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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Everyone snacks

deer

Just ahead of us, a sudden movement through the trees and bramble catches our attention.

We are not in the deep woods and the baby is strapped to my chest, so I am hopeful that we are not about to have an encounter with a bear.  Running with an almost twenty-pound baby would not be impossible, but it certainly would not be enjoyable for long.

I mentally sort through my self-defense options.  I quickly rule out the snout punch, karate chop, flying kick and sadly settle on leaving my husband behind as bait while we make our clumsy getaway.  Unfortunately, sacrifices must be made at times like these and he is about to be a snack.

Still peering through the shadows, my heart skips a beat.  It’s a big-eyed doe staring back at us with a newly born fawn, standing on spindly legs, nursing underneath of her.  I breathe a sigh of relief, we are all safe and the baby will continue to have a daddy.  

However, I am in disbelief that we have wandered onto such an intimate moment and feel very NatGeo.  More than that, I feel greedy and wish I had a camera to snap the image and save it forever, not that a picture could capture the heart connection that I feel with the doe or the beauty of the pair, and instead I settle on committing the experience to my unreliable memory.       

In another instant, the sweet mama is gone with her babe in tow.  I squeeze my little guy, wanting to share the moment with him, only to discover that he is fast asleep, dreaming his milk dreams.  

Animal Signs

armadillo“Watch out for that…” I trailed off and leaned forward, unsure of the nature of the mangled creature in the road with a long, scaly tail and a crunched, banded shell.

As a co-pilot, it was my duty to give helpful guidance like this.  Of course, my husband had different ideas about how I could be useful, like looking up directions on Mapquest instead of identifying the remains of roadkill.  

“There is no way that is an armadillo,” I exclaimed out loud to a sleeping baby and an uninterested driver.  He was focused on the road signs as he searched for the next turn on our housing search. 

“I think its right around here,” he muttered quietly.  He had an uncanny sense of direction, aided by an almost flawless memory, which left me free to focus on other more pressing matters.  

Meanwhile, I didn’t want to believe my eyes, but the mound in the middle of the road most certainly was a nine banded armadillo or “little armored one” as confirmed by a quick google search.  Armadillos are not only in the Tennessee area; they are continuing to push north as a result of the changing climate.  Watch out, Indiana, these little weirdos are coming for you.  

“Still no directions?” my husband asked, noticing that I was scrolling through my phone from the corner of his eye. 

“No, I’m afraid not.  I am reading about the new migration pattern of armadillos.  And by the way, they carry leprosy.  Fortunately, they don’t bite so the risk of transmission is low, but we might as well keep driving.  The dead armadillo is obviously a bad sign.”

He shook his head and drove on, exasperated from the lack of participation in the housing search, while also in acceptance that this was not the neighborhood for us.  Why ignore signs from the Universe?  We bought our last house based on the blooms of a beautiful magnolia tree, we knew we were going to have a son because of the whiff of pipe smoke, and we were definitely not going to live in a house on a street with the carcass of an armadillo in the middle of it.

Portrait of a Man

cakeThe man rocked his swaddled baby back and forth in his exhausted arms, while the baby stared up at him with two bright eyes as a curious observer.  The baby had no intention of going to sleep but he enjoyed being rocked and was willing to allow his father to continue as long as he wanted.  His daddy dimmed the lights with one hand and then turned down the volume of the tv.  He rocked and bounced and bounced and rocked until the baby’s eyes began to slowly close.     

Suddenly, the infant was asleep.  

“Success,” he whispered to his wife and mother of the boy.

“Piece of cake, really,” he said with a wink. “I’ll be back in a jif.”

He carried the bundle into the nursery and gently lowered him into his crib.  As soon as the baby’s back hit the mattress, his eyes flew open in confusion.  He never meant to fall asleep.  Fat tears spilled from his eyes and ran down both sides of his face as he cried.

Meanwhile, back on the couch his mother heard the refreshed cries and picked up the monitor.  It sat on a pillow next to her, like a prize pet with a seat of its own.  She flicked the screen, bringing it to life.  A man stood next to the crib, diligently rocking and bouncing the crying baby again.  The two did this dance every night, each trying to wear the other out until one dropped to sleep.  Fortunately, it was always same diapered, swaddled one who gave in first.  She laughed and turned off the monitor to wait. 

