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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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:
Tubby little cubby, all stuffed with fluff. He’s 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.