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

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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 Day of Sorry’s

erBy the time we pulled into the parking lot, we were already ten minutes late and mildly frazzled from three epic diaper blow outs that morning.  To be accurate, I was the only frazzled one from the series of mustard yellow-up-the-back-need-a-new-onsie diaper situations, while the baby was left pleased with his work.

“We made it, at last,” I said over my shoulder towards the backseat where the little prince patiently waited in his car seat with bright eyes and a rattle.

It was our first attempt at making new friends since moving from the Heartland. 

One might ask how an introvert with a baby makes friends in this day and age?  Considering that most of my friends were from school or old jobs, I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it without having formal employment or classes in common.  And I wasn’t keen on sitting in a Starbucks trying to strike up a conversation with an equally lonely, caffeinated stranger.  So, I turned to the internet for help.

Surprisingly, within a few keystrokes I found a group on Facebook for this very demographic, introduced myself and hit confirm for the next group date.  It was all too easy, I suppose, because when we arrived, no one else from the group was there.

I clicked the baby into the stroller and walked the perimeter of the park, certain that the members of our new crew were just out of sight.  We walked past the swings and the sandbox where the older kids played with their caregivers watching from the sides.  Spotting a breastfeeding woman and then a pod of women with babies under a shady grove of trees, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Our new friends are up there.  We have not been forsaken,” I said already feeling a connection to the woman nursing her infant and grateful for the power of technology and the internet.

How else would we have found our new tribe so quickly, I wondered? 

The group was up a hill, not easily accessed via stroller, but I was determined to connect and pushed with all of my might upwards over bumps and ruts.

“Sorry, baby,” I whispered jostling his head from side to side as we bumped along.  “I’ll get you out in a minute and you can play in the grass with the other babies.”

A little out of breath and nervous, I yelled out as we approached, “Hi everyone, I’m sorry we’re late.”

Two blonde women chased a wild-haired toddler who ran towards us recklessly laughing.  They looked up with barely veiled disdain. 

One said, “Sorry, we’re a part of the Tinkerbells and we aren’t expecting anyone else to join.”

“Ok, sorry, I guess we’ll head back down the hill.”  

And down we went, back over the bumps, at a much faster speed thanks to gravity and embarrassment, back towards the play area where we waited on a bench for nobody, like Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie.  

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?    

Portrait of a Man

cakeThe man rocked his swaddled baby back and forth in his exhausted arms, while the baby stared up at him with two bright eyes as a curious observer.  The baby had no intention of going to sleep but he enjoyed being rocked and was willing to allow his father to continue as long as he wanted.  His daddy dimmed the lights with one hand and then turned down the volume of the tv.  He rocked and bounced and bounced and rocked until the baby’s eyes began to slowly close.     

Suddenly, the infant was asleep.  

“Success,” he whispered to his wife and mother of the boy.

“Piece of cake, really,” he said with a wink. “I’ll be back in a jif.”

He carried the bundle into the nursery and gently lowered him into his crib.  As soon as the baby’s back hit the mattress, his eyes flew open in confusion.  He never meant to fall asleep.  Fat tears spilled from his eyes and ran down both sides of his face as he cried.

Meanwhile, back on the couch his mother heard the refreshed cries and picked up the monitor.  It sat on a pillow next to her, like a prize pet with a seat of its own.  She flicked the screen, bringing it to life.  A man stood next to the crib, diligently rocking and bouncing the crying baby again.  The two did this dance every night, each trying to wear the other out until one dropped to sleep.  Fortunately, it was always same diapered, swaddled one who gave in first.  She laughed and turned off the monitor to wait. 

A few minutes later, her husband emerged shaking his head.  He pulled the door shut with a click and tiptoed back to his wife. 

“Tough little guy.”

He flopped down on the couch, letting himself sink down into the cushions knowing that he would do it all over again tomorrow.  I get to do it again, I don’t have to do it, he thought.  He was a perpetual optimist even on his worst day. 

“Listen,” he whispered.  “Did you just hear that?” he asked cupping his ear towards the nursery.

“No, I didn’t hear anything,” his wife replied in alarm and reached for the monitor again. 

“Exactly… silence.  Like I said, piece of cake.”

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.

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. 

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.

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