When the Cookie Monster visits

cookie monsterOver the past few weeks while remaining safer at home, we have all been brought quite literally closer with Daddy Longlegs working from home.  However, this temporary/ongoing arrangement has also meant that our places of work and play are currently one-in-the-same and naturally there is bound to be some conflict. 

Who knew it would come to a head over a peanut butter cookie?

Last week, Daddy Longlegs decided to make lunch for Little Legs and me.  He thoughtfully made each of our sandwiches according to our preferences, ham and cheese for me, peanut butter and jelly for Little Legs, with a handful of chips and strawberries to share between us.  I brought cookies and milk for dessert and boosted Little Legs into his special seat.  His seat clamps to the table where he likes to play with his food, swing his legs back and forth, and drop things for the cat to scarf down; sometimes he manages to eat, too.  

On this fateful day, I made the mistake of handing a cookie to Daddy Longlegs over Little Legs’ head and saying, “We can all have cookies after you finish your sandwich.”  

Little Legs watched the hand-off with a pair of eagle eyes that miss nothing and decided there would be no sandwich eating.  Only cookie eating.  Also, he wanted all of the cookies.  Now.

It started with a quiet whining and pointing at the distributed cookies with a grubby finger, first at his daddy’s and then at mine.  He turned his head away from his sandwich and knocked Daddy Longlegs’ hand away as he offered him a chip.  Then he threw a strawberry to the ground in anger, barely missing the cat that sat waiting and hoping for a meatier offering.

I moved to break off a cookie bit as a compromise when Daddy Longlegs’ intervened with a raised hand like a crossing guard to stop.  He was about to do some emotional mealtime redirecting.

“You can’t negotiate with a terrorist.” 

He turned to the boy who was red in the face and on the verge of screaming. 

He explained, “You have to eat your sandwich before you get a cookie.”   

And then back to me while still talking to the boy, “And mommy isn’t going to give in.  Right, Mommy?”

“He needs to eat something,” I said, driven by an irrational fear that he would starve starting at that instant unless he got a cookie.  Mother knows best, I thought, and assumed that he would naturally agree to eat his sandwich if he got a little bite of early dessert.  In short, I assumed we were dealing with a rational person instead of a toddler.

“You can’t just feed him cookies.  If you give in now, what’s going to happen tomorrow and the day after that?” Daddy Longlegs asked.

I took a minute to think, to allay my fear and push my maternal arrogance aside, and to consider things as an unbiased and rational adult.  Of course, I can’t just feed the boy cookies, he’s not going to starve, and I can’t give him everything he wants.  

He needs boundaries and vegetables. 

After all, we all know what happens if you give a cat a cupcake, he’s going to want some sprinkles.     

Ice Cream Tripping

icecreamTime is running out for our merry gang as soon we go from the Three Amigos to the Three Amigos plus one. We want to do some special things with the youngest of the Amigos before his world is turned upside down when a smaller, even needier version of himself moves into the house. However, with the corona virus, murder hornets, and another wicked round of bad weather on the way, it is impossibly hard to know where and what is safe.   

After settling on small, close-to-home trips and experiences to limit the danger from apparently everything, we decided to risk our lives with a quick trip for ice cream from a fast food restaurant. We ordered at the faceless speaker sign and pulled forward to meet a bouncy young cashier wearing a mask around her neck where it did her little good as a scarf. I prayed she wasn’t sick because she was definitely going to breathe on the goods.

“Hey y’all, lemme grab those cones for you. Be right back,” she drawled.

Weighing the risks with the benefits of this trip while we waited for the young woman/super-germ-spreader to return to the window did not offer reassurance that the sweet treats would be worth the cost of our lives. Fortunately, not one murder hornet was spotted and once that cold vanilla ice cream hit my lips and tongue, my reservations melted. Guiltily, I knew we would be back. I justified the risk that it was all for Little Legs, but truth-be-told, (lean in close to hear my whispered confession) the ice cream was for me.

