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I took Edwin to the beach this morning. As he sat on the sand, he watched a man in a floppy hat approach us, and his face lit up. He thought it was his father. It wasn’t. It was our neighbor, Paul, a retired cardiologist. I can’t fault Eddie for mistaking another man with a hat for “daddy.” It would have been better if that man wasn’t 70.
“He’s a small child. His vision isn’t fully formed,” I told my husband, Bruce. “He probably sees like insects do, like you’re looking through a kaleidoscope.”
We had Eddie late in life. Bruce is 52 and I’m 48. The funny thing is, I expected people to think we were his grandparents. Instead, I’ll see people my age with a child and assume they’re the parents.
I knew there would be issues with our age. For one thing, my vision is deteriorating. Everything’s become an approximation. My eyeliner looks bolder because I’m no longer able to follow the contour of my lid so I keep drawing and re-drawing the line, making it thicker and thicker with every stroke. I can’t see my toe nails so I dab polish on them like I’m stencil painting, coating the entire top of the toe because I know over time, the shower water will take off the excess.
In restaurants if I forget my reading glasses, I’m left to order general food categories. “I’ll have fish.” Or “Get me the chicken.” Subtleties like how it’s cooked are lost.
When we went to visit my mother in Florida, she had a swing for Eddie that she borrowed from a neighbor, but it was missing a piece on the safety belt. I called up Fisher Price and told the customer service representative the name of the toy and the part I needed.
“Model number?” she said.
Need Lemon Juice and a Magic Wand to find Model Number
“Where would it be?” I asked.
“On the inside of the battery casing,” the woman said.
I flipped open the battery case and saw a sticker, but I couldn’t read the numbers on it.
“You really need the model number, huh?”
“We need to make sure we’re sending you the right part,” she said.
I looked again. “It looks like it starts with a ‘4’,” I said. “And then there’s either a “3” or an “F.”
I told her I didn’t need the piece after all.
Last Sunday, we wanted breakfast but also wanted Bloody Mary’s so we walked over to a restaurant we knew in the neighboring town. I went inside and asked the hip young host, who was wearing an earring and a knit hat that looked like a sack, if they served any egg dishes. He handed me a menu. I opened it and immediately started to hold it farther away from my eyes so I could read it, but the young host was staring at me waiting to see if I was going to stay so I moved the menu closer to me and pretended to read it from there. All I could see was the restaurant’s logo.
It reminded me of when I arrived at a new junior high school, and I didn’t want to wear my glasses so I would wander the halls half blind, insulting the few friends I’d made because they would wave to me and I would not wave back – because I couldn’t see them.
“We’ll stay,” I said and snapped the menu shut.
It’s not just my sight. It’s my strength. And it’s not that I can’t lift the baby. I can. It’s that after I do, I can’t lift my arms. I think I’ve gotten arthritis from breastfeeding.
The baby has a little rainforest “gym,” which is a mat over which a rainbow and a palm tree criss-cross like two intersecting arches, creating a cozy little sanctuary underneath. There are rings that run along the underside of the arches from which you can hang little toys like stuffed parrots or butterflies for the baby to bat around.
A couple of weeks ago, I put the baby down underneath the trees and then slid under there, myself, to see what it was like. We lay next to each other staring up at the fake palm leaves, and after a couple of minutes, I could see why he cries when I leave him there: it’s tedious. The silk butterflies look silly, and the music box keeps playing “Skip to My Lou,” over and over again.
But when I tried to get out from under the apparatus, I couldn’t. My body didn’t seem to want to move that way. I was wedged between Eddie on the one side and the palm trees on the other. I had to push the child out from under the trees and then stand up, bringing the whole apparatus up in the air with me so that I could let it slide down my body like a hula hoop.
When I was still pregnant, I visited a fellow writer who has two children, and I accompanied her when she went to pick them up at school. The boy was young and sweet, as boys are, but the girl looked at me suspiciously, almost with contempt. I thought she was wondering why someone as old as me would be pregnant.
