But what about a little brother?

For two days straight, rain fell without stopping from a dark, grey sky.  We couldn’t even get out to splash in puddles or go for a walk through the neighborhood because of the constant rain.  By the third day, we had to get out.  The saying, come hell or high water, finally made sense.  We. Had. To. Get. Out.

An obvious destination was the grocery store as we were getting low on milk and puffs, but running through the pouring rain with Mr. Baby on one hip just to get through the parking lot did not appeal to any part of me.  I had to find a location with covered parking or a spot close enough to the door to run through the raindrops and limit the drenching.

We ended up at the Humane Society with front row parking and a few seconds long jog to the door.

I told Mr. Baby, “Its just like the zoo, but we can take these animals home.” 

He was more interested in the way our umbrella turned the wet, grey sky into a beautiful, dry red with the push of a button as we left the car for the shelter’s door.

We cautiously strolled past cages of barking, snarling, cowering, shivering and apathetic dogs that were sausage shaped, bony, three legged, one eyed, and scruffy.  All of the animals shared one trait in common, they were ready for their furever homes.  Unfortunately, with no creature catching our attention to melt our hearts and to start the adoption application, we headed back towards the door. 

Rain pounded the parking lot, hitting so hard that the water bounced up from the ground as though it was falling upside down.  That’s a definite no, I thought, and redirected our tour towards a stack of cages behind a glass wall filled with scroungy cats.  

And there in the bottom corner of the stack was the heart-melter, the animal just waiting to join our family, the pet we never knew we needed, a huge, white guinea pig.

“Excuse me,” I asked an older woman with a volunteer tag around her neck.  “Could you help us with this guinea pig?”

“We have guinea pigs?” she drawled in the typical, slow Tennessee accent.

Much to her surprise, she followed where Mr. Baby’s finger pointed and peered through the glass.

“Well, look there, it is a guinea pig.  Go sit in one of the viewing rooms and I’ll bring him into see you.”

What a serendipitous day this was shaping up to be, we were going to be guinea pig owners.  My mind leapt to the supplies that the animal would need and where it would sleep, followed by a concern with how my husband would feel about our new roommate. 

“We have to be gentle with the guinea pig, ok?” I coached Mr. Baby while we waited for the volunteer.

He didn’t agree or disagree, rather, he just looked inside of my purse and started pawing through it in search of snacks.

Mr. Baby was thrilled when the guinea pig was delivered.  He squealed in the animal’s face and poked its nose, then he raised both hands in a maneuver that he usually reserved to smash oranges.  I scooped the terrified creature up into my hands, and in that instant, I knew he wasn’t ready for a guinea pig.

 

Thou Shalt Not Nap

The noise was unbearable, worse than nails on a chalkboard or the chirping of a dying smoke alarm.

Each time I started to relax, the houseguest took in another mouthful of air with a frighteningly loud, snorting snore. 

It equally startled my soul and unborn child; I felt both curl up and hide within me, waiting for a more peaceful time to unfurl.

My nap was over before it began as was the houseguest’s welcome.

 

The Poke of the Sticky Finger

fingerThe little boy sat on my lap, comparing the difference between my belly button and a button on the back of the chair.  He delighted in pointing from one button to the other, over and over.  Surely, he was learning something from this so I let him continue with his button business.  Plus, it was too early to redirect him into something more constructive or active.

From button to button he obsessed until he missed the button on the chair, located just over my shoulder, and poked his grubby finger into my eye.

I shrieked from the surprise of having a tiny finger suddenly jammed into my eye and the actual pain of the contact.  His hand was clammy and sticky from drool and who-knows-what else with a sweaty hand smell.  Freshly cut grass or rain in the summer or hot cookies in the oven all have specific yet hard to describe smells, I believe the smell of a sticky, sweaty baby hand is the same.  You just know when you smell it and to be honest, it’s a little gross.

My beloved son recoiled back as though bitten by a cat, an all-too-familiar experience, shocked and scared.  Temporarily, he froze with finger in midair to assess the situation.  Mommy would live, although likely with only one eye.  A possibility which he found acceptable and continued poking at the buttons.  Meanwhile, I mused over life with limited vision and at the very least the eye infection that was soon to follow.

