Screen Time Woes

“Oh no, Baby. Oh no.”

Little Legs stared intently at the small screen in his hands; he hit all the buttons and shook the monitor with one hand and then with both hands. It was like watching a monkey trying to shake coins from a piggy bank. With each unsuccessful attempt, he grew more frustrated.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Baby gone.”

He handed the monitor off to me in tag-team style, his duty done, and returned to Daniel Tiger, his occasional babysitter/constant friend.

“He’s gone!” I said with a gasp, trying to get a rise from my fellow couch-potato.

Staring straight ahead, Little Legs said in agreement, “Baby all gone.”

Apparently, learning about Snow-Flake day was more interesting than the sudden disappearance of his only sibling.

There is a terrible transformation that takes place in Little Legs every time the tv is on; his eyes turn gooey, his jaw drops open and his brain melts into mush. A silvery trail of drool escapes from the corner of his mouth every so often, an indication that he all but forgets to breath when in the presence of a glowing television.

It is no wonder that the AACAP recommends only one hour of non-educational programming per weekday for this age group, here I will paraphrase, to prevent/reduce toddler brain rot.

I readjusted the camera from the floor to the crib.

“He’s not gone, the camera was just out of focus, silly.”

Still, no sign of concern or active life, just a little drool and the wave of his hand.

The Brother Project has a very, very long way to go and in the meantime, I have to figure out what to do about the zombification of screen time.

Goals

We snuggled on the couch, exhausted from another week with two naughty little boys who delight in taking each other’s toys, bopping one another on the head, making messes, and jointly terrorizing the cat.

While the boys are awake, we must remain on high alert to intervene in dangerous situations like the toddler base jumping from the back of the couch or the baby latching onto an electrical cord and pulling it from the wall.

When both bedroom doors are closed and silence falls over the house, it is only then that we can take a deep breath, relax and sink into the couch. Two bags of rocks would not fall to the bottom of a lake faster than we ease into our weekend at that point.

“It’s time,” I said.

“Time for what?” Daddy Longlegs said, the whites of his blue eyes wide and alarmed, not expecting anything other than Netflix and a bottle of wine.  

“To set our New Year’s resolutions, silly.”

He let out a visible sigh of relief and settled deeper into the comfort of the evening.

“Ok, I want to start jogging,” he declared.

“And for us to take a vacation, a real vacation with the boys. And to start eating better. And…” he trailed off.

“What about you?” he asked.

I drew an absolute blank. My mind was free and clear of any meaningful thought.  

“I guess, I guess I want to…clean all the blinds and windows.”

“No,” he said. “Something for you, not us.”

And still, there was nothing, which gave me plenty to consider for a week.

I thought about my lack of goals with a fresh awareness that I need to be a person, outside of being a mom and a wife. I am starting with a few easy ones like learn chess and make more friends, more goals will follow once I build up steam with these.

So it is for me, myself and I that I have to do at least one more thing in the next days, weeks and months.

Coronavirus Confessional

I did a bad thing. Or I almost did.

I would have gone through with it, too, if it hadn’t been for some jerk doing their job in a complete and efficient manner.  

One way or another, I ended up on a list that indicated I should get the Covid-19 vaccine. I received an email inviting me to make an appointment for the first of two shots. The potential side effects were included with the number to call in the event of a severe allergic reaction and a warning of people who should not get vaccinated.   

While the possibilities of swelling at the injection site, fatigue, body aches and a low grade fever were not something to anticipate with pleasure, it all seemed better than contracting the actual virus or worse yet, spreading it unbeknownst to me, to someone without the ability to fight it, like my baby or sweet Granny.

At first, I was concerned that I didn’t meet the requirements. Then the thought took over that I could return to public without the constant fear of getting and spreading the virus and felt my anxiety drastically decrease. It was like someone just sliced open a big emotional lipoma. I felt the anxiety drain out, thick and clumpy, and was surprised at the emptiness left behind as I had held it in for so long, nearly a year of worry and uncertainty.

Now, I could take back my life. I wanted to be a linejumper. I was going to face my fear that the vaccine had been rushed through the trials and offered to the public prematurely, I was willing to deal with the side effects, and least of all was concerned that I didn’t exactly check all of the boxes for this early vax phase.

It was selfish, I know.

Still, I told my family and friends about my opportunity and encouraged them to sign up as soon as possible, as well. It became my duty to spread the word and get others on board, to sway those who were undecided as a means to end the madness of 2020 instead of letting it, quite literally, infect 2021. I was an unofficial vaccination soldier.

Until I wasn’t.

Apparently, someone was actually reviewing the sign-up forms which required information like name, address and employer. And apparently being self-employed was not an acceptable answer to move forward to the big poke. 

My anxiety wasn’t worse or bigger than anyone else’s monsters, it just seemed like the vaccine would offer a bit of breathing room in this world that is otherwise suffocating with massive problems like global warming, political discord and the unchecked pandemic. I saw my chance for a little peace, and I took it.  

