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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Nine Lives

soul mates

Her left eye doesn’t close all the way anymore, stuck in the instant before a wink, and her tongue slips out past the tiny front teeth that never fully developed and hangs from her petite mouth.  There is a patch of white fur missing from her back and as of most recently one ear remains parallel with the ground at all times.  Her sweet face is a mish-mash of teasing expressions that when put together are no laughing matter.  

I am describing my angel, JB Cat.  She has been with us since the beginning, rescued from a cat jail in Small Town, Indiana.  She came as a complete package with ear mites, worms and an extreme stranger danger anxiety that kept her curled up and hissing in a ball for the first three months. 

When she finally uncurled and moved out from underneath of the bed, we were still naïve enough to try and keep houseplants and a cat at the same time.  JB quickly assessed the situation, found the plants to be enemies, and set out to destroy them with various plots such as knocking them over and pulling them from the dirt.  Once free from the houseplant threat, JB settled in for a very long stay.

Over the past decade, she moved with us from apartment to apartment, always packed up in a carrier with the last load of most important belongings, and then finally to a house where she caught her first spricket (a beastly combination of a spider and a cricket). 

She terrorized every family member who ever stayed with us for the first few years, sneaking into their room and watching them sleep either from their pillow or chest.  On the day before our wedding, she went missing and almost caused a complete mental breakdown and then casually emerged from the recesses of the sofa when we came back to pick up our bags for the honeymoon.  Of the three times she escaped, she was always found mewing from under a pile of leaves, frozen by the overstimulation of nature and unfamiliarity of the world.  

Most days, she spends her time sleeping on top of furniture and waiting for food.  She rarely complains and purrs when pet.  JB Cat has personality, history, opinions and plans.  After being together for so long, she has a human family, and although, she isn’t liked by all, she is loved (perhaps only by me?).  Its hard to imagine life without her hiding from friends, stalking family in the night, or purring on my chest in the evening.  Yet, it seems that it’s an approaching reality, one that grows closer with each new ailment from which she never quite recovers.  While she is still living and wheezing on the couch behind me, her lifeforce grows dimmer and my sadness grows greater.

This world was never made for one as beautiful as you, JB Cat.  

Hurry up and wait.

docs office

A white, plastic-capped specimen container filled half-way with a clear liquid was next to a tiny, disposable spatula on a square of paper towel on top of the ceramic counter.  I recognized the container and label stuck to the front; it was clearly a sample from the last patient’s appointment. 

“It appears that they forgot to pick things up before bringing us back,” I exclaimed with distaste.  

At least the paper liner was clean and unwrinkled, I thought as I plopped my heavy body down and crinkled the perfectly smooth, white sheet.  I cringed at the waste; the paper would never be the same or used again, destined for the trash as soon as we left.  

My husband sat next to the counter on a low chair and looked over towards the used test kit.  His view was partially blocked by a white bottle with blue print; it was a lubricant with the cap hanging off by a plastic tab. 

“That bottle of lube is staring at me in the face,” he said in a tone between horror and disgust. “And it’s still open.”   

There was something threatening about that seemingly abandoned bottle of medical lubricant, like sitting next to a smoker in a non-smoking section.  My man was desperate for an intervention, but unsure from where it might come, so he stared up at the ceiling, unsure of where else to look. 

He glanced down at the clock on his phone once, twice and once again.

“Do you have someplace that you need to be?” I asked.

Sheepishly, he nodded, “I only took half an hour off for this appointment.”

I didn’t mean to, but I laughed out loud, the very definition of LOL.  I would have gone so far as to ROTFLOL if I could have easily gotten down from the table.  He was a perpetual optimist, always seeing the best in others, planning for success and positivity.  The laughter bubbled up directly from the well of my soul, apparently located in my stomach next to the extra-large baby and kept bubbling up.  

“What doctor’s appointment has ever taken thirty minutes?”  

Every doc’s appointment I have ever attended followed the same script.  Check in and wait, meet with the RN and wait, sit in a room and wait and wait and wait.  

“I didn’t know how long it would take,” he explained, shrugging off my LOL’ing.

“Ok then, let’s hurry up and wait.” 

