More, Please.

jailbird

I hear metal clash onto the hard, kitchen floor and the sound of a hundred small pieces hit and scatter like a flash hail storm, fast and furious.  It is a unique set of sounds that only the cat’s dish would make if it was dropped a few inches from the ground.  As the cat is not in a regular practice of flipping her dish, coupled with the fact that she is watching me fold towels through sleepy eyes, the culprit is obvious.

Dropping the laundry, I run into the kitchen with my heart pounding.  Stories about negligent mothers’ race through my mind as narrated by the voice of my own anxiety inducing mother.  

“It only takes a second for an accident to happen,” I hear her say. 

I imagine his great escape took place quickly; the latch not being secured, it was easy for him to pull himself up on the bars, flip the handle and swing out on the door to a few minutes of unchecked freedom.  He had observed his environment through the bars long enough to know exactly what to do first. 

Operation: Cat Food.

And there he is, the guilty party, sitting with his little legs crisscrossed in a position formerly known as Indian style, with his back to me.  Fortunately, at 29 inches tall it is easy to see over the top of his shaggy head when either sitting or standing.  He splashes in the water dish with one hand and spreads the kibble, steadily swelling with moisture and disintegrating, around him.  It appears that he is one step away from laying back and making a cat food angel in the mess with his arms and legs, the kind we used to make as kids in the cold Indiana snow.  

Hearing me approach, he looks over his shoulder and laughs, pleased with himself and newfound playthings.

“Ahem,” I clear my throat, “what are you doing, mister?” I ask and wait for a response as though it will be anything other than a long stream of dadadada.   

He moves a foreign object with his tongue as he chews on something else with his gums.

“What are you eating?” my concern returning as the situation continues to evolve. 

“Spit it out,” I demand and hold my hand out.  “You cannot eat cat food, it isn’t meant for human babies,” I try to reason with him.    

Naturally, his mouth clamps down, and sensing that he might be forced to surrender his tasty treat, he works to chew it more quickly and takes a hard swallow.  

He points his chubby finger at the upturned dish and then at me; I think he wants us to share until he takes another piece and pops it into his mouth with a most naughty smile.

Clearly, babies and toddlers are not for the faint of heart.  

Mom Guilt

hair“Shouldn’t the baby eat first?” the woman asked as she poured a cup of coffee.

Although it was early, her hair was neatly combed and she appeared well-rested and ready for the day.  Perhaps as a safety measure, she spoke without looking directly at the wild woman who sat at the counter, still in the same clothes from the previous day with Medusa-like hair that was large and threatening. 

The smell of fresh coffee mixed with the sounds of a plastic toy ramming the legs of a stool and the slurping of cereal and milk.  A little boy in a fuzzy shirt and a pair of tiny, grey sweatpants played at their feet, pushing a toy truck back and forth with his own spluttered sound effects.  He was content, happy to be at his mother’s feet, free to crawl and roam.   

Refusing to acknowledge the question, the wild woman continued to shovel spoonful after spoonful of cereal into her mouth.  The baby had already eaten and she had been up for hours and found herself suddenly shaking from low blood sugar.

Of course, the baby should eat first, she thought.

And I should just shrivel up and blow away, another hairball in the wind.

Not exactly

tidesThe women sat side by side in the car, as driver and passenger.  It was a role reversal, and a shifting of the generational tides that not everyone was comfortable with accepting. 

Although it was useless to resist, it was still there.  The tension.  The involuntary give and take, like stomping the break pedal after speeding along the highway to take a sudden turn, it did come with a mild form of whiplash.  

The situation was not impossible.  Just difficult.

“I think you want me to have a hard life,” the daughter spewed, unable to control the animal that was her tongue.  Her knuckles gripped the steering wheel and she exhaled.  A slow and measured breath.

The animal was contained once more while its owner ground her back teeth together and focused on the road ahead.

“Why do you think I am here? I want you to have everything.  Why do you think I spoil you?  I don’t want you to have to suffer.  If I could take away all the things that are hard, I would, to make your life easier, not harder.”

The driver stared forward, still grinding her teeth, as fields of green whizzed past and a baby slept in the back.

Mommy Hugs

sleeping-cher

It’s the smell of vomit on my shirt that wakes me up, or maybe its just the first thing that I notice.  Curdled milk and stomach acid combine to make a very unique smell which seems to follow me everywhere I go.  The source of the bodily fluids is still fast asleep; curled up on his side, with his chubby cheeks and rosebud lips making him look like a cherub resting from fluttering about on a pair of tiny wings. 

In reality, the baby is tired from chasing the cat, pulling all of the pots and pans out of the cabinets, standing up against the toilet and dismantling the nightlight from the wall which was somehow missed in the last round of babyproofing.  He continues to show us what he needs and wants, what he likes and dislikes, and how to be better parents. 

