It’s eight or nine months into the baby gig and I’ve developed some rhythms, tricks even, to keep myself sane and the baby fed and watered. Even though I’m not all that far past those bleary-eyed newborn days, things are feeling manageable. The baby sleeps all night, pretty much. The baby wakes up and eats egg or oatmeal or banana, the baby naps and coos and screams and eats some more and naps again and smiles and smashes blocks into each other and removes all the contents of the kitchen cupboards he finds within reach, splaying napkins, plastic ware, pots and pans all over the vicinity. Whatever. To the baby, it’s all good.
I may have some tricks, but there’s always a learning curve. The current one involves the baby’s digestive tract. It is up and running and has been since day one but as the baby samples new foods his body responds with new and unusual reactions. We are both updating our understanding of the system.
Cut to the scene: a large Bay Area, chock full of shoppers on a weekday morning. The baby and I have a love-hate relationship with the place–on the one hand, we find the sights and smells highly entertaining, but on the other hand, the frenetic sparkly atmosphere makes us both want to lie down. Sure, there’s a spectacular array of olives in shades of dusky green to brown to black; some are studded with bright orange pimentos. Sure, there are cheeses of many textures, from crumbling blocks marbled with veins of blue mold to pale yellow rounds encased in red wax. There are Gerbera daisies clustered in white buckets, wine stacked in jeweled pyramids, and piles of produce—everything from 10 kinds of citrus to star fruit and durian and plain old apples to purple potatoes, eight varieties of carrots, golden beets, and arugula-cauliflower-fennel-tomatoes-strawberries.
Beautiful, all of it. Yet at this moment we are feeling just a tiny bit overwhelmed, the baby and I. Our cart is full and we’re almost finished with our errand, but we are tired and hungry as we stand in front of the meat counter, waiting our turn to be helped by one of the butchers. We wait in quiet exhaustion, the baby strapped to my chest in the increasingly tattered Baby Bjorn that pulls my shoulders forward into a hunch but that also presses the baby and I together into a communion of cozy animal warmth. We stand next to our packed cart and I smell the baby’s head and we smile each other. Thank God, we say, telepathically. Thank God that another strenuous visit to the grocery store is coming to an end.
The baby smiles brightly at me again but his smile is interrupted by another expression, one that can only be called concern. The baby is concerned. Because I am set to near-trigger sensitivity to the baby’s every whimper I notice this and pat his back, whispering something encouraging, like, “It’s okay, Sugar. We’re getting the hell out of here soon. And then you can smash some blocks.”
Despite my efforts to console him the concern on the baby’s face deepens to a kind of intense focus, as if he is training for the Meditation Olympics. There is a low rumble from his nether parts, which I ignore, since the nice man behind the counter has appeared to take my order. But there is no ignorance! Oh, no. There is no ignorance to be had. The baby farts again. His face contracts and reddens in the universal sign for “Call the police. I am having a BM.”
Yes. He is having one. He does have one. The baby produces copious proof that his digestive tract is fully functional—proof so abundant that his diaper completely fails. The baby and I find ourselves covered in this proof as we stand, astonished, at the meat counter in front of the equally amazed butcher.
“Shit,” I say. The man nods.
In a flash, the baby and I—probably the butcher, too–are utterly, painfully aware that the grocery mission must be aborted. The baby weeps as we abandon our cart and wind our sodden, smelly way through the store and out into the parking lot. We reach the safety of our car. No, there are no extra clothes.
Forty-seven wet wipes later the baby is freshly diapered but otherwise naked, buckled into his car seat and smiling like a maniac. I wear the empty carrier as a breastplate–it covers most of the poop on my shirt—and strap myself in. We both stink but the baby doesn’t care. He coos and giggles in the backseat, waving cheerfully at the dogs on the sidewalk. As for me, I roll down the window and start the car.