An Anxious Mind

anxietyAlmost as soon as we round the corner, a giant of a man appears in front of us on the otherwise deserted street.  He wears a sheet-sized, bright orange Sponge Bob t-shirt with matching orange sunglasses and walks with slow shuffling steps.  His feet lack the confidence of his bold outfit, he is like a massive, newly feathered baby bird learning to fly.

In spite of his slow shuffling steps, my anxious mind screams that he is stalking us, albeit in a very conspicuous way.  Obviously, he has been waiting for us to appear, I think with my anxious mind.  My heart starts to pound as my anxious mind races with possibilities while the man continues to approach, one shuffling step at a time.  We can’t turn around without making it obvious that he scares us.  Plus, we don’t want to lead him back to the house.  To be clear, I am the only one who is scared; the little boy is quite content cruising with his feet up on the cup holders, playing with Sophie, the giraffe, and singing a tuneless song.

Meanwhile, I wonder how many days Big Orange has watched us stroll past his window before he decided to come out of the darkness that I imagine to be his living room.  We travel the same streets almost every day at close to the same time, as true creatures of habit, making it all too easy for Big Orange to time his outing.  We will not run or show fear, we will stand our ground, I reason with my anxious mind.

“Good morning,” I say in a gruff voice that my anxious mind believes will make us more intimidating.

 Big Orange stops in his tracks, surprised by either the greeting or the strange tone of voice, “What?”

“Ahem,” I clear my throat, “I said, good morning.  It’s what people say in the morning.”

“Ok,” he replies.  “Bye-bye now,” he peeks into the stroller, waves with his fingertips to the baby and shuffles on past us.

I have a terrible moment of clarity when I consider the shuffle, the delayed comprehension and the Sponge Bob shirt; Big Orange has a disability and I am definitely a jerk for assuming that he was instead a calculated stalker.  Anxiety quickly melts into guilt, my default emotion.  However, then I notice the baby is whimpering in his seat with his arms and legs pulled in like a distressed turtle and Sophie is completely missing, tucked someplace safe.

“What’s wrong, baby?  It’s ok, mama is here,” I murmur to pair of wide eyes that stare up at me from the stroller.  

Does he sense my anxiety or is there something else about Big Orange that I am missing?  In either case, its hot out and we need to head home, so we continue our walk with a little more pep in our step.  Sophie reappears from whichever roll she was hiding under and the baby is happily babbling again. Order is seemingly restored, but a nagging feeling makes me look over my shoulder.  Big Orange has doubled back and is walking towards us with quick, determined steps, completely shuffle-free.   

“Time to roll, little man.”

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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.”

Negotiations with a baby

cartI refer to the list in my hand, peanut butter is underlined twice, as though it could be forgotten.  Everything is accounted for on the list except for pickles which are located at the opposite end of the store.  I hesitate and consider the need vs. want of the pickles when the baby squawks from his perch breaking my train of thought.  Dimpled legs and barefoot feet kick at me, while a black safety belt holds his round belly in place.

“Ok, ok,” I say and start pushing the cart and its little captain again.  He is happiest when he is in motion and the squawk was a warning.  I don’t want any trouble from the tiny tyrant.  The last time I heard that particular noise it was to a little girl who crawled with a threatening quickness towards us at a coffee shop.  He spotted her and squawked which stopped and terrified her back towards the legs of her mother.  Mission accomplished.

The baby world is strange, they communicate with a series of grunts, shrieks and squeals, kisses and slobbers, pinches and pats.  They are the most primitive version of us, totally dependent and yet independent in wanting what they want when they want it.  And he wants to go.

“Let’s check out and then we can go home and play,” I negotiate.

He seems to accept the offer as he stares up at the bright lights overhead with a half-smile.  I wheel past the self-checkout lanes and towards the only one manned by an actual person.  Self-checkout would be great for a single person with a bundle of bananas and a box of lightbulbs, not so great for the two of us and a week’s worth of groceries.  

An old man with white hair, faded jeans and shiny penny-loafers gets in line behind us looking weirdly unburdened with only a pack of batteries in one hand.  Meanwhile, the baby sets his attention on opening the sliding cooler door with bottles of soda and water beside the checkout lane, twisting his body to use both arms to reach it.  I hold him down with one arm and load a bag of salad, lunch meat and baby food onto the moving belt.  The cart is still overwhelmingly full to unload with one hand.

From behind me, the old man begins to speak.  In my mind, I imagine his gentlemanly offer to help with the unloading.  Chivalry is not dead.  I chuckle at my geriatric knight and step aside to allow him to put his offer to good use. 

In reality he says, “You’re awful small to have such a big baby,” peering over my shoulder and tapping his shoe like he has to be somewhere very important in the next two minutes.

