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.   

Sharing is not caring

Sharing is not caring in our household, its grounds for war.

Little Legs and Baby Brother are still adjusting to one another, six months after BB’s introduction as a pink and wrinkled bundle of boy. The adjustment is more painful now than before as BB has entered the world of mobility. He does an army-crawl/scoot combination to get across the room with astonishing speed. Like watching a rock sprout legs, I remain in disbelief at the transformation.

There are no toys that are safe from BB’s sticky clutches or endless stream of drool. Some toys beg to be grabbed over others, usually they are the most well-loved ones that will cause the greatest amount of distress for Little Legs.  

For example, Little Legs noticed Dog-Bear, the dingy white polar bear with whom he sleeps every night, was not at his feet where he dropped him to play with trains.

“Dog-Bear gone?” he asked.

I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Dog-Bear was nearby and in the arms of another.  

Little Legs looked to his left and to his right before he discovered his crib-mate wrestling and rolling on the ground with Baby Brother; like a cat and a large rat, they were a well-matched pair. Little Legs screamed in horror and ripped Dog-Bear away from his brother.

“Hug, Dog-Bear,” he rubbed his nose in the nubby fur of the coveted stuffed animal with a sigh of relief at his safe return.  

He wrapped his arms it and then suddenly stopped and held it out for my inspection with a lip curled in disgust.

“Wet,” he proclaimed.  

Perhaps, I mused, the future threat of drool on his best friend would be enough to encourage more cleaning and less mess making.

“Sorry buddy, it looks like your brother got ahold of Dog-Bear.”

At this astute observation, Little Legs began to cry.

“You have to pick up the toys that you don’t want to share.”

He registered this information with a sniff and a nod, grabbed a block and made his way back toward his brother. I assumed it was to replace Dog-Bear. How thoughtful this first-born son was becoming. I watched with pride as he brought the new toy to his brother.  

Instead of delivering the block, Little Legs raised the block with both hands up over his head and brought them down towards his brother’s still-soft cranium.

I intervened at the last second, shielding Baby Brother from the strike of a tiny tyrant, the self-imposed punisher, with my hands. I grabbed Baby Brother and held him close, safe from the immediate threat of his sibling.  

Clearly, the path of their friendship is long and winding, but I know (fervently hope) that eventually they will find each other as not just brothers, but as best friends and a shelter from any storm. Until then, we just have to protect the baby from the current typhoon that is his toddler brother.

Easier said than done.

Fall with Two

Fall is here with cooler temps, grey skies and orange and brown leaves for Little Legs to crunch. It is a welcome break from the intense heat of summer that kept us inside for most of the day. Time to pull out the fuzzy socks, sweaters and jeans and put away the shorts and tank tops.

Unfortunately, in starting this clothing transition, I realized that Little Legs outgrew all his warm clothes and needs a new winter wardrobe as a Mister 2T. Thanks to on-line shopping, we can have pants and sweaters within a few days and never have to set foot in a store. Baby Brother will inherit anything that doesn’t get too stretched or stained, but at this rate, it won’t be much.

Earlier today, we were undeterred by the chillier weather and went out for our walk. We were on the return leg with Baby strapped to my chest, and Little Legs strapped into a pair of sandals with socks, like a 20-month-old hippie, and a too-small sweater that left his wrists exposed.

We looked like a gang of vagabonds traveling through the hills of Tennessee.

I tried not to think about the incline at the last part of the journey. However, it was hard to ignore as the baby seemed to grow heavier with each step, the straps of his carrier a constant reminder on my shoulders and back.

“Car!” Little Legs shouted and grabbed my free hand in serious excitement at being my safety spotter.

We walked past the car, unmoving and parked in a driveway.

“Up!” Little Legs demanded as a reward.

“Come on, buddy. Can you walk a little more?” I asked.

“Please?” I begged.

He shook his head, stood in front of me and grabbed my legs, refusing to let us pass like a tiny road troll.

This was going to be a very long final march up the hill, I thought.

I bent down and Little Legs climbed onto my back and wrapped his arms around my neck.

With one on back and one in front, I stood back up summoning my Amazon *strong woman, not mega online shopping beast* energy. We powered up the hill with Little Legs bouncing up and down on my back, obviously envisioning himself as a jockey on a very slow horse.

A heavy-set man in a baggy t-shirt turned off the main road and started to speed walk towards us, pumping his arms back and forth.

As he passed us, he exclaimed without slowing, “Oooh hooo! You got a full load on you.”

I thought, how lucky am I to have such a beautiful and exhausting load.

With one on front and one on back, they are my life, my everything.

My boys.  

Baby’s Trip to the Doc

While driving home from the pediatrician’s office, I glanced in the rearview mirror. Baby Boy was already fast asleep, his face still red and splotchy from crying. Screaming and sobbing, to be more accurate.

It was the first time in a week that I had on makeup, a shirt with sleeves and pants without an elastic waistband. It felt good to see the outside of our house and spend time beyond our yard. I even dressed Baby Boy up in a brand-new outfit and brushed the few hairs on his head over to the side.

