Mom Guilt

Thursday morning, Little Legs was up all night, tossing and turning. He has already cried eight times, hit the dog and declared that he hates daycare, his brother and drinking milk. However, he is willing to eat a popsicle and drink juice for “eat-time.”

God help you if you make the mistake of referring to this early morning meal as breakfast. He hates breakfast. Add all the possible emphasis on the word hate.  

“It’s going to be a long day, good luck,” Daddy Longlegs whispers to me and slips away to his little office nook.

I need more than luck. We still need to track down pants that Little Legs won’t throw across the room, brush everyone’s teeth, including Baby Brother’s pearly set of four, and get out the door in the next fifteen minutes.

Luckily, I have a job where I can flex my start and end time. Otherwise, the next thirty minutes would be stressful. Very stressful.

Somehow, we make it to The Zone, which Little Legs hates, clearly.

I get both boys unloaded and shuffled into the building. Baby Brother screams and reaches for me as I hand him off to the worker of Toddler Room 1. Big, fat tears roll down his cheeks.

He cries, “Mama, Mama, Mama,” effectively breaking my heart into two, bloody raw pieces, right then and there.

Little Legs also screams and tries to escape down the hallway when I try to hand him off to Toddler Room 4. I grab him in a ninja-fast maneuver and redirect him into the room with a squeeze and a hug. The worker pulls him in and I slink out, only to peek into the window to see him sobbing on the shoulder of a strange woman.  

Finally, I leave, stricken with a crippling sense of shame and guilt at leaving my boys in the hands of strangers to go to a job where I am late and distracted and wondering if the struggle is worth it. Do the ends justify the means?

I remind myself of the boost in Little Legs’ vocabulary since being around other kids and how Baby Brother can self-play or cozy up for a game of roll-ball without missing a beat. They both have a new confidence in social settings and after experiencing every early childhood illness, I assume their immune systems are close to iron-clad by now.

Surely, the benefits are there. There is a silver lining. And I’m not a terrible mother.

I just need a little reminding to remember.

Gardening: love and war

After the boys go to sleep, I slip out the back door, grab my watering can and head for my garden. There is still plenty of light to visit my green world and oversee its green inhabitants. My green place is just a few feet wide by about six feet long, held together by boards and nails, and filled with bags of rich earth from Lowes.

I do not think I spend much time out there, but it is hard to keep track of the minutes with the bees buzzing in and out of their hive and the birds calling overhead.

When I come in at night, Daddy Longlegs asks, “Are you done, yet?”

I explain that this patch of ground is surprisingly needy, always wanting more water.

Water, water, water.

Every day, I water the broad leaves and stalks of corn, the leafy tendrils of peas and the newly sprouted squash leaves. I squat down to inspect for ants and worms. I lift the protective net to pluck the intruders off by hand and spray a non-toxic chemical to discourage their return. Weed sprouts are pinched and pulled from the earth, I shake off the clinging dirt back into the box.

I feel proud when I look at my crop of vegetable plants, so strong and healthy, patiently waiting for the long, cool drink that sustains them through the day.

Last year, cutworms felled my tomatoes and bell pepper plants like trees, snipped at the base and left them behind to rot in a wasteful display of their power. This year, I know to look for the creeping and crawling of my tiny enemy. I spray after rains and dust with another kind of chemical in between treatments. I have learned from my past mistakes and remain extra vigilant in protecting what is mine.

One day last week, I followed the usual routine.

I slipped out the back door, grabbed the watering can and visited my green place.

On this day, things are different. I arrive to find devastation.

Only the stems and baby squash leaves remain. The tender leaves of the corn are gone. The delicate tendrils and leaves of the pea plants are gone. The net is left mashed in and torn open, inviting any other predator to come and dig up the remaining fruit of my labor.

I was so focused on defeating the cutters that I missed the bigger threat, the herd of deer that live in the woods on the edge of our property.

The hungry, hungry deer.    

I want to scream and cry and kick the ground that gives and takes. Instead of throwing a full-on adult tantrum, I take a deep breath and re-evaluate the situation.

I will replant. I will not be defeated by things that crawl or walk on hooved feet. I will put up a fence and sprinkle cayenne and coffee grounds and anything else that might deter the predators of my leafy greens.

