On vocals and vaccines
“You know a lot of baby songs,” my friends say, without a hint of jealousy.
What can I say? I come by it honest. My mother, who looks like Julie Andrews, was a musical theater star in New Philadelphia, Ohio, who once played a bit part in the made-for-TV movie “Ohms” with George Clooney’s first wife Talia Balsam. (Her iconic line? “No, they are electricity!”)
Since Julia was born, she’s been serenaded by dulcet-toned Mimi. And also by me! I attempted to play it cool at first with vintage records, but my husband and I quickly succumbed to the kinderclassics once we realized they made her stop crying. We cue up nursery rhymes on repeat. We break into song when meltdowns are imminent — in private, in public, with made-up lyrics, at the top of our lungs.
Shameless belting off key? How can this be? I grew up in Paris. No one makes a scene. My family’s loud-American antics often had me wanting to unzip myself out of my skin. Meanwhile, I lost my accent tout de suite and began dressing in all black.
But living in the South has changed me. Now I say hi to everyone, and smile, which would get you called crazy in France.
The baby is on a mission to remove the rest of my sangfroid. The first inkling arrived in late summer when my husband and I made a rare stop at an open-air restaurant on the way back from the beach, where she pounded her palms on the picnic table with a running “Ah! Ah! Ah!” chorus for the socially distanced diners.
Though she was less than a year old, I could see it glimmering on the horizon: The shift from “Oh, what a cute baby!” to “Will somebody shut that kid up?”
A montage of all the times I’d given dirty looks to parents of tantruming toddlers played in my mind. I realized in a flash it’s probably a good thing indoor dining is not currently on the menu. This would never fly in “Bringing Up Bébé”!
The attempt to procure a vaccine in a state that hovers near dead-last for inoculation rates has been its own exercise in shamelessness.
Getting a shot in Georgia is like the Wild West. Friends whisper about surplus lists and sites where you can just show up and get jabbed with no questions asked. We send our phone numbers to random Gmail accounts and are expected to be able to get places within 15 minutes if we get a call. Others claim certain providers don’t check whether you have the preconditions in the current eligibility group, so you can sign up for a slot without having to prove your status.
The whole ordeal is my worst nightmare in every way: the lack of order and efficiency; the inability to prepare in advance; the embarrassing jockeying for position; and, most importantly, the possibility of looking like a fool in public.
Meanwhile, friends of mine up north have lived in fully vaccinated households since mid-February and are out getting mani-pedis!
Back in Savannah, the rumor passed around on IG last week was that a GYN was sitting on 200 shots that would be thrown away in two days and you could show up at the office, filled with sex toys, for your first dose.
The morning of, I waited to hear from braver friends who planned to try it. The phone lines were jammed. Co-workers who had already taken advantage texted that the provider was asking for eligibility now because so many people had shown up. A vision of a mean nurse yelling at me in front of a line of people played on a loop.
A pal texted to say she had been successful at getting hers. Surely this was it! I waited another hour to call again. This time, a shrill voicemail: “The Facebook post is completely fake. If you do not have an appointment, you will not get a vaccine. So please do not drive down here to get a vaccine because somebody posted something on Facebook!”
Sigh. I decided to shoot my shot another time.
At least with the baby, I have no shortage of opportunities to make a scene.
Most recently, I found myself downtown getting a coffee with grandpa (“Hop”) and baby at Cafe Mirabelle, across the street from the French Gothic cathedral basilica of St. John the Baptist. “Let’s go in,” I said, and hoisted up the baby perilously close to naptime on my hip to admire the stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings dressed in powder pink and blue.
We had just entered the hushed nave and filed into a pew for a moment of quiet reflection when she began her serenade. She did not want to be held. She did not want to be put down. She did not want to look at the candles or the startlingly realistic crucifix. And so, as she emitted piercing noises like the organ, I speedwalked across the slippery marble floors while she squirmed, to pitying glances.
In the spring sunshine, I took a deep breath. My little heathen had already forgotten what the fuss was about.
I admired her unabashed willingness to be herself in any context. Then I took another breath, racked my brain for lyrics, and launched into song.