Turn on the music and turn off the noise, Pull out the building blocks, puzzles and toys. Stick to the basics, and you’ll be okay, ‘Cause rock-a-bye-baby is high-tech today.
Celia was in a panic. She’d spent the last hour and a half walking up and down the aisles of buybuy BABY in the Bed Bath & Beyond store at Oakville Place. She couldn’t marathon shop like she did when she was younger and looked around for a chair to rest her arthritic feet. It irked her that there was never a place to sit in stores anymore. Celia had the wide-eyed look of a frazzled shopper in the throes of a panic attack. All the baby paraphernalia looked completely foreign to her, and she was getting a headache trying to decide what to buy.
“I need an interpreter to understand the mumbo jumbo written on these boxes,” she grumbled. Then she threw up her hands in frustration, “What the hell has happened to our babies?” she said a little too loudly.
A young salesgirl stocking shelves nearby looked up. “Have you lost your baby?” she asked, looking worried. Celia assured her it was not an Amber Alert in the making, and they both went back to their business.
At seventy-two years old, Celia was going to become a grandmother for the first time, and she had no idea how to stop it. Her only child, Nicole, had been married to Sean for twenty-five years and could never get pregnant — something about Sean’s lazy swimmers. That suited Celia just fine because they had lots of time for her, and she considered she was owed some attention.
After Celia’s husband died from cancer five years ago, she was thrown into a tailspin. They had been married for forty-two years, and she’d relied on Louis for everything. When he was gone, there was a black hole she just couldn’t fill up. She was drowning in a sea of grief, afraid of being alone and struggling to find a reason to get up each morning.
Celia couldn’t even manage to do everyday things like banking, paying bills and bringing the car to Budds’ for maintenance. These things were always on Louis’s job list, and he happily took care of everything. In all the years they were married, Celia had never worked out of the home. She kept herself busy with cooking, volunteering at places like St. Vincent de Paul and Frontline Outreach, and knitting baby beanie bonnets for the Special Care Unit at the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. But when it came to maintaining the upkeep on an old house, Celia didn’t have a clue. Nor did she want to learn.
So after her husband’s death, her daughter Nicole had jumped to the rescue and asked her mom to move in with them. Celia was relieved to accept the offer and sold her home in the River Oaks to move in with Nicole and Sean on Granby Drive. She was quite content living in the cozy little basement suite of their two-story house. She had all she needed with her adjustable bed, walk-in shower, comfy recliner and a big screen TV. Celia was an excellent cook and pitched in by making most of the meals for the three of them.
Her daughter and son-in-law were kind and attentive to everything she needed. They lived well together, and Celia respected her boundaries and was careful not to get in the way. But it was such a comfort knowing they were always there for her. Nicole took her to doctor’s appointments, even though she could drive herself. She brought her chicken soup from Swiss Chalet when Celia felt unwell.
Sean was always on hand to fix her remote control when she screwed up her channels or plunge her toilet when her other channel was screwed up. They gave her a spot in the driveway while one of them parked on the street. They both loved coming home after work to one of Celia’s delicious meals. After dinner, she would retreat to her bedroom for the evening to give Nicole and Sean some time alone. It was working so well; Celia couldn’t understand why they would want to bring a baby into the mix and ruin everything.
Celia wondered why Nicole would even want a baby. She was forty-eight years old, for heaven’s sake! So what if she still looked young and fit? And Sean was even older at fifty, sporting more than a few grey hairs at the temples. Nicole had teased him about it and started calling him her Silver Fox.
The news of the pregnancy had come as a shock when Nicole saw the doctor for what she thought was the flu. “Surprise!” the doctor said. It’s not the flu; it’s a baby.” Nicole nearly blacked out at the news. It appeared one of Sean’s lazy swimmers had mastered the Australian crawl.
