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?    

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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.”

Pacification

paci

The woman yanked the pacifier out of the baby’s mouth and stomped to the back door in her orthopedic, soft-soled shoes.  She unlocked the door’s double lock with two clicks; the door flew open, pushed by an invisible gust of wind that threatened to tousle the woman’s tightly permed hair.  Touching the top of her curls with a hand, she confirmed that not a hair had moved.  It was sprayed into an inflexible helmet of grey that matched her flinty personality.  

She pulled her arm back like a quarterback and let it fly, sending the pacifier into the cool, dark air of the night.  Spinning around on her heels, she turned back to her daughter and infant granddaughter.

“Don’t ever let me catch me you with something so foul and indecent in this house again.”

The door slammed shut with a bang.  Stunned by the sudden loss of her pacifier, the baby sucked in at the air as though it was still in her mouth and finding nothing there, she screamed and began to cry.  She turned red in the face as she continued to scream and big, wet tears streamed down her face, cutting a shining trail down each chubby cheek. 

“Mother,” her daughter said in disbelief raising her voice over the screaming infant.  “We just bought that for the baby.”

Dottie picked up her baby and rocked her back and forth, bringing the cries down to a whimper.  Every cell in her body longed for rest and yet there was suddenly a new surge of energy driven out of anger towards her mother.     

The front door opened and Bobby walked in with the suitcases.

“I parked the car on the side of the road…” he started and stopped.  His mother-in-law stood in front of the back door with flashing eyes and flared nostrils.  He was convinced that she was a dragon in a past life.

“What’s wrong with the baby?” he asked his wife, suspicious that his mother-in-law was somehow behind the tears of his new daughter.   

“Ahem,” his mother-in-law cleared her throat.  “Your daughter is starving and your wife is trying to trick her with that obscene rubber nipple that I took the liberty of disposing of while you were parking the car.”

Bouncing the baby in her arms, Dottie felt a swell of emotion, like an earthquake triggering a tsunami.  She was fierce in her love of her daughter and growing in her confidence as a mother.  Finally, it was her time. 

She drew herself up to her full height of five feet and two inches, took a deep breath and turned to her husband, “Bobby, please help me with the baby carrier and bag.  We aren’t staying here tonight.”   

Or at least, that’s what she wished she could have said, if they had any other place to go.

Trembling Whiskers

cats

On the day we brought Baby home, the cats met us at the door.  They were partially curious about the screaming creature who could be heard from outside, but mostly hungry from eating every last crunchy nugget left out by the cat-sitter and anxious to have their bowls refilled.

While the cats tried to understand what it was that we brought into their previously harmonious sanctuary, Baby continued to wail.  It was no wonder as to the reason for his displeasure, he had just encountered the coldest and most blustery day of winter and was only three days old.  It was a cruel change from his most recent very warm and cozy living situation of the last nine months.

His tiny, still wrinkled face was red as he continued to express his disappointment with the world as a whole.  I felt mostly responsible being the one who grew him, only to evict him in the middle of an Indiana winter.  Sorry baby Hoosier, it won’t get much better for a few months, I thought.

Meanwhile, the older cat quickly figured out what was happening, she was being replaced, yet again.  She hissed at us with yellow teeth before making her retreat into a secret, not-so-secret, hiding place under an overstuffed chair.  This left the younger cat, a fat tiger girl, alone to fight or flee from the new foe.

She incorrectly opted to fight and stand her ground.  This was her first go around with Replacement and it was as painful and confusing as anything else experienced up that point of her four years.  Hissing and baring her strong white teeth, she tensed her 14-pound body, ready to attack.  She was not about to welcome the mostly hairless and screaming creature into her home, let alone allow it to stay.

Unfortunately, this caused Baby to wail even louder.  His screams reached a new level that was surely audible throughout the hood, which also happened to be at the perfect pitch to level the cat’s ears back flat before sending her into hiding, next to the older cat under the chair.  The two were unified at last with trembling whiskers and broken hearts.

King Burrito

burrito

We swaddle our chubby baby every night in spite of his protests.  He looks like an adorable human burrito, with a dark furry head where rice and beans might otherwise be spilling out.  It’s a sight that melts our hearts and brains into a lovey-dovey mush, as I imagine all parents must feel about the cocooned shape of their infant.  Unfortunately, King Burrito doesn’t understand that swaddling is a part of the current protocol for safe infant sleeping; and instead believes he has been unjustly imprisoned and naturally fights until he drops into an exhausted, but safe, sleep.

Can you hear me yawning as I type from extreme sleep deprivation?

“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” everyone says while holding the sleeping baby which would be helpful if I could sleep on demand during the middle of the day.  Or worse yet, they say, “Let me hold the baby so you can go and throw in a load of laundry or do the dishes.”  If I wasn’t so tired, smoke would roll out of my ears.  Alas, I have even lost the energy to be angry and maybe have a puff or two of smoke worth of irritation.

