Archive for September, 2011

I wheeled Eddie in his stroller along the boardwalk this morning, and as I looked out at the vast expanse of beach, I thought, “What a great place for the baby to learn to crawl!”


I was surprised I hadn’t thought of it before. My husband, Bruce, has been complaining for months that our Victorian home, with its small rooms and hard wood floors, was a hazardous place for a child. Our stove has sharp metal edges, the floor boards could give the baby splinters, and the basement door, which is off the kitchen, is swollen from dampness and cannot be shut, leaving the baby exposed to a flight of stairs. Sometimes, I put the baby on the kitchen floor so that he can move around a bit while I’m making dinner. I’ll put out about half a dozen toys, a handful of cheerios, and some soft pillows so he can roll around on them. But he always gravitates to a corner of the room at the edge of the stove where there’s a white-covered wire sticking out from the baseboard molding. I feel like Martha Stewart: “A loose wire can make a great children’s toy.”

Loose Wires Make Great Toys

The beach, on the other hand, has miles and miles of unfettered terrain that is soft and forgiving. I pulled the baby out of his stroller, deposited him on the sand, and then patted his bottom as if to say, “Be on your way, little one.”

But what I thought would be a lesson in crawling turned into a lesson in learning how to say, “No,” because the baby didn’t crawl anywhere. He spent his entire time in the sand trying to eat it.

“No!” I said as I watched him reach his sand encrusted little fingers into his mouth.

Seconds later, “No!” I yelled, as he turned his back to me and started to lift a fist full of sand to his mouth.

I ran around to the front of him so I could watch him more closely, but as soon as I turned my head for a second, his fat little fist was in his mouth again.

“No!” I shouted. “Stop!”

They say a child can drown in a teaspoon of water. I say he can do a lot of damage with a grain of sand. Eddie didn’t just have it in his mouth. There was sand in his eyes, his ears, his hair, and a line of it above his lip, perilously close to his nose. By the time we got home, his hands, which had been coated in a layer of sand like fried chicken, were almost completely clean, presumably because he’d licked it all off.

He licked them clean

I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I give him a new toy in the grocery store, he’ll gnaw on the cardboard price tag. I gave him a newspaper to crinkle – he likes the sound – and he ate the corner off of the international page. He’s like a goat. Yesterday, he tried to put my foot-wide breast pump machine into his mouth. He’ll find last week’s hairy little cheerios behind chair legs, under couch cushions, or wedged under a piece of molding. This morning, I took him up to the attic to keep me company while I did my exercises. I spread out a leopard snuggy on the floor so he had a flat surface on which to spread out. Within a minute, he had peeled back the snuggy exposing the dirty shag rug underneath, which had bits of Styrofoam packing peanuts in it that he immediately popped into his mouth.

But as I listened to the sound of my own voice telling Eddie, “No!” “Stop!” “No!” I remembered walking down the boardwalk two weeks earlier and seeing a young boy in a stroller who kept shaking a matchbox car in his hand and yelling at the toy, “No! Stop it! Just stop it!” He’d then slap the car with his other hand. “I said stop it! No!” He’d then slap the car again. As they came toward me, his mother must have heard him, and she looked around the side of the carriage and said, “Honey, why are you saying that?”

You know why honey ‘s  saying that,” I thought.

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September 27, The A&P

This morning, I went to the A&P with my son, Eddie, and as I pushed my cart through the entranceway, two women were standing just in front of the door talking , making it impossible to step into the store. I was stuck in the path of the automatic door.

“Excuse me, “ I said.

They inched forward about a foot, enough to enable me to get out of the doorway but not enough to really enter the store.

“Excuse me,” I said again.

But as I said it, I saw a woman was pushing her cart in front of them, making it impossible for them to move forward any further. One of the two women turned to me and said, “We can’t move anywhere until she gets out of our way.”

“Yes, I understand that, but you shouldn’t stand in a doorway of a store,” I said. I was annoyed they were standing there at all.

“Oh, you understand that? I’m glad you understand. Thank you,” the woman said snidely.

“You’re an asshole,” I said and pushed my cart past her.

