Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to Get Dumped Outside

In my extended, Hispanic-Catholic family in El Paso Texas, babies came at a steady rate, though not so often that each one was not greeted with wonder. A collective familial breath was drawn each time eyes were laid upon the newcomer: Look, in this tiny space is a human life where none was before.

Women in the family just beyond childbearing age were at various stages of matriarchy, and the unspoken duties of each included a formal visit to the new mother a week or two after she came home from the hospital. Children who tagged along were dressed up nearly as well as for church. This always involved notching the kids tight for some reason. Braids. Unforgiving patent leather shoes. Buttoned collars. I endured the severe grooming, working on the wrinkles between my eyebrows at a tender age. I still remember a thick, bright red wool sweater that my mother must have bought too big and required me to wear until she couldn't get away with calling them 3/4 sleeves any longer. For years I steam-cooked in that sweater in the vinyl back seat of the family Buick, in West Texas weather hot enough for lowered windows. In those days, the Boogie Man was still considered a draft with a living flocculent of disease inside, whisking away the souls of children in the night.

My older cousins and younger aunts who had become new mothers loved me very much, but it didn't take long for them to want to scoop me up, deposit me outside, and lock the door. I was that annoying little girl for whom newborn babies are a perfume drug. Five-year-old girls like the one I was get a bead-like focus that can't be slapped away. We don't say a word because suddenly, we can't. Our brains are too befuddled by the human life where none was before, the miraculous miniature creature wrapped in nebulous blankets and hand-delivered to our foolish care by no less than the angels above. Our nostrils flare with excitement; we look and we touch and, when gently encouraged to direct our freakish ardor elsewhere, we circle back around like witless boomerangs. We will sneak back into the nursery. Then, in a trance of good intentions, we will proceed to topple the baby basket or induce startled wailing or just generally leave a mess of disheveled blankets and toys in the crib, evidence we broke our deaf-and-dumb promises to "look but don't touch." Under any other circumstances we are good as gold, but put a new baby within pheromone-detecting distance and we just can't stop.

Click here, for a master with childhood memory (thanks be to Jami Pederson, for the "share").