Boy Versus Cat

Hiss.

Scream.

Running feet.

Before me, Baby Brother appears with blood dripping from his face and hands.

He cries and holds his arms out for comfort.  

My brain is unable to process the scene, it is temporarily out of service and off-line.

“Little Legs, what happened?”

I demand an explanation from the most likely guilty culprit. I assume, wrongly, that Little Legs smashed his brother in the face with something heavy.

“Bad tat,” Baby Brother says between sobs.

He speaks for himself now.

“Tat scratched me hard.”  

Little Legs casually walks into the kitchen where his brother’s blood continues to drip and spill to the floor.

“The cat did it, not me,” he says with a shrug.

Apparently, he has become a cool-guy teenager at age four.

Next, the cat slinks into the room, sits and disinterestedly watches the humans of the house.

I gather myself and with a deep breath step into action, wiping the blood from my son’s face revealing a deep slice between his lip and nose.

We don’t need an ambulance, but this is beyond the power of a glob of Neosporin and a Paw-Patrol band-aid to treat.  

I call Daddy Longlegs for help locating the nearest urgent care with the shortest wait time and begin the process of peeling the bloody mess of a shirt from the still crying Baby Brother, getting socks and shoes on both boys and heading out the door for Destinations Unknown.

How did it all turn out?

Baby Brother got two stitches and now has a terrific scar about which he can brag of a knife fight or cat attack when he is older. His brother got a lollipop for being so patient. And the cat, well, she got a new home. Somewhere far away between here and there.  

A Book’s Cover

Can you judge a book by its cover? I try to reserve judgement but its there one way or another, either in the very back or in the very front of my mind. Time and time again, I have been wrong after making a quick decision about a person because of their clothes or the way they speak. Recently, I met someone with a feather sticking out of her hair and instantly thought she was crazy, only to find she was a very competent employee and natural leader.

It is human nature, I think, to make up stories about who is safe or unsafe in an effort to understand our world and to quickly categorize those with whom we come into contact. Of course, humans are not so simple and seem to defy categorization because we live a long time and have layers upon layers of experiences that create and transform our character.  

I write all this to explain that we are in the process of finding a new babysitter. Our current gal gave the standard three day notice due to some silly health condition (extreme pregnancy) which we knew would happen sooner or later.

I posted an ad on our neighborhood page and within a few hours had exactly one interested party, a 16-year-old who lives down the road who loves kids. We set a date for her to come over for a meet and greet. She arrived in a baby doll dress with big eyes and blond hair. The boys had hearts in their eyes as they ran to her and offered her lollipops and popsicles to stay and play.

And I found myself making a hasty assessment of her thinking, she is young, well put-together and has so much potential, she would not jeopardize her future by doing something foolish or negligent with my sons. I want to see the best in her and as a long-time social worker, I know that potential is limitless in all directions, for better or worse.   

As we finished our popsicles, I said, “The job is yours if you want it,” with a hope for the best.

A Walk on the Wild Side

It is over 90 degrees in Tennessee and with the humidity, it feels like we are near the burning fires of Hell. The heat makes doing any kind of activity outdoors more difficult, but not impossible. And with two very active, young boys, time spent out of the house is an absolute requirement. We are creative in our plans, mindful of the sun, shade and always have lots of water on hand.

Today, we went for a hike in a lovely, forested park. The path was paved and surrounded by mature trees creating the perfect place for my wildings to run and burn off energy. It didn’t take long before they were slowing down and dripping with sweat.

“Carry me,” Baby Brother asked with upstretched arms.

“No, me,” Little Legs insisted as he shoved his brother aside.

“You are both big boys and can walk,” I explained, my hands were already full with their water bottle and abandoned hats.

“Maybe you should carry your brother?” I mistakenly suggested to Little Legs.

Little Legs took this as permission to grab his brother by the waist to start carrying him like a lumpy, sweaty sack of potatoes. Baby Brother fought him off only to get a double back slap-shove as he escaped and tried to run away.

They both cried and resumed their futile request for human transport before deciding it was easier to claim a mobility-impairing injury. Little Legs went down and Baby Brother in true monkey see, monkey do fashion, followed in the exact same way.

“My knee hurts,” Little Legs wailed

“Knee hurt,” Baby Brother cried.

“We can’t walk,” Little Legs explained as their spokesperson.

They both proceeded to go belly up for a rest on the pavement.   

In a surprise to no one, the heat brought out the crazy in both of them. They were only willing to move for the promise of orange push pops and blue Gatorade.  

As for me, I was glad we found a way to beat the heat, that they could walk unassisted (if it wasn’t for their double knee injuries), carry their own water bottles (if they put their minds to it) and we could spend the day together.

Hot and crazy, but together.

These are the days.

Enormous waves rolled up and crashed down on the beach. A red flag flapped overhead declaring dangerous water conditions which we did not dispute. We settled happily on the sand with towels, buckets, and shovels.  

Little Legs focused on burying the lower half of his brother’s body in the sand. He dumped scoop after scoop of wet sand onto Baby Brother’s chubby thighs and shins. With Little Legs’ tongue hanging out one side of his mouth, he was the very image of concentration and Baby Brother, the image of patience and grace.

Who agrees to be buried alive, aside from a sibling?   

Suddenly, Baby Brother rose with a roar, a toddler sized King Kong, and broke free from his sandy bondage. Little Legs screamed as sand flew up in a thousand different directions and his work was destroyed.

“No,” Little Legs yelled and lunged to pull his brother back down to the ground.

I assume his plan was to rebury Baby Brother.

Not interested in this, Baby Brother escaped and ran for the crashing waves.   

This time, I yelled “No” and raced after him.

I apprehended the runaway and brought him back to work on a new project, the construction of a sandcastle. Spoiler alert, it never got off the ground because Little Legs smashed every bucketful of carefully packed and formed sand.

Two beach-walkers with matching black sunglasses, maneuvered around us, holding hands. They were freckled and leathery from the sun.

“These are the best days of your life,” the man said.

“You don’t know it yet, but he’s right. These are the days,” the woman agreed.

The pair continued their path, straight ahead, leaving behind their prophetic wisdom and the thought that if these are the days, I want more, so many more. I am greedy for time with our children, satiated only by more time.

I am also overwhelmed with sadness to think this period could be it, the pinnacle of our time together. And I hope that the beachwalkers were wrong only in the omission of the word some, these are some of the best days of our life.

There can be more best days, many more.     

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.