Bathroom Soup

Baby Brother rubbed his stomach.

“Hurt.”

As he was still taking his place as a speaker in the world, he did not waste words. He appeared to appreciate the power that using just a word or two held over crying for five minutes. The wrinkles in his forehead and appearance of being slightly green around the gills tipped me off as to the acute nature of this malady.

“Hurt,” he repeated.

I knelt in front of him and gazed into his deep brown eyes, in a nonverbal show of support and understanding. He grabbed me around the neck and with a whimper, he began the process of bringing everything he ate over the last 24 hours back into the light of day.

I scooped his thirty pounds up into my arms and rushed him into the bathroom while he threw up over my shoulder and onto my back and the floor. His stomach contents rested for just a second before they began to burn my skin. The smell permeated into my nostrils.

Once he finished, I turned on a warm shower to rinse lunch, breakfast and dinner, in that order, from his arms and legs.

“Missed a piece on your forehead, buddy.”                                                                

I flicked a bit of apple from his face and watched it travel down the drain.

Meanwhile, Little Legs had followed us into the bathroom.

“What happened, Mama?” he asked.

I focused on bringing Baby Brother out of the shower and toweling him dry as he shivered and said, “Brother got sick and we have to clean him up now.”

Only when I heard the clink of metal hitting the tile did I turn around to see that Little Legs brought his bowl of soup and was eating chicken and stars on the bathroom floor, in a show of support, but mostly curiosity.

“We don’t eat soup in the bathroom, Little Legs. Go back to the table.”

“Why not, Mama?”

Indeed, why not? It was the thousandth question of the day. I still needed to change clothes, mop the bathroom floor, get Baby Brother some Pedialyte and put everything away from lunch. On a normal day, we wouldn’t eat soup anywhere but the table, but this wasn’t a normal day.

This was a bathroom soup type of day.

Game Time

“We’re playing a game,” Little Legs shouted from another room.

The sound of running feet and paws and laughter followed.

Suddenly, the dog raced into the living room, took a flying leap and landed cattywampus on the chair next to me. It was no wonder how she hurt her leg just a week ago. She was miraculously healed, it appeared.

Little Legs ran after her with outstretched arms.

“We’re still playing our game,” he explained.

He grabbed her pink collar and tugged, trying to pull her off the chair.

“Come on, Coco,” he said.

“How does the game work?” I asked.

“I lock her up in her cage and then she breaks out and she bites me.”

“That sounds like an interesting game,” I said endorsing an activity that was certain to win a mother of the year award.

 “I’m going to go get Baby Brother now,” he said with a serious expression.

“He can play, too.”

Somehow, I sensed that Baby Brother was about to switch places with the dog and decided creative game time was over.  

Far from the Noise and Confusion

“My tummy hurts.”

The words find me in the darkness like bee drones, their reach is astonishing as my head is neatly tucked underneath of a pillow, meant to block out light and sound.

I need to wake up.

As I struggle to escape from the depths of sleep, I hear again, “My tummy hurts.”

This is not a false alarm in an attempt to stay up later or get a post-dinner snack. I hear the urgency in the voice.

I am coming. I try to say it, but I can’t connect my brain with my mouth. Fortunately, from a physical standpoint, I don’t have far to travel, the voice is coming from the foot of the bed.

Finally, I make it back to the land of the living and toss the pillow aside just as Little Legs starts to make a strange sound, hard to describe but impossible to misinterpret as the contents of his stomach gush from his mouth and onto the comforter, sheets and current occupants of the bed.

Blindly, I hold up my hands, dripping with chunky goo. I need to get my glasses to determine the next steps.

“My tummy still hurts,” he says.

And again, the gusher blows. I try to catch it in my hands and feel the force of it push through my fingers. The world is still blurry as I try to carry the boy to the bathroom, leaving a trail of macaroni and cheese bits and pieces in our wake.

When it is all said and done, Little Legs has stomach slime in his hair, the rugs are drenched, the toilet is covered. Daddy Longlegs is on his hands and knees, scooping godknowswhat from the floor and I am in disbelief that one little stomach could hold so much content.

It is a gross night with one, short-lived silver lining.  