I do not respond with a witty comeback about him being awful old to be so creepy and rude.  Although I cringe at the thought of confrontation with a stranger, I am not afraid of it.  On this day, however, I am simply too exhausted from keeping the baby happy and healthy, the house clean, groceries in the fridge and on and on to dish it back.   

“Why don’t you and your batteries go in front of us?” I omit that he is an oblivious, useless man.

And, of course, he accepts my offer.

Beautifying the land

flowersWe move to a barren plot of earth where the grass is brown and sun-scorched.  Ancient trees with white and green lichens growing on the bark and dead limbs poised to break free and crash to the ground line the borders.  There are no flowers or bushes aside from a gathering of white and yellow wildflowers at the edge of the tree line.  Tough weeds that like shallow soil and dry conditions are the only thing that grow in abundance.  A thick layer of limestone is just under the soil, daring us to bring life to the impossible area.

The earth says no and my shovel agrees at the initial dig when I hit rock here, there and everywhere. Yet, we do not listen.  Instead, we get a pick-axe and bring in compost and top soil, plants and grasses. Busting through the rock and clay as beads of sweat drip from our foreheads and run down our necks, we refuse to accept the current state of our land.

Meanwhile, the baby creeps out from under his umbrella, off of his blanket and onto the crunchy grass after an orange butterfly.  

“Ahem,” the baby’s father clears his throat, stopping the baby in mid-crawl with the invisible power of a hypnotist.  

Orange wings flutter off towards the trees and the temporary spell is broken.  The baby resumes his escape attempt and is scooped up by his ever-observant daddy and only to be returned to the blanket.  His face is covered in dirt, turned to mud from the fountain of drool that drips from his mouth.  He smiles and laughs with his hands up in the air, conducting a silent orchestra with his chubby fingers.

He is a beautiful mess.

It is all for this muddy buddy that we accept the dare to bring life where there has only been rock and weeds.  It is for him that we see beyond the harsh present to create a lush future.  It is for him that we sweat and toil.  

We beautify the land for him and for those who follow, it is no longer about us. 

Lessons Learned

birdThe man held the large, plastic saucer in his hands and twisted the edges in opposite directions.

“See, it’s not going to break like your traditional ceramic bird bath.”

The woman took the saucer from the man to test his claim of durability for herself, twisting the edges and trying to bend it in half, without success.  Although gullible in all of her other relationships, she was not one to take the word of a salesperson at face value.  Not anymore, at least.   

Unable to break or bend it, she nodded in satisfaction and flipped the saucer over, “No price tag?”   

The man held his delicate hands in front of his chest like a squirrel with an acorn, he was determined not to lose this sale.  Surprisingly, things weren’t as lucrative in the bird supply business as one might imagine. 

“Well, that’s actually our last one.”

The woman raised her eyebrows in question.  

“Last one?” she asked incredulously. 

The last time she heard that line, she ended up with a slick ceramic, cushion-less couch that was impossible to sit on without sliding off of it.   

Mustering his most pathetic expression, he explained, “These are made in China and with the tariffs, we can’t get anymore.  Don’t know when, or if, we will ever get more.”

She pretended to take a minute to think, not to appear hasty in her decision.

“Well, I suppose I’ll take it.  And throw in some of those crushed peanuts and…”

Suddenly, her attention was redirected towards something unusual and glorious.  It was a crane standing in a bucket of rocks, fashioned out of wire no thicker than that of a coat hanger.  Perfect in every way.  Her daughter would have added, perfectly tacky, and reminded her of the other garden art that had accumulated in her backyard.

“Mmm….” She mentally silenced her offspring’s voice.

“And that beautiful bird.  Add that in with the peanuts and the indestructible bird bath.”

She knew a good deal when she saw one.

Sign Painter Needed

cubeThe interview started once we were all seated.  Two young women crammed next to one another behind one desk in a weird power sharing, conjoined-twins type of way.  

One of the heads asked, “Well, do you have any questions about the job?”

I checked my watch and confirmed that only one minute had passed since walking from the waiting room to the office that was separated from the rest of the cubicle farm by a few panes of glass.  It wasn’t as though I was applying to an advertisement that said, Sign Painter Needed.  The position was a little more complicated and the description was less than clear in explaining that travel was required but all work could be done from home.  

“Actually, I do have some questions, but first, would you like a copy of my resume?”

They laughed in-sync as one might expect conjoined twins to do; sharing the same sense of humor seemed natural for these fledgling sisters-from-different-misters.

“Everything is online now,” the second head explained like she was talking to an old-timer instead of someone who had only been out of the work force for six months.  “We have it all right here,” she tapped the side of her desktop computer, a trusted old companion.  

Obviously, its online, that’s how you received my information.  It’s a courtesy to offer, I grumbled silently to myself.  Instead of calling her a moron, I remained diplomatic and offered, “Why don’t we begin with reviewing the basic needs of the job and then we can go from there.”