The chances of becoming pregnant at her age were slim, and there were risks. But Nicole’s obstetrician at the Palermo Medical Centre told her there was nothing to worry about — she was in good health and would be monitored very closely. Nicole and Sean broke the news to Celia on her birthday, like they gave her a gift. Some gift! She’d rather exchange it for a pair of comfy shoes from Walking on a Cloud that didn’t pinch her bunions.
Celia and her daughter had always gotten along very well. As an only child, Nicole was a good kid, and even as a teenager, she was never mean or lippy with her parents as so many adolescents could be. So it was a shock when they announced their big news, and Celia had a total freak out. Nicole couldn’t believe what her mother was saying.
“Well, you can’t be thinking of having it, surely?” Celia blurted out. “There’s still time to get rid of it before you’re too far along.”
“Get rid of it? Mom! I can’t believe you’re saying that!” Nicole fired back. “You want me to have an abortion? Are you serious?”
Celia could see that Nicole was outraged, but she stuck to her guns and continued.
“You’re both too old and too set in your ways,” she said. “Plus, it will ruin your careers.” Sean was a manager at the Metro grocery store in the Upper Oakville Shopping Centre. Nicole taught computer science at the Trafalgar campus of Sheridan College. “When you take a leave from your job to have the baby, someone will jump in and take over like you were never there,” Celia continued.
“You can forget about your spare time activities,” Celia said. She turned to Sean. “Look at the hours you spend in your music room composing and practicing your guitar. Do you seriously think you’ll be able to do that with a new baby in the house?” Sean looked back at her and said nothing.
“And you Nicole. What do you think will happen to your Pilates classes, your getaway weekends with your girlfriends and those spa days you love? There’ll be no time for any of that with a baby carrier strapped to your body. You’ll both be lucky if you ever get a good night’s sleep again.”
Nicole looked at her mother with tears in her eyes and said, “This pregnancy is a miracle Mom — a blessed opportunity to have a child of our own.”
“Oh puh-leeze!” Celia said, rolling her eyes. “Let’s call it what it is — a geriatric pregnancy! That’s the term they use for having a baby at your age. You’re old enough to be a grandmother, not a mother!”
“Mom, you’re not being fair. What a horrible thing to say.” Nicole burst into tears and ran upstairs. Sean shook his head at Celia with a disapproving look and left to go after his wife. Celia retreated to her bedroom in a pout.
Those were the last words they’d said to each other about the pregnancy. Ever since that argument last month, the atmosphere in the house had been quiet and tense. Celia kept to herself in the basement and came upstairs, only long enough to cook dinner and retreat downstairs with her plate to eat alone. Nicole and Sean exchanged glances when Celia was in the room but said nothing. Nicole was hurt and couldn’t understand why her mother had reacted to her pregnancy in such a horrible way.
Celia knew full well what would happen as soon as the new baby arrived. The little interloper would be the star attraction, and where would that leave her? They’d put her out to pasture in a home for un-new people, that’s where! They’d have no more time for her, and she’d only be in the way. Who wants an old lady around the house when you have a cuddly bundle of joy to fawn over?
That was exactly what happened to her friend Muriel. She was living with her son and daughter-in-law when they got pregnant. They told her they needed to make her bedroom into a play area for the baby and gave her the boot within a year. Now she was alone, in a small garden home at Woodside Mews. Muriel told her that all the new people she met were friendly, but she was still very lonely and felt like her son had abandoned her. Celia didn’t want that happening to her.
But she began to worry she might have gone too far in suggesting the whole abortion thing. She’d been cruel to Nicole, she knew that, and her daughter looked wounded after her mother’s outburst. Deep down, Celia felt guilty about how she had reacted, and her heart hurt knowing she had said such terrible things to Nicole. She loved her daughter so profoundly, but she was afraid of what a baby would do to their perfect lives. Celia didn’t want to live alone, she didn’t want to live in a home for un-new people, and she didn’t want her life turned upside down by a baby.
Nicole was definitely going to have this child, so Celia finally resigned herself to becoming a grandmother-in-waiting. She decided to go shopping for baby stuff in an attempt to patch things up with her daughter and son-in-law. If they were going to all live in the same house, she had to give in and make peace with her family before the stork arrived on their doorstep.
