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Archive for August, 2011

The thing about a hurricane is that you never think it’s going to be as serious as the news media is making it out to be  — until you’re in it. We live about seven blocks from the ocean, and we weren’t required to evacuate, but some people thought we were crazy for staying.

“GO!” wrote one of my friends.

Our bedroom is a birdhouse

Another, who knows a lot about a lot and is right about most things, called us and said something to my husband, Bruce. I don’t know what it was, but it left Bruce uneasy.

We tried to make a party of it, almost ignore it, like a car alarm blaring in the background. We went over to a neighbors’ house for home-made ham and potato salad and cocktails, but despite two martinis, all I could think about was the impending storm. By midnight, I was downright anxious, imagining a tree limb coming crashing through our windows and shards of glass flying everywhere, or our roof being ripped off by the gale force winds. I wanted to hide in a vault of some sort where I could neither see nor hear the storm’s blistering wrath, and I could emerge in the morning after it had passed. The next best thing to a vault was our neighbors’ guest room, which had just one small window exposed to the elements. But Bruce didn’t want to stay there. He wanted to stay with our home, which was just 100 feet away.

“Why did we stay, if we’re not even going to stay in the house,” he said.

“I don’t know. But what are we going to do if something happens? Hold the roof on with our bare hands?”

I wasn’t sure why we stayed. All I knew was that our neighbors’ guest room made me feel cloistered and cozy while our bedroom, which I love because it has a big bay window and you can feel the air and sky around you, made me feel extremely vulnerable because it has a big bay window and you can feel the air and sky around you. I might as well have been outside.

Our neighbors, Joan and Emma, were initially welcoming, but when I started to take them up on their offer, not even they wanted us to stay.

“I know what’s going to happen,” I said. “Bruce is going to sleep right through it, and I’m going to be up all night listening to the wind howl, and every second is going to feel like an hour.”

“Don’t anticipate things. It makes them happen,” Joan said.

“I know what you’re saying. I get like that,” Emma said. “I call it making buttons,” she said, moving her fingers as if they were busy making something on the edge of a bed sheet.

She then told me a story about how she and Joan were once stranded on Long Beach Island in a Nor’easter, and as Joan slept soundly, Emma sat next to her wide awake the whole night clutching on to Joan’s son.

“This is tough love,” Joan said to me. “If you’re really afraid in the middle of the night, you’re welcome here. But you should try it at home first.”

We left their house — me, Bruce, and our baby, Eddie — and walked out into the rain and blustering wind to make our way down the block back to our house. The “Stop” sign at the end of our street was rippling in the wind making it shimmer, like the street signs on The Weather Channel when they’re reporting from a tropical storm in Cape Hatteras.

We’d prepared as best we could, bringing in everything that could become airborne into the house, and the things we couldn’t or were too tired to lift, we tied down. I covered a few pieces of lattice fencing with about 50 bricks that we had lying in the backyard. But how do you hold down trees so that they don’t lift up into the air? Or keep your gutters from flying off? How do you keep your neighbor’s kayaks from blowing off his house and into yours, like spears?

I could hear the driving rain pelting against the roof and the fiberglass deck upstairs. On the news, they showed North Carolina, where the hurricane hit earlier today, and the reporters said residents there felt lucky because they thought the hurricane would have been worse.

“We were spared,” one man said.

But as he spoke, the cameras showed photos of streets underwater, and part of a metal sign ripped off its signpost. Joan said she was once in a hurricane on Block Island, and she was with a priest, who told her and her friend to take off their clothes and lie on a roof because the streets were flooding below them.

“Figures a priest would tell you to take your clothes off,” I said.

“No. It was to help us,” Joan said. “There was a man wearing a heavy slicker, and the priest told him to throw off his clothes, and he didn’t, and the wind caught his jacket and threw him into the water, and he floated out to sea.”

