“There would seem to be nothing
more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment.
And yet, it eludes us completely.
All of the sadness of life lies in that fact.”
“There would seem to be nothing
more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment.
And yet, it eludes us completely.
All of the sadness of life lies in that fact.”
I can feel eyes on me in the dark, watching and waiting.
It is my baby, swaddled, from his bedside bassinet with bright eyes that reflect the glow of the nightlight, like two oil slicks on the pavement.
He is a caterpillar, tightly bundled, with his arms to his sides, wiggling and inching his way closer to me.
I watch the little bug with the face of a human, the sprout of a person, move and struggle against the confines of his swaddle, ready to break free and to unfurl his undeveloped wings.
Not yet, my little caterpillar.
His brother is made of stardust and this boy is of the earth.
Together, they are my universe.
They sat mostly side by side on the couch, four exhausted frogs on a log, in front of a glowing tv screen.
Thomas, the Train was beginning to feel like part of the family as he puffed out story after story, 11 minutes at a time, occupying the toddler and giving his parents a break from chasing him through the house. Their count had just gone up by one and the change was being felt by all, with the baby having the easiest time of it.
“Eat, sleep, poop,” the pediatrician prescribed earlier in the week while wearing a mask, tennis shoes and jeans; apparently, it was a Casual Covid-19 Tuesday.
“That’s all he needs to be doing,” he addressed the couple from a short stool and then spun to face the woman, “and you just need to feed him.”
Easy as that.
At that point, it was not something that the mother needed to be told. The baby was already very clear about his agenda. He was born with a powerful set of lungs that he had, thus far, used exclusively to request more milk. His mother assumed the sweet coos and giggles would come later, but first, they had to put in the hard work and long hours.
It was a job that the scrunch-faced-baby’s mother took seriously and consumed most of her time, energy and calories. Of course, keeping up with the needs of the scrunch-faced-baby was not without its cost to the rest of the household. There was a scattering of crumbs throughout the house that read like a brail sidewalk, leading the resident toddler over his path from the kitchen to the living room to his play area. Dishes lounged in grey water in the sink and the laundry had already accumulated into a small mountain that if not secured in the laundry room would have been scaled by the quickly becoming feral toddler.
Fortunately, the toddler was not altogether neglected as he made sure to always remain underfoot and nearby, tugging at his daddy’s shirt or poking at the baby’s belly. Presently, he had a glob of jelly on his face and a matching smear on his shirt which was not unusual, aside from the fact that he had cereal for breakfast and a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch.
He clearly had strong survival skills.
From the couch, the woman, wife and mother let her heavy eyelids drop down and felt herself slip into a blissful rest that lasted all of a minute before the baby simultaneously released a juicy gust of wind and a wail of hunger. As she wondered how one extra small person could create so much extra everything, the toddler suddenly popped up and ran to the kitchen for a snack while her husband’s head dropped back and a mighty snore escaped from his opened mouth.
This was her crazy life and her heart was full.
A cool breeze rustled the leaves in a way that promised of a break from the heat. Overhead, a sky of bright blue was littered with fat grey and white clouds. The woman hoped for a drenching rain so she wouldn’t have to lug the watering can across the yard. She could practically hear the garden crying out for water.
It just felt so far away and her legs were so heavy.
“What do you think, Little Legs, do you want to water the garden?”
He pretended not to hear his mother as he continued to splash and dump water onto his head from the water table. For those who aren’t familiar, a water table is a brightly colored, plastic receptacle that holds water and is set up on legs just high enough for a toddler to reach in and quickly make a soaking wet mess. It also happened to be his parents’ latest attempt to amuse and distract their incredibly active child. So far it was working brilliantly.
“Little Legs?” his mother repeated herself giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Surely, it was too early for him to ignore her. How could he have learned the ways of the world at such a tender age and with the last few months of that tender age being spent in quarantine? Could this be from the cheeky influence of Thomas the Train? His mother made a note to monitor cartoon time more closely in the future.