The gals looked at each other and nodded in agreement.  Sounds reasonable, they telepathically said.  

With the three of us in the closed office, the air quickly grew thick and stale.  Why is there no air circulation in here?  I wondered as I half listened to the two gloss over the travel and clerical duties as they shared a laugh about potentially spending five hours at a copy machine.  

“Don’t worry, we supply the paper.”

When I realized that copy machine story was real, my interest seriously waned but they still twittered on like birds on a wire.

“That sums it up, any other questions?” the first head asked.

Aside from, where is the door, I only thought of getting home to my almond-eyed boy and not wasting another minute away.    

In the clutches of a dental man

dentistHe’s really into teeth.  Especially insured ones.  He asks how you are without listening for the answer because he is already snapping on a pair of blue latex gloves.

“Let’s lean you back and see what’s going on in here.”

This is your second appointment.  You mostly trust him, the professional, to do the right thing by you and your teeth.  How could you know that he spends a week each summer panning for gold in California and that every weekend he combs the local beach with a high-end metal detector in search of coins and jewelry? He’s a treasure hunter and he has discovered the mother lode.

His mouth stretches into a grotesque grin, hidden by his mask, as he counts off the cavities with a long, hooked metal instrument.  You can only see his eyes behind protective plastic lenses as they sparkle with an unnatural brightness.  He glances up at the hygienist who is peering down at you with pity and a furrowed brow.

“Are we ready?” he asks.

“Oh wait, I forgot to…” she trails off as she runs from the room.

At this point, you should be concerned, but you are having a hard time breathing because the runner/hygienist, injected your jawbone with a syringe of foul poison that burned and subsequently paralyzed half of your throat.  You want to say something about being too numb to swallow, but you find you also can no longer speak intelligible words.

The dentist revs up his drill like a hotrod car and you squeeze your eyes shut in fear and focus on controlling your breath.  You try to remember the litany against fear from Dune, face the fear, let the fear pass through you.  

Unfortunately, you are too far gone to reign your panic back in and you resign yourself to a certain death as it seems unlikely you will survive this experience.  When you return to your body, you are surprised.  Obviously.  You are alive.   

When the receptionist asks, “Would you like to schedule your next appointment?”

You politely decline. Obviously.

A Case Study of FOMO

sleepHe’s talking to the cat and she’s listening.

Mr. Baby will do anything to get out of a nap.

Tame a snake, speak in tongues, take his first step.

He suffers from a pretty bad case of FOMO or fear of missing out.  At night, he screams and heroically fights sleep, sobbing as he weakens from the struggle until he finally gives in, collapsing in a little footy-pajama’d pile of baby.  It’s enough to break your heart, watching the boy battle his enemy on the monitor. 

During the day, it’s no different.  He wails between yawns when the word nap gets mentioned.  He rolls left and right, front to back, and slaps the bars of his crib before dropping off into the land of zzz’s.  The neighbors are surely ready for us to move or quit sleep training, whichever comes first. 

Mr. Baby has a good explanation for his condition; being only six months old, everything is new to his eyes, ears, mouth and sticky fingers.  Somehow, he knows that if he risks a little shut eye, he definitely will miss out on something not yet experienced, something fun and potentially tasty since everything goes into his mouth.

What he doesn’t know yet, what he can’t possibly understand is that we will always wait for him.  We will save the best of everything for him.  We would stop the world from turning if it would make him feel better about his FOMO. 

So for now, rest easy, little boy, and leave your FOMO worries with us until you wake up, refreshed and ready for the world to start spinning once more.

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

Everyone snacks

deer

Just ahead of us, a sudden movement through the trees and bramble catches our attention.

We are not in the deep woods and the baby is strapped to my chest, so I am hopeful that we are not about to have an encounter with a bear.  Running with an almost twenty-pound baby would not be impossible, but it certainly would not be enjoyable for long.

I mentally sort through my self-defense options.  I quickly rule out the snout punch, karate chop, flying kick and sadly settle on leaving my husband behind as bait while we make our clumsy getaway.  Unfortunately, sacrifices must be made at times like these and he is about to be a snack.

Still peering through the shadows, my heart skips a beat.  It’s a big-eyed doe staring back at us with a newly born fawn, standing on spindly legs, nursing underneath of her.  I breathe a sigh of relief, we are all safe and the baby will continue to have a daddy.  

However, I am in disbelief that we have wandered onto such an intimate moment and feel very NatGeo.  More than that, I feel greedy and wish I had a camera to snap the image and save it forever, not that a picture could capture the heart connection that I feel with the doe or the beauty of the pair, and instead I settle on committing the experience to my unreliable memory.       

In another instant, the sweet mama is gone with her babe in tow.  I squeeze my little guy, wanting to share the moment with him, only to discover that he is fast asleep, dreaming his milk dreams.  

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