Daycare Cruddies

Finally, we beat the brain-rattling cough from daycare only to be informed of a potential (definite) exposure to RSV, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, and all the possible flus. It is almost laughable at the number of different germs fighting to infect Little Legs and Baby Brother. Almost, but not quite funny, especially considering the toll that each sickness takes on their bodies.

They lose weight, hours of sleep and their general sense of well-being. They bite and push one another, like little savages outside of their cave. At least the older one can grunt, “Me no feel good.” While his wordless brother is left with shrieks, squawks and other animal noises to express the same sentiment.

We understand, all the same. The thermometer helps to confirm what the back of my hand already tells me. A fever feels so much hotter on either one of their foreheads than mine has ever felt. Tylenol and Motrin are in regular rotation as we fight the fires burning within them.

Firefighting is exhausting work, but we must persevere.

This ongoing daycare nightmare started in the middle of March and it is now June. I question whether working is worth the constant stream of snot or the sudden vomiting or the development of a strange skin rash. I am not even including the shocking new words and phrases, such as shut up, that have tagged along to home with the toddler in my list of pros versus cons of daycare and working. Thankfully, the baby is too young to pick up anything, aside from every passing germ and most recently, picking his nose, which does not improve our chances for a healthy summer.

My brother said to expect six months of this and then it should be easy. Ha, I laugh, as easy as living with a tribe of tiny, irrational Neanderthals might be expected.

Yet, to quit now would be to throw all that time building up their immune systems away, only to restart in a few years with pre-k and kindergarten. In spite of our “progress” if it can be called that, I struggle with if it continues to make sense to expose them to other people, adults and children alike, in a quest to generate income, stay current with employment and to socialize them more than I could ever do at home?

I try not to dwell too long on these thoughts, but the questions repeat, the guilt weighs on me, and the sicknesses remind me of the physical cost to the time we spend apart. Germs and jobs make life hard and they don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

Sharing is not caring

Sharing is not caring in our household, its grounds for war.

Little Legs and Baby Brother are still adjusting to one another, six months after BB’s introduction as a pink and wrinkled bundle of boy. The adjustment is more painful now than before as BB has entered the world of mobility. He does an army-crawl/scoot combination to get across the room with astonishing speed. Like watching a rock sprout legs, I remain in disbelief at the transformation.

There are no toys that are safe from BB’s sticky clutches or endless stream of drool. Some toys beg to be grabbed over others, usually they are the most well-loved ones that will cause the greatest amount of distress for Little Legs.  

For example, Little Legs noticed Dog-Bear, the dingy white polar bear with whom he sleeps every night, was not at his feet where he dropped him to play with trains.

“Dog-Bear gone?” he asked.

I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Dog-Bear was nearby and in the arms of another.  

Little Legs looked to his left and to his right before he discovered his crib-mate wrestling and rolling on the ground with Baby Brother; like a cat and a large rat, they were a well-matched pair. Little Legs screamed in horror and ripped Dog-Bear away from his brother.

“Hug, Dog-Bear,” he rubbed his nose in the nubby fur of the coveted stuffed animal with a sigh of relief at his safe return.  

He wrapped his arms it and then suddenly stopped and held it out for my inspection with a lip curled in disgust.

“Wet,” he proclaimed.  

Perhaps, I mused, the future threat of drool on his best friend would be enough to encourage more cleaning and less mess making.

“Sorry buddy, it looks like your brother got ahold of Dog-Bear.”

At this astute observation, Little Legs began to cry.

“You have to pick up the toys that you don’t want to share.”

He registered this information with a sniff and a nod, grabbed a block and made his way back toward his brother. I assumed it was to replace Dog-Bear. How thoughtful this first-born son was becoming. I watched with pride as he brought the new toy to his brother.  

Instead of delivering the block, Little Legs raised the block with both hands up over his head and brought them down towards his brother’s still-soft cranium.

I intervened at the last second, shielding Baby Brother from the strike of a tiny tyrant, the self-imposed punisher, with my hands. I grabbed Baby Brother and held him close, safe from the immediate threat of his sibling.  

Clearly, the path of their friendship is long and winding, but I know (fervently hope) that eventually they will find each other as not just brothers, but as best friends and a shelter from any storm. Until then, we just have to protect the baby from the current typhoon that is his toddler brother.

Easier said than done.

Baby Up At Night

The monitor lights up, glowing red and green, sensing activity and noise where there should be neither.

I drag my head out from underneath of a pillow and hold the monitor close to one open eye, hopeful to quickly return to the Land of Nod.

