Four Frogs

They sat mostly side by side on the couch, four exhausted frogs on a log, in front of a glowing tv screen.

Thomas, the Train was beginning to feel like part of the family as he puffed out story after story, 11 minutes at a time, occupying the toddler and giving his parents a break from chasing him through the house. Their count had just gone up by one and the change was being felt by all, with the baby having the easiest time of it.

“Eat, sleep, poop,” the pediatrician prescribed earlier in the week while wearing a mask, tennis shoes and jeans; apparently, it was a Casual Covid-19 Tuesday.

“That’s all he needs to be doing,” he addressed the couple from a short stool and then spun to face the woman, “and you just need to feed him.”

Easy as that.

At that point, it was not something that the mother needed to be told. The baby was already very clear about his agenda. He was born with a powerful set of lungs that he had, thus far, used exclusively to request more milk. His mother assumed the sweet coos and giggles would come later, but first, they had to put in the hard work and long hours.

It was a job that the scrunch-faced-baby’s mother took seriously and consumed most of her time, energy and calories. Of course, keeping up with the needs of the scrunch-faced-baby was not without its cost to the rest of the household. There was a scattering of crumbs throughout the house that read like a brail sidewalk, leading the resident toddler over his path from the kitchen to the living room to his play area. Dishes lounged in grey water in the sink and the laundry had already accumulated into a small mountain that if not secured in the laundry room would have been scaled by the quickly becoming feral toddler.

Fortunately, the toddler was not altogether neglected as he made sure to always remain underfoot and nearby, tugging at his daddy’s shirt or poking at the baby’s belly. Presently, he had a glob of jelly on his face and a matching smear on his shirt which was not unusual, aside from the fact that he had cereal for breakfast and a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch.

He clearly had strong survival skills.

From the couch, the woman, wife and mother let her heavy eyelids drop down and felt herself slip into a blissful rest that lasted all of a minute before the baby simultaneously released a juicy gust of wind and a wail of hunger. As she wondered how one extra small person could create so much extra everything, the toddler suddenly popped up and ran to the kitchen for a snack while her husband’s head dropped back and a mighty snore escaped from his opened mouth.

This was her crazy life and her heart was full.

four frogs

 

As Right as Rain

A cool breeze rustled the leaves in a way that promised of a break from the heat. Overhead, a sky of bright blue was littered with fat grey and white clouds. The woman hoped for a drenching rain so she wouldn’t have to lug the watering can across the yard. She could practically hear the garden crying out for water.

It just felt so far away and her legs were so heavy.

“What do you think, Little Legs, do you want to water the garden?”

He pretended not to hear his mother as he continued to splash and dump water onto his head from the water table. For those who aren’t familiar, a water table is a brightly colored, plastic receptacle that holds water and is set up on legs just high enough for a toddler to reach in and quickly make a soaking wet mess. It also happened to be his parents’ latest attempt to amuse and distract their incredibly active child. So far it was working brilliantly.

“Little Legs?” his mother repeated herself giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Surely, it was too early for him to ignore her. How could he have learned the ways of the world at such a tender age and with the last few months of that tender age being spent in quarantine? Could this be from the cheeky influence of Thomas the Train? His mother made a note to monitor cartoon time more closely in the future.

The boy took a cupful of the grimy water and flung it at his mother, splashing her face and chest. Of course, he was not ignoring her, he was simply too busy to answer. He laughed and returned to his work filling up the cup and dumping it on his head.

From an evolutionary standpoint, they were not that far from monkeys. The boy’s mother could easily see the dripping wet boy in front of her as a naughty animal throwing a banana peel or a handful of poop in response to something he didn’t like. However, she still wished that he would use words as she wiped the water from her glasses.

Life was about to change for her monkey boy. His baby monkey brother was due to make his appearance in less than a week’s time. Soon the boy would have to share everything, including his parents, toys and time, with a noisy creature who would quickly double and triple in size and ability.

Little Legs would transition from being an only child to a brother, from one to one of a pair, all while he was still sleeping early on Sunday morning. The initial part of becoming a brother had required nothing from him, aside from a little patience and grace for his slow moving mother; it was the days and months and years to follow that would take work as the two boys evolved from being siblings to brothers to best friends, with any luck.

Yards of Yellow

dandysWe left the safety of the house for our morning exploration of the yard which usually involves tromping through the grass to check in on the garden, the status of a bird nest above Little Leg’s window and to blow on white haired dandelions to release their fluff in the breeze.  I assume our neighbors will thank us for their yards of yellow later this summer.  Of course, I didn’t expect to end the expedition with plans for a funeral, but that’s life.  And death.

Little Legs led me by the hand to inspect his stack of bricks and found the pile to be as he left it, precariously leaning to one side.  I pointed out a black dragonfly with square wings like the sails of a pirate ship that landed on a flat rock.  There were no disturbances in the garden, thanks to a regular dusting of diatomaceous earth, and the three fuzzy heads of the baby birds were all accounted for in the nest.  It was a morning in which all was remarkably well, begging for a small disaster to balance out our tiny universe in which the sun, moon and stars was contained in a pint-sized boy.

