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Linor reaches into the large bag to fish for the bottle. It's not that the baby is hungry. If he were, he would be screaming, not smiling.
But she needs to locate it. To make sure it's there. Just in case she actually goes through with this.
Her hands are shaking slightly. Not from the cold, though it is certainly chilly out here. No, this is a tremor directly connected to the wave of anxiety that has taken her completely by surprise - side-swiped her like the gust of wind that is making it difficult to push the stroller uphill.
The baby is shielded from the elements by a plastic covering attached to the carriage. Linor wishes she could climb in there and cuddle up next to him. Though who should be comforting whom at this juncture is not entirely clear. Least of all to Linor.
Bent over slightly from the effort, Linor strides with determination, her arms extended, her knuckles white from clutching the handlebar. It is as if she is in a hurry to arrive somewhere. As though she is late for an appointment.
In fact, neither a date nor a destination is behind her drive today. What is propelling her is a principle. One she's beginning to question - and dread - with each heavy step.
She tells herself she will finish maneuvering the wheels around the cars parked on the sidewalk - an inconvenience that is as dangerous as it is annoying, since it keeps forcing her to step into oncoming traffic - then stop at the next intersection to catch her breath. And decide what to do from there.
Sitting in a playground is not an option on a day like today. Though the baby is dressed for an arctic expedition, the only thing keeping Linor warm enough is exertion. The minute she pauses to rest, she knows, she will begin to feel the dropping temperature. And that won't be any fun. After all, she reminds herself, the purpose of this entire outing was for her to feel liberated. Not freezing.
"Hey, lady!" a taxi driver yells at her, instead of slowing down to let her walk around a pile of construction rubble. "Watch where you're going!"
A passerby shakes his head and clucks his tongue. Though he may have been doing so to express disgust at the driver, Linor assumes he is passing judgement on her motherhood.
Everybody seems to be doing that lately. Indeed, in the four months since the baby was born, Linor has had to endure more advising, warning, correcting and scolding than in all her years on earth put together. And the only thing preventing her from major meltdown is the baby himself. He merely makes her melt.
THE DECISION to wean him from the breast was her first act of genuine self-assertion. Up until that moment, she had "taken dictation," so to speak, from anyone and everyone else. Had given in when bombarded by two sooth-sayers and truth-sayers in particular, otherwise known as her mother and mother-in-law.
What did she know about taking care of an infant, after all?
This conciliatory attitude was problematic from the get-go, since it was rare for there to be consensus among the know-it-alls - including those with medical degrees and those with several children of their own. Which only compounded Linor's confusion, and contributed to her growing malaise.
"That's it," she announced to her husband this morning, after a particularly draining night. "I'm starting the baby on formula."
Not only had she been up for hours, unsuccessfully trying to sate his hunger, but she had been thinking about that other baby. The one on the news. The three-month-old girl whose drug-addict parents had beaten her into a coma. The one whom the courts had left in her home to be abused - in spite of clear evidence that her life was in danger.
"Maybe we should consult someone first," he had said. This type of response normally caused her to back down. Particularly where this issue was concerned. But not this time.
"You mean a social worker or a judge?" she asked, shooting him an angry look.
"It's a proven fact that breast-fed babies have a much stronger immune system," he said, startled by Linor's resolve. "We've talked about this before."
By "we," he was referring to the army of "professionals" - with "literature" - who had descended upon Linor in the hospital before her epidural had even had a chance to wear off. All because she'd asked to have a shot to make her milk dry up.
Between the social worker who'd suggested gently that Linor might be suffering from postpartum depression and the woman from the La Leche League who'd waxed poetic about the wonders of nursing, Linor hadn't stood a chance. Certainly not while being invaded by hormones and prodded by interns.
"It's a proven fact," Linor answered, starting to pack the stroller bag as though plotting an escape, "that a person who cannot go anywhere without having to find a place to nurse - that a person who cannot get dressed without having to spend all day undressing - has a much weaker immune system."
LINOR PAUSES at the corner, deliberating on her next course of action. And then it hits her. She can actually go to a cafe and keep her shirt buttoned. And nobody there will accuse of her of being a bad mother for giving the baby a bottle. Except for her, that is.
"We're going out for brunch," she says, shaking the stroller. The baby giggles. The light changes.
"Excuse me," someone says, tapping Linor on the shoulder before she begins to cross the street.
Linor stops. So does her heart. If anyone criticizes her, she fears she might cry. Or change her mind.
"What?" she asks, turning around defensively.
But it is not the milk police. It is a young man with a clipboard.
"Would you please sign this petition for clean governance?" he requests, extending a pen while continuing his pitch. "It's especially crucial before the elections."
"Gladly," she answers, relief replacing guilt.
"Cute baby," he says, thanking her for performing her civic duty. "Nice mother."