The Bear

I'm disinclined to spend much money on baby clothes, as tempting as dressing the boy like an eggplant or a ladybug is. My mother, bless her heart, is a great bargain shopper and made it her personal mission to buy the bun nice clothes for no more than two bucks a piece at the thrift stores around town. The rest of his clothes were donated by friends, and in one case, an acquaintance. His most trendy duds are either booty from the shower, or good consignment shopping. His two new jammies were on deep discount. I made an exception for what I thought would be the clothes in which he would be in coming home from the hospital. There is a special mythos that surrounds the "coming home" outfit, and I think that most first-time moms are afflicted with loading all of their hopes and fears and insecurities and excitement and incompetence into the act of shopping for this one ensemble. It, unlike the baby, is tangible, and you can fuss over the details while imagining that you'll be dressing a complete stranger in these tiny duds, an exercise that seems impossible and downright cracked if you think too hard on it.

I opted for a quirky ensemble. For his underthings I bought pajamas with monkeys on it. It also had buttons shaped like monkeys, which I envisioned poaching later to sew on some other thing after he grew out of it. I bought him a dark blue pilot's cap which would cover his ears, and tied under the chin with little laces. In the diaper bag I tucked an unfathomably tiny pair of socks and some adorable blue shoes which someone had given us as a shower gift. And, the creme de la creme, my most beloved item in this strange get-up, his winter coat.

The coat was purchased guiltily at an expensive baby boutique. Fake white wooly sheepskin with a chunky zipper, it also had a hood. The hood was adorned with bear ears. It was the most awe-inspiringly cute piece of clothing I had ever seen, and I knew no method of eluding its charms.

Once home with it, I hung it with reverence on our coat rack in the hall, almost as though the bun were already born, almost as though he were just hanging around, waiting for just the right excuse to come and try it on. I would pick it up by the shoulders and hold it out to my husband. "He's going to be a bear," I would gush. "He's going to be a tiny bear!" Then I would hang it back up with our enormous coats, a jaunty little white flourish dressing up the somber black wool jackets.

Then, of course, I went into labor. The ensemble was all packed up, and I delicately put the coat on top of the diaper bag. I was going to be bringing home a bear with me, and I was pretty damned excited about it.

The bun was born. We were delirious. There was a tiny boy sharing our room with us. People expected us to take him home. It was very surreal.

As we got ready to pack up the bun for his first journey to the big outside, the deconstruction of the "coming home" ensemble began. First, during his in-hospital check-up with the pediatricians, they told my husband that the pilot hat was no good because the ties could strangle him. After this piece of confidence, I took another look at his monkey jammies and realized that its buttons were perfect little Heimlich-maneuver pellets. They were like inconspicuous death monkeys: one good suck down the gullet, and bye-bye bun. The jammies were also too big by a long shot; his legs would have folded up out of the pants completely and his hands were inches away from the cuffs. The socks were passable, although the hospital dressed him in a little pair of blue "boy" socks to signify his gender, which ensured that we wouldn't have to figure out how to put the new ones on. The shoes were, as my husband said, "a little like clown shoes" they were so huge, not to mention that there was no possibility of figuring out how to get them on such tiny feet.

Then there was the coat. It was just too big, no question about it. I held it up to put it on, and it was obviously a ridiculous proposition; even considering putting his arm through the sleeve was like putting a gnat in the Holland Tunnel. It would have easily covered him from head to foot and then some, though it was only supposed to reach his waist. He would have drowned in fake fleece on the short drive home, so we packed it up with the other abandoned clothes in favor of the surprisingly prescient back-up outfit I had brought along. I don't recall what it was. But my "parent-competence" confidence was pretty well shaken since my perfect "coming home" outfit turned out to be the sartorial equivalent of an abattoir instead.

Once home, the bear coat was placed on the hook again, waiting for the day when the bun could wear it. Every now and then I would hold it up, and one time I actually put it on him. He was still too small, but I knew that the weather was getting warmer and the days when he would need a warm coat were getting fewer and farther between. I was going to meet my husband somewhere, and wanted to show up with a tiny bear in tow, but for whatever reason the bun had a complete meltdown before we left the house; red angry choking sobs guaranteed that I took him out of the bear coat, and probably out of everything else too, desperate to try and soothe him.

I feared the coming warm days. "It'll be too warm by the time it fits him," I'd lament. "We'll take him to the mountains, expressly so he can be a bear," he said. "Bears live in the mountains anyway."

So we went on, the days got warmer, the coat hung in the hallway full of bearish potential unrealized. I dressed the bun in all sorts of cute or boring outfits, went for lots of walks, changed lots of diapers.

Yesterday it was grey outside. I was trying to pull my head out of my butt as usual, getting together a diaper bag and dressing Tiny up for his first date. It was a long morning; I was incredibly fatigued, and getting myself dressed was an almost insurmountable task. Dressing the bun was a comedy of errors; the first outfit I picked were his pretend "hipster" duds, which have served him well in the past. After I plunked him in his bouncy seat and continued to mount Shackelton's Expedition, I turned and caught a glimpse of him. I started to laugh. His little faux-jeans were far too tight and his belly was hanging out over the band in a way that screamed "fat, balding has-been." I changed him again.

As I was finally ready to pile out the door, my husband said, "It might be a good day for the bear coat." It was a spark of brilliance. Cool, rainy, and depressing, the bun with a weary mom--the bear coat would provide perfect levity.

I picked it from the rack and held it up by the shoulders the way I had so many times. "It's too small," said L. I held it up and squinted at it. "You're breaking my heart," he said. I lowered it. "It can't be too small," I protested. Tears filled my eyes. I held it up again. "It can't be too small." My face got hot and I implored my husband with a forlorn gaze, but he was a misty mess. The bun was oblivious, his parents holding onto some silly bear outfit and slowly falling apart. One could accuse me of being hormonal; my husband had no good excuse.

Here was a silly coat, never worn, no memories attached to it. But a few months ago, it was packed with expectation. A dream that we would bring home a bear, never realized as time sped by us and the bun grew so quickly that he passed the bear with no by-your-leave. I don't know why it made us both so sad. Maybe we glimpsed the future, which will always be speeding faster than our appreciation of all the little moments we want to savor. He's rocketing through space and we're puttering along in the bike lane. We're clinging to each new skill, but he's gaining them so quickly that he doesn't even recognize that he's developed individual talents.

"Our boy is growing up," said my husband. He was being ironic, but the truth of the matter is that we're going to be gasping for breath often as we watch this tiny boy flying through phases faster than we can adapt.

The coat is still hanging in the hallway. I don't know what to do with it. I suspect it will be there next winter, long after he's outgrown many other outfits he never had a chance to wear.