Social Distance

We are still in what-appears-to-be the beginning of the quarantine.

The neighbor emerges from her house, across the street.  We exchange waves and mouth pleasantries, but it is too far for the words to travel.  She takes a step and I take a few steps until we are just divided by the road, both held back from crossing by the social distancing directive and general fear of the virus.  Everyone is a potential carrier.  Its our new paranoid reality that keeps conversations separated by six feet. 

“Y’all holdin’ up ok over there,” the neighbor asks and shoves one hand into the pocket of her jeans. She leans her weight on one leg and waves at Little Legs with her free hand.  The people of the South are sweetly cautious like this, always under the influence of their sugary tea.    

“Oh yes, we’re doing fine.  And with plenty of toilet paper to last this thing out.”

Little Legs doesn’t understand the distance, he doesn’t care about the virus, and he doesn’t appreciate being held back from darting across the road to the big, friendly blond woman who is waving at him with an equally big, fluffy white dog barking from the fence next to the house. 

He gives a squeal of displeasure and tries to escape towards the dog.  I scoop him up with one arm, glad to have secured my offspring, I am reminded to inquire about the rest of her family.

“How are your son and husband?”

As I yell across the road, it occurs to me that I have not seen her spouse in at least a few weeks.

If only I could suck the words back into my mouth and swallow them down into my growing belly to be destroyed by stomach acid and save her from whatever she is about to relate.  The grimace on her face tells the truth before she says a word.

“My son is fine, doing well in school, but my husband died in January,” she explains with a shrug meant to be careless but looks pained, a defense mechanism to roll off and away from emotion.  

“I had no clue.  I am so sorry…” I trail off and mean to say sorry for not knowing and for not being a better neighbor, but instead say nothing.

She shrugs again and says simply, “He was in a lot of pain and now he’s not.” 

“Well, don’t be a stranger,” she says.  “I’ve got to be on my way to a doctor’s appointment.”

She leaves and as we shuffle through the grass back towards the house with the promise of a snack for Little Legs and a pledge to be a better neighbor. 

As it stands, the distance between us is far greater than six feet.

 

 

Mr. Independent

The knee-high boy toddles down the quiet road, pulled forward by his own stumbling momentum.  He is a splash of color against a grey day, like a cardinal, in his bright red sweatshirt.  It drapes from his little body and hangs beyond his finger-tips; a hand-me-down still two sizes too big and too nice not to wear.

I capture the Red Flash and roll up his sleeves, one by one, while he loudly protests, obviously aware of the social distancing imperative.  He wriggles free and stops a few steps ahead of me to bend down and pat the asphalt road with both hands.  Finding it hard, unmoving and unmovable, he pops back up, pushing off of the ground from the tripod position.  

We walk side by side for a few steps.

“Do you want to hold Mama’s hand?” I ask in third person and offer my hand.

He shakes his head back and forth fast enough to give flight to the shaggy mop of his hair, it takes on a life of its own, a light brown feathered being, with spread wings.  The creature settles back into place and the boy zooms ahead a few tiny steps and looks back with a laugh and stumbles. 

Of course, I am behind him where I will always be ready if he falls to scoop him up and dust off his bottom and set him right back up to do it all over again.  

COVID-19 is not slowing us down today.

When Daddy Comes Home

The rumble of the garage door opening distracts Mr. Baby from his important work stacking plastic rings on a post.  His little ears and eyes perk up like daffodils after a Spring rain. 

“Dada, dada, dada,” he begins to chant, increasing in volume and force as he bounces up and down.

He toddles over and throws his body into my lap with a demand to be carried to the garage door.  Obviously, the mommy taxi can take him where he wants to go faster than his chubby legs can travel.

At this point, I am chopped liver and accept my new designation.  It has been a long few days on our own.  I carry the tiny tyrant to wait by the garage door and set him down on the rug. 