“My tummy doesn’t hurt anymore,” Little Legs exclaims with glossy eyes.

I am right to wonder how long our break will last but see no reason to wait for the inevitable. Not a moment too soon, I scrunch down and settle back into a deep sleep far away from all the noise and confusion of the stomach of Little Legs.  

The Magic of When/Then Statements

“If you don’t put on your pants, we can’t go to the library.”

Little Legs threw himself down, stretching out his limbs and kicking like a long-distance swimmer. The only difference was that this athlete wasn’t going anywhere, until he put on his pants.

Big, fat tears of protest rolled down his red cheeks. The injustice of the request was too much. It was all too unfair. If he was holding on by an emotional thread, the thread snapped and he went into a full tantrum. Meanwhile, Baby Brother, fully dressed, stood over Little Legs watching and holding his coat next to the bag of books that was neatly packed and placed by the door.

I tried to intervene at the risk of undermining my authority and offered to help.

“Here, I will put on this leg and you do the other.”

At this, he screamed, “I am not a baby.”

We were in a stand-off, or in this case, a crying-and-screaming-off, where no one was going to win.

“When you put your pants on, then we can go to the library,” I said in a tactical change of word usage.

The when/then statements were supposed to work magic on the irrational preschooler, a feat that I had yet to see. In my mind, it would work like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, taming the beasts by staring into their eyes.

Little Legs would nod his head in agreement and repeat, “When I put on my pants, then we can go to the library.”

And of course, he would then wipe the tears from his face, put on his pants and give me a hug to say, let’s work together, I’m sorry, without saying a word.

Instead, he continued to scream, kick and refuse to wear pants.

He made two things quite clear; he needed some alone time and that we were not taking a trip to the library.

What to do with a bed bug.

Over the past few weeks, we have had a regular visitor. He arrives in the darkness on shuffling feet and wiggles and grunts his way into our bed.

I suppose it is the excitement of his trip through the house under the cover of night that makes him start coughing and coughing and coughing. Once he starts, he cannot stop.

Daddy Longlegs and I both wake up, it is rather hard to sleep with someone coughing on your face and spraying a fine mist of spittle on your eyelids. Although we are both awake, one of us plays dead and waits him out, while the other sits up, rubs his back and assumes parental responsibility. The role of nurse and possum switches from night to night, usually depending on whose side he lands.

“Water?” Little Legs asks.

We give him water.

“Cough medicine?” he asks.

“You already had some,” we remind him.

 “Pillow?” he asks.

“It is right there.”

“Oh…” he laughs.

Apparently, not sleeping is funny.

I am working out the silver lining to this exhausting situation, these are the highlights so far.

1. The nightwalker and one of his parents get to see one another at an unexpected time.

2. We have a bed to share in a house that is mostly safe for nightly travel.

3. It is not a situation that is going to last forever.

So, I will focus on appreciating the visits from our nocturnal son, rework our plan to get him to stay in his own bed, hello honey lollypops and endless bribes, and lastly, be grateful that Baby Brother is still in his crib and it is only one visitor, for now.    

Junk Pile

Shattered glass glitters from the rocks. I spot the danger just as Baby Brother begins to climb towards its shining surface. His fleshy palms and fingers grabbing for the next hold. His billygoat-like brother is next to him, faster and nimbler, aided by his longer legs and stronger hands.   

“Get back from there,” I yell to the boys.

They laugh and run away, chasing each other around the house. 

Although they are naughty, they have only just entered the crime scene. They have an air-tight alibi, they were both napping inside after lunch, so I rule them out as suspects.

Daddy Longlegs is inside, working in his office, so although he is also naughty, he is ruled out as a suspect to the mess.

Suddenly, the culprit is in front of me.

She is big, hairy, farts in her sleep and is carrying a rusty, metal light fixture in her mouth.

“Coco, don’t chew on that,” I say.

She throws it up in the air and goes after it with a woof, not listening to me at all, much like her human brothers. She has been raiding the pile of old tin cans, liquor bottles, unmarked plastic containers and scrap metal from discarded farm equipment that is in the woods behind our house.

These are the last vestiges of the original landowners.  

