The Baby in the Back Row

At the library for our monthly writers’ meeting, I hear a voice behind me calling my name. I turn and blink, trying to recognize this young woman with a baby attached to her by what looks like an overgrown scarf. I won’t remember her name until later, but I know she was one of my best students. She was writing about motherhood. It comes back to me. The last time I saw her, she was pregnant, and I was editing her proposal for a book about birthing plans. But that was—this is a different baby. She has three, I think. Then I discover this pudgy-faced Gerber baby is number four. The oldest is six. Oh. What do you say? He’s beautiful. I love his tiny coveralls and the soft brown fuzz on his head. As our guest speaker talks, every now and then he gurgles a loud amen, and when we write, he seems to be studying the page, thinking hard.

Although wearing the glassy-eyed stare of someone who rarely gets enough sleep, my student seems content and bonded to her baby.

In the front row, another young woman, very young, has the same translucent, puffy look of a new mother. She clutches what looks like a blanket in her lap. Later I’ll learn that it’s her jacket. She’s struggling to write about her recent experience giving her baby up for adoption. Like me, she keeps looking at the baby in the back row.

Afterward, I talk to my student, catching up. Yes, she is still writing when she can. She knows all about me from reading my newsletter. “How’s Annie?” she asks. My dog. “Good,” I say.

I get busy helping to put away the chairs. At home, as I relax into my big chair in front of the TV, Annie jumps into my lap, all 60 pounds of her. She keeps trying to lick my face. I pull her close and pet her soft fur. “Oh, baby, let’s just watch American Idol, okay?”

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