Unfortunately, the entire process takes too long for Mr. Baby and his patience is wearing thin.  He flexes into a tripod position and pushes off of the ground and up to stand.  He bangs his fists against the door.  He hears the movement of a suitcase, the shuffling of feet and the slam of a car door.

At last, the door knob turns and Mr. Baby’s father appears, travelworn and weary, but glad to be home.

“Hey guys, I missed you.” 

He brings his bags inside, pushes his suitcase out of the way and kneels to hug Mr. Baby.

Mr. Baby holds his arms out and then pivots to chase the rolling suitcase.  He laughs as he makes off with it down the hallway and leaves his father, open armed and crestfallen.

Suddenly, Mr. Baby is back without the suitcase and running into daddy’s arms.

Somedays, we have to laugh to keep from crying as parenthood continues to surprise, delight, crush and challenge us.  Today is one of these days that we can just laugh.

Baby Love and Rejection

catTime and time again, the cat hurts the only person who really likes her.  Sure, her solo admirer sometimes pets her a little too hard, and one time he fell over on top of her in his effort to show his undying love.  He means well, but she is unforgiving and damaged and persists in hissing and running from him.

Yesterday, the sweet boy was in the living room, behind a baby gate when the cat decided to taunt him from the other side.  I watched from a beanbag chair nearby, feeling a false sense of security, thanks to the gate.  They are safe from each other, I mused, as the cat laid down against the white, metal bars letting her full tail rest on our side of the gate.  Every so often, she flicked her tail as she purred and cleaned her thick fur. 

It was too much to resist, that big, juicy tail moving like a beautiful, wild creature independent from the lazy, mean cat.  The boy toddled over to the gate, grabbed her tail with one hand and then reached through the bars to pet her fat tummy.  In an instant, she was furious at the violation of her space, she hissed and swatted at his hand with all of the evil she could muster.  There was an audible thwap as her furry paw connected with his hand. 

Bad Cat 1: Baby Boy 0  

She definitely set him up for a swat or worse, depending on her foul mood.  Fortunately, the boy was left unharmed but confused and upset that his furry friend didn’t want to play, like ever.  It was his first rejection and it hurt me to watch.  

As I tried to help him understand what happened, he lost interest and turned to knock over a stack of blocks and chase his ball, already over it.  Meanwhile, his poor mama was left to stew on the future when there will be real pain, rejections and undying, unrequited love and just how in the world to make it all ok.

Snailed It.

snailed itWe sit at the table staring at each other; me sipping coffee from a mug, the boy drinking from a sippy cup of milk.  He finished his bowl of oatmeal fruit mush in lightning speed and wears the remnants on his sleeve, his idea of a more convenient napkin than anything I can provide. 

Don’t worry, mama, he says with his eyes as he wipes his mouth again.  I’ve got this handled.

Drool and milk escape the clumsy swipe of his sleeve and dribble from his chin into the cotton collar of his freshly laundered shirt.  One of the many benefits of being his caretaker is dressing him however I like, and usually, it is in something that makes me laugh.  Today, his shirt was a cute little blue number with a smiling snail on it that declared, “Snailed It!”

The boy holds the plastic cup up to his forehead in a wishful attempt to become more unicorn-like, turns it upside down, and then moves it to the top of his head with a grin.

“Are you done?” I ask as the last drops of milk drip onto his recently trimmed hair and down his forehead.

I answer my own question, as I do through most of the day, “Yes, you are done,” and confiscate the cup in a quick grab that results in an unhappy squeal and a glare that speaks for itself.  

“Did that fill up your tummy?” I ask, hoping to avoid the tears and screaming that could come post-squeal.

Instead of a blank stare, tears or yelling, he takes one hand and pats his chubby belly with a full five-toothed smile.

I gasp, I didn’t teach him that.

“Where is your tummy?”  

I am curious if he will repeat his actions and gasp again when he takes both hands and pats his chubby belly like a happy Buddha.

“That’s right, but who taught you that?” I pepper him with questions that make him laugh and hold his arms up for release from his chair. 

