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The Observer

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It was quite a T-day at the old homestead off Mack Street in White Hall (The Observer’s correspondent writes).

“What in the heck happened to the old junior high? All those ramps where I used to do my death-defying stunts on my Honda Spree are gone ...

“It’s weird. The population is hitting 4,000-plus. There’s a Fred’s there now, for Pete’s sake. No longer is the city a nook for the Pine Bluff Arsenal employees. The Dog House restaurant has moved a couple of times. Is the old Big Banjo Pizza really a saloon now? No Tastee Freeze or Irish Maid Donuts on the outskirts. No Jean Joint.

“But still, my lovable, quirky relatives that defy what is considered the American norm.

“My step-nephew of 11 years old was jamming on a CD Walkman. We’re talking JAMMING. Eyes screwed tight and lips scrunched up in concentration on the beats contained within. What music was allowing this pre-teen with Little Lord Fauntleroy curls to bop his head, shuffle his feet and shine with perspiration dribbled onto his forehead? I’m thinking Chesney or 50 Cent or you know ... what the kids these days are listenin’ to ...

“It was The BeeGees Greatest Hits. It was tight. I approve. I should’ve known by the way he was using his walk.

“The crowning moment was my Mom unveiling her brand new John Deere ridin’ mower, complete with a little place to put her Diet Rite with a straw and her radio. She walked outside the patio with her JD hat and T-shirt, proclaiming proudly, ‘I got these free with the mower!’ ”

Two of The Observer’s colleagues recently came up lucky in the great fertility lottery and got pregnant. The announcements of the forthcoming happy events has given us more than a few moments of horror/joy recently.

It’s not that being a new parent is all that bad. It’s just that it’s utterly, utterly terrifying. The Observer remembers vividly the first time we strapped junior into the family sedan after leaving the hospital. Maybe we were jacked up a little too high on maternity ward coffee, but there for one second as the buckles clicked on the car seat we believed — actually believed — that someone would rush out of the hospital and put a stop to the idea of fumble-fingered ol’ us absconding with a tiny, helpless infant.

The Observer had managed to screw up the assembly of the kid’s crib so thoroughly that it was pretty much a deathtrap — and that was before we had to disassemble it yet again to make it fit through the nursery room door. Giving The Observer a baby was like sticking a Ming vase in a Cub Scout’s bicycle basket, blindfolding him, and saying “Have a nice trip to Paducah!” before lending a mighty push.

Slowly, the fear is replaced by something else: the desire to club over the head, quite forcefully, any person who offers advice on child-rearing. The best thing anybody ever told us on the subject is: Nothing works for every kid, or for every parent. Offering child-rearing advice is something akin to a bulldozer mechanic trying to offer tips on the care and feeding of that new Ferrari you just bought. It might be somewhat useful, but it’s never going to be completely right.

That said, let me offer at least these two bits of advice:

1. Tell them you love them. Read to them, even if they don’t understand. Bring along sunscreen even if it’s cloudy. Carry wet wipes. Feel your way through the early years and know that nobody ever gets it right — that there is no right. Stop every once in a while and just marvel at your child. Their lives, to them, are infinite, stretching out to the horizon like a garden where every leaf might hide a silver coin. Every once in awhile, you get to catch a glimpse of your own life through eyes that don’t know anything about death or pain. That makes it all worth it.

2. Onion tea: This is an old remedy come down from the mountains with The Observer’s hillbilly ancestors: Take half a white or yellow onion, dice it and boil it. Strain the liquid off, cool to room temperature, and serve it up in a bottle. Junior sometimes had breath that could have balded the Wolfman, but a couple sips of this stuff stilled his colic like nothing doing.

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