We will wait together for the next four months to pass, wanting time to slow to a stop and speed up all at once, uncertain as to what the future holds and yet as prepared as possible for life, together, as we become three. 

 

Not you, Peg.

cookies

Class starts early for a Saturday, but it’s usually worth wrangling with the alarm clock.  There is a different topic and speaker each month, a sense of community, and a variety of homemade snacks.  Blueberry muffins, granola, fresh strawberries, cookies, crackers and a veggie tray are crammed together to cover the snack table on a regular morning.  I even gave up bringing my own stash of nuts and fruit because of the confidence that I felt in the generosity of the class to provide a spread of tasty treats.

We arrived late last week and shimmied behind the chairs of punctual members of class, carefully stepping over purses and bags to the last open seats on the far side of the room. The instructor finished with the announcements and upcoming volunteer opportunities as I began to strategize my trip to the back of the room to visit the snack table.  

How to do it without disrupting the rest of the people in the row again or drawing the notice of the instructor?  I was excited about what new surprising options awaited me and devised a complicated route to shimmy around a few more people at the end of the row, only to double back along the edge of the room where the treasure beckoned me.

“Excuse me, I have something to share,” a voice shouted from the front of the class.

It was Peg, short for peg-leg, but I think her real name was Brenda or Donna.  She was a below the knee amputee who always had something to say.  She pushed a pair of black framed glasses onto the top of her head and into a nest of light brown, tightly permed curls. 

“I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and snicker doodles.”

She took a sip from a can of Dr. Pepper that was next to the unnecessary stack of papers, notebooks and books that she brought to each class.  I felt a mild irritation that she had to stop to take a drink to deliver what was sure to be a ridiculous message, but also a softness in my heart from the mention of the snacks that she brought for the day.  She spent time and energy to gather the supplies and to mix the ingredients in the perfect ratios, to stand in front of the hot oven and pull the cookie trays out after carefully watching the dough turn brown and the chocolate chips to melt through the oven window.

“But I left them on the kitchen counter this morning, right next to the plate of Rice Krispy treats.” 

A gasp escaped from my mouth before I realized that my jaw was hanging open; it was like the mailman forgot to close the lid to the mailbox and all of the letters and advertisements ended up scattered across the yard.  

“That’s why there isn’t anything sweet over on the table.”

She shrugged, not in an apologetic type of way, but rather in a matter-of-fact-sucks-to-be-all-of-you-who-don’t-get-to-eat-the-cookies-that-were-allegedly-left-on-the-counter way and pulled her glasses back onto her pasty face.  Her announcement was over.  She was over as far as I was concerned and had no idea of the impact from her negligence on her hungry and partially-insane-from-pregnancy and hormonally-imbalanced classmates or one classmate, in particular.  I withheld the snarl that started in the back of my throat and rummaged in my bag for an old mint muttering angry words about Peg. 

After a few days of self-reflection, I came to the following conclusions about the snack situation. Perhaps this wasn’t the unforgivable trespass that I originally thought, perhaps I should have been contributing to the snack table instead of relying on the generosity of others, and just maybe I wasn’t dealing with the normal disappointments of life very well.

How to get lucky with the Lotto

mega mill

Sadly, our chance to win half a billion dollars ended two nights ago in California along with our dreams of paying off the house and student loans, traveling to exotic locations, starting a charity, and buying a monkey.  I was really looking forward to casually handing in my resignation notice with a “no real plans from here” kind of attitude.  Instead, I return to work and ruminate on how things could have gone differently.

I find myself thinking about the man who parks outside of the office in a beat up, old white car with dents that are well distributed around ugly and jagged spots of rust.  As he waits for someone to come out, he frantically scrapes away at multiple scratch-off Lotto tickets.  He holds them just outside of the window to allow the silver bits and pieces to flutter to the ground as he works towards the potential prize, hidden just one layer down.  What drives his urgency to finish the task?  Is he feeling a rush of adrenaline or is he in a rush to finish before his expected passenger arrives?

After recently playing a few numbers in the Mega Millions, I understand the man better in my own burgeoning fascination with gambling.  We play to win and in that ever-so-unlikely chance of winning, there is an excitement about a new life and potential change requiring no work, like losing weight without diet or exercise.  It’s a fantasy for the lazy or over-worked.

