My husband, Bruce, gets home at around 6.30 p.m. every night, so that leaves me about nine hours a day — not counting when the babysitter is here — in which I must entertain my 11-month-old, Eddie, before Bruce gets home to help. Nine hours may not seem like a long time, but if the person with whom you’re spending it needs 100% of your attention for 100% of that time, nine hours can seem like a lifetime. It’s for that reason that I like to have activities planned. If I don’t, we’ll both wind up on the kitchen floor playing with pots and wooden spoons until I start reading my email on my iPhone and Eddie starts whining from boredom. I had a cashmere sweater to return to Macy’s so a trip to the mall seemed like a nice outing for both of us.
We got an early start and arrived at Macy’s before it opened. As we stood in the vestibule waiting for a store employee to unlock the door, an older woman with a rubbery face who was also waiting approached Eddie and began to smile and wave. He flashed her a big toothy smile, as he always does.
“Well aren’t you a cutie! Look at that smile!” she said. They all say that.
Eddie’s grown accustomed to this response, so much so that he wants people to look at him so that he can flash them a toothy grin to elicit that response. When we were in Boston last month, he stared at a young salesgirl for so long waiting for her to glance over at him, I eventually had to tap her on the shoulder and ask her to look at him so he could flash her a smile, which he promptly did.
“Look at that smile. Well, aren’t you a cutie,” she said.
They opened the doors to Macy’s and with the store virtually empty, I returned the sweater in under a minute. That left eight hours and fifty-five minutes until my husband got home. Next door to Macy’s was a Barnes and Noble bookstore, a place I liked to go before Eddie was born, but I couldn’t imagine him quietly reading a magazine while I sipped coffee and wrote my blog, like I used to do. But I had to give him breakfast, and Barnes and Noble seemed a better place to feed him than sitting on a bench in the middle of the mall.
I wheeled Eddie over to the counter to get a coffee and some silverware because I couldn’t find the baby spoon I usually carry in the diaper bag. The young girl behind the counter handed me plastic utensils, but I told her I would be using the fork to mash a banana into oatmeal so I needed a metal one. She went into the store’s private stash. I swore I’d give it back. She also gave me a metal spoon, but it was a soup spoon. I can make waves only once. I took the soup spoon even though I knew it would be too wide for his mouth.
When I got Eddie set up in a high-chair, it seemed easier to give him the yogurt I had than to mash up the banana and mix it up with the oatmeal. But as I took the yogurt out of the bag, Eddie began to whine and kick and screech. I became very uncomfortable. I have a strong physical reaction when he fusses in public. My heart rate rises. My face turns flush. I want to crawl out of my skin. It’s probably because I’m acutely aware of how disturbing a baby’s cries can be because, frankly, I was the person who was bothered by it – before I had a child. I hated the parents who would inflict their screaming child on everyone else, like one might hate the parent of the kid who’s kicking the back of your seat on an airplane. My strong reaction to his fussing is either from that, or it’s genetic. My mother would almost break out in hives if we misbehaved in public. She once stormed out of a restaurant and walked the four miles home because we were blowing the wrappers off of our straws at the table.
I quickly ripped open the yogurt and stuck a spoonful in Eddie’s mouth. It calmed him down. I dug into the container and pulled out another spoonful, but the spoon was so big, the yogurt came out in a huge mound. He began to cry so I stuck the mound in his mouth, and again it calmed him down. I got out another huge spoonful, and another, trying to pre-empt the crying.
After breakfast, I decided to change Eddie’s diaper. I put my knapsack over my back and the diaper bag over my shoulder. I grabbed Eddie with my free arm and carried him into the bathroom like a football. I headed toward the large stall in the back, which had a diaper changing table. I didn’t want to put Eddie directly onto the table because I feared it was covered in germs so I grabbed a toilet seat liner from the box hanging on the wall, but the liner got stuck in the box, and I only managed to get a small piece of it in my hand. Still holding Eddie, I took the shred of paper, put it down on the diaper table, and placed Eddie on top of it. The paper was so small, it covered just the back of one butt cheek and a thigh.
With the diaper bag still on my shoulder, I tried to grab a diaper and the wipes out of the bag, but as I did, Eddie tried to turn over on the changing table. I pushed his shoulder down so that he was once again flat on his back, but every time I tried to get the diaper under his butt, he would start to flip over like a fish on a dock. I eventually ripped the tags off an outfit I’d just bought him in Macy’s and handed them to him. He loves tags. He promptly stuck them in his mouth.
