Bathroom Soup

Baby Brother rubbed his stomach.

“Hurt.”

As he was still taking his place as a speaker in the world, he did not waste words. He appeared to appreciate the power that using just a word or two held over crying for five minutes. The wrinkles in his forehead and appearance of being slightly green around the gills tipped me off as to the acute nature of this malady.

“Hurt,” he repeated.

I knelt in front of him and gazed into his deep brown eyes, in a nonverbal show of support and understanding. He grabbed me around the neck and with a whimper, he began the process of bringing everything he ate over the last 24 hours back into the light of day.

I scooped his thirty pounds up into my arms and rushed him into the bathroom while he threw up over my shoulder and onto my back and the floor. His stomach contents rested for just a second before they began to burn my skin. The smell permeated into my nostrils.

Once he finished, I turned on a warm shower to rinse lunch, breakfast and dinner, in that order, from his arms and legs.

“Missed a piece on your forehead, buddy.”                                                                

I flicked a bit of apple from his face and watched it travel down the drain.

Meanwhile, Little Legs had followed us into the bathroom.

“What happened, Mama?” he asked.

I focused on bringing Baby Brother out of the shower and toweling him dry as he shivered and said, “Brother got sick and we have to clean him up now.”

Only when I heard the clink of metal hitting the tile did I turn around to see that Little Legs brought his bowl of soup and was eating chicken and stars on the bathroom floor, in a show of support, but mostly curiosity.

“We don’t eat soup in the bathroom, Little Legs. Go back to the table.”

“Why not, Mama?”

Indeed, why not? It was the thousandth question of the day. I still needed to change clothes, mop the bathroom floor, get Baby Brother some Pedialyte and put everything away from lunch. On a normal day, we wouldn’t eat soup anywhere but the table, but this wasn’t a normal day.

This was a bathroom soup type of day.

Far from the Noise and Confusion

“My tummy hurts.”

The words find me in the darkness like bee drones, their reach is astonishing as my head is neatly tucked underneath of a pillow, meant to block out light and sound.

I need to wake up.

As I struggle to escape from the depths of sleep, I hear again, “My tummy hurts.”

This is not a false alarm in an attempt to stay up later or get a post-dinner snack. I hear the urgency in the voice.

I am coming. I try to say it, but I can’t connect my brain with my mouth. Fortunately, from a physical standpoint, I don’t have far to travel, the voice is coming from the foot of the bed.

Finally, I make it back to the land of the living and toss the pillow aside just as Little Legs starts to make a strange sound, hard to describe but impossible to misinterpret as the contents of his stomach gush from his mouth and onto the comforter, sheets and current occupants of the bed.

Blindly, I hold up my hands, dripping with chunky goo. I need to get my glasses to determine the next steps.

“My tummy still hurts,” he says.

And again, the gusher blows. I try to catch it in my hands and feel the force of it push through my fingers. The world is still blurry as I try to carry the boy to the bathroom, leaving a trail of macaroni and cheese bits and pieces in our wake.

When it is all said and done, Little Legs has stomach slime in his hair, the rugs are drenched, the toilet is covered. Daddy Longlegs is on his hands and knees, scooping godknowswhat from the floor and I am in disbelief that one little stomach could hold so much content.

It is a gross night with one, short-lived silver lining.  

“My tummy doesn’t hurt anymore,” Little Legs exclaims with glossy eyes.

I am right to wonder how long our break will last but see no reason to wait for the inevitable. Not a moment too soon, I scrunch down and settle back into a deep sleep far away from all the noise and confusion of the stomach of Little Legs.  

11 Cents

Little Legs sat on the couch in full cartoon-zombieboy-mode. His eyes were transfixed on a big, red dog that galloped across the screen. And although Little Legs didn’t have any Goldfish or animal crackers, he flipped something back and forth with his tongue. A flash of silver caught my eye.

“What is in your mouth, Little Legs?”

He extended his tongue to reveal a shiny dime which he then retracted like a lizard that had just caught a fly.  

“Show me again,” I said.

At first, he shook his head.

“Please,” I asked.

He grinned and stuck his red tongue out with the dime still perfectly balanced at the end of it. With the lightening bolt speed of maternal reflex, I grabbed the dime before he swallowed it, accidentally or not.

“My dime,” he said with a whine.

He held his hand out expecting the return of his treasure.

This time, I shook my head in refusal.

“Do you have any more change?” I asked.

“What’s change?” Little Legs asked.  

“Change is what you just had in your mouth. Do you have any other coins?”

I had to work fast to find out if we needed a metal detector or a trip to the ER.

“Just a penny,” he said with a laugh.

“Where is it now?”

“I swallowed it,” he said.  

“Did you really?”

“No, I was just joking,” he said.