It is only recently that I have started to dream again, after five long months of multiple interruptions, we are down to just one or two nightly meetings and my brain can actually complete an entire REM cycle every few nights. I assume this is unhealthy in the long term but manageable for now.  

The monitor reveals a shell-less turtle stuck on his back, with all four appendages waving in the air, crying for help or company or milk. With both eyes open, I glance at Daddy Longlegs in amazement that he is still sleeping through the wails coming from the next room.

His cries are loud enough that they come through the air and the monitor simultaneously, a double request for room service from a patron who is certain not to tip.

On this night, I have a tip for him, I whisper, “Sleep! Please, for the love of your mother, sleep.”

The crying only intensifies, the tip is not taken well. 

As much as I love sleep, I love that my baby needs me, just me. Soon there will be no one crying for me at night. Unless it is me, crying over the loss of our special time as my baby becomes a boy and then a man. So, I won’t grumble as I crawl out of bed and shuffle to the nursery where a bright-eyed third shift worker awaits my visit because I know it is just for a little bit longer.

Creature of the Crib

Perhaps the monitor is picking up the sound from another dimension?

Surely, a pterodactyl is not shrieking in the baby’s room. However, if my ears are to be believed, an otherworldly demon-creature has taken over, and I can only assume it is sitting on the changing table, lovingly gazing down at the baby, squalling and shrieking with delight.

What else could be making such a high-pitched, unhuman like noise?

A quick check of the screen reveals an angry baby, rocking back and forth. He, indeed, is the tiny the creature of the crib.

This comes as quite the surprise as I hoped that he would stay as a baby a bit longer before becoming this being with a voice of his own who wants to crawl and walk and run and play.

Of course, what is not shocking is that it happened in 2020: the year of the pandemic, the election, and now the creature of the crib.  

What comes next in this time that feels like a science fiction novel?

Flying pigs, self-driving cars, healthcare for all?

In a few more weeks, this will be a year to remember and tuck away into history. Gone for good, thankfully. A year we never have to relive unless we still can’t get the virus under control. And in that case, I wouldn’t put the hand sanitizer away, not quite yet.

A very long car ride

The car ride was lasting an eternity with Baby Brother screaming at the top of his lusty lungs. We were trapped with his sound waves ceaselessly battering our eardrums. I feared our tender membranes could only hold up so long before rupturing.

Little Legs groaned and kicked at the back of Daddy Longlegs’ seat, he narrated the scene, “Crying.”

“We know, buddy. Baby Brother is not very happy, is he?” 

“Crying, crying, crying.”

His words were few, but direct. His irritated tone filled in the gaps that his limited vocabulary left unaddressed.

Baby Brother demanded an immediate release from the restrictive car seat. He continued to scream and cry, but the tears stopped streaming down his cheeks as the seemingly bottomless well dried up.

With another twenty minutes to go, I was unsure if we would survive the trip.

Daddy Longlegs gripped the steering wheel tighter, focused only on the car and road in front of him and incapable of conversation.

“It’s like we are being waterboarded.”

What to say to the truth? Parenthood is painful and there are aspects that are tortuous. There is a constant worry about their health, well-being, development, socialization, education and future. Aside from the emotional and mental distress, there is also a physical component of pain from getting bitten or stepping on a metal tractor or a lost Lego. And sometimes my heart feels like it will break into a million pieces from loving them so hard.

However, it is also beautiful and funny and rewarding in ways that transcend words.

Instead of jumping out of the moving vehicle, as I briefly considered, I turned around in my seat to check on the sweet babe in his time of need. Thankfully, the crying stopped and he eased into an exhausted sleep. A calm settled in the car while my eardrums still buzzed. I let out a sigh of relief, suddenly realizing that I had been holding my breath.

Next to the sleeping baby, Little Legs held his hands out in front of him.  

His index finger was extended, “One.”

His middle finger refused to join the index without the rest of his fingers extending, so he moved onto his other hand.

“Two.”

He held out both index fingers.  

“Fee?”

All his fingers were up now. It was the first time he made it past two on his own and never once on his own fingers. I couldn’t help but to laugh in the lightness that comes in the aftermath of a storm.

Little Legs wasn’t listening; he was recounting his fingers. He wasn’t looking for feedback, praise or direction. He was figuring out things on his own, one finger at a time.   

And I was so grateful for the entire ride.

Games

“Little Legs?” she called.

The baby was in her arms, freshly diapered and tickled under the neck. Her older son was right behind her pushing a truck back and forth across the rug, until suddenly, he wasn’t there.  

The room was conspicuously absent of vrooming.  

She stepped out of the nursery, pushing the door completely open.

The baby cooed and laughed with his pink tongue hanging out of his mouth, oblivious to his mother’s worry.