One of his primary interests is in ending all cell phone usage in his presence.  He reminds us to be present or else he will put a handful of ants in his mouth.  He keeps us accountable through inquisitive eyes that see and question all.  He keeps us selfless as we prepare him for the world and a future independent of diapers, rattles and pureed food but never free from mommy hugs, I hope.    

An Anxious Mind

anxietyAlmost as soon as we round the corner, a giant of a man appears in front of us on the otherwise deserted street.  He wears a sheet-sized, bright orange Sponge Bob t-shirt with matching orange sunglasses and walks with slow shuffling steps.  His feet lack the confidence of his bold outfit, he is like a massive, newly feathered baby bird learning to fly.

In spite of his slow shuffling steps, my anxious mind screams that he is stalking us, albeit in a very conspicuous way.  Obviously, he has been waiting for us to appear, I think with my anxious mind.  My heart starts to pound as my anxious mind races with possibilities while the man continues to approach, one shuffling step at a time.  We can’t turn around without making it obvious that he scares us.  Plus, we don’t want to lead him back to the house.  To be clear, I am the only one who is scared; the little boy is quite content cruising with his feet up on the cup holders, playing with Sophie, the giraffe, and singing a tuneless song.

Meanwhile, I wonder how many days Big Orange has watched us stroll past his window before he decided to come out of the darkness that I imagine to be his living room.  We travel the same streets almost every day at close to the same time, as true creatures of habit, making it all too easy for Big Orange to time his outing.  We will not run or show fear, we will stand our ground, I reason with my anxious mind.

“Good morning,” I say in a gruff voice that my anxious mind believes will make us more intimidating.

 Big Orange stops in his tracks, surprised by either the greeting or the strange tone of voice, “What?”

“Ahem,” I clear my throat, “I said, good morning.  It’s what people say in the morning.”

“Ok,” he replies.  “Bye-bye now,” he peeks into the stroller, waves with his fingertips to the baby and shuffles on past us.

I have a terrible moment of clarity when I consider the shuffle, the delayed comprehension and the Sponge Bob shirt; Big Orange has a disability and I am definitely a jerk for assuming that he was instead a calculated stalker.  Anxiety quickly melts into guilt, my default emotion.  However, then I notice the baby is whimpering in his seat with his arms and legs pulled in like a distressed turtle and Sophie is completely missing, tucked someplace safe.

“What’s wrong, baby?  It’s ok, mama is here,” I murmur to pair of wide eyes that stare up at me from the stroller.  

Does he sense my anxiety or is there something else about Big Orange that I am missing?  In either case, its hot out and we need to head home, so we continue our walk with a little more pep in our step.  Sophie reappears from whichever roll she was hiding under and the baby is happily babbling again. Order is seemingly restored, but a nagging feeling makes me look over my shoulder.  Big Orange has doubled back and is walking towards us with quick, determined steps, completely shuffle-free.   

“Time to roll, little man.”

One less leaf

leaf

The baby laughed like a maniac who had just gotten away with robbing a bank or draining the dolphin tank at the zoo.  I eyed the boy suspiciously as he continued to giggle with an open mouth. 

“What is in your mouth?” I asked in alarm as the tip of a piece of foreign matter peeked out amidst the laugher of its host.

Two tiny teeth stood guard, rice sized soldiers protecting whatever he had tucked away in his cheek.

I wrangled the squirming baby and his mouth clamped shut with the determination of a Rottweiler’s teeth into a piece of meat.  He knew that he was found out but he wasn’t giving in without a fight.  

“Open up,” I demanded with the baby under one arm and a finger in his mouth.   

He shook his head in refusal and smiled with eyes that sparkled with mischief.

“Yes, you will,” I argued with the naughty boy.

I fished left and right until I felt something solid, pinched it between two fingers and extracted an entire leaf.

I laughed in disbelief, but I wanted to cry.  What if he had found something more malign than an old leaf, like a nail or a dead spider?  I promised him I would do better and be more vigilant against the dangers of the world.

Graciously, he forgave me and crawled off babbling his favorite word, “Dada.”

Negotiations with a baby

cartI refer to the list in my hand, peanut butter is underlined twice, as though it could be forgotten.  Everything is accounted for on the list except for pickles which are located at the opposite end of the store.  I hesitate and consider the need vs. want of the pickles when the baby squawks from his perch breaking my train of thought.  Dimpled legs and barefoot feet kick at me, while a black safety belt holds his round belly in place.

“Ok, ok,” I say and start pushing the cart and its little captain again.  He is happiest when he is in motion and the squawk was a warning.  I don’t want any trouble from the tiny tyrant.  The last time I heard that particular noise it was to a little girl who crawled with a threatening quickness towards us at a coffee shop.  He spotted her and squawked which stopped and terrified her back towards the legs of her mother.  Mission accomplished.

