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SANDY BANKS

Just Trying to Get a Better Connection

December 13, 1998|SANDY BANKS

I was washing baby bottles and mixing formula when I came across the stack of photocopied sheets on my brother's kitchen counter.

"Ebbie's Daily Record," the heading read, above columns to be filled in hourly by the baby sitter, chronicling whenever my 9-month-old nephew, Ebbie, ate, slept, played or had his diaper changed.

I had to smile at the diligence of my brother and his wife . . . first-time parents still laboring under the sweet illusion that they and baby can remain as one, if only they can follow him through the ebb-and-flow of each new day.

*

It's a powerful combination. . . . Take the private angst of new parents contemplating baby's first days without them, and harness that to their confidence that with the right kind of organization, parenthood can be managed even from afar.

Like my brother and his wife, I constructed journals as a new mother--computer-generated models of military precision to chronicle my baby's day at home with the sitter while I was at work.

There were rules and schedules, forms and instructions. The baby was to be rocked to sleep, taken in the yard to play, fed only breast milk--pumped and frozen in little plastic bags--and organically grown food, freshly made.

On her first day on the job, my sitter watched patiently as I demonstrated--to a woman who had raised three children of her own--how to peel, dice and steam fresh apples and mash them into sauce for my daughter's lunch.

The next day, she arrived lugging grocery sacks. "I have something to show you," she said, smiling broadly and settling the bags on the kitchen counter. "Wait until you see this . . ."

She reached in and pulled out a small jar of strained applesauce with a smiling baby on the label, and thrust it toward me triumphantly. "You see," she said. "They make the food in jars!"

I knew right then I had a choice . . . and it was not between two types of food.

I could order her to pack up those jars and take them away, and reestablish my sovereign rule.

Or I could relinquish my command, acknowledging the larger lesson--my baby's life was moving beyond my control, her orbit spinning away from me.

*

I think about this now from my vantage point as a mother of three . . . a veteran whose oldest child--she of the fresh foods and frozen breast milk--recently entered adolescence.

My baby, meanwhile, turned 8 last week. It has been a long time since I left a list for the baby sitter or demanded to know when anyone ate, slept or needed a change.

Indeed, each new child inherited--and further spawned--a mother inclined to hold the reins a bit less tightly, as lists gave way to conversations, and the need to control was sublimated to the joy of discovery, the magic of surprise.

My youngest child has never eaten steamed, mashed carrots or lumpy, homemade applesauce. I have never asked that her dirty diaper be held for my inspection. She has moved through life unencumbered by my charts and lists, free to follow her imagination, without the need to account or explain.

And while she complains that she gets less of me than her sisters do, she is luckier than she knows . . . because I take less from her life, as well.

Still, I have not quite vanquished my need to know. It surfaces intermittently, in response to the panic I feel with each new step my children reach.

It is still my oldest child who bears the brunt of my inquiries, as she moves now from child to young woman . . . a pioneer on the journey her sisters will make. "How was the music at the party? Who did you dance with? Did you get anything to eat?"

The questions are different, but the tactics the same.

I bird-dog her through each new stage, just as I did when she was a baby and I inventoried the contents of her days . . . as if the details could bind her to me, as she grows up and spins away.

Sandy Banks' column is published on Sundays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is sandy.banks@latimes.com.

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