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Archive for October, 2011

I took Edwin to the beach this morning. As he sat on the sand, he watched a man in a floppy hat approach us, and his face lit up. He thought it was his father. It wasn’t. It was our neighbor, Paul, a retired cardiologist.  I can’t fault Eddie for mistaking another man with a hat for “daddy.” It would have been better if that man wasn’t 70.

What a baby sees

“He’s a small child. His vision isn’t fully formed,” I told my husband, Bruce. “He probably sees like insects do, like you’re looking through a kaleidoscope.”

We had Eddie late in life. Bruce is 52 and I’m 48. The funny thing is, I expected people to think we were his grandparents. Instead, I’ll see people my age with a child and assume they’re the parents.

I knew there would be issues with our age. For one thing, my vision is deteriorating. Everything’s become an approximation. My eyeliner looks bolder because I’m no longer able to follow the contour of my lid so I keep drawing and re-drawing the line, making it thicker and thicker with every stroke. I can’t see my toe nails so I dab polish on them like I’m stencil painting, coating the entire top of the toe because I know over time, the shower water will take off the excess. In restaurants if I forget my reading glasses, I’m left to order general food categories. “I’ll have fish.” Or “Get me the chicken.” Subtleties like how it’s cooked are lost.

When we went to visit my mother in Florida, she had a swing for Eddie that she borrowed from a neighbor, but it was missing a piece on the safety belt. I called up Fisher Price and told the customer service representative the name of the toy and the part I needed.

“Model number?” she said.

Need Lemon Juice and a Magic Wand to find Model Number

“Where would it be?” I asked.

“On the inside of the battery casing,” the woman said.

I flipped open the battery case and saw a sticker, but I couldn’t read the numbers on it.

“You really need the model number, huh?”

“We need to make sure we’re sending you the right part,” she said.

I looked again. “It looks like it starts with a ‘4’,” I said. “And then there’s either a “3” or an “F.”

I told her I didn’t need the piece after all.

Last Sunday, we wanted breakfast but also wanted Bloody Mary’s so we walked over to a restaurant we knew in the neighboring town. I went inside and asked the hip young host, who was wearing an earring and a knit hat that looked like a sack, if they served any egg dishes. He handed me a menu. I opened it and immediately started to hold it farther away from my eyes so I could read it, but the young host was staring at me waiting to see if I was going to stay so I moved the menu closer to me and pretended to read it from there. All I could see was the restaurant’s logo. It reminded me of when I arrived at a new junior high school, and I didn’t want to wear my glasses so I would wander the halls half blind, insulting the few friends I’d made because they would wave to me and I would not wave back – because I couldn’t see them.

“We’ll stay,” I said and snapped the menu shut.

It’s not just my sight. It’s my strength. And it’s not that I can’t lift the baby. I can. It’s that after I do, I can’t lift my arms. I think I’ve gotten arthritis from breastfeeding.

The baby has a little rainforest “gym,” which is a mat over which a rainbow and a palm tree criss-cross like two intersecting arches, creating a cozy little sanctuary underneath. There are rings that run along the underside of the arches from which you can hang little toys like stuffed parrots or butterflies for the baby to bat around. A couple of weeks ago, I put the baby down underneath the trees and then slid under there, myself, to see what it was like. We lay next to each other staring up at the fake palm leaves, and after a couple of minutes, I could see why he cries when I leave him there: it’s tedious. The silk butterflies look silly, and the music box keeps playing “Skip to My Lou,” over and over again. But when I tried to get out from under the apparatus, I couldn’t. My body didn’t seem to want to move that way. I was wedged between Eddie on the one side and the palm trees on the other. I had to push the child out from under the trees and then stand up, bringing the whole apparatus up in the air with me so that I could let it slide down my body like a hula hoop.

When I was still pregnant, I visited a fellow writer who has two children, and I accompanied her when she went to pick them up at school. The boy was young and sweet, as boys are, but the girl looked at me suspiciously, almost with contempt. I thought she was wondering why someone as old as me would be pregnant.

“Do I look old to you?” I asked. “Go on. You can tell me. If you saw me picking up one of your friends at school, would you think, ‘Oh, there’s so-and-so’s mother,’ or would you think, ‘Wow, is that really so-and-so’s mother?’ Look how old she is!’ “

I don’t remember what she said because I don’t think I really asked her. I know I wanted to.

