little freckled face was all sweaty, making me think this little kid doesn’t mind hard work. I showed her all the various places we put Eddie to occupy him  – the stroller, the rainforest mat, the swing that plays the sound of waves crashing on the ocean (though it sounds distinctly Japanese to me), and the rocking chair from which he thrusts himself forward these days, thorax first. Fawn seemed to take it all in rather quickly and acknowledged she’s watched her younger brother since he was about two. I then showed her our arsenal of weapons to combat crying: the pacifier, the soft blue elephant, and Sophie the teething giraffe.

I handed Eddie to Fawn, who was sitting in a chair, and she began to bounce him on her lap. He started to cry. We tried putting him in his chair, but he kept thrusting upward with his chest, trying to get out. We then moved him to his swing, but he continued to cry – except that the sound moved back and forth like a pendulum.

“Maybe I should take him for a walk,” Fawn said.

“Good thinking,” I said.

I buckled Eddie into his stroller, threw a sun hat on his head and gave Fawn a bottle of iced tea for the trip, and I sent them off for a walk down the street. I went back into the house and walked up the stairs toward my office and felt a sigh of relief, as if the noose that’s been around my neck for five-and-a-half months was finally going to be loosened, if for just a brief period every day. I thought about what I wanted to do. Work on my blog? Set up interviews for a story I was working on? Finally crack open the book I’m supposed to read for my book club?

The two of them weren’t gone 10 minutes when I heard through my office window the distinct sound of a child crying, and it was making its way toward my house. I ran downstairs to find Fawn and Eddie at the bottom of the porch steps.

“He was fine until he dropped his carrot,” Fawn said. Eddie’s begun teething, and I sometimes give him frozen carrots to suck on to dull the pain.

I pulled Eddie out of the stroller and carried him into the house, as the young girl followed a few steps behind me.

still another neighbor holding eddie at the party

“I’m going to show you our secret weapon,” I said, as I carried Eddie into the kitchen. I picked up the remote control to our CD player and clicked it on.

“He loves this record,” I said. It was “Free to Be You and Me,” by Marlo Thomas. “You just put it on, and he stops crying.”

Sure enough, as soon as the music started, the child instantly stopped fussing and his puffy, tear-filled eyes opened wide as he listened to the music.

“Wow,” Fawn said.

As I looked at the young girl with the little freckles across her cheeks like Peppermint Patty, I saw myself at the age of 13, when I was hired to be a mother’s helper by our neighbor down the street. They lived in a big white colonial with big columns, like the White House, and had a circular driveway, and every morning during that summer, I would take care of their son, Jordan, for two hours while his mother, Ronnie, tended to other things in the house – though what that was I’m not sure. My most vivid memory of Jordan was him standing in front of his parents’ stereo system with his little bowl haircut, jumping up and down, his fists flying in the air, saying, “Rucka, rucka! Rucka, rucka!” He wanted me to play a record, and his record of choice was “Winnie the Pooh.” I can still hear the song he wanted me to play over and over again:

Winnie-the-Pooh, (pooh!)
Winnie-the-Pooh, (pooh!)
Tubby little cubby, all stuffed with fluff. He’s Winnie-the-Pooh. (Pooh!)
Winnie-the-Pooh. (Pooh!)
Willy, nilly, silly, old bear.

I would put on the record, and as soon as it would stop, the child would want me to put it on again. You could feel his need to hear it again as we approached the last note of the song, almost like a cocaine addict starts to crave more blow before he’s even finished what he has. I played the record so many times, I still hear it in my sleep, 35 years later. And I can see Jordan’s bowl-shaped hair swish as he jumped up and down like a frothing demon.

As we stood in the kitchen, the first song reached the chorus,

“In a land, where the river runs free

In a land, through the green country

In a land, to the shining sea,

And you and me are Free to Be

You and me,”

I looked down at Fawn’s freckle face and the thin sheen of sweat on her forehead, and I knew she was never going to come back.

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This morning was the annual Fourth of July parade, and we took our customary seats right where the parade turns onto Main Avenue. It’s a sign of the times in our little town that people started putting their chairs along the route about two hours before the parade began. It didn’t used to be that way. When I  moved here 13 years ago, there was less of a sense of urgency. People drove more slowly. They walked more slowly. And they arrived with their chairs just a couple of minutes before the parade began because they weren’t afraid they wouldn’t find a place to sit.