When I was done changing him, I realized I now had to go to the bathroom, so still balancing the knapsack and the diaper bag on my back and shoulders – because I didn’t want to put anything down on the floor of the stall — I grabbed Eddie again like a football and walked over to the toilet and tried to pull my pants down with my free hand. I realized it was not going to be possible to keep everything suspended in the air so I gave in and placed everything down on the floor, including my son. He immediately began to crawl toward the divider between my stall and the adjacent one, so I scooped him up and held him as I stooped over the toilet. I put him down again, pulled up my pants quickly, and then picked everything up and walked over to the sink. I placed Eddie and the bags in the middle of the counter as I washed my hands, but when I went to reach for a paper towel, the dispenser was out of my reach. I leaned toward it as far as I could, trying to keep my body in front of Eddie so he wouldn’t fall off the counter, but it was too far away. I felt like Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, who claimed she inadvertently erased part of the Watergate tapes because she answered the phone while transcribing them. Skeptics said that for her to have answered the phone while keeping her foot on the pedal of the transcription machine would have required her body to stretch so far, only a super hero like “Rubber Woman,” could have achieved such a feat.
When we came out of the bathroom, I wheeled Eddie through the bookstore and paused by the magazines, but he started to cry so I pushed him over to the children’s section and began pulling out children’s books.
“Look, it’s the Grinch,” I said, picking up “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
“Oooh, ooh, look at this,” I said, as I wheeled him past a shelf filled with stuffed animals called “Ugly Dolls,” which seemed to be part rabbit, part dog and part monster. I plucked a pastel blue one off the shelf. He grabbed it and began to gnaw on one of its ears. I picked up an orange one and handed it to him. He looked at it and grabbed it, tossing the blue one aside. I then gave him a yellow one and a red one. I lined them all up in front of him.
“Which do you like best,” I said.
He paused, looked at each one, and grabbed the orange one.
“The orange one it is,” said a woman who was walking by.
“For now,” I said. Sure enough, his love affair with the orange doll ended in less than a minute, and he began to whine and kick his feet in his stroller. My heart rate began to rise again, and I left Barnes and Noble quickly, like an arsonist walking hastily away from a fire he’s just set.
I pushed Eddie’s carriage down the center hallway of the mall, feeling like a heel for being uncomfortable about my child’s behavior, when I saw a sign that said “Kid City.” I remembered the fanciful play area at the Freehold Raceway Mall and was surprised to see that my local mall had something similar. I felt I owed it to Eddie to let him have a bit of a romp. I imagined hearing his laughter as he ran from monkey bars to a little kiddie tunnel and then over to a bouncing horse, or whatever toys they might have. I envisioned mounds of multi-colored balls into which little children were jumping and squealing, and Eddie just watching it all with wonder.
I pushed Eddie for what seemed like half a mile, turning left and then right and then left again as I followed the arrows on the signs pointing toward “Kid City.” We stopped briefly at the Disney Store,where Eddie knocked over a display of little dogs and the placard in front of them, before we were on our way again. After a while, I took Eddie out of his carriage and let him push it himself. He likes to do that, push the carriage like a walker, as he walks behind it in his little feetie pajamas with a gait that’s as smooth as Lurch or Frankenstein. Every now and again, we’d pass someone who would pause and say, “Will you look at that,” and Eddie would stop, flash them a smile, and they’d say, “Oh, isn’t he cute.” He’d then move on until we reached the next person who would pause and say, “Will you look at that.”
As we neared the end of the mall, by the movie theater, I saw it there on the horizon like a beacon, bold letters that said, “Kid City.” But Kid City wasn’t a playground. It was a store. It wasn’t even a toy store. It was a discount clothing store that carried things like school uniforms and children’s furniture.
Disappointed, I turned the stroller around and started to head back toward Macy’s where we had parked our car when I saw a cluster of little amusement rides that move slightly up and down or from side to side, but usually not both. Eddie pushed his carriage over there and walked right up to a burgundy colored airplane. I sat him down on the seat and as I was about to put the $.75 into the slot, I noticed a sign that said, “Children must be three years of age to go on this ride.” I paused, brushed it off as a silly legal precaution, and dropped the money in. As the ride started pulsing up and down, Eddie began to slide from side to side on the seat. I could see his little hand was holding on to the seat next to him. His knuckles were white. I stood over him holding him up. When the ride finished, I grabbed him and put him on the floor. I was afraid to put him on another ride. But as I put him on the ground, he crawled over to a ride that was shaped like a hot dog truck. He climbed inside and stood up in front of a control panel and fingered some of the buttons until he spotted a little piece of bread, possibly a hot dog bun, on the floor. He dropped down and crawled over to pick it up. I grabbed it out of his hand three times before calling it a day and putting him back in the stroller. I gave him my car keys to divert his attention.
I pushed him back through the mall and out the door by Macy’s. As we headed through the parking lot, I could hear a car horn beeping. I stopped and looked around for the origin of the sound because I feared it was someone about to pull out of a parking spot, no doubt talking on a cell phone, and that they would fail to see me and the stroller. My eyes moved from car to car, but I saw nothing, until we approached my car, and I saw the tail lights flashing on and off. The beeping car was ours. Eddie had the car keys in his mouth and was gnawing on the key pad. When I reached for the keys, my phone fell. I picked it up. 11:00 a.m. Seven-and-a-half hours until my husband gets home.