Needless to say, my appointment was cancelled and here I am, a penitent linejumper to-be, still unvaccinated, and back in queue, just after prisoners and homeless people.

Egg Salad

“Do you want to talk to your grandpa?” the woman asked her daughter.

The woman sat next to her aging father, recently discharged from the hospital. His once-grey hair flowed from one side of his head to the other in a sea of white waves.  

He peered into the screen of the phone with bleary eyes. Deep lines around his mouth and eyes gave away his sickness. His heart was broken. He was broken. Without the woman who made up his other half, he was not long for the world.

Obviously, saying no was not an option.

The woman’s only daughter hated when her mother asked her a question with an obvious, single answer. She had just called to verify the ingredients of her egg salad recipe.  

What could be more New Years-ish than a slurry of hardboiled egg and mayonnaise?

“How are you, Grandpa?” the granddaughter asked with an immediate sense of regret.

“Not good, not good.”

This was moving day; the day he was to leave his house, his independence and the place where he spent the past sixty years with his wife, from whom the recipe for egg salad originated.   

It was eggs and mayonnaise with a pinch of salt.

Just a pinch with the extra tossed over one’s shoulder.

For flavor, for luck, forever unmeasured and never forgotten.

Was it really ever just a pinch?   

The Smoky Babysitter

“I didn’t tell her that rattlesnakes don’t hibernate,” the man whispered.

The couple watched from the window as Grandma stomped down weeds and pulled out branches to add to the already raging fire. She was supposed to tend to the flames and keep them under control, instead, she continued to make the fire bigger and bigger.

Flames licked the sky as dark smoke billowed over the house. It was only a matter of time before the fire department arrived, tipped off by an angry neighbor or two.

“Good thing we dropped off those cookies,” the woman said.

Last week, they took a family outing to the nearby fire station. The woman put on a mask and carried a tin of cookies to the front door. A German Shephard guarded the entrance until its master, a gigantic man with messy hair, lumbered to the door and collected the cookies with a grunt.

Service with a smile was for other people.

Delivering the cookies was like buying an insurance policy. They hoped it was an investment on which they never needed to rely. However, with the ever-growing fire, they were glad that they were paid in full.

Grandma dragged another load of branches towards the fire. She dropped the contents of her arms and gleefully rubbed her hands together like a mad scientist about to give life to a monster before adding more fuel to the flames.  

Her goal was clear.

Burn everything. It was therapeutic to work with fire, watching branches, limbs and leaves go up in smoke and dwindle down to a pile of grey-white ashes. She felt control in the destruction, a power seemingly denied to her from the recent loss of her mother and failing health of her father. Here she had access to an entire wood and was limited only by the clock, ticking away the minutes until her grandsons were up from their naps.

The Last Music Class

Music class.

It is supposed to be a joyful celebration of time together, just the two of us, snuggling, clapping, singing and dancing in a half-circle with other moms and their babes. Instead, it has become a battle ground of the wills with boundary pushing and general naughtiness unique to the toddler demographic.

Last Tuesday, Little Legs sat in my lap for half a second before bouncing up and into the center of the group to start twirling into a dizzy delirium. Then he dashed off for the Christmas tree in the corner to pull the ornaments off, one by one.

“Grabby,” he explained.

I whispered, “No, no,” into his ear as I ushered him back to our spot to shake a tambourine while another toddler boy got loose and ran behind the curtain that separated the room into two.

Inspired by the dash of freedom, Little Legs undertook the same trip. He sprang to his feet from my lap and darted for the curtain, wrapping himself in it.

“Mama, hide.”

“I can see you baby, and this is not the time to hide.”

He peeked out with one eye to see the other toddler boy race across the room, with his mama in hot pursuit and of course, he made the same mad sprint.

This repeated itself no less than twelve times.

Another mother tried to intervene on my behalf by grabbing Little Legs, he escaped, and she said, to my horror, “I’ll get him next time for you.”

The threat of time-out beaded up and dropped away like rain on the wing of a bird. Spanking was not an option and yelling would reveal my true nature as a crazy, stressed out mother which would not do anyone any good.

I chased my Wilding around the room until the end of class. At the end of that long hour, I gathered Little Legs up in my arms and gave him a big squeeze because last Tuesday was the last music class.

We are going back into lockdown and will figure out how to act in public once we re-emerge, hopefully sometime in Spring.

Baby Up At Night

The monitor lights up, glowing red and green, sensing activity and noise where there should be neither.

I drag my head out from underneath of a pillow and hold the monitor close to one open eye, hopeful to quickly return to the Land of Nod.

It is only recently that I have started to dream again, after five long months of multiple interruptions, we are down to just one or two nightly meetings and my brain can actually complete an entire REM cycle every few nights. I assume this is unhealthy in the long term but manageable for now.  

The monitor reveals a shell-less turtle stuck on his back, with all four appendages waving in the air, crying for help or company or milk. With both eyes open, I glance at Daddy Longlegs in amazement that he is still sleeping through the wails coming from the next room.

