I had canceled and postponed a meeting with a friend several times. The last time we talked, I agreed to see him at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday night for a drink and a short meeting. As we made the plans, he said: “Nazy Jan, are you sure you’re not going to change our appointment again? chand dafeh mano peechoondi ha! (You have gone AWOL on me several times!). I assured him I meant it this time and that I would show up to our meeting all ears. I even called him at around 5:30 p.m. on Thursday night to let him know that I would be driving into Berkeley to see him at 8:30 p.m. I peeled myself away from my work at around 6:30 to get ready.
At 7:30, just as I finished getting dressed the doorbell rang. I thought it must be one of my son’s many friends. Nobody ever drops in on me anymore. My friends and family know better! I heard my son calling me and asking me to come to the door. I saw Katie, the young woman who lives next door. Standing in the doorway, she had her baby, Danny, in her arms when I arrived at the scene. Katie, who is a single mother, seemed relieved to see me. She spoke quickly. Something about an emergency with her friend at the hospital…she had to go to her immediately…would I watch baby Danny while she was gone…for a couple of hours…
Before I knew it, she handed me Danny, and came in to drop off three bags, bottles of frozen breast milk and some general instructions about how to thaw and serve them to Danny, cloth diapers and special baby wipes, rice cereal, toys, her cell phone number, and she was gone.
First things first, I called my friend to come up with my outrageous new excuse for not being able to meet him as planned. I so wished I had a better story to tell him, something that wouldn’t sound like I was just making this up as I was going along! My only saving grace was that as soon as I started talking to him, little Danny who had all of a sudden figured out that he was with a perfect stranger, started to scream and cry. Saved by the baby…or was I?
I tried to take stock of the situation. Searching my mothering days memories, I was trying to remember when was the last time I had held a baby in my arms…Oh God, a looong time ago, I thought. Danny is about eight months old. He is the cutest baby when he is in his mother’s arms and sees me passing coming and going into the house. He felt solid and compact in my arms. He had pretty good lungs judging by the loud screams he was producing. I tried shifting him in my arms to see if there was a position he liked better, hoping to see him stop crying. Nothing doing. He was mad as hell at this foreign looking woman who sounded, felt, and probably smelled differently from his mother and his grandmother.
I had an idea…how about if we watch something together Danny? Well, some things are easier said than done! I haven’t watched TV in four years. I wouldn’t know how to turn on our TV set with all the electronic gadgets my son has attached to it, nor which remote control to use to turn on the damn thing. So, I thought, let’s go watch YouTube, Danny! I inched us over to my usual seat at the dinner table from where I work these days. “Danny, what would you like to watch?” I asked myself, really. How about Babar? My kids used to love Babar! I quickly found an episode of the beloved cartoon on YouTube and clicked on play. Danny screamed the loudest he had so far. O.K. How about Tom and Jerry then? I doubted I could go wrong with Tom and Jerry! Well, guess again! He hated me, my house, my computer, and Tom and Jerry!
I started remembering my days with babies a little bit more clearly! Heeh! I kept telling myself that I have done this before, I have been through the drill, I know how to handle a baby. I raised two, though truth be told, the details were really sketchy some 20 years later! I remembered one thing really well, though! Anxiety is contagious! If I let him get to me, I will be stressed out and he would pick up the stress and give it right back to me!
I tried thawing and warming the frozen breast milk, the way I recalled Katie explaining it. God, am I doing it right? What if I mess up and hurt the baby in the process? I finally managed to put the milk in the bottle. Danny didn’t want any part in this! O.K. What now? I remembered the toys Katie had shown me in one of the bags. I pulled them out and held them in front of Danny. He reached for a colorful ring and just as I was going to start thanking my lucky stars for my smarts, he started a whole new wave of screams.
Tears were escaping his blue eyes and making his cute but contorted tiny face wet. O.K. What now? “You know what, Danny?” I said quickly. “You and I are going for a walk.” I was mad I hadn’t asked for his stroller. I put his green blanket around him and left the house, aimlessly walking up the little hill outside my complex toward some of the other homes. I laughed at myself for having lived in my house for three years and not once having ever walked out in that direction! O.K. We will have a night-time field trip in the dark! I walked around with the screaming baby for a good 30 minutes. He wasn’t going to love me for sure, and he wasn’t going to stop crying. We returned to the house.
I tried the milk bottle scenario again. Nothing doing. I tried the pacifier. Nope. I was getting mad at my son for having disappeared on me, too! At least he could have given me moral support! I looked in the bags again, trying to find something useful. Teething medicine for his sore gums…I looked at the plastic bag which contained the vial and the applicator…man, there was no way I could open this package, read the directions, and apply the medicine on his gums with one hand…forget it! Extra clothes, diapers, wipes, and…what do we have here?! A couple of baby books, two of which were plastic ones…and the third one was a tiny book made with thick cardboard pages…which book is it? Oh My! It was Guess How Much I Love You… A flood of memories engulfed me.
I was temporarily separated from my children in the ’90’s. I remember buying two copies of this book, giving one to my younger son and keeping the other. I remember reading him the book many times over the static of the long distance phone calls. Something about the memory and the comfort that the words in the book had offered all those years ago reassured me. Here was one thing, one item, one concept, which was familiar to me.
I started reading Danny the book. He kept screaming, but I wouldn’t stop reading the book. His compact little frame felt taut and tense in my arms. I knew of nothing else to do but to keep on reading the book: “I love you as high as I can reach…I love you all the way up to my toes…I love you across the river and over the hills…” Was it my imagination, or did I feel the little body relax in my arms? I ended the book amidst Danny’s tears and started to read it all over again. “I love you right up to the moon and back…” I must have read it ten times by the time Danny stopped crying, stopped whimpering, and closed his eyes and went to sleep in my arms.
I was sitting there thinking now what?! Will he wake up and start screaming again if I got up to go make his bed and put him down? Is he capable of rolling already? Should I put him down on the floor so he wouldn’t roll off and fall? How old were my babies when they figured out how to roll? As I was sitting there wondering what to do now, there was a knock on the door and Katie came into the house. She had managed things for her friend swiftly and had come back. Phewwwww! She took her sleeping angel off my hands, picked up all those bags as only a young mother of a baby knows how to do, thanked me, and before I could say another word she was out the door with a sleeping Danny.
I dialed the number and said: “kojaee baba? I know I’m late but if you still have the time, I can meet you in 30 minutes.”