When we got home, I told Bruce I didn’t want to sleep upstairs in our bedroom as it was too high off the ground, and I feared the wind would whip through there and keep me up all night. Better to sleep downstairs in the living room, on the futon couch. We put the baby to sleep in a playpen we have set up downstairs, and we opened up the couch. But after about five minutes, the baby woke up and started to cry. I brought him into our bed and tried to put a pacifier in his mouth and hold him. At first it worked, but something about the angle of his head or the depth of his unhappiness made him begin to wail, and no position was satisfactory. Bruce brought the baby upstairs and put him in his bed in the nursery. He then went to sleep in our bedroom, which was next door, while I remained on the futon downstairs. I kept the air conditioner on – it was stuffy with all the windows closed – so I wouldn’t have to hear the sound of the howling wind. And before I knew it, I fell asleep and remained sleeping until morning when I was awakened by Bruce plunking Eddie down on the bed beside me so that I could nurse him.

“It’s cold in here,” Bruce said, shutting off the air conditioner.

I listened to the wind outside, and it had died down a lot. The rain had stopped. We thought we were in the eye of the storm, so I hurriedly fed Eddie and we jumped into the car and headed to the beach to see the surf. High tide was at 8 a.m., and it was about 8.30 a.m. We also wanted to assess the damage and make sure my father’s memorial bench was still on the boardwalk. My family bought a plaque for my father about a year ago that was fastened to a bench on the boardwalk. I feared if the boardwalk had gone out to sea, my father’s bench would have gone with it.

By the time we got to the boardwalk, there were already more than a dozen people there staring out at the ocean. It was majestic. The hurricane may have spared our little town, but it was wreaking havoc on the sea. The waves were huge, maybe 10 or 15 feet high, and the water was frothy like soap suds.  The jetties were completely obscured until the water would recede in between waves, revealing black rocks underneath. There wasn’t much flooding, as had been predicted, and the boardwalk and fishing pier were still standing – though some said the structural integrity of the pier may be compromised. The boardwalk, itself, was sandy and covered with sea foam in spots, an indication that the water had indeed come up that far.

The most extensive damage I suffered was to my ego, which was bruised because of my whimpering the night before. There’s a beer commercial out right now in which a man is mocked because of his choice of beer and his display of cowardice earlier that day. In one version of the ad, there’s a guy riding a roller coaster with friends who are laughing with delight while he’s crying like a baby and screaming to get off the ride. In another, a man is sobbing at the airport because his girlfriend is leaving town. That’s how I felt today looking back on my shameless whimpering at our neighbors’ house, like an animal cowering in the corner.

As we walked down the boardwalk I noticed a cement planter and a line of concrete benches that usually face the ocean were scattered.  It was easy to see why it happened. Most of the benches that run along the boardwalk have dunes protecting them from the ocean. But in a couple of spots, the dunes are missing and one can see clear through to the ocean. The winds and the tide must have come whipping through those spots last night, pushing the benches to and fro’ like an air hockey puck. But in the cluster of scattered benches and debris was one bench left untouched: the one dedicated to my father.

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Eddie's Best Friend

We were invited to a birthday party for our young neighbor, Quintin, who was turning one. It was our first children’s birthday party, and we were excited, even though we’d only met Quintin and his parents once, at a yard sale we had about four months ago. Our baby, Eddie, doesn’t have a lot of friends right now. In fact he doesn’t have any friends, aside from us, a stuffed bear we acquired on our honeymoon, and a sock monkey. Bruce has been concerned about the lack of children in our small town from the outset – so much so that he wanted me to have another child just to assure Eddie would have a companion. Needless to say, we were delighted to be invited to a children’s party – not just so Eddie could meet the other babies in town but so my husband, Bruce, and I could meet their parents.

Eddie's Other Best Friend

The party was at a local park along a river and was slated to run from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. It seemed like an awfully long time to spend with people we didn’t know so we decided to arrive around 3.30 p.m. But as we walked out the door, I realized we didn’t have a gift, and it was too late to buy one. I ran upstairs and fished through Eddie’s toy box looking for a gift we’d received but hadn’t yet taken out of its package. There was a set of beautiful blocks that went with a Mother Goose book, but I wanted to keep them. I also found a set of Sesame Street characters for the bath, appropriate for children 18 months to four years, according to the box. Perfect, I thought. I felt a momentary pang of guilt thinking someone had picked the present out especially for Eddie, and now we were giving it away, until it occurred to me that the people who gave it to us may themselves have received the bath set as a gift and simply re-wrapped it to give to us (the guilty mind can rationalize anything).

