Baby Steps

The daughter is prepping for the new baby. Just the first of a billion little kindnesses.

The lovely and patient older daughter has reached a tipping point in her pregnancy. She ho-ho-ho’s when she laughs, and cups her pretty hands around her belly, a tribute to Santa, I suppose, or to overtly pregnant moms everywhere, including her own mother, who always seemed pregnant when the older daughter was a child, from the ages of 2 till 19 – always pregnant; she can hardly remember a time when her mother was not.

In tribute, the lovely and patient older daughter cups her hands around her pregnant belly as if supporting a rare and delicate vase.

Due in May, my older daughter is reaching another tipping point, in that she looks as though she might somersault forward, ala Willy Wonka, a forward roll favoring the shoulder, then bounce to her feet and waddle off, the way Wonka did.

My pregnant daughter has more hormones than a Korean boy band. I suspect she could shear off her cinnamon mane, then grow another by this afternoon.

I sit on the couch next to her, basking in her motherliness. She might be visible from space, there on the couch, her hands cupped beneath her belly, next to the proud old guy who – from a distance – looks to be … Colonel Sanders, perhaps?

FYI, I felt the baby move last weekend. For the first time ever, her belly is moving more than mine.

So, all good on the grandkid front. My daughter and her new husband, Finn, who’s more Irish than a bar brawl, are fixing up the nursery, picking the palette from 20 smears on the wall, one of which might be ketchup.

They have posted sample fabrics too…burlap, tweed, cozy cottons, wisps of cumulus clouds. Pretty clear this nursery will be, “All of a piece.”

These are just the initial acts of a very long life devoted to a new child. No one should underestimate the poignancy of being a parent, nor the expense … the burdens, the epic altruism, the unacknowledged tiny gestures, the billion little kindnesses that go into a raising someone small. Makes us better people, if it doesn’t kill us.

At this juncture, our family is an Arthur Miller play. On the left side of the stage, two newlyweds, joyously prepping for a first child. When that goes dark, Smartacus and I appear on the other side of the stage, in a heated discussion about whether he could ever manage to pick up a single sock.

“One lousy sock!” I scream. “That’s all I ask! One lousy sock!”

“Jeeesh, Dad, it’s just a sock.”

There’s “Daddyhood” — a tragic-comedy, a one-act play. Thank you for coming. Drive safe.

Feeling paternal himself, Smartacus has been working with our pet wolf lately, and has managed to teach her to unwind herself from light poles while out on a leash.

“Other way,” he says, and White Fang circles in the opposite direction.

That’s pretty impressive. We start out as the sediment of stars, and work our way to this cool trick, the bonding of a boy and his wolf 4.5 billion years later. Please don’t tell me there is no God.

And off they go like this, dancing down the boulevard on their frequent walks. Young love is so wonderful. These two; they could be a Hallmark movie.

Smartacus and White Fang, a relationship based on 4.5 billion years of evolution

If I sound envious, I am. I’ve been trying to teach White Fang tricks too — to lean into me while we wait at stop lights, so I can feel her, warm and reassuring against my leg. No luck so far.

In fact, the only thing I’ve been able to teach White Fang is to come running when I drop a spoon or fork in the kitchen, so she can clean the schmutz off the floor. As with Smartacus’ sock, one step at a time.

Don’t get me wrong. She’s a lovely wolf, full of bounce and vigor. No sign of a brain, at least so far, but she makes up for that with a magnificent, feather duster tail.

Indeed, Lady Gaga could start an entire clothing line based on the whimsy of this dog’s tail. A bikini maybe, or a line of designer hankies. I find it really difficult to take her seriously…the wolf, I mean.

OK, both, if you want the truth.

Look, who am I to make judgments? I’m nothing normal. I prefer Kool-Aid to Coke….Popular Mechanics to the New Yorker. I consider an apple fritter to be a fruit.

So anyway, the newlyweds have their lives, Smartacus and I have ours, two opposite ends of the parenting paradigm — theirs hopeful and effervescent, mine wistful and hyper-aware that all the milestones pass too quickly. Kids are comets. Look quick, there goes another one….

In all his theories, Einstein never explained that, did he? Or that – over time – parenthood changes, and the warp speed at which the kids vanish into the cosmos.

Keeps you on our toes, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, the furnace kicked on again the other morning, and it was like the house was snoring.

