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.

A Satisfying Crunch

red waspHeavy boots clomp up the metal stairs.  The maintenance man is already irritated by the heat and the general nature of his job.  He would much rather be sitting by his pond with a fishing line in the water and a beer in his hand.  And yet, here he is…  

“You got a light problem?” he asks of the tenant who answers the door.  He wipes several beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and a salty, sour smell wafts into the apartment.

A slight woman stands in the doorway holding a fussy baby with fat cheeks and a troll like tuft of hair.  The baby is her only accessory, aside from a pair of rimless glasses.  She looks the man up and down; the tool belt and dusty boots are enough to verify his identify as he isn’t offering any other introduction.  She is hopeful that he is actually the maintenance man and not a future star of The Forensic Files show.   

Fortunately, there is a Louisville slugger bat next to the door. 

“Just in case,” her husband said with a grim nod as he leaned the bat against the wall when they unpacked several weeks earlier.  “You know we’re not in Indiana, anymore.”

Truth be told, the bat travelled with them regardless of the state from apartment to house and now back to an apartment, always taking its designated place by the door like an old, faithful guard dog with more bark than bite.  She steps aside to allow the man in and eyes the bat, unsure how she would swing it and hang onto the baby at the same time, but certain she could manage it.

She has a fresh confidence in her ability as a defender.  The day before, she hunted a red wasp that infiltrated the apartment and buzzed past the troll-baby at play.  She went after the intruder and crushed it with the ferocity and matching roar of a lioness protecting her young.

The baby is silent as he watches the visitor with big, bright eyes.  He feels safe in his mother’s arms, blissfully unaware of the danger of a stranger.  He snuggles in close under her chin, content to be held.

The man flicks the light switch with a grease-stained finger, only four out of the five bulbs come to life.  He leaves and returns with a ladder and a new light bulb.  The ladder groans with each step under his weight while the woman watches with the baby from the ground.  Neither one is very good at small talk with the man considering where to pick up another six pack of beer and the woman planning her attack if things got weird.

“So, what about the red wasps around here?  They’re everywhere and so aggressive,” the woman says.

He gives her a wicked grin from the top of the ladder, “Welcome to the South, honey.  Nothing you can do about the bugs down here other than get used to them.”

Ha, she almost laughs out loud.  A literal LOL.  And that’s where you’re wrong, she thinks, remembering the thrill of the hunt and the satisfying crunch from the day before.  She walks the man out with his burned-out light bulb and ladder in hand, locks the door behind him and feels a sense of relief.  She is a fierce mother who knows there is always something that can be done about a pest.

When Quitting Is Easy

quit

I was instilled with a midwestern work ethic almost from birth.  I washed dishes while standing on a stool, too short to reach the sink on my own, and folded laundry from a pile that nearly as big as me.  My first job was at 14, selling ice-cream cones and hot dogs from a beachside concession stand.  It was there that I was approached one day by a sweaty man with barbed wire tattoo around his flabby arm. He offered to “show me the world” and was quickly declined because I had other things on my mind starting with my next big job at a real ice-cream parlor.

My dedication to work continued through high school, college and beyond.  I was like a monkey swinging through the trees, always reaching for the next job before letting go of the last one.  Each one getting better with every swing forward, more money, time off and less of a commute.  Work gave structure to my life and a reason to get up each morning.  I was never without a paying job, sometimes two, since that first summer on the  beach.

Then everything changed a few short weeks ago with the birth of my son; he became my reason to get up in the morning and not just because of his screaming cries for milk.  I wanted to make him my top priority.  I wanted to be the one to change his diapers, to see his silly smiles in the morning, to revel in his presence and let him know how wanted and loved he is by his parents.

So when considering returning to work and dealing with crippling anxiety at the thought of my little boy in the cold hands of a stranger, I had to come up with a way to stay home with him.  I put my faith in the universe, quit my job and prepared to enter into an unknown realm of unemployment, days filled with infant care, and serious budgeting.   

He is now my full time, 24/7 job.  This new, non-income generating employment has actually cost me countless hours of sleep, an ugly scar from his c-section, and my entire heart in order to care for this being who neither walks nor talks.  He coos and giggles and flails his arms and our bond deepens every day we get to spend together.   I won’t be able to stay home forever, but right now, this day, this moment is all that matters.

Lamaze class

bb's

There were eight couples, paired off and uncomfortably sitting in hard-backed chairs against the wall with pillows and blankets at their sides.  A pile of brightly, colored exercise balls were gathered together in the center of the room, and a slender woman in dark, ankle boots leaned against a table at the front, presumably the Lamaze instructor. 

It was a good guess, as she was the only woman in the room who could still see her feet to admire those cool boots.  She casually rested there and I couldn’t stop myself from noting the flatness of her stomach.  It was a slightly concerning obsession that has worsened over the past few months, categorizing every woman’s stomach into flat, fat, pregnant or other.  

On the way to work, I saw a transgendered person and had to stop, not only because of the traffic signal but also the delay in my mental processing, and to think how to classify them into the system. Then the light changed and I sped off, only to remember just now that I never finished that thought.  

The woman in the boots was indeed the instructor and she shared that she had several children, naturally no less, in addition to a plethora of other important information about contractions, relaxation and dilation.  There was hope to return to normal, I mused in an unfocused type of way.  My belly can be flat again, someday, and maybe an active listener, too.

Throughout class, much like pregnancy so far, I had a number of assumptions turned upside down. Exercise balls in this new reality are called “birthing balls” and the he-he, hoo-hoo breathing is to prevent pushing too early rather than as a pain management strategy.  Apparently, pain management is left up to having a strong mental reserve and the promise of an epidural should the situation become too unbearable. 

There is still so much to do and learn that life feels overwhelming, and at the same time, I am grateful to have a little over three months left to prepare a nursery and practice my breathing exercises, to further perfect my classification system and to generally enjoy this downtime of idle musing before the world flips, yet again.