“Did Daddy teach you that?” my questions fall on deaf ears.

The boy is ready to leave the table and resume playing with his jumble of cars and trucks in the makeshift miniature parking lot of the living room and gives me no further information.

Later, after his father, grandparents and anyone else I can think of deny all knowledge of the tummy trick, I have to accept that that the boy is a sponge who is constantly observing and synthesizing input.  He is becoming his own person which astounds my simple brain and humbles my heart. 

Every single day I am amazed by this little person, but on this day, he really snailed it.  

Fluffhead

snipsBaby boy was becoming unrecognizable under a shaggy mop of fluffy hair.  Light brown wisps covered his ears and dipped into his eyes.  Hair fell onto his neck and swooped out into bizarre cowlicks that will plague him for the rest of his life.  Naturally, I thought it was adorable, while others repeated the same annoying comment, “That boy needs a haircut.”

However, it wasn’t until his vision started to be affected that I awoke to the reality that he looked like a ragamuffin, a generally clean but unkept child.  I saw him squinting, instead of tossing his hair to the side, as he tried to see the world through a veil of brown.  He was willing to accept the situation, limited sight and all.  Not knowing enough to try to change things, he just tried to make the best of it by peering through his locks like looking through a knothole in a fence to find out the grass really was greener on the other side.  Suddenly, I felt like an irresponsible parent (enter a good amount of mom guilt) for allowing my baby to become a shaggy, visually impaired version of his former self.  

I considered taking him to the hairdresser, but the fear of an inexperienced or impatient stylist poking one of his eyes out or snipping off the tip of his ear threw me into a paralyzed state of panic, and on his hair grew.

He doesn’t sit still for more than a few seconds before wriggling away unless Puffs are involved, then he transforms into a calm and patient boy, as long as there is a steady delivery of Puffs to his mouth.  Puffs, for the uninformed reader, are just that, puffs of flavored cereal sized bites that quickly dissolve in the mouth or hand, wherever there might be a few drops of moisture.

Shortly after I realized what I was doing to my baby by doing nothing at all, I took the tiny bull by the horns and decided to trim his hair with a pair of dull kitchen scissors, a bad idea, and the aid of Puffs, good idea.

It ended with screaming and a perfectly straight set of bangs over half of his forehead.  As for the other half, let’s just say it didn’t make the cut. The swoops were snipped off as quickly and carefully as possible and his ears and neck became visible once more.  Perhaps best of all, neither eye was gouged and not a single drop of blood was shed.  Yet, for all of my good intentions, he now looks an eensy-weensy bit crazy with modern art for a hairdo and an unhealthy fear of scissors. 

I suppose he can add the experience in with a long yet-to-be written list of childhood traumas.  We all have them, regardless of our parents/caregivers good, or mostly good, intentions.  One of my former coworkers imparted the sage parenting wisdom before my maternity leave, “No matter what you do or don’t do, you’re going to screw them up somehow, you just don’t know how yet.”  

And strangely enough, remembering her words provide comfort in this brave and still-new world of motherhood.

Not exactly

tidesThe women sat side by side in the car, as driver and passenger.  It was a role reversal, and a shifting of the generational tides that not everyone was comfortable with accepting. 

Although it was useless to resist, it was still there.  The tension.  The involuntary give and take, like stomping the break pedal after speeding along the highway to take a sudden turn, it did come with a mild form of whiplash.  

The situation was not impossible.  Just difficult.

“I think you want me to have a hard life,” the daughter spewed, unable to control the animal that was her tongue.  Her knuckles gripped the steering wheel and she exhaled.  A slow and measured breath.

The animal was contained once more while its owner ground her back teeth together and focused on the road ahead.

“Why do you think I am here? I want you to have everything.  Why do you think I spoil you?  I don’t want you to have to suffer.  If I could take away all the things that are hard, I would, to make your life easier, not harder.”

The driver stared forward, still grinding her teeth, as fields of green whizzed past and a baby slept in the back.

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. 

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.