“Little Legs?” she called again, louder this time.

 She peered into the kitchen and down the hallway.

The door squeaked as it swung towards her and a tiny figure jumped out at her from the dark shadow.

 “Hide!” Little Legs shouted gleefully with his hands over his eyes.

“Oh God,” his mother jumped back and the baby lurched forward, his wobbly head guiding the way.

“Little Legs, you can’t jump out at me like that.”

His mother’s heart pounded in her chest and she felt sick thinking about the momentary lightness in her arms.

A wail rose from the baby in protest of the bumpy ride and his brother skittered off like a water bug shooting across a pond.

He was ready for the next game.

Fall with Two

Fall is here with cooler temps, grey skies and orange and brown leaves for Little Legs to crunch. It is a welcome break from the intense heat of summer that kept us inside for most of the day. Time to pull out the fuzzy socks, sweaters and jeans and put away the shorts and tank tops.

Unfortunately, in starting this clothing transition, I realized that Little Legs outgrew all his warm clothes and needs a new winter wardrobe as a Mister 2T. Thanks to on-line shopping, we can have pants and sweaters within a few days and never have to set foot in a store. Baby Brother will inherit anything that doesn’t get too stretched or stained, but at this rate, it won’t be much.

Earlier today, we were undeterred by the chillier weather and went out for our walk. We were on the return leg with Baby strapped to my chest, and Little Legs strapped into a pair of sandals with socks, like a 20-month-old hippie, and a too-small sweater that left his wrists exposed.

We looked like a gang of vagabonds traveling through the hills of Tennessee.

I tried not to think about the incline at the last part of the journey. However, it was hard to ignore as the baby seemed to grow heavier with each step, the straps of his carrier a constant reminder on my shoulders and back.

“Car!” Little Legs shouted and grabbed my free hand in serious excitement at being my safety spotter.

We walked past the car, unmoving and parked in a driveway.

“Up!” Little Legs demanded as a reward.

“Come on, buddy. Can you walk a little more?” I asked.

“Please?” I begged.

He shook his head, stood in front of me and grabbed my legs, refusing to let us pass like a tiny road troll.

This was going to be a very long final march up the hill, I thought.

I bent down and Little Legs climbed onto my back and wrapped his arms around my neck.

With one on back and one in front, I stood back up summoning my Amazon *strong woman, not mega online shopping beast* energy. We powered up the hill with Little Legs bouncing up and down on my back, obviously envisioning himself as a jockey on a very slow horse.

A heavy-set man in a baggy t-shirt turned off the main road and started to speed walk towards us, pumping his arms back and forth.

As he passed us, he exclaimed without slowing, “Oooh hooo! You got a full load on you.”

I thought, how lucky am I to have such a beautiful and exhausting load.

With one on front and one on back, they are my life, my everything.

My boys.  

Baby’s Trip to the Doc

While driving home from the pediatrician’s office, I glanced in the rearview mirror. Baby Boy was already fast asleep, his face still red and splotchy from crying. Screaming and sobbing, to be more accurate.

It was the first time in a week that I had on makeup, a shirt with sleeves and pants without an elastic waistband. It felt good to see the outside of our house and spend time beyond our yard. I even dressed Baby Boy up in a brand-new outfit and brushed the few hairs on his head over to the side.

He looked handsome and well-groomed, for about thirty minutes.

It started with a total blow out, somewhere between the car and the exam table, which went all the way up his back. As I peeled off his onesie, once so cute, now smeared with a mustard yellow that would certainly stain, I sighed. It had somehow reached his shoulder which was impressive, but also disgusting.

We rushed to clean up the mess, which is a word that is far too simple to describe what happened in that exam room. Fortunately, we worked fast in our clean up efforts and were ready in a fresh diaper by the time the nurse arrived.

“Oh, I see he’s already stripped down,” the nurse said in surprise.

She expected to wait while I undressed Baby Boy and had to leave her usual barely disguised look of annoyance for the next patient.

After the nurse weighed and measured my sweet little homebody, the doctor breezed into the room wearing safety glasses and a face mask. Interestingly, it is far easier to show annoyance and irritation through a mask, than a sense of warmth and generosity. However, it’s not impossible and the doctor gave it his best effort, smiling with his whole face and crinkling the sun-browned skin next to his eyes.

Baby Boy was born into this strange world of only seeing the eyes of strangers and faces of family. I wondered how this would impact his development. Would the kids of 2020 be known as the Maskies who are only comfortable at home, using Zoom and Facetime to connect with real people?

