Author’s note: I kept trying to write this story, and there’s too many little detours that need to be mentioned. So, I’m just going to write it as I’d tell it. During the asides you have to imagine me holding up one hand, frozen, as if sustaining the main thread of the story, while the other hand provides colorful gestures. Trust me it works and people love it. I think.
I took the girls out to dinner the other night. It was early, so the restaurant hadn’t really filled up yet. We were seated in the back room, empty save for only one other family with kids; we were in “kid wasteland.” The other family consisted of what were clearly a new mother, her mom, and her babies. They were tiny and new, curled up sleeping against the women’s as they quickly, anxiously finished a one-handed dinner. Clearly this was a first “time out with the baby” experience, which they confirmed. I was immediately taken back; except for the fact that there were two babies instead of one, it might as well have been me and my mom with a relatively new Natalie.
Aside 1: The girls wondered how I knew that they were twins. I pointed out that unless the grandmother had simultaneously had a baby (she heard that and guffawed) or that the family’s baby had already made a best friend of the same age, the best bet were that these babies OF THE SAME AGE UNDER THE CARE OF THE SAME PEOPLE were, in fact, twins. I hear that parents of twins get asked stupid questions all the time. “Are they twins?” is merely a variant of my 7 and 11-year-olds’ question. Another favorite has to be when parents of a boy/girl twin pairing are asked if they’re identical.
. . . I would imagine that Natalie was quite a bit older than these little ones, maybe closer to a month, when we had or first date. It took me quite some time to rally to the idea of actually facing the terrors of dining out with an infant. That’s a realistic concern. However, heaping helping of postpartum depression added to my hermetic state. Luckily, my mother is a professional “propper up of people,” and she spurred me on to a lunch at the nearest sit-down place: On The Border.
Aside 2: Natalie was born in Arizona in June. This was fortunate for me, as my mother was still teaching school and could stay indefinitely over the summer break. Lucky for me she did, as I really am not sure how else we would have survived. Two of my most vivid memories of the time were staring out this one particular window, and setting a daily goal of emptying the dishwasher. Postpartum depression is no joke, and my mom’s a winner.
. . . On the Border is a chain Mexican restaurant, with the attendant loud decor and music. It was the perfect place in which the cries of a baby would be lost in the shuffle. I don’t remember what I ate, just the overwhelming desire to get to the part where they bring us the check! My diaper bag bulged with enough supplies to sustain us for up to a month; we never needed them. She slept in her little carrier the entire time. Thank you, On the Border!
Aside 3: There are no On the Border restaurants in the immediate Milwaukee area, however there’s a strip joint a little ways off that bears the same name. You really couldn’t mistake the two. The different approaches to signage alone make this impossible (busty lady vs. cactus and lime). Despite this, one of Jimmy’s coworkers once took her sister to the wrong On the Border for lunch. Interestingly, they weren’t put off by the sign, the fact that all the cars were parked around back, the lack of windows, or the darkness of the entryway. It wasn’t until they were asked to pay their cover that things finally clicked. An honest mistake, I guess…
. . . The memory so fresh and real, I asked if the girls and I could come over and look at the babies. They were sweet and gorgeous, and their mother really looked fabulous. Before I even realized that the words were there, I was asking if they’d had to spend time in the NICU? Luckily the mother provided me with an out, replying that “yes, they’re pretty small aren’t they.”
Aside 4: Despite truly being small, they really just had that slightly NICU-ish look about them. I have a problem digressing medical, as I have all of this information in my head rattling around that’s not being used any more.
. . . The mom and grandma didn’t seem taken aback, though, and my girls hovered over them making all the appropriate cooing noises.
Aside 5: My medical colleagues can attest to the fact that any babies that spend more than a brief time in the NICU tend to take on a characteristic look. Part of it is the charmingly nicknamed toaster head, which develops when these little ones spend long periods of time lying very, very still on cribs instead of floating in a nice buoyant belly. But the other part is my observation that they always seem just a little more tense, even in sleep, as if awaiting the next interruption as they go about the tricky task of sustaining life.
. . . It was no more than a minute or two, but the exchange was important to me. For the new mom, it will either be lost in the blessed forgetting fog of first few months, or it will be one of the sharp memories that comes back unbidden. The moments of early motherhood are mostly snapshots for me, but I got to relive a vivid one: the first date.