Bathroom Soup

Baby Brother rubbed his stomach.

“Hurt.”

As he was still taking his place as a speaker in the world, he did not waste words. He appeared to appreciate the power that using just a word or two held over crying for five minutes. The wrinkles in his forehead and appearance of being slightly green around the gills tipped me off as to the acute nature of this malady.

“Hurt,” he repeated.

I knelt in front of him and gazed into his deep brown eyes, in a nonverbal show of support and understanding. He grabbed me around the neck and with a whimper, he began the process of bringing everything he ate over the last 24 hours back into the light of day.

I scooped his thirty pounds up into my arms and rushed him into the bathroom while he threw up over my shoulder and onto my back and the floor. His stomach contents rested for just a second before they began to burn my skin. The smell permeated into my nostrils.

Once he finished, I turned on a warm shower to rinse lunch, breakfast and dinner, in that order, from his arms and legs.

“Missed a piece on your forehead, buddy.”                                                                

I flicked a bit of apple from his face and watched it travel down the drain.

Meanwhile, Little Legs had followed us into the bathroom.

“What happened, Mama?” he asked.

I focused on bringing Baby Brother out of the shower and toweling him dry as he shivered and said, “Brother got sick and we have to clean him up now.”

Only when I heard the clink of metal hitting the tile did I turn around to see that Little Legs brought his bowl of soup and was eating chicken and stars on the bathroom floor, in a show of support, but mostly curiosity.

“We don’t eat soup in the bathroom, Little Legs. Go back to the table.”

“Why not, Mama?”

Indeed, why not? It was the thousandth question of the day. I still needed to change clothes, mop the bathroom floor, get Baby Brother some Pedialyte and put everything away from lunch. On a normal day, we wouldn’t eat soup anywhere but the table, but this wasn’t a normal day.

This was a bathroom soup type of day.

Far from the Noise and Confusion

“My tummy hurts.”

The words find me in the darkness like bee drones, their reach is astonishing as my head is neatly tucked underneath of a pillow, meant to block out light and sound.

I need to wake up.

As I struggle to escape from the depths of sleep, I hear again, “My tummy hurts.”

This is not a false alarm in an attempt to stay up later or get a post-dinner snack. I hear the urgency in the voice.

I am coming. I try to say it, but I can’t connect my brain with my mouth. Fortunately, from a physical standpoint, I don’t have far to travel, the voice is coming from the foot of the bed.

Finally, I make it back to the land of the living and toss the pillow aside just as Little Legs starts to make a strange sound, hard to describe but impossible to misinterpret as the contents of his stomach gush from his mouth and onto the comforter, sheets and current occupants of the bed.

Blindly, I hold up my hands, dripping with chunky goo. I need to get my glasses to determine the next steps.

“My tummy still hurts,” he says.

And again, the gusher blows. I try to catch it in my hands and feel the force of it push through my fingers. The world is still blurry as I try to carry the boy to the bathroom, leaving a trail of macaroni and cheese bits and pieces in our wake.

When it is all said and done, Little Legs has stomach slime in his hair, the rugs are drenched, the toilet is covered. Daddy Longlegs is on his hands and knees, scooping godknowswhat from the floor and I am in disbelief that one little stomach could hold so much content.

It is a gross night with one, short-lived silver lining.  

“My tummy doesn’t hurt anymore,” Little Legs exclaims with glossy eyes.

I am right to wonder how long our break will last but see no reason to wait for the inevitable. Not a moment too soon, I scrunch down and settle back into a deep sleep far away from all the noise and confusion of the stomach of Little Legs.  

The Magic of When/Then Statements

“If you don’t put on your pants, we can’t go to the library.”

Little Legs threw himself down, stretching out his limbs and kicking like a long-distance swimmer. The only difference was that this athlete wasn’t going anywhere, until he put on his pants.

Big, fat tears of protest rolled down his red cheeks. The injustice of the request was too much. It was all too unfair. If he was holding on by an emotional thread, the thread snapped and he went into a full tantrum. Meanwhile, Baby Brother, fully dressed, stood over Little Legs watching and holding his coat next to the bag of books that was neatly packed and placed by the door.