He looked handsome and well-groomed, for about thirty minutes.

It started with a total blow out, somewhere between the car and the exam table, which went all the way up his back. As I peeled off his onesie, once so cute, now smeared with a mustard yellow that would certainly stain, I sighed. It had somehow reached his shoulder which was impressive, but also disgusting.

We rushed to clean up the mess, which is a word that is far too simple to describe what happened in that exam room. Fortunately, we worked fast in our clean up efforts and were ready in a fresh diaper by the time the nurse arrived.

“Oh, I see he’s already stripped down,” the nurse said in surprise.

She expected to wait while I undressed Baby Boy and had to leave her usual barely disguised look of annoyance for the next patient.

After the nurse weighed and measured my sweet little homebody, the doctor breezed into the room wearing safety glasses and a face mask. Interestingly, it is far easier to show annoyance and irritation through a mask, than a sense of warmth and generosity. However, it’s not impossible and the doctor gave it his best effort, smiling with his whole face and crinkling the sun-browned skin next to his eyes.

Baby Boy was born into this strange world of only seeing the eyes of strangers and faces of family. I wondered how this would impact his development. Would the kids of 2020 be known as the Maskies who are only comfortable at home, using Zoom and Facetime to connect with real people?

I couldn’t spend too much time dwelling on the future because we only had a few minutes in the present with the doctor to ask all the questions about sleep, poop, play and development that kept me up at night, even with Baby Boy as a second child.

Doc looked down his nose at the report of Baby Boy’s growth over the past month and gave a whistle.

“Let’s get a look at Fat Baby.”

It was like that was his name. Obviously, the doctor was unaware of his position of thin privilege or that Fat Baby’s mother was feeling over the top sensitive about weight and fat rolls and labels.

At about that point, I started to fall apart, as though held together by a thread that started disintegrating the moment we left the house. Perhaps all the time away from the public had made me too sensitive or out of touch? Maybe it was the effects of the post-partum hormones? Maybe it was too close to lunch time and my blood sugar was dropping.

Whatever the cause, I shut down and focused on Baby Boy, aka Fat Baby, forgetting to ask my important questions and plans for sleep training. The doctor obviously did not mean offense and it was more of a compliment to FB’s primary source of nutrition, me, than anything.

Still, I wondered when the pandemic ends, and it will eventually, how any of us could possibly reintegrate into a world that doesn’t appreciate fat rolls?

Paint Splatters

paintHis tiny fingers wrap around my arm.

The contrast of white against brown startles me into momentarily wondering about the origins of this beautiful child.

He is another unfinished project, like the boards of the deck, half-way painted before being abandoned by a rain shower.

The splatters of paint on my feet are reminders of the job that still begs to be finished along with the dishes, mopping and yet another load of laundry.

Where is the time? And where does it go?

I have the same 24 hours in a day and somehow it passes through my hands like sand in a sieve, constantly flowing until suddenly there is not a grain or a minute left.

I know that everything will get done, eventually, but it won’t be today.

Today, I would much rather push trucks across the carpet with Little Legs and hold Baby when he cries, share a snack of applesauce and blow the white fluff of a dandelion into the hot summer air.

Today, the time goes where I want because I’m the boss.

I’m the mama.

The Grudgemaster

storkWhen I found out we were pregnant, I read as much as I could find about bringing home a second baby. I talked to all my mom friends for insider information. I questioned my own parents for their thirty-plus year recollections of having a baby and a toddler at the same time, which was hazy, at best.

Based on my research, I formed a plan for everything, starting with our return home from the hospital. His changing area had diapers and wipes set out with a stack of clean onsies. There was a bottle cleaning station by the sink and his bassinet was next to the bed. I thought we were totally ready. Yet, I was totally unprepared for the hardest part of the transition going from a family of three to four. The Grudge.

Thankfully, it wasn’t against the baby.

It was against me. By my beloved first son. The Grudgemaster.

Everyone said, “Make sure your arms are open for your toddler when he first meets the new baby. He needs to see that you still have room for him.”

So when we returned home from the hospital, my husband held onto the baby’s carrier and I walked in behind him, slightly hunched over from the lingering c-section pain, but nonetheless with open arms.

I held them out to my sweet boy and announced, “We’re home and we missed you so much.”

The three days and two nights at the hospital was the longest amount of time that we had ever been apart since Little Legs was born. I wasn’t sure if he would run away or run towards me for a hug. Quite naturally, he did neither.

First, he crept over to my husband to investigate what strange mewling creature we brought home. He peered into the carrier and reached in with his index finger to poke the poor, wrinkled little thing that we explained was his brother.

He stared up into our faces with a questioning look, unsure why we would bring home something so noisy into our otherwise peaceful existence. Then, he ran off to play with his grandma, who stood nearby secretly (not-so-secretly) hopeful that he would emancipate himself from us so that he could live with her forever.

