Hand, Foot and Mouth

Two days ago, Baby Brother woke up with a speckling of red dots on his legs.  

“They’re probably nothing,” we agreed, conveniently minimizing his symptoms.  

Then it was suddenly like an underwater seascape of rough, red coral bloomed on his arms, legs, face and ears. The dots came alive, multiplied and merged together creating unique formations that were conspicuously absent from his hands and feet.

I wondered if it was indeed the Hand, Foot and Mouth warned about from daycare and called the doctor, as I did on a weekly basis to inquire about whatever new virus or disease was ravaging the bodies of my boys.

“He’s miserable. There is a red rash covering his arms and legs but not on his hands or feet. We received a notice from daycare that there is an ongoing outbreak of Hand, Foot and Mouth, but none of those areas seem to be affected.”

The nurse did not laugh, I could almost see the straight line of her mouth as she prepared to give the same line to me as she must have given to the last dozen callers.

“It’s a virus, likely the same one that is in all of the other daycares. There is nothing you can do about it but try to keep your son comfortable. Call us if he has a high fever that Motrin can’t bring down or if the blisters around his mouth get too bad for him to eat.”

“Oh, and don’t worry about his hands and feet, it will spread there, too. Its just a matter of time.”

 And indeed, it was just a matter of time.

The sea of red spread to the tops of his hands and feet, with an outgoing tide of scattered blisters lining the edges of his fingers and toes.

Today, he is less miserable and smiling through the spots.

Somehow, he remains a ray of sunshine, a drop of golden sun.

Our sweet baby, Spots.   

Day of Reckoning

Sunday afternoon, we settled into the playroom for a bit of pushing trucks, rolling balls and learning to share between brothers. There remains a steep learning curve for the two of them, even after almost a year of co-existing.

The usual squabbling died down as they focused on their own playthings; Little Legs loaded up random toys into the back of a dump truck that was really too big to be inside and Baby Brother wrestled with a squishy Dalmatian dog doll.

A sense of peace replaced my usual anxiety. I leaned back in my chair and flipped through the National Geographic that had been on the counter for two weeks, patiently waiting to be read.

There are some moments in life when time does funny things, sometimes it slows down just enough so that a careful observer may become temporarily clairvoyant and able to divine events in the immediate future. Not to intervene or change the outcome, just to know what is about to happen.

This was one such moment.

I looked up over a page about glass sea sculptures as Little Legs stood behind the fully loaded dump truck and directed it at his unassuming brother. He pulled it back and pushed it forward with an assertive vroom…vroom… that indicated only one thing. The vehicle was about to roll, monster truck style, over the only possible pedestrian in its path.

“Little Legs,” I growled. “Do not run over your brother!”

He was already racing forward, pulled by an imaginary force. He tried to stop at my request, digging his heels in as he shouted, “Oh, shit! Oh, shit! Oh, shit!” and swerved to the side of his brother at the last possible instant.

“What did Little Legs just say?” Daddy Longlegs called from the next room.

This was my day of reckoning, I reckoned it was time to clean up my language because there was a pair of ears that let nothing pass, except requests to eat vegetables.

Definition of day of reckoning

a time when the consequences of a course of mistakes or misdeeds are felt

Daycare Cruddies

Finally, we beat the brain-rattling cough from daycare only to be informed of a potential (definite) exposure to RSV, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, and all the possible flus. It is almost laughable at the number of different germs fighting to infect Little Legs and Baby Brother. Almost, but not quite funny, especially considering the toll that each sickness takes on their bodies.

They lose weight, hours of sleep and their general sense of well-being. They bite and push one another, like little savages outside of their cave. At least the older one can grunt, “Me no feel good.” While his wordless brother is left with shrieks, squawks and other animal noises to express the same sentiment.

We understand, all the same. The thermometer helps to confirm what the back of my hand already tells me. A fever feels so much hotter on either one of their foreheads than mine has ever felt. Tylenol and Motrin are in regular rotation as we fight the fires burning within them.

Firefighting is exhausting work, but we must persevere.