I tried to intervene at the risk of undermining my authority and offered to help.

“Here, I will put on this leg and you do the other.”

At this, he screamed, “I am not a baby.”

We were in a stand-off, or in this case, a crying-and-screaming-off, where no one was going to win.

“When you put your pants on, then we can go to the library,” I said in a tactical change of word usage.

The when/then statements were supposed to work magic on the irrational preschooler, a feat that I had yet to see. In my mind, it would work like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, taming the beasts by staring into their eyes.

Little Legs would nod his head in agreement and repeat, “When I put on my pants, then we can go to the library.”

And of course, he would then wipe the tears from his face, put on his pants and give me a hug to say, let’s work together, I’m sorry, without saying a word.

Instead, he continued to scream, kick and refuse to wear pants.

He made two things quite clear; he needed some alone time and that we were not taking a trip to the library.

What to do with a bed bug.

Over the past few weeks, we have had a regular visitor. He arrives in the darkness on shuffling feet and wiggles and grunts his way into our bed.

I suppose it is the excitement of his trip through the house under the cover of night that makes him start coughing and coughing and coughing. Once he starts, he cannot stop.

Daddy Longlegs and I both wake up, it is rather hard to sleep with someone coughing on your face and spraying a fine mist of spittle on your eyelids. Although we are both awake, one of us plays dead and waits him out, while the other sits up, rubs his back and assumes parental responsibility. The role of nurse and possum switches from night to night, usually depending on whose side he lands.

“Water?” Little Legs asks.

We give him water.

“Cough medicine?” he asks.

“You already had some,” we remind him.

 “Pillow?” he asks.

“It is right there.”

“Oh…” he laughs.

Apparently, not sleeping is funny.

I am working out the silver lining to this exhausting situation, these are the highlights so far.

1. The nightwalker and one of his parents get to see one another at an unexpected time.

2. We have a bed to share in a house that is mostly safe for nightly travel.

3. It is not a situation that is going to last forever.

So, I will focus on appreciating the visits from our nocturnal son, rework our plan to get him to stay in his own bed, hello honey lollypops and endless bribes, and lastly, be grateful that Baby Brother is still in his crib and it is only one visitor, for now.    

The Yankee In Me

Yesterday, we met with a woman who wanted to use our office for a daylong training.

Words flew out of her mouth like a flock of birds during migration. A swooping mass that went this way and that way, mostly in a forward direction. Her crooked teeth reminded me of my mother’s smile.  

“Tell me to slow down if I am speaking too fast, that’s just the Yankee in me,” the woman explained.

It was a bizarre thing to say which made me think of a tiny solder in blue holding a musket, camped out somewhere in her body, defending the North. The same North that is under a blizzard warning, while we complain about the rain and grey skies of middle Tennessee. (By we, I mean Baby Brother and Little Legs. You are right to assume this was part of a serious discussion.)   

However strange the phrase, I understood what she meant. We carry the place(s) where we are born and raised with us, right down to our cells. It comes out in how we speak, our preferences, what feels safe or unsafe, who and what we seek out. It is so much of who we are, consciously and subconsciously.

My inner Yankee, obviously irrational, misses the cold weather and longs to hear the call of the Hoosier in its natural environment. (It sounds like this, Go Hoo-hoo-hoosiers.)

Being so far from home during this weather event, I feel like we are missing out on a history making experience that will change and bond those involved. An experience, that like childbirth, is unforgettable and mostly terrible but also amazing to remember after it is all over. Enduring this snowstorm will result in a memory that people will talk about to their children and their children’s children about.

“And the snow was how high?” the small people will ask.

With each retelling, the response will get higher and higher. We are talking the stuff of legacy here.

In the meantime, my heart is in the Heartland. I will be keeping all our friends and family on my mind as they hunker down and wait out the Blizzard of 2022. I guess if I really want the blizzard experience, I can always go down the street to Dairy Queen where I can get one with a whipped cream and a cherry on top and that will keep my inner Yank happy until we can get back home.

The Painter

“Brother, what happened in here?” Little Legs asked.

I heard the concern in his tinny voice as I let the dog outside. An urgent need to lay eyes on the scene and the siblings overwhelmed my senses.   