On the night of the drawing, we carefully weighed our options.  Play and win, play and lose, or don’t play and definitely don’t win.  My hubby explained our odds of winning quite simply, “We are more likely to both get struck by lightning.”

So it wasn’t an impossible dream.  I frequently see lightning and signs of past strikes in tall trees and power lines.

With a boosted confidence in our winning potential, hubby was commissioned to buy a few tickets, given the money and sent out on his mission to be completed with all due haste.

Fur coats, diamond dust lotion, fancy cars and trips were just the beginning; we were going to start a school, a homeless shelter and a bad cat rescue.

And then we lost.

Maybe we got carried about with the dream, and surprisingly, I wasn’t even that disappointed when I discovered that we didn’t hit it big. I expected to lose, but suspended that belief while scheming during the night of the drawing.

The fun was in the dream, it was in the possibility of winning and that we had a shot at a different life, the same as the thousands of other Dreamers who took a chance and bought a ticket(s) for mega millions of dollars, and in retrospect, it was worth every cent of the investment.

When nothing is simple.

mouse

The couple sat next to each other, inches apart, but separated by a thousand emotional miles.

“There she goes again. Won’t let me talk,” the man started cutting at his wife with a tone as sharp as razor.  He wore a baseball hat and dark glasses, sweatpants and a t-shirt that showcased a blurry tattoo on his bicep.

His wife stared down at her planner.  The cover had a pretty floral pattern of pinks and purples, outlined in gold and protected by a clear plastic coating.  She flipped it open.  The pages were mostly blank aside from an outline of the same floral pattern from the front, traced onto the background of the calendar days, in black and white.

Her hair was dyed a honey blond and carefully curled and sprayed into place. Still, dark roots showed through, a brown base from which a fountain of fake gold flowed.  The truth always makes itself known, eventually.

“Would you please listen to the woman?  She has a job to do and you are slowing her down.”

“She said she wanted to understand where we are coming from and that is just what I was trying to do when you interrupted me.”

“Sir, I asked that question so I could get you directions to the clinic where your next appointment is scheduled,” a woman on the other side of the desk explained.  She had long, black eyelashes like spider legs and equally long, red nails.

A line formed behind the couple, the woman looked out from under her lashes and sighed.  She glanced down at a tiny Mickey Mouse clock on her desk with a sigh.  The little gloved mouse hands were both straight up.

Five long hours to go, she thought.

Watching the Ponies Run

audible

As the conversation lulled between the couple, Julie glanced up at the tv screen on the brightly painted wall and stared; instantly mesmerized by the images, she lost her train of thought. 

“Sorry, what were you saying?” Julie asked, still staring over her companion’s head.

Ken twisted his neck to see what had caught his wife’s attention and understood the situation.  It was the Kentucky Derby and the ponies were set to run in less than an hour. 

“I like the odds of that Amazon horse,” Julie leaned forward and whispered.

She didn’t have to worry about being overheard as two boys in the booth behind her started a screaming and kicking match that brought the manager to their table in an attempt to mediate while their parents sucked down cervezas, apparently blind and deaf to the behavior of their terrible children.

“Have you done any research on this?” Ken half-whispered back.

“No, but I have a good feeling about it. Plus, Amazon wins at everything and that’s all the research I need to know the winner.”

Ken nodded in a that-makes-sense kind of way and reached for another chip.

They were both gamblers, but in different ways.  Julie speculated and encouraged others to take risks, while Ken methodically researched and backed his bets with money.  To be fair, they also won in different ways, Julie briefly celebrated a win but mourned long and hard the foolish loss of even a dollar.  Whereas when Ken won, he rode a tidal wave of adrenaline for days and wrote off loss as a thing of the past from which to move on. 

Julie asked, “Do you want to put some money on it?

Ken’s eyes lit up at the prospect. It was like offering a cat a piece of chicken and it was no surprise that he greedily grabbed at the opportunity.  His phone was in his hand and opened to a betting website in less than minute.

“Let’s do it.  What is that horse’s name?”