This ongoing daycare nightmare started in the middle of March and it is now June. I question whether working is worth the constant stream of snot or the sudden vomiting or the development of a strange skin rash. I am not even including the shocking new words and phrases, such as shut up, that have tagged along to home with the toddler in my list of pros versus cons of daycare and working. Thankfully, the baby is too young to pick up anything, aside from every passing germ and most recently, picking his nose, which does not improve our chances for a healthy summer.

My brother said to expect six months of this and then it should be easy. Ha, I laugh, as easy as living with a tribe of tiny, irrational Neanderthals might be expected.

Yet, to quit now would be to throw all that time building up their immune systems away, only to restart in a few years with pre-k and kindergarten. In spite of our “progress” if it can be called that, I struggle with if it continues to make sense to expose them to other people, adults and children alike, in a quest to generate income, stay current with employment and to socialize them more than I could ever do at home?

I try not to dwell too long on these thoughts, but the questions repeat, the guilt weighs on me, and the sicknesses remind me of the physical cost to the time we spend apart. Germs and jobs make life hard and they don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

Sleep Fight

“Do you want me to sing you a song?”

I laughed softly at Daddy Longlegs’ tenderness in the ongoing struggle to get Little Legs to sleep.

Every night, the boy tries new tricks to stay up.

“Two more stories?” he requests after the 17th book lands on a pile next to him.

“Wa-wa?” he smacks his lips with thirst while holding a cup of water.

“Poo-poo diap-ee,” he announces, certain that someone will assist, with a suspicious glee.

We should feel flattered our company is so desirable that this young person wants to spend even five more minutes together. Instead, we are exhausted, exasperated and did I mention, tired?  

I remind myself that this is yet another phase, one that we will look back on with an aching sense of loss. Someday in the future, he will be knobbly-kneed boy, and then a teenager who has no time and no interest in snuggling up next to us.

So tonight when he fakes a cough and yells out, “Cough med-cine” or “Need Mama”, I will breathe in energy and breathe out grace and compassion for the toddler down the hall who keeps us in a constant state of motion.

Chaos, when it is not a theory

The dog is sleeping at my feet, twitching as she dreams about chasing a cat or herding the boys. She is so relaxed that a noxious odor escapes from her body in a soft pffff… and fills the air as she continues through her dream world.

During her waking hours, she works diligently at destroying all the balls in the house, along with anything made of wood, shoes, and of course, diapers, even when they are still attached to a baby boy butt.

Life is more non-stop movement and mess than ever before with two little boys, and their sister-dog, without a one of them housebroken.

I am too tired to fight the chaos which leads to more chaos, an obvious problem when our play area, workspace, exercise zone, art station, and music class are one in the same.

I try to bend like the willow in a storm, knowing that this time will pass in a fraction of time. Some moments, I am certain that I will break and brace for the crack and then the wind lets up and the sun peeks through the clouds.

I find that I am still whole, somehow.    

When I was in college, I worked part time in the physics department, sorting mail and making tea and coffee. I learned about the chaos theory by eavesdropping on a professor and a student while organizing a plate of cookies. Most of the talk about thermodynamics beaded up and rolled away from my brain, I was an English major after all, but the discussion about disorder leading to more disorder absorbed and stayed with me. I think about it now as I survey the living room and the fleet of dump trucks and matchbox cars and balls and bones and Legos and train tracks.

One does not need a PhD to understand or to study chaos.

It is everywhere right now.

A big, beautiful growing mess.    

Baby Dog

What have I done? the woman wondered with dread.

A black puppy sat in front of her with its head cocked to the side. Shreds of a children’s book were scattered in front of her, wreckage from two unsupervised minutes.

“Penny for your thoughts,” the dog said.

The woman narrowed her eyes at the animal, suspicious of the mind tricks it was playing in her sleep deprived state.  

“Well, when you feel like talking, I’m here.”

The dog trotted off, grabbing a stuffed elephant on its way to the hallway rug.

I’m losing it. The dog was too much. With the kids and the pandemic and now house-breaking a puppy. She listed off the stressors in her life but found that they didn’t seem so bad once she named them.  

She thought of the good things.

The boys, the puppy. The boys and the puppy.

It was all going to be ok.

Right, puppy?

Honeybee Pile Up

Part 1

Snow and ice covered everything, turning our yard into a magical, glittering world.

