The Magic of When/Then Statements

“If you don’t put on your pants, we can’t go to the library.”

Little Legs threw himself down, stretching out his limbs and kicking like a long-distance swimmer. The only difference was that this athlete wasn’t going anywhere, until he put on his pants.

Big, fat tears of protest rolled down his red cheeks. The injustice of the request was too much. It was all too unfair. If he was holding on by an emotional thread, the thread snapped and he went into a full tantrum. Meanwhile, Baby Brother, fully dressed, stood over Little Legs watching and holding his coat next to the bag of books that was neatly packed and placed by the door.

I tried to intervene at the risk of undermining my authority and offered to help.

“Here, I will put on this leg and you do the other.”

At this, he screamed, “I am not a baby.”

We were in a stand-off, or in this case, a crying-and-screaming-off, where no one was going to win.

“When you put your pants on, then we can go to the library,” I said in a tactical change of word usage.

The when/then statements were supposed to work magic on the irrational preschooler, a feat that I had yet to see. In my mind, it would work like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, taming the beasts by staring into their eyes.

Little Legs would nod his head in agreement and repeat, “When I put on my pants, then we can go to the library.”

And of course, he would then wipe the tears from his face, put on his pants and give me a hug to say, let’s work together, I’m sorry, without saying a word.

Instead, he continued to scream, kick and refuse to wear pants.

He made two things quite clear; he needed some alone time and that we were not taking a trip to the library.

What to do with a bed bug.

Over the past few weeks, we have had a regular visitor. He arrives in the darkness on shuffling feet and wiggles and grunts his way into our bed.

I suppose it is the excitement of his trip through the house under the cover of night that makes him start coughing and coughing and coughing. Once he starts, he cannot stop.

Daddy Longlegs and I both wake up, it is rather hard to sleep with someone coughing on your face and spraying a fine mist of spittle on your eyelids. Although we are both awake, one of us plays dead and waits him out, while the other sits up, rubs his back and assumes parental responsibility. The role of nurse and possum switches from night to night, usually depending on whose side he lands.

“Water?” Little Legs asks.

We give him water.

“Cough medicine?” he asks.

“You already had some,” we remind him.

 “Pillow?” he asks.

“It is right there.”

“Oh…” he laughs.

Apparently, not sleeping is funny.

I am working out the silver lining to this exhausting situation, these are the highlights so far.

1. The nightwalker and one of his parents get to see one another at an unexpected time.

2. We have a bed to share in a house that is mostly safe for nightly travel.

3. It is not a situation that is going to last forever.

So, I will focus on appreciating the visits from our nocturnal son, rework our plan to get him to stay in his own bed, hello honey lollypops and endless bribes, and lastly, be grateful that Baby Brother is still in his crib and it is only one visitor, for now.    

The Resistance

The boys go to daycare twice a week. They get to socialize, pick up new germs, and begin to learn how to conform in a play society of pre-schoolers and toddlers which is ruled by 18 year-old girls/classroom teachers. Most, if not all, of my piddly paycheck goes to pay for this opportunity which also gives me a break, even if the break is spent working.  

I do not ask much out of the staff, aside from how was the boys’ day and do they need another set of play clothes or diapers/wipes? In return, the staff only shares the essentials, such as, “Yes they had a good day. They had a nap and a bowel movement.” Or “No, they did not have a good day. There was an incident and….” Fill in the blank with any number of ways that a toddler can fall off a table or collide with another child that results in blood shed and head injuries.

I did not complain when the front office staff changed over seven times in the past ten months, or when the teachers mysteriously disappeared to be replaced by the latest female crew from America’s Most Wanted. When the center shut down for two weeks due to Covid, and then for another two weeks, I patiently waited for things to return to normal. As the boys have been sick every other week from what I suspect is a lack of sanitizing, again, I expressed understanding for the Daycare Experience and let it go.

However, when I received a group email from the director that parents were spending too much time talking to staff, my head exploded in a puff of electric purple. Effective immediately, all concerns and communication needed to be routed through the front desk to be relayed to the classroom teachers to reduce the distractions for the teachers and the delay in drop off and pick-ups.

Regardless of my anger, I decided to respect their request and dropped the boys off without the usual few words to check-in about the weekend, changes in health or having the right weather-related clothes. Baby Brother was greeted by his usual sweet, smiling teacher who took him into the room in her arms. The problem was the fresh set of adult faces in Little Legs’ classroom who appeared already exhausted and overrun by the whirling dervishes.

One woman approached Little Legs and said, “What’s your name?”

Little Legs shook his head and backed up towards the door, refusing to give up his identity.

“Come on little boy, show me where your cubicle is,” she requested.

I popped back in and said, “This is Little Legs,” struggling to control the tight pulling of irritation in my face and chest.

From there I marched down the hall to the front desk where I would like to say I eloquently expressed my concerns and desire for change. Instead, it is no exaggeration to write that I lost my sh*t about the dangers in limiting communication between parents and classroom teachers in addition to constantly changing staff.

The director stepped out of her office and apologized for the misunderstanding and that the email was meant for the parents who were spending half an hour talking to the classroom teachers.   