From the junk pile, I have learned that Old Pappy was a drinker and Mammy liked condiments and perfume. They were not concerned with how plastic becomes brittle and breaks down into smaller pieces and eventually into microscopic particles that end up in our water, soil and air. Or that the small mountain of glass bottles would be carried by a brainless dog and dropped onto rocks to splinter into a thousand shards close to where little boys like to walk barefoot.   

I would venture that Old Pappy and Mammy were less concerned with caring for their environment and more focused on staying out of the way of rattlesnakes, finding ways to put food on the table and keeping the pigs and chickens in the yard.    

Although dealing with the junk pile makes me irritated and angry, especially when the dog brings hazardous materials to the boys to play with or litters the ground with rusty metal and glass, I cannot fault Old Pappy and Mammy for surviving in the best way they knew.

Likewise, we are surviving in the best way that we know how which involves taking care of our tiny plot of land and one another. We try to use fewer plastic products, create less waste and recycle what we can because trash does not disappear. It gets hidden under brush and bramble until February when everything on the land is laid bare.

And the ugly pile of trash is still there, not going anywhere until the dog moves it.      

The Yankee In Me

Yesterday, we met with a woman who wanted to use our office for a daylong training.

Words flew out of her mouth like a flock of birds during migration. A swooping mass that went this way and that way, mostly in a forward direction. Her crooked teeth reminded me of my mother’s smile.  

“Tell me to slow down if I am speaking too fast, that’s just the Yankee in me,” the woman explained.

It was a bizarre thing to say which made me think of a tiny solder in blue holding a musket, camped out somewhere in her body, defending the North. The same North that is under a blizzard warning, while we complain about the rain and grey skies of middle Tennessee. (By we, I mean Baby Brother and Little Legs. You are right to assume this was part of a serious discussion.)   

However strange the phrase, I understood what she meant. We carry the place(s) where we are born and raised with us, right down to our cells. It comes out in how we speak, our preferences, what feels safe or unsafe, who and what we seek out. It is so much of who we are, consciously and subconsciously.

My inner Yankee, obviously irrational, misses the cold weather and longs to hear the call of the Hoosier in its natural environment. (It sounds like this, Go Hoo-hoo-hoosiers.)

Being so far from home during this weather event, I feel like we are missing out on a history making experience that will change and bond those involved. An experience, that like childbirth, is unforgettable and mostly terrible but also amazing to remember after it is all over. Enduring this snowstorm will result in a memory that people will talk about to their children and their children’s children about.

“And the snow was how high?” the small people will ask.

With each retelling, the response will get higher and higher. We are talking the stuff of legacy here.

In the meantime, my heart is in the Heartland. I will be keeping all our friends and family on my mind as they hunker down and wait out the Blizzard of 2022. I guess if I really want the blizzard experience, I can always go down the street to Dairy Queen where I can get one with a whipped cream and a cherry on top and that will keep my inner Yank happy until we can get back home.

The Missing Chicken

“Well, guess where I’m heading?” Daddy Longlegs asked.

We had been playing phone tag all morning and finally connected after a few rings.

I couldn’t even begin to guess; he was a man of great mystery and intrigue. Sometimes he would call on his way to Lowe’s or the bank with a similar impossible query.

I always guessed wrong.

“The Home Depot?”

“Nope, good guess though.”

He stoked my ego a little to encourage the guessing game.

“I give up, where are you going?”

“Back to Publix.”

“Weren’t you just there?” I asked.

“Why, yes, yes I was but when I got home, I found out my chicken was missing.”  

He laid out all the facts like he was narrating for CSI- middle of nowhere, Tennessee, special edition.   

He was at the grocery store, put the chicken into the cart with the other list items, including: yogurt, bread, bananas and instant oatmeal. He checked out and drove home, nothing unusual there. Then he unloaded the groceries and discovered the chicken was missing.

“So what did you do?”

“I called right up there and said, ‘Hey, do you have my chicken?’”

“And what happened next?”

I was on pins and needles.

“They said, ‘Well, yes, we do have your chicken. We just put it back in the meat department.’”

We both were glad they weren’t holding onto the chicken at the front like a lost purse or blankie.

“So, I said I will be right there to pick it up and they said, ‘Take your time, we’ll get your chicken back to you.’”

