The baby is now seven weeks old, and I look at him as he smiles in his sleep and wish for time to stand still. Mainly because he is growing so fast and soon, as if it were already happening: he is walking and talking and riding a bike and graduating from high school and experiencing his first heartbreak. But also because season four of “Arrested Development” has been released on Netflix, and I have been so busy getting thrown up on that I haven’t been able to watch it at all.
It has been an exhausting and exhilarating journey, kind of like a really good bout of exercise, or maybe a marathon viewing of “The Wire.” Thankfully, we’ve had the support of our friends, who have been bringing food. The family has been helpful, too, but sometimes it can be challenging. This baby is half Vietnamese, a quarter Black, and a quarter White, which means we have three separate cultures to deal with, and it is important to Jameelah and I that he experiences all the richness of his heritage. That’s why I’ve been singing to him classic Vietnamese songs, along with standards like “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “No Diggity,” as well as songs by Foreigner and the Beatles.
We’ve been getting all sorts of advice from the different cultures. My older sister, Lynn, came over with two bottles of eucalyptus oil.
“Put this on the baby’s soft spot each day,” she said, “It’ll keep him warm.”
Eucalyptus oil is very pungent. Favored by the elderly in Asia, it is the solution for everything: a cold, a stomachache, coughing, the runs, headaches, seasickness, accidental amputation, etc.
“Uh, OK,” I said, taking the two bottles.
“And here are some herbs,” my sister continued, handing me a small bag of what looked like some sort of shaved bark. “Make it into tea, and give the baby three drops per day to clear out his tongue so that he has a strong appetite.”
Jameelah and I looked at each other. We had been trying to be respectful of the various advice we got, both from Lynn, as well as from Jameelah’s mom, who is Black, while discreetly ignoring most of it. They were both insistent that the baby remained inside, hidden from the world and “bad air” for a month.
“The baby will get sick if you take him outside,” said her mom (and Lynn agreed).
Jameelah’s mom was suspicious of the Moby wrap Jameelah had — a long piece of cloth to hold the baby close to the mother.
“He might suffocate in there,” she said, and we had to tell her the women in various African countries had been strapping their babies to their backs and carried them around that way for thousands of years, usually while working the field and fending off lions.
The White side of the family has been less pushy, thoughtfully advocating for cloth diapers and organic baby food. Jameelah’s dad is looking forward to buying the baby a gun and taking him to his first firing range. Nanna, Button’s great-grandmother, will ensure that he writes “thank you” cards for every gift he gets.
While we ignore a lot of the advice given (such as new mothers should not bathe for a month), there is comfort in these traditions knowing that we have people like my sister and Jameelah’s mom to ground the baby in his heritage.
Two weeks ago, Button turned one month old, a milestone in the Vietnamese culture. To celebrate, Lynn brought over the required materials to make an offering to the Quan Yin responsible for making sure children grow up strong and obedient. She laid out 12 bowls of sticky rice, 12 bowls of a bean and rice dessert, lit incense, held the baby and made him pray that he’ll eat well and grow fast and do well in school later. Looking at my sister, who is now the matriarch in our family since my mother passed away eight years ago, I was grateful that Button and I still had this link to our heritage. When the ceremony finished and Lynn left, I grabbed a bottle of eucalyptus oil and rubbed a drop onto the baby’s head.
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