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.

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Trembling Whiskers

cats

On the day we brought Baby home, the cats met us at the door.  They were partially curious about the screaming creature who could be heard from outside, but mostly hungry from eating every last crunchy nugget left out by the cat-sitter and anxious to have their bowls refilled.

While the cats tried to understand what it was that we brought into their previously harmonious sanctuary, Baby continued to wail.  It was no wonder as to the reason for his displeasure, he had just encountered the coldest and most blustery day of winter and was only three days old.  It was a cruel change from his most recent very warm and cozy living situation of the last nine months.

His tiny, still wrinkled face was red as he continued to express his disappointment with the world as a whole.  I felt mostly responsible being the one who grew him, only to evict him in the middle of an Indiana winter.  Sorry baby Hoosier, it won’t get much better for a few months, I thought.

Meanwhile, the older cat quickly figured out what was happening, she was being replaced, yet again.  She hissed at us with yellow teeth before making her retreat into a secret, not-so-secret, hiding place under an overstuffed chair.  This left the younger cat, a fat tiger girl, alone to fight or flee from the new foe.

She incorrectly opted to fight and stand her ground.  This was her first go around with Replacement and it was as painful and confusing as anything else experienced up that point of her four years.  Hissing and baring her strong white teeth, she tensed her 14-pound body, ready to attack.  She was not about to welcome the mostly hairless and screaming creature into her home, let alone allow it to stay.

Unfortunately, this caused Baby to wail even louder.  His screams reached a new level that was surely audible throughout the hood, which also happened to be at the perfect pitch to level the cat’s ears back flat before sending her into hiding, next to the older cat under the chair.  The two were unified at last with trembling whiskers and broken hearts.

King Burrito

burrito

We swaddle our chubby baby every night in spite of his protests.  He looks like an adorable human burrito, with a dark furry head where rice and beans might otherwise be spilling out.  It’s a sight that melts our hearts and brains into a lovey-dovey mush, as I imagine all parents must feel about the cocooned shape of their infant.  Unfortunately, King Burrito doesn’t understand that swaddling is a part of the current protocol for safe infant sleeping; and instead believes he has been unjustly imprisoned and naturally fights until he drops into an exhausted, but safe, sleep.

Can you hear me yawning as I type from extreme sleep deprivation?

“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” everyone says while holding the sleeping baby which would be helpful if I could sleep on demand during the middle of the day.  Or worse yet, they say, “Let me hold the baby so you can go and throw in a load of laundry or do the dishes.”  If I wasn’t so tired, smoke would roll out of my ears.  Alas, I have even lost the energy to be angry and maybe have a puff or two of smoke worth of irritation.

In any case, who has time for sleep or anger for that matter?  I only have another four weeks before returning to work from maternity leave.  With as fast as King Burrito is developing, I fear that I will miss a major milestone and he will start talking or walking if I’m off the clock napping.  So, in the spirit of maximizing our time together, I have started to take time saving short cuts.  I do all of my banking online, the groceries get delivered to our front door, and Amazon fills in all of other gaps.

Last week, an older woman with the usual Hoosier mom garb of high wasted jeans, a turtle neck and a fuzzy vest with an IU logo delivered diapers, cat litter and the random collection of provisions for the week.  

“Someone has a baby…” she led with as I opened the door.

It was far from a lucky guess, the drool on my shirt and the screaming in the background were good clues for what she was able to deduce about the situation.  “Do you mind if I take a peek?” she asked as she stepped a foot inside and then brought the rest of her body along with the groceries. 

It was hard to say no, especially when she was bringing Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and was already in the house.  She sighed as she gazed at the crying and red-faced infant.

“I remember these days, when it was just my babies and me.  Now they’re all grown up and things are different.  Instead of rocking them, we go to Pacer’s games and drink beer together.  Enjoy this time,” she said with a knowing laugh and left for her car in the drive way.

I felt a profound sadness with her departure and the inevitability of her words.  Soon our chubby baby will be too big to swaddle.  He will sleep through the night and have friends other than his mommy and daddy and drink more than milk.  He will wear pants with zippers and shoes with laces.  And he will break his mommy’s heart as he grows up into a boy and then a man but for today, he will just be my sweet baby. 

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.)

They Came Bearing Gifts

wisemenThree very different women darkened my office doorway today, all before noon, bringing stories and wisdom about childbirth. Perhaps inspired by their own history or the need to help in a helpless situation, they offered what they could and went on down the hallway to the breakroom to warm up leftovers or to have a cup of coffee.