“Do I look old to you?” I asked. “Go on. You can tell me. If you saw me picking up one of your friends at school, would you think, ‘Oh, there’s so-and-so’s mother,’ or would you think, ‘Wow, is that really so-and-so’s mother?’ Look how old she is!’ “
I don’t remember what she said because I don’t think I really asked her. I know I wanted to.
New York magazine (http://nymag NULL.com/news/features/mothers-over-50-2011-10/) did a cover story last month on how an increasing number of people are having children in their fifties. The cover photo was a profile of a naked pregnant woman – a la Demi Moore’s Vanity Fair cover — but her face was that of a 60-something-year old woman. The article, itself, entitled, “Parents of a Certain Age” raised people’s ire, but I’ll bet it was the photo that incited them to post 266 nasty comments on the magazine’s web site.
I knew I shouldn’t read them, that they would only make me feel bad, but I was like that young priest in the movie, The Exorcist, who is warned not to listen to the devil who would try to speak to him through the young girl who was possessed, but he couldn’t help himself. He listened as the devil spoke to him in his mother’s voice and asked him why he’d left her to die.
I poured through the comments on the magazine’s web page and read as they called older parents “selfish!” and said things like, “Menopause is for a reason!” One commenter, writing under the pseudonym, Madworld, said, “What could be more selfish than having a child when you will knowingly leave the child/children prematurely parentless or worse, unnecessarily burdened with having to care for your old, selfish ass?”
I posted a comment of my own, saying, “I had a child at 47. I don’t think I was selfish to do that. My child may be sad when his parents die earlier than those of his friends, and that’s something that pains me, but hopefully all the love and caring and nurturing he gets before that point will make up for it.” Five people gave my comment a “Thumbs Up,” perhaps because they, too, had a child when they were older or knew someone who did.
What I didn’t say in my comment was that my father died when he was just 62, leaving me fatherless at 38. He missed my wedding. He never met my son. It broke my heart. But he had his children young. It’s all a crap shoot.
In some ways, Eddie is lucky to have older parents. With age comes a maturity, a centeredness, a sense of perspective and well being that younger parents may not have. At least in theory. We also wanted him so badly having gone without him for so long, the way someone stranded on a desert island might appreciate his first meal back home, that it’s hard to imagine he could be more loved.
He dines to Mrs. Robinson
He will also benefit from the fact that my husband and I grew up at a time when the world was a richer, safer place, when people played kick ball at the bus stop and you could trick or treat without an escort, when music was more melodious and chocolate tasted like chocolate, and when plastic bags at the grocery store weren’t so thin they ripped right through when you stuck a potato or a lemon inside. My son eats breakfast to Cat Stevens and Leonard Cohen and dinner to Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Young. He learned to dance to Santana, and when he’s upset, we put on Marlo Thomas’s album, “Free to Be, You and Me,” and it calms him.
I plan on taking him to a local pinball hall tomorrow to play “Asteroids,” and I’ll soon introduce him to the album, “Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow…Right!” the comedian’s debut album, which features his classic skit, a conversation between Noah and God.
I sometimes sit on the kitchen floor with Eddie and telephone him on a gourd I’ve plucked out of a bowl full of squash and potatoes that sits on the counter.
“Ding-a-ling-a-ling,” I say, holding the S-shaped gourd up to my ear as if it’s the telephone’s ear piece. “Hello? You want to speak to Edwin Joseph? Why he’s right here.”
I then hand Edwin the phone, and he holds it up to his ear and listens and is poised to speak, even though he has no idea what an old-style telephone looks like. I know some of the cultural references he’ll learn will only be located in our house. He won’t be able to find them outside or at school. I don’t have a problem with that.
Notes for this blog:
A journalist for almost 25 years, Caren Chesler has written about topics as diverse as racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike to the newest trends in private equity investing. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, The New York Daily News, Popular Mechanics, Miller McCune, New Jersey Monthly, Modern Bride, Investor¹s Business Daily, and the Asbury Park Press, among others. Her essays have appeared in WomensWallStreet.com. You can find her blog on later motherhood at: http://thedancingegg.wordpress.com/ (http://thedancingegg NULL.wordpress NULL.com/)
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