I will not let them win. I declare a war of the vegetables.  

https://www.bobvila.com/articles/best-deer-repellent/

https://www.bhg.com/gardening/pests/diy-deer-repellent/

Services of the Indispensable

The trashcan remains dangerously full, at the end of the driveway, with the lid propped up on a cardboard box full of smaller bags of dirty diapers. It has been two days and still no word from the trash removal provider. The air is hot and smells like sour milk, old food, and the contents of the dirty diapers mixed into a very, aromatic shit casserole. Flies find their way to the precarious tower of refuse and hover around, as tiny, well-fed vultures.

Every time I call the trash company, a robotic female voice explains that their agents are busy and invites me to leave a message, which I have done, without a response.  

I call back and listen to my options, again, I want to speak to a person. Their robot-workers do not seem to get the problem. While waiting for an elusive-never-come-to-the-phone agent, I hum along with the tune that keeps me company and lets me know I have not been forsaken by the Waste gods. There is something familiar about it, more than just because I have spent so much time on hold. Then it strikes me like a bolt of lightning and I feel very alone.

“You’ve got to be cruel to be kind…” are the missing words to the looping song.

The robot-workers do understand. They, in fact, have a sense of humor about the whole thing. I would love to join in and share a good laugh, but I am too busy wondering how we are going to dispose of a trashcan full of disgusting, smelly, slimy things if we are suddenly without the services of the indispensable.

Sleep Fight

“Do you want me to sing you a song?”

I laughed softly at Daddy Longlegs’ tenderness in the ongoing struggle to get Little Legs to sleep.

Every night, the boy tries new tricks to stay up.

“Two more stories?” he requests after the 17th book lands on a pile next to him.

“Wa-wa?” he smacks his lips with thirst while holding a cup of water.

“Poo-poo diap-ee,” he announces, certain that someone will assist, with a suspicious glee.

We should feel flattered our company is so desirable that this young person wants to spend even five more minutes together. Instead, we are exhausted, exasperated and did I mention, tired?  

I remind myself that this is yet another phase, one that we will look back on with an aching sense of loss. Someday in the future, he will be knobbly-kneed boy, and then a teenager who has no time and no interest in snuggling up next to us.

So tonight when he fakes a cough and yells out, “Cough med-cine” or “Need Mama”, I will breathe in energy and breathe out grace and compassion for the toddler down the hall who keeps us in a constant state of motion.

Priorities

She watched her son push a monster truck from one side of the porch to the other and flipped through the pages of the magazine without reading any of the words. There were pictures of pumpkin muffins and kids with safety scissors doing rainy day crafts, impossible recipes and ads for ferns that were guaranteed to be delivered fresh. It was mental junk food that felt only a little better than binge watching, Glow Up, her latest interest.

She delighted in the crinkling sound of the pages turning as they slid from one side to the other by her wetted index finger. She licked her finger to prepare for another page turn when her restless eyes stopped at a section with the keys to smooth skin. Smooth skin equals younger looking skin, which was never something that mattered until her face started to tell on her age.

An obsession had recently taken root in her mind about her skin, fine lines were forming and would soon be wrinkles. Freckles, once a cute accessory from being outside were now the tell-tale signs of sun damage and future cancer. She noticed for the first time the commercials on tv for anti-aging products and started to watch for sales at the drug store on serums and creams that promised to tighten and smooth and basically turn back the hands of time.

The products were expensive and filled with complex and exotic ingredients. She knew entertaining this fad was not sustainable, especially as a stay-at-home mom/unemployed person, but it didn’t stop her from ripping out the section from the magazine. She studied the must-haves and used her phone to price them out online.

Younger skin must wait, she tried to calm the anxious consumer inside of her brain that demanded attention and looked back up at her son who had stopped pushing his truck and was hanging on her knees ready for a new activity.

He wore a black Mickey Mouse sweat-shirt like a crop top, showing his tummy and good three inches of his forearms with a pair of above the knee shorts.   

Priorities, Puney. Priorities, she reasoned and tucked the page into her pocket for later.   

The sacrifices a mother makes are endless and unnoticed, unless they result in tighter, smoother skin.

Trash People

They missed us again. For the second week in a row, the big blue trash truck sped past our awaiting trashcan filled with dirty diapers, banana peels, stale crackers, kitty litter, empty milk jugs, deconstructed Amazon boxes and so much more.

I called the number on our last bill for customer service and was greeted by a male with a deep voice.

“Is this Ms. Puney?” he asked.

He recognized me from the past week of calls inquiring about the status of our trash pick-up. We were on the verge of friendship; we spoke so frequently. Although, our friendship had a serious problem with honesty. He reassured me at each call that we were indeed on the missed trash pick-up route.

