Baby Alive

 

As far back as I can remember I have wanted to be a mother. Even at the early age of four, motherhood was a primary goal of mine. As I grew older, there may have been imaginings about having a husband in the picture, maybe a career, but come Hell or high water, I was going to have a baby, or two, or three.

My Baby Alive doll, a pretend infant that “ate” baby food and then “pooped” the recently “consumed” baby food, was a toy I treasured. Gifted to me by my mother, Baby Alive was the PERFECT baby doll to help me live out my fantasy of motherhood. With my very own infant cradled in my arms, I convinced my mother to allow me to take over her linen closet and turn it into a nursery. In the center of the closet, surrounded by many shelves stuffed with sheets and bath towels, I gently placed my baby into a pink plastic toy crib. A re-purposed laundry basket was filled to the brim with pretend disposable diapers that had come with the doll.

I prepared my baby’s food by mixing the faux baby food packets with water and voila… banana and strawberry baby cereal for multiple feeding sessions. Yes, of course I tried it! Any mother would. It tasted remarkably good. And so began many hours of feeding and changing Baby Jane. I called my first child by my middle name. All this feeding and then quickly having to change diapers was a nasty business but I relished it. I loved being a mother.

When I was five, my parents adopted my brother, Jeremy, who was only seven months old when he was ceremoniously placed into my child arms at Boston’s Logan Airport. I had waited many minutes, many hours (it seemed like a whole day) in the cold, beige plastic airport waiting room chair for my new baby brother to arrive from Florida.

The airport air was stale, tinged with cigarette smoke and airplane fuel. I remember the tiresome wait was finally interrupted when my grandfather announced that the plane had landed. Bouncing uncontrollably like a human Tigger, I anxiously watched a uniformed woman in a dark navy-blue suit open a large door. With her navy pump, she pushed a doorstop into place so the door at our gate remained open and through the doorway I saw a carpeted hallway that wound forever into the distance. My grandparents said my mother and father would be coming down that hallway with my new baby brother.

The infant was placed onto my lap and my grandmother encircled us both. Despite Jeremy’s sour smell, I was overcome with love for him. His skin was light brown, his hair scattered in small tufts of soft black curls at the top of his head. Jeremy’s eyes, wet from tears, were large dark brown orbs. He fussed. I pushed my lips into one side of his brown face, then the other.

On his first night home with us, Baby Jeremy lay gurgling in his crib. The adults allowed me to watch quietly over him while he settled into sleep. I didn’t take my eyes off him for a second, constantly searching for any sign of distress, an opportunity to comfort him by stroking his head and cheek. I listened intently to his inhales, his exhales, his squeaks in between.

Squishing my face into the slats of the crib, I reached in and traced my fingers across my baby brother’s wet lips. I held his fist and watched him breathe for a long time into the night…like any mother would.

I had no idea what motherhood was really going to be like…whether it would fit or not. Motherhood is a risk. You can’t put the baby back into the packaging and decide to play with something else. You can’t just hand the baby back to the real mother. YOU ARE THE REAL MOTHER.

The reality of motherhood is that I’m fifty-two and my four babies aren’t babies anymore. In an instant, I’ve gone from precious first nights with my treasured newborns to arguing about science fair projects, stressing over college applications, and consoling broken hearts during bad breakups. The reality of motherhood is that it’s much harder than I ever imagined. It never ends. There’s no control. I make mistakes. There are times when I’m just not very good at it. It’s no fantasy.

The one thing that links my fantasy motherhood with my reality motherhood? The need I’ve always had to nurture. The physical, deep-in-the-gut need to love a child and to give of myself. I cannot live without that feeling. I will always treasure my memories of Baby Alive and my baby brother because they satisfied that need in me to love.

But nothing satisfies the need to give and love as much as motherhood in real time. The minute-by-minute details of my four kids’ lives are so intertwined with the details of my own life that I feel their pains and joys as if they were my own. Even as they grow older and appear more and more to be trying to loosen those intricate ties with me, the love still holds. All I can do now is stockpile the details, hoard the memories…so I can treasure them forever…like any mother would.