“How is that for customer service?” I asked. I really wasn’t sure.  

“They were going to keep my chicken,” he said, still incensed at the bird-napping.  

I can only guess that Daddy Longlegs is going to propose keeping chickens, to cut out the middleman, but again, it is hard to tell with a man of such mystery.

The Resistance

The boys go to daycare twice a week. They get to socialize, pick up new germs, and begin to learn how to conform in a play society of pre-schoolers and toddlers which is ruled by 18 year-old girls/classroom teachers. Most, if not all, of my piddly paycheck goes to pay for this opportunity which also gives me a break, even if the break is spent working.  

I do not ask much out of the staff, aside from how was the boys’ day and do they need another set of play clothes or diapers/wipes? In return, the staff only shares the essentials, such as, “Yes they had a good day. They had a nap and a bowel movement.” Or “No, they did not have a good day. There was an incident and….” Fill in the blank with any number of ways that a toddler can fall off a table or collide with another child that results in blood shed and head injuries.

I did not complain when the front office staff changed over seven times in the past ten months, or when the teachers mysteriously disappeared to be replaced by the latest female crew from America’s Most Wanted. When the center shut down for two weeks due to Covid, and then for another two weeks, I patiently waited for things to return to normal. As the boys have been sick every other week from what I suspect is a lack of sanitizing, again, I expressed understanding for the Daycare Experience and let it go.

However, when I received a group email from the director that parents were spending too much time talking to staff, my head exploded in a puff of electric purple. Effective immediately, all concerns and communication needed to be routed through the front desk to be relayed to the classroom teachers to reduce the distractions for the teachers and the delay in drop off and pick-ups.

Regardless of my anger, I decided to respect their request and dropped the boys off without the usual few words to check-in about the weekend, changes in health or having the right weather-related clothes. Baby Brother was greeted by his usual sweet, smiling teacher who took him into the room in her arms. The problem was the fresh set of adult faces in Little Legs’ classroom who appeared already exhausted and overrun by the whirling dervishes.

One woman approached Little Legs and said, “What’s your name?”

Little Legs shook his head and backed up towards the door, refusing to give up his identity.

“Come on little boy, show me where your cubicle is,” she requested.

I popped back in and said, “This is Little Legs,” struggling to control the tight pulling of irritation in my face and chest.

From there I marched down the hall to the front desk where I would like to say I eloquently expressed my concerns and desire for change. Instead, it is no exaggeration to write that I lost my sh*t about the dangers in limiting communication between parents and classroom teachers in addition to constantly changing staff.

The director stepped out of her office and apologized for the misunderstanding and that the email was meant for the parents who were spending half an hour talking to the classroom teachers.   

“You can talk to them for 15 minutes if you want,” she said graciously.  

“Thanks, but no thanks, I just need a few minutes.”

I left feeling drained and surprised at the power of my own emotions. I am ready for the next daycare showdown. My voice is my weapon, even though my throat is starting to get suspiciously sore.

I am Mama, hear me roar. Sort of.

Savage Life

The boys are in the kitchen eating cereal and toast. Carbs with carbs, just the way I was raised. Baby Brother is standing on a two-tier stool to reach the counter and Little Legs is perched dangerously on a backless bar stool.

Usually, we eat at the table, but the Wildings surrounded me and demanded breakfast before I could think straight enough to get them to properly sit and patiently wait. The thought of the boys being proper and/or patient is a bit of a joke. I had to throw gummy fruit snacks down the hallway to distract them long enough to make a dash for the toaster.    

Little Legs hops down from his stool to retrieve a Matchbox car that is essential to his breakfast process. And during his brief absence, the dog takes the opportunity to grab the unguarded toast in her mouth and swallows it with one gulp.  

There is no hesitation, chewing or remorse involved. Carpe Diem, Seize the Toast.

Little Legs turns around as the slightly burned, mostly uneaten bread disappears whole, like a mouse down the throat of a snake. Little Legs throws his hands up in the air and screams the worst insult he can muster with the limited vocabulary of a three-year-old.

“You a toast eater! You a bad dog, you toast eater!”

It is a dog-eat-toast life here in Tennessee.

Savages, all around.