We made the seven-minute-trip back home, carefully keeping the melting ice cream to cone ratio in check to prevent a sticky mess and gave Little Legs the rest of my cone when we unloaded from the car.

He happily slurped the ice cream and bit into the side of the cone with a confidence that came as naturally as breathing. He was meant to eat ice cream cones or perhaps this was part of an inborn survival wisdom like how ducks know how to swim as soon as they hit water. This was the sign of an all-American boy.

With a full, dripping ice cream mustache and beard combo that would make any parent proud, he smiled as he continued to slurp away at the cone.

“Is that good?” I leaned dangerously close to ask a question to which the answer was clear.

In response, he nodded and reached out to touch my face, leaving a delicious, vanilla flavored smudge on my glasses. For once, I didn’t care about his sticky prints or the growing mess around his feet. In that moment, the Three Amigos were together, happy and healthy; and in spite of everything, all was right in the world.

Yards of Yellow

dandysWe left the safety of the house for our morning exploration of the yard which usually involves tromping through the grass to check in on the garden, the status of a bird nest above Little Leg’s window and to blow on white haired dandelions to release their fluff in the breeze.  I assume our neighbors will thank us for their yards of yellow later this summer.  Of course, I didn’t expect to end the expedition with plans for a funeral, but that’s life.  And death.

Little Legs led me by the hand to inspect his stack of bricks and found the pile to be as he left it, precariously leaning to one side.  I pointed out a black dragonfly with square wings like the sails of a pirate ship that landed on a flat rock.  There were no disturbances in the garden, thanks to a regular dusting of diatomaceous earth, and the three fuzzy heads of the baby birds were all accounted for in the nest.  It was a morning in which all was remarkably well, begging for a small disaster to balance out our tiny universe in which the sun, moon and stars was contained in a pint-sized boy.

As we turned the corner and headed back towards the porch, I spotted something on the concrete pad next to an abandoned Mr. Potato Head and underneath of the window.  It was a palm-sized bird laying motionless on its side with its eyes cracked open in a sign of potential life.

Little Legs shouted, “Bur…” in delight and ran to scoop it up.

“No, baby! Something is wrong with that bird.  Let mama check it out.” 

I stepped in front of Little Legs to stop his obvious course of action and knelt down for a better look at the pile of soft brown feathers.  Ignoring the threat of bird-carrying diseases and parasites, I gently picked the bird up and its head rolled to the side without resistance; although its chest was still warm, the life was gone from its shiny, black eyes.  There was no fluttering heartbeat, quivering wings or chirping, just two tiny feathers stuck to the window where it must have made impact while we were sending dandelions seeds to destinations unknown.

Do I explain death, here and now, to Little Legs?  I promised myself before he was born that I would always try to be an honest parent and tell the truth, whatever version might be most age appropriate. 

“The bird died, buddy.  I think its neck is broken,” I explained to a face that did not comprehend. 

Little Legs threw his hands up in question and I instantly altered the narrative to one more comfortable and understandable, one that I assume my parents gave to me until I could grasp the concept of death.

“The bird is sleeping and its not going to wake up.”

Little Legs nodded his head, sleep was something he was very familiar with as he fought it every day and night.  He went to a box of gardening tools near the door and came back with a trowel.

“Chop, chop?” he asked.

“That’s good, we’ll dig a hole and bury the bird.”

He drove the shiny metal down onto the cement with a clashing sound to further explain his plan.  I hoped that he meant to dig into the soil.  I hoped for another opportunity as seemingly benign as this one to explain life and death.  Mostly, I hoped I wasn’t screwing up as a parent and that he would forgive me, if I was, someday.

From Coyote to Corona

coyoteThere is a coyote stalking small prey in the backyard.  The animal’s fur is a combination of grey, white, brown and black, perfect camouflage to blend into the shadows.  Except it isn’t trying very hard to remain undetected, perhaps from hunger or disease, it lets us see him watch us through the window. 

Little Legs thinks it’s a dog and barks at it and bangs on the glass with a toy car.