I couldn’t spend too much time dwelling on the future because we only had a few minutes in the present with the doctor to ask all the questions about sleep, poop, play and development that kept me up at night, even with Baby Boy as a second child.

Doc looked down his nose at the report of Baby Boy’s growth over the past month and gave a whistle.

“Let’s get a look at Fat Baby.”

It was like that was his name. Obviously, the doctor was unaware of his position of thin privilege or that Fat Baby’s mother was feeling over the top sensitive about weight and fat rolls and labels.

At about that point, I started to fall apart, as though held together by a thread that started disintegrating the moment we left the house. Perhaps all the time away from the public had made me too sensitive or out of touch? Maybe it was the effects of the post-partum hormones? Maybe it was too close to lunch time and my blood sugar was dropping.

Whatever the cause, I shut down and focused on Baby Boy, aka Fat Baby, forgetting to ask my important questions and plans for sleep training. The doctor obviously did not mean offense and it was more of a compliment to FB’s primary source of nutrition, me, than anything.

Still, I wondered when the pandemic ends, and it will eventually, how any of us could possibly reintegrate into a world that doesn’t appreciate fat rolls?

Paint Splatters

paintHis tiny fingers wrap around my arm.

The contrast of white against brown startles me into momentarily wondering about the origins of this beautiful child.

He is another unfinished project, like the boards of the deck, half-way painted before being abandoned by a rain shower.

The splatters of paint on my feet are reminders of the job that still begs to be finished along with the dishes, mopping and yet another load of laundry.

Where is the time? And where does it go?

I have the same 24 hours in a day and somehow it passes through my hands like sand in a sieve, constantly flowing until suddenly there is not a grain or a minute left.

I know that everything will get done, eventually, but it won’t be today.

Today, I would much rather push trucks across the carpet with Little Legs and hold Baby when he cries, share a snack of applesauce and blow the white fluff of a dandelion into the hot summer air.

Today, the time goes where I want because I’m the boss.

I’m the mama.

The Grudgemaster

storkWhen I found out we were pregnant, I read as much as I could find about bringing home a second baby. I talked to all my mom friends for insider information. I questioned my own parents for their thirty-plus year recollections of having a baby and a toddler at the same time, which was hazy, at best.

Based on my research, I formed a plan for everything, starting with our return home from the hospital. His changing area had diapers and wipes set out with a stack of clean onsies. There was a bottle cleaning station by the sink and his bassinet was next to the bed. I thought we were totally ready. Yet, I was totally unprepared for the hardest part of the transition going from a family of three to four. The Grudge.

Thankfully, it wasn’t against the baby.

It was against me. By my beloved first son. The Grudgemaster.

Everyone said, “Make sure your arms are open for your toddler when he first meets the new baby. He needs to see that you still have room for him.”

So when we returned home from the hospital, my husband held onto the baby’s carrier and I walked in behind him, slightly hunched over from the lingering c-section pain, but nonetheless with open arms.

I held them out to my sweet boy and announced, “We’re home and we missed you so much.”

The three days and two nights at the hospital was the longest amount of time that we had ever been apart since Little Legs was born. I wasn’t sure if he would run away or run towards me for a hug. Quite naturally, he did neither.

First, he crept over to my husband to investigate what strange mewling creature we brought home. He peered into the carrier and reached in with his index finger to poke the poor, wrinkled little thing that we explained was his brother.

He stared up into our faces with a questioning look, unsure why we would bring home something so noisy into our otherwise peaceful existence. Then, he ran off to play with his grandma, who stood nearby secretly (not-so-secretly) hopeful that he would emancipate himself from us so that he could live with her forever.

From that point, Little Legs commenced to ignore me. He refused to sit in my lap or give me hugs, he didn’t want to tell me in his jibber-jabber language about his day or lean against me for story-time. He went to Daddy Longlegs when he needed help or to his G-ma, her cool self-appointed grandma name, when he wanted a snack.

As for me, I stopped existing for him. I was a sad ghost floating through the house, anchored by a crying baby, suddenly without the center of my world.

It was a more emotionally painful experience than anything I’d experienced, perhaps made worse by the post-partum hormones and sleep deprivation. I feared that I had forsaken the love of my first-born son in a sacrifice for the safe passage of his little brother. Apparently, this was the terrible price I had to pay and my train of irrational thinking as I tried to rationalize the situation.

I thought the grudge would never lift, until recently, he sat next to me with a book in his hands. Not too close, but close enough that I could see all was not lost. It felt like the dark sky parted and finally allowed the sun’s rays to break through, warming my heart and soul.

Things were going to be ok; they would get to a new normal.

As for the Grudgemaster, he would sit in my lap again.

Eventually.