Baby Fever

Fenway Park from a nearby apartment building rooftop.

My nephew and his wife just had a baby boy.

He’s the first great-grandchild in our very huge extended family, so we’re thrilled. I was dying to see him, but I waited a month before I asked if we could stop by and see the little guy in Boston.

We got the go-ahead after watching our last Red Sox game of a very disappointing season at Fenway Park. The Sox looked like they had it wrapped up leading 5-1 in the top of the 8th inning, so I suggested cutting out early to see the little nugget.

“Let’s go,” I said. “I’m bored and getting cold.” I didn’t get an argument from my sister, brother-in-law and niece, so we went to a souvenir shop to pick up some swag for the baby. Truth be told, we were all much more excited about the baby than the game.

As we walked to my nephew’s apartment, we heard a roar in Fenway Park that made us think we might’ve made a mistake leaving. By the time we got to the apartment building on Boylston Street, the score was 5-4, and the San Francisco Giants were coming on strong.

“Uh oh,” I muttered. “The Curmudgeon’s going to kill me when he finds out that we left early. Do me a favor and don’t say anything.”

Our problem was quickly solved when we took an elevator to the 20th floor rooftop deck and peered over one side of the building. There in all its glory was Fenway Park. And though the infield was obscured by the stadium, you could see two outfielders, watch the scoreboard and hear the roar of the crowd.

Talk about prime real estate.

While the game progressed, we craned our necks for a better view of the Tiny Man, who was sleeping and nuzzled next to his mommy in a front pack. As we watched him snooze, I tried to remember having a newborn, but couldn’t. I had no recollection of ever feeding, changing, bathing or holding a baby so small, though I’ve done it twice.

Thank goodness for photos from the newborn stage because it’s a blur.

Babies put their parents in survival mode for the first few months, perhaps explaining my memory lapse of parenting a newborn. Well, it’s not a complete lapse. When my daughter was about two weeks old, I told the Curmudgeon that I planned to walk away from the house until I could no longer hear her shrieking. I got about a half-mile away before I finally found some peace and quiet.

To this day, it’s hard for me to listen to a baby screaming, particulary in a store when I’m trying to shop. I spared fellow customers the agony by pretty much keeping my daughter home during the first few years. She screamed whenever we left the house, so it was just easier to stay home. Some would argue that wasn’t the best strategy, but it’s how I coped.

My sister doesn’t need any advice on grandparenting, but I gave her some anyway: Resist the urge to comment on your son and daughter-in-law’s parenting skills, particularly in the first few months when sleep is at a premium and nerves are jangled.

One relative refused to give me the satisfaction of complaining about my daughter’s fussiness and incessant crying. Nicknamed the “Screech Owl,” she cried non-stop for about three years. Even my mother, who had seven kids, said she was difficult.

But I could never get any sympathy from one relative, who always brushed off my complaints.

“She’s a baby,” I was told. “And babies cry.”

I wanted a kind ear and maybe a little babysitting help, but what I got felt an awful lot like criticism. Of course, I may have been overly sensitive. I had a newborn and my nearly 4-year-old son reverted to acting like an 18-month-old. Happily, he outgrew that phase after a few months.

During our visit with my grand-nephew (boy, do I feel old writing that), we took turns holding the baby, who slept peacefully as he was passed from one person to the next. The thrilling moment came when he cracked open his deep blue eyes and pursed his lips while I was holding him. It reminded me that when you have a tiny baby, everything is monumental.

Babies fascinate us. Experts say it’s because we’re drawn to really cute things and babies top that list. But scientists say it goes deeper than that, saying a part of the human brain is immediately activated when we see a baby’s face that remains unchanged when we see an adult.

So in effect, none of us can help going bonkers over babies. It’s hard-wired in our DNA, and is basically part of the evolution process.

After we left, I texted my sister and told her about our visit with her grandson. It was clear that he’s stolen her heart. Babies do this. They make us instantly fall in love, reminding us that life’s full of hope, possibility and joy.

Though she’d left Boston shortly before we arrived to return home to Connecticut, my sister was already counting the days until her next visit.

“I miss him so much,” she texted.

I understand, because so do I. I’m trying to figure out if I can sneak in another visit during an upcoming college tour around Boston with my daughter. I’ve got baby fever too.

To Uber or Not

After signing up to drive, I’m feeling a little hesitant to join the Uber team.

I’ve signed up to be an Uber driver.

It was surprisingly easy. After downloading the app, I gave my license, registration, social security information and passed a background check. The biggest hurdle was coming up with a decent headshot. It took four tries before I came up with an acceptable photo.

But now that I’ve been approved to drive passengers (and their emotional support animals), I’m not sure I’ll actually drive anyone. I’m hesitant to open the Uber app to see if anyone needs a ride, so I haven’t. And though I thoroughly cleaned my SUV after I was approved last week, it’s a mess again so I can’t carry passengers until I clean it.

