Bringing up baby and making it to breakfast :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Only my baby daughter Ally can tell us if our family should take a little road trip this morning. The fate of our weekly breakfast adventure rests in her 11-month-old hands.
I am sure no Hitchcock or Spielberg movie ever had this many cliffhangers. Will my daughter's next tune be a soaring celebration of life or a wailing blues number? Will she eat breakfast or just sleep through it?
Today, even getting out the door is a challenge because Ally unravels a bit as we're about to leave.
Luckily, our 4-year-old daughter, Dina, comes to the rescue and grabs a small stuffed toy duck, which she waves in front of her sister. Ally is captivated. Dina, we have learned, has perfected the "whatever works" approach to cheering up the baby.
There is something at stake for her, of course: pancakes. She knows that calming her sister will speed up our trip to the local diner.
First, though, my wife Nancy reminds me that we have to pack for our daring excursion. I figure we need about three or four items to keep the baby clean for every food she will wear or eat. This strategy won't stop the mess, but it might help contain it. We are ready for the world-I think.
Just as we leave, though, I stop myself. What did we forget? Parenthood has sacked my memory. I feel like we're missing one of the essentials. I step back inside and find the missing piece—that magical duck.
I grab it for the trip with a few other baby toys that are scattered on the floor. The duck's name, I notice, is "Waddles."
I hold out hope that this baby-soothing stuffed duck can help save the day if it's needed.
On ambitious adventures like this one, it helps to travel with a popular 4-year-old. The diner is crowded, but Dina cuts through the throng until she sees Brenda and several other staff members we've gotten to know over the years. We sit down a few moments later, with the sounds of 1960s and 1970s rock music playing on the radio.
Somehow, there's a pause in the action. Ally patiently complies when we put her in a high chair. Dina draws with crayons and a coloring book the diner gives to children. Nancy and I read the menu. This is the first chance we've had to read anything all morning.
I'm busy reading the "omelettes" section when I notice Ally is already exploring on her own.
Nancy and I feel a rush of pride and glee when a young couple talks to Ally and she grins at them. It's a love fest at the diner!
Moments later, when Ally cries, the same folks ignore the disruption and appear to eat a little faster.
The people, the sounds, the chaos-Nancy and I exchange glances and wonder for a moment if this scene is too much for our baby daughter. We try rocking her feet in a bicycle motion while softly singing her name, but that doesn't lift her spirits.
I pick Ally up and begin to walk around the restaurant.
It's just time for a little detour, I tell Nancy. We'll be back soon-I hope.
My daughter finds a home on my right shoulder as I try to calm her.
"What is she thinking?," I ask myself.
Is she hungry, tired, in need of a change? Does she just need to be comforted? Or is this trip too much for her to handle?
I can't answer all those questions right away, though, so I stop trying. I just hold my daughter, talk to her, keep walking with her and show her the sights, including another baby at the restaurant and a red truck that passes by.
Soon, we are ready to shift gears again, just in time for breakfast.
As we rejoin Nancy and Dina, Ally has the look of a traveler who's in the right place. When she sees our waiter put a bowl of oatmeal on the table, she kicks with excitement.
It's hot, so Nancy and I take turns blowing on the oatmeal and touch it as well. Dina feels a little left out, so she follows suit. Ally, however, squirms. She must know she is the only one in the family who hasn't put her hands in the oatmeal on this trip, at least not yet.
Finally, Nancy lifts the oatmeal to Ally's mouth, but she turns her head.
Then, suddenly, she turns back and devours a spoonful of the stuff, then another, and later even tries a few pieces of pancake.
We cheer: This is our trip's version of the Grand Canyon and we've got a great view.
Ally is eating, smiling and wearing her breakfast all over her face, hair and clothes. What's more, we're all actually sitting down to breakfast together, at least for the moment.
Before long my little girl is on the lookout again, staring at anything her eyes can take in: a giant chalk mural of the restaurant's ice cream creations, a family of four, a plate of waffles and a yellow cab that passes by outside.
I find myself searching the restaurant for more amazing things to show her. Or maybe she'll show them to me first.
After Dina eats one last bite of a pancake, Nancy takes her to the rest room while I clean up Ally.
The Rolling Stones are on the radio, and I pick up my daughter and wave that little stuffed duck near her face.
For the moment, it's just me and Ally- and, of course, Mick Jagger, Waddles the duck and a roomful of people at the diner.
I hug my daughter and hope we'll take this trip again-if that's OK with her.
Dan Baron is a Chicago writer. You can reach him at email@example.com.