 

On Her 18th Birthday

Right now, Chloe girl is out in Cali looking hard at UCLA, one of the many colleges where she was accepted. Decision Day looms —
Dartmouth, Northwestern, UCLA? I think it’s down to those three. Which one will she choose?

We are immensely proud of Chloe Rose Bollinger, who turns 18 tomorrow, and it seems like only yesterday that we were making our way home from the hospital, our baby girl’s tiny body befitted in a fancy “going home” outfit. We struggled again (just as we had with our first child) in getting her buckled snugly into her car seat. There was a freakish April snow storm that delayed the entire discharge process at the hospital. I remember so clearly how happy I was to be able to crawl back into my own bed with my  baby girl in my arms once we’d finally made it home from the hospital.

Who knew all the places this little bundle of pink love would go in life and the heights of joy her living in our world would bring us? You can’t really comprehend all the paths your child will bring you down. It’s too overwhelming. The mystery of it all is exciting, yes, but frightening too.

Looking back over the years there are many things I remember about young Chloe. Here are a few — She never cried as a baby. She just didn’t. She didn’t cry at birth. She didn’t cry when she was hungry. She’d make tiny mewing, cooing sounds when she needed something but there was never any wailing. She slept through the entire night in her crib on that first night home from the hospital, the whole discharge scene perhaps exhausting her as much as it had me.

Chloe was enthralled with the film,”The Wizard of Oz,” and for a lengthy period of time in her young life, she wore red ruby slippers every day. If she couldn’t wear them to preschool, she’d quickly change into them as soon as she got home. We purchased many, many pairs of ruby slippers.

Chloe played “school” with gusto, usually assuming the role of teacher. During these school enactments, she taught her younger brother, Charlie The Kid, how to read.

Chloe was present at her younger sister, Genevieve’s, birth. Chloe came up with her baby sister’s nickname, “Gigi,” short for Genevieve Gray and she doted on “her” baby. Gigi, to this day, turns to Chloe first when she needs something and Mom and Dad are not around or not paying close enough attention.

Chloe loves her dogs – Simone, Daffodil and Abbie – and boy do they love her, greeting her whenever she walks in the door with a frenzy that causes an uproar throughout the entire house.

Chloe is kind…to her parents, to her siblings, to her friends and peers. She is certainly intelligent, book smart as they say, but it’s her emotional intelligence that puts her far and above. She is far and above…

Chloe has a beautiful voice, rich in tone and pitch perfect. She has been constantly humming and singing to herself for years, which can sometimes be annoying to those around her, but I know it’s going to be one of the first things I’ll miss when she’s off to college this fall.

The goodbye-for-college is going to be rough, no doubt about it. This being our second time around for a “child-leaves-the-nest” moment, I’m hopeful that I can draw on my wisdom and past experience to bring a bit more grace to the whole affair. We shall see about that.

One thing is for sure, Chloe has taught me so many things these past 18 years…about myself, my family, my marriage, what it means to be a human in this world, what it means to be loved and adored. I can’t wait to witness the paths she chooses and how far those paths will take her…how far and above she will soar.

Happy Birthday, Chloe Rose! Happy Birthday to you!

Feeling Old About Horror

When questioning Charlie The Kid about the appropriateness of watching The Shining this afternoon….

Cassie: Holy Crap! Are you watching The Shining?

Charlie: Why yes, yes I am.

Cassie: (ignoring the fresh tone of the thirteen-year-old) That’s a totally scary movie, Char. Not a good idea at all.

Charlie: It’s a perfect idea.

Cassie: Terrifying.

Charlie: Not really.

Cassie: Yes. Really.

Charlie: Perhaps a little scary in 1980. Now? Not so much.

Cassie: Next you’ll tell me you’re going to watch the Exorcist. Dear God and Goddess.

Charlie: Already saw that — like three times. Some parts of that film are phenomenal.

Cassie: I don’t think you’re ready for these horror flicks, Char.

Charlie: Of course I am.

Cassie: Thirteen is young.

Charlie: Not really. I can handle it. Time marches on, Mom.

Cassie: Pffft. (pause) Charlie?

