While I was in Chicago, I supervised the baby for an afternoon, because everyone else on earth more qualified to do so was attending a bridal shower. (Remember how Harold T. Stone became a judge? Like that.) At some point during my period of profoundest responsibility, my mother – she was there too, though I am certain by mere coincidence and not because I refuse to change poopy diapers — decided that we should go to Panera Bread for lunch. Panera Bread is roughly two hundred yards from my mother’s house. I grabbed my jacket and asked what she wanted. She said, “We’ll all go.”
I didn’t see any point in all three of us going to Panera, but didn’t feel like arguing, so I picked up the baby and opened the door. My mother said “Aren’t you going to put her jacket on her?”, launching a process that ended thirty minutes later with four toys, two blankets, a green knit sweater that was once mine and made my neck itch just looking at it, a sippy cup, a hat, a jacket, and the stroller. It took more time to get out of the house with the child than it would have for me to walk to Panera, order sandwiches, do the Sunday crossword puzzle, and walk home. There is clearly no good reason to leave the house with a baby unless you are taking it to a medical person.
We eventually got to Panera, ordered, got our food, remarked sourly on the irony of a place with the word “bread” on the sign running out of butter, and sat down at a table. Reconfiguring a table for that big bitch – the stroller, I mean, it’s like a cut-down Ford Galaxy – was annoying enough, but then the child went on stage. She has learned to say “Hi”, in both voice and proper context, and she knows maybe one or two other words. So she has a lot of conversations like this: “Hi!” “Hi, baby!” “Hi!” “Aren’t you big!” “Hi!” “What’s your name?” “Hi!” “Uh, hi. That’s a cute duck.” “Hi!” “Look, I gotta go.”
She also knows – accurately – that she’s cute, and so she tries to get EVERYONE’s attention, to say “Hi.” And if they don’t look at her, she gets pissed, and can communicate “HEY, ASSHOLE! QUIT SHOVELING THAT TORN-UP BEAD BOWL INTO YOUR GAPING PIEHOLE AND LOOK AT ME. ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME, MOTHERFUCKER? I’M DROPPING CUTE ALL UP IN HERE! LOOK, BITCH!” entirely with the word “Hi!”. And if she can grab you on your way past, she will. And she will say “Hi!” And you better fucking smile and say “Awww” or she might cut you.
There is a game that she plays, called “Uh Oh”. Let us say that Player A has the serve. Player A drops something – say, a cloth telephone that rings – on the floor, makes eye contact with her partner, Player B, and says “Uh-oh”. (Depending on the level of in-game taunting, some servers will say “Uh-oh” before dropping the item.) Player B then returns serve to Player A, who begins the process anew. I am a disappointing “Uh Oh” partner. I don’t have the temperament for a long volley.
The last item in the Panera Amusements Trick Bag is the Helen Keller Gambit. Remember the scene with the sausages? In our version, we notice some food we want, so we reach for it and make the pleading-groan noise: “UhhhhhnnnNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNHHHHHHHHHHHHH”. When receiving a bit of the food, we sniff it, touch it to our darling little face, then make a face and discard the morsel. We busy ourself for a moment with something else, then notice some food we want…you see. I am even worse a partner at this than I am at Uh Oh.
I inquired, politely, as to whether or not these sorts of things were typical of a year-old child on an outing, and expressed the opinion that maybe it was more trouble than it was worth. My mother told me, “You used to do all the same things when you were her age. We went out to lunch all the time.”
Not that I am admitting anything, mind you – Mom is prone to exaggeration – but, just to be safe, if you were in a restaurant in Chicago in May of 1975, and there was an adorable brown-eyed toddler in an itchy sweater charming the pants off you and wheedling you to play Uh Oh, I’m terribly sorry. It won’t happen again.