As I headed toward the lettuce, I thought, “Why did I say that? How do I wind up in these petty arguments over petty things, where I wind up saying, ‘You’re an asshole.’” I didn’t know if I was more annoyed that I’d gotten into the exchange or that I didn’t have a better retort.

I moved from aisle to aisle in the produce section, trying to decide whether to pay three times more for the organic broccoli or just roll the dice and hope maybe the pesticide didn’t get on that piece, and yet my mind kept gravitating to the exchange with the woman. I walked over to the banana display and couldn’t find the organic bananas. They say bananas are one fruit on which you can forgo buying organic because it has a peel, which protects the meat from the pesticide. But after hearing news reports about Central American workers who are born with birth defects because their families have worked in the banana fields and were doused with DDT, I can’t help but buy my bananas organic. But I didn’t see any. A store manager was standing right there and pointed them out to me.

The manager then said, “I can’t believe it’s 9 a.m. and three people have already called out sick.”

“I can’t believe it’s 9 a.m., and I’ve already gotten into an argument with someone,” I said.

He just looked at me. I picked up a bunch of bananas and wheeled my cart away. As I got to the yams, the woman with whom I’d had the altercation spotted me and came wheeling her cart over.

“You know I was thinking,” she said in a sweet voice, “I saw you had a baby. He’s going to have some mouth on him by the time he’s one.”

“You hunted me down to tell me that?” I said, trying to mock her for still thinking about our argument 10 minutes later – even though I was, too. I again wished I had been more clever. I certainly couldn’t have said, “You’re an asshole.” Not only had I already said it, but it would have proved her point.

I wanted to have said something like, “Well, he may wind up with a foul mouth, but at least he won’t be a dumbass who holds a conversation in the middle of a doorway.” But then it was only 9 a.m. I had the rest of the day to come up with something sufficiently biting.

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One morning as I was sitting on my front porch, my neighbor, Trish, walked over and said, “Your cat’s a murderer.”

“Why?” I asked.

Our cat, Fish

“I used to watch her sit on the sidewalk under that tree,” she said, pointing to a small tree across the street. “It had a cardinal’s nest in it.”

I noticed the word, “had.”

“Fish would sit under it every day watching them, and I thought, ‘Don’t you dare.’ Well, yesterday, I was sitting on my porch, and all of a sudden I heard this screeching and flapping, and I saw this gray blur run across the street with something in its mouth and run into Shelley’s yard. It was Fish. She must have taken a baby cardinal,” Trish said.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Well, David walked over there and didn’t see anything, but Fish was lying on top of something. He couldn’t see what it was. Well, after that, the mother bird was just flying back and forth, shrieking. Back and forth. She wouldn’t stop shrieking. It was so sad,” Trish said.

I felt bad about the bird, but I felt worse knowing my neighbors would hold this against my cat. Nobody likes a bully. In fact the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether Fish actually did kill the baby bird. Maybe the bird was already dead, and it was on the ground, and that’s when Fish grabbed it. It’s not as if she could have flown up to the nest and taken one out. And Trish’s husband, David, didn’t actually see the baby bird in Fish’s mouth. Maybe it was something else. The evidence seemed pretty circumstantial. It reminded me of that old riddle: there’s a room with broken glass on the floor, a puddle of water, and an open window. What happened in there?

People were already predisposed to thinking badly of our cat, ever since the mail woman, Sheila, claimed Fish attacked her. But Sheila’s had problems with other people’s pets as well. Our friend’s dog once bit her, and he said his dog never bit anyone. Maybe the problem is not the cat but the mail woman. But fiction spreads faster than fact in a small town like ours, and our cat has become something of a pariah.

Fish didn’t always spend her days outside. She used to be an indoor cat, until about seven months ago when she escaped and spent a couple of days out on the street. Since then, she comes and goes as she pleases, though we bring her in at night, to keep her safe and make sure she knows she still has a home in our house and that we are her family.

Fish the Predator

I like that she’s outside all day, running from one end of our block to the other. She expends a lot of energy, making her more docile when she’s inside. When she was just an indoor cat, she would run up and down the stairs like a feral animal, racing from the windows in the front of our house to the windows in the back as she chased cats and squirrels outside.  It was unnerving.