So there she was in the baby department, feeling lost in an alien world of gadgets and gizmos. Celia was overwhelmed by the complexity of the new high-tech merchandise that morphed into various contraptions as the baby grew. There was even a highchair that converted into a child’s recliner. Celia could picture all these little kids sitting around with their feet up in reclining chairs instead of playing with their toy cars and building blocks. “How ridiculous is that?” she grumbled.
Still, she owed it to her daughter to make an effort, so Celia was patiently (and impatiently) going up and down the baby aisles. She studied the pictures on the boxes and read the labels on products that seemed to belong more on a spaceship than a nursery.
She found an electric stroller that pushed itself, a snot-sucker nasal aspirator for congested little noses and a baby monitor with an HD screen, remote camera and white noise to lull the baby to sleep. Whatever happened to a simple musical crib mobile with dancing bumblebees playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…?
She even found two picture books called, Go the F**k to Sleep and Walter the Farting Dog! Celia remembered her earlier outburst, “What has happened to our babies?” She thought – good grief, what has happened to our parents was more likely the question. Celia would stick to reading Goodnight Moon and Mother Goose; thank you very much!
Then she noticed a tiny glass jar with a pink and blue ribbon tucked between two six-packs of Tommee Tippee spill-proof baby bottles. Wondering what baby gadget that was, she picked it up and saw a rolled-up scroll inside with the word ‘message’ written on it. Celia looked on the bottom for a price tag, but there was nothing there.
“Excuse me,” she called out to the salesgirl. “What is this used for?”
The clerk came over and looked at the bottle. “I have no idea,” she said. “It’s bizarre. A few people have found them on shelves around the store. “Cute bottle,” she added.
“So you’re not selling these for babies?” Celia asked. The girl looked at the older woman like she’d just asked her to smell her armpit.
“No, of course not,” she snapped.
Celia pulled the cork off the little bottle and rolled out the message in her hand. It read:
Having a new baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate – Anne Lamott.
“Ha!” she said out loud, getting a real chuckle out of the message.
There were so many changes since she had Nicole nearly five decades ago. On the one hand, Celia was thankful the market had travelled some distance since the days of treacherous baby cribs and toys filled with lead. Celia remembered her first baby carriage that simply gave the baby a good ride with a squeaky wheel or two. She thought it was amazing to see how the simple stroller had evolved into a deluxe rock n’ roll system with the features of a souped-up automobile. Today, babies travelled in style in trail-blazing buggies that promised easy release hand brakes, front and rear suspension, multi-position seats and all-terrain wheels.
In my day, she thought, we didn’t even have car seats! And now she was looking at forward-facing seats, rear-facing seats and seats that went by the pound. There were latch systems, universal anchorage systems, and space-age cockpit turbo-design booster seats for big kids. And if you purchased the travel model with the handy removable seat, you could jump out of your car, pop the whole ‘kid-and-car-seat’ package right into a stroller base thingy – while you jogged through the park, talking mergers and acquisitions on your cell phone! “Holy moly,” Celia mumbled to herself.
She remembered Nicole’s old wooden high chair — it was as tippy as a canoe. The removable tray kept sliding out and crashing to the floor. Celia couldn’t understand how the high chair designs had miraculously evolved into 3-point restraining systems, 4-point reclining systems and 5-point height adjusting systems. Like the car seat and stroller, it could transform into just about anything if you had a degree in mechanical engineering. Celia shook her head. “What an exhausting world we live in,” she said to no one in particular.
Back in the day, most fathers kept their distance from mothers and babies and played the role of being useless very well. But times had changed, and new fathers were fully involved in baby routines — from birthing to burping and all things in between.
When Celia told her friend Beth that Nicole was pregnant, she shook her head at Celia. “Stop fretting! This is wonderful news. You’ll be just fine and fall in love with that baby, you’ll see,” she told her. “But seriously, Beth continued, “watch your son-in-law. When my granddaughter was born, something happened to my son-in-law’s brain, and he was seriously two diapers short of a pail,” she said laughing.
