Dead or alive

The women found a small green snake, no thicker than a shoestring. Lifeless ruby red eyes stared out at the brave woman who picked it up. Its tiny mouth dropped open as it dangled over either side of a stick.

“It’s alive!” I screamed and leapt out of the way.

What could have been a squished piece of pasta and sent me flying through the air with a save-yourself-attitude turned out to be a harmless garden snake. I am sure it did not inspire confidence in those who were my responsibility.

Earlier in the year, the same panicked flight reaction overtook me when I was by the river with my boys.

“Watch out,” Daddy Longlegs said.

It was like someone hit my funny bone and I moved reflexively, without thought or hesitation. It was totally automatic, I jumped back and then looked.  

The sleek head of a snake was raised out of the water, swimming directly towards Baby Brother, who sat swinging his feet over the rocks. 

As quickly as I jumped back, I jumped forward, grabbed the child and pulled him to safety. Afterwards, I felt no small amount of disbelief at how I cleared the area and momentarily left the wee-man behind.

When there is a fire, I am not the one who is running towards the smoke. Not at first, anyways. 

I am in a state of self-discovery, trying to work on my strengths and weaknesses. Courage is not one of my strong suits but it is within me, deep down, and each time I find myself in a state of flight or fight, I check in with an honest curiosity.

And in review of both cases, it was the damned snake and a natural, God-given fear to get out of the way when one is heading in my direction.

Alive or dead.

Museum Tour

“The next tour is at 2:00,” the man said. 

The man sat on the other side of a glass counter. His name badge bore the honorable title of Manager, a job he took most seriously. Only the upper half of his body was visible, he was a slender man with small forearms that were covered with dark hair. His thin fingers danced over the keyboard as he worked through screens. 

“And you can prepay for that tour now.” 

Stepping forward, the woman rested her forearm on the counter. She led a group of women from several blocks away for a long promised historical tour. She too was slight with a magnificent bun on top of her head, adding several inches of height. 

“We were told the tour started at 1:00,” she said, summoning her queen energy.  

Her heart started to accelerate as she wondered if she wrote the time down wrong. It would not have been the first time. She was no stranger to nerves or numbers misbehaving.   

The man pursed his lips and made a hmm…ing sound as he stared at the glowing screen. 

“When I called last week, the person said they would waive the fees,” the woman said. 

“Oh,” the man chortled, really,” he said with a tone that made it a statement, not a question. 

The woman felt the slow creep of disappointment begin to build. He was not understanding, she was not paying for the tour that was starting in ten minutes. 

“We were told it would be covered,” the woman repeated.

Four women stood behind her with eight eyes, watching her every move. They were used to let-downs and empty promises, things just not working out and the other shoe dropping, always. 

It was already over. 

“Let’s go,” one woman whispered. 

The man behind the counter said, “I’m sorry, there is no note of that here.” 

Disappointment crashed in around the group, powerful enough to wash them out the door and down the path, but expected and in that, the crush was manageable. 

Except their leader wasn’t budging.

Brought out by the noise, a tall, red headed man emerged from a backroom.

“My group is here, right on time,” he announced with a smile. 

“We spoke last week, right?” he asked as an afterthought.

“Yes, thank you,” the woman said.

“Y’all head over to the house and I’ll get everything unlocked.” 

The woman flashed him the smile she saved for special occasions, like this one, when the nerdy knight with a lanyard saved the day and the museum tour. 

People Pleasing

Little Legs was tasked with getting the popsicles.

“What color do you want?” he asked Baby Brother.

“I want blue,” Baby Brother said.

“And what color do you want?” he asked me.

“Red, please,” I said.

“Ok, ok,” Little Legs said, making a mental note.

He pulled open the freezer, rummaged around and extracted three specially selected-to-order treats.

Baby Brother got orange, I got white, and Little Legs got blue in a fair-enough-nobody-gets-what-they-want type of way.

