When the Cookie Monster visits

cookie monsterOver the past few weeks while remaining safer at home, we have all been brought quite literally closer with Daddy Longlegs working from home.  However, this temporary/ongoing arrangement has also meant that our places of work and play are currently one-in-the-same and naturally there is bound to be some conflict. 

Who knew it would come to a head over a peanut butter cookie?

Last week, Daddy Longlegs decided to make lunch for Little Legs and me.  He thoughtfully made each of our sandwiches according to our preferences, ham and cheese for me, peanut butter and jelly for Little Legs, with a handful of chips and strawberries to share between us.  I brought cookies and milk for dessert and boosted Little Legs into his special seat.  His seat clamps to the table where he likes to play with his food, swing his legs back and forth, and drop things for the cat to scarf down; sometimes he manages to eat, too.  

On this fateful day, I made the mistake of handing a cookie to Daddy Longlegs over Little Legs’ head and saying, “We can all have cookies after you finish your sandwich.”  

Little Legs watched the hand-off with a pair of eagle eyes that miss nothing and decided there would be no sandwich eating.  Only cookie eating.  Also, he wanted all of the cookies.  Now.

It started with a quiet whining and pointing at the distributed cookies with a grubby finger, first at his daddy’s and then at mine.  He turned his head away from his sandwich and knocked Daddy Longlegs’ hand away as he offered him a chip.  Then he threw a strawberry to the ground in anger, barely missing the cat that sat waiting and hoping for a meatier offering.

I moved to break off a cookie bit as a compromise when Daddy Longlegs’ intervened with a raised hand like a crossing guard to stop.  He was about to do some emotional mealtime redirecting.

“You can’t negotiate with a terrorist.” 

He turned to the boy who was red in the face and on the verge of screaming. 

He explained, “You have to eat your sandwich before you get a cookie.”   

And then back to me while still talking to the boy, “And mommy isn’t going to give in.  Right, Mommy?”

“He needs to eat something,” I said, driven by an irrational fear that he would starve starting at that instant unless he got a cookie.  Mother knows best, I thought, and assumed that he would naturally agree to eat his sandwich if he got a little bite of early dessert.  In short, I assumed we were dealing with a rational person instead of a toddler.

“You can’t just feed him cookies.  If you give in now, what’s going to happen tomorrow and the day after that?” Daddy Longlegs asked.

I took a minute to think, to allay my fear and push my maternal arrogance aside, and to consider things as an unbiased and rational adult.  Of course, I can’t just feed the boy cookies, he’s not going to starve, and I can’t give him everything he wants.  

He needs boundaries and vegetables. 

After all, we all know what happens if you give a cat a cupcake, he’s going to want some sprinkles.     

Baby Love and Rejection

catTime and time again, the cat hurts the only person who really likes her.  Sure, her solo admirer sometimes pets her a little too hard, and one time he fell over on top of her in his effort to show his undying love.  He means well, but she is unforgiving and damaged and persists in hissing and running from him.

Yesterday, the sweet boy was in the living room, behind a baby gate when the cat decided to taunt him from the other side.  I watched from a beanbag chair nearby, feeling a false sense of security, thanks to the gate.  They are safe from each other, I mused, as the cat laid down against the white, metal bars letting her full tail rest on our side of the gate.  Every so often, she flicked her tail as she purred and cleaned her thick fur. 

It was too much to resist, that big, juicy tail moving like a beautiful, wild creature independent from the lazy, mean cat.  The boy toddled over to the gate, grabbed her tail with one hand and then reached through the bars to pet her fat tummy.  In an instant, she was furious at the violation of her space, she hissed and swatted at his hand with all of the evil she could muster.  There was an audible thwap as her furry paw connected with his hand. 

Bad Cat 1: Baby Boy 0  

She definitely set him up for a swat or worse, depending on her foul mood.  Fortunately, the boy was left unharmed but confused and upset that his furry friend didn’t want to play, like ever.  It was his first rejection and it hurt me to watch.  

As I tried to help him understand what happened, he lost interest and turned to knock over a stack of blocks and chase his ball, already over it.  Meanwhile, his poor mama was left to stew on the future when there will be real pain, rejections and undying, unrequited love and just how in the world to make it all ok.

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.

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.

The Best of Me

He’s on the floor, staring into the plastic eyes of a stuffed dog. 

Using his uncoordinated hands like mitts,

he pulls the dog towards his open mouth while squealing in delight. 

He abandons the dog, throwing it off to the side,

and is suddenly on his back, a boy-turtle with chubby thighs.  

My heart is full as he makes his way through our tiny daytime world of two.

turtle

Animal Signs

armadillo“Watch out for that…” I trailed off and leaned forward, unsure of the nature of the mangled creature in the road with a long, scaly tail and a crunched, banded shell.

As a co-pilot, it was my duty to give helpful guidance like this.  Of course, my husband had different ideas about how I could be useful, like looking up directions on Mapquest instead of identifying the remains of roadkill.  

“There is no way that is an armadillo,” I exclaimed out loud to a sleeping baby and an uninterested driver.  He was focused on the road signs as he searched for the next turn on our housing search. 

“I think its right around here,” he muttered quietly.  He had an uncanny sense of direction, aided by an almost flawless memory, which left me free to focus on other more pressing matters.  

Meanwhile, I didn’t want to believe my eyes, but the mound in the middle of the road most certainly was a nine banded armadillo or “little armored one” as confirmed by a quick google search.  Armadillos are not only in the Tennessee area; they are continuing to push north as a result of the changing climate.  Watch out, Indiana, these little weirdos are coming for you.  

“Still no directions?” my husband asked, noticing that I was scrolling through my phone from the corner of his eye. 

