After my daughter, Eliana, gave birth to a healthy baby girl who instantly latched on to her breast, I was assigned to housesit the dog. Mom and Dad and baby Mila were healthy, happy and exhausted, and would be staying in the hospital for the night. Minnie, their mutt, needed tending to.
I had been to their apartment many times. It was an apartment I would have lived in when I was their age – charming, small, funky. But now, being there alone, it felt different. As a mom, a grandmom, knowing an infant was on the way home, it felt worrisome. Maybe a little too funky.
It was one of 12 apartments in a building that had been crafted out of a carriage house. The matching mansion had been turned into a French restaurant/catering hall – sort of charming, sort of decrepit. As you approached the building, there was a large white concrete patio that looked sad, having nothing decorative to soften or shade it. In a corner was a small barbeque with a few broken chairs scattered around. Four doors opened into the building; they didn’t lock and barely closed. On the mailboxes, tenants’ names were scrawled on Band-Aids.
I walked up the steep flight of stairs as I had done many times, but this time they felt treacherous. I pictured my daughter tumbling down them with Mila in her arms. When I opened the door to their apartment, Minnie, a black lab mix, greeted me in the foyer, wagging her tail and licking me frantically.
To the right of the foyer was an excessively small kitchen. I had never tried to fit in it before. The refrigerator didn’t open all the way, and the oven had to be approached from the side. To economize on counter space, they didn’t have a toaster or microwave, but they did have a George Foreman grill that they used to make toast and heat leftovers – an odd choice, I thought. Beyond the kitchen was a tiny, sunny room that seemed to be a pantry and recycling collection depot.
Straight ahead through the foyer was a spacious living room with an L-shaped couch, a coffee table and an enormous TV. The windows were plentiful but water condensation between the panes obscured the view beyond. The room had items for the baby – a bassinet, a mat with toys – but the floor was so worn and scratched that I wasn’t sure a baby should be allowed on it. The walls were painted a deep periwinkle blue. The furniture was brown. A dreary space.
The bedroom, however, was lovely, with windows that were, in fact, transparent and looked out onto a wooded area. They had set up an ergonomic-looking crib in a corner, with the baby’s name – Mila Rose – painted on the wall above it in grey and pink. The floor in this room was clean and polished. Amazingly, in this extremely small apartment, there was another large TV in the bedroom. The walls were decorated with wooden placards, probably from Bed Bath and Beyond, inscribed with declarations of love and friendship and forever.
Eliana has always been sentimental, a feeling I recall in myself at a young age but have lost somewhere along the way. I love this about my daughter, and am grateful she has reawakened it a little bit in me, at least in relation to her. She becomes fiercely attached, and it seems as if declaring this all over the bedroom wall is reassuring, or perhaps a warning.
The bathroom was difficult. The toilet seat was child-sized but even so required a cut-out in the door to close around it. The tub was fine, but the paint on the window frame was peeling. Interestingly, hanging from the towel holders were towels embroidered with their initials, likely gotten at the bridal shower and incongruous to the decrepitude of the room.
While despairing, I remembered that my mother would fastidiously clean the apartment of any family member bringing home an infant. Soap and water in a bucket with a huge sponge; everything washed ferociously. Is this is what was called for? Should I do that? It might infuriate my daughter (that wouldn’t have occurred to my mother).
I took Minnie out and walked in the woods surrounding their apartment. I met a few neighbors, mostly young couples who owned dogs and knew Minnie. Everyone asked how my daughter and the baby were doing. Presents were left on the landing near the apartment door. It seemed as if the building was awaiting the coming of Mila Rose.
After a quiet night with a very cuddly Minnie, I put out the recyclables and called the Maid Brigade to clean the apartment. It made no difference. Old is old. I decided to paint the window frame in the bathroom and buy a rug to cover the awful living room floor.
A week later I was sitting in that same living room on the brown couch with Mila Rose sleeping in my arms. My daughter was cleaning up in the tiny kitchen. I held the baby, watching her breathe. I looked toward the cloudy windows. I had never felt more present, content and at one with life.
My daughter said she was concerned that when my mother came to visit, she would be upset by the apartment. No, I said, it’s perfect.
Lynne Reitman lives and works in Dobbs Ferry, where she walks, sees friends, takes yoga classes and writes.