From that point, Little Legs commenced to ignore me. He refused to sit in my lap or give me hugs, he didn’t want to tell me in his jibber-jabber language about his day or lean against me for story-time. He went to Daddy Longlegs when he needed help or to his G-ma, her cool self-appointed grandma name, when he wanted a snack.

As for me, I stopped existing for him. I was a sad ghost floating through the house, anchored by a crying baby, suddenly without the center of my world.

It was a more emotionally painful experience than anything I’d experienced, perhaps made worse by the post-partum hormones and sleep deprivation. I feared that I had forsaken the love of my first-born son in a sacrifice for the safe passage of his little brother. Apparently, this was the terrible price I had to pay and my train of irrational thinking as I tried to rationalize the situation.

I thought the grudge would never lift, until recently, he sat next to me with a book in his hands. Not too close, but close enough that I could see all was not lost. It felt like the dark sky parted and finally allowed the sun’s rays to break through, warming my heart and soul.

Things were going to be ok; they would get to a new normal.

As for the Grudgemaster, he would sit in my lap again.

Eventually.

Two Ships

shipsThe couple stood in the kitchen, meeting for the first moment of synchronized quiet since they rolled out of bed. For the past few weeks, they had been like two ships passing in the night as they tag-teamed the needs of their newborn and toddler. The time they spent together was by default, in trips to the store or on the couch at night.

How was it possible to be in the same house and not manage to bump into one another until mid-afternoon? They were too tired to think too much on it and leaned against one another for literal support. They were both so tired from the night-long activities of their newborn son that if one moved too quickly, the other was sure to collapse. It was a very precarious situation.

Baby seats and wipes and swaddles were scattered through the house, along with all of the toys and other random things that were pulled out from closets and cupboards, carried around and then abandoned in the middle of the floor by the toddler. The toddler’s latest acquisition was a bottle of red finger paint that he had been struggling to open for most of the morning. Thankfully, he lacked the grip strength, for now, but it was only a dreaded matter of time before he was finger painting the house.

The couple was resigned to the chaos, too tired to fight back the wave of trains, books, pacifiers and matchbox cars that crept into every room and hallway, while he worked a full-time job and she tried to keep the boys happy and healthy, alive was more like it, most of the time.

Somehow, through the haze of their exhaustion, they managed to find each other.

They looked at one another and laughed. Delirious? Maybe, but words were not needed in that moment. They leaned forward to kiss, when suddenly, a Tonka trunk was launched into the air and landed squarely on the woman’s bare foot. It hit with a crash of metal and plastic connecting with skin and bone and tile, courtesy of the toddler who trailed after his mother into the kitchen, hopeful for a snack.

And the two ships separated, blown apart by a fuzz-headed whirlwind.

The baby started to cry, as if on cue, and the fuzz-headed whirlwind demanded to be picked up. The ships continued on their way and sailed off in opposite directions until their next chance meeting on a clear day of perfect circumstances.

Silence

It had been a very, long morning.

Little Legs woke up earlier than usual, likely because of his fresh resolution to give up toddlerhood in order to return to life as a baby. He refused to use his legs and demanded to be carried. Big, wet tears streamed down his face when his exhausted mother refused to accept his new identity and naturally, he crumpled into a wailing heap on the kitchen floor.

Once he overcame his temporary insanity, he quickly changed plans for the day and tried to hijack the pack-n-play. He pushed his pint-sized rocking chair next to it and climbed it like a stool. Unfortunately, Baby Brother was already in the pack-n-play as he had decided that, unlike his brother, he no longer wanted to be a baby. Rather, he preferred to be a creature of the night and had been up and back down by the time Mister Sleeping Beauty was up for the day.

Now, he was up, too. Crying. Again.

Apparently, Baby Brother did not appreciate Little Legs throwing his cat-doll, Max, on top of him, and cried louder, while Little Legs continued to scale the side of the pack-n-play from the makeshift stool with a clear plan to join Max and his brother at the top.

Spotting Little Legs in the midst of his free climb, his mother sighed. She was absolutely, totally and positively spent. There was nothing left after being up every hour with the creature of the night and then wresting the Pseudo-baby out of his crib and into clothes. Her cup of coffee was cold and her hair was a mess. She smelled like old milk and noticed a yellow smear on her shirt, a remnant from the creature of the night’s activities.

“No, no, Little Legs. Don’t climb on the baby,” she said as her older son prepared to pull himself over the edge and onto his aware but helpless sibling.

There were so many things she had to tell Little Legs not to do to the baby, including: jump, shake, scare, roll, sit, stomp, yell, pull, and yank. The list seemed endless, but fortunately, there was eventually some level of compliance and this morning was no exception.

Little Legs gave a surprised look at being caught, mid-crime, and retreated without so much as a squeak.

And suddenly there was a sweet silence.

No baby crying, or cabinets banging or tooting from Thomas the Train. Little Legs played with trains on the floor and Baby Brother closed his eyes and settled back down for a nap. Their mother sipped on cold coffee, and finally she let herself breathe. All was well.

For one blissful minute.

Caterpillar Baby

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.

Four Frogs

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.

four frogs