Perhaps the thing that shocked me the most was that I wasn’t even mad at the assault on my eyeball or that I would likely wake up with my eye crusted shut and need to go to the doctor’s office for a horrible prescription eye drop that would sting with each drop.  Certainly, I didn’t love what happened, but it was another day in the life of baby raising and for better or worse, I was in it for the long haul.  There was no room for anger in our busy schedule of playing, napping, eating and repeating.

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.

Mom Guilt

hair“Shouldn’t the baby eat first?” the woman asked as she poured a cup of coffee.

Although it was early, her hair was neatly combed and she appeared well-rested and ready for the day.  Perhaps as a safety measure, she spoke without looking directly at the wild woman who sat at the counter, still in the same clothes from the previous day with Medusa-like hair that was large and threatening. 

The smell of fresh coffee mixed with the sounds of a plastic toy ramming the legs of a stool and the slurping of cereal and milk.  A little boy in a fuzzy shirt and a pair of tiny, grey sweatpants played at their feet, pushing a toy truck back and forth with his own spluttered sound effects.  He was content, happy to be at his mother’s feet, free to crawl and roam.   

Refusing to acknowledge the question, the wild woman continued to shovel spoonful after spoonful of cereal into her mouth.  The baby had already eaten and she had been up for hours and found herself suddenly shaking from low blood sugar.

Of course, the baby should eat first, she thought.

And I should just shrivel up and blow away, another hairball in the wind.

Mr. Fish

fishMr. Fish is resting on his side in his leaf hammock.  His long, blue tail drapes over the edge, waving ever so slightly in the water, as his gills open and close.

A week earlier, a young, pear-shaped salesman overheard me laugh as we passed the fish section and asked, “A leaf hammock?  Does a fish need a hammock?”

The nosy salesman sidled up next to us and exclaimed, “I assure you, it’s an absolute must have for any betta tank.”

He looked around for other blue vests and finding none, he lowered his voice and whispered, “My boss has two betta fish and they each have their own hammock.  They love the hammocks.  Wait here, I’ll get you what you need.”

And he was off in a flash, sashaying down the aquarium supply aisle before we could even confirm that we wanted a fish.

Meanwhile, the baby gazed ahead at the tanks of bright fish, swimming in small, disorganized schools under weird florescent lighting.  He looked up at the harsh lights overhead and down the aisle behind us.  He kicked his feet, unused to wearing socks and socks, and started to squirm.

In a few minutes, the salesman returned with a handful of merchandise, dropping each item into the cart as he named it off in a roll call of aquatic gear.

“Here is the leaf hammock, medicine, in case your fish gets sick, water conditioner, special betta food and this…”

He saved the best for last.  Between his delicate fingers, he held up a green, fuzzy ball encased in clear, hard plastic.

“It’s faux,” he explained, “but no one will ever know.”

He noticed my questioning look as he went on to explain, “It’s a moss ball, you know, to help with the bacteria.”

“Shouldn’t I just get a live one?” I questioned like a silly layperson.

“Oh no,” the salesman/resident fish expert assured me. “The live ones are already filled with bacteria; this one will give you a fresh start.  You know, to help with the bacteria.”

In retrospect, we should have left and come back when we had time to be thoughtful, intentional and to read the information on the back of the packaging.

Instead, I said, “Sounds great, thanks so much. This is just what we needed.”

We picked a sad looking fish in a cup with barely enough room to turn and checked out, ending our impulse-buying-mission-of-mercy and headed home to introduce Mr. Fish to Ms. Kitty with high hopes of friendship

Lessons Learned

birdThe man held the large, plastic saucer in his hands and twisted the edges in opposite directions.

“See, it’s not going to break like your traditional ceramic bird bath.”

The woman took the saucer from the man to test his claim of durability for herself, twisting the edges and trying to bend it in half, without success.  Although gullible in all of her other relationships, she was not one to take the word of a salesperson at face value.  Not anymore, at least.   

Unable to break or bend it, she nodded in satisfaction and flipped the saucer over, “No price tag?”   

The man held his delicate hands in front of his chest like a squirrel with an acorn, he was determined not to lose this sale.  Surprisingly, things weren’t as lucrative in the bird supply business as one might imagine. 