Our Teamates

We arrived at the park at around 4 p.m. The parking lot was filled with SUVs. I felt part of a team – the “new parents” team — and these were my people. We didn’t yet have the SUV, but we were supposed to test drive one this weekend. We had the children’s gift in the children’s gift bag with fancy yellow tissue paper – next time I’ll actually buy one — and most of all, we had the child. We got out of the car and headed toward the pavilion, where the party was to be held, to join up with the rest of our team.

The pavilion was filled with long picnic tables. Young, hip parents were sitting on the benches in little clusters of four or five. Each cluster had a little child standing nearby. At least that’s how it looked from the parking lot. As we got closer, I could see that everyone seated there was in their sixties and seventies, and there was not a child in sight. I sifted through the sea of faces trying to find the birthday boy and his parents, trying to remember what they looked like. No one looked familiar.

Off in the distance, I could see a group of about a dozen people standing at the edge of the water on a small pebbly beach. There were two kayaks in the water and a child wading in the water not far from shore.

“There they are!” I said to Bruce.

We headed toward the water. It made more sense that young parents with children would be by the water playing with boats and doing aquatic sports. I thought I spotted Quintin’s parents and headed toward them, but again as we got closer, I realized it wasn’t them.

“Do you think we’re in the right place?” I asked Bruce.

Lomax Family Picnic

“I don’t know,” he said.

I looked at the directions I’d jotted down from an email I’d received from Quintin’s mother, Kim. We were definitely at the right place. As we headed back toward the pavilion, we passed elderly gentlemen playing Bocce.

“Is this Quintin’s birthday party?” Bruce asked.

“This is the Lomax Family Picnic,” said the shorter of the two gentlemen.

As we headed back toward the car, we stopped at an empty picnic bench near the parking lot, and I called Kim.

“We’re at the park. Where are you guys?” I asked.

“The party’s tomorrow!” Kim said.

I’m rarely early, but if I’m going to be, it’s usually by about 24 hours.

We left the park and drove to a nearby bar. I was starving, having saved my appetite for a juicy char-broiled hamburger. We sat at the bar, wedging the baby’s car seat between the back of the bar stool and the edge of the bar, and ordered two pints of beer and chicken wings.

On our way home, we stopped to buy Quintin a proper gift.  We bought him a wet suit onesie, according to the package. It was a top and bottom that were attached and had padding in the front, presumably so he could go skidding across the surface of the sand without fear of rubbing the skin off his chest. There was a decal of a shark on the front of the shirt, an unfortunate reminder for a mother like myself, who fears the blackness of the ocean and the creatures that hide within.

The following afternoon, we planned to arrive at the party little earlier, but we had visitors staying with us, and we wound up having a late breakfast. When we got back to the house, our guests played with Eddie, and I put Quintin’s birthday present into the gift bag with the yellow tissue paper and placed it by the front door. I then joined Bruce, who was out on the front porch reading the newspaper. It was a cool gray day, and Bruce was relaxing in a chair with his legs up on an ottoman. I lay down on the couch that was next to him. Before long, we were both asleep and didn’t awake until about 3.30 p.m. At that point, the sky was dark, and it looked like it was about to rain. The weather report said a big storm was headed our way. We went into the house, and I brought Quintin’s birthday present back upstairs, and I vowed to do better next time.

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We took our baby, Eddie, with us to happy hour last night, and he sat chatting gibberish quite happily in his carriage, sometimes to one of the four of us at the table and sometimes to his own fingers or his toy camel. I believe he was addressing the camel when he uttered his first real words, as clearly articulated as any words I’ve ever heard: “Blah, blah, blah.”

He apparently didn’t get the response he anticipated so he said it again. “Blah, blah, blah.”

Chats Quite Amicably

“He said his first words!” said my friend, Kate. She took pride in Eddie’s achievement because it was she who apparently taught him this clever little phrase before we left the house to go out. Kate teaches essay writing at a local university. It didn’t surprise me that under her tutelage, our child’s first words would be so eloquent.