The first woman appeared like an opening act for the trio, with the jingling of bells, wearing a red sweater and matching lightbulb earrings that swung with every movement of her head.    

“Just bringing the Christmas spirit,” she announced.

“Still here?” she asked.  “And you still haven’t delivered that baby?”

It was unclear how she missed the watermelon sized bump resting on my lap.  I wrongly assumed that stupid questions came in sets of three, so I waited for the final one before breaking the silence.

I laughed, “No, not yet.”  

“Ok, then, hang in there.”

Great advice, thanks, I thought dryly.

Only a short while later, a second woman appeared at the doorway.  She wore a turtle neck and a quilted Christmas vest, which was just a slight variation from her usual vest. 

“Hey there,” she greeted me and then came into the office without an invitation.

“I was almost a Christmas baby,” she started. 

Her tiny eyes peered out from behind thick lenses, neither blinking nor breaking her stare.  She had the hint of a wicked smirk on her upturned lips as she continued.

“But my mother was in labor for four days and blew right past the 25th.  She told me that every time I came down the birth canal and saw the light, I went back inside and waited.”

“What a horrible story,” I gasped unable to hide my horror.  I felt my jaw drop and had to consciously pull it back up from the floor. 

“Don’t worry,” she reassured me with her creepy, un-breaking stare.

“She said I was the best baby after that ordeal.  My brother, on the other hand, was an easy delivery and turned out to be the worst baby.”

More great insight, I thought. 

“Thanks for clearing that up.” 

She shuffled off with a nod, happy to have been so helpful.

I was still reeling from the thought of being in labor for four days when the third visitor appeared, the boss of my supervisor, making rounds through the offices.  She gave me a warm smile and leaned against the doorframe.

“How are you feeling?” she asked with genuine interest.

 “Nervous and ready,” I replied, as a woman of few words.

She nodded in understanding, “This will be something that will change you forever.  You will tell your delivery story for the rest of your life.  It will change you in ways that I cannot even begin to describe and it is just the beginning, a rite of passage into the next phase of life.” 

“My only advice is to turn off your phone after delivery, unplug the hospital phone, and just focus on being with your baby and tune out the rest of the world.   You only get to do it one time.”

She winked and turned to leave, but suddenly stopped, “Oh, and send me a text so I know you will be out of work for a while.” 

 

39 Weeks

spring flowerI re-checked the carelessly jotted down room number on the sticky note with no small amount of frustration.  Was that supposed to be a 5 or a 3 or maybe an 8?  Apparently, there was something to the old saying that haste makes waste and I only had myself to blame which made me doubly frustrated.  I was going to have to walk down a flight of stairs, through a long hallway and then around the corner to get back to my desk; all the while travelling on the two marshmallows previously known as my feet, in order to get the right room number, unless I could figure it out based on the information available.

Think, I encouraged myself. What would a really clever and mentally clear-headed person do right now? 

I was carrying around an extra 30 pounds (dare I admit to the full amount?) between the baby and the protective layers and fluids keeping him suspended in a utopian womb world.  Over the past few days, I had started reviewing every potential destination and the required steps as a want or a need.  Life was getting pretty challenging in terms of doing normal human things like walking, sleeping and even eating.  Unfortunately, the way things looked, a trip back to the office was going to be a necessity as I had some paperwork that needed a signature and randomly popping into rooms didn’t seem like a productive option.

I glanced around for last minute inspiration, desperate not to make a second trip, and realized what I needed was right in front of me.  The meal order slips were clipped outside of each door with room numbers and names.  A quick peek at the slip closest to me revealed that I found the right room and a trip back to the office was not needed.  Hitting the hand sanitizer, I gave a sigh of relief and rubbed my hands together, dispersing the cold foam between my fingers and palms.   

Was I perhaps on the verge of returning to the world of the clear-thinkers? A leg kicked at my ribs and an elbow stuck out just above my belly button, reminders that this dream was clearly not to be for some time.    

A large trashcan on wheels rolled past me, directed by an old, wizened Indian woman with long black hair, pulled back into a low knot.  She wore scrubs and non-slip, black leather shoes.  Yellow gold earrings hung from either side of her tiny head.  She looked into my face with deep brown and knowing eyes.

“Baby come soon.”