“You can talk to them for 15 minutes if you want,” she said graciously.  

“Thanks, but no thanks, I just need a few minutes.”

I left feeling drained and surprised at the power of my own emotions. I am ready for the next daycare showdown. My voice is my weapon, even though my throat is starting to get suspiciously sore.

I am Mama, hear me roar. Sort of.

Savage Life

The boys are in the kitchen eating cereal and toast. Carbs with carbs, just the way I was raised. Baby Brother is standing on a two-tier stool to reach the counter and Little Legs is perched dangerously on a backless bar stool.

Usually, we eat at the table, but the Wildings surrounded me and demanded breakfast before I could think straight enough to get them to properly sit and patiently wait. The thought of the boys being proper and/or patient is a bit of a joke. I had to throw gummy fruit snacks down the hallway to distract them long enough to make a dash for the toaster.    

Little Legs hops down from his stool to retrieve a Matchbox car that is essential to his breakfast process. And during his brief absence, the dog takes the opportunity to grab the unguarded toast in her mouth and swallows it with one gulp.  

There is no hesitation, chewing or remorse involved. Carpe Diem, Seize the Toast.

Little Legs turns around as the slightly burned, mostly uneaten bread disappears whole, like a mouse down the throat of a snake. Little Legs throws his hands up in the air and screams the worst insult he can muster with the limited vocabulary of a three-year-old.

“You a toast eater! You a bad dog, you toast eater!”

It is a dog-eat-toast life here in Tennessee.

Savages, all around.

Old Shoes

Little Legs raced out into the snow, his shoes disappearing into white with each step. Baby Brother followed closely behind. Neither able to travel very quickly with the winter version of quicksand pulling at their feet.

It took no fewer than twenty minutes and a near mental breakdown to assemble the coats and hats, socks and pants, sweats and sweatshirts, wrestle each boy down, and pull the layers onto their various appendages. At one point, Baby Brother pulled his socks and shoes back off, while I fasted the Velcro straps of Little Legs’ shoes.

I stood up and said, “Fine, I will leave without both of you.”

They knew I meant business as Little Legs hurried to pull on his coat and Baby Brother held his head against my legs and said, “Shoes?”

“This is your last chance to cooperate.”

“What is cooperate?” Little Legs asked.

“It means we work together.”

“Ok, we work together,” he said.

Suddenly, I realized we were not working together. I was just cramming their heads into hats and fingers into gloves. I was not giving them a chance to help. Going outside to play in the snow was on my agenda, not theirs. They would much rather prefer to stay in the warm house and race dinosaur cars. Me too, for that matter, but we needed fresh air, and I, as their fearless leader, would show them the way.  

“Let’s do this again, together.”

“Together,” Little Legs said with a hug around my shoulders. (Like seriously, how sweet?)

“Shoes,” Baby Brother said in agreement.

The Painter

“Brother, what happened in here?” Little Legs asked.

I heard the concern in his tinny voice as I let the dog outside. An urgent need to lay eyes on the scene and the siblings overwhelmed my senses.   

Forget about the dog, I thought, as I ran through the house. I made it to the room just in time for Little Legs to repeat his question, mirroring my thoughts as I surveyed the situation.  

“What happened in here?”

An artist had clearly been at work. He used just one color and painted everything, including himself, with it. Baby Brother was now a brown boy living in a brown world.

He looked up at me with big, wide, innocent eyes and said, “Poop.”

“I see,” I said.

To further emphasize, he reached around and placed a hand in his diaper.

“Poop,” he said.

“Yes, now I really see.”

I struggled to hold down the creeping vomit long enough to remove the boy from his crib for a handoff to Daddy Longlegs in the shower. Baby Brother splashed in the water and knocked over bottles of shampoo and conditioner while the clear water turned brown and then clear, again.

Mama Said

As soon as the boys woke up and peeked out the window, they wanted to go outside. Overnight, their Tennessee world of greens and browns transformed into a brilliant white that demanded exploration.  

“Wow,” the boys said in unison with their mouths and noses pressed against the glass.  

It was the exact thing that I said when I woke up, minus the drooling at the window. Clearly, the novelty of the first winter snow does not wear off, whether one has seen it three or thirty-five times.  

Little Legs raced around, gathering things to take outside.  

Within a few minutes, he was prepared. There were three Matchbox cars, all of which he was to later lose in the snow, two mismatched shoes and one bright-green fisherman’s hat.

He said, “Let’s go outside. Ready, set, go.”

As though turning a trip outside into a race has ever worked to speed up a slow-poke, I thought. Then I realized he used my let’s-turn-things-we-don’t-want-to-do-into-a-game technique against me. The boy-sponge was absorbing too much.

I stared at him for a minute trying to remember when he changed from a toddler into a boy, a real boy. Someone who likes to stand up when he pees and eats cereal out the box and hugs his brother when he cries.  

Meanwhile, Baby Brother plopped down in front of the door, requested a “baabaanan” (banana, obviously) and waited to be clothed for the outing.

“Wait just a minute, little boys. We need to eat breakfast,” I said.

