You don't want to mess with a mother's protective instincts.
I grab the baby in one arm, throw open the bedroom window, and out we go. I grab the baby, dial 9-1-1 and lock us in the bathroom. Or I grab the baby, meet the home invader on the stairs, smash him with a Jackie Chan-style punt to the head, leap over his crumpled torso and cruise for the door.
As a new mommy, these were my daydreams. This puzzling preoccupation with protecting my new baby came over me like a bipolar disorder. Before childbirth, I was a pregnant lady, serenely waddling from one baby store to the next in the land of cute. Postpartum, I instantly became Xena: Warrior Princess. Everyone else became a suspected germ carrier, child-snatcher or worse. While I still believed in a loving home environment, good nutrition and regular medical checkups, my new personal philosophy seemed to be: “Touch one hair on this kid’s head and I’ll take you out!” But in real life, circumstances never quite lived up to my level of preparedness.
The Xena syndrome was most pronounced when I was sole caretaker: driving, shopping or home alone with the baby. On one trip downtown, my zeal turned into a dopey cartoon of a Hitchcock movie. I live in a big old city that has a maze of underground streets and parking spaces. I never really thought of it as creepy until the first time I parked down there with my baby, who was then 3 months old. When I finished my errands and returned to the parking space, I lifted the baby from the backpack and momentarily set the pack on the car roof while I buckled her into her seat. When I got behind the wheel, I spotted a homeless guy heading toward us, gesticulating and pointing at my car. He would point, walk a few steps closer, point and walk again, and so on, closing in on us.
I usually carry extra coins and dollars in my pockets for homeless people. But as Warrior Mom? Ha! This called for survival tactics. I slammed down the door locks, started the engine and barreled off. Once back in daylight, I congratulated myself on our narrow escape. Right about then, I slowed for a stoplight, and the backpack — the one the homeless guy had been warning me about — slid from the roof down to the hood.
Another episode took place in a grocery store. It was my first solo shopping trip with the baby, and I was working out the mechanics of reaching for groceries while simultaneously safeguarding my child. Somewhere around aisle 3, I noticed an older fellow who appeared to be following us. I didn’t like the looks of him: three-piece suit, no shopping cart, no groceries. I figured him for a baby-snatcher, gave him a stiletto-eyed stare and visualized yanking his hat over his eyes when he made his move. “She looks kind of big for her age,” he said.
“Not so big,” I snarled. Then, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, he asked me, “Can you guess how much I weighed when I was born?” He didn’t wait for me to give an answer. Three-and-a-half pounds, he told me; his birth had been in the newspapers. “I am Albert, the famous miracle baby!” he proclaimed. I don’t know if it’s true, but many times since then, I have spotted the harmless Albert in the store, telling yet another stunned mother of his miraculous nativity.
Babies do mature and become less fragile. Now that mine is grown, I no longer walk around mentally locked and loaded. I could easily point to the success of my vigilance: No harm ever came to my baby. Then again, maybe I was just lucky.