Haircut Day

I gathered the ragamuffins close to me as we walked across the parking lot. It was haircut day and Little Legs happily skipped along, certain that he was about to get a lollypop. Baby Brother, on the other hand, was very unhappy about missing his morning nap and increased the volume of his screams the closer we got to the entrance.

At the door, we were greeted by a woman who was no less than seven feet tall. Her bleach blonde hair was piled into a messy bun on top of her head, adding another three inches to her already impressive height.

“Happy Halloween, boys.”

“What’s your phone number?” the very tall woman asked, the only information required to check-in.

She hunted and pecked out the numbers, one by one.

“Ok, I see we’ve had Little Legs here before,” she peered down as Little Legs reached up for the bowl of Dum-dums on the counter.

“Karen is going to take you,” she said, sliding the bowl back from the edge with a throaty, barmaid laugh.

“I’m done with kids for today, I got mine off to school and I’ve been marinating ever since.”

I glanced down at my watch; it was only a few minutes after 10. Two hours of marinade should be enough to tenderize even the toughest bird. I assumed she needed a little more time and sauce to reach that sweet spot. We simply were not there, yet.  

Instantly, I felt grateful for Karen, whom I had never met, but would be handling the scissors that the still-marinating, very tall woman would not be using in my sons’ hair.

Until Karen emerged from the back of the salon.

She grabbed a slip of paper from the register and held it out to me with hands that shook like leaves in the breeze.

“This look right?” she asked.

 It was our information, so I nodded.

“Let’s get started,” she said.  

She held out a shaky, crooked pinky to Little Legs; he wrapped his fingers around it and walked to her chair to get another unique, impossible to repeat, haircut.

“You’re next, Baby Brother,” I whispered.

The Freedom Run

The boys were securely fastened into the stroller, happily slurping down the melting juice from their popsicles.

We looked left and right before crossing the busy road to enter the quiet neighborhood where we liked to walk in the evenings.  

It was the first, and often the only time, we had to talk about the day without someone *ahem* (Baby Brother) crying because someone else *ahem* (Little Legs) stole his toy or pushed him down or bit him or was in the process of doing something dangerous that required immediate intervention.

The sky was dark with heavy clouds and wind that whipped through the Bradford pear trees in the neighbor’s yard. I cringed as I watched the tops of their trees bend and shake, remembering last year’s wind gusts that snapped several of the pear trees in half.

“All done,” Little Legs held out a red-stained wooden stick and waved it back and forth.

There was an implied threat, if the popsicle stick was not grabbed quickly, the litter bug would toss it onto the ground. He was teaching Baby Brother to do the same; monkey see, monkey do.

“Got it,” I said, snatching it from his fingers and falling back in-step with Daddy Longlegs.

“Come hold my gooey hand,” Little Legs requested, holding a small, sticky hand to me.

“Mommy and Daddy are talking right now,” I politely declined his request.

“Please,” he begged, “hold my gooey hand.”  

Daddy Longlegs and I laughed; it was easy to decide not to hold his gooey hand.

Little Legs gave us a mean look with a harrumph, turned forward, and settled in for the ride; while Baby Brother hung one arm over the side of his stroller seat and watched the passing scenery, still thoughtfully working on his frozen treat.  

We walked on in companionable quiet, breathing in the cool fall and smelling wet leaves, when we heard a familiar jingle of two metal dog tags knocking against one another. We heard paws pounding the pavement and the clattering of gravel as a spray of tiny rocks was sent out from either side of the running animal.

It was our naughty dog, escaping down the road after us, a blur of black fur and slobber. She was oblivious to the busy road she just blindly crossed or the invisible fence that was supposed to be keeping her safe. She smiled with all of her sharp, white teeth as she ran towards us, thrilled with the reward of her risk in making a run for it.

Little Legs shouted, “Coco! Its Coco!”

Baby Brother yelled, “Dog, dog, dog.”

They were like sailors on a ship, wildly pointing and waving, spotting a whale for the first time, instead of two little boys seeing the same dog they just left behind eight minutes earlier. As for Coco, she grinned from floppy ear to floppy ear at being with her her gang, again.

Her freedom run was worth it, to be with her furever family, fur now, anyways.    