As we turned the corner and headed back towards the porch, I spotted something on the concrete pad next to an abandoned Mr. Potato Head and underneath of the window.  It was a palm-sized bird laying motionless on its side with its eyes cracked open in a sign of potential life.

Little Legs shouted, “Bur…” in delight and ran to scoop it up.

“No, baby! Something is wrong with that bird.  Let mama check it out.” 

I stepped in front of Little Legs to stop his obvious course of action and knelt down for a better look at the pile of soft brown feathers.  Ignoring the threat of bird-carrying diseases and parasites, I gently picked the bird up and its head rolled to the side without resistance; although its chest was still warm, the life was gone from its shiny, black eyes.  There was no fluttering heartbeat, quivering wings or chirping, just two tiny feathers stuck to the window where it must have made impact while we were sending dandelions seeds to destinations unknown.

Do I explain death, here and now, to Little Legs?  I promised myself before he was born that I would always try to be an honest parent and tell the truth, whatever version might be most age appropriate. 

“The bird died, buddy.  I think its neck is broken,” I explained to a face that did not comprehend. 

Little Legs threw his hands up in question and I instantly altered the narrative to one more comfortable and understandable, one that I assume my parents gave to me until I could grasp the concept of death.

“The bird is sleeping and its not going to wake up.”

Little Legs nodded his head, sleep was something he was very familiar with as he fought it every day and night.  He went to a box of gardening tools near the door and came back with a trowel.

“Chop, chop?” he asked.

“That’s good, we’ll dig a hole and bury the bird.”

He drove the shiny metal down onto the cement with a clashing sound to further explain his plan.  I hoped that he meant to dig into the soil.  I hoped for another opportunity as seemingly benign as this one to explain life and death.  Mostly, I hoped I wasn’t screwing up as a parent and that he would forgive me, if I was, someday.

Sugar

A pair of dark eyes surrounded by a face full of white fur peered into the window and gave a friendly bark, not too deep, not too loud, but a bark that was just right to get the attention of a little boy playing on the other side of the room.

“Uh, babe, what is that?”

It was shocking to see this large creature looking in at us like a spectator at a zoo, curious and anxious for interaction.  In fact, so suddenly did it appear that my husband was unable to register the nature of the drooling visitor.  However, I knew exactly where the fluffy voyeur was from, further confirmed as it continued to peer into our living room, waiting to be acknowledged by someone who was still making his way to the window. 

The animal’s name was Sugar, she lived across the street, and was most often found covered in mud, racing around the perimeter of the yard barking at birds.  We learned her name just a few days ago, but had visited her through the winter and spring.  She was a living landmark on our walks, a touch-point during our travels that indicated a successful road crossing.

It appeared that she was simply returning the favor in her first moments of freedom.  We were her touch-point from a successful road crossing in the opposite direction.  

“She came to find Little Legs.”

At last, Little Legs made it to the window and shrieked in delight.  He dropped his Tonka truck which landed on my foot with a crash and a cry of pain, from me, as it was an old hand-me-down toy that was on the verge of being unsafe with metal and hard, moveable plastic bits.  Little Legs grabbed onto the window ledge with a grin that was made of the same combination of drool, teeth, and a hanging tongue as his visitor and pointed at the door.

He was ready to go out and see his friend without a window or gate between the two.  Sadly, it was a desire that was not meant to be for these two besties.  An invisible breeze blew the scent of something too juicy to ignore past the dog’s wet nose.  Sugar sniffed the air, gave another bark and took off at a full gallop, determined to spend the rest of its freedom doing dog-things from its to-do list, now one item shorter.

It is nice to have friends, isn’t it Little Legs?

When Daddy Comes Home

The rumble of the garage door opening distracts Mr. Baby from his important work stacking plastic rings on a post.  His little ears and eyes perk up like daffodils after a Spring rain. 

“Dada, dada, dada,” he begins to chant, increasing in volume and force as he bounces up and down.

He toddles over and throws his body into my lap with a demand to be carried to the garage door.  Obviously, the mommy taxi can take him where he wants to go faster than his chubby legs can travel.

At this point, I am chopped liver and accept my new designation.  It has been a long few days on our own.  I carry the tiny tyrant to wait by the garage door and set him down on the rug. 

Unfortunately, the entire process takes too long for Mr. Baby and his patience is wearing thin.  He flexes into a tripod position and pushes off of the ground and up to stand.  He bangs his fists against the door.  He hears the movement of a suitcase, the shuffling of feet and the slam of a car door.

At last, the door knob turns and Mr. Baby’s father appears, travelworn and weary, but glad to be home.

“Hey guys, I missed you.” 

He brings his bags inside, pushes his suitcase out of the way and kneels to hug Mr. Baby.

Mr. Baby holds his arms out and then pivots to chase the rolling suitcase.  He laughs as he makes off with it down the hallway and leaves his father, open armed and crestfallen.