The boy took a cupful of the grimy water and flung it at his mother, splashing her face and chest. Of course, he was not ignoring her, he was simply too busy to answer. He laughed and returned to his work filling up the cup and dumping it on his head.
From an evolutionary standpoint, they were not that far from monkeys. The boy’s mother could easily see the dripping wet boy in front of her as a naughty animal throwing a banana peel or a handful of poop in response to something he didn’t like. However, she still wished that he would use words as she wiped the water from her glasses.
Life was about to change for her monkey boy. His baby monkey brother was due to make his appearance in less than a week’s time. Soon the boy would have to share everything, including his parents, toys and time, with a noisy creature who would quickly double and triple in size and ability.
Little Legs would transition from being an only child to a brother, from one to one of a pair, all while he was still sleeping early on Sunday morning. The initial part of becoming a brother had required nothing from him, aside from a little patience and grace for his slow moving mother; it was the days and months and years to follow that would take work as the two boys evolved from being siblings to brothers to best friends, with any luck.
As the woman stared blankly into the refrigerator, she stood with a slight hunch, a droop like a bouquet of old flowers. The cold air did not revive her, it merely preserved her current wilted state from progressing any further. She was nine months pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen.
“How did this happen?” she wondered, already knowing the obvious answer.
A Tupperware container with a mass of green stared back at the woman; three-day old broccoli, she remembered from earlier in the week. Not wanting to play the food poisoning pros vs. cons game, she continued to consider other dinner combinations.
Frozen pizza and bagged salad would be easy but problematic for the lack of a bagged salad, pasta was always a hit but not very nutritious unless she added a can of peas. She mentally checked through the usual meal options and their level of popularity as the remaining cold air flowed out and around the woman.
Meanwhile, the original source of her exhaustion rode a train around the kitchen island, propelling himself forward with kicks and a realistic choo-choo sound. Every few rounds, he redirected the train at his mother’s legs which got him the attention that he needed to continue with his well-worn route.
She suddenly realized with an instant dread that the kitchen was strangely silent. The train noises stopped. No choo-choo, no plastic wheels against the ground or the sound of the train ramming into the cabinets or her inconveniently located appendages.
“Little Legs?” the woman asked as she turned around fearing what she may see.
The tall, wooden cabinet doors were open behind her and the ground was coated with a fine white powder. In the air, the powder floated down and around Little Legs as he shook an open box of baking soda to a beat only heard by his ears. For a second, he appeared as an other-worldly creature in the midst of a freakish, summertime snowstorm. His long eyelashes were tipped in the same white that covered his arms and hair, the kitchen floor and lower cabinet shelves.
He smiled and laughed, showing a pink mouth and tongue breaking from the white, as he continued to make it snow, bigger and bigger, over his head and out to the sides. As his mother approached, he frantically shook the box harder and higher, aware that his special snowstorm was about to be involuntarily terminated.
His mother kneeled and wrapped her arms around the little space creature to not only prevent his escape but also to limit the spread of the baking soda dusting. She laughed in disbelief at the mess as she removed the box from his hand, prying it from his clamped fingers.
Through a flood of fat protest tears, the boy took in the beauty of the kitchen. It was covered in white, clean and crisp aside from the footprints of his meddling mother.
With a final yowl, he turned off the tears and seemed to take a babbled vow to make it snow again.
The summer was far from over.
There is a creature that temporarily lives within me who demands peanut butter and popsicles.
His brother likes to sing his own version of Row, Row, Row Your Boat while sitting in my lap and playing with Matchbox cars. He uses his unborn brother as a pillow and leans against him or rests his elbow on top of the ever-growing bump when he turns around to make sure I am paying attention. I feel the baby’s arms and legs move, finally big enough to test Little Legs in the beginning of the lifelong push and pull that is unique to siblings.
They are so close to each other, literally separated only by a few layers of tissue and skin when we sit like this, and yet they are still worlds away from one another. One floats in a blissful state, still gathering bits of stardust in his creation while the other waits on the outside, learning about worms and constantly outgrowing his shoes.