Standing on a stool

The boys ran to the water exhibit, drawn like moths to the light. Little Legs grabbed a green boat and began to cruise it along the length of the tub with revving engine sounds. He cozied up next to a little boy who was appropriately covered with a yellow, rubber smock. The boat experienced turbulence which created a few small, shirt-soaking waves. Luckily, Captain L. Legs was at the helm and guided the vessel through the storm and back to safety in the harbor.

The boy in a smock watched wide eyed until I guided the seafaring folk a few steps away. Only then was the boy able to regain the use of his limbs and continue splashing his overly involved parents who breathed audible sighs of relief when we moved. Meanwhile, Baby Brother gripped the side of the table and tried to pull himself up to watch the action. He slipped and fell, got back up and tried again and again.

“Let me give you a boost,” I offered and picked up Baby Brother.

He squealed in a way that made another mother raise an eyebrow and pucker her lips in is-this-an-abduction-situation kind of way. Baby Brother kicked and wiggled his way back down to the ground where he resumed his efforts to watch the water activities on his own, without success. I tried not to take it personally, but these attempts at independence/thwarted love did sometimes sting.

“If only there was another stool around here,” I said casting my semi-hurt feelings aside and looking left and right.

I got down on one knee and checked under the table where I saw more than a few sets of big and little legs and feet.

A particularly large shoe was planted firmly on the ground, while the other was hiked up on a tiny, red stool of the perfect height for Baby Brother to see over the edge. The owner of the leg continued to stand on the stool, oblivious to the need of a child who continued to jump and fall, right next to him.  

The reality that existed in the face of his phone was more interesting that the one at his feet. I sincerely hoped for a second that he would lose his balance and fall into the water for a cool and refreshing wake-up call back to the real world, also thus relinquishing his hold on the stool.

Nothing happened, despite my unwell-wishes, and so we went onto the next station of hands-on learning, germ sharing and parents secretly judging one another.  

A Ghost Story

It was the middle of the night in a bedroom with eerie shadows, cast from a small nightlight plugged into the wall.  

A rustling of the sheets and the sound of whimpering drew Daddy Longlegs from the depths of his sleep.

Through the haze of broken sleep, he peered around the dark room and gasped.

There was a three-foot tall presence, shrouded in white, standing at the end of the bed, waving its arms in wild desperation.

The presence shouted in a familiar voice, “Help, get me out of here.”

Oh god, it’s a… Daddy Longlegs did not finish his thought.

Just as he was about to admit to an otherworldly visitation or the loss of his sanity, the sheet fell off with the mystery of the encounter.

Little Legs was left standing, a still sleeping boy-not-ghost, who got stuck under the sheet and was now freed to curl up and return to his unencumbered sleep.

Some people walk in their sleep, while others talk. Our son haunts our dreams.

To be clear, like most ghost stories, this is a retelling.

My head was tucked safely under a pillow whilst this haunting took place.  

Battery Drain

I pulled my legs in and shut the last car door.

“Phew…” I exhaled dramatically, “I think we can finally go.”

Daddy Longlegs shook his head and managed to withhold his thoughts on the joys and benefits of waiting.

“Go, Daddy, go!” Little Legs shouted.

He swung his feet back and forth, kicking the seat in front of him, landing each word with a bang.

Daddy Longlegs ignored the chaos of the vehicle to depress the glowing red, ignition button.

Click, click, click, click.

The keyless entry was a novelty of this newish car that felt strange and as void of meaning as holding an e-reader instead of book. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed the process of sliding a key into the ignition of a car and bringing it to life until I was just another keyless button pusher.

Daddy Longlegs pushed the button again, assuming he somehow did it wrong the first time.

Click, click, click, click.

The button did not produce the expected revving of the engine, instead, we heard clicking.

“That doesn’t sound right,” Daddy Longlegs said and tried the button again.

Click, click, click, click.

“That seems like a bad sign,” I said, summoning my inner mechanic psychic.

“Dat sounds weely, weely bad,” the peanut gallery chimed in from the back.

Meanwhile, Baby Brother was impatiently waiting for vroom, vroom, confined to his car seat, bored and without snacks.

“Go Daddy,” Little Legs yelled. 

Baby Brother started to cry, “Mama, mama, mama.”

“Are you sure you didn’t leave the car on yesterday?”

“Of course, not.”

Tension built as quickly as hope for the car starting dwindled.

If I had left the dumb keyless car on, I would never admit it.

