Even though my parents were just in San Francisco to meet the baby/Barnacle, I recently took the baby/Barnacle to Evanston, Illinois, to stay with them for 10 days. While we were still in San Francisco, Mom specifically said YES YOU DID MOM YES YOU DID that the ban on writing about her — or, more specifically, quoting her at length — had been lifted.
This was good news!
Behold, a Special Bonus Edition purely composed of NOT COMPRISED OF NEVER COMPRISED OF quotes from my parents, aka Rose and Dave, who are both now 75 (happy birthday, Dad!):
The three of us decide to leave the apartment for a walk to downtown Evanston. On our way back home, I’m breastfeeding the Barnacle in the front carrier because he is amazing like that.
Dad: Do you switch off the breasts, Jenny? Is that a thing? I mean, the two tanks aren’t connected, right?
Jenny: HOLY SHIT, DAD.
Mom is giving me a break from the baby, making us beet salads for lunch (see photo, above, and recipe, below) and cooing to the baby as he watches from the car seat. I hear her from the back room:
Mom: Can I have a smile? Yeah, that’s a smile. Now I have to go out and get some oregano. Some oregano! Yeah! That’s right. I have to go get some oregano! I have to get some oregano!
I poke my head out and watch Mom continue past the car seat to the bedroom to get her shoes. Then she stops back by the car seat.
Mom: Now I have to go get some oregano! Oregano!
She calls to me from the kitchen.
Mom: OK, I’m going to be back! I’m going to get some oregano!
Me: I know!
Later that afternoon:
Mom: We have some really good orange tea if you want some (pulls a teapot out of the fridge).
Jenny: No thanks, Mom.
Mom (to herself): I really need to find a better way to store this.
Mom (hours later, calling from the next room): My new drink is that tea with some wine in it!
Mom and Dad are at opposite ends of the apartment, Dad watching the TV news in the front room and Mom listening to the news on the radio in the kitchen. I hand the baby to Dad so I can try to read a Martha Stewart Living for five minutes, and before I disappear I ask Dad not to face the baby at the TV. No screens for a 10-week-old! I’m gone for five minutes before Mom pokes her head into the back room, laughing.
Mom: He’s got the baby watching The Muppets.
I find Dad in his tiny office with the baby on his lap, his computer screen taken over by a YouTube video of Gonzo and the chickens. Dad is singing along, having the time of his life. The Barnacle stares wide-eyed at the screen. I grab the Barnacle and retreat to the back room.
Dad: No screens at all?
The baby cries. My mom kneels in front of him and imitates him: “Waaah. Waaah.” The baby pauses, then smiles at her.
“Yeah,” Mom says. “Faker.”
(But when he cries again, she says, “Ooh, ooh,” and kneels and picks him up.)
They go out for dinner with friends, my mom wearing perfume, my dad with his hair washed so it’s curly. Before they leave, they check on me in the kitchen.
Dad: Do you have food for dinner?
Jenny: Shouldn’t I be asking you that? Do you have food for me for dinner?
Dad (distracted): We have crackers. (He disappears into the pantry and comes back out with a box.) Here. This has four kinds of crackers.
In the morning over breakfast, my mom tells me she has to call Netflix. Earlier, she says, she and Dad were trying to figure out why it wasn’t working.
Mom: I thought it was the hand thing, but we replaced the batteries and that wasn’t it.
Jenny: The hand thing? Do you mean the remote?
Mom gives me an exasperated look.
Mom: You know what I meant.
She gets up and says, I’m gonna check to see if Amazon Prime is working. I take the Barnacle to the kitchen, get some orange juice, text SJ in San Francisco. When I go back to the front room, Mom is sitting on the couch watching The Wire.
Checking if Amazon Prime is working? I say.
Mom grins and nods. I’ve caught her watching TV before 11 a.m. She’s told me before that she’s been watching TV in the morning because this is her new favorite show. Later she confides that she has a huge crush on Idris Elba.
He’s so handsome! she cries.
The next morning during breakfast, Mom gazes at the coat rack, where a number of her second-hand purchases hang.
Mom: I bought a whole bunch of stuff the last time we were in Wales. I bought that purse. Now when I’m out and I’m painting, I can put everything in my purse. (She gets up to show me.) And here’s the stuff I bought the last time I visited you in San Francisco.
(She shows me a cashmere shirt and a scarf from Banana Republic.)
Mom (murmuring to herself): I really killed it.
The baby is fussing after lunch. I think he needs to be fed, but Mom says, Give him to me. I’ll dance with him and see if I can put him to sleep.
I hand him over, and Mom walks into the front room, saying to him, Come on. It’s you, me, and Sade.
I leave them dancing to “No Ordinary Love.”
I pull out childhood photos to see if the baby/Barnacle looks like me. I find pictures of what I think is our house in Illinois.
Jenny: Is this the old house? The butcher block is where the refrigerator was.
Mom kneels on the carpet next to me to look at the album. Dad is in the front room watching Fawlty Towers on Netflix.
Mom: Yeah, that was the old house.
Jenny: Where was the refrigerator?
Mom points to the right of the photo.
Mom: Somewhere over here. When we moved back in [after we moved out for a year], we moved everything around. It was a shitty … (Mom doesn’t finish the sentence by saying “house.” Instead, quietly, to herself:) That’s OK. That’s OK.
I tell Mom I gave the baby a raspberry on his foot and it freaked him out and he started crying. Mom leans in to the baby.
Mom: Oh! Did Mommy make mean to you?
Mom offers to walk the baby around the apartment and, upon hoisting him onto her shoulder, immediately begins to hum/scat a song I recognize as “American Pie” by Don McLean. I’ve never heard her sing this song, or any song like it, and I gaze at her in wonder, feeling certain she wouldn’t be able to tell me which song she’s singing or how she knows it.
Mom has banished me from the back room so I won’t hover over her as she changes the baby’s wet diaper and onesie. I sit two rooms away at the dining room table, where I hear a constant stream of high-pitched sing-songy-ness coming out of my mom, but it’s half nonsense and I can’t make any of it out. Suddenly I hear very clearly:
Mom: Choke the baaaaaby! Choke the baaaaaby!
Mom (sing-songy): Yes!
Jenny: Did you just say “choke the baby”?
Mom (still in high-pitched baby voice): Yes! I was choking the baby!
The next night, Dad prepares to make salad. I hear him and Mom talking in the kitchen.
Dad (distraught): I used the last of the carrots.
Mom: No. Look in the bottom.
Dad: No, Rose, those are the skinny-ass carrots. I used the rest of the other ones.
Mom: David, look in the bottom of the fridge.
(Pause as, I assume, Dad looks in the crisper.)
Dad (more upset now): No, Rose!
Rose: Well, OK.
Mom: You need to eat more vegetables.
Jenny (tiredly): I’m always holding him. I don’t always get a choice of what to eat.
Mom gives me a look.
Jenny: I’m doing the best I can.
Mom (speaking to me through the baby): But babies can be put down. (Pauses, gazing at the baby. Still talking to me.) I put you down. Maybe you weren’t as much fun.
For this delicious beet salad, you need:
- A few handfuls of arugula
- Two medium beets, skinned, steamed, and sliced
- Leftover poached salmon
- A handful of oregano sprigs, the stalks of which are pretty inedible but “look nice”
- 10 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
- 10 green grapes, halved
- Oil and vinegar
You need to:
- Toss arugula in oil and vinegar.
- Lay arugula on a plate.
- Layer on the beet slices, then goat cheese, olives, and grapes.
- Distribute leftover salmon along rim of plate.
- Top with oregano.