The baby world is strange, they communicate with a series of grunts, shrieks and squeals, kisses and slobbers, pinches and pats.  They are the most primitive version of us, totally dependent and yet independent in wanting what they want when they want it.  And he wants to go.

“Let’s check out and then we can go home and play,” I negotiate.

He seems to accept the offer as he stares up at the bright lights overhead with a half-smile.  I wheel past the self-checkout lanes and towards the only one manned by an actual person.  Self-checkout would be great for a single person with a bundle of bananas and a box of lightbulbs, not so great for the two of us and a week’s worth of groceries.  

An old man with white hair, faded jeans and shiny penny-loafers gets in line behind us looking weirdly unburdened with only a pack of batteries in one hand.  Meanwhile, the baby sets his attention on opening the sliding cooler door with bottles of soda and water beside the checkout lane, twisting his body to use both arms to reach it.  I hold him down with one arm and load a bag of salad, lunch meat and baby food onto the moving belt.  The cart is still overwhelmingly full to unload with one hand.

From behind me, the old man begins to speak.  In my mind, I imagine his gentlemanly offer to help with the unloading.  Chivalry is not dead.  I chuckle at my geriatric knight and step aside to allow him to put his offer to good use. 

In reality he says, “You’re awful small to have such a big baby,” peering over my shoulder and tapping his shoe like he has to be somewhere very important in the next two minutes.

I do not respond with a witty comeback about him being awful old to be so creepy and rude.  Although I cringe at the thought of confrontation with a stranger, I am not afraid of it.  On this day, however, I am simply too exhausted from keeping the baby happy and healthy, the house clean, groceries in the fridge and on and on to dish it back.   

“Why don’t you and your batteries go in front of us?” I omit that he is an oblivious, useless man.

And, of course, he accepts my offer.

Beautifying the land

flowersWe move to a barren plot of earth where the grass is brown and sun-scorched.  Ancient trees with white and green lichens growing on the bark and dead limbs poised to break free and crash to the ground line the borders.  There are no flowers or bushes aside from a gathering of white and yellow wildflowers at the edge of the tree line.  Tough weeds that like shallow soil and dry conditions are the only thing that grow in abundance.  A thick layer of limestone is just under the soil, daring us to bring life to the impossible area.

The earth says no and my shovel agrees at the initial dig when I hit rock here, there and everywhere. Yet, we do not listen.  Instead, we get a pick-axe and bring in compost and top soil, plants and grasses. Busting through the rock and clay as beads of sweat drip from our foreheads and run down our necks, we refuse to accept the current state of our land.

Meanwhile, the baby creeps out from under his umbrella, off of his blanket and onto the crunchy grass after an orange butterfly.  

“Ahem,” the baby’s father clears his throat, stopping the baby in mid-crawl with the invisible power of a hypnotist.  

Orange wings flutter off towards the trees and the temporary spell is broken.  The baby resumes his escape attempt and is scooped up by his ever-observant daddy and only to be returned to the blanket.  His face is covered in dirt, turned to mud from the fountain of drool that drips from his mouth.  He smiles and laughs with his hands up in the air, conducting a silent orchestra with his chubby fingers.

He is a beautiful mess.

It is all for this muddy buddy that we accept the dare to bring life where there has only been rock and weeds.  It is for him that we see beyond the harsh present to create a lush future.  It is for him that we sweat and toil.  

We beautify the land for him and for those who follow, it is no longer about us. 

A Case Study of FOMO

sleepHe’s talking to the cat and she’s listening.

Mr. Baby will do anything to get out of a nap.

Tame a snake, speak in tongues, take his first step.

He suffers from a pretty bad case of FOMO or fear of missing out.  At night, he screams and heroically fights sleep, sobbing as he weakens from the struggle until he finally gives in, collapsing in a little footy-pajama’d pile of baby.  It’s enough to break your heart, watching the boy battle his enemy on the monitor. 

During the day, it’s no different.  He wails between yawns when the word nap gets mentioned.  He rolls left and right, front to back, and slaps the bars of his crib before dropping off into the land of zzz’s.  The neighbors are surely ready for us to move or quit sleep training, whichever comes first. 

Mr. Baby has a good explanation for his condition; being only six months old, everything is new to his eyes, ears, mouth and sticky fingers.  Somehow, he knows that if he risks a little shut eye, he definitely will miss out on something not yet experienced, something fun and potentially tasty since everything goes into his mouth.

What he doesn’t know yet, what he can’t possibly understand is that we will always wait for him.  We will save the best of everything for him.  We would stop the world from turning if it would make him feel better about his FOMO. 

So for now, rest easy, little boy, and leave your FOMO worries with us until you wake up, refreshed and ready for the world to start spinning once more.

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.

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