“That’s not a very funny joke. I thought you swallowed a penny.”

“I did,” he said.

“Did you really?”  

“No,” he said.

“Where did you get the penny from?”

“From Da-da,” he said.  

Of course, I thought. The coins came from the same place as his sense of humor, his father.

Daddy Longlegs.

Trying to Leave

“See you tomorrow,” the boy yelled and ran out the door to meet his father. The boy wore sweats, a long sleeve tee-shirt and a florescent green fisherman’s hat that he was rarely seen without due to its dual powers of providing invisibility and being waterproof.

The guys were headed off on an adventure and Baby Brother was already loaded up in the car. Little did the boys know, the “adventure” was only a trip to the grocery store and a pass through the car wash.

The boy’s mother yelled after him, “I’ll see you later today.”

Her word crystalized in the air and disappeared like snowflakes on a warm nose; she was heard only by the dog who wiggled and wagged her tail, delighted at the attention. The animal was a black lab mixed with an Australian shepherd, a perfect blend of intelligence and energy… for another family… the woman always said when describing the dog.

“I’ll be back in just a few hours,” the woman muttered to herself.

The dog sat next to her and looked up with big, hungry eyes that begged for a snack.

“Let’s go to your kennel and I will be back to get you out in a bit.”

The dog sighed as the woman dragged and pushed and pulled her to the kennel; her furry legs locked in passive resistance as she stubbornly refused to cooperate with her imprisonment.

Winded and a little sore, the woman stood up and stretched.

Spying an upturned dump-truck, a rubbery blue popper and a wooden ball, she gathered up the toys and delivered them to the toy room or the-room-formerly-known-as-the-living-room. A bottle of water and a discarded pair of socks on the ground caught her eye, and she swooped in on them with a hawklike speed precision. They were her prey, destined to escape and return to the wild of the house in a short matter of time.

The ticking of the clock reminded the woman, she had to leave; the dishes, the laundry, the trash, the catbox, it all would have to wait. And it would wait.

 Mama had places to go.

Tell me another story

“Tell me another story,” Little Legs said.

Grandpa yawned in a way that could have been mistaken for a growl.

“Ok, just one more,” Grandpa agreed, “And that’s it.”

Little Legs laughed, neither agreeing nor disagreeing to the terms.

“When I was a little boy, my brother and I were playing in the woods,” he began.

“Like me and Baby Brother,” Little Legs interjected.

Grandpa nodded, “Yes, just like you and your brother.”

“We were playing when we noticed that we weren’t alone. Something white was watching us from a pile of leaves. It twitched its nose and sniffed at the ground to see if we smelled safe.”

“Like this?” Little Legs wiggled his nose back and forth.

“Just like that,” he continued with a nod.

“At first, we thought it was a rat and then we decided it was a new type of cat. The woods-cat had shiny black eyes and a pink nose and sharp, white teeth. We noticed the teeth right away because it hissed at us.”

“Like this?” Little Legs gave his best hiss as observed from his temperamental cat at home.

“Exactly,” Grandpa said.

“We thought maybe the woods-cat was hungry, so we pooled our snacks together and found we had a piece of cheese, two carrot sticks, three pieces of celery and a handful of crackers.”

“You had cheese in your pocket?” Little Legs asked. “Do you have any cheese now?”

“Do you want to hear this story or not?” Grandpa asked.

Little Legs nodded and snuggled down with his pillow, ready to listen.

“We broke off pieces of carrot and tossed it to the cat and that’s when we saw it didn’t have paws, it had fingers. Well, we were mighty curious about this critter and decided to bring it home with us. Slowly but surely, we brought her along, every few steps throwing a piece of celery or a carrot to keep her right behind us. By the time we could see the front porch, that little critter was practically at our heels.

My brother ran ahead and opened the door and I pulled out the last cracker to get the woods-cat up the steps when your great-granny, my momma, ran out.

She screamed with a broom in her hands, “Watch out, there’s a possum behind you.”

She was ready to go to battle for us with the creature from the woods.

I said, ‘Don’t worry, Momma, that’s not a possum. It’s our pet.’ And we brought it right inside.”  

Little Legs blinked hard, fighting sleep, and said, “What’s a possum? One more story?”

“It was our pet. That’s it, now go to bed.”

Grandpa flicked off the light with a snap like the closing of a heavy book and walked into the living room.

“Did you really have a pet possum? And Granny let it inside? How long did you have it? What did Grandpa have to say about it?” I asked, wondering how much more I didn’t know about this man.

Grandpa laughed, “No dummy, it’s just a story.”

“Ok, how about one more,” I picked up where Little Legs left off.

“Please?”

The Freedom Run

The boys were securely fastened into the stroller, happily slurping down the melting juice from their popsicles.