Apparently, before leaving for groceries one day, her son-in-law gave Beth graphically detailed instructions on how to best help her daughter with her milky nipples during breastfeeding. “She’d been having trouble getting enough milk,” she told Celia.
“Bless his heart, he was taking it all so seriously,” Beth continued. My daughter and I couldn’t even make eye contact while he gave me instructions. We totally cracked up when he finally left the house, and we still laugh about it now, eight years later. My advice is never to have a milky-nipple talk with your son-in-law! You can never un-hear that discussion,” she told Celia rolling her eyes.
As Celia continued up and down the isles, she found toys on steroids. She was shocked to see that some of the little-girl dolls could give birth, breastfeed and poop. If that wasn’t enough, there were little-boy dump trucks that could break-dance in a flashing display of lights and music. Celia wondered who would want to buy a play-centre that bombarded a baby with a whirlwind of activity, colour and noise? With so many children diagnosed with attention disorders, were parents doing the right thing by purchasing those monster toys for kids?
All the new fandangle inventions gave Celia a lot to think about. Sure, today’s children might love these multi-tasking toys that turned kids into little masters of the universe.
But most of them were designed to entertain and distract — rather than engage the child. She firmly believed that imagination was a powerful playmate. And if the toy did too much, the child did too little — and the imagination shriveled up and died a very sad death by starvation.
The world had become a more complex place since Nicole was a baby. And Celia thought it was wonderful to see the new products that kept a baby safe and the educational toys that helped kids enjoy an enriched and comfortable environment. She marveled at inventions like the Diaper Genie that twisted and linked soggy diapers together like a stinky-sausage-maker. There were even gender-neutral disposable diapers, whatever on earth that was.
Celia thought there was something to be said for the pure joys of simplicity when it came to babies. Despite all the fancy new inventions, babies weren’t any more complicated than they used to be. It was the world that had become more complicated. It would also be a new world for her daughter and Sean to maneuver through. Would they succumb to the seductive lure of all the gizmos and gadgets of a new age?
She stopped to look at a young mother carrying a baby who was sound asleep in a front wrap carrier around her body. She wasn’t any older than twenty or so and looked like she hadn’t slept for days.
“You have a beautiful baby,” Celia said. “How old is she?” She assumed it was a girl from the pink hat and socks.
“Thank you, she’s three months old,” she said, her smile suddenly filling her entire face.
“She’s having a good sleep,” Celia said, touching the baby’s hand.
The young mother laughed. “I wish she would sleep like that at night. I don’t think I’ll ever have a good night’s sleep again until she goes away to university.”
“It will go by more quickly than you think,” the older woman said. “Enjoy every minute.”
Celia looked at that beautiful child asleep in her mother’s baby sling — her eyes brimming with tears. A beautiful innocent baby was coming into their lives, and Celia had tried to stop it. Yes, she was worried about being cast aside, but there were also so many risks for her daughter. She thought about how scared Nicole must be having a baby at her age. To make matters worse, Celia had added to her daughter’s stress by saying such horrible things at a time when she needed her mother the most.
Suddenly she felt exhausted and wanted to go home. Celia needed to apologize and make things right with her family. She’d plead temporary insanity if she had to.
“What a selfish jackass I’ve been,” Celia said out loud. She heaved a big sigh and left the store determined to break the ice and talk to her daughter and son-in-law that night.
When Celia got home, she was surprised to see Nicole’s car in the driveway. She usually didn’t leave work until much later in the day. Celia opened the door and could hear sobbing coming from the kitchen. When she investigated, she found her daughter sitting on a barstool at the island with her head in her hands. She heard her Mom approach and sat up quickly, trying to compose herself.
“What’s the matter honey?” Celia asked, trying to be calm. “Is something wrong? Are you okay?”
“How can I be okay Mom?” Nicole said, breaking into hysterical sobs again. “How can anything be okay?”