And the trash kept piling up.

“Just be patient with us, we’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”

“Well, you said that yesterday and they missed us again.” I explained struggling to keep the irritation out of my voice.

I could see the trash through the window, overflowing with white plastic bags. There were black flies buzzing around and in the bags. It was only a matter of time before a buzzard swooped down and broke into one of the top bags, scattering debris all over the road and yard. From there it would be a wild animal free-for-all, knocking over the bin and tearing into the remaining bags.

I shuddered in disgust.  

“Ma’am, I am so sorry they missed you again,” he apologized.

“Do you know what happened?” I pried, trying to gain some insider intel.

“They don’t give us that kind of information,” he explained with another apology.

Apparently, the activity of the trash people was privileged information, given only to a select few. I wondered if anyone actually had this information and assumed the drivers had gone rogue, picking up trash where they pleased.

“You aren’t driving the truck, so you have nothing to apologize for. I just want our trash picked up.”

“Amen, I hear that.”

My friend, the customer service trash man, made me laugh. He gave no new information aside from another empty promise of pick-up. I hung up *almost* forgetting my hard feelings until I looked out the window and saw the trash exactly where we left it, in an ever-growing collection.

Waiting on an unanswered prayer.    

A Simple Gift

bunnyThe trio left through the backdoor. The woman wore the infant strapped to her chest while the toddler had decided to live his life as a bunny and hopped along behind her.

“Hop, hop, hop,” he narrated.

They made it around the side of the house when the boy-rabbit stopped completely, and as though frozen, he stared at the sky.

“Come on, bunny. Hop this way,” his mother encouraged.

The sun was hot on her face and arms. She pulled the brim of the baby’s hat back, his chubby face was peacefully resting between her breasts. The heat only lulled him further into a deeper sleep.

“Its hot out here, let’s get to the shade.”

“Nah, nah, nah. Clough!”

Instead of following his mother where she stood under the protection of a grizzled old tree with pale, green lichens growing on the bark and long overhanging branches, he continued to stare up at the sky.

“Clough!” he exclaimed again and pointed.

Sensing that the boy would be rooted to the spot until she did what he wanted, she returned to his side and looked up, finally.

Clouds unrolled across the sky like waves of wind-blown sand on the beach, stretching as far as the eye could see, against a breathtakingly blue sky.

“Clouds in the sky,” she affirmed.

“Beautiful, thank you for showing me.”

Satisfied at last with his mother, the boy-bunny continued hopping through the yard.

His mother was left behind, humbled at the beauty of the day and that it took the fresh eyes of her son to appreciate it.

All it took was to simply look up.

Cannibals

The meeting started promptly at 1:00, right in the middle of a perfectly good Sunday afternoon. I wondered why I was participating with the bigger question of why I volunteered for anything else when my life was already bursting at the figurative seams with undone things, starting with a mound of laundry.

Yet, there I was, calling in to be counted for the rollcall and reviewing the agenda with my boys in the next room in the care of Daddy Longlegs and G-ma.

We were all accounted for except for one person who, unbeknownst to her, would be eaten later.

Shortly after the meeting was called to order, the leader brought up what she called, “the elephant in the room.”

She forgot we were only faces suspended in virtual reality, there was no room and there was no elephant.

“We have to address the recent chain of text messages. I think we all know what I am talking about.”

There was a quiet murmur of acknowledgement from the floating heads.

“Therefore, I am submitting a motion for the Texter to be removed from The Board.”

I gasped in silent horror, thankful for the mute option.

It seemed an extreme punishment for the offense. However, I was the newest person to join and unfamiliar with the group dynamics, processes, and procedures.

“I want to hear from everyone on this,” the leader requested.

One by one, all members present voiced their opinions with a unanimous agreement with the leader.

“She’s got to go and here’s why,” one member explained.

“I’ve been noticing her lack of enthusiasm for a while,” another shared.

“She’s always first to leave and last to arrive,” a third stated.

The elephant in the room was slowly torn apart, limb by limb, and picked clean until only the bones were left to dry. The decision was to be delivered via email with the offer of a phone call to work out any remaining details which the leader didn’t think would be necessary.

“Its what she wanted,” she reassured the cannibals who were still licking their lips.

They were temporarily satiated from their meal.

I wondered how long it would be before they felt the hunger pangs and turned their hungry mouths towards me. Somehow, I knew it would be a matter of time, especially now they had the taste of blood.

bones

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.