We looked left and right before crossing the busy road to enter the quiet neighborhood where we liked to walk in the evenings.  

It was the first, and often the only time, we had to talk about the day without someone *ahem* (Baby Brother) crying because someone else *ahem* (Little Legs) stole his toy or pushed him down or bit him or was in the process of doing something dangerous that required immediate intervention.

The sky was dark with heavy clouds and wind that whipped through the Bradford pear trees in the neighbor’s yard. I cringed as I watched the tops of their trees bend and shake, remembering last year’s wind gusts that snapped several of the pear trees in half.

“All done,” Little Legs held out a red-stained wooden stick and waved it back and forth.

There was an implied threat, if the popsicle stick was not grabbed quickly, the litter bug would toss it onto the ground. He was teaching Baby Brother to do the same; monkey see, monkey do.

“Got it,” I said, snatching it from his fingers and falling back in-step with Daddy Longlegs.

“Come hold my gooey hand,” Little Legs requested, holding a small, sticky hand to me.

“Mommy and Daddy are talking right now,” I politely declined his request.

“Please,” he begged, “hold my gooey hand.”  

Daddy Longlegs and I laughed; it was easy to decide not to hold his gooey hand.

Little Legs gave us a mean look with a harrumph, turned forward, and settled in for the ride; while Baby Brother hung one arm over the side of his stroller seat and watched the passing scenery, still thoughtfully working on his frozen treat.  

We walked on in companionable quiet, breathing in the cool fall and smelling wet leaves, when we heard a familiar jingle of two metal dog tags knocking against one another. We heard paws pounding the pavement and the clattering of gravel as a spray of tiny rocks was sent out from either side of the running animal.

It was our naughty dog, escaping down the road after us, a blur of black fur and slobber. She was oblivious to the busy road she just blindly crossed or the invisible fence that was supposed to be keeping her safe. She smiled with all of her sharp, white teeth as she ran towards us, thrilled with the reward of her risk in making a run for it.

Little Legs shouted, “Coco! Its Coco!”

Baby Brother yelled, “Dog, dog, dog.”

They were like sailors on a ship, wildly pointing and waving, spotting a whale for the first time, instead of two little boys seeing the same dog they just left behind eight minutes earlier. As for Coco, she grinned from floppy ear to floppy ear at being with her her gang, again.

Her freedom run was worth it, to be with her furever family, fur now, anyways.    

Broken Wing

Little Legs is a dancer now; he taps his toes, wiggles his hips, and shakes to the left and right. Sometimes, he even dances to the beat. He loves Ray Charles and wears sunglasses indoors. He bumps into walls, while bopping along to “Hit the Road, Jack.”

Adorable, yes. Dangerous, maybe.  

He was working on a new move that involved flipping from one side to the other while on the ground, we’ll call it the Fish Flop, when the Flop got out of control, and he landed on his outstretched arm.   

A heart-rending scream and an immediate flood of tears burst forth from the tiny dancer as he held his arm to his chest like a broken wing. It took a few minutes to confirm that this boo-boo was more than a band-aide, a kiss and a popsicle could restore.

The emergency room was at least a seven-hour wait, a few hours too long to only be turned away, as we heard happened to our neighbors. The community urgent care was at capacity for appointments. They graciously told us they were taking walk-ins but expected a minimum of two hours in the waiting room. The pediatric urgent care was the same, the waiting room was spilling over with sick kids (and their germs) with not enough time or staff to see everyone in a reasonable amount of time.  

All the while, Little Legs was crying, “Hurts, hurts, hurts” and holding his arm against his chest.

As parents, Daddy Longlegs and I are similarly yoked in that we would move heaven and earth for our boys. We don’t want them to suffer one unnecessary minute. Yet in this world of Covid, our choices are severely limited in what we can and cannot do to care for them out of sheer availability when it comes to treatment and healthcare.

We aren’t doctors or magicians.

But we are resourceful. And determined.

So, we drove to the next county and went to an after-hours sports injury clinic where the moonlighting foot doctor agreed to see our son for his arm injury and our sweet boy’s arm was set and cast.

Silently, Little Legs watched with wide eyes as the technician wrapped his arm in cotton and then with various layers of cast materials, hardly moving muscle as he allowed his arm to be mummified.

“You should get a treat,” the technician commented on his stoic bravery.

“You have lollipops?” Little Legs asked, blinking several times as he came to life at possibility of sugar.

“You have yellow lollipops?” he continued, very specific and very excited.

“We’ll have to see, but I think we might. Mom, Dad, is it ok?”

“After all this, you have can have all the yellow lollipops that you want,” I declared.