And I thought, “Wow, soon that will be the only sound. How nice!”

Yet I know the autumn quiet will unsettle me, and I’ll walk the wolf a lot, and take her on boat trips to Catalina, and stage coach rides to Vegas, where we’ll catch early floor shows with the other retirees, glancing about the showroom, nodding in appreciation. “Quite a show, right? Where you from? Peoria? Is that a city or a punchline?” 

Maybe I’ll date a little.

I always assumed that, in retirement, I would spend most of my days being seduced by wealthy women seeking companionship in exchange for their support of “the arts.”

That has largely worked out. In my free time, I go from mansion to mansion mowing lawns, picking flowers and running bubble baths for the silvery baronesses who live in them. Brentwood. San Marino. Bel Air. Not getting much writing done, but the bubble baths are fantastic.

Be still, my prairie heart!

Sometimes, I toss the fresh-cut flowers right in the tub. “Madam, your bubbly is ready,” I say in my flippy Illinois twang.

Baronesses love that.

So I sit at the edge of the tub, tossing in flowers and reading stolen love poems, wiping my brow in the steam heat of an August-December romance:

To gaze at your dark eyes
what would I give
Dawns of rainbow garnet  
fanning open before God— 

And to kiss your pure …

Well, you get the drill.

As Groucho said, the secret to life is honesty and fair dealing.

And if you can fake that, you’ve really got it made.

Come to our Super Bowl bash if you can. We’ll Zoom it a few days before the Feb. 7 game. Date and time to be announced next week. A couple of my friends will join in as I make gumbo, and there will be a trivia contest, Super Bowl drink recipes – The Ditka! the Lombardi! Plus live music (I hope). Meanwhile, please stock up on books, gin glasses and hiking club swag, as a way of supporting our little team. Info here. Cheers!

9 thoughts on “Baby Steps

  1. Pregnancy moments, dog tricks, Arthur Miller, Gaga, baronesses….Your breadth of subject matter astounds me once again. And sprinkled through it all, little gems of poignant insight and masterful turns of phrase. Your talent as a philosopher Dad and writer exceeds the confines of this platform. I feel blessed you choose to share your thoughts with us here twice a week, Chris. Thank you!

  2. The undercurrent of sadness in your writing seems to be easing. I sure hope so. For me it’s been twelve years since my wife’s death and the memory still intrudes at random moments.

  3. It is when you wax uncommonly lyrical about the common things, that I love your writing the most, ergo you. I sense the roaring in your mind is beginning to subside, the frantic busyness of it less each moment’s imperative, and that the exquisite philosophical distance between life and art so manifest in your Celtic genes will increasingly occupy your waking moments. Writing things like this in the early morning hours, you seem to be evolving before our eyes into the philosopher scribe of our generation’s zeitgeist, a title your uncommon common sensibility would instantly–probably bawdily–reject. Just have another beer, to go with those you’ve already had, you would say.. But I think not. Age is like wine, and I feel you drinking more of the good stuff every day, while of course not eschewing the Kool Aid, dive bars, libertine barks of your muse–hey, a guy’s gotta live, you know. I look foreword to the work to come; and to a stream-of consciousness hike with you and other minions of our circumstance when the fog of Covid lifts off our fair hills…

  4. I’ve always loved the quote by Claire Dunphy (Modern Family) about parenthood. “Raising a kid is like sending a rocket ship to the moon. You spend the early years in constant contact. And then one day, around the teenage years, they go around the dark side and they’re gone. And all you can do is wait for that faint signal that says they’re coming back.”

  5. Bask in the glow emanating from your daughter, rejoicing in every aspect until she delivers that final precious miracle from Heaven! When Iwas a young mother, older mothers would tell me to enjoy every minute as I was wrestling with three kids hanging from a shopping cart balancing groceries on my head. But they were right, all of a sudden the house is empty and you’re wondering how did it go by at light speed.Then the miracle of grandchildren, and you get to do it all again, but at a sweet distance. Enjoy,enjoy! PS Kool Aid is still good and was a special treat we were afforded at my Grandmother’s house!

  6. I guess you missed Gaga’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the Inauguration? The moment when she turned to the flag as she sang, “Our flag was still there.” Chills, I tell you. Hard not to take that seriously.

  7. No sign of a brain, so far…but who’s living almost rent free, and who’s the one working to put a roof over her head? She seems to be smart enough to have figured her life out.

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