“I can’t believe it!” I said. “His first words! Our little baby’s growing up.”

Like Kate, I, too, helped teach a child to speak once. When my father was dying of cancer, I sat outside my parents’ screened in porch in which my father would lie day after day and taught my niece, Sarah, the words to “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” except I made up my own words:

“Old McFuck Fuck had a Fuck

Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck…”

Old Mc F-- F--'s F---

At the time, I was mad my father was dying, and in my grieving, angry state, I thought it was funny. But more than that, I thought my father, who made a hobby of pushing people’s buttons, would get a kick out of it. I don’t think he even heard me.

After we finished our drinks at the bar, we went inside the restaurant and sat down at a table to have dinner. We ordered another round of cocktails, and when they came, we held up our glasses and made a toast.

“To friends,” I said.

“To Eddie’s first words,” said Kate, and then in unison, we all looked at Eddie and said, “Blah, blah, blah,” and then laughed. All of a sudden, Eddie looked up from his seat and shrieked, and then began to cry inconsolably. He heard us mock him and was humiliated and upset. I jumped out of my seat and threw off the straps holding him into his chair and grabbed him and pressed him to my chest, trying to squeeze out the pain of the indignity he felt.

As we walked home, we talked about his outburst and the depths of the mortification he felt to warrant such a shriek, and I remembered a story once told to me by my father, Eddie, after whom my son is named. When he was about seven, he asked my grandmother a question about sex. I couldn’t remember the question, but I do remember that later that night, he heard his mother tell her friends what he had asked, and they all laughed. He was humiliated, he said –enough to remember it decades later.

But more than my father, I thought of all the crimes I’d committed against my child every day while my husband was at work, all the times the baby screamed in anger because instead of feeding him immediately, I first went to the bathroom or got a glass of water or grabbed the TV remote. Or when he cried as I rushed through my shower and got dressed, because he was bored, and instead of comforting him I yelled, “Would you shut the fuck up for just one second?!?” Or the time I put him on the couch and turned my head for a moment, and when I turned back, he had rolled over and was poised to roll right off? Or just the other day when I put him in his rocking chair for a second without strapping him in, so that I could run upstairs,  and when I returned, he was lying on the floor at the base of the chair. I thought about all these high crimes and how if he now knows how to speak, he can tell on me.

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About 2.30 a.m., my husband, Bruce, and I were awakened by a noise that sounded like it was coming from our living room.

“What was that?” I said as I sprang up in bed.

“It sounds like someone’s downstairs,” my husband said as he got out of bed.

He crept down the stairs and peaked around and then returned.

“What was it?” I whispered in a loud voice, trying not to wake the baby.

“I don’t know. I couldn’t see anything without my glasses,” he said.

In the movies, the husband returns to bed with an answer. You never hear anything about myopia.

Searching for the Intruder

I got up, turned on the light in the hallway, and we both crept down the stairs. My heart was pounding. We separated into different parts of the house. My husband went toward the back of the house, I went toward the front, checking every door and window. I was glad to see every window was still closed but disappointed to find most of them were unlocked. Still, I couldn’t imagine an intruder creeping in through an open window and then being green enough to make sure he closed it behind him because he knew the air conditioning was on.

I met up with my husband in the kitchen, near the stairs that led down to our basement.

“We should check down there,” I said, which meant, “Can you check down there?” I always imagine demons and burglars lay in wait in the basement – and yet I sent him down there. I’m not sure what to say about that. As my husband walked slowly down the stairs, I checked the small bathroom and a walk-in pantry just off of our kitchen. No sign of any intruder. My husband came back up the basement steps. I looked at him.

Ghouls Often Hide in the Basement

“Nothing,” he said.

We walked back upstairs and split up once again. I checked the front guest room and the nursery (our baby still sleeps in our room) while my husband went up the stairs to the attic. As he came back down the stairs, I looked at him again.

“And?”

“The back door was open,” he said.

“What?!?” I asked. We were looking for signs of an intruder, but I didn’t think we’d actually find any. “The door was open?”

“Yeah. It was unlocked,” Bruce said.