“Alexis.  It is definitely Alexis.”

Screwing up his forehead, Ken scrolled through the list of horses in a futile search of a name that was not to be found.

“Bad news, it’s not here. There is no Alexis…”   

“…but there is an Audible!” he declared.

“That’s the one, bet everything on Audible.”

Everything? Ken thought to himself with a mixed sense of concern and excitement.  Who was this person sitting across the table from him?

“How about $20 on Audible?” he offered.

“How about $50?” his wife countered.

They settled somewhere in the middle and ordered dinner.  

After the couple finished a plate of tacos and fajitas, suffered through countless commercials about Kentucky whiskey and views of the crowd miserably slogging through the mud in boots and ridiculous hats, the ponies ran. 

Audible didn’t win, but for once Julie didn’t care.  It was just money, after all, and seemed inconsequential in comparison with her other worries. The stakes were far higher in another bet; it was, in fact, the biggest gamble of her life and she didn’t have the energy to worry about the loss.     

She had the future on her mind. 

  

Disease State

phone

Michelle’s smooth white skin was interrupted by dark bruises as though a painter had dabbed her arms with a brush full of blue paint, using her thin bones as a guide.  She texted on her phone, punching in letters and emoticons with grubby fingers, ignoring the woman sitting across the kitchen table from her.  

Before everything changed, Michelle’s phone was merely a distraction, a way to avoid eye contact, and pass the time.  The woman across from her remembered how Michelle used to talk on her first cell phone, a big bulky device with actual buttons and an antenna; she snapped the phone shut at the end of a call and tucked it away for hours without once reaching for it.  It was a sweet time when they communicated with real interactions and conversations, before Michelle was sick.  

At the thought of it, the woman bitterly laughed to herself.  It seemed like a million years ago when health was wealth and they were rich.  Now, it was all symbols to represent words and emotions, entire sentences condensed into a frowny face next to a fire and a thermometer.  Sick again. 

The power of technology was a powerful addiction, one that had taken hold of her daughter along with the rest of the population, from toddlers to the elderly, it was yet to be formally declared as dangerous because the side effects were still accumulating and not entirely clear. 

However, the woman sitting across from Michelle was keenly aware of the addiction.  She shared the same wide blue eyes, pale complexion, and health insurance plan as her daughter and not much else now that the disease had taken root.  Planting her elbows on the table, she clasped her hands, interlocking long white fingers with well-shaped nails.

“Next month, we are going to lose our insurance because I can’t afford COBRA,” the woman said in a very matter-of-fact way. 

Her daughter looked up and connected with her mother’s eyes, “I know.  You have said the same thing every other day since you found out about the layoffs.”

“And you were listening?  All I ever see you do is twiddle and tweet on that stupid phone so excuse me for being surprised.”

“And I got a job, you’ll be happy to know. With insurance for both of us.  It’s online.”

How People Eat

grocery

The check-out lane extended into the cereal aisle, illuminated overhead by a harsh florescent light.  A couple pushed a cart filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and paper towels forward and took their place at the end of the line.  They inched forward at a pace only tolerable by those with an unlimited amount of life.  Unfortunately, it did not appear that any of the patrons in line had recently tasted of the sweet waters from the fountain of youth.  

The couple spoke in low voices, discussing meal planning and their weekly budget.  At the register, a man with a silver pinky ring and basketball shoes dropped an armload of goods onto the conveyer belt.  A can of peas rolled backwards as the cashier picked up a bundle of green bananas and swiped them across the scanner.  She wore a massive Afro picked out in every direction; her hair was loud and proud.

A woman in baggy jeans and a cat sweatshirt was next in line.  She dropped a bag of cat food onto the belt and unzipped a purple fanny pack from around her waist and started to dig around, while muttering something about coupons.   

Behind the couple, a thick woman with mascara heavy eyelashes rolled up with a cart full of breakfast foods: bacon, eggs, muffins, croissants, Poptarts, cereal and milk.  A chubby girl with her hair pulled into sections by colorful barrettes sat in the front of the cart, while an even chubbier boy stood at the end of it.  She was a distracted driver; the woman focused on a cell phone letting her cart find the way.  Meanwhile, the kids chattered back and forth in their own language, like birds on a wire.  