A few minutes later, her husband emerged shaking his head.  He pulled the door shut with a click and tiptoed back to his wife. 

“Tough little guy.”

He flopped down on the couch, letting himself sink down into the cushions knowing that he would do it all over again tomorrow.  I get to do it again, I don’t have to do it, he thought.  He was a perpetual optimist even on his worst day. 

“Listen,” he whispered.  “Did you just hear that?” he asked cupping his ear towards the nursery.

“No, I didn’t hear anything,” his wife replied in alarm and reached for the monitor again. 

“Exactly… silence.  Like I said, piece of cake.”

Trembling Whiskers

cats

On the day we brought Baby home, the cats met us at the door.  They were partially curious about the screaming creature who could be heard from outside, but mostly hungry from eating every last crunchy nugget left out by the cat-sitter and anxious to have their bowls refilled.

While the cats tried to understand what it was that we brought into their previously harmonious sanctuary, Baby continued to wail.  It was no wonder as to the reason for his displeasure, he had just encountered the coldest and most blustery day of winter and was only three days old.  It was a cruel change from his most recent very warm and cozy living situation of the last nine months.

His tiny, still wrinkled face was red as he continued to express his disappointment with the world as a whole.  I felt mostly responsible being the one who grew him, only to evict him in the middle of an Indiana winter.  Sorry baby Hoosier, it won’t get much better for a few months, I thought.

Meanwhile, the older cat quickly figured out what was happening, she was being replaced, yet again.  She hissed at us with yellow teeth before making her retreat into a secret, not-so-secret, hiding place under an overstuffed chair.  This left the younger cat, a fat tiger girl, alone to fight or flee from the new foe.

She incorrectly opted to fight and stand her ground.  This was her first go around with Replacement and it was as painful and confusing as anything else experienced up that point of her four years.  Hissing and baring her strong white teeth, she tensed her 14-pound body, ready to attack.  She was not about to welcome the mostly hairless and screaming creature into her home, let alone allow it to stay.

Unfortunately, this caused Baby to wail even louder.  His screams reached a new level that was surely audible throughout the hood, which also happened to be at the perfect pitch to level the cat’s ears back flat before sending her into hiding, next to the older cat under the chair.  The two were unified at last with trembling whiskers and broken hearts.

They Came Bearing Gifts

wisemenThree very different women darkened my office doorway today, all before noon, bringing stories and wisdom about childbirth. Perhaps inspired by their own history or the need to help in a helpless situation, they offered what they could and went on down the hallway to the breakroom to warm up leftovers or to have a cup of coffee.

The first woman appeared like an opening act for the trio, with the jingling of bells, wearing a red sweater and matching lightbulb earrings that swung with every movement of her head.    

“Just bringing the Christmas spirit,” she announced.

“Still here?” she asked.  “And you still haven’t delivered that baby?”

It was unclear how she missed the watermelon sized bump resting on my lap.  I wrongly assumed that stupid questions came in sets of three, so I waited for the final one before breaking the silence.

I laughed, “No, not yet.”  

“Ok, then, hang in there.”

Great advice, thanks, I thought dryly.

Only a short while later, a second woman appeared at the doorway.  She wore a turtle neck and a quilted Christmas vest, which was just a slight variation from her usual vest. 

“Hey there,” she greeted me and then came into the office without an invitation.

“I was almost a Christmas baby,” she started. 

Her tiny eyes peered out from behind thick lenses, neither blinking nor breaking her stare.  She had the hint of a wicked smirk on her upturned lips as she continued.

“But my mother was in labor for four days and blew right past the 25th.  She told me that every time I came down the birth canal and saw the light, I went back inside and waited.”

“What a horrible story,” I gasped unable to hide my horror.  I felt my jaw drop and had to consciously pull it back up from the floor. 

“Don’t worry,” she reassured me with her creepy, un-breaking stare.

“She said I was the best baby after that ordeal.  My brother, on the other hand, was an easy delivery and turned out to be the worst baby.”

More great insight, I thought. 

“Thanks for clearing that up.” 

She shuffled off with a nod, happy to have been so helpful.

I was still reeling from the thought of being in labor for four days when the third visitor appeared, the boss of my supervisor, making rounds through the offices.  She gave me a warm smile and leaned against the doorframe.

