Love Bug, Sweetie Dear, Pumpkin Pie, Etc by Polly Rosenwaike (Book Excerpt)

From the Book:

Copyright © 2017 by Polly Rosenwaike
Published by arrangement with Doubleday, an imprint of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC


From the story…..Love Bug, Sweetie Dear, Pumpkin Pie, Etc.

The book about how to calm your baby said to swing her vigorously back and forth. Swing her harder than you’d think. Serena paced the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, with all the lights turned out, sailing Eve like a boat in a stormy sea. The edge of violence in it gave her more satisfaction than those tedious maternal tactics: cooing, nursing, humming lullabies. Sometimes she wondered how much vigor was too much, how much more force she would need to apply to be on the wrong side of those public service announcements on the bus: Never shake your baby.

Surely any day now, the child’s real parents would return and collect her. Surely Serena and Henry were the surrogates, the starter parents. They’d done all right; they’d kept her alive. But soon they’d be relieved from their strange duties and change back into themselves. Time would resume its prevailing sensible arrangement: work by day, sleep straight through the darkest hours of night. They’d lie in bed embracing, two independent adult bodies, listening to each other’s unremarkable breath.

Occasionally Henry, prone to nostalgia, would reminisce.

Remember when we had that baby?

Yeah, that was crazy, Serena would say.

I miss her.

I know, but I bet she’s doing great. I bet she’s gone to a good home.

They took up the whole width of the sidewalk: Henry, Serena, and one stately stroller, on their way to the coffee shop. The stroller could rumble fleetly over snowdrifts and ice sheets; the handsome adjustable hood extended all the way down over the baby napping in the removable bassinet. It had been paid for by Henry’s parents, who’d sent their granddaughter a bounty of expensive gifts and made no plans to book a flight and come meet her. At twelve weeks old, Eve had only been outside a handful of times: the winter’s fault, for packing the span of her life so far with bitter wind and piles of snow, and Eve’s own fault for throwing a fit whenever she was placed in her posh stroller. Better to keep her inside where it was warm and the walls could contain her crying. But finally she seemed to be contemplating the idea that existence need not mean constant protest. She rode tranquilly this afternoon, staring up into the indigo fabric of the stroller hood as if, for all she knew, it was the sky.

This was the last day of Serena’s maternity leave. Next week she’d resume her post at the library, in the hushed vault of books. She’d be called upon not for vital sustenance but to satisfy an intellectual curiosity. No one would scream or fall ill because she hadn’t satisfied them. Since Eve’s birth, Serena had been doing the bulk of the care while Henry raced to finish his projects. Now he would serve as the primary parent for the next three months until Eve started daycare. He would no doubt do a better job of it than Serena had—prove more patient and playful and loving.

At the coffee shop, they found a table where they could park the stroller, and ordered sickly sweet lattes in holiday flavors and a chocolate caramel brownie to share. They sat down facing each other, and Henry slid his hand across the table. “It’s been a long time since we’ve done this.”

“Yeah, before Eve. B.E.,” Serena said, grasping his hand, and then they fell silent.

She remembered a time, shortly after they’d started dating, when they sat at another coffee shop, holding hands without talking, the closeness of their bodies filling in for conversation (they’d made love just a few hours before, lingering in bed while their stomachs rumbled from hunger), until she started to worry that she wouldn’t have enough to say to him every time they sat at a table together for the rest of their lives. She already wanted to marry him. But the upside of that probably not happening was that she wouldn’t have to face all the times she couldn’t think of anything to say, or ended up saying the wrong thing. If she estimated at least one meal a day together, nearly every week of the year, for fifty or so years—it was staggering.

A middle-aged woman with a to-go cup in her hand stopped in front of the stroller. Eve had woken up and was slithering her tongue in and out of her mouth. “What a calm, charming baby,” the woman said.

“She’s not calm,” Serena said. “Don’t let her fool you.”

“But so adorable. How can you stand it?”

Eve smiled at the new face making gaga eyes at her.

“My two are all grown. The younger boy’s a freshman in college this year, out in California, and the older one is off teaching English in Taiwan.”

“Wonderful,” Henry said. “Sounds like you did a great job.”

Serena looked at the woman’s meticulously arranged bright scarf, her scarlet lipstick and beaded earrings. How free she seemed, the accomplishment of her children’s childhoods and adolescences behind her. She could be two decades older than Serena, but if she’d offered to trade places, at this moment Serena might have accepted.

“I’ll tear myself away now,” the woman said. “Congratulations.” She walked out the door with a little wave.

“You’re always trash-talking this kid,” Henry said. “Wait till she’s older. She’ll get you back for that.” They were no longer holding hands.

“I was being honest.”

“Sweetheart, you could just take a compliment sometimes. Or take it on behalf of our daughter, anyway.”


That’s how the endearments came at her these days: tagged on to some implied insult. When he put his hand on her shoulder as they left the coffee shop, his touch was the steering, slightly patronizing grip of a father’s.



POLLY ROSENWAIKE has published stories, essays, and reviews in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013, The New York Times Book Review, Glimmer Train, New England Review, The Millions, and the San Francisco Chronicle. The fiction editor for Michigan Quarterly Review, she lives in Ann Arbor with the poet Cody Walker and their two daughters.




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