“Do you mean the screen door was actually ajar, or do you just mean we didn’t lock the wood door behind it?” I rephrased my question. “Was the screen door open or closed?”

“The screen door was closed,” Bruce said. “It was the wood door that was open.”

I was relieved. I was the one who didn’t close the wood door. I leave it open all summer, exposing the screen door, so that we get a cross breeze.

“So what the hell was that noise?” I said.

“I don’t know, but it sounded human,” Bruce said.

“It sounded like this,” I said, and made a noise that sounded like a whimpering rodent. “It sounded like someone stepped on a child’s toy and made it squeak. Either that or someone stepped on the cat.”

I paused and said, “Well, I think it came from outside the window. I hear lots of things outside that sound like they’re coming from inside the house.”

“It sounded like it was downstairs,” Bruce said as he got back into bed.

Ghouls and Demons

It didn’t surprise me that we thought someone was in the house. There was recently a break-in down the street, and the burglar entered the house in the middle of the night while the couple was asleep. In fact the woman woke up to find the prowler in her bedroom, rifling through her purse.  She screamed, and he ran. The prowler had entered their home through a back door that was left open. He then walked right by her husband, who was asleep in the living room in front of the TV.

I crawled into bed and looked over at Eddie in his bassinet, which is attached to the side of our bed. He was sleeping soundly. I could hear his faint breathing. Soon, Bruce had fallen back asleep, and I could hear his snoring. I lay there between the two of them staring at the ceiling, my heart still racing. I’ve heard noises before, but I usually dismiss them as anxiety and fears — childhood fears about ghouls and demons that have always preyed on me at night. And it always helps that Bruce sleeps right through anything I hear. But this time he woke up, perhaps because the stakes are higher now that we have a baby who relies on us to keep him safe. And we love him so much, we would never want anything to happen to him. As I lay there, I thought about that home invasion in Connecticut and how that poor man lost his whole family while he was unconscious from a blow to the head. I thought about how odd it was that Bruce never heard someone breaking into our house before, and how now that we have a baby, he darts out of bed like a great protector. I thought about all the other times I’d heard bumps and thuds in the night, before the baby, and how Bruce never got up, and I thought, “What am I, chopped liver?”

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I’d just nursed the baby and given him the supplemental bottle he gets after every breastfeeding, and I was holding him up in a standing position on my desk. He surveyed the area and seemed so interested in all my things, the tools of my writing trade — particularly my computer — so I started telling him what everything was.

“This is mommy’s keyboard. Mommy’s keyboard,” I said, as he started to step on it.
I slid the keyboard away from him and moved him closer to the monitor.

“This is mommy’s monitor. Mommy’s monitor,” I said, and I could see him trying to move toward it.

I liked that he was interested in my life, my job. Maybe he’ll want to be a journalist, I thought. A chip off the old block. He started to reach out toward the monitor again when I noticed he wasn’t looking at the computer at all. Just beyond my monitor, between the stapler and the pencil sharpener, was his empty bottle. He’d spotted it immediately among all the items on my desk.

Wallpaper Paste and Banana

“It’s empty, pal,” I said, a little disappointed his interest wasn’t in me but in food. Food, food, food. That’s basically what it’s been about since he was born. The breastfeeding, the difficulty in breastfeeding, the waking up in the middle of the night because he was crying for food, the feedings every two-and-a-half hours. It’s all about food. And now we’re entering a new stage: solid food. We started two weeks ago with rice cereal and bananas. Last night, we added cantaloupe to his repertoire. Sweet potato is up next.

As the solid foods have ridden into town, I can feel my breast milk starting to ride out, like an understudy who no longer feels needed once the play’s lead returns. Even the baby has marginalized the breastfeeding. He’s so used to the rhythm of breastfeeding for 30 minutes and then getting his 2 oz. bottle that he now stops after about 15 minutes and starts to cry. When I stand him up to see what’s wrong, he stops crying and starts looking around the room for his bottle. You can see his mind working as his eyes scan the room: Where’s my bottle? Is that my bottle over there? That thing on the table over there really looks like a bottle. Is that my bottle? Has someone seen my bottle? Do you think maybe I can have a bottle now? The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled twice this week, there were riots on the streets of London, the European banking system is on shaky ground, and my child’s mind is fixated on one single thought: If the markets fall apart, maybe the apocalypse will come, and that means no one will stop me from walking into the kitchen and fixing myself a bottle.

