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.

Shots all around

bear sleepingThe nervous parents waited with their infant son.  He was wrapped in a blanket, dressed only in a dry diaper, per the nurse’s order.  His chubby feet stuck out from the bottom of the blanket with ten perfect, little piggies ready to go to market.   

He laughed and blew spit bubbles, unaware of the purpose of their visit, vaccinations.  He was content with the attention of his parents and the ability to grab his toes.  It was a gift of inexperience and limited short term memory.  Otherwise, he might have been screaming and fighting to make his way out of the office and away from his next round of shots.      

After a few minutes, the doctor breezed into the room wearing a pair of shiny, black boots.  He stopped to shake everyone’s hand, including the smallest, drool covered one.  

“Welcome to town.  I understand y’ all just moved here.” 

Thoroughly baby-slimed, he washed his hands in the sink without missing a beat.  Bodily fluids came with the territory of pediatric care.

“That’s right, we’ve been here about four weeks.”

“Well, I hope you like it so far.  Let’s back up and go over your boy’s medical history.”

After a few questions, they were caught up.  It didn’t take long to cover four months.   

“Now where is he sleeping?”

Sensing a moment of hesitation, the doctor turned away from the screen of his laptop and faced the parents.  He caught a quickly exchanged grimace between the two.  Their sleeping arrangements had been a point of contention over the past month.

Just the night before, they restarted the same ongoing conversation.

“I don’t like him in our room, I’m afraid you will fall asleep with him in our bed.”  

“And then what?” his wife asked with flashing eyes.

“I don’t want to say, but I would feel better if he was in his own room and in his crib, not in the pack-n-play in our room.”

A conclusion was not reached that night.

“Well, he’s in our room, next to the bed,” the baby’s mother started.

Before she could finish, the good doctor cut her off.

“He’s outta there,” he said motioning his thumb backwards over his shoulder, like an umpire making a call.  

 “We don’t want him to think that he needs his mommy to go to sleep, right?”

Obviously, this was a leading question, but the boy’s mother wasn’t quite ready to answer.     

A Monkey with a Knife

monkeyI gazed down on my beautiful boy with his smooth skin and clear eyes.  He grinned up and reached out to my face.  How sweet, I thought as I leaned down to give him a kiss.  Instead of allowing me to smooch his forehead, he grabbed my hair with both hands and yanked with all of his strength, flexing his baby muscles.  When I squealed out with surprise pain, he laughed in delight.  

He had just peed all over himself, his changing table, and of course, all over his loving mother and pile of diapers which led to the complete mid-day wipe down, diaper and outfit change.

“We might as well brush your hair while we are here,” I said to the naughty baby.

His hair was a soft, light brown fluff, like the down of a baby duck, straight the middle of his head, worn off on the sides and back.  Thankfully, it was still dry from the recent golden shower.

While keeping one hand on his chest to keep him from unexpectedly rolling off, I pulled his tiny hairbrush from a hanging pouch on the back of the door that also kept his nail clippers, extra bibs, thermometer and other random baby items.  Eyeing the brush, he reached up for it with both hands.  This will be a good sensory experience, I thought, and rubbed the bristles against the back of his hand.  

“This is the handle and these are the bristles,” I explained flipping it from one end to the other.

He grabbed the brush from my hand, immediately wrapping his monkey fingers around the handle and began brandishing it like a sword.  Woe be to his invisible baby foe, as his hairbrush-swordsmanship was remarkable.  He spastically thrust left and right, high and low, it was impossible to see where the next blow might fall until he smacked himself in the forehead.  He dropped the weapon/brush and began to wail.

Of course, I should have known better; it follows the logic that if you give a mouse a muffin, he will ask for a glass of milk.  If you give a baby a hairbrush, he’s going to use it as a sword.  And if he uses it as a sword, he’s going to smack someone with it.  And if someone gets smacked with it, its most likely going to be him.  And there’s going to be crying.  Lots of crying.

A Day of Sorry’s

erBy the time we pulled into the parking lot, we were already ten minutes late and mildly frazzled from three epic diaper blow outs that morning.  To be accurate, I was the only frazzled one from the series of mustard yellow-up-the-back-need-a-new-onsie diaper situations, while the baby was left pleased with his work.

“We made it, at last,” I said over my shoulder towards the backseat where the little prince patiently waited in his car seat with bright eyes and a rattle.

It was our first attempt at making new friends since moving from the Heartland. 