In any case, who has time for sleep or anger for that matter?  I only have another four weeks before returning to work from maternity leave.  With as fast as King Burrito is developing, I fear that I will miss a major milestone and he will start talking or walking if I’m off the clock napping.  So, in the spirit of maximizing our time together, I have started to take time saving short cuts.  I do all of my banking online, the groceries get delivered to our front door, and Amazon fills in all of other gaps.

Last week, an older woman with the usual Hoosier mom garb of high wasted jeans, a turtle neck and a fuzzy vest with an IU logo delivered diapers, cat litter and the random collection of provisions for the week.  

“Someone has a baby…” she led with as I opened the door.

It was far from a lucky guess, the drool on my shirt and the screaming in the background were good clues for what she was able to deduce about the situation.  “Do you mind if I take a peek?” she asked as she stepped a foot inside and then brought the rest of her body along with the groceries. 

It was hard to say no, especially when she was bringing Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and was already in the house.  She sighed as she gazed at the crying and red-faced infant.

“I remember these days, when it was just my babies and me.  Now they’re all grown up and things are different.  Instead of rocking them, we go to Pacer’s games and drink beer together.  Enjoy this time,” she said with a knowing laugh and left for her car in the drive way.

I felt a profound sadness with her departure and the inevitability of her words.  Soon our chubby baby will be too big to swaddle.  He will sleep through the night and have friends other than his mommy and daddy and drink more than milk.  He will wear pants with zippers and shoes with laces.  And he will break his mommy’s heart as he grows up into a boy and then a man but for today, he will just be my sweet baby. 

The Family Photo

stockings

The family photo holiday card was adorable. 

The kids were lined up in matching flannel outfits, miraculously all facing the camera, with the dog flopped out in front on all fours looking miserable.  Tinsel and ivy lined the mantle and the stockings were hung with care above the fireplace.  Just at the edge of the shot, a perfect Christmas tree with twinkling white lights stood over a pile of brightly wrapped gifts.  

Yet, something was off that even my weak and computer strained eyes noticed.  There was a new and mysterious baby in the mix.  Wearing a clever camouflage of a black and red onesie, he blended into the identical suits of his siblings. 

I stared at the card in confusion, holding it close and then as far out as my arms would reach.  Closing one eye and then the other, the image did not change and I confirmed that I was not seeing double.  Still not satisfied with the information being fed to my brain, I did one last vision test.  I took off my glasses and wiped them clean, expecting the world to make sense again when I replaced them on the bridge of my nose.   

Still three children, one dog, one Christmas tree and one stack of presents. 

Did they adopt?  Unlikely, adoption was expensive and took time.  Did they steal or kidnap that little chubby cheeked babe?  Also, an unlikely possibility, as his parents were not criminally inclined and the baby looked just like his brother.  So many questions met with but one answer that didn’t make any sense caused no small amount of distress to my confused mind.  

Where did this third kid come from and when did he arrive?  Somehow this child had not only been born, but also made it to the Christmas card without a single sign of his expected entrance into the world via Facebook, voicemail, text, email, smoke signal or carrier pigeon.  With so many ways to communicate and so many words to use, why not share in a more intimate way than a mass mailing?   

Reflecting on the card, I lamented and felt like I was missing a piece of life.  The card represented all of the babies born and new jobs and big moves of which I wasn’t aware because I was overly reliant on technology, mistaking time spent on social media as socializing.  Social media gave me a confidence in my friends and their lives, a sense of active connection, that obviously wasn’t as alive as I might have thought before receiving the card.  I forgot that the faces on Facebook only represent a snapshot of one moment in time for the people behind the profiles.  

And still I blogged and perused my newsfeed, rather than picking up the phone and calling an old friend to check in only to discover that her life has moved on in great leaps and bounds.  I continued to beat myself up in this way until I remembered one more important thing, the phone works both ways and that smoke signals and texts had gone unanswered after being sent out in her direction until now. 

Time marches on and old friendships change and end so that new ones may begin and its ok. 

For what it’s worth, be kind to one another.  

As Above, So Below

as above

The screen door slowly opened with a squeak.  The hinges were reddish-brown with rust and curls of white paint peeled away from the wooden door.  A pink noise poked out and sniffed at the air; the nose was followed by the black and white body of a small dog.  The animal slipped the rest of the way out of the house and the door slammed behind it with a bang.

Scents of all kinds bombarded the tiny but powerful nostrils of the dog.  It looked left and then right, orienting to its new surroundings.  A squirrel watched from the branch of an oak tree in the front yard, holding a nut in its claws and waited to see what the domesticated creature would do next.

The dog took off in a beeline towards the edge of the yard, running with muscular strides, quickly drawing away from the house.

