Superbaby – Patricia Dutt

The new parents declined every social invitation two weeks before traveling and shopped for groceries only late at night. When it was time, they took the train at off-hours to a hotel with stringent safety protocols, and made sure their international airline had excellent air purification procedures. They were careful, careful, careful to stay six feet apart from strangers in all public spaces and wore double, high-tech masks. Thus they successfully schlepped the baby, who was eight-months-old, across an ocean and over two continents, subjecting him to heights of 33,000 feet for hours on end then landing in a sleepy US airport (planned) right before an unprecedented number of holiday flights were cancelled (not planned). This all during a surging pandemic. When they arrived at their final destination – a small city in central New York where the new mother’s mother lived – tales were told about this remarkable baby: how he smiled and laughed, not only ate but loved broccoli, crawled backward (not yet forward), flipped over and even waved his tiny hands in the air while imprisoned in the high chair — sign language for “All done!” For the most part, however, superbaby regarded the wide, wide world with curiosity. “Nothing is ever going to stop this baby,” the young mother declared.

Feeling that they were at the top of their game, the parents went out for a local craft beer, the first alcohol in nearly 18 months for the new mother. The next morning, after getting up three times to nurse, as the mother was changing the baby who was not quite at the bed edge but close to it, the baby executed another feat: he flipped over twice and so rapidly that before he belly-flopped onto the hard floor the mother barely caught his look of surprise: How could you let this happen to me? Me? A shriek shook the house as superbaby impacted the wood floor. It unhinged the mother, who shook the house with her own agglomeration of shrieks. The husband tore out of the bathroom with soap on his face and everyone was crying. And the baby became more enraged by the second.

After calling the hospital for expert advice and a virtual pat on the shoulder, the new parents crept about in defeat and guilt. Even when the baby smiled at them, they sadly smiled back, knowing they had failed superbaby. The baby did his usual gooing and gaaing and played with his toys as if they possessed mystical powers that only superbaby could unleash. He performed his newly acquired feat—flipping — and giggled whenever successful, but such gymnastics were now highly restricted: only on the carpeted floor!

The parents removed their socks before descending the wood stairs with the baby, they did not give him any broccoli lest the gag reflex suddenly fail. They themselves had no appetite. They did not allow him to play unmonitored, in fact, at night, one of them always slept in the same room as superbaby. The mother imagined the baby would grow up and blame her for the rest of her life for those two seconds of inattention because she wanted to have one beer. Her son will keep secrets from her, like those concerning his high school girlfriends he cavalierly impregnated and consequently denied responsibility for. Then he will drop out of his private, expensive college mid-semester and never ever be able to rise early enough to work at a real job, so he’ll become some kind of drug kingpin/addict /cult leader who will prey upon the young and innocent. He will never visit his parents during the holidays.

This, the new mother knew.

But the new parents stupidly ran out of diapers, and the older mother was gone somewhere, so the parents carefully installed the baby in his winter suit, positioned his little hattie so his tiny ears would not get cold, made sure his car seat was secure, covered him with a blanket, and drove at 10 miles-an-hour to the irritation of the long line of drivers behind them to the grocery store. Once there, the parents secured the baby in the front pack carrier on the father (the mother could not trust herself: she might fall) and the three of them, masked and with squirts of hand sanitizer, entered the grocery store and made a bee-line for the baby section. As the parents scanned the shelves, the mother noticed a curly-haired girl, a toddler, squeezing a duck.

“Quack, quack,” the duck said.

The little girl laughed back and kept squeezing the duck, and the duck responded: they were like long-time chums, trading observations about the habits of toddlers and ducks. Suddenly the store’s seasonal background music was interrupted by an announcement: “There is a two-year old girl, curly brown hair, brown eyes, wearing a red coat. Her mother is looking for her!” Everyone heard the frantic mother, presumably behind the serious announcer, crying: “Clara! Clara! Where are you, honey?”

The little girl’s brown eyes widened, and the parents escorted Clara to the Customer Service Center where the frantic mother was wringing her hands, her eyes wet with tears, and as soon as the little girl saw her mother, she started bawling. They hugged and howled together and people paused their serious shopping expeditions and gave the mother a comforting elbow (no pats on the back) and exclaimed: “How wonderful! How sweet! What a lovely, darling girl! I like a story with a happy ending!”

The parents looked at one other, then back to the fanatical mother, still blubbering away.

The new mother said: “Give me the baby.” So the father strapped the baby onto her, and then they bought their favorite foods: sushi, and a salad bowl with extra edamame and blue cheese. And broccoli, of course, for superbaby.

I work as a landscape estimator in Ithaca, NY and although I am not a librarian, I visit the library often and read 52 books last year.

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