I was grateful for the ability to seek treatment, for the kindness our son was shown and that it was a relatively minor injury compared to some. Still, there remains a persistent irritation that borders on anger/rage for the people filling the chairs and beds in the hospitals and urgent cares that could have been vaccinated or masked to prevent the spread and mutation of Covid, again.

It is for selfish reasons that I write, get the dang shot and wear a mask, so in the future the next little boy with a broken arm can seek treatment and get back to dancing as soon as possible.

Strawberry Fields Forever

The rows of strawberries stretched on forever, long ribbons of black and green, with serrated leaves and heart-shaped pops of red. Runners shot out and away from their mothers, landing in the soil between the established plants, and rooting where no berry had ever grown before in an exciting bid for independence.

Dark soil was carefully tilled between the rows in a continual fight against the weeds that desperately wanted the same nutrients, water, and sun as the berry plants. The prickly purple thistle and milkweed and ragweed remained blissfully unaware of their uninvited status as they continued to show up with friends and family only to be pulled and discarded, again and again.

This field was my first place of employment; my brother was my (only) coworker, and our mother was the site supervisor. Begrudgingly, we learned to till and turn the soil, to plant and pick strawberries. We learned how to quiet our minds and settle in to do the work. Quart after quart basket of strawberries passed through my red-stained fingers as I grumbled about the things I would rather be doing.

It wasn’t that the work was hard, it was, in fact, easy to pluck a strawberry from the plant and put it into a basket. The hard part was to do it for an hour and then another hour. It was overcoming the boredom and tedium of doing the exact same thing over and over in the hot Indiana summer sun. I hated every morning that there were strawberries in the field. I prayed for rain and thunder and lightning, especially lightening, if only to strike me with a bolt to end my strawberry picking misery.  

Yet, now when I think of summers growing up, it always starts in the field, wiping the sweat from my brow, feeling the perspiration drip from the tip of my nose and chin and run down my chest. I recall my brother, in one of his protests, selecting a particularly fat and rotten berry, lining up his sights and launching it directly at our mother’s back where it landed with the most perfectly spectacular splat between the straps of her tank top.   

Now, the field is a dumping ground for old construction equipment. The old farmhouse is long gone, burned to the ground, rebuilt without a single bit of the original character. And the strawberry pickers are scattered around the world, left to reminisce about the old days and time spent together.

Old Man Turtle

A toddler sized turtle stared out from inside of the grimy glass. Its shell was battered and worn, a sharp contrast to the shells of its younger tankmates. The other turtles paddled along the top of the water, kicked from the bottom to the surface and crawled onto a rocky ledge to rest.

Two boys stared with mouths agape at the prehistoric looking creature. They shared the same light brown hair and dark eyes of wonder as they observed the turtle. 

“So big,” the older boy said.

“Whoa,” his brother agreed with a solemn nod, a boy of few words.

Their mother hovered nearby, a nervous hen clucking over her chicks, she agreed with her sons.

“I have never seen such an enormous turtle in a tank,” she reflected, excluding all previous trips to the zoo and Ripley’s Believe it or Not Aquarium.  

The turtle was unnatural in the aquarium where tiny, silver fish darted between the other resident turtles, ranging in size from a small pancake to a medium pizza. Old Man Turtle managed to survive the past fifty years of hungry birds, chemical spills, plastic straws and acid rain only to end up wedged between some fake rocks and algae covered glass, literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“Oh no, can’t move. Turtle too big,” the older boy observed.

“Whoa,” his brother seconded his concerns.

Then to everyone’s surprise and delight, Old Man began to move. He stretched one limb and then the other, wiggling his powerful claws as he prepared to leave his nook. He extended his neck, draped in wrinkly skin. He emerged a glorious testament to the years to stand on his back limbs, reaching all the way to break the surface of the water.

He stood there, breathing in air through his royal beakish nostrils, surveying his world and subjects; finding only chickens and turtles, he returned to the water for another long rest.

Sicklings

A fever raged in both boys.

Free of shirts and energy, they rested on their backs, watching cartoons. It could have been a show on watercolor painting or Murders of Tennessee or Sesame Street. I imagine they would have watched with the same dull and uninterested eyes as their bodies fought the same infection.

I was their Leader, shivering and nauseous, smelling of vomit and ready to run back to the bathroom at any time.

We were a gang, bonded and branded by our shared symptoms of misery.

“So what are we doing tonight?” Daddy Longlegs asked failing to read the room.

We turned in unison to look at the perfect image of health who had just entered the room with rosy cheeks and shiny eyes. We made a chorus of sad moans before returning to the screen.

“You’re it,” I jumped up, feeling the sick rising in my throat, and tagged him on my way back to the bathroom.

I am still waiting for the tag back, however hopeful that as partners who share everything, in this, he is left out.