“No, I’m afraid not.  I am reading about the new migration pattern of armadillos.  And by the way, they carry leprosy.  Fortunately, they don’t bite so the risk of transmission is low, but we might as well keep driving.  The dead armadillo is obviously a bad sign.”

He shook his head and drove on, exasperated from the lack of participation in the housing search, while also in acceptance that this was not the neighborhood for us.  Why ignore signs from the Universe?  We bought our last house based on the blooms of a beautiful magnolia tree, we knew we were going to have a son because of the whiff of pipe smoke, and we were definitely not going to live in a house on a street with the carcass of an armadillo in the middle of it.

A Day of Sorry’s

erBy the time we pulled into the parking lot, we were already ten minutes late and mildly frazzled from three epic diaper blow outs that morning.  To be accurate, I was the only frazzled one from the series of mustard yellow-up-the-back-need-a-new-onsie diaper situations, while the baby was left pleased with his work.

“We made it, at last,” I said over my shoulder towards the backseat where the little prince patiently waited in his car seat with bright eyes and a rattle.

It was our first attempt at making new friends since moving from the Heartland. 

One might ask how an introvert with a baby makes friends in this day and age?  Considering that most of my friends were from school or old jobs, I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it without having formal employment or classes in common.  And I wasn’t keen on sitting in a Starbucks trying to strike up a conversation with an equally lonely, caffeinated stranger.  So, I turned to the internet for help.

Surprisingly, within a few keystrokes I found a group on Facebook for this very demographic, introduced myself and hit confirm for the next group date.  It was all too easy, I suppose, because when we arrived, no one else from the group was there.

I clicked the baby into the stroller and walked the perimeter of the park, certain that the members of our new crew were just out of sight.  We walked past the swings and the sandbox where the older kids played with their caregivers watching from the sides.  Spotting a breastfeeding woman and then a pod of women with babies under a shady grove of trees, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Our new friends are up there.  We have not been forsaken,” I said already feeling a connection to the woman nursing her infant and grateful for the power of technology and the internet.

How else would we have found our new tribe so quickly, I wondered? 

The group was up a hill, not easily accessed via stroller, but I was determined to connect and pushed with all of my might upwards over bumps and ruts.

“Sorry, baby,” I whispered jostling his head from side to side as we bumped along.  “I’ll get you out in a minute and you can play in the grass with the other babies.”

A little out of breath and nervous, I yelled out as we approached, “Hi everyone, I’m sorry we’re late.”

Two blonde women chased a wild-haired toddler who ran towards us recklessly laughing.  They looked up with barely veiled disdain. 

One said, “Sorry, we’re a part of the Tinkerbells and we aren’t expecting anyone else to join.”

“Ok, sorry, I guess we’ll head back down the hill.”  

And down we went, back over the bumps, at a much faster speed thanks to gravity and embarrassment, back towards the play area where we waited on a bench for nobody, like Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie.  

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?    

Shadows and Sunlight

sunlightSunlight and shadows dance through the blinds, bouncing back and forth to an unpredictable rhythm. The baby watches in wonder from his playmat.  He holds his toes in both hands and shapes himself into a half curl, a human roly-poly bug.  He laughs and shrieks with delight.  At four months, he is easy to please.

In the meantime, I find myself hooked on the screen checking for new communication, pictures and messages.  I feel a void when nothing comes through, an emptiness that I might be disappearing into the ether and reaffirmed when something does via the Ding of the i-phone.  It’s the modern-day dinner bell in a world of people hungry for instant connection.      

The baby doesn’t have a smart phone to bother with emails or texts.  His parents are his best friends and he doesn’t wear pants most days.  His life is simple and his joy is pure.  

He fills up on milk and love and connects to the present with each breath.  He reminds me to live and disconnect, what the world might look like to fresh eyes, and that I am enough in being his mother.  Perhaps, we all could benefit from stripping away the complexities of adulthood, if only for a moment, and refocusing on the sunlight and shadows.

Portrait of a Man

cakeThe man rocked his swaddled baby back and forth in his exhausted arms, while the baby stared up at him with two bright eyes as a curious observer.  The baby had no intention of going to sleep but he enjoyed being rocked and was willing to allow his father to continue as long as he wanted.  His daddy dimmed the lights with one hand and then turned down the volume of the tv.  He rocked and bounced and bounced and rocked until the baby’s eyes began to slowly close.     

Suddenly, the infant was asleep.  

“Success,” he whispered to his wife and mother of the boy.

“Piece of cake, really,” he said with a wink. “I’ll be back in a jif.”

He carried the bundle into the nursery and gently lowered him into his crib.  As soon as the baby’s back hit the mattress, his eyes flew open in confusion.  He never meant to fall asleep.  Fat tears spilled from his eyes and ran down both sides of his face as he cried.

Meanwhile, back on the couch his mother heard the refreshed cries and picked up the monitor.  It sat on a pillow next to her, like a prize pet with a seat of its own.  She flicked the screen, bringing it to life.  A man stood next to the crib, diligently rocking and bouncing the crying baby again.  The two did this dance every night, each trying to wear the other out until one dropped to sleep.  Fortunately, it was always same diapered, swaddled one who gave in first.  She laughed and turned off the monitor to wait. 

A few minutes later, her husband emerged shaking his head.  He pulled the door shut with a click and tiptoed back to his wife. 

“Tough little guy.”

He flopped down on the couch, letting himself sink down into the cushions knowing that he would do it all over again tomorrow.  I get to do it again, I don’t have to do it, he thought.  He was a perpetual optimist even on his worst day. 

“Listen,” he whispered.  “Did you just hear that?” he asked cupping his ear towards the nursery.

“No, I didn’t hear anything,” his wife replied in alarm and reached for the monitor again. 

“Exactly… silence.  Like I said, piece of cake.”