Celia swallowed hard, upset at seeing her beloved daughter in that condition. She gently brushed back Nicole’s hair from her face and put her arm around her. “Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?”
“I’m pregnant, I’m scared, and I don’t know a bloody thing about being a mother! Is that enough for you?” Nicole said between sobs. “You were right, of course! I’m old enough to be a grandmother, not a mother!” She blew her nose; her face was red and puffy from crying.
Celia calmly handed her a box of tissues and kissed the top of her daughter’s head. “Everything is going to be just fine. It’s time we had a cup of tea and made plans for this baby,” Celia said, putting the kettle on. “There are a lot of things we need to do before the baby gets here.”
Nicole looked up at her mother, “What? I thought you didn’t want anything to do with this baby?”
Celia melted in sorrow at seeing her wonderful daughter in such distress. “I’ve been such an idiot, sweetie. I should have never said those things. You’re going to make a great mother.”
“But I don’t know anything about being a mother. I’ve never changed a diaper in my life.”
“Well, I don’t know anything about being a grandmother, so we’ll learn together,” Celia said softly.
“You’ll be all ready by the time the baby comes,” Celia told her daughter. “And I’ll be here to help you every step of the way…that is if you want me here.”
Nicole looked up at her mother, “What do you mean if I want you here? This is your home Mom. Of course, I want you here.”
“Well, I thought maybe the baby…that is, I thought you might not have room for me with the baby here,” Celia confessed. “I thought I’d be like an extra piece of furniture you wouldn’t need anymore. I was scared of being alone, and I said some awful things.”
“Mom, seriously? I’m so sorry we had that fight. I didn’t know you felt that way — that we wouldn’t want you. We will always want you living with us, especially when the baby comes. Mom, I need you here with me,” Nicole said, tears brimming up again.
“I’m here, sweet pea; I’m not going anywhere. I will always regret what I said. I didn’t mean it — please forgive me.”
“Mom, there’s no need. I understand — you were scared. I know how hard it was on you when Daddy died, and you were left alone. The important thing now is to move forward together,” Nicole said, blowing her nose.
Then to lighten the mood, Celia told her daughter about her visit to the baby department and described some of the merchandise she saw on the shelves.
“Seriously sweetheart,” Celia said, “with all of these new baby contraptions morphing into something else, how do the parents of today know when to ‘Snap ‘n Go,’ ‘Sit n’ Stroll,’ or simply ‘Mop n’ GLO’?” she said, sending Nicole into a fit of giggles.
Celia continued, “I even found a device called Munchkin Wipe Warmers. The box said they would soothe the baby’s bottom and warm the mother’s heart. Do mothers really need a warm wipe to clean poop on a baby’s bum? Now that’s just plain crazy on a cracker!” Celia added, happy to be making her daughter laugh.
Then she showed Nicole the little bottle she’d picked up on the shelf and read her the message inside. “Having a new baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Nicole chuckled as she reached into her purse and handed Celia a picture. “Sean and I went for our first ultrasound today. Hearing the heartbeat and seeing this sonogram of our tiny baby in the womb made it all so real. It kinda freaked me out – the realization that this was actually happening.”
Celia looked at the black and white image, and it was her turn to cry. “Well, will you look at that? Hello in there,” she said, putting her hand on her daughter’s stomach.
“So, what’s the difference between a sonogram and an ultrasound?” Celia continued. “I thought they were the same thing.”
“An ultrasound is a test, and the sonogram is this picture they take during the procedure,” Nicole explained.
“How did the appointment go? Is everything okay?”
“The doctor says both me and the baby are doing well, so that was good news. He’s going to keep a close watch on us both because of my age…or, as you said because I’m having a geriatric pregnancy.” She looked at her mother, and they both laughed.
“It’s too soon to know the sex of the baby,” Nicole added.
“You know, in my day, there were no ultrasounds. We used a needle and thread to determine the sex of the baby. Do you want to try it?” Celia said.
