Everybody at the Midtown Costco calls me Baby. And I can't tell you how happy that makes me. It isn't my neighborhood store so I only hit it when I have to make a liquor run, but Lord have mercy I wish I could go there every day.
When I walk in the front door I invariably stumble around because the carts are in a different place than I am used to. "There you go, baby," says the woman checking Costco cards at the front as she gestures toward the carts, and I gratefully move in their direction as whatever mood I am in instantly improves. I smile brightly at her as I walk past flashing my card.
At the sample kiosks I am fed by half a dozen mothers and fathers as each one tells me how easy dinner can be, or how delicious breakfast, and when I say thank you as I always do, they respond, "You're welcome baby."
At the checkout line I take my receipt, "You have a good day, baby," says a woman who may be my age or even younger. And finally, when I have put said receipt in my checkbook in spite of having shopped at Costco FOREVER and knowing that I will have to show it on the way out, I stand, holding up the line at the exit awkwardly fishing around and pulling out movie tickets from 2007 and someone's report card, and still, the dear man who gives my receipt its purple or pink or blue magic marker slash, smiles at me like he wants to pat me on the head as I apologize all over myself and says, "It's ok baby. You have a good one."
And as I walk to my car practically weeping with gratitude, all psychological burdens lifted, at least momentarily from my shoulders, I think, "What is that?" It isn't a black thing. None of my actual friends who are black call me Baby and I would die laughing if Ghana ever did. Even Mary who is almost old enough to be my grandmother and has as much reason as my own mother to call me Baby, has never done so.
I think about Thanksgiving and how my house will fill up again with my babies as they arrive at the mother ship from their amazing lives. And I think about the two people in California whose baby I still am--who will miss me as much as if I still lived with them and was gone for the holiday.
I remember bringing Daniel home from the hospital. There was a moment when a thought sprang unbidden to my mind, Where is the grownup in this picture? Truth be told, even 22 years later when there can be no question about whether I am old enough to be the parent, there are still moments when I am waiting for a grownup to show.
Is this then, the secret power of the greeting? Like a cosmic mother, is every "Baby" at Costco and "Hon" on an airplane or in a diner, nothing more or less than a caress on the cheek from the God of the universe to remind me that I bear no burden alone. I am somebody's baby. And there's always a grownup in the room.