“How are you feeling?” she asked with genuine interest.

 “Nervous and ready,” I replied, as a woman of few words.

She nodded in understanding, “This will be something that will change you forever.  You will tell your delivery story for the rest of your life.  It will change you in ways that I cannot even begin to describe and it is just the beginning, a rite of passage into the next phase of life.” 

“My only advice is to turn off your phone after delivery, unplug the hospital phone, and just focus on being with your baby and tune out the rest of the world.   You only get to do it one time.”

She winked and turned to leave, but suddenly stopped, “Oh, and send me a text so I know you will be out of work for a while.” 

 

Halloweenie Party Favor

pumpkins

The fire blazed a bright orange against the dark, cool night.  An old man with a beard heaved a log onto the flames, sending a whoosh of a thousand sparks into the air like a fireworks show in the middle of summer.

“Thanks, Firekeeper,” someone yelled from the crowd that circled the bonfire.

A zombie nurse and an overgrown Brownie jumped out of the way with squeals as hot ashes landed on their bare legs and arms.  What did you expect standing that close to an open fire?  I mentally growled at them from my perch atop a tractor tire.

I sat between the rubber treads; a huge, round woman dressed as a pumpkin, with green felt leaves and stem bobby pinned into my hair, waiting unhappily on a ride.  Three treads over, a jail bird husband nervously refreshed his phone, in hopes that a driver had picked up the request.    

Unfortunately, we were in the middle of a four cornfields and miles away from the city.  We had not anticipated the Uber and Lyft shortage of rural Indiana or of the nerve wracking nature in being at a costume party, elbow to elbow with drunk people and seven months pregnant. 

I felt like a character in a video game, the crazy clowns, police, walking dead, Gumbies and Trump-alikes were out to get me with their elbows, props and disoriented bodies.  I had to dodge big men and little women alike to escape from the warmth of the barn and into the open air with my jail bird following closely behind me, just as concerned about the perils of the party.

When we finally got a ride, it was with a MAGA Trumpster who couldn’t hold in his thoughts about his beloved leader, sexual assault and his interpretation of consent, and lastly, the current state of his marriage. I wasn’t sure if we would ever make it back to the safety of our home.   

Last year, it would have been just another crazy weekend of going out without consequences or responsibilities aside from the hangover that awaited us the following morning.  Now, the world feels different, somehow spinning more quickly and with more gravity than before, one in which we have an unborn babe to protect and raise until he can go out and make equally poor choices as us, like going to a party without a real plan to get home.

The Cost of Freedom

dog

After the rain stopped, a dog appeared from an alley.  It zig-zagged up the sidewalk, sniffed at a door with green paint that curled up in half-peels and then stopped to lap at a puddle of dirty water.

The dog was caramel colored with medium length hair that was darker in some areas where it gathered into mats between raw, bald spots. A frayed rope hung from its leather collar, a dangling reminder of the jail from which the dog had just escaped.

The dog moved with a heavy slowness, dragging the invisible weight of a broken spirit.  It had been too hungry, cold, and neglected for too long to start to heal in a day or two out of the yard.  In fact, freedom wasn’t so different from incarceration in the backyard where it had lived tied to a tractor tire for the past few years.  Either way, there wasn’t any food, clean water or anyone to give a damn if it lived or died.

He reflected the people living in the abandoned and dilapidated buildings along the cracked sidewalk.  They lumbered through life with their heads down, too sad, lonely and hopeless for too long.

No one came after the dog as it wandered into the distance, further from the yard and ever closer to an tenuous future that was certain to end with Animal Control or crumpled in an alleyway.  Still, freedom was worth it.

Christmas Lights in June

A thousand tiny orange lights twinkle in the dark as I peer out the window, startling me into an arrhythmia.  The possibility of falling into a time warp and getting spit back out into the Christmas season is terrifying.  I haven’t even started to shop or to consider how I will deal with ice as an off-balanced, pregnant woman.  

With so many other bizarre-o things happening in the world, somehow the thought of time travel doesn’t seem so impossible.  The snowcaps are melting, kids are shooting each other, our leader is insane and the world seems to be following in suit.  Honestly, of all of the unbelievable things, the possibility of time travel is the most appealing. 