It was 7:30am. I glanced at the outdoor thermometer and shivered, 32 degrees was cold, even for someone with Hoosier blood.

“After breakfast, we can bundle up and go outside.”

They accepted the plan, perhaps encouraged by the early morning rumblings of their tumblies. Baby Brother grabbed his toast, smashed it into a ball and returned to wait by the door. Little Legs chugged a glass of milk, took one bite of oatmeal and declared, “We ready.”

“It’s going to be cold. You both need to wear layers, coats and gloves,” I said.

“What’s layers?” Little Legs asked.

“Wait and see,” I said.

I pulled shirt over shirt onto both boys and zipped them up into sweatshirts and double sweatpants and socks. I separated out the coats, gloves and hats into big and little and the pirates decided that they had waited long enough. They mutinied.

“We want out. We want out,” the ambassador for all small boys in the house shouted.  

Baby Brother cried and pulled at his sweatshirt.  

“We don’t want gloves or coats, we want out,” Little Legs said.

They took to pounding on the door and screaming like they had lost their minds, one feeding off the other. I tried to grab Baby Brother to put a glove on his hand and he turned into a jellyfish in my arms and squirmed away. Little Legs kicked and twisted when I tried to work his arm into the sleeve of his coat.

“Fine, let’s try it your way and see what happens,” I said.  

They laughed in delight at their victory and ran outside and after the second armful scoop of snow started to melt in his hands, Baby Brother cried as it stung his skin.

“It is too cold for us. We want back in. We need coats and gloves.” Little Legs said.

“Interesting,” I said.

Well-Nourished

As I waited the standard two hours to be seen by the doctor for five minutes, I perused the office note from last year’s visit.

“Patient is well-appearing and nourished,” he wrote.

At first, my brain turned the words into vegetable soup and I thought he wrote that I appeared well-nourished as in too much flesh on my bones. Instantly, I felt offended. I keep my weight under a much tighter control than he maintains the wait in his office.

Then I read it again and my blood pressure dropped a few points. The words rearranged themselves and I became thoughtful about what it means to be nourished beyond the dictionary limitation of food and other substances necessary for growth, health and good condition.

Eating the right foods and drinking the right liquids are just a part of being nourished. Too much red meat and my stomach seizes up, too much booze and I can’t sleep through the night, but in the right quantities, life is rich and satisfying.

Likewise, reading fills me up and writing empties me out, sometimes vice versa, However it works, maintaining balance is key to remaining mentally and emotionally healthy. Yet, even with the most careful rationing of my time and energy, I still find myself pulled into a book, right now it is Half of a Yellow Sun, or obsessed with writing a story and temporarily check out. Thank God for my husband who picks up my slack, among the many other things he does, like making a birthday cake for Little Legs complete with a tractor with chocolate mud tracks in a field of green grass.

Expressing gratitude, exercising, spending time in nature and of course, as any reader of this blog is aware, watching my boys grow fills my heart and nourishes my soul.

I guess the doctor’s assessment was right, I am well-nourished, in mind, body and soul and its by more than food or things. I have a great life with an amazing spouse and the best little boys. For 2022, I want to be present for all of it, to live and love more deeply, worry less and let go of old hang-ups.

Wishing everyone out there a happy and healthy New Year and encouraging your reflection on nourishment.

Nice to meet you, Neighbor.

Two blonde heads bobbed up and down in a cherry red, Power-Wheels Jeep. The driver was Little Legs and his passenger was Baby Brother, who appeared quite content at being driven through the yard, happily bouncing next to his best friend.

A black dog orbited around them, her range getting wider and wider with each pass, until she appeared next to the beehive. Her nose led her along the ground. She sniffed each side of the box and was in the process of sniffing the small opening when I waved my arms to get her attention and yelled.

“Get back, Coco!”  

The warning came a second too late. One of the guard bees found her and gave her warning sting on her rump. She raced off with the fur raised along her spine, she yipped and rolled in the leaves and yipped more.

Then she went straight for the road, temporarily insane from the sting and pulled forward as though by a powerful magnet.

“Stay here, boys. Do not come any closer.”

The jeep boys stood up to do their part.

In unison, they chanted, “Come back, Coco. Come back.”

She did not listen. Rather, she ran faster.

Meanwhile, a big, white truck barreled down the narrow, country road.

I screamed for Coco to stop and to come to sit and stay and every other command she might have picked up over the past year to no avail.

I clomped after her in a pair of slip-on clogs that were one size too big and threatened to roll with each little rock and twig.

Over the road and through the neighbor’s yard and back over the road she ran blindly.

A woman walking her two, well-behaved dogs pulled off to the side of the road to watch with anticipatory horror of what was about to happen.

When much to my surprise, the truck slowed to a crawl and pulled off the road. The door opened and a man in jeans and a ball cap that seemed like a halo stepped out.

He crouched down and the dog ran right into his outstretched arms.   

“Thank you,” I said closing in on the wild animal.

I gushed about the bee sting and the failure of the invisible fence and the boys in their jeep. He patted the dog on the head and shrugged his shoulders in a no-big-deal kind of way like he didn’t just save the day.

“No problem. Nice to meet you, Neighbor.”  

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.