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.

Muffin Meltdown

The muffin was in a vulnerable position, in a crumbly mess on the edge of the counter.

Little Legs had just reduced the tasty baked good to bits and pieces and pushed it aside to try and access the Cheerio’s in my bowl. To be more specific, it was Honey-Nut Cheerio’s: a cereal of delicious compromise between the normal Cheerio flavor of cardboard and a straight spoonful of refined sugar.  

“No, Little Legs,” I said firmly.

“Yes, Mama,” he replied his sticky hand extended towards me.

His confident tone indicated that it was only a matter of time before my cereal became his cereal and I was left with nothing. I suppose there was the muffin crumb pile that I could eat for nourishment.

Obviously, this was the time to strike for any mangy mutt that happened to be passing through Crumb Ally. Coco, our insatiable puppy-dog, took to her hindlegs to briefly rest against the counter with her front paws long enough to take the entire muffin heap into her mouth and gulp it down into her bottomless pit.

Little Legs turned back as a black flash retreated to the ground and into the next room, happily licking her lips. He screwed his face up in disbelief as tears welled in his eyes.

“My muffin,” he wailed.

It was suddenly the only thing he wanted in the entire world, and it was impossibly gone.

“Get new one, get new one,” he chanted.

This was also what he said when our fish died.  

“Sometimes, we can’t replace things that are gone,” I gently explained.

“Get new one, get new one,” he continued.

Of course, this teachable moment would have been more impactful if there were not another three muffins across the counter, ready and waiting for consumption. Still, I held the line and refused with a NO in all caps which led to another meltdown.

And I wondered if I should just give the mouse his muffin.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.: Teaching Cause and Effect | Scholastic | Parents

Mom Guilt

Thursday morning, Little Legs was up all night, tossing and turning. He has already cried eight times, hit the dog and declared that he hates daycare, his brother and drinking milk. However, he is willing to eat a popsicle and drink juice for “eat-time.”

God help you if you make the mistake of referring to this early morning meal as breakfast. He hates breakfast. Add all the possible emphasis on the word hate.  

“It’s going to be a long day, good luck,” Daddy Longlegs whispers to me and slips away to his little office nook.

I need more than luck. We still need to track down pants that Little Legs won’t throw across the room, brush everyone’s teeth, including Baby Brother’s pearly set of four, and get out the door in the next fifteen minutes.

Luckily, I have a job where I can flex my start and end time. Otherwise, the next thirty minutes would be stressful. Very stressful.

Somehow, we make it to The Zone, which Little Legs hates, clearly.

I get both boys unloaded and shuffled into the building. Baby Brother screams and reaches for me as I hand him off to the worker of Toddler Room 1. Big, fat tears roll down his cheeks.

He cries, “Mama, Mama, Mama,” effectively breaking my heart into two, bloody raw pieces, right then and there.

Little Legs also screams and tries to escape down the hallway when I try to hand him off to Toddler Room 4. I grab him in a ninja-fast maneuver and redirect him into the room with a squeeze and a hug. The worker pulls him in and I slink out, only to peek into the window to see him sobbing on the shoulder of a strange woman.  

Finally, I leave, stricken with a crippling sense of shame and guilt at leaving my boys in the hands of strangers to go to a job where I am late and distracted and wondering if the struggle is worth it. Do the ends justify the means?

I remind myself of the boost in Little Legs’ vocabulary since being around other kids and how Baby Brother can self-play or cozy up for a game of roll-ball without missing a beat. They both have a new confidence in social settings and after experiencing every early childhood illness, I assume their immune systems are close to iron-clad by now.

Surely, the benefits are there. There is a silver lining. And I’m not a terrible mother.

I just need a little reminding to remember.

Sticks and Stones

Jagged, ragged sobs come from the next room.

Little Legs is on the floor, sleep-crying, after the last thirty minutes of yelling, screaming, begging and pleading for release from naptime.

“You don’t have to sleep, but you have to rest in your room,” Daddy Longlegs explained minutes earlier, gently leading him back to his room for the fourth time.

“Hate naps. Hate sleep. Hate Dada,” Little Legs said.

Daddy Longlegs said, “You don’t have to like it, but you have to have quiet time.”

He let the stinging blow of his son’s words glance off his cheek.

If only Little Legs understood the power of words, he would know the pain and joy they can give.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never (not) hurt me.