There is actually a separate reality based on alternative facts where honest observation will do a person no good.  Right is wrong, black is white, and up is down there.  It’s a hell on Earth and not a place that I want to spend any amount of time.  Yet, that is where important decisions are being made, in a place where information is mutilated, destroyed and refabricated as the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.  

So help you God is right.  If there is a higher power, it seems that now is the time on call on Him or Her for clarity of vision, the strength to resist and the wisdom to separate fact from fiction during these confusing times.  

I have to find out if once again my senses have deceived me and walk to the window for a closer inspection.  The lights are fading out and with them the illusion of Christmas, leaving behind only a few beams of orange light from the setting sun to break through the leaves of a shadowed magnolia tree.

Relief takes the place of anxiety and returns my heart to a normal pattern.  All is well with the world, or at least the world contained within the tiny plot of land surrounding my tiny house.  My eyes have regained their credibility and with them their sister senses of hearing, tasting, touching and feeling.  We have to trust the senses to recognize beauty for what it is with the same certainty as knowing evil for exactly what it is and is not.  

For tonight, I will not doubt.

Biological Warfare

germs

Signs were posted everywhere with big red, bold letters.  It was flu season and germs were not welcome.  The usually bustling office restricted visitors and required anyone with the chills or body aches to wear a disposable mask and latex gloves, yet the flu was still spreading.  

More handwashing stations went up, while the news streamed stories about the rising death toll of flu related deaths.  Strangers and friends alike started to eye one another as potential disease vectors and withdrew from conversations at the slightest hint of a sneeze or a sniffle, slowly backing up so as not to startle the germs into action. 

Things were breaking down quickly and not much work was getting done until the genius management put their oversized egg heads together and came up with a three-part solution to the problem.

More signs, they decided, because the first batch was so effective.  Then, they gave the front desk staff unlimited authority to stop and interrogate all visitors and employees.  Lastly, they tightened up on attendance policy so that employees were afraid to use their time off and instead reported for duty, bleary eyed and feverishly punctual.  

It was a perfect plan, seemingly infallible, and still the flu raged on.

Unaware of this change in the flu fighting approach, I walked in from the bitter cold and practically collapsed at the front desk, unable to proceed toward my office.  A red, velvet rope partitioned off the hallways and forced all entrants to pass through a narrow channel monitored by a large woman with heavy braids and long, colorful nails depicting ten tropical island scenes.  She pointed to a sign on the counter with a chubby finger and looked expectantly at me.

My glasses had developed a fog from the sudden change in temperature and my hands shook as they started the painful process of de-thawing after the long walk from the public parking lot.  

I took my glasses off and squinted at the woman, “Good morning. What’s going on?”

Irritated she sighed, “Need to see your id badge, we’re only letting employees in today.”

“Would I be here if I didn’t have to be?” I joked, seeking common ground.

“Don’t know and don’t care, I have to see your id if you’re going in.  Visitors have been impersonating employees to get into the office.”

My hands stopped shaking by this time and I put my glasses back on, catching her bad attitude faster than the rampant virus that was shutting down the city.  I tried all of the positive affirmations I knew to reset my frame of mind, but it was too late.  

“And what does that have to do with the flu?” I asked flatly.

“Visitors are bringing it in,” she said as a matter-of-fact. 

Shaking my head, I dug through my purse, pushing aside my wallet, a pack of gum and a ring of keys; delving deeper into the bottomless pit, I found a hot pink pen with origins unknown, a folded cardboard book mark and a sticky, partially unwrapped cough-drop before latching onto my id badge.

“Aha!” I declared in victory and considered the course of the day that was already off to such a great start.  Was it too late to go home, I wondered for a second before remembering the attendance policy. 

I pulled the id badge out and flashed it at the woman with a frown that I tried to turn upside down, resulting in a weird smirk that was as close to a smile as I could muster.  Meanwhile, another employee had come in behind me, hacking a dry cough with red rimmed eyes and overheard our conversation.  

“I would complain about the cold, but I’ve been feeling so hot this morning,” she explained as she extracted her id badge from her coat pocket with a still-gloved hand.

“Anyways, you know, if anyone is bringing in the flu, its going to be an employee,” she coughed again and shuffled off towards the heart of the building.  She said over her shoulder, “Just trying to be helpful.”     

And still the flu raged on, baffling the eggheads.

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