Afterwards, even though of course it was too late, Oscar’s mom admitted that she probably shouldn’t have had children. She just wasn’t a kid person, she explained to her friends over lattes, bouncing baby Oscar on her knee. They demurred, told her she was crazy, he was so cute, and then they cooed over him until he spit up on their hands. They wiped their hands delicately with several napkins, remembered prior engagements, and waited a day and a half before texting her back to say they were busy and would call her later. Which usually didn’t happen.
So when Oscar was 6 months old, she did something that really didn’t surprise anyone – not her friends, not her mother, and not herself. One morning she woke up to the sounds of Oscar talking to himself in his crib – not crying, just babbling. She went to the crib, and looked down at him, and he smiled up at her and said “Ooooh?” And she realized she felt nothing.
And she wanted him to have a mom who would smile back at his smiling face, and who would babble with him, and teach him to eat food and crawl and walk and talk and drive a car. So she packed up all the belongings he had accumulated in 6 months (which wasn’t really much, she thought as she scooped onesies out of the dresser) and she threw everything into black garbage bags. She packed them into her car, clipped Oscar into his car seat, fastened him into the car as well, and she drove 25 miles away to a fire station where she could be anonymous, and she exercised her right to safe surrender her child.
At least, she thought that was her right.
“Ma’am?” said the puzzled 30-year-old volunteer firefighter in the doorway.
“Miss,” she corrected him. “There’s no way I’m older than you.”
“I’m sorry. Miss…how can I help you?”
“I want to safely surrender my baby,” she said, holding out Oscar, who looked around, blue eyes wide. She jerked her head toward the blue-and-white sign on the outside wall, showing an infant being either given or received by a pair of hands.
“You can’t do that,” he said. “There’s an age limit. How old is your baby?”
“Oscar is 25 weeks. Almost 6 months,” she amended when he looked at her blankly.
“The safe surrender law only applies for the first 72 hours after birth,” the firefighter told her apologetically.
“I didn’t know that.” A pause. “What do you suggest I do?”
“Well…are you sure you can’t just take him home again?” the firefighter asked, obviously out of his depth.
“I really don’t think I should do that,” Oscar’s mom said, adding, “I’m just not a kid person.”
“Well…maybe you should have thought about that before you had a baby?” the firefighter said.
All of his sentences went up at the end, which irritated Oscar’s mom. Surely she couldn’t be the first person who had realized that child rearing was just not for them. The helpless look on the firefighter’s face lighted something inside her, and she said firmly, “I’m leaving him here. And these bags.” She deposited the trash bags on the ground at the firefighter’s feet, thrust the grinning baby into his arms, and got back into her car. Before she could start the engine, however, she got back out – the firefighter breathed a huge sigh of relief – but she was only ducking into the backseat to pull the Baby on Board sticker from the rear window and toss it onto the black trash bags. She blew a kiss to Oscar, got back in the car, and drove away.
“Um,” said the firefighter. He looked down at the baby in his arms, who had looked after the car as it drove away but apparently didn’t find any of this distressing. The baby looked up at him, smiled, and blew a series of small bubbles. “Um.” The baby laughed. “What’s your name, little man? I’m Keith. Maybe we can find something in all this stuff that will tell me what your name is.” He considered that. “Maybe also what your mom’s name is. And then maybe we can get you back to her.”
The firefighter took the baby, the car seat, and all the trash bags inside. He carefully snapped the baby into the seat and placed it nearby on the ground where he could keep his eye on it. The baby watched placidly as he opened each bag and pulled out handfuls of clothes, baby-sized towels and washcloths, a ziplock bag filled with toiletries. There was a baby carrier and many blankets. One bag was primarily toys, which caught the baby’s interest.
At the bottom of the last bag, the firefighter found a baby book, labeled OSCAR. Only a few pages were filled in, in half-hearted scribbling, and the three pictures were pasted in lopsided. The person doing it had either been in a rush, or was just not interested. There didn’t seem to be anything that would help him find the mother.
“Is your name Oscar?” the firefighter asked, and the baby perked up. “Oscar? Oscar!” he said, enjoying the way the baby grinned at hearing his own name, until he realized how quickly his own voice was going sing-song. He deepened it again. “Nice to meet you, Oscar. I’m Keith,” he said. He looked around. “And…I guess you’re coming home with me.”