Uber driving seems like a bit of a stretch for those who know me, but I have a part-time job driving for a religious organization that I thoroughly enjoy. You wouldn’t believe how appreciative people are when they need a ride. I’d forgotten until we waited over a half hour for our son to pick us up at the ferry on Martha’s Vineyard over the summer. By the time he got there, I didn’t know if I wanted to hug or scream at him for making us wait so long.

As a reporter for years, I enjoy meeting and talking to strangers and hearing their stories. People open up in cars, telling you intimate details of their lives, from their recuperation from a stroke to their decision to attend their 20th high school reunion in Maine against their better judgment.

And there’s little on the line talking to a driver in a car, which may be the 21st Century equivalent of the neighborhood bartender. People spend a lot of time in transit these days, and the preferred method is Uber. I figure at the very least, I may get a little fodder for my blog.

I’m not worried about my safety because, well, I’m just not. I covered crime in some of the worst areas of New Haven, CT., and didn’t give it a second thought. This is something of a miracle for a person who tends to obsess about almost everything.

One of the reasons I registered to drive is my incredibly positive experience with Uber. Every time I’ve needed a ride, Uber drivers have been quick, polite and professional. I’ve got some time on my hands now that the kids are back in school, and I wanted to return the favor and earn a little pocket change.

What I love most about Uber is how it gets you out of jams. During a recent visit to Boston, my niece realized that she’d be late for a college meeting if we walked a half-hour back to Boston University. We were in the middle of dinner, and the options were packing up our meals or calling an Uber.

Within four minutes, our driver arrived in a Toyota Hylander, and we were spiriting along the streets of Boston. Along the way, our driver told us he’d been driving for Uber for two years, and likes it because of its flexibility. It’s his full-time job, and he’s doing well: the day he drove us, he’d already earned $330 via 20 rides.

Another incentive is your car must be immaculate. I told my husband that if I signed up to be an Uber driver, it would force me to keep my car clean. I said I might even equip the backseat with hand sanitizer, tiny bottles of water and tissues like many of the most considerate Uber drivers.

I need a little inspiration to keep my vehicle clean because my messy car is legendary. Back in the day, my dad gave me a bumper sticker: “A clean car is a sign of a sick mind.” What a jokester. When I told my brother-in-law Rich about my Uber plans, he said, “You can’t do it. Your car’s not clean enough.”

We’ll see about that.

One thing is very clear: Uber wants me on the road. Within hours of my approval, Uber texted me that my account was active and I could sign in and start earning money immediately.

When five days passed and I still hadn’t signed in, they sent me the following text:

“Do you have questions about taking your first trip? Most drivers do. Visit the Stamford hub to ask questions.”

When two more days passed without any action, I got this text:

“Wanna get rolling and start earning? Get support from Uber experts at the Stamford Greenlight Hub.”

And this yesterday:

“Shali here from Uber. Did you know Uber partners have access to special deals on phone bills, gas and more? Take your first trip and enjoy your perks today.”

What I’m wondering is this: has anyone ever called the Greenlight Hub and said they’re having second thoughts?

I’m not really sure I want to drive for Uber. I think I may have just wanted the option to do it. How many times do we sign up for things thinking it’s a good idea only to dread it once the day comes around to actually do it?

This came to light while discussing a possible part-time job decorating specialty doughnuts with my friend. As we discussed sharing the job, it sounded like a great idea and I told her I was headed to the business to discuss it with the owner. But as I drove by, I realized the prospect of the job was much more appealing than the position. I really don’t want to be anywhere two afternoons a week for five hours, so I drove by without stopping.

This is often the saga of a stay-at-home mom wanting to return to work. We want to work and be productive, but we’re used to making our own schedules and it’s hard to fathom being in one place for several hours at a clip. At least it is for me.

What’s holding me back from Uber?

Besides first-time jitters, my biggest fear that I may get a passenger who gets angry or impatient with me if I get lost. Though this doesn’t happen often in my part-time driving job, my GPS has sent me on wild goose chases. Just a few days ago, it had me getting off and on the highway three times to find a doctor’s office that was only a half-mile away.

My passenger and I became very frazzled when it became clear that we were going to be late, but I was fortunate that I know the woman well and she’s even-tempered and kind. I’m not sure I could tolerate someone yelling at me or becoming frustrated while I’m driving.

I also don’t like the fact that passengers rate drivers, and visa versa. Everyone’s experience is subjective, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with someone assessing me while I’m driving. I’m an outgoing and friendly person, which might annoy some people. I could get a terrible rating for just being myself.

So I’ll continue to weigh whether I want to actually drive for Uber, or just keep it in my list of possibilities. In either case, I’m going to clean the car again – just to keep all my options open.

Dog Tired

This is how I spent the day after the pasta party: in a reclined position on the couch like my pup Cali.