New York magazine did a cover story last month on how an increasing number of people are having children in their fifties. The cover photo was a profile of a naked pregnant woman   – a la Demi Moore’s Vanity Fair cover  — but her face was that of a 60-something-year old woman. The article, itself, entitled, “Parents of a Certain Age” raised people’s ire, but I’ll bet it was the photo that incited them to post 266 nasty comments on the magazine’s web site. I knew I shouldn’t read them, that they would only make me feel bad, but I was like that young priest in the movie, The Exorcist, who is warned not to listen to the devil who would try to speak to him through the young girl who was possessed, but he couldn’t help himself. He listened as the devil spoke to him in his mother’s voice and asked him why he’d left her to die. I poured through the comments on the magazine’s web page and read as they called older parents “selfish!” and said things like, “Menopause is for a reason!” One commenter, writing under the pseudonym, Madworld, said, “What could be more selfish than having a child when you will knowingly leave the child/children prematurely parentless or worse, unnecessarily burdened with having to care for your old, selfish ass?”

I posted a comment of my own, saying, “I had a child at 47. I don’t think I was selfish to do that. My child may be sad when his parents die earlier than those of his friends, and that’s something that pains me, but hopefully all the love and caring and nurturing he gets before that point will make up for it.” Five people gave my comment a “Thumbs Up,” perhaps because they, too, had a child when they were older or knew someone who did.

What I didn’t say in my comment was that my father died when he was just 62, leaving me fatherless at 38. He missed my wedding. He never met my son. It broke my heart. But he had his children young. It’s all a crap shoot.

In some ways, Eddie is lucky to have older parents. With age comes a maturity, a centeredness, a sense of perspective and well being that younger parents may not have. At least in theory. We also wanted him so badly having gone without him for so long, the way someone stranded on a desert island might appreciate his first meal back home, that it’s hard to imagine he could be more loved.

He dines to Mrs. Robinson

He will also benefit from the fact that my husband and I grew up at a time when the world was a richer, safer place, when people played kick ball at the bus stop and you could trick or treat without an escort, when music was more melodious and chocolate tasted like chocolate, and when plastic bags at the grocery store weren’t so thin they ripped right through when you stuck a potato or a lemon inside. My son eats breakfast to Cat Stevens and Leonard Cohen and dinner to Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Young. He learned to dance to Santana, and when he’s upset, we put on Marlo Thomas’s album, “Free to Be, You and Me,” and it calms him. I plan on taking him to a local pinball hall tomorrow to play “Asteroids,” and I’ll soon introduce him to the album, “Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow…Right!” the comedian’s debut album, which features his classic skit, a conversation between Noah and God.

I sometimes sit on the kitchen floor with Eddie and telephone him on a gourd I’ve plucked out of a bowl full of squash and potatoes that sits on the counter.

Old-style telephone

“Ding-a-ling-a-ling,” I say, holding the S-shaped gourd up to my ear as if it’s the telephone’s ear piece. “Hello? You want to speak to Edwin Joseph? Why he’s right here.”

I then hand Edwin the phone, and he holds it up to his ear and listens and is poised to speak, even though he has no idea what an old-style telephone looks like. I know some of the cultural references he’ll learn will only be located in our house. He won’t be able to find them outside or at school. I don’t have a problem with that.

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I like taking the baby shopping. It doesn’t matter what kind – grocery shopping, clothes shopping, even going to Home Depot. We get a change of scenery, some fresh air and he gets a nice nap in the car, which gives me a couple of minutes to relax and hear my own thoughts, listen to a radio program, maybe even get a cup of coffee and drink it while it’s still hot.

But every excursion is a bit of a juggling act. I have to load up the heavy car seat, one of our three strollers, the diaper bag and my knapsack. I used to carry my money and a credit card in my back pocket because I didn’t want to carry a pocket book. Now, I’m lugging so many bags, I look like a donkey.  I’ve seen women carry the baby in the car seat like they’re going to grandmother’s house carrying a picnic basket. I look like a cartoon sketch of a weight lifter trying to raise a kettle bell that’s too heavy.Cartoon Clipart

And once we’re packed up, I’m still trying to figure out how to operate everything in our new family car. How do I turn on the lights? Why do the windshield wipers keep going on? How do I adjust my side view mirror? With so much to remember, I often forget things. Twice last week, I carried the baby out to the car in my arms and opened the door, only to realize I had nowhere to put him. His car seat was inside the house.

So tight he can't unbend his legs

The other day, we decided to go to Carter’s clothing store because the baby has outgrown all of his long-sleeved onesie’s. He’s now eight-and-a-half months, and I’ve been squeezing him into clothes meant for a six-month old. He looks like a super hero who’s eaten too much.