Change is hard for everyone. I am still trying to adjust to single spacing between sentences in a fight against my well-trained thumb that automatically hits the space bar twice. However, for children, change seems to be easier. Change is simply part of life as they constantly discover new things and experiences, like teeth where previously there was only a smooth line of gums and the sudden ability to crunch into a carrot when oatmeal and puree were the only options on the menu just a few months ago.
How will my sweet Little Legs deal with the introduction of a baby into the house that he currently rules? How will I find the time and energy to be present for my boys, my husband, myself? I ponder over the uncertainty of the future just as I did before Little Legs was born. And then I remember when my first stardust baby arrived how the questions disappeared and were replaced by instinct on how and what to do next.
Somehow there was enough love, time and energy for everything, but just barely.
Over the past few weeks while remaining safer at home, we have all been brought quite literally closer with Daddy Longlegs working from home. However, this temporary/ongoing arrangement has also meant that our places of work and play are currently one-in-the-same and naturally there is bound to be some conflict.
Who knew it would come to a head over a peanut butter cookie?
Last week, Daddy Longlegs decided to make lunch for Little Legs and me. He thoughtfully made each of our sandwiches according to our preferences, ham and cheese for me, peanut butter and jelly for Little Legs, with a handful of chips and strawberries to share between us. I brought cookies and milk for dessert and boosted Little Legs into his special seat. His seat clamps to the table where he likes to play with his food, swing his legs back and forth, and drop things for the cat to scarf down; sometimes he manages to eat, too.
On this fateful day, I made the mistake of handing a cookie to Daddy Longlegs over Little Legs’ head and saying, “We can all have cookies after you finish your sandwich.”
Little Legs watched the hand-off with a pair of eagle eyes that miss nothing and decided there would be no sandwich eating. Only cookie eating. Also, he wanted all of the cookies. Now.
It started with a quiet whining and pointing at the distributed cookies with a grubby finger, first at his daddy’s and then at mine. He turned his head away from his sandwich and knocked Daddy Longlegs’ hand away as he offered him a chip. Then he threw a strawberry to the ground in anger, barely missing the cat that sat waiting and hoping for a meatier offering.
I moved to break off a cookie bit as a compromise when Daddy Longlegs’ intervened with a raised hand like a crossing guard to stop. He was about to do some emotional mealtime redirecting.
“You can’t negotiate with a terrorist.”
He turned to the boy who was red in the face and on the verge of screaming.
He explained, “You have to eat your sandwich before you get a cookie.”
And then back to me while still talking to the boy, “And mommy isn’t going to give in. Right, Mommy?”
“He needs to eat something,” I said, driven by an irrational fear that he would starve starting at that instant unless he got a cookie. Mother knows best, I thought, and assumed that he would naturally agree to eat his sandwich if he got a little bite of early dessert. In short, I assumed we were dealing with a rational person instead of a toddler.
“You can’t just feed him cookies. If you give in now, what’s going to happen tomorrow and the day after that?” Daddy Longlegs asked.
I took a minute to think, to allay my fear and push my maternal arrogance aside, and to consider things as an unbiased and rational adult. Of course, I can’t just feed the boy cookies, he’s not going to starve, and I can’t give him everything he wants.
He needs boundaries and vegetables.
After all, we all know what happens if you give a cat a cupcake, he’s going to want some sprinkles.
Time is running out for our merry gang as soon we go from the Three Amigos to the Three Amigos plus one. We want to do some special things with the youngest of the Amigos before his world is turned upside down when a smaller, even needier version of himself moves into the house. However, with the corona virus, murder hornets, and another wicked round of bad weather on the way, it is impossibly hard to know where and what is safe.
After settling on small, close-to-home trips and experiences to limit the danger from apparently everything, we decided to risk our lives with a quick trip for ice cream from a fast food restaurant. We ordered at the faceless speaker sign and pulled forward to meet a bouncy young cashier wearing a mask around her neck where it did her little good as a scarf. I prayed she wasn’t sick because she was definitely going to breathe on the goods.