With each step, we broke through the ice crust with a satisfying crunch. Little Legs was up to his knees in the snow, red cheeked and happy, despite the cold.

“Let’s check out the bees,” Daddy Longlegs suggested and with no better options, we followed him around the house.  

It was like taking a Sunday drive, one goes along not expecting to see anything but with the secret hope of spotting a loose cow or a car accident, of course, the kind where no one gets hurt.

Where I prepared to see an empty landing board on the beehive, I found a pile of fresh honeybee bodies.

“Oh God,” I cried out for divine help.

They were not yet frozen or covered in snow, so this event, whatever it was, had just happened.

A buzzing pulled me closer, a lone bee made his way out. It pushed past the bodies, stopped at the edge of the mound, and buzzed his last buzz before succumbing to the same fate as his brethren.  

There were more bodies just below the pile-up that made me think of a buffalo herd going over a cliff, one after another. What could have caused this much seemingly senseless loss of life?

After an extensive review of the bee-keeping wisdom on the internet, we concluded that we did not know why they died. The colony may have removed the weaker bees that died of the cold, dysentery from waste build-up, starvation, or mites. There was a reason, but what it was, we would never know.

Nature was cruel and mysterious in her ways.

Part 2

I returned the next day, with Little Legs in tow, to show our respects and clear the ledge on front of the entrance to allow for proper ventilation.

Another surprise awaited us.

The mound was already cleared with just a few bee butts remaining, crumbs that fell from some wild animal’s mouth as it devoured part of the colony.    

I took comfort that an animal was able to survive the cold snap a little longer with this unexpected snack.

Sad to say, that was not the last nor was it the biggest surprise of the season.

Part 3

Just yesterday, we returned with Daddy Longlegs when the weather improved, and the temperature soared to fifty degrees.

Little Legs stomped about, splashing in ice puddles while his parents hovered around the hive.

“Let’s just take a look in here,” Daddy Longlegs said.

“Do you need the smoker?” I asked.

“Not for these sweet bees,” he explained, confident in their relationship.

He was eager to check on them after the disturbing event of the honey-bee pile up, concerned and worried as any bee-daddy might feel.

Carefully, he removed the bricks keeping the lid in place and then the lid. He pulled up a frame that should have been vibrating with life and instead discovered the absence of movement, a waxy void of noise and movement.

The bees were there, clinging to the comb and to one another in lifeless fuzzy masses on frame after frame.

The colony did not survive.

Our world felt sadder and soggier than before as the snow continued to melt.

Little Legs splashed over and surveyed the situation with a knowing nod, “Honey-bees nap.”

Yes, the honeybees nap. All of them.

For a very, long time.

A King Without His Crown

We stood outside, watching our toddler race down the hill, trip and roll forward through the grass. The boy sat up with a confused look at ending up on the ground. Laughter burst from both of us, unstoppable and refreshing, on an otherwise bleak day.

Suddenly, Daddy Longlegs gasped and put his hand to his mouth.

Instinctively, I looked to Little Legs, happily rolling on his back in the grass, ensuring another complete outfit change. Certain that the boy was safe, I looked in question at his father.

“What is it?” I asked.

“My tooth, something is wrong with it. It’s actually my crown,” he mumbled.

I stood up on tiptoes to peer uninvited into his mouth. Since having my boys, there is nothing about the human body that bothers me, except for blood. The sight of it makes me woozy.

“I think it is loose.”

“Let me see,” I said.

He pulled his lip back like he was caught by a fishhook and wiggled the tooth in question with his tongue.

It was not only loose; it was no longer connected to anything in his mouth. A free-floating bit of resin impersonating Daddy Longlegs’ tooth came off onto his tongue.

“Oh God,” I said feeling queasy.

“It is bad?”

“Well, as you may already know, the crown is no longer connected to your tooth nub and you are going to swallow that very expensive crown if you don’t take it out and store it until you can get to the dentist.”

Daddy Longlegs thought about this information with a closed mouth to keep his little treasure in place.

“Do you know what the dentist who put this in told me to do if it came off?” he asked.

I felt concerned that the dentist gave him a back-up plan for the crown and wondered about the credentials of this so-called dentist.

“He told me to get some superglue and stick it right back in place.”

It was my turn to gasp.

The horror.

