I visited my friend Tash and her baby just after Cecil was born, when they were still living in California. The idea was that I would help with childcare so Tash could get some work done, which essentially meant going for long walks around Berkeley with a newborn strapped to my chest and no more urgent or interesting thoughts in my head than whether I should turn left or right at the next corner, and whether Cecil’s diaper was still in good shape.
They’ve since moved to Tampa and, of course, Cecil has gotten larger. He can walk, for example, and say useful things like “fall down!” and “no!” If he likes what ever is going on, he can ask for more, both with words (“Mo’dat!”) and with sign language (tapping his bunched fingers together in front of his chest, accompanied by a hopeful expression). All of this is very entertaining for a middle-aged woman whose days of mothering toddlers are long past. It’s also surprisingly healing for a chaplain whose work life seems filled, these days, with variations on the theme of human endings rather than human beginning.
My basic Mother’s Helper mode still consists of long walks though Cecil now rides in a stroller. Tash’s neighborhood boasts two nice parks within walking distance, and we were on our way to one of these when a van passed us on the narrow street. Cars are one of the things Cecil feels strongly about, so this was cause for excited cries (“Car! Car!”) and, as the van drove away, we both waved an enthusiastic farewell. Up ahead at the stop sign, the van paused. It remained stationary long enough for us to catch up.
Reflexive suspicion is an occupational hazard for anyone who works in law enforcement, and I tend also to be aggressively protective of any children in my vicinity, so my inner Mother Tiger was beginning to snarl when I realized that the driver was dressed in a cheerful red Scottish kilt. Surely no pedophile would garb himself in anything so eye-catching? The man had, by this time, opened the back of the van and, with a friendly “hang on, there!” he rummaged around and withdrew two long strands of Mardi-gras beads in glittering gold and purple. With gentle ceremony, he draped these around Cecil’s neck,then added two lgleaming bead bracelets in red and silver.
The man explained that he was on his way to march in the annual holiday parade in downtown Tampa. Don’t ask me what Floridian tradition demands kilted Scotsmen distributing mardi-gras beads: I’m from New England. Anyway, Cecil definitely approved and, cultural differences aside, this act of spontaneous and festive kindness made me think well of Tampa’s citizens.
As it turns out, mardi-gras beads have tremendous play-value. With them, Cecil and I played many games including (though not limited to) the following:
Buried Treasure: Scoop out a shallow trench in the sandbox. Line the bottom solemnly with dried leaves. Place beads in trench and cover with sand. Dig them up. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Decorate the Climbing Wall: Drape beads over the little knobs. Stand back. Make appreciative sounds. Rearrange beads. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Slide the Beads: Toss beads up the plastic slide and watch them slide down with an agreeable, rattling sound. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Make a Birthday Cake: Lay the beads out in a circle. Poke twigs into the sand as candles. “Light” candles. Sing Happy Birthday. Blow out candles. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
After nearly two hours of this, Cecil draped his beads around his neck and wrists, and, thus adorned, declared himself ready to be strollered home. As I pushed the stroller (that familiar/unfamiliar action!) it occurred to me that Cecil dwells in a world so new that everything is surprising and therefore nothing is. Birds and airplanes fly overhead, water pours from the garden hose, Mama embraces a stranger and introduces her as Auntie Kate, so why wouldn’t a man wearing a red dress hop out of a car and drape Cecil in jewels? For Cecil (and thus, once more, for me) life is filled with reliable surprises and predictable miracles. (Thank you, Tampa.)