backpack buddies.

It was the last week of the month of November, and I was at the grocery store. I know it was the third week, because I know that the upcoming Sunday was the first Sunday of the month, which is Backpack Buddy Sunday. It's a program where the church collects food to give to kids at the local elementary school to take home over the weekend, because otherwise the kids may not eat. We live in a pretty nice part of town in the richest country there has ever been, and yet children go hungry.

Zuzu is in the cart. We have this cart cover thing that ties onto the cart so that she licks something with the same germs from our house, rather than the germs from whatever other kid was sitting there last. For the record, I did not buy this thing; it was in a big bag of hand-me-downs from a friend of a friend. In fact, when I pulled it out of the bag, I thought it was a papoose, and I tried to put it on. Then I felt like a failure of a mother because I couldn't figure out how it worked. Finally, I looked at the the tag, and it said "cart cover," and then I felt like an idiot, but not a failure. I say that I did not buy it because it's the sort of germaphobic thing I would have scoffed at. But now that we have it, I do like it, and I use it every time.

I've got my household list, and I've got the Backpack Buddies list. But I'm considering just putting away the second one, because I don't have a job. During the first week of the month of November, I was laid off. Josh picked up more shifts at the restaurant, and I stayed home with the baby and applied for jobs.

I'll tell you a secret: I've never not had the money to do what I wanted. My mother raised me to be frugal. If something is too expensive, I've learned to just not want it. And then there is money to splurge on things that are worth it. So we rarely eat out, but we went to France. All our clothes were bought secondhand, but when the HVAC broke, we just bought a new one, no sweat.

So in terms of the breadwinner losing the source of bread, we were fine. I had severance until the end of the year, and our savings account was healthy. But every expense felt crushing. Not because we couldn't afford it, but because I didn't know how long that would be true. Even though we hadn't been living extravagantly, there was room to trim the fat.

Like the Backpack Buddies.

And there was my well-fed baby in the cart, chewing on the cart cover that someone we didn't even know had freely given us. Her fat cheeks and thighs indicated that she had never missed a meal. It would take a long period of unemployment for that to happen, and we had relatives upon relatives who would never let it happen. Just that week, my in-laws had sent a grocery store gift card. We had less than we did the month before, but we still had so much.

I added some canned peas and beans and corn, some tuna and some soup to the cart, backpack food. My mother taught me to be frugal, but my father taught me to be generous. I find the former easier than the latter, but they often go hand in hand.


lessons in messing.

Dorothy: You know, I've always wanted to teach an honors class, but now that I am, well, the kids are making me feel stupid.
Sophia: Dorothy, I'm gonna tell you something I never told you before. When you were about twelve and we lived in Brooklyn, they called me into the school to tell me you had the highest IQ in the borough.
Rose: That's a coincidence. I was told I had the IQ *of* a burro.

Golden Girls, "Even Grandmas Get the Blues"

Our garbage can is this homemade wooden thing that I picked up at an estate sale several years ago. It was painted white, and I had grand plans to strip the paint and refinish it, restoring the luster of the hidden wood underneath. I got about as far into the project as I usually do; I attempted the first step and then gave up because it was harder than I thought. So now I have a half-stripped, half-painted garbage vessel. I'm hoping it just looks worn. In any case, it fits right in.

At the bottom is a drawer, where one could store garbage bags. I always mean to do so, but somehow they end up under the sink and the drawer ends up empty and forgotten. The baby, who is now crawling, likes to open the drawer by pulling on the handle. This is the only compartment in the whole house she has managed to open, so I guess it's for the best that we didn't store a bunch of suffocation hazards inside. The first time she managed it, I'm sure her little baby heart was filled with pride and wonder, until her little baby fingers were filled with pain because she had closed the drawer on them.

She still likes to play with the drawer, but has learned about ceasing to push when her fingers start to hurt. These are the things that a baby must learn for herself, that no one can teach you. We have accordion doors to the laundry room, and I'm always closing them up when she's playing in there, because they are ripe for pinching. But I know that my precaution doesn't teach her not to put little baby fingers into hinged areas, and that one day, my vigilance will lapse and she'll just have to learn that lesson the hard way.

Since you really can't teach babies anything, it's fun to set up a puzzle for them and watch them figure it out. So I put a measuring cup into the garbage can drawer and closed it up, knowing that she would discover it when she next passed through. She's been scoot/crawling for nearly two months now, but she's honestly not that speedy, because she stops to mess with something every couple of feet. I wasn't there when my husband was a baby, but this seems like the kind of baby he would be: a messer.

The next time she scooted by on her way to pull the kitchen towels off the rack, she paused to open the drawer. Seeing the prize within, she reached in and grasped it (grasping being another thing that babies must learn on their own). Unfortunately, the opening of the drawer was not large enough to relinquish the hand clamped around the cup.

I read one time that raccoon traps work this way - you make a hole in a log and put something shiny inside. The hole has to be big enough for a raccoon paw, but not big enough for the paw clasped around the shiny thing. And then you just stroll up whenever you get around to it, because a raccoon is so dang stupid it'll just stay there with a clenched fist trapped in a log.*

She pulled harder. She cried, but not pinched-finger-cry, just that whiny cry of general frustration that she has picked up in the last month or so. Babies must learn to crawl and grasp. Mamas must learn to let the baby learn, even when she cries.

She dropped the cup, scooted around looking at the drawer from different angles, pulling on it. She reached in to get the cup, failed to get it out, cried. Repeat a few times until finally she had her prize. My baby is smarter than a raccoon. I didn't even teach her that.

* I may have read this in Where the Red Fern Grows, so if it's made up and raccoons are way smarter than that, apologies to all my raccoon readers.