Charlie: Yea?

Cassie: REDRUM

Charlie: Nice try.

Barbie Stories

(Overheard while Gigi and a friend are playing with Gigi’s vast Barbie collection in our basement playroom)

Gigi: We have to come up with a story. Each Barbie doll has to have a story.

Friend: Why?

Gigi: Because otherwise it’s boring.

Friend: What do ya mean a story?

Gigi: You know, why the Barbie is doing something or saying something. Like, the reason.

Friend: We can only play Barbies if there’s a story?

Gigi: Yes.

Friend: You have a lot of Barbies. We have to do a story for all of them?

Gigi: No, no, no. Just the ones we’re playing with.

Cassie: (sensing annoyance in the friend’s voice; inquiring as I start down the stairs leading to the playroom) Gigi, are you being nice to K?

Gigi: Totally, Mom. Don’t embarrass me.

(Having been told off, I retrace my steps and return to the kitchen.)

Gigi: I’ll just tell you how I do the story for this Barbie. Her mother is that Barbie doll over there. The Mother-Barbie and the Teenager Daughter-Barbie just had a fight about the dinner and now the Dad – you know, the Ken doll over there? He walks in and tells everyone to calm down…..’Get a grip,’ he says to the family. The Baby-Barbie starts to cry and the pretend Barbie-dog poodle barks like crazy….Now we make the Barbies talk and the story goes on.

Friend: That’s how you do the story?

Gigi: Yes. We just make stuff up. And talk and talk. Hurry up because you have to go home at 6:30.

Friend: I thought we just set up the mansion house and take the Barbie’s clothes on and off. That’s what we do at my house.

Gigi: Nah. At my house, you have to make it fun with a story. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Tooth Fairy Tardiness

Genevieve: So it took the tooth fairy a lot of nights to remember to come and take my tooth.

Cassie: Ridiculous!

Genevieve: Anyway, that’s really forgetful. Which is a lot like how you are sometimes, Mom.

Cassie: I know. I think both moms and tooth fairies get super busy. Can you imagine what the tooth fairy’s schedule must be like?

Genevieve: (with furrowed brow) The tooth fairy doesn’t have a schedule, Mom. She’s magic.

(Damn.)

Soft Chocolate

unnamedGigi: I like my chocolate to be soft. You know what I mean?

Cassie: Umm. No. Not really.

Gigi: That bite you gave me of that chocolate cake was too rough in my mouth.

Cassie: It wasn’t rough. It was absolutely delicious. From a very fancy restaurant. Dark chocolate mousse cake. Extremely soft.

Gigi: Did you say dark chocolate?

Cassie: Yes.

Gigi: Dark chocolate is rough. I like the soft kind.

Cassie: Maybe you mean milk chocolate.

Gigi: Yep. That’s it. That dark chocolate is so rough it’s probably making my throat and stomach have a blister.

Cassie: Oh brother. I’ll remember that the next time I bring home a fancy dark chocolate dessert to share with my beloved children.

Gigi: Yea…if it’s not soft chocolate, I don’t want to hear about it.

(Pffft.)

Vigorously Tying a Necktie

Charlie The Kid: This YouTube video on how to tie a necktie is lame. The voice over instructions are super annoying to me. Like he needs to have a better voice.

Cassie: Try another one.

Charlie The Kid: Right. (Goes to another video) Ok. I’m doing it. (He makes a twist and turn of the tie material, a tie loop appears) No. No. No. It’s sloppy. This knot didn’t work at all.

Cassie: Can’t you just wait for Dad?

Charlie The Kid: He’s shown me before. A long time ago. He ties the tie vigorously. You know, like zip, zip, zip. He does a good knot. Tight. Mine is too loose again. Nope. Total crap.

(He undoes the loose knot he’s attempted and fiddles with his phone to find another video on YouTube…he mumbles…he watches the next video, he laughs, he swings the tie around with one hand, his other hand nimbly scrolling the phone screen in search of necktie tying videos – are we on the third or fourth one now? He watches the video, slowly moving, twisting, looping his tie, which is a red, grey and black plaid. Very grown-up. One of Max’s old ties. I watch. I start to giggle. Charlie laughs, then swears under his breath.)

