Mr. Fish

fishMr. Fish is resting on his side in his leaf hammock.  His long, blue tail drapes over the edge, waving ever so slightly in the water, as his gills open and close.   He’s resting from pushing his moss ball around the tank, nibbling on it, and zipping around the tank like a speed racer.

A week earlier, a young, pear-shaped salesman overheard me laugh as we passed the fish section and asked, “A leaf hammock?  Does a fish need a hammock?”

The nosy salesman sidled up next to us and exclaimed, “I assure you, it’s an absolute must have for any betta tank.”

He looked around for other blue vests and finding none, he lowered his voice and whispered, “My boss has two betta fish and they each have their own hammock.  They love the hammocks.  Wait here, I’ll get you what you need.”

And he was off in a flash, sashaying down the aquarium supply aisle before we could even confirm that we wanted a fish.

Meanwhile, the baby gazed ahead at the tanks of bright fish, swimming in small, disorganized schools under weird florescent lighting.  He looked up at the harsh lights overhead and down the aisle behind us.  He kicked his feet, unused to wearing socks and socks, and started to squirm.

In a few minutes, the salesman returned with a handful of merchandise, dropping each item into the cart as he named it off in a roll call of aquatic gear.

“Here is the leaf hammock, medicine, in case your fish gets sick, water conditioner, special betta food and this…”

He saved the best for last.  Between his delicate fingers, he held up a green, fuzzy ball encased in clear, hard plastic.

“It’s faux,” he explained, “but no one will ever know.”

He noticed my questioning look as he went on to explain, “It’s a moss ball, you know, to help with the bacteria.”

“Shouldn’t I just get a live one?” I questioned like a silly layperson.

“Oh no,” the salesman/resident fish expert assured me. “The live ones are already filled with bacteria; this one will give you a fresh start.  You know, to help with the bacteria.”

In retrospect, we should have left and come back when we had time to be thoughtful, intentional and to read the information on the back of the packaging.

Instead, I said, “Sounds great, thanks so much. This is just what we needed.”

We picked a sad looking fish in a cup with barely enough room to turn and checked out, ending our impulse-buying-mission-of-mercy and headed home to introduce Mr. Fish to Ms. Kitty with high hopes of friendship

Mommy Hugs

sleeping-cher

It’s the smell of vomit on my shirt that wakes me up, or maybe its just the first thing that I notice.  Curdled milk and stomach acid combine to make a very unique smell which seems to follow me everywhere I go.  The source of the bodily fluids is still fast asleep; curled up on his side, with his chubby cheeks and rosebud lips making him look like a cherub resting from fluttering about on a pair of tiny wings. 

In reality, the baby is tired from chasing the cat, pulling all of the pots and pans out of the cabinets, standing up against the toilet and dismantling the nightlight from the wall which was somehow missed in the last round of babyproofing.  He continues to show us what he needs and wants, what he likes and dislikes, and how to be better parents. 

One of his primary interests is in ending all cell phone usage in his presence.  He reminds us to be present or else he will put a handful of ants in his mouth.  He keeps us accountable through inquisitive eyes that see and question all.  He keeps us selfless as we prepare him for the world and a future independent of diapers, rattles and pureed food but never free from mommy hugs, I hope.    

An Anxious Mind

anxietyAlmost as soon as we round the corner, a giant of a man appears in front of us on the otherwise deserted street.  He wears a sheet-sized, bright orange Sponge Bob t-shirt with matching orange sunglasses and walks with slow shuffling steps.  His feet lack the confidence of his bold outfit, he is like a massive, newly feathered baby bird learning to fly.

In spite of his slow shuffling steps, my anxious mind screams that he is stalking us, albeit in a very conspicuous way.  Obviously, he has been waiting for us to appear, I think with my anxious mind.  My heart starts to pound as my anxious mind races with possibilities while the man continues to approach, one shuffling step at a time.  We can’t turn around without making it obvious that he scares us.  Plus, we don’t want to lead him back to the house.  To be clear, I am the only one who is scared; the little boy is quite content cruising with his feet up on the cup holders, playing with Sophie, the giraffe, and singing a tuneless song.