“Seriously? Does it work?” Nicole asked, perking up.
“Of course it works,” Celia said, pulling out her sewing basket from the closet.
Celia threaded the needle and held it hanging over Nicole’s palm. Her daughter intently watched the needle and squealed when it started to move. “Are you making it do that, Mom?”
“No, I’m just holding it as steady as I can.”
Suddenly it began to settle in a back and forth motion over her open hand. Celia broke out into a smile.
“What does that mean?” Nicole asked her anxiously.
Just then, Sean walked in. “What going on?”
“We’re determining the sex of the baby,” Nicole said excitedly, not taking her eyes off the swinging needle.
Sean wrinkled his face in confusion. “You’re doing what?”
“Do you want to know?” Celia asked.
“Yes, we want to know,” Nicole quickly responded. “Don’t we, Sean? We want to know the gender?”
“Well, yes, but I don’t see how…”
“It’s a boy!” Celia blurted out. “If the needle had settled into a circle, it would have been a girl. But it’s swinging back and forth, so it’s a boy!”
Later that evening, Celia apologized to Sean for her behaviour, and he insisted they just put it all behind them. She tried hard to forgive herself as both Nicole and Sean had done. But it would take time for her to get over the horrible things she had said to the people she loved most in her life.
Sean never asked for the details, but he was happy that his wife and mother-in-law had made up. Thankfully the house was at peace again, even if there was weird stuff going on in their kitchen with a needle and thread.
Nicole and Sean took all the prescribed prenatal classes and gave Celia a debriefing when they got home. Thankfully there were no milky nipple discussions, at least not yet anyway. Nicole craved sour gummies and spicy chicken wings from The King’s Arms Pub, so Sean kept UberEats busy with deliveries.
Nicole had to leave work at seven months because she was experiencing a mild case of preeclampsia — a condition caused by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Celia drove her for regular checkups with her gynecologist, who closely monitored the situation. Because of this condition, Nicole had to have her baby induced three weeks early.
Celia waited at home on the big day, pacing the floor and eating Miss Vickie’s potato chips, while Sean stayed at the hospital with his wife. She prayed for her daughter and for this new little person who was about to enter their lives.
As Celia predicted, Nicole and Sean had a baby boy — a beautiful, healthy six-pound, seven-ounce miracle they called Noah. Mommy came through with a few battle scars from a long labour, but she was doing fine. When they brought Noah home, Celia couldn’t get enough of the little guy. With all his demands to be fed, stinky diapers and crying at night, Celia supposed maybe he was the world’s worst roommate. But she wouldn’t change a single thing about him. Celia thought him the most beautiful baby in the entire universe.
Becoming a grandmother was an awakening for Celia. From the very first moment she held him in her arms, she was amazed at the powerful love she felt for this remarkable baby boy. Celia loved how he grabbed her thumb when she rocked him, the baby smell of his fuzzy little baby head and the cool silky softness of his baby skin.
Nicole loved being a mother and decided to take a full year off work to enjoy her baby. Sean hired a doula to help Nicole with breastfeeding techniques, and Celia left the house before she arrived, just as a precaution.
Their home certainly became more crowded after Noah was born, with all the baby equipment and toys around the house. But Celia was an integral part of the village, helping Noah become the best person he could be. He was surrounded by love and in the end, isn’t that all that mattered?
As the years went by and Noah’s collection of cars and transformers began to pile up — Celia gave it balance by reading him lots of books, working on puzzles together and making creative projects with cardboard, crayon and tape. It was a match made in heaven for both of them.
Who knew that such a tiny roommate, who squirts pee in your face when you change him, could give them all such incredible feelings of joy?
So don’t be alarmed at becoming a Gran,
With new-fangled stuff, you don’t understand.
Despite all the gizmos, the gadgets and gear,
Our babies are babies – the same every year.
And may I remind you, in case you forgot,
The best toys are those that do diddly-squat!
And books are for reading and shouldn’t talk back,
Just stick with the program – you won’t go off-track.