Sweet Bee

The tribe of three marched through the woods, crunching leaves underfoot, hitting trees with sticks and reuniting acorns with their tops or “fingerhats.”

It would be hard to not hear the group, even though Little Legs periodically turned around with a finger held up to his lips.

“Shhhh….” He hushed his brother and mother who walked silently behind him, “deer might be sleeping.”

The trio emerged from the trees with bits of leaves in their hair and burrs on their pants, but otherwise unscathed from the potentially dangerous trip into Nature.

Of note, everything feels dangerous to the anxious/neurotic parent: grocery stores, backyards, stairs, uncut grapes and hotdogs, the list goes on and on.

“Let’s take a break here,” Mama said.

There was a flat rock wide enough for three behinds to rest on it, although, she knew that the chance of three behinds resting there for longer than a minute was slim to none.

Little Legs squatted down to draw on the rock with his hitting stick. Mama stretched out her legs and began the laborious process of picking burrs from her pants. Baby Brother dug into a pile of leaves, pushing the debris to the side as he went deeper towards the earth. He was a natural digger with strong hands and a need to make holes, he was in his element.

“Baa…baa…” he exclaimed in a higher pitch that made his mother take notice.

“What did you find?” Mama asked.

Baby Brother held his finger out and smiled at the buzzing yellow jacket that he had beefriended.

The social wasp buzzed comfortably on the end of the boy’s finger, exchanging curious looks and bee to boy, boy to bee noises.

Mama, who did not understand their language, screamed and reacted with a quick and well-placed flick, sending his friend backwards into the air and into oblivion, for all she cared.

“Bee,” Baby Brother exclaimed proudly, unaware of his brush with danger.

He stared at the empty end of his finger/bee-launch pad and then at his mother, in disbeelief, that his striped friend was suddenly missing.

“Easy come, easy go, Sweet Bee Boy,” Mama said with a twinge of regret at the interrupted friendship that was quickly replaced with a much greater sense of relief at not dealing with the pain and swelling of a sting.

Haircut Day

I gathered the ragamuffins close to me as we walked across the parking lot. It was haircut day and Little Legs happily skipped along, certain that he was about to get a lollypop. Baby Brother, on the other hand, was very unhappy about missing his morning nap and increased the volume of his screams the closer we got to the entrance.

At the door, we were greeted by a woman who was no less than seven feet tall. Her bleach blonde hair was piled into a messy bun on top of her head, adding another three inches to her already impressive height.

“Happy Halloween, boys.”

“What’s your phone number?” the very tall woman asked, the only information required to check-in.

She hunted and pecked out the numbers, one by one.

“Ok, I see we’ve had Little Legs here before,” she peered down as Little Legs reached up for the bowl of Dum-dums on the counter.

“Karen is going to take you,” she said, sliding the bowl back from the edge with a throaty, barmaid laugh.

“I’m done with kids for today, I got mine off to school and I’ve been marinating ever since.”

I glanced down at my watch; it was only a few minutes after 10. Two hours of marinade should be enough to tenderize even the toughest bird. I assumed she needed a little more time and sauce to reach that sweet spot. We simply were not there, yet.  

Instantly, I felt grateful for Karen, whom I had never met, but would be handling the scissors that the still-marinating, very tall woman would not be using in my sons’ hair.

Until Karen emerged from the back of the salon.

She grabbed a slip of paper from the register and held it out to me with hands that shook like leaves in the breeze.

“This look right?” she asked.

 It was our information, so I nodded.

“Let’s get started,” she said.  

She held out a shaky, crooked pinky to Little Legs; he wrapped his fingers around it and walked to her chair to get another unique, impossible to repeat, haircut.

“You’re next, Baby Brother,” I whispered.

A Ghost Story

It was the middle of the night in a bedroom with eerie shadows, cast from a small nightlight plugged into the wall.  

A rustling of the sheets and the sound of whimpering drew Daddy Longlegs from the depths of his sleep.

Through the haze of broken sleep, he peered around the dark room and gasped.

There was a three-foot tall presence, shrouded in white, standing at the end of the bed, waving its arms in wild desperation.

The presence shouted in a familiar voice, “Help, get me out of here.”

Oh god, it’s a… Daddy Longlegs did not finish his thought.

Just as he was about to admit to an otherworldly visitation or the loss of his sanity, the sheet fell off with the mystery of the encounter.

Little Legs was left standing, a still sleeping boy-not-ghost, who got stuck under the sheet and was now freed to curl up and return to his unencumbered sleep.

Some people walk in their sleep, while others talk. Our son haunts our dreams.

To be clear, like most ghost stories, this is a retelling.

My head was tucked safely under a pillow whilst this haunting took place.  

Old Man Turtle

A toddler sized turtle stared out from inside of the grimy glass. Its shell was battered and worn, a sharp contrast to the shells of its younger tankmates. The other turtles paddled along the top of the water, kicked from the bottom to the surface and crawled onto a rocky ledge to rest.