Cassie: Sorry, sorry to laugh. Your eyebrows. It’s funny.

Charlie The Kid: Sort of. Why are you watching me anyway?

Cassie: I’m not. I’m putting your clothes away. I see what you mean about vigorously holding the tie.

Charlie The Kid: Right? You can’t be loose and sloppy about how you hold the tie to make the knot. How many more days before the bar mitzvah?

Cassie: A few. It’s this Saturday.

Charlie The Kid: How long did it take Max?

Cassie: To tie a necktie?

Charlie The Kid: Yeah.

Cassie: I can’t remember.

Charlie The Kid: Pffft.

(I continue to put clothes away in the dresser as Charlie leaves his bedroom, moving onward in search of a mirror? Or a place where he can be alone to practice?

I try to remember Max’s necktie learning process. It was some years back and I just can’t remember how or when it went from loose and sloppy to vigorous and tight. How could I have forgotten such an important coming of age detail? How could I have forgotten?)

Swim Teachers

Gigi SwimGenevieve: That’s it! I told you I only want a girl for my swim teacher. I’m NOT changing my mind about it. No way!

Cassie: In California you had a boy swim teacher.

Genevieve: I was too little to know but I think I remember that I didn’t like him. Yeah. He wasn’t good at all.

Cassie: Okay. Okay. It’s just that there don’t seem to be a lot of female lifeguards who are also giving lessons at the pool this year. Every time I inquire, the three female lifeguards are all booked up with lessons, like for weeks in advance.

Genevieve: How come? Is there a policy?

Cassie: A policy?

Genevieve: Yeah. Like only boys can be lifeguards and teachers?

Cassie: No. It’s just how it worked out this year. And your teacher from last year has another job and isn’t working at the community pool this summer. She already texted me back.

Genevieve: My plan’s not going to work. I need to know how to swim for real THIS summer. (pause) When did you learn how to swim?

Cassie: I think when I was seven or eight. Maybe even later.

Genevieve: Who taught you?

Cassie: My Aunt Pat. She swam with my brother and me every day at my Grandma and Grandpa’s pool. I was definitely a late bloomer on swimming. Uncle Jay and all my cousins learned at a pretty early age. Jay was very physical; he never stopped moving until he went to sleep at night. So, of course, he got the swimming trick down easily. Also riding a bike….extremely quick to pick that up as well.

Genevieve: I already know how to ride a bike.

Cassie: Yes, you do.

Genevieve: When did Max and Chloe learn to swim?

Cassie: I don’t know if I remember exactly. They had lessons at the YMCA which Chloe did not like at all.

Genevieve: Why? How come she didn’t like it?

Cassie: She didn’t like having swimming lessons with a whole group of other kids. Also the teacher, one time, was male.

Genevieve: See? She wanted a girl too.

Cassie: Yes. Anyway, I don’t think Max or Chloe nailed it with swimming until six or seven years old.

Genevieve: And Charlie?

Cassie: Late bloomer.

Genevieve: How late?

Cassie: I don’t know. Eight, I think.

Genevieve: Yeah. I need a teacher right away. I gotta learn how to swim before I turn eight. You have to find me a teacher, Mom.

Cassie: I’ll do my best.

Airing the Injured Finger

injured fingerCharlie The Kid: Please let me know the next time you plan to “air” your finger while roaming about this house.

Cassie: Too gross?

Charlie The Kid: Extremely.

Cassie: I can’t have it bandaged the whole time. I have to let air get at it.

Charlie The Kid: Ummmm.

Cassie: What?

Charlie The Kid: I just threw up in my mouth again for like the seventh time since the whole finger incident started.

Cassie: Sorry. Sometimes life is disgusting.

Charlie The Kid: I know. I wish I could go back to when I was little and oblivious so I wouldn’t have to think about cut up fingers. Or the problems with black and white people in this country killing each other.

Cassie: (pausing to catch my breath since we’ve so quickly gone from my cut finger to the horrific racial tensions of the moment) Charlie, with age comes knowledge and awareness. You’re at an age when you start growing your wisdom about life and big serious issues and problems that are all around us every day. It’s not easy. I know. You have to stop and reflect about it every once in a while. So you don’t get overwhelmed.

