“Well, now, let’s have a look at the baby.”
This inquiry had become a regular part of our daily walk.
Every day, I’d load the wee bairn into the buggy and head to a neighbourhood of large properties set on flat streets. Books on new motherhood insisted that babies needed this daily promenade in the fresh air. With this edict in mind, we set off each day. The baby looked marvellous – toasty blankets framing a shining pink button of a face – and took keen interest in the launch of this daily expedition. Powering this barge up the Nile, however, was an ashen faced woman in sweatpants, a baseball cap and, on a good day, matching running shoes. The baby – Claire, my first – invariably and lamentably, fell swiftly asleep. The overarching sky combined with the soporific hum of the wheels knocked the kid out inside of a block. I knew from experience, however, that the wee empress would become her sparkling self – not to mention ravenous – the moment we returned home.
Of all tyrants, babies are the most adorable.
As the blocks rolled by, I couldn’t help but enumerate all the chores I needed to get to when I got home. If I was lucky, Claire would sleep for another hour and I’d have some unfractured time to slay the dust bunnies, summit the laundry pile, and decide if the thing at the back of the fridge was new cheese or vintage mashed potatoes. This baby of mine was colic-y. My days were bleary-eyed.
My decision-making skills had been eroded to that of a squirrel crossing a busy street.
On this daily walk, there was a point where I’d stop and turn around. This happened to be in front of a handsome, old, shingle-sided farmhouse. An elderly man who’d stepped directly off the cover of a James Herriot novel was generally to be found turning compost or staking dahlias. In time, I came to understand that he was a retired general practitioner, which explained his special interest in the baby. There were always questions: “How’s yer milk? Started her on solid foods yet? Och! Teeth already?!” I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a stethoscope dangling over his buttoned up cardigan. The day came when I was invited in for tea. His wife had infirmities that kept her indoors but she’d often waved from the window. The doctor – that’s what even his wife called him – gulped down his tea and returned to battling powdery mildew on the roses leaving me alone to chat with his wife.
She was astonishing. Infirm, yes, but as sharp as could be. Up on everything. Mesmerizing, too. We covered a wide range of topics. And then she stopped. Her eyes may have been locked on Claire, but her question was for me.
“And how is Mom making out?”
I didn’t answer but tears welled in my eyes.
For a moment we listened to the wind jostle the spruce tree outside the open window.
She said it was hard, babies. A surprising amount of work.
I agreed and confided that I felt I was slipping backward on so many things. My writing was all but abandoned and I wondered if I’d ever get back to the gym, let alone have a decent night’s sleep.
She poured me another cup of tea.
“You know,” she said, “Throughout my life, I always worked extra hard each day in hope of gaining a bit of free time the following day.”
“I was well into my 70s before I realized that free time never materialized. Work expands to fill time.”
We were seated at a table strewn with magazines and newspapers; pens and papers. Ashes tumbled out of a fireplace. The room was in a comfortable disarray and spoke of happy diversions. She looked at me with the wide-awake Claire cradled in my arms.
“Life is so short; so uncertain. Just take the time. Just take it.
Don’t be a slave to housework.
Be a slave to joy and experience.
Enjoy your baby.”
Of all the many baby gifts, this is one that neither of us outgrew.
This week’s question for readers:
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU COULD OFFER A NEW PARENT?
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Responses to last week’s question:
WOULD YOUR LANGUAGE LAND YOU IN THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE? ANY ALTERNATIVE WORD CHOICES FOR WHEN YOU STUB YOUR TOE?
My late father in law would say Jiminy Cricket in an effusive tone. It was only later on that the whole family realized that, as a devout Catholic, he could not say Jesus Christ. Today my daughter uses his expression which keeps my sweet father in law’s memory alivePatricia Gray
I have been pretty good about not using really colorful language, especially when my boys were young. Heaven forbid they got caught swearing and said their mom taught them! But the older I get the more I use the S word. I find it really rolls off my tongue and describes everything about the last 18 months. But the F word is reserved for special occasions, like your suitcase got sent to Idaho and not Phoenix. And still, try as I might, that S word keeps popping into my head.Sue Hector
I come by my potty mouth honestly – I worked in a newsroom for many years! But now in polite company I try to exchange that offensive word with the one our Prime Minister’s father once claimed he used – Fuddle Duddle!Jan Mansfield
It was May in 1973 and I was in charge of a geological field party near the Mackenzie River in the NWT. This was one of the first bush camps that had females – a graduate geologist, her assistant, and my wife – the cook’s assistant. About a dozen guys made up the rest of the crew – mainly geologists, students, a pilot, the mechanic, etc. When it came to swearing, the basically-young crew was, at first, on their best behavior and controlled themselves very well when in mixed company – as did the young ladies. Sometimes a lady would exclaim “Sugar!” when everyone knew she meant “S–t!” Whenever one of them let the real word slip out, the cook would spread the word and, since a female used it, it became acceptable in normal bush conversation. So it progressed through the summer. Fortunately, no really obscene words were added to the vocabulary. When camp was finally broken in mid-September, the integrated camp helped show that females did belong in the bush both technically and socially. It was a break-through summer.Mike Murrell
A few years ago, while touring London’s Westminster Abbey, my wife and I entered one of the smaller Royal burial anterooms, where we and about twenty others quietly gathered to view the tomb and artifacts. Breaking the silence, one of the visitors let fly with two sneezes straight into the air. This angered me, and forgetting where I was, exclaimed in a louder-than-planned stage whisper, “Cover your mouth for chrissakes!” I was thankfully spared immediate spontaneous combustion.Warren Korbin
I can completely relate to your article, thank you. My experience with stand-up comedians is a disappointing evening with Whoopi Goldberg. Her show was so foul mouthed it ruined the performance. When I get the urge to express my frustrations, I let go of some really good Dutch swear words: no one understands other than meBert Smulders
In the 1950’s my favorite acceptable expletive was ‘cheese and crackers got all muddy’. Maybe it’s still around?B Morrow