Two boys stared with mouths agape at the prehistoric looking creature. They shared the same light brown hair and dark eyes of wonder as they observed the turtle. 

“So big,” the older boy said.

“Whoa,” his brother agreed with a solemn nod, a boy of few words.

Their mother hovered nearby, a nervous hen clucking over her chicks, she agreed with her sons.

“I have never seen such an enormous turtle in a tank,” she reflected, excluding all previous trips to the zoo and Ripley’s Believe it or Not Aquarium.  

The turtle was unnatural in the aquarium where tiny, silver fish darted between the other resident turtles, ranging in size from a small pancake to a medium pizza. Old Man Turtle managed to survive the past fifty years of hungry birds, chemical spills, plastic straws and acid rain only to end up wedged between some fake rocks and algae covered glass, literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“Oh no, can’t move. Turtle too big,” the older boy observed.

“Whoa,” his brother seconded his concerns.

Then to everyone’s surprise and delight, Old Man began to move. He stretched one limb and then the other, wiggling his powerful claws as he prepared to leave his nook. He extended his neck, draped in wrinkly skin. He emerged a glorious testament to the years to stand on his back limbs, reaching all the way to break the surface of the water.

He stood there, breathing in air through his royal beakish nostrils, surveying his world and subjects; finding only chickens and turtles, he returned to the water for another long rest.

Day of Reckoning

Sunday afternoon, we settled into the playroom for a bit of pushing trucks, rolling balls and learning to share between brothers. There remains a steep learning curve for the two of them, even after almost a year of co-existing.

The usual squabbling died down as they focused on their own playthings; Little Legs loaded up random toys into the back of a dump truck that was really too big to be inside and Baby Brother wrestled with a squishy Dalmatian dog doll.

A sense of peace replaced my usual anxiety. I leaned back in my chair and flipped through the National Geographic that had been on the counter for two weeks, patiently waiting to be read.

There are some moments in life when time does funny things, sometimes it slows down just enough so that a careful observer may become temporarily clairvoyant and able to divine events in the immediate future. Not to intervene or change the outcome, just to know what is about to happen.

This was one such moment.

I looked up over a page about glass sea sculptures as Little Legs stood behind the fully loaded dump truck and directed it at his unassuming brother. He pulled it back and pushed it forward with an assertive vroom…vroom… that indicated only one thing. The vehicle was about to roll, monster truck style, over the only possible pedestrian in its path.

“Little Legs,” I growled. “Do not run over your brother!”

He was already racing forward, pulled by an imaginary force. He tried to stop at my request, digging his heels in as he shouted, “Oh, shit! Oh, shit! Oh, shit!” and swerved to the side of his brother at the last possible instant.

“What did Little Legs just say?” Daddy Longlegs called from the next room.

This was my day of reckoning, I reckoned it was time to clean up my language because there was a pair of ears that let nothing pass, except requests to eat vegetables.

Definition of day of reckoning

a time when the consequences of a course of mistakes or misdeeds are felt

A King Without His Crown

We stood outside, watching our toddler race down the hill, trip and roll forward through the grass. The boy sat up with a confused look at ending up on the ground. Laughter burst from both of us, unstoppable and refreshing, on an otherwise bleak day.

Suddenly, Daddy Longlegs gasped and put his hand to his mouth.

Instinctively, I looked to Little Legs, happily rolling on his back in the grass, ensuring another complete outfit change. Certain that the boy was safe, I looked in question at his father.

“What is it?” I asked.

“My tooth, something is wrong with it. It’s actually my crown,” he mumbled.

I stood up on tiptoes to peer uninvited into his mouth. Since having my boys, there is nothing about the human body that bothers me, except for blood. The sight of it makes me woozy.

“I think it is loose.”

“Let me see,” I said.

He pulled his lip back like he was caught by a fishhook and wiggled the tooth in question with his tongue.

It was not only loose; it was no longer connected to anything in his mouth. A free-floating bit of resin impersonating Daddy Longlegs’ tooth came off onto his tongue.

“Oh God,” I said feeling queasy.

“It is bad?”

“Well, as you may already know, the crown is no longer connected to your tooth nub and you are going to swallow that very expensive crown if you don’t take it out and store it until you can get to the dentist.”

Daddy Longlegs thought about this information with a closed mouth to keep his little treasure in place.

“Do you know what the dentist who put this in told me to do if it came off?” he asked.

I felt concerned that the dentist gave him a back-up plan for the crown and wondered about the credentials of this so-called dentist.

“He told me to get some superglue and stick it right back in place.”

It was my turn to gasp.

The horror.

Then, instead of calling the so-called dentist for an emergency appointment, he situated his crown next to the bathroom sink, where it remains.

“It is where people keep their teeth,” he explained.

Or in this case, his tooth. We are in Tennessee, after all. 

The Right Price

Minutes after the neighbor’s white SUV pulled out of the driveway, a grey truck pulled into its place.

