Feeling great up at the podium, getting ready to read my essay “Ducky Madness and the Diaper Bag” at Writers Read, a literary salon, in NYC this past weekend. The essays were all themed around “The Great Outdoors” and it was a pleasure and an honor to read with such a gifted group of writers. Each of the essays was less than 650 words (mine rang in at 648!) and here it is, for your reading pleasure!
Ducky Madness and the Diaper Bag
I’m not sure why attending a conference for shrinks called “Creativity and Madness” seemed like a good idea, but I was hormonal, having recently produced a quintessential baby boy, and it was August, it was Aspen, and work was paying for it. The altitude was high, both in proximity to the clouds and in the pretentious vibe of the mind-numbingly boring conference. I suspect I just wanted a vacation, no, I’m certain of it, given that after the grossly unoriginal discussion of poor Emily Dickinson’s psyche on morning one, I didn’t attend a single session.
I was traveling with my then-husband and my toddling true love, Evan. Aspen in August is glorious; the air is all blue shimmer, it smells like pine heaven, and everyone there is very chi-chi, very granola, or, in some cases, both.
Colorado is perhaps a bit too rustic for this Manhattan-born cliff dweller, but Evan had fallen in love with ponies, and there was a family dude ranch near the conference I was not attending, so we set off for a baby cowboy adventure. My husband and I were almost happy. Evan was saddled up on a giant pony, his baby-face split grin-wide. I was both photographer and pack horse, hauling diaper bag, pocketbook, and the detritus that hangs off mothers of young children—sticky juice boxes that attract an inordinate number of stinging bugs, bug spray to combat same, sunscreen, and the sun hat that babies inevitably refuse to wear. It didn’t seem fair that my husband got to lead the pony around with Evan “riding” solo. I grew tired of being the nanny, so when I spotted a duck pond nearby, I suggested we head in that direction so Evan could feed the ducks.
I don’t know what I was thinking, because I don’t like ducks, and I’m phobic about birds and living poultry in general. Maybe it was the thinness of the air, or my baby’s delight in seeing a multitude of ducky’s quacking about, their disgusting webbed feet notwithstanding, that compelled me. Evan was in my arms, his dad had charge of the pony’s reins, and I still had the diaper bag slung over my shoulder, a column of Saltines at the ready to fling at the ducks. At first, it seemed manageable. Evan was hurling Saltines, watching the ducks race-waddle each other for fallen crackers, then engaging in mortal cracker combat. The ducks were too close, too many, and way too aggressive for my comfort, and more were approaching. Enough. I turned, picking my way through slippery duck shit, sublimely unaware that the open Saltine package was sticking out of the diaper bag, leaving a Hansel and Gretel Saltine trail and inviting more and more quackers to feast on crackers. Their numbers were increasing, and they were gaining on me. The faster I walked, the faster they followed. Terror. Within seconds I was running at top speed with a thousand ducks following close behind. Evan was shrieking with glee, I was shrieking in terror, and who knew ducks could even run? Trust me, they can.
I was frantically tear-assing it to the relative safety of my spouse and the giant pony, when a panicked glance over my shoulder revealed that the ducks had abruptly fallen back. Demented, I gasped out my definite sense that the swarming ducks had evil intentions. I was beyond demented when husband passé said mildly, “No, the crackers were falling out of the diaper bag with every step you took. The running was definitely not a good idea.” Evan was chanting, “Love ducky’s, more crackers?” I was hyperventilating and emotionally horsewhipped.
Ducky madness and traumatic memories remain intact, husband passé is obsolete, and I haven’t eaten a Saltine, at any altitude, since.