The boy looked around and rested his hands on his protruding stomach like a wise old man.  He was tall and nearly as wide as the cart.  Rolls held his head up, and gathered at his wrists and elbows.  The extra weight prematurely aged him as much as his surrounding environment, punishing and unfair to someone so young.

An elderly woman in large, round glasses and neatly bobbed grey hair, who looked like an elementary school teacher in a not-so-distant, pre-retirement life joined the line with her cart and stood behind the family.  She saw the boy looking so worldly, so bold and bright in that moment, she couldn’t stop herself from striking up a conversation.  

“Oh, hello there, you’re a big boy.  I bet you’re in…” the woman paused thoughtfully considering his age, “third grade,” she said triumphantly.

“Yup,” the boy agreed, nodding his head.

“Sure am.”

“K, you stop it.  You know you a kindergartener,” his mother said.

Without looking up from her phone, she took a few steps forward with her cart, not seeing her son’s crestfallen face and or his apologetic shrug towards the elderly woman.  The boy knew shame in that moment and pushed it down, deep into himself where it would stay with so many other hurts long after he became a man. 

The older woman looked at the boy through her thick lenses with love and appreciation.  She sought out his sad eyes and winked, bringing a quick smile to his face. 

This is how people eat.    

Art of Giving

red leaf

Tap, tap, tap.

It was still early in the morning when there was a soft knock on the glass patio door.

“Don’t answer, you know who it is,” Jan said without looking up from buttering her toast.

She stood at the kitchen counter in a long nightgown and slippers, while her husband sat at the table holding a steaming mug of coffee. He perused the headlines of the news, rattling the paper as he turned the pages.

Across the table, old newspapers were haphazardly spread and stacked with colorful advertisements and junk mail randomly shuffled into the mix. Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of birds were in the middle next to a plastic napkin holder with plain white paper napkins. Her husband, Dennis, reached over and gathered the papers into a messy pile to clear a space for his wife.

“Come sit down.”

He looked over the top of his glasses, unsurprised that the seat remained empty. Jan was still standing at the counter shaking cinnamon from a spice container with an aluminum head onto the buttered toast. She risked a peek out the door and then quickly looked away, reasoning that without eye contact there was nothing to stop their visitor from leaving.

Tap, tap, tap.

She felt a secret thrill, he wasn’t leaving. The hint of a smile played out on her face as she turned to her husband for another peek out the door over his shoulder.

She feigned surprise, “Oh Denny, it’s him again. What should we do?”

He laughed and the skin around his eyes crinkled like old leather, “We?” he asked.

“Don’t you mean what should you do?” he clarified with an emphasis on the word, you.

They had to play this game, their roles and the rules were both well-defined and rehearsed. He gave his wife a knowing look that was a mixture of amusement and annoyance and sipped his coffee.

“In that case, I better give him what he wants,” Jan said coyly.

She reached for the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet and pulled out another slice of bread from the breadbox. Humming to herself, she quickly slathered the bread with a thin layer and cut it into triangles, just the way she used to do.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Oh, hold on,” she said with in pretend irritation as she balanced the triangles flat on the palm of her smooth, white palm and made her way towards the door.

Sliding the door open with one hand, she knelt down with surprising flexibility for her age. She tucked her nightgown around her legs to hold it in place as she balanced on the balls of her slippered feet.

“Well, hello there,” she greeted a fat brown squirrel with shiny, black eyes.

The squirrel twitched its nose in recognition.  It chattered with excitement and held its claws out for breakfast. Jan extended her hand towards the creature. It sniffed her fingers and looked up at the woman; they locked eyes for a brief moment of connection before the squirrel grabbed a triangle and took off for the edge of the patio, still chattering as it disappeared up a tree.

Jan straightened out her legs and back as she stood, and noticed at her feet a unusual, bright red leaf carefully brought in from an ornamental tree of a far off yard.  It was left not as a payment, but as a present.  Jan left the rest of the triangles with a smile now fully fixed on her face and took the leaf, grateful for the gifts of the day.

Here today and gone tomorrow.

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