Meanwhile, I wonder how many days Big Orange has watched us stroll past his window before he decided to come out of the darkness that I imagine to be his living room.  We travel the same streets almost every day at close to the same time, as true creatures of habit, making it all too easy for Big Orange to time his outing.  We will not run or show fear, we will stand our ground, I reason with my anxious mind.

“Good morning,” I say in a gruff voice that my anxious mind believes will make us more intimidating.

 Big Orange stops in his tracks, surprised by either the greeting or the strange tone of voice, “What?”

“Ahem,” I clear my throat, “I said, good morning.  It’s what people say in the morning.”

“Ok,” he replies.  “Bye-bye now,” he peeks into the stroller, waves with his fingertips to the baby and shuffles on past us.

I have a terrible moment of clarity when I consider the shuffle, the delayed comprehension and the Sponge Bob shirt; Big Orange has a disability and I am definitely a jerk for assuming that he was instead a calculated stalker.  Anxiety quickly melts into guilt, my default emotion.  However, then I notice the baby is whimpering in his seat with his arms and legs pulled in like a distressed turtle and Sophie is completely missing, tucked someplace safe.

“What’s wrong, baby?  It’s ok, mama is here,” I murmur to pair of wide eyes that stare up at me from the stroller.  

Does he sense my anxiety or is there something else about Big Orange that I am missing?  In either case, its hot out and we need to head home, so we continue our walk with a little more pep in our step.  Sophie reappears from whichever roll she was hiding under and the baby is happily babbling again. Order is seemingly restored, but a nagging feeling makes me look over my shoulder.  Big Orange has doubled back and is walking towards us with quick, determined steps, completely shuffle-free.   

“Time to roll, little man.”

One less leaf

leaf

The baby laughed like a maniac who had just gotten away with robbing a bank or draining the dolphin tank at the zoo.  I eyed the boy suspiciously as he continued to giggle with an open mouth. 

“What is in your mouth?” I asked in alarm as the tip of a piece of foreign matter peeked out amidst the laugher of its host.

Two tiny teeth stood guard, rice sized soldiers protecting whatever he had tucked away in his cheek.

I wrangled the squirming baby and his mouth clamped shut with the determination of a Rottweiler’s teeth into a piece of meat.  He knew that he was found out but he wasn’t giving in without a fight.  

“Open up,” I demanded with the baby under one arm and a finger in his mouth.   

He shook his head in refusal and smiled with eyes that sparkled with mischief.

“Yes, you will,” I argued with the naughty boy.

I fished left and right until I felt something solid, pinched it between two fingers and extracted an entire leaf.

I laughed in disbelief, but I wanted to cry.  What if he had found something more malign than an old leaf, like a nail or a dead spider?  I promised him I would do better and be more vigilant against the dangers of the world.

Graciously, he forgave me and crawled off babbling his favorite word, “Dada.”

Negotiations with a baby

cartI refer to the list in my hand, peanut butter is underlined twice, as though it could be forgotten.  Everything is accounted for on the list except for pickles which are located at the opposite end of the store.  I hesitate and consider the need vs. want of the pickles when the baby squawks from his perch breaking my train of thought.  Dimpled legs and barefoot feet kick at me, while a black safety belt holds his round belly in place.

“Ok, ok,” I say and start pushing the cart and its little captain again.  He is happiest when he is in motion and the squawk was a warning.  I don’t want any trouble from the tiny tyrant.  The last time I heard that particular noise it was to a little girl who crawled with a threatening quickness towards us at a coffee shop.  He spotted her and squawked which stopped and terrified her back towards the legs of her mother.  Mission accomplished.

The baby world is strange, they communicate with a series of grunts, shrieks and squeals, kisses and slobbers, pinches and pats.  They are the most primitive version of us, totally dependent and yet independent in wanting what they want when they want it.  And he wants to go.

“Let’s check out and then we can go home and play,” I negotiate.