As a treat, I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru on the way there to get a hot cup of coffee. Still not used to our new car, I got in the drive thru line behind a car already at the window, and I accidently hit my horn. Twice. The driver looked at me in his side view mirror. I shrugged my shoulders and mouthed the word, “Sorry.” And then under my breath said, “Sort of.” He had already gotten his order and was lingering in the lane longer than he should have.

Umbrella Stroller

When we got to Carter’s, I pulled the umbrella stroller out of the trunk and put the baby inside. An umbrella stroller, as it sounds, has arms that curve like a candy cane or, well, an umbrella. What it doesn’t have is a cup holder in which to place your coffee. Moreover, the wheels wobble, making it almost impossible to push it in a straight line with just one hand. But I tried, holding my coffee in one hand and steering the stroller with the other.

With both hands full, I got to the door of Carter’s and had no way of opening it. Thankfully, someone was walking out of the store as I approached.

Once inside, I put the coffee down and flipped through a rack of terry cloth and fleece onesies and plucked out six outfits. I picked up my coffee and headed for the register.  As I paid for everything, the baby started flipping around in the stroller like a fish on a dock. By the time I was done at the register, he had turned his body almost 180 degrees and was facing the back of the stroller. I wheeled him  off to the side of the register and sat down on the floor in front of him to flip him back around and tighten the straps that held him in. But the straps were wrapped around the plastic buckles in such a way that they were impossible to adjust. I sat on the floor by the register for about 10 minutes trying to extricate the strap from the buckle while Eddie sat in the stroller playing with his pacifier and my car keys.

We camped out under this rack

After a  minute or two, a young blonde girl, who was about two-and-a-half, walked over and stood next to Eddie’s stroller and stared at him. Eddie gave her a big smile. She didn’t smile back, but she didn’t leave. She just stood over his stroller looking at him.

“What’s your name,” I asked her.

“Belkjoirhe,” she said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“BJkowjlkwj,” she said.

It sounded something like Brie-an-yer, but I couldn’t tell. Why can’t people give their kids normal monosyllabic names like Ann or Beth, like they did when I was growing up?

Within seconds of me talking to her, the girl’s mother was upon us.

“C’mon, BJkowjlkwj ,” the woman said and dragged the girl away as if I was a pedophile. Sitting on the floor looking up at them, I felt a little like a pedophile.

I went back to trying to fix the strap. Moments later, the girl was back. Again, Eddie smiled at her and again she just stood there looking at him. She was clearly intrigued. Soon, her mother was back.

“BJkowjlkwj. Come look at these,” she said, showing the girl a pair of socks. The girl followed behind her mother as the two walked off.

I started to tell Eddie something about women and clothes and how with some of them, shopping will trump everything, but before I could say anything, the girl was back. She looked down at the keys Eddie was holding and started to reach out for them.

“They’re just keys,” I said. “I’m sure your mother has a set. Why don’t you ask her?”

As the girl reached out for Eddie’s keys, he dropped his pacifier on the floor. The girl knelt down and picked it up and stuck it in his mouth.

He already has a way with the ladies

“Good girl,” I said.

Just then, her mother appeared from around a clothes rack. “BJkowjlkwj! Don’t touch other children’s things!” she said. I wasn’t sure if she was concerned for the safety of my child or her own. She then took the girls hand and led her away.

I struggled with the strap another minute or two and then gave up. I stood up, grabbed my coffee and began pushing the stroller toward the door, the bag of clothing I’d just bought dangling from one of the stroller’s arms, but as I pushed through the door, it swung back and knocked my arm, sending coffee all over the bag of new clothes. I started pulling the clothes out of the bag so the coffee running down the inside wouldn’t reach them. I crumpled up the bag and stuffed it into a garbage pail and then threw the cup of coffee on top of it.

The bench and garbage outside Carter's

I walked back to the stroller, tucked the ball of clothing under my arm, and began pushing it forward, but the

front wheels kept turning sideways, stopping the stroller from moving forward. I’d jiggle the front of the stroller until the wheels straightened out so that I could start moving again. When I was about 10 feet from the store I remembered my sales receipt and a coupon for 20% off my next purchase were inside the bag. I went back and stuck my hands down into the garbage. As I fished around for the bag, I noticed some people sitting on a bench next to the pail. It was the young girl and her mother. I looked at them and was tempted to say, “I’m just the babysitter,” but I didn’t. I just turned around and started pushing the stroller forward. And when the front wheels turned sideways I pressed on, even as the wheels scraped against the floor and, like a shovel, collected all the gum wrappers and cigarette butts in my path.