“Well, that’s actually our last one.”

The woman raised her eyebrows in question.  

“Last one?” she asked incredulously. 

The last time she heard that line, she ended up with a slick ceramic, cushion-less couch that was impossible to sit on without sliding off of it.   

Mustering his most pathetic expression, he explained, “These are made in China and with the tariffs, we can’t get anymore.  Don’t know when, or if, we will ever get more.”

She pretended to take a minute to think, not to appear hasty in her decision.

“Well, I suppose I’ll take it.  And throw in some of those crushed peanuts and…”

Suddenly, her attention was redirected towards something unusual and glorious.  It was a crane standing in a bucket of rocks, fashioned out of wire no thicker than that of a coat hanger.  Perfect in every way.  Her daughter would have added, perfectly tacky, and reminded her of the other garden art that had accumulated in her backyard.

“Mmm….” She mentally silenced her offspring’s voice.

“And that beautiful bird.  Add that in with the peanuts and the indestructible bird bath.”

She knew a good deal when she saw one.

In the clutches of a dental man

dentistHe’s really into teeth.  Especially insured ones.  He asks how you are without listening for the answer because he is already snapping on a pair of blue latex gloves.

“Let’s lean you back and see what’s going on in here.”

This is your second appointment.  You mostly trust him, the professional, to do the right thing by you and your teeth.  How could you know that he spends a week each summer panning for gold in California and that every weekend he combs the local beach with a high-end metal detector in search of coins and jewelry? He’s a treasure hunter and he has discovered the mother lode.

His mouth stretches into a grotesque grin, hidden by his mask, as he counts off the cavities with a long, hooked metal instrument.  You can only see his eyes behind protective plastic lenses as they sparkle with an unnatural brightness.  He glances up at the hygienist who is peering down at you with pity and a furrowed brow.

“Are we ready?” he asks.

“Oh wait, I forgot to…” she trails off as she runs from the room.

At this point, you should be concerned, but you are having a hard time breathing because the runner/hygienist, injected your jawbone with a syringe of foul poison that burned and subsequently paralyzed half of your throat.  You want to say something about being too numb to swallow, but you find you also can no longer speak intelligible words.

The dentist revs up his drill like a hotrod car and you squeeze your eyes shut in fear and focus on controlling your breath.  You try to remember the litany against fear from Dune, face the fear, let the fear pass through you.  

Unfortunately, you are too far gone to reign your panic back in and you resign yourself to a certain death as it seems unlikely you will survive this experience.  When you return to your body, you are surprised.  Obviously.  You are alive.   

When the receptionist asks, “Would you like to schedule your next appointment?”

You politely decline. Obviously.

Restored

hot ayQuiet settles over the apartment, a layer of heavy nothingness.  The lights go out with a pop as the voices on the radio fade.  There is no hum from the refrigerator or buzz from the air conditioner and the dishwasher suddenly stops whooshing.  There is only the sound of the baby thrashing his stuffed dog back and forth with a wild arm.

It is strange that I never noticed how much noise these energy-hungry devices make while they guzzle electricity until they are cut off from their source in a quick death.  In their wake they leave behind a literal feeling of powerlessness and a void that is impossible to fill without the cooperation of Middle Tennessee Electric Co-op.

Without electricity to cool and circulate the air, the apartment quickly heats up like a cozy, little oven, a sign that our energy efficient residence is only efficient at increasing the cost of our utility bills as we apparently air-condition the entire middle TN area.  I push open the windows and let the heat roll in with the sounds of the chattering birds and the deliberations of two maintenance men as they discuss the repair of a washing machine.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Baby flips over and is wriggling his way across the floor towards the cat, his lifelong frenemy, with an obvious fur-pulling goal in mind.  I use a magazine to fan my face, a less than optimal use of The Atlantic, and prepare to intervene in the fight that is about to ensue. 

We disconnect and leave the grid for a few hours, retreating into our own private world of building blocks, diapers, and vast quantities of milk.  When the fans and motors running the machines that keep us comfortable restart, I realize that I miss the quiet that I didn’t know I was missing even though I have been informed that we are now officially restored.