“Hey y’all, lemme grab those cones for you. Be right back,” she drawled.
Weighing the risks with the benefits of this trip while we waited for the young woman/super-germ-spreader to return to the window did not offer reassurance that the sweet treats would be worth the cost of our lives. Fortunately, not one murder hornet was spotted and once that cold vanilla ice cream hit my lips and tongue, my reservations melted. Guiltily, I knew we would be back. I justified the risk that it was all for Little Legs, but truth-be-told, (lean in close to hear my whispered confession) the ice cream was for me.
We made the seven-minute-trip back home, carefully keeping the melting ice cream to cone ratio in check to prevent a sticky mess and gave Little Legs the rest of my cone when we unloaded from the car.
He happily slurped the ice cream and bit into the side of the cone with a confidence that came as naturally as breathing. He was meant to eat ice cream cones or perhaps this was part of an inborn survival wisdom like how ducks know how to swim as soon as they hit water. This was the sign of an all-American boy.
With a full, dripping ice cream mustache and beard combo that would make any parent proud, he smiled as he continued to slurp away at the cone.
“Is that good?” I leaned dangerously close to ask a question to which the answer was clear.
In response, he nodded and reached out to touch my face, leaving a delicious, vanilla flavored smudge on my glasses. For once, I didn’t care about his sticky prints or the growing mess around his feet. In that moment, the Three Amigos were together, happy and healthy; and in spite of everything, all was right in the world.
We left the safety of the house for our morning exploration of the yard which usually involves tromping through the grass to check in on the garden, the status of a bird nest above Little Leg’s window and to blow on white haired dandelions to release their fluff in the breeze. I assume our neighbors will thank us for their yards of yellow later this summer. Of course, I didn’t expect to end the expedition with plans for a funeral, but that’s life. And death.
Little Legs led me by the hand to inspect his stack of bricks and found the pile to be as he left it, precariously leaning to one side. I pointed out a black dragonfly with square wings like the sails of a pirate ship that landed on a flat rock. There were no disturbances in the garden, thanks to a regular dusting of diatomaceous earth, and the three fuzzy heads of the baby birds were all accounted for in the nest. It was a morning in which all was remarkably well, begging for a small disaster to balance out our tiny universe in which the sun, moon and stars was contained in a pint-sized boy.
As we turned the corner and headed back towards the porch, I spotted something on the concrete pad next to an abandoned Mr. Potato Head and underneath of the window. It was a palm-sized bird laying motionless on its side with its eyes cracked open in a sign of potential life.
Little Legs shouted, “Bur…” in delight and ran to scoop it up.
“No, baby! Something is wrong with that bird. Let mama check it out.”
I stepped in front of Little Legs to stop his obvious course of action and knelt down for a better look at the pile of soft brown feathers. Ignoring the threat of bird-carrying diseases and parasites, I gently picked the bird up and its head rolled to the side without resistance; although its chest was still warm, the life was gone from its shiny, black eyes. There was no fluttering heartbeat, quivering wings or chirping, just two tiny feathers stuck to the window where it must have made impact while we were sending dandelions seeds to destinations unknown.
Do I explain death, here and now, to Little Legs? I promised myself before he was born that I would always try to be an honest parent and tell the truth, whatever version might be most age appropriate.
“The bird died, buddy. I think its neck is broken,” I explained to a face that did not comprehend.
Little Legs threw his hands up in question and I instantly altered the narrative to one more comfortable and understandable, one that I assume my parents gave to me until I could grasp the concept of death.
“The bird is sleeping and its not going to wake up.”
Little Legs nodded his head, sleep was something he was very familiar with as he fought it every day and night. He went to a box of gardening tools near the door and came back with a trowel.
“Chop, chop?” he asked.
“That’s good, we’ll dig a hole and bury the bird.”
He drove the shiny metal down onto the cement with a clashing sound to further explain his plan. I hoped that he meant to dig into the soil. I hoped for another opportunity as seemingly benign as this one to explain life and death. Mostly, I hoped I wasn’t screwing up as a parent and that he would forgive me, if I was, someday.