But worse, when we had company, someone would always leave scratched or bitten. The problem was, she was like a siren. People would be drawn in by her beauty and her soft, fluffy, gray hair, and they would begin to pet her head or scratch her belly, and then just when Fish seemed to relax and enjoy the attention, she would suddenly swat or bite the person petting her. It was not uncommon for visitors to leave our house with a band aid and a bad feeling about our cat.

Thankfully, our neighbors are a forgiving bunch. When Fish was hit by a bicycle the other day, they were very concerned about her well being.

“I heard your cat almost hurt a guy on a bike as she was trying to kill herself,” said our neighbor, Lois.

“I didn’t chase her into the street. I swear,” said Trish.

When I was pregnant, we wondered what we were going to do about Fish’s wild ways once we brought the baby home. We considered having her claws removed, but the procedure is apparently so painful, our vet was reluctant to do it. I also feared what would happen if she got out of the house and had no claws to defend herself.

The day we arrived home from the hospital with our new baby, Bruce walked in the door and put the baby in his car seat down on the floor. Fish hadn’t seen us in a few days and came running over, and as she neared the car seat, Bruce kicked her and sent her flying.

“Leave her alone!” I shrieked.

I tried to grab her, but she ran off and hid. I stormed into the kitchen, kicked the garbage pail that was under the sink and then turned around and walked out of the house sobbing. Having just given birth, my hormones were raging, but up until then, Fish was like a child to us. I could feel the depth of the pain she must have felt being cast aside as I imagine I had been when my parents brought home my younger brother.

My First Born

It’s probably worked out for the best, but I feel badly about Fish. She used to sleep in our room every night. In fact a night or two before I had the baby, she slept on the bed next to me, with me sleeping on my side and Fish sleeping on her side in front of me, her body backed up against mine in the shape of a “C.” I put my arm around her and felt her soft fur on my skin. Since we brought the baby home, Fish spends most nights on the bed in the guest room.

She’s gone from being the center of our attention, like a child, to being just a household pet. She’s overlooked, underappreciated, and often gets yelled at now because she seems self-centered and completely unaware of anyone else’s needs, meowing loudly in the morning to be let out when we’re clearly doing something like changing the baby or getting dressed. Or she’ll walk in front of my feet and nearly trip me as I’m walking down the stairs with the baby in my arms. She once came into our bedroom at about 4 a.m. and knocked over the bottle of water I keep on my nightstand. The water poured out onto the floor, and I jumped out of bed to grab some tissues to sop it up, nearly tripping over the curtains that were now soaking wet.

“Fish!” I screamed, and she ran out of the room.

One night, I felt so bad about neglecting her that I took some slices of roast beef we had in the refrigerator, tore them into little strips and left them for her on a paper towel on the living room couch. She walked over to them and sniffed them and began to nibble. She seemed to like them, but when I looked over at the couch about an hour later, I saw little bits of meat all over the couch cushions, uneaten, as if to say, “Too little, too late, pal. You can keep your roast beef.”

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on our porch when our neighbor, Lee, came over.

“You should probably put a bell on your cat. She’s killed a couple of birds,” he said.

“A couple?”

“She killed one by my house and one by Trish’s, and a few days ago, I saw she had a sparrow, right here,” he said, pointing to my front garden.

“You sure it was a bird? Maybe it was –”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Lee said. “She had it on the sidewalk and then she put it in the garden and ate it.”

“Ate it?” I asked.

“Yep,” Lee said.

There are a lot of cats in our neighborhood, and I don’t hear about any of them killing birds or chasing mail men. I don’t know why ours turned out so evil, but I’m sure neglect didn’t help.

A couple of nights ago, our next door neighbor, Sandy, knocked on our door around 10 p.m. and said, “Can you get Fish out of my bedroom?”

Fish at Rest

Sandy acquired her father’s black cat a few months ago, and she leaves her front door open so that the cat can come and go. When Sandy went into her bedroom, her cat was comfortably lying on the bed, and our cat, Fish, was lying on the window sill.

“I tried to get Fish to leave, but she wouldn’t, so I sprayed her with a water bottle. I’m sorry,” Sandy said.

“That’s all right,” I said. “Better that than mace.”

Bruce went over to Sandy’s to get our cat and bring her home.

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