One might ask how an introvert with a baby makes friends in this day and age?  Considering that most of my friends were from school or old jobs, I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it without having formal employment or classes in common.  And I wasn’t keen on sitting in a Starbucks trying to strike up a conversation with an equally lonely, caffeinated stranger.  So, I turned to the internet for help.

Surprisingly, within a few keystrokes I found a group on Facebook for this very demographic, introduced myself and hit confirm for the next group date.  It was all too easy, I suppose, because when we arrived, no one else from the group was there.

I clicked the baby into the stroller and walked the perimeter of the park, certain that the members of our new crew were just out of sight.  We walked past the swings and the sandbox where the older kids played with their caregivers watching from the sides.  Spotting a breastfeeding woman and then a pod of women with babies under a shady grove of trees, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Our new friends are up there.  We have not been forsaken,” I said already feeling a connection to the woman nursing her infant and grateful for the power of technology and the internet.

How else would we have found our new tribe so quickly, I wondered? 

The group was up a hill, not easily accessed via stroller, but I was determined to connect and pushed with all of my might upwards over bumps and ruts.

“Sorry, baby,” I whispered jostling his head from side to side as we bumped along.  “I’ll get you out in a minute and you can play in the grass with the other babies.”

A little out of breath and nervous, I yelled out as we approached, “Hi everyone, I’m sorry we’re late.”

Two blonde women chased a wild-haired toddler who ran towards us recklessly laughing.  They looked up with barely veiled disdain. 

One said, “Sorry, we’re a part of the Tinkerbells and we aren’t expecting anyone else to join.”

“Ok, sorry, I guess we’ll head back down the hill.”  

And down we went, back over the bumps, at a much faster speed thanks to gravity and embarrassment, back towards the play area where we waited on a bench for nobody, like Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie.  

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?    

Shadows and Sunlight

sunlightSunlight and shadows dance through the blinds, bouncing back and forth to an unpredictable rhythm. The baby watches in wonder from his playmat.  He holds his toes in both hands and shapes himself into a half curl, a human roly-poly bug.  He laughs and shrieks with delight.  At four months, he is easy to please.

In the meantime, I find myself hooked on the screen checking for new communication, pictures and messages.  I feel a void when nothing comes through, an emptiness that I might be disappearing into the ether and reaffirmed when something does via the Ding of the i-phone.  It’s the modern-day dinner bell in a world of people hungry for instant connection.      

The baby doesn’t have a smart phone to bother with emails or texts.  His parents are his best friends and he doesn’t wear pants most days.  His life is simple and his joy is pure.  

He fills up on milk and love and connects to the present with each breath.  He reminds me to live and disconnect, what the world might look like to fresh eyes, and that I am enough in being his mother.  Perhaps, we all could benefit from stripping away the complexities of adulthood, if only for a moment, and refocusing on the sunlight and shadows.

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.

40 Weeks or the Time Spiral

timeMy ride pulls up in front of my place of work.  It’s a busy place with a constant flow of people, ideas, goods and germs in and out of the doors.  I peel myself from the cold, cement wall that is holding me upright and waddle towards the car. 

“Hey babe, and baby.”

My husband is in the driver’s seat.  He nods at me and then at my watermelon sized belly.  I have stopped driving, no longer trusting myself to navigate even the short distance between home and work in this final week of pregnancy.

“I’ve got some bad news for you,” he says with a straight face. 

I appreciate the warning, the easing into whatever he is about to share.

“Do you want to hear it now or later?”

His fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel, positioned at 10 and 2. 

“Go ahead, I can handle it.”    

I rest my hands on top of the bump that is our unborn son who squirms under the pressure.  I am only partially listening as my mental capacity has diminished, like a reservoir with all of the water drained out with just the trickle of a creek cutting across the otherwise dry bed.     

“I did some recalculations and I think we got the due date wrong.”

He now has my full attention.  I turn to him in disbelief and horror.

“What?”

This is not what a woman who has been pregnant for close to 40 weeks wants to hear.

“Yeah, I think we still have three weeks to go.”

He flicks on the turn signal and changes lanes with a quick glance over his shoulder.

“Three weeks? Three weeks?”   

The light at the end of the gestation tunnel has suddenly grown dim; I thought we just had three more days to go of constant trips to the bathroom, swollen ankles, and an award-winning waddle.  However, with three days or three weeks as a hostage to our tiny terrorist, it’s all the same when it comes to delivering the mega-baby.  

Pain, joy and a scheduled induction if this goes a day past 40 weeks (and that’s the 40 weeks by my calculations.)

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