Restored

hot ayQuiet settles over the apartment, a layer of heavy nothingness.  The lights go out with a pop as the voices on the radio fade.  There is no hum from the refrigerator or buzz from the air conditioner and the dishwasher suddenly stops whooshing.  There is only the sound of the baby thrashing his stuffed dog back and forth with a wild arm.

It is strange that I never noticed how much noise these energy-hungry devices make while they guzzle electricity until they are cut off from their source in a quick death.  In their wake they leave behind a literal feeling of powerlessness and a void that is impossible to fill without the cooperation of Middle Tennessee Electric Co-op.

Without electricity to cool and circulate the air, the apartment quickly heats up like a cozy, little oven, a sign that our energy efficient residence is only efficient at increasing the cost of our utility bills as we apparently air-condition the entire middle TN area.  I push open the windows and let the heat roll in with the sounds of the chattering birds and the deliberations of two maintenance men as they discuss the repair of a washing machine.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Baby flips over and is wriggling his way across the floor towards the cat, his lifelong frenemy, with an obvious fur-pulling goal in mind.  I use a magazine to fan my face, a less than optimal use of The Atlantic, and prepare to intervene in the fight that is about to ensue. 

We disconnect and leave the grid for a few hours, retreating into our own private world of building blocks, diapers, and vast quantities of milk.  When the fans and motors running the machines that keep us comfortable restart, I realize that I miss the quiet that I didn’t know I was missing even though I have been informed that we are now officially restored.

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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

Shots all around

bear sleepingThe nervous parents waited with their infant son.  He was wrapped in a blanket, dressed only in a dry diaper, per the nurse’s order.  His chubby feet stuck out from the bottom of the blanket with ten perfect, little piggies ready to go to market.   

He laughed and blew spit bubbles, unaware of the purpose of their visit, vaccinations.  He was content with the attention of his parents and the ability to grab his toes.  It was a gift of inexperience and limited short term memory.  Otherwise, he might have been screaming and fighting to make his way out of the office and away from his next round of shots.      

After a few minutes, the doctor breezed into the room wearing a pair of shiny, black boots.  He stopped to shake everyone’s hand, including the smallest, drool covered one.  

“Welcome to town.  I understand y’ all just moved here.” 

Thoroughly baby-slimed, he washed his hands in the sink without missing a beat.  Bodily fluids came with the territory of pediatric care.

“That’s right, we’ve been here about four weeks.”

“Well, I hope you like it so far.  Let’s back up and go over your boy’s medical history.”

After a few questions, they were caught up.  It didn’t take long to cover four months.   

“Now where is he sleeping?”

Sensing a moment of hesitation, the doctor turned away from the screen of his laptop and faced the parents.  He caught a quickly exchanged grimace between the two.  Their sleeping arrangements had been a point of contention over the past month.

Just the night before, they restarted the same ongoing conversation.

“I don’t like him in our room, I’m afraid you will fall asleep with him in our bed.”  

“And then what?” his wife asked with flashing eyes.

“I don’t want to say, but I would feel better if he was in his own room and in his crib, not in the pack-n-play in our room.”

A conclusion was not reached that night.

“Well, he’s in our room, next to the bed,” the baby’s mother started.

Before she could finish, the good doctor cut her off.

“He’s outta there,” he said motioning his thumb backwards over his shoulder, like an umpire making a call.  

 “We don’t want him to think that he needs his mommy to go to sleep, right?”

Obviously, this was a leading question, but the boy’s mother wasn’t quite ready to answer.     

A Monkey with a Knife

monkeyI gazed down on my beautiful boy with his smooth skin and clear eyes.  He grinned up and reached out to my face.  How sweet, I thought as I leaned down to give him a kiss.  Instead of allowing me to smooch his forehead, he grabbed my hair with both hands and yanked with all of his strength, flexing his baby muscles.  When I squealed out with surprise pain, he laughed in delight.  

He had just peed all over himself, his changing table, and of course, all over his loving mother and pile of diapers which led to the complete mid-day wipe down, diaper and outfit change.

“We might as well brush your hair while we are here,” I said to the naughty baby.

His hair was a soft, light brown fluff, like the down of a baby duck, straight the middle of his head, worn off on the sides and back.  Thankfully, it was still dry from the recent golden shower.

While keeping one hand on his chest to keep him from unexpectedly rolling off, I pulled his tiny hairbrush from a hanging pouch on the back of the door that also kept his nail clippers, extra bibs, thermometer and other random baby items.  Eyeing the brush, he reached up for it with both hands.  This will be a good sensory experience, I thought, and rubbed the bristles against the back of his hand.  

“This is the handle and these are the bristles,” I explained flipping it from one end to the other.

He grabbed the brush from my hand, immediately wrapping his monkey fingers around the handle and began brandishing it like a sword.  Woe be to his invisible baby foe, as his hairbrush-swordsmanship was remarkable.  He spastically thrust left and right, high and low, it was impossible to see where the next blow might fall until he smacked himself in the forehead.  He dropped the weapon/brush and began to wail.

Of course, I should have known better; it follows the logic that if you give a mouse a muffin, he will ask for a glass of milk.  If you give a baby a hairbrush, he’s going to use it as a sword.  And if he uses it as a sword, he’s going to smack someone with it.  And if someone gets smacked with it, its most likely going to be him.  And there’s going to be crying.  Lots of crying.

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.

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.

When Quitting Is Easy

quit

I was instilled with a midwestern work ethic almost from birth.  I washed dishes while standing on a stool, too short to reach the sink on my own, and folded laundry from a pile that nearly as big as me.  My first job was at 14, selling ice-cream cones and hot dogs from a beachside concession stand.  It was there that I was approached one day by a sweaty man with barbed wire tattoo around his flabby arm. He offered to “show me the world” and was quickly declined because I had other things on my mind starting with my next big job at a real ice-cream parlor.

My dedication to work continued through high school, college and beyond.  I was like a monkey swinging through the trees, always reaching for the next job before letting go of the last one.  Each one getting better with every swing forward, more money, time off and less of a commute.  Work gave structure to my life and a reason to get up each morning.  I was never without a paying job, sometimes two, since that first summer on the  beach.

Then everything changed a few short weeks ago with the birth of my son; he became my reason to get up in the morning and not just because of his screaming cries for milk.  I wanted to make him my top priority.  I wanted to be the one to change his diapers, to see his silly smiles in the morning, to revel in his presence and let him know how wanted and loved he is by his parents.

So when considering returning to work and dealing with crippling anxiety at the thought of my little boy in the cold hands of a stranger, I had to come up with a way to stay home with him.  I put my faith in the universe, quit my job and prepared to enter into an unknown realm of unemployment, days filled with infant care, and serious budgeting.   

He is now my full time, 24/7 job.  This new, non-income generating employment has actually cost me countless hours of sleep, an ugly scar from his c-section, and my entire heart in order to care for this being who neither walks nor talks.  He coos and giggles and flails his arms and our bond deepens every day we get to spend together.   I won’t be able to stay home forever, but right now, this day, this moment is all that matters.

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. 

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