“Should we put our chairs out, too?” my husband, Bruce, asked.

“I think it’s disgusting. I’m not going to be a party to this. It’s a city mentality, this me, me, my, my, my stuff, my things. I’m against it in principle,” I said.

Bo Jo the Clown

And then I thought about it. “But what if they take all the spots, and there’s nothing left for us?” I asked.

And so we brought out four chairs, two for us and two for my brother and his new girlfriend, and placed them in a shady spot along the parade route, about an hour-and-a-half before the parade was slated to begin. We then walked back to the house to make breakfast.

Just as we were finishing, I could hear bagpipes coming down the street. Bruce and I ran out of the house with the baby just in time to see the “Pipes and Drums of the Jersey Shore” march by in their plaid kilts. Only cops and thick-armed firemen can get away with wearing skirts, I thought.

The Shriners

We saw the same floats we see every year: the band of Shriners, wearing red and white striped shirts, the jalopy that bounces up and down and squirts water, the kazoo players that represent the ice cream shop, and members of the local Republican committee, riding by in a pastel-colored convertible. They had an American flag on their car, they wore American flags on their lapels, and they were waving American flags, leaving no one to guess their country of origin.

My husband stared as the girl who led the marching band from Mother Cabrini High School paced back and forth in front of the band, adjusting the feet of those who stood in the first row by moving them an inch to the left or an inch to the right until they stood perfectly in line with the band members behind them. While she was obviously very good at her job, it was her short plaid skirt and high black boots that captivated my husband. I wanted to remind him that she was probably 12 and would squeal with disgust if she saw a 50-year old man looking at her, but I thought I’d sound small.

Every time a group of marchers went by carrying muskets, I put my hands over my son Eddie’s ears, though only the first group, who were portraying revolutionary war figures, actually fired their weapons.

the local Republican club

Even louder than the muskets were the fire engines from every company in our neighboring area. It’s my least favorite part of the parade, because their sirens are blaring at a very high volume, and the parade always gets jammed up when they go by, leaving you with a big old fire truck kicking out exhaust and blaring its siren right in front of you for several minutes before it moves onward.

In years past, I’ve been vexed at the parade because as the participants move by, they often toss candy, and I always want some, but the children seated around me usually grab it. I know if I dove for a piece of toffee , I’d beat out the four- and five- year olds around me, but it’s one of those contests you’re better off not winning. In the past, I’ve tried to sit in an area of the parade route where there are no children, so when the candy is tossed from a float, I can casually walk over to a piece of candy that’s landed on the ground, and pick it up as if I could take it or leave it. But I found that if you’re not sitting  near any children, no candy is thrown. The people riding on the floats only toss handfuls of candy into the crowd when they see children.

What a difference a year makes. This year, I had my child, Eddie, sitting on my lap. And sure enough, as the first float went by, a young boy spotted Eddie, reached into his bucket full of candy, grabbed a fistful, and threw it in our general direction. Scattered on the ground before me were Jolly Ranchers, bags of Skittles, tootsie rolls and root beer barrels. There were even a few pieces of toffee.

As the next float went by, it happened again. A young girl on a float spotted my child, and soon another fistful of candy was thrown at our feet. Taffy, jawbreakers, peppermint, they were landing on the street in front of me like manna from heaven. As the next float moved by, I thrust Eddie out in front of me like a human shield, so the children on the float could see I was with child. We were again showered with candy.

Candy Bait

As the parade came to a close, we gathered up all the candy that had landed on the street in front of us, and we threw it into the bowl of Bruce’s baseball cap and carried it home. When we got there, I put the hat down on the front porch and sat down next to it and began to sift through it. I plucked out a piece of toffee and unwrapped it, and it crumbled in my hand. I found another piece and unwrapped it, and it crumbled. In fact almost all the candy had shattered on impact as it was tossed from the float onto the pavement. It was disappointing to once again achieve my goal only to have it evade me, like seeing a shimmering light on the horizon only to find, when you finally reach it, that it was just a piece of tinfoil.

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