“You’re going to have to trade places and do this for a while,” she commands. I dutifully obey, switching places and taking over the pacifier routine. Carefully, I dip the pacifier into the bottle of liquid and poke it into the baby’s mouth. Baby Noel cries. Once again, I dip and poke, but still Baby Noel cries. By this time, her cries have aroused the attention of our audience.
“You should not let the baby cry,” they admonish in unison while pointing fingers toward Barbra, whom they have identified as the eldest and thus in charge.
“Aw, be quiet,” Barbra shouts to the cloud of annoying advice that is steadily rising above the baby’s cries.
Chris, eager to help, leans out the window with a stick that he has somehow smuggled into the car with him and makes wide sweeping gestures toward the on-lookers. “Go, go,” he says. “Go away.”
“They're coming!” She shouts.
Sure enough, Mother and Daddy are making their way across the street, arms laden with packages and baskets of goods. Quickly, we all jump into our proper places in the back of the car, squeezing uncomfortably between Chris and the carry cot. Mother and Daddy look happy and relaxed, their hour away from us having been a brief respite from ordinary routine. Not surprisingly, Mother goes straight for her crying infant.
“Couldn’t you have picked her up?” She asks wiping the drool from Baby Noel’s red face. “I left a bottle for her right here. And my goodness, she’s all wet.”
Barbra and I look at each other sheepishly. Chris nonchalantly tosses his stick out the window. We are all quiet while awaiting the verdict. Has news of our driving drifted beyond the parking lot? Did someone report our rudeness? Could Mother have heard the baby crying from across the street? But it seems we are not to worry. Mother is actually glad that Baby Noel is so happy to see her and reaches for our prizes with a smile on her face. There is a Match Box car for Chris and the promised stack of British comics for Barbra and me. We reach for them excitedly, quickly recognizing our favorites and putting them on top. We are elated. Our world is perfect. We think a child could not ask for more than to drive and receive comics all in one day.
I don’t realize it at the time, but years later, I will look back on these shopping trips with wonder. Was the world really safer then, or did our ignorance of the common- sense rules that we live by today, actually shield us from the danger that was awaiting in the wings? My children are grown now, but neither was ever left in the car while I shopped. As for playing behind the wheel? Perhaps one could describe my children’s early driving as “playing,” but even that was not started without a license.