“Beanie!” a boy yelled as he pushed through the screen door.  He wore jean shorts and striped tank top; dark hair fell over his forehead and hit the top of his ears, in a perfect bowl cut.

He yelled over his shoulder, “Beanie’s out, again!”

A girl followed the boy through the door, letting the door slam behind her.  Bangs obstructed her view and she pushed heavy locks away from her nearsighted eyes.  She wore a faded pair of jeans, rolled up at the bottoms with a thin t-shirt.

With bare feet, the pair raced after the dog, leaving mashed grass and flowers in their wake.

“Beanie! Beanie! Come back!” they yelled in unison.

Suddenly the dog stopped and looked back, it waited for the kids to catch up.  Its sides heaved in and out and its tongue fell from its mouth as it rested for a second and then it took off again like a shot.

Chase me, shiny eyes begged as it risked a quick glance back at its pursuers.

The siblings laughed and resumed the chase after the dog.

An engine revved over the hill and a car appeared trailing a cloud of dust from the gravel road as it sped towards them. Screaming, the girl grabbed the boy with both arms, pulling him back from the road as the car flew past them.

The car intersected with the escaping dog.  They watched its body hit the front of the car and shoot off to the side of the road.  The girl’s heart pounded in her chest, she was still screaming.  The car sped on, never once hitting its brakes as the dog lay still on its side. Its life whiffed out in the same moment as the fleeting innocence of childhood.

Once gone, always gone.

 

How Fish Breathe

fingertip-pulse-oximeter

Leo was an imposing man, over six feet tall with a sharp intellect that cut with amazing speed and accuracy.  A gold link bracelet hung from his wrist.  He wore khakis and a soft, green sweater that clung to his round belly and skinny shoulders.  His clothes were simple, but good quality, meant to last with care.

He leaned against the wall just inside of the restaurant.  The room was bright with garish yellows and oranges; it was decorated with sequined sombreros, pictures of dark eyed women and ponchos with intricately threaded designs. 

After making his way through the door from the parking lot, he needed to rest.  Just for a second.  He surveyed his family as they milled about in front of him, laughing and talking, unaware of the struggle occurring behind them.  Good, he thought. 

He blew his breath out through slightly blue, pursed lips as he tried to force his body to cooperate.  It was a technique from his respiratory therapist that he would never admit to using, especially after the way he ended their work together. 

Patting his pocket, he slid his hand inside and held his pulse oximeter; a small device the fit over his finger and flashed out a percentage.  He resisted the urge to get a reading, but knowing that he could pull it out at any moment gave him a sense of control.  There was power in the label and an understanding in the scientific.  He felt an ironic reassurance as though it contained the magic needed to open his lungs and carry oxygen when it needed to go.  While still in his pocket, he gently turned it over several times between his long, white fingers, a lifelong fidgetier.

Yet, it held no magic, no healing, or even a preference for life over death.  The pulse oximeter was not to be swayed by his position or intimidated by his size or smarts.  It could only tell the truth that he was not getting enough oxygen and then finish each statement with an honest beep before shutting itself off. 

What to do when air becomes the enemy for a man used to walking on top of it?

 

Movie Night in a pre-Netflix world

An empty wooden bowl stained a dark brown collects dust on the shelf amidst other useless trinkets and knick-knacks in the name of décor. I looked at the bowl without really seeing it for years when suddenly the bowl is overflowing with the colors and smells of a twenty year old memory.

The room is dark and warm with the summer air. The windows are open and dingy lace curtains gently billow with the night breeze.  It smells like fresh cut grass and gasoline and pollen and earthworms.  Three feet of rabbit ear antenna are connected to an old tv that flickers in hues of green and pink.

It is Movie Night in a pre-Netflix world. There is a stack of VHS boxes from which to choose the evening’s entertainment.  First up, Cujo.  Perhaps, not the best choice for two kids who are scared of the dark, loud noises, cauliflower and clowns.  Nonetheless, the tape gets pushed into the mouth of the VCR and starts rolling to a limited but captive audience.

We pass the same smooth wooden bowl filled with popcorn back and forth, each taking a handful. I let a piece dissolve and shrink on my tongue before taking on another for the disintegration process.  It’s a complicated and slow way to eat popcorn, for sure.

Baby Bird stops passing the bowl and instead holds it between his hands, entranced by the scene on the flickering screen. As a massive black dog lunges almost out of the set, Baby Bird screams.  He tips the bowl over his head and eyes, and like an ostrich with his head in the sand, he feels safe.  Popcorn rains down onto his shoulders and gathers around his little body, like the falling of dogwood flowers around their tree in Spring.  It is a beautiful mess.

The bowl is back on the shelf, a retired relic of the past. However, the memory is wily, not to be sterilized or neatly labeled and categorized.  Instead it disappears into the shadows of the mind with days of red popsicles, puppies, summer breaks, and Baby Bird who is thousands of miles away from his refuge under the bowl.

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