He seems to accept the offer as he stares up at the bright lights overhead with a half-smile.  I wheel past the self-checkout lanes and towards the only one manned by an actual person.  Self-checkout would be great for a single person with a bundle of bananas and a box of lightbulbs, not so great for the two of us and a week’s worth of groceries.  

An old man with white hair, faded jeans and shiny penny-loafers gets in line behind us looking weirdly unburdened with only a pack of batteries in one hand.  Meanwhile, the baby sets his attention on opening the sliding cooler door with bottles of soda and water beside the checkout lane, twisting his body to use both arms to reach it.  I hold him down with one arm and load a bag of salad, lunch meat and baby food onto the moving belt.  The cart is still overwhelmingly full to unload with one hand.

From behind me, the old man begins to speak.  In my mind, I imagine his gentlemanly offer to help with the unloading.  Chivalry is not dead.  I chuckle at my geriatric knight and step aside to allow him to put his offer to good use. 

In reality he says, “You’re awful small to have such a big baby,” peering over my shoulder and tapping his shoe like he has to be somewhere very important in the next two minutes.

I do not respond with a witty comeback about him being awful old to be so creepy and rude.  Although I cringe at the thought of confrontation with a stranger, I am not afraid of it.  On this day, however, I am simply too exhausted from keeping the baby happy and healthy, the house clean, groceries in the fridge and on and on to dish it back.   

“Why don’t you and your batteries go in front of us?” I omit that he is an oblivious, useless man.

And, of course, he accepts my offer.

Beautifying the land

flowersWe move to a barren plot of earth where the grass is brown and sun-scorched.  Ancient trees with white and green lichens growing on the bark and dead limbs poised to break free and crash to the ground line the borders.  There are no flowers or bushes aside from a gathering of white and yellow wildflowers at the edge of the tree line.  Tough weeds that like shallow soil and dry conditions are the only thing that grow in abundance.  A thick layer of limestone is just under the soil, daring us to bring life to the impossible area.

The earth says no and my shovel agrees at the initial dig when I hit rock here, there and everywhere. Yet, we do not listen.  Instead, we get a pick-axe and bring in compost and top soil, plants and grasses. Busting through the rock and clay as beads of sweat drip from our foreheads and run down our necks, we refuse to accept the current state of our land.

Meanwhile, the baby creeps out from under his umbrella, off of his blanket and onto the crunchy grass after an orange butterfly.  

“Ahem,” the baby’s father clears his throat, stopping the baby in mid-crawl with the invisible power of a hypnotist.  

Orange wings flutter off towards the trees and the temporary spell is broken.  The baby resumes his escape attempt and is scooped up by his ever-observant daddy and only to be returned to the blanket.  His face is covered in dirt, turned to mud from the fountain of drool that drips from his mouth.  He smiles and laughs with his hands up in the air, conducting a silent orchestra with his chubby fingers.

He is a beautiful mess.

It is all for this muddy buddy that we accept the dare to bring life where there has only been rock and weeds.  It is for him that we see beyond the harsh present to create a lush future.  It is for him that we sweat and toil.  

We beautify the land for him and for those who follow, it is no longer about us. 

Sign Painter Needed

cubeThe interview started once we were all seated.  Two young women crammed next to one another behind one desk in a weird power sharing, conjoined-twins type of way.  

One of the heads asked, “Well, do you have any questions about the job?”

I checked my watch and confirmed that only one minute had passed since walking from the waiting room to the office that was separated from the rest of the cubicle farm by a few panes of glass.  It wasn’t as though I was applying to an advertisement that said, Sign Painter Needed.  The position was a little more complicated and the description was less than clear in explaining that travel was required but all work could be done from home.  

“Actually, I do have some questions, but first, would you like a copy of my resume?”

They laughed in-sync as one might expect conjoined twins to do; sharing the same sense of humor seemed natural for these fledgling sisters-from-different-misters.

“Everything is online now,” the second head explained like she was talking to an old-timer instead of someone who had only been out of the work force for six months.  “We have it all right here,” she tapped the side of her desktop computer, a trusted old companion.  