Charlie The Kid: I don’t want to reflect on it. I want to escape it. How do you escape it?

Cassie: Probably can’t ever escape it fully. But reading a good book with a solid story that takes you to another place, watching a fun movie, music. Your music and artwork….I think those are really good outlets for calming down a little.

Charlie The Kid: Okay. But I meant what I said about airing your finger. Do that at night or something when your children are sleeping so we don’t have to see it.

Cassie: Will do.

Charlie The Kid: Thank you.

Cassie: Welcome.

Just Mail Me the Award

Gigi: I am NOT going up on stage to get my trophy.

Cassie: Do you want Daddy or me to go with you?

Gigi: Nope.

Cassie: It’s blue. Your favorite color.

Gigi: (tearful) Don’t care. Not going up.

Cassie: How about if Daddy goes up to collect the trophy for you?

Gigi: In front of everyone?! And they know he’s not “Genevieve.” He’s a boy. His name is Scott. Pfft.

(Scott stifles a laugh)

Cassie: Yes, well. He wouldn’t actually have to go up on the stage; he could just get it from the wings. No one would see.

Gigi: (more tearful) No. This is stupid.

Cassie: Please don’t use that word.

Gigi: Charlie uses it all the time.

Cassie: Shall we just leave then?

Scott: Yes. Let’s go. This (scanning the room with alarmed eyes) is quite the madhouse.

Cassie: Total bedlam. Can’t even hear the names of the students being called up onto the stage.

Gigi: (extremely tearful and hiccupping) I think I already heard my name called out…but I’m not going up… so I just ignored it.

Cassie: I’ve been listening closely, G, and I didn’t hear your name.

Scott: Yeah. They didn’t say your name yet, Gigi.

Cassie: (muttering) It doesn’t seem to be alphabetical by last name when they call people up. I don’t understand how this event is organized. How did she even earn this trophy? What were the qualifications? Just that she’s a participant in the Kumon program?

Scott: (sighing heavily) I don’t know. I wasn’t given specifics, just that there was an awards ceremony tonight. They didn’t have awards back when Max, Chloe and Charlie did Kumon.

Gigi: (less tearful now) Why did I have to wear a dress? Why was it supposed to be dressy? I saw ten girls with shorts on. Not dresses.

Cassie: I just followed the suggestion of what to wear on the invitation they emailed me for the ceremony. And there are only two girls with shorts.

Gigi: No.

Cassie: Yes.

Scott: Alright. Can we go now?

Gigi: No! I need that blue trophy.

Cassie/Scott: (silence)

Gigi: (whining) If you earn the award from all the hard work doing the Kumon, why don’t they just bring the trophy TO YOU… where you are sitting? Why do I have go through the work of going up on stage?

Cassie: That’s work?

Gigi: Yes. In front of everyone. By myself. In a dress. With fancy shoes.

(Scott rolls his eyes at me)

Cassie: What? She wanted to dress up! Gigi picked out this dress to wear tonight for the ceremony herself, didn’t you Gigi?.

Gigi: Yes, but no one told me that this is how the awards ceremony goes.

Cassie: Gigi, you’ve attended plenty of awards ceremonies for your brothers and sister. This is how it goes. Though, I must say, this one is a bit unorganized. Everyone’s talking. It’s so loud in here I can’t even hear myself think.

(Scott rolls his eyes again)

Cassie: Well, I think we should just head out then. Daddy will grab your trophy while you and I go get the car. Not a problem.

(Scott nods in agreement, gathers his laptop since he’s come straight from work and heads for the stage to retrieve the award. Holding hands, Gigi and I make for the exit.)

Gigi: (chin jutting out in defiance, voice loud and firm but no one to hear it because the chaos surrounding us in the auditorium continues at full throttle) I’m NEVER doing an awards ceremony again! From now on, if I get some other award I want it to be mailed to me! (pause) Mom, did you hear me?!

(Mailed to you? Yes, I heard that.)