Forget about the dog, I thought, as I ran through the house. I made it to the room just in time for Little Legs to repeat his question, mirroring my thoughts as I surveyed the situation.  

“What happened in here?”

An artist had clearly been at work. He used just one color and painted everything, including himself, with it. Baby Brother was now a brown boy living in a brown world.

He looked up at me with big, wide, innocent eyes and said, “Poop.”

“I see,” I said.

To further emphasize, he reached around and placed a hand in his diaper.

“Poop,” he said.

“Yes, now I really see.”

I struggled to hold down the creeping vomit long enough to remove the boy from his crib for a handoff to Daddy Longlegs in the shower. Baby Brother splashed in the water and knocked over bottles of shampoo and conditioner while the clear water turned brown and then clear, again.

11 Cents

Little Legs sat on the couch in full cartoon-zombieboy-mode. His eyes were transfixed on a big, red dog that galloped across the screen. And although Little Legs didn’t have any Goldfish or animal crackers, he flipped something back and forth with his tongue. A flash of silver caught my eye.

“What is in your mouth, Little Legs?”

He extended his tongue to reveal a shiny dime which he then retracted like a lizard that had just caught a fly.  

“Show me again,” I said.

At first, he shook his head.

“Please,” I asked.

He grinned and stuck his red tongue out with the dime still perfectly balanced at the end of it. With the lightening bolt speed of maternal reflex, I grabbed the dime before he swallowed it, accidentally or not.

“My dime,” he said with a whine.

He held his hand out expecting the return of his treasure.

This time, I shook my head in refusal.

“Do you have any more change?” I asked.

“What’s change?” Little Legs asked.  

“Change is what you just had in your mouth. Do you have any other coins?”

I had to work fast to find out if we needed a metal detector or a trip to the ER.

“Just a penny,” he said with a laugh.

“Where is it now?”

“I swallowed it,” he said.  

“Did you really?”

“No, I was just joking,” he said.

“That’s not a very funny joke. I thought you swallowed a penny.”

“I did,” he said.

“Did you really?”  

“No,” he said.

“Where did you get the penny from?”

“From Da-da,” he said.  

Of course, I thought. The coins came from the same place as his sense of humor, his father.

Daddy Longlegs.

Trying to Leave

“See you tomorrow,” the boy yelled and ran out the door to meet his father. The boy wore sweats, a long sleeve tee-shirt and a florescent green fisherman’s hat that he was rarely seen without due to its dual powers of providing invisibility and being waterproof.

The guys were headed off on an adventure and Baby Brother was already loaded up in the car. Little did the boys know, the “adventure” was only a trip to the grocery store and a pass through the car wash.

The boy’s mother yelled after him, “I’ll see you later today.”

Her word crystalized in the air and disappeared like snowflakes on a warm nose; she was heard only by the dog who wiggled and wagged her tail, delighted at the attention. The animal was a black lab mixed with an Australian shepherd, a perfect blend of intelligence and energy… for another family… the woman always said when describing the dog.

“I’ll be back in just a few hours,” the woman muttered to herself.

The dog sat next to her and looked up with big, hungry eyes that begged for a snack.

“Let’s go to your kennel and I will be back to get you out in a bit.”

The dog sighed as the woman dragged and pushed and pulled her to the kennel; her furry legs locked in passive resistance as she stubbornly refused to cooperate with her imprisonment.

Winded and a little sore, the woman stood up and stretched.

Spying an upturned dump-truck, a rubbery blue popper and a wooden ball, she gathered up the toys and delivered them to the toy room or the-room-formerly-known-as-the-living-room. A bottle of water and a discarded pair of socks on the ground caught her eye, and she swooped in on them with a hawklike speed precision. They were her prey, destined to escape and return to the wild of the house in a short matter of time.

The ticking of the clock reminded the woman, she had to leave; the dishes, the laundry, the trash, the catbox, it all would have to wait. And it would wait.

 Mama had places to go.

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 son’s 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, I wanted to say no, this doesn’t look right. Nothing about those shaky hands with a pair of scissors seemed ok. Instead, 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.