A Brief Respite

But as voracious an appetite as the child has for his bottle, he’s equally fixated with his newfound food: rice cereal. He doesn’t seem to mind that it tastes like wallpaper paste. No matter how much I give him, he wants more. In fact he’s so fixated on getting his next bite, and the next, and the next that he fails to appreciate the food already in his mouth. He reminds me of my old dog, Sparky. I’d break up a piece of bacon so that Sparky could savor the experience longer, and he’d swallow each bit without even chewing. In the mouth and down the throat, never even meeting a taste bud.

The child is the same. He’s so preoccupied waiting for his next bite that he forgets there’s already food in his mouth. This morning he leaned toward me, his mouth filled to capacity with food, and bit the bowl.

And he now watches me when I eat. I feel uncomfortable having a meal in front of him. The way he looks at me, longingly, you’d think I was eating a big fat steak sandwich in front of one of those children with the bulbous bellies on the commercials for C.A.R.E.  This morning, as I sat at my computer eating breakfast, he sat in his chair next to me and stared at my mouth with every bite I took. He began to cry because he wanted some, but I couldn’t give him any. It contained berries and honey, both of which are on the prohibited list right now, given his age. I finished up what was in my bowl and lifted him out of his chair and placed him on my lap. I turned my head for just a second, and his crustaceous little fingers were scratching at the sides of my yoghurt bowl trying to glean just a taste — of what, he had no idea.

Finds Fingers Delectable

It sounds like I starve my child. I don’t. The pediatrician reassures me of that every time we see her, and I tell her about the crocodile tears he cries sometimes after we’re done eating – at least for the first minute or two.

“He’s fine,” she said. “He looks great. Alert.”

It doesn’t help that he’s started teething and now puts everything in his mouth that will reasonably fit. He’ll peer into your eyes lovingly, and it’s intoxicating, and as you lean in to get closer and closer to his face, he’ll latch onto your index finger with his mouth and his jaw will snap shut, like a pit bull without teeth. Or he’ll be lying back on the diaper table, and when I’m done changing him, I’ll grab his little hands until they wrap around mine, like noodles, and I’ll lift him up into a standing position. He’ll follow me upward, loving to be standing up like an adult, and as soon as he’s erect, snap! His jaw is on my finger, and he’s gumming it like a pretzel log. I imagine him all grown up, as an investment banker wearing a pin striped suit and suspenders, sitting across the table from a corporate treasurer who has just given my son’s firm the mandate to do a $100 million bond deal. The treasurer slides a prospectus across the table to my son, who grabs it and quickly sticks it into his mouth and begins gnawing on the corner of it.

I’m actually grateful when he finds something satisfying on which to gnaw. There are times when he’s teething and it’s clear his gums ache, and yet he won’t put anything in his mouth to alleviate the pressure. These moments often occur after he’s been nursing for a couple of minutes, and the sucking action has made his gums hurt. I’ll try the set of gel keys he has, or a carrot I’ve left in the freezer because a book suggested that teething babies like the numbing effect of biting onto something frozen, and yet nothing seems to work – short of rubbing a little bourbon on the sore spot. These moments pain me because he’ll be lying there with his mouth half open, his little hand reaching toward his gums, drool oozing out of his mouth, and he’s clearly in pain and yet there’s nothing I can do except rock him and hold him as he wails.

The Child Eats Anything

A few days ago, I bumped into our local UPS man on the street, and he told me he had tried to deliver a package the day before but that I didn’t answer the door.

“I knocked but you must not have heard me,” he said. “The baby was really screaming.”

“When?” I asked.

“About 5.45 p.m.,” he said.

“Ahhh, yes” I said. An image of me trying to breastfeed the baby flashed in my head. “The baby just started teething. He was having a meltdown.”

“I know what that’s like. I have four kids of my own,” he said. “Well, you only have 20 more.”

“20 more?” I asked.

“Teeth,” he said, and laughed.

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