“Thank you,” I said.

I cut the tops off each one and tried mine.

It was coconut, which was a problem because I hate coconut. Strong language for a popsicle flavor, I know.

“Do you like it?” Little Legs asked. 

His face turned up towards mine, as a sunflower to the sun, he was hungry for my reaction. I was left with a quandary, to tell the truth or say something to not cause any pain or discomfort.

People-pleasing was learned early in my life; only recently have I started the process of stopping and asking myself for honesty and finding that the truth is the best answer.

“No, I don’t care for that flavor, but I appreciate that you picked this out for me.”

He took it in stride, proving that people of all ages can handle disappointment.

“You get what you get,” Little Legs said.

Baby Brother said, “And you don’t throw a fit.”  

They waited a long time to dish that one up and I, too, could handle it.

Chicken Milk

A woman tried to convince me a chicken can be milked. 

“And much like a cat, chickens can’t produce much, but it’s definitely drinkable,” she explained. 

I shook my head. A potent potable that never made it as an answer on Jeopardy? I remained skeptical of the possibility. 

“Are you calling my granny a liar?” the woman asked.

“No, I would never call your granny a liar. However…”

“My granny would never lie to me,” the woman explained.

“Well, I’m not one to point out the obvious, but…”

Again, there was no finishing. 

Another woman chimed in the results of a google search, “It’s right here. A tutorial on how to milk a chicken.” 

I watched the evidence that was supposed to bring the argument to a close. The video was of a little girl catching her pet chicken, holding a jar underneath of it, and giving it a “little hug” as she described the squeeze that produced a few tablespoons of a white liquid. 

“I’ve plucked a lot of chickens and I’ve never seen a nipple,” the Googler said. 

“Could she have been lying about other things?” Granny’s granddaughter wondered.  

We believe the stories from our elders, or we want to believe them. They are rich with our history, morals and life lessons. This lesson was more abstract, perhaps in the use of discretion and not believing every single thing that comes from the mouth of an ornery old lady.

Baby Chicks

While driving on a sunny morning, I looked off to the side of the road. A rusty pile of farm equipment and tall weeds nearly obscured the view of a lively chicken coop. Red and brown hens hopped around and pecked the dirt floor of their fenced-in enclosure.

“I spy chickens.” 

“Where?” two passengers asked in unison.

I was their tour guide on the road of life, pointing out things of interest and breaking the silence with my voice. 

“Over there, you missed them, too bad.”

Like any good tour guide, I teased my patrons. I knew there would be no tip offered at the conclusion of our ride, other than something about remembering to bring snacks at pick-up. Good snacks. Not the healthy kind. No carrots. 

Their tips felt more like directives but I was willing to take anything they were giving out. And the teasing felt warranted. 

“Can you still see them?” 

“See what?” 

The passengers had forgotten what we were looking at through the debris.

“Chickens,” I reminded them.

“Oh, chickens,” Little Legs said. 

“Chickens,” Baby Brother echoed. 

“Yes, chickens. Would you like to raise chickens? You would have to start eating more eggs to make it worthwhile.” 

“Eat baby chickens?” Little Legs asked. The pitch of his voice raised with his level of concern about the request. 

He caught me off guard. Of course, they are baby chickens (sort of) but I had stopped making the association of food from its source, of seeing food for something that one must grow and raise, harvest and kill. 

I was forced to recognize the realness of the chicken and its eggs and felt a fresh sense of compassion for our feathered friends. 

Will I still have a fried egg with my pancakes? Yes, but it will be with a greater appreciation for its gooey, golden goodness. 

And we will have more meat-free nights during the week. Beans are the magical fruit, after all.

Boys will be boys

The cherry red Power-Wheel Jeep ripped around the yard, sending grass and rocks up into the air.

A blond-headed two-year-old gripped the steering wheel with his twin-separated-by-18-months brother on the passenger seat next to him.