Then, instead of calling the so-called dentist for an emergency appointment, he situated his crown next to the bathroom sink, where it remains.

“It is where people keep their teeth,” he explained.

Or in this case, his tooth. We are in Tennessee, after all. 

Tapping Trees

We were out of maple syrup. A few sweet, sticky droplets clung to the inside of the bottle, but that was it. Those stubborn holdouts wouldn’t fill half the pockets in a waffle and certainly wouldn’t soak a pancake properly.

Instead of following through with our breakfast feast or making a quick run to the store, we had cereal and decided to make our own syrup.

“We have plenty of trees,” Daddy Longlegs reasoned. “Surely, a few of them are maples.”

Thanks to the ever-present assistance of Amazon, our tree tapping kit arrived within 24 hours. Daddy Longlegs wasn’t messing around with this maple syrup business. Of course, this came as no surprise.

When he commits to an idea, he’s all in, which gives me a slight cause for concern because he has also recently toyed with the idea of getting a cow, saying something like, “for as much milk as we go through in a week, it would just make sense.”

Would it, really? I wondered when our new bovine friend would arrive and if Amazon would deliver it to our porch for free, along with the shed, hay, customized bell and whatever else a cow needs to survive in the South.

Putting the cow plan aside, we set out in search of a maple tree with the baby strapped to my chest and Little Legs buzzing circles around us.

“Honeybee,” he said as he buzzed past with his arms bee-hind him, with more of a Tennessee accent than most people in Tennessee. It was hard to tell where he would have picked up such a twang since we go so few places. Is there something in the air or the soil?

Nevertheless, he was becoming more of a Volunteer and less of a Hoosier every day.

“This one looks like a sugar maple,” Daddy Longlegs declared with such confidence, it would be difficult to dispute. Plus, there are a handful of trees that will provide syrup, including the red maple, black walnut, sycamore, ironwood and even the birch. It was no skin off my nose if he picked the wrong tree.

I agreed that we had located the target, a tree. The only other viable, almost-certainly-maple-tree-option was set right in the leach field of our septic system; we can safely assume it would have been shitty tasting syrup.  

Daddy Longlegs squatted down next to the tree and drilled a hole, tilted slightly upwards, plugged it with a tap and attached a rubber tube to it. He slid the tube into an old apple juice bottle and waited. And waited.

“Nothing’s happening, babe. Do you think we got the right one?”

Fortunately, I knew from watching Curious George with Little Legs, it could take a while for the sap to flow. We needed freezing nights and above freezing days, some days the flow will be good and other days, not so much, much like life.

For now, we needed to wait and prepare to do some serious boiling because it takes a lot of sap to make syrup. There is a 10 gallon to 4 cup breakdown which makes me appreciate the cost of real maple syrup in the store and question the contents of Pearl Milling’s syrup, the syrup formerly known as Aunt Jemina’s.     

https://www.crossville-chronicle.com/news/glade_sun/enjoying-nature-the-joys-of-tennessee-maple-syrup/article_4563efcc-cdaa-11e4-9d24-d7332e943b1f.html

https://www.instructables.com/How-to-make-Maple-Syrup/

The Right Price

Minutes after the neighbor’s white SUV pulled out of the driveway, a grey truck pulled into its place.

It was almost as if the driver had been waiting for her to leave. I shook my head; no that couldn’t be, not in this friendly, little town where they foolishly brag about leaving their doors unlocked.

The truck door swung open and a petite man with a baseball cap hopped out. I ventured that the truck was a mite too big for the man but assumed the distance between us distorted my perception.

He was snooping around the bright, red car parked under a tree. An old Mustang that drew in strange men from the road like moths to a light only to be zapped by the information that the car was not for sale.

Not now, not ever. Or at least until her son decides its too much work to restore which I can only assume will be in the new few years after he goes away to school and gets a job and comes back for Christmas and remembers the car, waiting and rotting down into the ground.

“You sure this ain’t for sale?” the man asked.

Daddy Longlegs shook his head, “Nope, it’s not for sale. They get a lot of folks stopping along this road to ask and its always the same answer.”

The man shielded his eyes from the sun with one hand, “Not even for the right price?”

What an impossible question to answer.

Everyone has a price.