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Unconventional Milestones: When a Kid Asks About Crime
I guess it stands to reason that two kids means twice as many milestones, but man, it has just been one after another over here. First Ruby learned to ride a bike right as Georgia learned to walk – watching Ruby wobble off unsteadily with Georgia toddling unsteadily after her saying, “Wuuuubaaaaa!” was maybe one of the cutest things that has ever happened.
“Wuuubaaaaa,” of course, is baby talk for “Ruby,” which is yet another milestone: Georgia is talking like crazy. I counted her words for awhile – “ice,” “mama,” “dada,” “ball,” “book,” “Wuuubaaaaa,” “Eh-yot” (for my stepson, Elliot), “Ehmo” (Elmo is inescapable), “more,” “hi” – and then I remembered that she is a second child and I don’t have time to catalog her every word. She has a lot, though, and all of them are cute.
Then there are the teeth. Ruby has lost two bottoms and two tops; Georgia has gotten in four tops and three bottoms. Ruby is cutting 6-year-old molars while Georgia is cutting four molars all at once. (And of course let’s not forget Mommy’s First Root Canal two weeks ago, an awesome grown-up milestone.) Basically, I am really sick of teeth right now for all the trouble they cause, but Ruby sees them as an easy source of cash and is constantly pushing on her teeth to try to get them to wiggle.
Another big milestone was reached just yesterday when Georgia started a Tuesday-Thursday morning toddler playgroup, where she spent three hours dancing, poking other toddlers, singing and eating crayons. And Ruby, for her part, just began soccer, where she mostly stands in the middle of the field with her best friend, and they giggle and hug and giggle some more while all of the other kids race past them. She looks awfully cute in her pink shin guards, though, and she has decided she wants to be a goalie. I don’t even have the slightest idea of how soccer is played, but I am in favor of anything that expends Ruby’s energy on something more productive than repeatedly scaling the shelves of our linen closet or screaming in her sister’s face.
All of those milestones are good, normal, cute, welcome steps on the path to growing up. And then yesterday night, we hit another milestone, one that was normal but not so welcome: Ruby was scared to walk outside after dark, not because of wolves or zombies, which have been her go-to fears for ages, but because “there might be a man with a gun out there.”
“There isn’t, Ruby,” I told her. “You’re safe.”
“But how do you know?” she asked.
And that’s just it; I don’t know. I know there are no wolves in Mid-City, and I know there are no zombies anywhere, but how can I promise her there isn’t going to be a man with a gun in a city where two kids under 12 were shot dead in a week?
I haven’t talked about the murders of Londyn Samuels and Arabian Gayles in front of Ruby, and we don’t watch the news, ever. I have tried to shield her from this reality as much as I can, knowing that even being able to protect her a little bit is a luxury that many parents in this city don’t have.
Honestly, though, I don’t think Ruby’s new fear comes from anything she has heard about those murders. I think she is suddenly aware of crime and criminals because Georgia’s stroller was stolen off of our porch last week. I didn’t make a huge fuss over it, but Ruby did know that it had happened because we used the stroller a lot and she noticed it was gone. And at first, she was pretty generous about it: “Well, I guess someone with a baby really needed it but was super-poor, so I am glad they took it because we can afford to buy another one.” But then she started to fit the pieces together, and she realized that someone – “a thief,” she said, thrilling a bit at the word – had sneaked up on to our porch while she was asleep inside just a few feet away, having passed out on the sofa watching Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue for the 100 millionth time.
“Mommy, what if the bad guy came inside and stole me instead of the stroller?” she wondered.
“We have an alarm system,” I said and hoped it would end there. But it didn’t, of course, because this is Ruby.
“What if I had been outside, though? Would he have stolen me and the stroller?”
And on and on and on. As fast as I could think of some way to reassure her, she would come up with a new scenario.
I understood completely, actually, where she was coming from because when I was almost exactly her age, someone stole my dad’s bike, equipped with a kid’s seat for me, off of our porch. My first reaction was just like Ruby’s: “Oh, someone with a kid must have needed a bike.” And my subsequent reactions were similar, too, in that it slowly dawned on me that not everyone in the whole wide world had my very best interests at heart.
As much as I love watching Ruby experience the joys of the city in the same way I experienced them, I naively hoped she might be spared some of its ugliness.
But in some ways, I think of New Orleans as just another genetic trait I passed on to Ruby. Some of the things she got from me are gifts, no doubt, but along with those, she also got my crooked teeth, my nervous stomach, my tendency toward swimmer’s ear, my anxiety.
I wish she hadn’t inherited those things, but the silver lining is that I know how to deal with them, having lived through them. She won’t escape adolescence without braces, but I can tell her about orthodontic wax and cook her the same mashed potato-and-ground-beef slurry that my mom cooked for me. I can show her how to pull her earlobe down and back while dripping in some diluted rubbing alcohol every time she gets out of a pool. And I can show her how to embrace the good things about New Orleans while trying to improve the bad and how to be cautious without living in fear.
“Dawning awareness of crime in New Orleans” isn’t a milestone for the baby book, maybe, but just like “first hurricane evacuation,” “first crawfish boil” and “first time seeing a frat boy puke during Endymion,” it is a part of growing up here.