The bigger boy leaned over and yelled, “Let’s go fast!”   

“Otay,” Baby Brother said. 

They raced around to the front of the house, away from the watchful eyes of their parents.

“Stop!” the bigger boy yelled.

Baby Brother said, “Otay.”  

The jeep skidded to a halt. The bigger boy threw one leg over the side, pulled himself out of the kid-sized jeep, and raced over to the garden where his prizes awaited.  

Tulips of every color, red, orange, orangey-red, reddish-orange (really just two colors) grew on green stems and bobbed in the wind, beckoning the plucking fingers of naughty little boys.

Big Brother snapped the flowers, one after another. They broke with a popping sound and the boys smiled.

“Let’s take them to Mommy,” Big Brother said.

“Otay,” Little Brother agreed.

And they set to work, liberating the rest of the tulips from their stems.

Soon they had a handful of flowers and a flower behind each ear like hula girls, but these were country boys.

Rough and tough.

And perfectly adorned with flowers.

From the Mouths of Babes

We finished with a hike and were sitting outside enjoying cold treats. Baby Brother had a push-up pop, Little Legs had an ice-cream cookie sandwich, and I had a sensible fruit popsicle.

“Let me have a bite,” Little Legs said.

“Let me have a bite,” Baby Brother said.

“No way,” I teased already knowing that I was about to lose at least half of my popsicle.

“Give me a bite of yours and you can have a bite of mine,” I offered.

The deals were accepted. I got a nibble of a cookie and a slurp of the push-up pop and they both took giant bites of the quickly disappearing strawberry popsicle.

“Hey,” I said.

They laughed and returned to work on their own treats.

Baby Brother was wiping away his orange sherbet goatee and his brother started to whirl around, powered by sugar, when an old blue car rolled past us.

The back windows were filled with boxes, blankets, clothes, hats and old food containers. A beast dog with an enormous mouth and sagging jowls sat in the passenger seat while a scruffy looking guy steered the car to the edge of the lot.

I watched the man step out of the car and his dog haphazardly followed, sniffing and peeing every few steps. The man lit a cigarette and held it between his fingers.

“C’mon,” he said over his shoulder, not paying attention to Beast-dog, that was romping through the curated garden of early Spring flowers.  

I grabbed my still-spinning son and pulled him closer. Baby Brother was still at the table, pushing the push-up pop with all his might. If you ask him to show you his muscles, he will point to his elbow, which is obviously where strong boys keep their strength hidden away. Elbow power for the win.

I was preparing for a few different scenarios. The first thing that came to my mind was that Beast-dog got away from his unconcerned owner and attacked one of the boys. The next thing was that the dog’s owner did some lewd act or asked for something. The absolute last possibility was what actually happened.

Baby Brother locked eyes with the man.

“Hi,” Baby Brother said with a wave.

“Hey, small dude,” the man replied.

“You want some?” Baby Brother asked, offering his push-up pop and all the genuine kindness of a two-year-old.   

The man stopped and considered the offer with all the seriousness of an adult man who was just offered a mostly eaten push-up pop.  

“Nah, you eat it,” he said.

“We don’t talk to strangers,” Little Legs whispered.  

“I know, buddy, it’s confusing, Baby Brother is still learning.”

And I really have no clear way to explain it. We don’t talk to strangers, but sometimes we do. And we shouldn’t judge others by how they dress or present themselves, but sometimes we do. There are so many exceptions to these rules of how to stay safe and be a good person.

I don’t want to crush that sweet spirit of sharing and caring, but more than that, I don’t want my son sharing ice-cream with a homeless guy at the park. So, I guess that’s the starting point for our conversation.      

Swim Instructor

The young woman sat on the couch and laughed. She must have gone home to change after school because I am sure she didn’t wear a baggy black sweat suit all day. She tested her long nails against her other nails which met with a click, click, click.  

Baby Brother rolled onto his back and began to play the harmonica on each inhale and exhale, he was ready for show-biz.  