Obviously, its online, that’s how you received my information.  It’s a courtesy to offer, I grumbled silently to myself.  Instead of calling her a moron, I remained diplomatic and offered, “Why don’t we begin with reviewing the basic needs of the job and then we can go from there.”

The gals looked at each other and nodded in agreement.  Sounds reasonable, they telepathically said.  

With the three of us in the closed office, the air quickly grew thick and stale.  Why is there no air circulation in here?  I wondered as I half listened to the two gloss over the travel and clerical duties as they shared a laugh about potentially spending five hours at a copy machine.  

“Don’t worry, we supply the paper.”

When I realized that copy machine story was real, my interest seriously waned but they still twittered on like birds on a wire.

“That sums it up, any other questions?” the first head asked.

Aside from, where is the door, I only thought of getting home to my almond-eyed boy and not wasting another minute away.    

A Case Study of FOMO

sleepHe’s talking to the cat and she’s listening.

Mr. Baby will do anything to get out of a nap.

Tame a snake, speak in tongues, take his first step.

He suffers from a pretty bad case of FOMO or fear of missing out.  At night, he screams and heroically fights sleep, sobbing as he weakens from the struggle until he finally gives in, collapsing in a little footy-pajama’d pile of baby.  It’s enough to break your heart, watching the boy battle his enemy on the monitor. 

During the day, it’s no different.  He wails between yawns when the word nap gets mentioned.  He rolls left and right, front to back, and slaps the bars of his crib before dropping off into the land of zzz’s.  The neighbors are surely ready for us to move or quit sleep training, whichever comes first. 

Mr. Baby has a good explanation for his condition; being only six months old, everything is new to his eyes, ears, mouth and sticky fingers.  Somehow, he knows that if he risks a little shut eye, he definitely will miss out on something not yet experienced, something fun and potentially tasty since everything goes into his mouth.

What he doesn’t know yet, what he can’t possibly understand is that we will always wait for him.  We will save the best of everything for him.  We would stop the world from turning if it would make him feel better about his FOMO. 

So for now, rest easy, little boy, and leave your FOMO worries with us until you wake up, refreshed and ready for the world to start spinning once more.

Restored

hot ayQuiet settles over the apartment, a layer of heavy nothingness.  The lights go out with a pop as the voices on the radio fade.  There is no hum from the refrigerator or buzz from the air conditioner and the dishwasher suddenly stops whooshing.  There is only the sound of the baby thrashing his stuffed dog back and forth with a wild arm.

It is strange that I never noticed how much noise these energy-hungry devices make while they guzzle electricity until they are cut off from their source in a quick death.  In their wake they leave behind a literal feeling of powerlessness and a void that is impossible to fill without the cooperation of Middle Tennessee Electric Co-op.

Without electricity to cool and circulate the air, the apartment quickly heats up like a cozy, little oven, a sign that our energy efficient residence is only efficient at increasing the cost of our utility bills as we apparently air-condition the entire middle TN area.  I push open the windows and let the heat roll in with the sounds of the chattering birds and the deliberations of two maintenance men as they discuss the repair of a washing machine.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Baby flips over and is wriggling his way across the floor towards the cat, his lifelong frenemy, with an obvious fur-pulling goal in mind.  I use a magazine to fan my face, a less than optimal use of The Atlantic, and prepare to intervene in the fight that is about to ensue. 

We disconnect and leave the grid for a few hours, retreating into our own private world of building blocks, diapers, and vast quantities of milk.  When the fans and motors running the machines that keep us comfortable restart, I realize that I miss the quiet that I didn’t know I was missing even though I have been informed that we are now officially restored.

The Best of Me

He’s on the floor, staring into the plastic eyes of a stuffed dog. 

Using his uncoordinated hands like mitts,

he pulls the dog towards his open mouth while squealing in delight. 

He abandons the dog, throwing it off to the side,

and is suddenly on his back, a boy-turtle with chubby thighs.  

My heart is full as he makes his way through our tiny daytime world of two.

turtle

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