I just hosted a high school pasta party for the boys’ and girls’ cross country teams.

I can’t move, but this is one of the perils of parenting a teen into your 60s. While your sister and friends are enjoying grandchildren, you’re still in the throes of full-time parenting. Caring for a newborn at age 42 was tough, but that seems easy compared to parenting when you’re knocking on retirement age.

My exhaustion is mostly self-inflicted. I’m Italian-American, which means I can’t take shortcuts when it comes to food. I put up a double-batch of meat sauce, simmering it for hours so the flavors melded. I made marinara sauce for the vegetarians, and homemade pesto with basil snipped from the garden. I cross-hatched artisan bread, stuffing it with roasted garlic and four cheeses before drizzling it in butter and baking it.

I don’t particularly relish entertaining, but I can’t refuse a pasta party, the ultimate team bonding experience. Someone’s got to step up and let these kids blow off a little steam after their vigorous practices and looming meets. And judging by the decibel level and the fact that they stayed for three hours, they need to relax and unwind.

I spent much of the night feeling like an invisible short order cook in a busy diner – these kids scarfed down 10 pounds of pasta, a huge tray of macaroni and cheese, six loaves of garlic bread and salad – but I think it’s important to host parties. You can’t always be a guest in life – sometimes, you must don your hostess apron – and I want my kids to know how to entertain.

Hospitality is the relationship between a guest and a host, wherein the host receives the guest with goodwill, including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt describes hospitality in the Encyclopédie as the virtue of a great soul that cares for the whole universe through the ties of humanity.[4]

Source: Wikipedia

Hospitality is vastly underrated these days, but I think it’s something everyone needs to learn, cultivate and put into practice from time to time. You can’t expect to be invited places if you never host gatherings, though I’m sure we all know people who never reciprocate with invitations. But this is the exception rather than the rule. Most people realize that in order to be a guest, you must occasionally host.

This is why when my daughter gingerly approached me and asked if we could have the first pasta party of the season, I said “Sure.”

“Can the boys’ team come?” she asked.

“Sure, why not?” I said. “How many kids are we talking about?”

“Ugh, I don’t know, maybe 30,” she said. “But they probably won’t all come, so don’t worry.”


We didn’t know how many kids were coming until they showed up. It was like Halloween, when cars keep pulling up and the doorbell keeps ringing and you wonder if you’ll run out of candy or have to turn off the porch light. I didn’t have that option, so I began making copious amounts of penne and fettuccine in the largest pasta pot I could find.

As the kids filed in, the Curmudgeon whispered, “I’m probably not eating tonight because you’re going to run out of food.” He managed to eat later that night after returning from his tennis clinic – yea, he bailed out on me after about a half hour – but it was a pretty close call.

When I saw the line for the food snaking out the back door, I asked the kids to take it easy on the first pass through line, noting that there were hungry kids behind them. And then I dug through my freezer, pulling out loaves of frozen garlic bread and throwing them in the oven.

The feeding frenzy didn’t last long, but it was intense. Think seagulls in a McDonald’s parking lot, or swarms of bees on your hummingbird feeders in September. When it was all over, all that remained were a few strands of fettuccine in the serving bowl and some crumbs of bread.


I learned hospitality at an early age, watching my mother host virtually every family gathering at our house. With seven kids, my parents found it easier to host family events rather than travel to relatives’ homes. And though my paternal grandmother Rose always pitched in, the bulk of the entertaining duties fell to my mother.

Though she handled her duties with aplomb, Mom had a recurring nightmare that revealed her true feelings: throwing every cabinet open before guests were due to arrive and discovering all her cabinets were bare.

At 85, she’s still having this nightmare. After I told her that I was hosting this party for 40 kids, Mom dreamed that she was hosting Christmas Eve and didn’t have cocktail sauce for her shrimp cocktail. Mom is proof that some nightmares haunt you for life.

Despite her dream, G is a softie when it comes to parties, often offering to host when no one else steps up. Every year, she hosts family picnics for every major holiday and is still in charge of Christmas Eve for 40 people. When we suggest that she might want to pass the baton to someone else, she says, “No, I think I can do it for one more year.”

When I was growing up, G was always willing to host parties at our house and encouraged us to do the same. It began with Christmas cookie decorating parties in our finished basement when I was about nine, and gradually expanded to rollicking pool parties in high school and college.

Today, I still host the occasional party, though I prefer to go out with friends so I can relax and have fun too. And though I’m relieved to have the pasta party behind me, my relief was short-lived.

As I vegged out on the couch like my dog Cali, my son called from college and asked me to organize a tailgate party for his tennis team for players and parents this weekend.

You’ve got to be kidding, I thought.

But this time, it’s the Curmudgeon’s turn to organize it. It’s the least he can for skipping out on the pasta party and leaving me to do it alone.