Little Legs

 

His little legs wade through the tall grass,

like bright green waves,

each step threatens to pull him down.

He fights through it and reaches up for my hand with his sticky fingers. 

It is a rare moment that he will allow me to help him. 

 

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.

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