Suddenly, Mr. Baby is back without the suitcase and running into daddy’s arms.

Somedays, we have to laugh to keep from crying as parenthood continues to surprise, delight, crush and challenge us.  Today is one of these days that we can just laugh.

Thou Shalt Not Nap

The noise was unbearable, worse than nails on a chalkboard or the chirping of a dying smoke alarm.

Each time I started to relax, the houseguest took in another mouthful of air with a frighteningly loud, snorting snore. 

It equally startled my soul and unborn child; I felt both curl up and hide within me, waiting for a more peaceful time to unfurl.

My nap was over before it began as was the houseguest’s welcome.

 

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.

Snailed It.

snailed itWe sit at the table staring at each other; me sipping coffee from a mug, the boy drinking from a sippy cup of milk.  He finished his bowl of oatmeal fruit mush in lightning speed and wears the remnants on his sleeve, his idea of a more convenient napkin than anything I can provide. 

Don’t worry, mama, he says with his eyes as he wipes his mouth again.  I’ve got this handled.

Drool and milk escape the clumsy swipe of his sleeve and dribble from his chin into the cotton collar of his freshly laundered shirt.  One of the many benefits of being his caretaker is dressing him however I like, and usually, it is in something that makes me laugh.  Today, his shirt was a cute little blue number with a smiling snail on it that declared, “Snailed It!”

The boy holds the plastic cup up to his forehead in a wishful attempt to become more unicorn-like, turns it upside down, and then moves it to the top of his head with a grin.

“Are you done?” I ask as the last drops of milk drip onto his recently trimmed hair and down his forehead.

I answer my own question, as I do through most of the day, “Yes, you are done,” and confiscate the cup in a quick grab that results in an unhappy squeal and a glare that speaks for itself.  

“Did that fill up your tummy?” I ask, hoping to avoid the tears and screaming that could come post-squeal.

Instead of a blank stare, tears or yelling, he takes one hand and pats his chubby belly with a full five-toothed smile.

I gasp, I didn’t teach him that.

“Where is your tummy?”  

I am curious if he will repeat his actions and gasp again when he takes both hands and pats his chubby belly like a happy Buddha.

“That’s right, but who taught you that?” I pepper him with questions that make him laugh and hold his arms up for release from his chair. 

“Did Daddy teach you that?” my questions fall on deaf ears.

The boy is ready to leave the table and resume playing with his jumble of cars and trucks in the makeshift miniature parking lot of the living room and gives me no further information.

Later, after his father, grandparents and anyone else I can think of deny all knowledge of the tummy trick, I have to accept that that the boy is a sponge who is constantly observing and synthesizing input.  He is becoming his own person which astounds my simple brain and humbles my heart. 

Every single day I am amazed by this little person, but on this day, he really snailed it.  

Mommy Hugs

sleeping-cher

It’s the smell of vomit on my shirt that wakes me up, or maybe its just the first thing that I notice.  Curdled milk and stomach acid combine to make a very unique smell which seems to follow me everywhere I go.  The source of the bodily fluids is still fast asleep; curled up on his side, with his chubby cheeks and rosebud lips making him look like a cherub resting from fluttering about on a pair of tiny wings. 

In reality, the baby is tired from chasing the cat, pulling all of the pots and pans out of the cabinets, standing up against the toilet and dismantling the nightlight from the wall which was somehow missed in the last round of babyproofing.  He continues to show us what he needs and wants, what he likes and dislikes, and how to be better parents. 

One of his primary interests is in ending all cell phone usage in his presence.  He reminds us to be present or else he will put a handful of ants in his mouth.  He keeps us accountable through inquisitive eyes that see and question all.  He keeps us selfless as we prepare him for the world and a future independent of diapers, rattles and pureed food but never free from mommy hugs, I hope.    

One less leaf

leaf

The baby laughed like a maniac who had just gotten away with robbing a bank or draining the dolphin tank at the zoo.  I eyed the boy suspiciously as he continued to giggle with an open mouth. 

“What is in your mouth?” I asked in alarm as the tip of a piece of foreign matter peeked out amidst the laugher of its host.

Two tiny teeth stood guard, rice sized soldiers protecting whatever he had tucked away in his cheek.

I wrangled the squirming baby and his mouth clamped shut with the determination of a Rottweiler’s teeth into a piece of meat.  He knew that he was found out but he wasn’t giving in without a fight.  

“Open up,” I demanded with the baby under one arm and a finger in his mouth.   

He shook his head in refusal and smiled with eyes that sparkled with mischief.

“Yes, you will,” I argued with the naughty boy.

I fished left and right until I felt something solid, pinched it between two fingers and extracted an entire leaf.

I laughed in disbelief, but I wanted to cry.  What if he had found something more malign than an old leaf, like a nail or a dead spider?  I promised him I would do better and be more vigilant against the dangers of the world.

Graciously, he forgave me and crawled off babbling his favorite word, “Dada.”