“I haven’t updated you on my job history, have I?” the babysitter said.

I knew this was about to be juicy and checked in on Little Legs before she started.  He was inside of a pillow nest of his own creation. It was cartoon time and he was in the zone. We were fine to talk for a few minutes.  

“No, I guess you haven’t,” I said.

“Well, I had a job at a boutique for about three weeks.”

I silently calculated the time frame for this. It was a perfect match for the past month of missed dates, previously credited to the flu, a schedule mix-up and just needing a little time away.  

“And now, I am a swim instructor at the YMCA.”  

This time, I was laughing.

“What?” she asked.

“You told me you couldn’t swim,” I said.

“So, its just with little kids and the water is not that deep,” she shrugged.  

I shook my head and smiled, hoping that the two actions cancelled one another out.

I worked with a man once who was known for his one-liners like, “You do you.”

And this instance reminded me of another one that he always said, “It ain’t that deep,” usually in reference to an overthought situation or scenario.

It was comforting when he said it, coming from a place of wisdom and experience, and incredibly discomforting hearing similar words from our 17-year-old babysitter/swim instructor/future adult of the world who didn’t see how not being able to swim as a swim instructor might be an issue.  

Am I worried about the future, knowing that our babysitter is one of many with the same type of lackadaisical beliefs?

Yes, but maybe it is all for nothing and at the end of the day, just maybe, it’s not that deep.

Toxic Workplace

The long conference table was full of drinks, notebooks, buzzing cell phones, tubes of chap stick and napkins with cookie crumbs. A different woman sat in front of each microworld of her own creation.  Some had a place at the table for years, others only months. There was no cohesion between the co-workers, they were better termed as workers in the same agency rather than teammates or colleagues.

Another client had just been reviewed. Opinions about how to move clients forward or out of the program were tossed about as carelessly as the meeting had been planned and executed. The tension kept everyone on edge, outbursts and barely veiled insults took the place of constructive feedback or actual planning. This was all normal for a Wednesday.

One woman, a graduate-of-the-program-turned-employee-human-behavior-expert, ran her long black nails through her jet-black bangs, over and over. Someone had just suggested the use of empathy and another chance in making a major life change.  

Staring up towards the ceiling as though summoning strength from her higher power, she declared, “Y’all don’t know sh*t about sh*t.”  

And since that time, I have surrendered to this new understanding. I don’t know anything about anything. Everything is new and amazing with this perspective, especially all the potential job listings, as I also reached the realization that this unique environment is not the place for me.

Small Wonders

Inside of the car are two little boys, one of whom is refusing to wear his seatbelt or sit in his car seat. He has settled into the nook between his brothers’ feet on the far side of the car, beyond the reach of my arms. This is after multiple escapes from his seat and my best efforts to strap him into it.

We are both winded from the ongoing wrestling match but neither one of us is willing to concede.

Of course, we are late. We are always late. It has become our standard mode of operation after the last four years of having to run back to grab a forgotten sippy cup or change a last-minute diaper or getting everyone in the car only to discover that no one is wearing shoes.

And of course, the brothers think the entire situation is hilarious. Baby Brother giggles and Little Legs proceeds to hide him under a blanket.

In contrast, I am not laughing. I am about to scream like a teakettle reaching the boiling point.

I will not engage in the tried-and-true techniques of “behavior correction” from my childhood.

Instead, I close the car door. I take a deep breath and notice the cool air as it enters my nostrils and fills my chest. I blow out the warm air through my mouth.

I do this again and again until I have enough space to see myself standing outside of a vehicle with the two most precious people in my life trying to play and get my attention.

When I reopen the door, Baby Brother is in his seat like a perfect angel, smiling the toothy grin of a naughty two-year-old. Little Legs has already taken his shoes back off, but they are nearby on the floor, and we are only a few minutes late.    

It’s another day filled with a million small wonders.