After a long cold spell, it was finally warm again. So when Lev begged to go outside, I was eager to go too. No more fighting over cold hands and mittens!
He can walk much farther and better than he could in the summer or even the fall. So he took off down the hill, and was almost a block away in very little time. He poked around on people’s front lawn, but soon found a driveway he found interesting and followed it to a back stairs. There he found some stones under a tree and started throwing them down the stairs. I was glad he had found something to do that didn’t involve running in the street, and though it was a bit of a pain to pick up the stones and put them back (because they were nice decorative under-tree gravel clearly put there deliberately and not meant to be spread around) otherwise it seemed a good activity.
The Mean Old Lady
However, a lady came outside and said she didn’t want a total stranger baby messing with her back stairs — we should go to the park, stay in front, or use our own backyard. I explained we didn’t have a backyard, the front was nerve-wracking because it was so close to the street, and it was hard to go all the way to the park every time Lev wants a half-hour morning tootle. But she was adamant, and, because I was a bit annoyed, I explained loudly to Lev that, because there were “mean old ladies” in the world, we had to leave.
At that moment, I felt really bad that we lived in a semi-urban apartment rather than the kind of suburban house where I grew up, with a nice fenced in back yard for babies to play. Alexey hates commuting: he doesn’t want to move to the serious suburbs, and I have to agree it is nice to be only a ten minute bus ride away from the T. But the downside is that your baby gets yelled at by Mean Old Ladies for acting like a baby.
However, the outing got better. As we were tootling, we met Julie Sussman on her way to the bakery and grocery store, carrying a bag of plastic bottles to be recycled. She stood around talking to me for a little while, and Lev wandered in the yard of a much nicer lady, who happened to be taking down her Christmas lights just then, who “talked” to Lev a little. Then Julie wanted to go on with her errands, and I would have let her go, but Lev took off after her. As fast as he could walk, Julie was faster, so the distance between them kept growing no matter how much Lev hustled. To help him catch up, I picked him up and carried him after Julie. When he saw finally saw the distance closing in, he gave out a glad cry, which Julie heard, and she turned around.
After that we walked together, and Julie let Lev work the mailbox to put in the letter she needed mailed, then we went in to the Greek bakery and Lev talked (nonsense) to the baker, and finally we went to recycle the bottles, where again Julie let Lev give the bottles the final push into the recycling machine.
Carts, Puddles and Firetrucks
Obviously, by then we were in the parking lot of the supermarket, and Lev realized there were shopping carts he could push around as much as he wanted. Not even little baby toy shopping carts, but the big kind, the real ones. And there were puddles to stomp in. Not only that, there were puddles he could push shopping carts through! Two of Lev’s favorite things, shopping carts and puddles, at the same time.
To add to the excitement, a firetruck pulled into the grocery store parking lot, and the firemen waved at the baby. Then it parked, and the fireman got out and went into the grocery store (who knew, firemen ride their fire truck to get groceries.) The opportunity to see a real live fire truck up close (he’s seen them only in books) seemed to good to pass up, so I took him over. He poked at the gauges, asked to be lifted up to see the front seat, and walked all the way round to marvel at how big it was.
Stay In School, Kid
After a while longer pushing shopping carts through puddles, I put Lev on my shoulders to walk home. On the way home, we walked by a delivery truck, and I would have passed it by, but I could tell Lev was excited to see another big truck. So I took him around to peer into the back, and there was a guy unloading cases of beer for a wine store that was opening soon. I told him my baby was excited to see the guy who controlled the big truck, and he said (to Lev) “Don’t be, kid. Stay in school. It looks exciting now, but after 20 years doing deliveries, it gets really old.” To be polite, I told him that at least it helps him look young, because he didn’t look remotely old enough to have been doing it for over twenty years (this was true.) He said, “yea, well, I guess it helps me stay thin.”
Hijacking the Neighbor’s Swing
Finally we walked all the way home, and we discovered our downstairs neighbor also outside with her grandkid. She had set up a swing, and, over the objections of the two year old grandkid, who seemed quite practiced in saying “no,” Lev got a turn swinging in the swing. Despite the hijacking of the swing, the grandkid seemed favorably inclined towards Lev, and her grandmother reported that she talked often about the mysterious boy upstairs. She also tried to teach the little girl my name, and the girl dutifully said “Wah-Beh-Cah.”
Even though we had been out much longer than we intended, and it was clear we needed to go in, because Lev was yawning, his pants and diaper were soaked, and we were both hungry, Lev burst into tears when I brought him upstairs. He had been having fun!
Maybe this urban baby thing isn’t so bad. It has downsides, but I realized it has upsides too. In a serious suburb, we wouldn’t have met a friend on the street, we couldn’t have walked to a family-owned bakery where we could get to know the baker, we wouldn’t have a local supermarket with shopping carts to push, or firetrucks parked in the lot, and there wouldn’t have been firemen to wave at or delivery guys to talk to. Nor we have downstairs neighbors to set up a swing and learn our names. This is an experience quite different from my childhood, more like something I read about it books or saw on Sesame Street. When I was young, I thought Oscar somewhat alien, part of a different world, because our garbage cans were hidden in the closed garage — I thought it was strange and kinda yucky that they were shown right near the door the kids came out of, almost on the street all the time. Nor did I have a “neighborhood” the way the kids on Sesame Street did; just a street full of retired people who sat inside and watched television. I looked through the side window at the light of the neighbor lady’s television always on, but I don’t recall ever meeting her. But Lev lives in a world much more like Sesame Street, with the good and bad that implies.
After the end of my walk, I felt much better about it than I did at the beginning.