There is a coyote stalking small prey in the backyard. The animal’s fur is a combination of grey, white, brown and black, perfect camouflage to blend into the shadows. Except it isn’t trying very hard to remain undetected, perhaps from hunger or disease, it lets us see him watch us through the window.
Little Legs thinks it’s a dog and barks at it and bangs on the glass with a toy car.
“Daw… daw…daw…” he chants.
He would like to have a pet, but this is not the right one, with its possible case of rabies, baby-biting tendencies, and definite infestation of fleas. By the looks of the mangy mutt, the coyote wouldn’t mind carrying off my sweet boy to snack on like a meaty Now and Later. Something about the way that it stares at us is off with the same level of derangement as an escaped convict, and then I see it lick its lips, or at least I think that I do. Staying home day after day may be impacting my cognition, or plain and simple, the coyote wants to eat us.
“Well, we aren’t going out there today,” I declare knowing that we will still go outside after lunch.
Mentally, I go through several scenarios of Little Legs luring the coyote close enough to touch when my back is turned and me chasing it off with a stick or going into hand-to-paw combat with it or running after it with Little Legs on its back like a circus performer riding a lion. I set my resolve to get a weapon to protect us during the day, wanting a bb gun for the first time in my life.
“A bb gun?”
My husband is incredulous when I tell him what is needed on his next trip to town and the reason why. I show him the picture that I took as proof of the problem and to support my request. A part of me expects him to ask me to fill out a requisition form and send it to the finance department for processing…so Amazon, it is.
“You don’t need a bb gun, you need a shot gun and we can load it with buck shot; you don’t have to be accurate that way.”
I don’t take offense at this because he is obviously unaware of my sharp shooting days from a past life and that this is not something that I just want. It is something that I need at a time when it feels like we are under attack from all angles with the corona virus wreaking havoc on multiple fronts of our world, living under quarantine and now a coyote in our backyard.
What I want and need is a sense of safety for my little boy and the one on the way. I need to feel secure taking them out to swing or to play in the dirt or to gather dandelions and not worry that a coyote is watching us and waiting for his dinner opportunity. With wild things all around us that threaten harm, I want to feel some control in protecting the ones I love, but it doesn’t seem like any amount of waiting, money or weaponry can provide the kind of security that I need.
Aside from hand sanitizer. And a bb gun.
It’s been about a week since Sugar’s visit. We remain under a shelter-in-place order which gives us ample time to observe the comings and goings of the neighbors. Sadly, our favorite neighbor has yet to return to her rightful place in the backyard across the street barking at birds and digging in the mud.
When Sugar came to visit, we thought it was a part of a short-lived tour de freedom instead of what now appears to have been the kick off to a much longer and possibly permanent trip away from the backyard.
We still take walks through the neighborhood, while cautiously respecting the social distancing imperative, and peek into her fenced area. I am hopeful that we somehow missed her homecoming and will find her there one day, smiling and barking and as dirty, as ever.
Little Legs also looks for her. He strains his neck trying to see her through the fence and raises his hands in question when only untrampled grass meets his gaze.
This is the only loss that he has felt during quarantine. He doesn’t miss playdates or enriching field trips to museums or hands-on discovery centers, he doesn’t care that all of our meals are eaten at home or that he hasn’t seen his grandparents this Spring. He just knows that his friend, Sugar, is missing.
As a new parent, I didn’t anticipate the need to deal with issues of loss or grief this early on in our journey. However, we take the challenges as they come, fast and unexpected. It’s a lot of improvising and fly-by-the-seat of one’s pants work to meet the needs of our curious and sweet little boy.
So, the last time he threw his hands up in question about Sugar, I gave the best explanation I could.
“Sugar is on vacation for a while, probably at the beach, and we don’t know when she’ll be back.”
He accepted this without question and toddled down the road, picking up rocks and worms, happy to know the truth, at last.