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I came home recently to find a squirrel had left a small, half-eaten potato on my porch. He ate the fluffy inside but left behind the skin and a thick layer of potato meat. He’d apparently tried to eat the skin, too, but must have found it unsatisfactory because he kept spitting it out, leaving behind a spattering of peel that looked like confetti.

My husband, Bruce, said he was walking by our neighbor’s house last spring when a bagel came flying out of the sky and clocked him in the head. He then heard the distinctive cackling of a squirrel in the tree above.

Vicious

“At first I thought maybe he dropped it,” Bruce said. “But I saw he had taken a bite. He obviously didn’t want the rest of it.”

Our friend, Patti, says she found half-eaten pizza bagels in a basket on her porch three days in a row.

The squirrels have always been pests. But in the last few years, it feels like they’ve been terrorizing our little town. They dig up the bulbs in spring. In the summer, they pluck tomatoes right off the vine at their peak ripeness, they take a bite, and then chuck them. In the fall, they’ll gnaw right through pumpkins and eat the kernels off of decorative Indian corn. And last winter, I’d left a box of home-made Christmas cookies on the porch of our friend, Joyce, who was out. When she returned, she thanked me but said she wasn’t sure what I’d given her. All she found was an empty box, a few scraps of tissue paper and a raisin.

I recently saw a squirrel feasting on someone’s garbage. Actually, all I saw was his derriere. He had savagely ripped open the garbage bag and had his head so far inside as he gorged himself that all I could see was his furry moon-shaped bottom. He was so busy, he didn’t see me until I was almost upon him. At that point, he pulled out his head, dropped the large yellow-stained something or other from his mouth – he had so mutilated it, I couldn’t tell what it was — and then ran.

To date, most of my interactions with squirrels have been predictable. I’m bigger than they are so they ruin my stuff when I’m not around, but as soon as I appear, they run. But last week, I encountered a squirrel that made me wonder whether the squirrels may soon have their day here. I was pushing Eddie in his stroller on the boardwalk when it began to rain, so we headed back into town to go home. I knew there were a few places along the route under which we could seek shelter in case it started to pour. Sure enough, it began to rain, and so we tucked ourselves under an outdoor wooden staircase at a church. The space under the staircase was shaped like an arch, and it was beautiful to peer out from under it. The lawns and bushes were glistening green with water. All the foliage was bushy and lush from days of rain.

We sought refuge under the stairs

As I looked out at the grass, I saw a squirrel slowly heading toward us. He was about 50 feet away. I pointed him out to Eddie, who is awed by anything that moves. I watched the squirrel inch forward a bit, and I kept still so that he would get closer, enabling Eddie to get a good, clear look. The squirrel did get closer, and closer, and closer, moving within 15 feet of us before he stopped. He moved in another couple of inches and then stopped. He moved in another couple of inches and then stopped. And every time he’d stop, he’d stand high on his hind legs giving us a clear frontal view of his gristlywhite belly and his front paws and long black nails that would just dangle in the air. I’d never seen a squirrel’s body and paws so clearly. They’re usually moving around a lot, and it’s all a blur. This one showed himself in all his rodent grandeur, and he seemed to have an arrogance, like he was saying, I’m not afraid of you. I will come over and bite if I want.

When he was about five feet away, he suddenly took a left and ran up the trunk of an oak tree that stood right in front of us. He started to move up the trunk on the far side but then swung around to the side nearest us and stopped. He then glared at us. I took a step toward him, stomping my foot on the ground as I moved forward. I expected the squirrel to run up the tree, but he just stood there.  I took another step closer and then lunged my body toward him. He didn’t even flinch.

I saw a photograph in the newspaper the other day of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaking to the country’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, and in it, Putin is leaning in toward Medvedev, and Medvedev is leaning backward, like he was trying to get away. The caption read, “Medvedev is Russia’s president, but Putin holds the power.” I felt like Medvedev.

I took one more step toward the squirrel and pretended I was about to run toward him, but he didn’t flinch. He not only stood his ground, but he moved a couple of steps toward us. I turned to Eddie, and said, “Let’s go,” and I grabbed his stroller and ran out into the rain before the squirrel attacked.

A few days later, I was walking the baby near the spot where we had seen the squirrel when I bumped into a friend. As we stood talking, a squirrel started to move toward us.

“Have you seen these squirrels? They’re crazy!” I said.

I watched as the squirrel moved toward us, completely unafraid. It was unnatural.

“See that? ” I said, pointing at it. “They don’t run away. Do you think they’re rabid?”

“Rabid?!?” she laughed. “Nooooo! People feed them all summer. That’s why they’re not afraid.”

It’s hard to distinguish sometimes between friendly and crazy.

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