As far as I was concerned, it was the dreaded, parasitic battery drain.

#hondaproblems #nottakingresponsibility #innocentuntilprovenguiltybutmaybeididit

 Honda’s Underpowered Battery is Subject to Parasitic Drains (hondaproblems.com)

Jumping to conclusions

Lunch was almost over.

I tore the last bit of Baby Brother’s sandwich into two smaller pieces while finishing my own sticky mess of a peanut butter and honey sandwich when I noticed Little Legs slipping from the table.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Down here,” a puny voice said.

I stood up to peek around Baby Brother, happily sucking the honey and peanut butter from the bread, to see Little Legs resting his head on the seat of his chair. He pulled a red wax cheese wrapper from one side of the chair to the other, like a lethargic cat toying with a dead mouse.

“Just playing,” he explained with his cheek squished out under the weight of his head, as a most convenient pillow.

“Are you tired?”

“No,” he replied without looking up.

“Are you sick?”

“No,” he repeated as he dragged the wrapper in a zig-zag across the seat of the chair.

He clearly was both, sick and tired, which was confirmed when he drove his dump truck to bed, climbed up over the edge and went to sleep without a single request for nap-time water, a trip to the potty, or more cars to keep him company.

I couldn’t think beyond the next two hours and wondered if Covid had finally come calling.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-in-babies-and-children/art-20484405

Broken Wing

Little Legs is a dancer now; he taps his toes, wiggles his hips, and shakes to the left and right. Sometimes, he even dances to the beat. He loves Ray Charles and wears sunglasses indoors. He bumps into walls, while bopping along to “Hit the Road, Jack.”

Adorable, yes. Dangerous, maybe.  

He was working on a new move that involved flipping from one side to the other while on the ground, we’ll call it the Fish Flop, when the Flop got out of control, and he landed on his outstretched arm.   

A heart-rending scream and an immediate flood of tears burst forth from the tiny dancer as he held his arm to his chest like a broken wing. It took a few minutes to confirm that this boo-boo was more than a band-aide, a kiss and a popsicle could restore.

The emergency room was at least a seven-hour wait, a few hours too long to only be turned away, as we heard happened to our neighbors. The community urgent care was at capacity for appointments. They graciously told us they were taking walk-ins but expected a minimum of two hours in the waiting room. The pediatric urgent care was the same, the waiting room was spilling over with sick kids (and their germs) with not enough time or staff to see everyone in a reasonable amount of time.  

All the while, Little Legs was crying, “Hurts, hurts, hurts” and holding his arm against his chest.

As parents, Daddy Longlegs and I are similarly yoked in that we would move heaven and earth for our boys. We don’t want them to suffer one unnecessary minute. Yet in this world of Covid, our choices are severely limited in what we can and cannot do to care for them out of sheer availability when it comes to treatment and healthcare.

We aren’t doctors or magicians.

But we are resourceful. And determined.

So, we drove to the next county and went to an after-hours sports injury clinic where the moonlighting foot doctor agreed to see our son for his arm injury and our sweet boy’s arm was set and cast.

Silently, Little Legs watched with wide eyes as the technician wrapped his arm in cotton and then with various layers of cast materials, hardly moving muscle as he allowed his arm to be mummified.

“You should get a treat,” the technician commented on his stoic bravery.

“You have lollipops?” Little Legs asked, blinking several times as he came to life at possibility of sugar.

“You have yellow lollipops?” he continued, very specific and very excited.

“We’ll have to see, but I think we might. Mom, Dad, is it ok?”

“After all this, you have can have all the yellow lollipops that you want,” I declared.

I was grateful for the ability to seek treatment, for the kindness our son was shown and that it was a relatively minor injury compared to some. Still, there remains a persistent irritation that borders on anger/rage for the people filling the chairs and beds in the hospitals and urgent cares that could have been vaccinated or masked to prevent the spread and mutation of Covid, again.

It is for selfish reasons that I write, get the dang shot and wear a mask, so in the future the next little boy with a broken arm can seek treatment and get back to dancing as soon as possible.

Amazing Grace

We were listening to the radio when the announcer began to discuss the terrorist bombing in Afghanistan followed by a soulful rendition of Amazing Grace for the loss of life.

The movement of the song, the tragic deaths and the plight of the Afghan people brought tears to my eyes, the suffering on all sides was suddenly right in our Tennessee home, from over seven thousand miles away.