His cries are loud enough that they come through the air and the monitor simultaneously, a double request for room service from a patron who is certain not to tip.

On this night, I have a tip for him, I whisper, “Sleep! Please, for the love of your mother, sleep.”

The crying only intensifies, the tip is not taken well. 

As much as I love sleep, I love that my baby needs me, just me. Soon there will be no one crying for me at night. Unless it is me, crying over the loss of our special time as my baby becomes a boy and then a man. So, I won’t grumble as I crawl out of bed and shuffle to the nursery where a bright-eyed third shift worker awaits my visit because I know it is just for a little bit longer.

A House of No Secrets

Little Legs and I were in the laundry room, working side by side.

I carelessly tossed dirty clothes into the washing machine, while Little Legs pulled clothes from the basket and made his own pile on the floor. I was about to throw in the last pair of jeans when I discovered something hard in one of the pockets. After a few seconds of feeling around, I found the source, a flat carpenter pencil.

I extracted the mostly useless writing utensil and placed it on the counter where it was received by a small hand.

“Grabby,” he said.

He didn’t examine the pencil to notice that it wasn’t round, or to see the peeling blue paint or the crudely sharpened end, shaved to a passable point by a knife instead of a pencil sharpener.

He just stuck it right into his ear and said, “Ow,” with surprise in his voice.

“No,” I shouted and confiscated the pencil.

“Why would you put that into your ear?” I asked.

“Dada,” he replied.

I shook my head, obviously, he didn’t understand the question.

Later that day, Daddy Longlegs called to check-in on the inmates of the madhouse.

I explained, “Everything is fine except that Little Legs stuck a pencil in his ear.”

He replied without surprise, “I guess I taught him that. I tried to teach him how to put it behind his ear, but he kept putting it into his ear.”

“Well, I guess you did,” I said with a tone that indicated that there were better things to teach the tiny monkey.     

The little boy was always watching and waiting for his opportunity to test out new skills. To that end, he might not be able to get the pencil to do exactly what he planned, but he sure could tell on the person who tried to teach him to do it.

We were now living in a house of no secrets.

Creature of the Crib

Perhaps the monitor is picking up the sound from another dimension?

Surely, a pterodactyl is not shrieking in the baby’s room. However, if my ears are to be believed, an otherworldly demon-creature has taken over, and I can only assume it is sitting on the changing table, lovingly gazing down at the baby, squalling and shrieking with delight.

What else could be making such a high-pitched, unhuman like noise?

A quick check of the screen reveals an angry baby, rocking back and forth. He, indeed, is the tiny the creature of the crib.

This comes as quite the surprise as I hoped that he would stay as a baby a bit longer before becoming this being with a voice of his own who wants to crawl and walk and run and play.

Of course, what is not shocking is that it happened in 2020: the year of the pandemic, the election, and now the creature of the crib.  

What comes next in this time that feels like a science fiction novel?

Flying pigs, self-driving cars, healthcare for all?

In a few more weeks, this will be a year to remember and tuck away into history. Gone for good, thankfully. A year we never have to relive unless we still can’t get the virus under control. And in that case, I wouldn’t put the hand sanitizer away, not quite yet.

Sleepy Rattlesnakes

“Ooh yes, there are some mean snakes out in those woods behind your house. The DNR won’t even go back there, on account of the rattlesnakes being so nasty. The snakes go underground to hibernate, but the quarry blasts every day and they never get to sleep because the vibrations wake them up. Makes them nasty.”

Jerry, the neighbor, stopped by on his way to the dump to enlighten us about our property. It was not an entirely altruistic visit. He was mostly interested in hunting the deer that frequent the area.

“Sure would like to get back there and have a look around for the big one.”

“Well, we have bees and I would hate for you to get stung,” Daddy Longlegs explained.

Daddy Longlegs happened to be holding a machete from skinning a cedar tree that he had big plans for, once he figured out what to do about the termites that lived under the bark. The machete was not a deterrent to Jerry, the neighbor. Afterall, one doesn’t bring a machete to a gunfight and I assume Jerry has lots of guns because every time we see him, he talks about shooting things.

“You would only see me if I had to pull one (assuming this is a deer) out that I shot over here.”

Jerry, the neighbor, was not taking an indirect, super polite, Midwestern style of no for an answer. I’m not exactly sure how things were left but I won’t be surprised to see a big, maroon truck parked at the edge of the trees and even more disturbing, as I write, I can hear a shotgun in the distance.

This conversation was all recounted to me as I was inside sorting clothes while the baby napped. It makes me angry to envision, Jerry, the neighbor, shooting the deer that we have come to see as friends and then dragging their bodies through the woods, over our yard and into his waiting truck.

All in all, I do not like the arrangement. Not for the snakes, the deer, or us.

A man must eat, certainly, but I would prefer that he found the means to do so elsewhere.

And maybe consider a vegetarian lifestyle.