It wasn’t a question, but rather a statement that only unclear in the soothsayer’s definition of time.  I felt overjoyed, like seeing a delicate spring flower break through the winter snow, there was hope.  I leaned against the wall, allowing her to pass and to rest my weight on something more stable than the before mentioned marshmallows. 

“I hope you’re right…”

She rolled her trash can past me and yelled over her shoulder, “It is a blessed thing,” and disappeared around the corner.   

But when?  When will it happen? I wondered silently, already knowing the answer.

Soon.

Nine Lives

soul mates

Her left eye doesn’t close all the way anymore, stuck in the instant before a wink, and her tongue slips out past the tiny front teeth that never fully developed and hangs from her petite mouth.  There is a patch of white fur missing from her back and as of most recently one ear remains parallel with the ground at all times.  Her sweet face is a mish-mash of teasing expressions that when put together are no laughing matter.  

I am describing my angel, JB Cat.  She has been with us since the beginning, rescued from a cat jail in Small Town, Indiana.  She came as a complete package with ear mites, worms and an extreme stranger danger anxiety that kept her curled up and hissing in a ball for the first three months. 

When she finally uncurled and moved out from underneath of the bed, we were still naïve enough to try and keep houseplants and a cat at the same time.  JB quickly assessed the situation, found the plants to be enemies, and set out to destroy them with various plots such as knocking them over and pulling them from the dirt.  Once free from the houseplant threat, JB settled in for a very long stay.

Over the past decade, she moved with us from apartment to apartment, always packed up in a carrier with the last load of most important belongings, and then finally to a house where she caught her first spricket (a beastly combination of a spider and a cricket). 

She terrorized every family member who ever stayed with us for the first few years, sneaking into their room and watching them sleep either from their pillow or chest.  On the day before our wedding, she went missing and almost caused a complete mental breakdown and then casually emerged from the recesses of the sofa when we came back to pick up our bags for the honeymoon.  Of the three times she escaped, she was always found mewing from under a pile of leaves, frozen by the overstimulation of nature and unfamiliarity of the world.  

Most days, she spends her time sleeping on top of furniture and waiting for food.  She rarely complains and purrs when pet.  JB Cat has personality, history, opinions and plans.  After being together for so long, she has a human family, and although, she isn’t liked by all, she is loved (perhaps only by me?).  Its hard to imagine life without her hiding from friends, stalking family in the night, or purring on my chest in the evening.  Yet, it seems that it’s an approaching reality, one that grows closer with each new ailment from which she never quite recovers.  While she is still living and wheezing on the couch behind me, her lifeforce grows dimmer and my sadness grows greater.

This world was never made for one as beautiful as you, JB Cat.  

Halloweenie Party Favor

pumpkins

The fire blazed a bright orange against the dark, cool night.  An old man with a beard heaved a log onto the flames, sending a whoosh of a thousand sparks into the air like a fireworks show in the middle of summer.

“Thanks, Firekeeper,” someone yelled from the crowd that circled the bonfire.

A zombie nurse and an overgrown Brownie jumped out of the way with squeals as hot ashes landed on their bare legs and arms.  What did you expect standing that close to an open fire?  I mentally growled at them from my perch atop a tractor tire.

I sat between the rubber treads; a huge, round woman dressed as a pumpkin, with green felt leaves and stem bobby pinned into my hair, waiting unhappily on a ride.  Three treads over, a jail bird husband nervously refreshed his phone, in hopes that a driver had picked up the request.    

Unfortunately, we were in the middle of a four cornfields and miles away from the city.  We had not anticipated the Uber and Lyft shortage of rural Indiana or of the nerve wracking nature in being at a costume party, elbow to elbow with drunk people and seven months pregnant. 

I felt like a character in a video game, the crazy clowns, police, walking dead, Gumbies and Trump-alikes were out to get me with their elbows, props and disoriented bodies.  I had to dodge big men and little women alike to escape from the warmth of the barn and into the open air with my jail bird following closely behind me, just as concerned about the perils of the party.

When we finally got a ride, it was with a MAGA Trumpster who couldn’t hold in his thoughts about his beloved leader, sexual assault and his interpretation of consent, and lastly, the current state of his marriage. I wasn’t sure if we would ever make it back to the safety of our home.   

Last year, it would have been just another crazy weekend of going out without consequences or responsibilities aside from the hangover that awaited us the following morning.  Now, the world feels different, somehow spinning more quickly and with more gravity than before, one in which we have an unborn babe to protect and raise until he can go out and make equally poor choices as us, like going to a party without a real plan to get home.

