Thu 15 Apr 2010
When we first moved back to Seattle in 2005, we rented a little duplex next door to another little duplex. Granted, these were single family dwellings from the 1920’s that had been converted into two units–don’t get any ideas that they were fancy. Anyway, there was a family next door living in the bottom unit. They were a nice but distant hippie couple who planted flowers, hung laundry, and tinkered with their Volkswagon in the driveway. Their car sported a handmade bumper sticker–more of a sign really–that was affixed to the back window: “This car runs on bio-fuel! I supply the bio-fuel myself by going around to fast food restaurants. Because I save money on gas, I don’t have to work as much and I can spend more time with my family.” Or something like that…only much longer and more condescending.
The couple had a baby named Atticus. I recall at the time missing the To Kill a Mockingbird reference and instead thinking the name “Atticus” was way too ancient for a kid; It’s the sort of name that looks good on paper but in practice seems forced. Aside from this, Josh and I could never remember the name so we started referring to the baby as Spartacus. I’m sure this was prompted by the fact that the first Sex shop I had ever entered (illegally before the age of 18!) was called Spartacus. (It was located on Burnside near Powell’s Books in Portland; It is now an American Apparel).
This baby, like many babies, cried…especially at night. The hippie couple always left their bathroom window opened a crack and their child’s cries would sail into the late night air and into our room. We stuffed earplugs in our ears, turned our fan up, and pounded our pillows: “Damn you, Spartacus!” We would complain the following morning, (after 8+ hours of sleep), about the extra 15 minutes we could have had if only the baby were not crying. When we formally met the couple, the first thing they said was: “Sorry about the crying.” We politely shrugged them off with a “don’t worry about it” but secretly I thought if they were really sorry they would do a better job keeping the crying down…I was that naive.
Admittedly, we were not terribly sad to see the family go after a year. Granted, Spartacus was no longer a baby by then and I would occasionally see him toddling outside near the Volkswagon with his father. (I have no doubt that he is already learning how to change the bio fuel in the family car). We spied on the hippie couple as they packed their possessions into a moving van; I imagined they were probably headed out to some transitional neighborhood in the south end. Later that day, a nice, unmarried, yuppie couple moved into the unit parallel to ours. They had no children.
5 years later, I have a baby…one who cries a lot. I realize now that Spartacus/Atticus never really cried all that much in comparison. Perhaps the hippie couple believed in Attachment Parenting and slept with the baby. Or maybe he was a quiet baby who only made noise when he was was teething and couldn’t make it through the night. Perhaps when the bathroom window was closed it drowned out the majority of the baby’s cries. At any rate: Babies cry…a lot. And of course, my level of empathy has deepened when I recall the sound of our neighbor’s crying child. In the same way I’ll probably feel new found sympathy in two months when I board a plane for the first time with my own baby. I will have joined the ranks of suffering a airplane ride with a small child. I have reached a level of understanding that only those who can call themselves “Parent” can truly reach.