I hear a rustling from his room, a moan and another cry. The moan is from me, there will be no napping today, for anyone except Baby Brother. Little Legs is back up and well-rested enough to change tactics.

“Need Mama,” he says.

I jump up and my heart swells, ready to rescue him from his room, until it hits me.

Not only does he understand the power of words, he is using it to crush his parents, each one in a unique and specially tailored way.

Toddler 1: Parents 0

Kingdom of Boys

He wants up, he wants down. He wants in, he wants out.

And as his personal slave, I am all too happy to meet his demands and indulge in his whims.

“Yes, my tiny prince, I will do all these things over and over again. Should I toss you up in the air periodically and tickle your tummy, too?”

His dimpled smile melts my heart and ignites a white-hot flame of jealousy in his older brother.

When Baby Brother knocks the glasses from my face, I wag my finger and say, “Now I can’t see my naughty baby.”

Little Legs watches from a few feet away with a furrowed brow. He wants equal treatment for the same crime that recently landed him in a time out.

“Time out, Baby,” he declares, already a fighter of injustices everywhere, starting in his own living room.

He looks to me for action and seeing only a love-sick fool cooing at his brother, he takes matters into his own hands, quite literally.

Grabbing his brother under the arms, “Time out, Baby,” he explains as he attempts to drag him away to The Blue Chair.

“Release your brother!” I command and channel my inner Moses for this pharaoh-like face off.  

He drops him with a thud that makes his brother cry and stares at me in disbelief.

“Sorry, Mama.”

Order is restored, however temporarily, yet again.

I remain the Leader of my small People.

Tapping Trees

We were out of maple syrup. A few sweet, sticky droplets clung to the inside of the bottle, but that was it. Those stubborn holdouts wouldn’t fill half the pockets in a waffle and certainly wouldn’t soak a pancake properly.

Instead of following through with our breakfast feast or making a quick run to the store, we had cereal and decided to make our own syrup.

“We have plenty of trees,” Daddy Longlegs reasoned. “Surely, a few of them are maples.”

Thanks to the ever-present assistance of Amazon, our tree tapping kit arrived within 24 hours. Daddy Longlegs wasn’t messing around with this maple syrup business. Of course, this came as no surprise.

When he commits to an idea, he’s all in, which gives me a slight cause for concern because he has also recently toyed with the idea of getting a cow, saying something like, “for as much milk as we go through in a week, it would just make sense.”

Would it, really? I wondered when our new bovine friend would arrive and if Amazon would deliver it to our porch for free, along with the shed, hay, customized bell and whatever else a cow needs to survive in the South.

Putting the cow plan aside, we set out in search of a maple tree with the baby strapped to my chest and Little Legs buzzing circles around us.

“Honeybee,” he said as he buzzed past with his arms bee-hind him, with more of a Tennessee accent than most people in Tennessee. It was hard to tell where he would have picked up such a twang since we go so few places. Is there something in the air or the soil?

Nevertheless, he was becoming more of a Volunteer and less of a Hoosier every day.

“This one looks like a sugar maple,” Daddy Longlegs declared with such confidence, it would be difficult to dispute. Plus, there are a handful of trees that will provide syrup, including the red maple, black walnut, sycamore, ironwood and even the birch. It was no skin off my nose if he picked the wrong tree.

I agreed that we had located the target, a tree. The only other viable, almost-certainly-maple-tree-option was set right in the leach field of our septic system; we can safely assume it would have been shitty tasting syrup.  

Daddy Longlegs squatted down next to the tree and drilled a hole, tilted slightly upwards, plugged it with a tap and attached a rubber tube to it. He slid the tube into an old apple juice bottle and waited. And waited.

“Nothing’s happening, babe. Do you think we got the right one?”

Fortunately, I knew from watching Curious George with Little Legs, it could take a while for the sap to flow. We needed freezing nights and above freezing days, some days the flow will be good and other days, not so much, much like life.

For now, we needed to wait and prepare to do some serious boiling because it takes a lot of sap to make syrup. There is a 10 gallon to 4 cup breakdown which makes me appreciate the cost of real maple syrup in the store and question the contents of Pearl Milling’s syrup, the syrup formerly known as Aunt Jemina’s.     

https://www.crossville-chronicle.com/news/glade_sun/enjoying-nature-the-joys-of-tennessee-maple-syrup/article_4563efcc-cdaa-11e4-9d24-d7332e943b1f.html

https://www.instructables.com/How-to-make-Maple-Syrup/