A hundred pairs of eyes

cave

Hundreds of crickets watched us from the darkened ceiling as we moved through the cave led by a guide with only a flashlight and a thousand facts about the cave.  The guide was an older woman with wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and sandy blonde hair tucked behind her ears.  She had 30 years of experience leading groups through protected areas of national parks and caves.  The pay wasn’t great and the days were long, but she somehow still found pleasure in the work.

It beats getting stuck in a cubicle farm, she would have explained if anyone asked about her longevity as a ranger.  Not that she wasn’t looking forward to retirement because she was, very much, looking forward to spending her golden years between the mangroves and beaches of Florida, which she would have added if anyone would have asked.  

She stopped at an open area in the cave and waited for the slowest members of the group to catch up.  It was a limited mobility tour and between the older adults and toddlers with their caretakers, everyone was slow.  In spite of the weight of the baby bump, I am proud that we were able to hold our own and were not the very last stragglers of the gang.

“Kids, come up here.  I want to show you all something.” 

She had a secret smirk on her face as she watched parents trustingly bring their children towards her.

“There’s room right around here.  Come on, squeeze together everyone,” the guide said.  

Herding the tiny humans forward, the kids moved into a tight semi-circle around the guide and in front of the adults.  Everyone stood with wide eyes, limited by the unfamiliarity of the cave and the darkness.  The air was dry and cool, giving away nothing with a breeze that didn’t exist.

“I bet you think we’re alone in here, right?” she asked.

The kids shouted different answers, not as easily prompted as she expected.

 “Oh, I guess we’re holding hands now.”

She looked down in surprise, twin brothers stood on either side of the guide.  They had each grabbed one of her hands and stared absently off into the dark space beyond the beam of her flashlight.

The guide quickly regrouped and shook free of one of the boys. 

“Sorry, I need this hand,” she whispered to him.  

“Follow the light,” she said in her full voice to the audience.

Swinging the light directly overhead, she illuminated a writhing mass of large crickets clinging to the ceiling with their skinny legs and testing the air with their antenna.  She panned the ceiling with the light revealing a city of crickets temporarily on hold.  They watched us calmly and waited for us to leave as we gasped and squirmed in their presence.  

We were never alone in the cave.  In fact, above or below ground, we are never alone.  Sometimes, we just don’t know where to look to find a single pair of eyes when there are actually hundreds waiting and watching to see what we will do next.

A Double Win

kurt

It’s Sunday morning, my husband has won another prize.  He is the most winningest (is that a real word?) person that I know.  Of course, it helps that he enters into every drawing and contest from around the country.

I can only imagine what the outcome of this announcement will bring to our front porch in the next few weeks.  The poor mailman has dragged packages of all shapes and sizes to our door and amazingly he still waves and smiles when he sees us in passing.

“We only have an hour to claim it, so we have to go right now.”

Blankly, I stare at him.  I am still in my pajamas and sipping a cup of coffee on the couch while he is preparing to collect his latest prize.  This one crummy cup of weak coffee is the only adult pleasure that I am still allowed and I. Need. It.  Sometimes, I wake up early just to get started on my one cup of the bitter nectar of life.

“I cannot go anywhere until I finish this coffee.” I declare firmly.

“Mmmm…..” he whines impatiently without words and waits three seconds.

“Ok, how about now?”

I sigh, there will be no peace until the prize has been claimed.

“Let me brush my hair.”

I change into a clean pair of leggings and t-shirt, my uniform as of late, because regular pants, shirts with buttons and dressing up in general is for regular sized, non-turkey-sized-baby carrying people, and we set off.  After a very long waddle down the road, we finally arrive at a brewery where I collapse into a chair while my beloved makes his way to the counter to collect his much-deserved prize.

He returns to the table with a double win, a Kurt Vonnegut book and an order of a Cuban inspired brunch.  We devour a stack of pancakes infused with guava jelly and topped with freshly whipped cream and a plate of fried eggs with a side of sliced mangos.  What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine, I secretly think and pull the book towards me across the table.

Just like brunch, The Sirens of Titan is exactly what I need to remember to take life less seriously but not for granted, to dream of adventure and travel, and to consider that we might not have any control over our path in life, but we can control our attitude, our sense of wonderment and how we treat those who walk along side of us during our short time on Earth.

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