Baby Brother continued with his work, picking up Play-Doh containers and trying to pry them open. Little Legs, however, stopped peeling and placing stickers on his dump truck.

He looked up and asked, “Mama ok?”

“People died in another country, and it is making me feel sad,” I muddled through an explanation of the events, carefully omitting words like suicide bomber and terrorist.

How does one begin to explain the way of the world to a young and impressionable person? What is too much, too soon, too little, too late? We are still working on things like the alphabet and wearing underwear. Death was only introduced recently after our beta fish, Blue, floated upside down and was flushed to fish-heaven.

Little Legs thoughtfully reflected, “People died.”  

He then repeated this to a random lady at Starbucks, Grandpa on a Google Duo call and then Daddy Longlegs on his lunch break, which brought the conversation, quite literally, back home.

Strawberry Fields Forever

The rows of strawberries stretched on forever, long ribbons of black and green, with serrated leaves and heart-shaped pops of red. Runners shot out and away from their mothers, landing in the soil between the established plants, and rooting where no berry had ever grown before in an exciting bid for independence.

Dark soil was carefully tilled between the rows in a continual fight against the weeds that desperately wanted the same nutrients, water, and sun as the berry plants. The prickly purple thistle and milkweed and ragweed remained blissfully unaware of their uninvited status as they continued to show up with friends and family only to be pulled and discarded, again and again.

This field was my first place of employment; my brother was my (only) coworker, and our mother was the site supervisor. Begrudgingly, we learned to till and turn the soil, to plant and pick strawberries. We learned how to quiet our minds and settle in to do the work. Quart after quart basket of strawberries passed through my red-stained fingers as I grumbled about the things I would rather be doing.

It wasn’t that the work was hard, it was, in fact, easy to pluck a strawberry from the plant and put it into a basket. The hard part was to do it for an hour and then another hour. It was overcoming the boredom and tedium of doing the exact same thing over and over in the hot Indiana summer sun. I hated every morning that there were strawberries in the field. I prayed for rain and thunder and lightning, especially lightening, if only to strike me with a bolt to end my strawberry picking misery.  

Yet, now when I think of summers growing up, it always starts in the field, wiping the sweat from my brow, feeling the perspiration drip from the tip of my nose and chin and run down my chest. I recall my brother, in one of his protests, selecting a particularly fat and rotten berry, lining up his sights and launching it directly at our mother’s back where it landed with the most perfectly spectacular splat between the straps of her tank top.   

Now, the field is a dumping ground for old construction equipment. The old farmhouse is long gone, burned to the ground, rebuilt without a single bit of the original character. And the strawberry pickers are scattered around the world, left to reminisce about the old days and time spent together.

Old Man Turtle

A toddler sized turtle stared out from inside of the grimy glass. Its shell was battered and worn, a sharp contrast to the shells of its younger tankmates. The other turtles paddled along the top of the water, kicked from the bottom to the surface and crawled onto a rocky ledge to rest.

Two boys stared with mouths agape at the prehistoric looking creature. They shared the same light brown hair and dark eyes of wonder as they observed the turtle. 

“So big,” the older boy said.

“Whoa,” his brother agreed with a solemn nod, a boy of few words.

Their mother hovered nearby, a nervous hen clucking over her chicks, she agreed with her sons.

“I have never seen such an enormous turtle in a tank,” she reflected, excluding all previous trips to the zoo and Ripley’s Believe it or Not Aquarium.  

The turtle was unnatural in the aquarium where tiny, silver fish darted between the other resident turtles, ranging in size from a small pancake to a medium pizza. Old Man Turtle managed to survive the past fifty years of hungry birds, chemical spills, plastic straws and acid rain only to end up wedged between some fake rocks and algae covered glass, literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“Oh no, can’t move. Turtle too big,” the older boy observed.

“Whoa,” his brother seconded his concerns.

Then to everyone’s surprise and delight, Old Man began to move. He stretched one limb and then the other, wiggling his powerful claws as he prepared to leave his nook. He extended his neck, draped in wrinkly skin. He emerged a glorious testament to the years to stand on his back limbs, reaching all the way to break the surface of the water.

He stood there, breathing in air through his royal beakish nostrils, surveying his world and subjects; finding only chickens and turtles, he returned to the water for another long rest.