“Daw… daw…daw…” he chants.

He would like to have a pet, but this is not the right one, with its possible case of rabies, baby-biting tendencies, and definite infestation of fleas.  By the looks of the mangy mutt, the coyote wouldn’t mind carrying off my sweet boy to snack on like a meaty Now and Later.  Something about the way that it stares at us is off with the same level of derangement as an escaped convict, and then I see it lick its lips, or at least I think that I do.  Staying home day after day may be impacting my cognition, or plain and simple, the coyote wants to eat us. 

“Well, we aren’t going out there today,” I declare knowing that we will still go outside after lunch.  

Mentally, I go through several scenarios of Little Legs luring the coyote close enough to touch when my back is turned and me chasing it off with a stick or going into hand-to-paw combat with it or running after it with Little Legs on its back like a circus performer riding a lion.  I set my resolve to get a weapon to protect us during the day, wanting a bb gun for the first time in my life.

“A bb gun?”

My husband is incredulous when I tell him what is needed on his next trip to town and the reason why.  I show him the picture that I took as proof of the problem and to support my request.  A part of me expects him to ask me to fill out a requisition form and send it to the finance department for processing…so Amazon, it is.    

“You don’t need a bb gun, you need a shot gun and we can load it with buck shot; you don’t have to be accurate that way.”

I don’t take offense at this because he is obviously unaware of my sharp shooting days from a past life and that this is not something that I just want.  It is something that I need at a time when it feels like we are under attack from all angles with the corona virus wreaking havoc on multiple fronts of our world, living under quarantine and now a coyote in our backyard.

What I want and need is a sense of safety for my little boy and the one on the way.  I need to feel secure taking them out to swing or to play in the dirt or to gather dandelions and not worry that a coyote is watching us and waiting for his dinner opportunity.  With wild things all around us that threaten harm, I want to feel some control in protecting the ones I love, but it doesn’t seem like any amount of waiting, money or weaponry can provide the kind of security that I need.  

Aside from hand sanitizer.  And a bb gun.

The Search for Sugar

It’s been about a week since Sugar’s visit.  We remain under a shelter-in-place order which gives us ample time to observe the comings and goings of the neighbors.  Sadly, our favorite neighbor has yet to return to her rightful place in the backyard across the street barking at birds and digging in the mud.

When Sugar came to visit, we thought it was a part of a short-lived tour de freedom instead of what now appears to have been the kick off to a much longer and possibly permanent trip away from the backyard.   

We still take walks through the neighborhood, while cautiously respecting the social distancing imperative, and peek into her fenced area.  I am hopeful that we somehow missed her homecoming and will find her there one day, smiling and barking and as dirty, as ever.  

Little Legs also looks for her.  He strains his neck trying to see her through the fence and raises his hands in question when only untrampled grass meets his gaze. 

This is the only loss that he has felt during quarantine.  He doesn’t miss playdates or enriching field trips to museums or hands-on discovery centers, he doesn’t care that all of our meals are eaten at home or that he hasn’t seen his grandparents this Spring.  He just knows that his friend, Sugar, is missing.

As a new parent, I didn’t anticipate the need to deal with issues of loss or grief this early on in our journey. However, we take the challenges as they come, fast and unexpected.  It’s a lot of improvising and fly-by-the-seat of one’s pants work to meet the needs of our curious and sweet little boy.

So, the last time he threw his hands up in question about Sugar, I gave the best explanation I could.

“Sugar is on vacation for a while, probably at the beach, and we don’t know when she’ll be back.”

He accepted this without question and toddled down the road, picking up rocks and worms, happy to know the truth, at last.

Quarantined on a Rainy Day

The sky is nine depressing shades of grey and the air is cold and damp.  It feels like a typical Indiana spring day, but we are in Tennessee and have already experienced a string of warm days in the 70’s.  This drop to the 50’s feels mean and cruel.  Mother Nature is in a bad mood, and needs some alone time.  

