Getting Near to Baby
I got the idea for Baby while walking down the street in NYC. Behind me, I could hear a mother and a boy of about twelve, I guessed (hadn’t look back at them) arguing about his homework, his teacher’s opinion that he wasn’t really trying, and so on. It became a scold from his mom that he wasn’t trying at home either. He didn’t do chores without being told several times. He had a way of answering back that struck me as a kid who did try, but felt like no one got it. They both sounded irritated, but not really angry and resentful.
I slowed down so they would pass me and I could get a look at them. The mom was short. The boy was about twelve and he was almost as tall as his mother. She was carrying his books and he was carrying several bags with her shopping in it. (I think this who-carried-what part is true, but I may be enriching the memory.)
What is absolutely true is that for the next two blocks, until I reached our apartment house, I watched from behind as they kept on walking and arguing. After a while it was about brushing his teeth every night and getting up in the morning on her first yell.
And all the time they argued, they kept sort of leaning toward each other, letting their elbows touch when they made what they thought was a good point. Now than then they bumped into each other in a friendly way and kind of half-laughed if the other one did make a good point. What showed was how much they loved each other. They had all these issues and it hadn’t interfered with loving each other one bit.
And about a block from home, this voice came to me, saying, “Aunt Patty is fed up with me.” It’s hard to say exactly how I knew this voice was important, it’s mostly about a feeling of wanting to follow that voice wherever it goes, like it’s a sack of chocolate-covered strawberries that will spill one out every so often, but only if I’m there, following.
When I went upstairs to the apartment I sat down with paper and pen and wrote those words. More words followed those. I kept on writing.
For weeks afterward, every time I sat down to write, there were words waiting to be written, and that’s how a book came of a walk home.
Although people say it all the time, Getting Near to Baby was not really my first book. They mean it was my first published book. All writers write several books to learn how to do it well. And in every effort, no matter how badly our first efforts turn out, there is something we learned, something to make the work worthwhile.