However, we need a change of scenery and with the ongoing shelter-in-place order, we have limited options.  It’s basically inside, outside or a drive to the store.  

We sneak outside after lunch before the next rain shower is expected to deliver yet another soaking.  Little Legs feels the cold and his interest in an outdoor adventure suddenly disappears as he scurries back inside of the protective covering of the garage.  I pull the hood of his red sweatshirt up over the back of his head, and for once, he doesn’t fight me.  He lets the hood remain in place, a clear sign that this fair-weather friend is cold.

“Let’s check the mail,” I try to cajole him out of the garage where he is banging on the side of the car with a wooden toy that he found along the way.   

He ignores me and continues banging on the car.  The temperature hasn’t changed and he isn’t changing his stance on this outing.  These two facts make it difficult to move forward in a compromise thereby requiring the bodily removal of Little Red Riding Hood.

“You need the fresh air and it’s not that cold out,” I reason with him as I carry him out, very much against his will.

It’s like trying to rationalize with a donkey, it only makes him kick at my chest as we head towards the mailbox.  He’s tricky to hold onto when he resorts to the squirm-kick but I manage, thanks to muscles that I never had before becoming a human taxi.

“Do you want to walk now?” I ask when we are halfway down the drive way. 

This seems like a reasonable distance to walk on his own in the cold-not-so-cold elements.  He has settled into my arms and is no longer a stiff-armed spider monkey trying to crawl onto my back and shoulders rather than to be carried like a normal toddler.

“Ssss,” he nods his head in agreement. 

I have an understanding of this early language and this is a definite yes.  Plus, no involves a shaking of his entire head and body.  Gently, I lower his legs to the ground and stand him up, proud that he has come around and wants to be independent.  He gets it, I foolishly think.

“See, it’s not so bad.”

He looks up at me with crooked grin, catches a cool breeze that lifts his hair up in a chilly surprise, and takes off for the garage.  It is a trick.  Although his legs are short, they are quick and take him right back to the side of the car, where he resumes his work banging on the door.  

We will try again later, or not.  The mail will be there tomorrow if we don’t make it today.  It’s the season of the quarantine and anything goes.

Sugar

A pair of dark eyes surrounded by a face full of white fur peered into the window and gave a friendly bark, not too deep, not too loud, but a bark that was just right to get the attention of a little boy playing on the other side of the room.

“Uh, babe, what is that?”

It was shocking to see this large creature looking in at us like a spectator at a zoo, curious and anxious for interaction.  In fact, so suddenly did it appear that my husband was unable to register the nature of the drooling visitor.  However, I knew exactly where the fluffy voyeur was from, further confirmed as it continued to peer into our living room, waiting to be acknowledged by someone who was still making his way to the window. 

The animal’s name was Sugar, she lived across the street, and was most often found covered in mud, racing around the perimeter of the yard barking at birds.  We learned her name just a few days ago, but had visited her through the winter and spring.  She was a living landmark on our walks, a touch-point during our travels that indicated a successful road crossing.

It appeared that she was simply returning the favor in her first moments of freedom.  We were her touch-point from a successful road crossing in the opposite direction.  

“She came to find Little Legs.”

At last, Little Legs made it to the window and shrieked in delight.  He dropped his Tonka truck which landed on my foot with a crash and a cry of pain, from me, as it was an old hand-me-down toy that was on the verge of being unsafe with metal and hard, moveable plastic bits.  Little Legs grabbed onto the window ledge with a grin that was made of the same combination of drool, teeth, and a hanging tongue as his visitor and pointed at the door.

He was ready to go out and see his friend without a window or gate between the two.  Sadly, it was a desire that was not meant to be for these two besties.  An invisible breeze blew the scent of something too juicy to ignore past the dog’s wet nose.  Sugar sniffed the air, gave another bark and took off at a full gallop, determined to spend the rest of its freedom doing dog-things from its to-do list, now one item shorter.

It is nice to have friends, isn’t it Little Legs?

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.