It was almost as if the driver had been waiting for her to leave. I shook my head; no that couldn’t be, not in this friendly, little town where they foolishly brag about leaving their doors unlocked.

The truck door swung open and a petite man with a baseball cap hopped out. I ventured that the truck was a mite too big for the man but assumed the distance between us distorted my perception.

He was snooping around the bright, red car parked under a tree. An old Mustang that drew in strange men from the road like moths to a light only to be zapped by the information that the car was not for sale.

Not now, not ever. Or at least until her son decides its too much work to restore which I can only assume will be in the new few years after he goes away to school and gets a job and comes back for Christmas and remembers the car, waiting and rotting down into the ground.

“You sure this ain’t for sale?” the man asked.

Daddy Longlegs shook his head, “Nope, it’s not for sale. They get a lot of folks stopping along this road to ask and its always the same answer.”

The man shielded his eyes from the sun with one hand, “Not even for the right price?”

What an impossible question to answer.

Everyone has a price.   

Ba Tat, an uninvited guest

“He’s back.”

Daddy Longlegs stared intently out the window and beckoned us over with an empty mug in hand. He was surprisingly alert for having had only one cup of coffee.  

“Shhhh…” he hushed Little Legs preemptively without looking at the toddler stacking blocks.

“It’s the bobcat.”

Little Legs squealed and shouted, “Ba Tat!”

He grabbed a block and banged it against the window in excitement, scattering the birds at the feeder into a mad flurry of wings.

The bobcat was crouching low with its tufted ears and wide eyes barely visible through the weeds and bramble, using our bird feeder as an extension to its hunting grounds. It watched its brunch plans disappear into the air, stood up and glared at us through the window before bounding away into the woods.

It knew we were inside watching. Or at least, it did after Little Legs alerted it to the fact. When the watcher becomes the watched, it creates an eerie feeling, a prickling on the back of the neck and a good reminder that the window works both ways.

“How in the world did you see him?” I asked.

“I thought it was a bunny because I saw his tail moving against the rocks.”

Meanwhile, Little Legs demanded, “More ba tat, more ba tat,” as though the ghostlike feline could be magically summoned for the king’s court.

With less territory to roam, the prey and predators are getting closer and closer and closer until they are in the backyard deciding whether to join us or eat us for their next meal.

No, sire. The ba tat will not be joining us for lunch.  

https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/mammals/large/bobcat.html

Bad Pumpkin Man

It was time for the pumpkins to move out. There was already too much clutter with the endless Matchbox cars, blocks, train-tracks and bath toys that escaped the tub only to travel from room to room in Little Legs’ hands.

“We can feed the pumpkins to the deer,” I tried to convince Little Legs.

Securing his buy-in was essential to the plan.  

He had a complicated relationship with the pumpkins. He was happy to feed the deer, but less than thrilled to give up his art project which featured his finger painting in his favorite colors.   

“The animals will love the pumpkins, especially the one you decorated,” I continued to encourage him.

While he remained suspicious, he acquiesced to carry the smaller pumpkin to the woods outside of our house until he was tired.

“Drop,” he narrated as he released the orange weight to the ground with a thud.

“Perfect, now where should we leave this big one?”

He kept scaling the rocky platforms that edged the woods, higher and higher.

Little Legs stopped and royally surveyed the land, and his mother, below him.

“Here?” I asked.

He nodded and decreed with a pointed finger, “Deer eat.”

Two word phrases were still the beautiful sounds of fresh language development. I felt proud of the tiny conqueror as I dropped the pumpkin which landed with a heavier and more satisfying thud.

Together, we stared at the ball of orange, cushioned in a tangle of brown weeds. I briefly wondered how the deer would access the scrumptious flesh and seeds inside the hard shell when Daddy Longlegs joined us.

Aware of our mission and the missing step, he offered, “Let me help.”

He raised the pumpkin up over his head and smashed it down to the ground.

“Now the deer can get to it.”

Tears streamed down Little Legs’ cheeks as he let out a wail and cried, “Bwoke.”

He shuffled closer to the pumpkin, split into three pieces, revealing the juicy insides.

“Cwack.”

I tried to stop the laughter that bubbled up and out of my mouth and held my arms out to the boy.

“Oh, that bad pumpkin man.”   

Games

“Little Legs?” she called.

The baby was in her arms, freshly diapered and tickled under the neck. Her older son was right behind her pushing a truck back and forth across the rug, until suddenly, he wasn’t there.  

The room was conspicuously absent of vrooming.  

She stepped out of the nursery, pushing the door completely open.

The baby cooed and laughed with his pink tongue hanging out of his mouth, oblivious to his mother’s worry.

“Little Legs?” she called again, louder this time.

 She peered into the kitchen and down the hallway.

The door squeaked as it swung towards her and a tiny figure jumped out at her from the dark shadow.

 “Hide!” Little Legs shouted gleefully with his hands over his eyes.

“Oh God,” his mother jumped back and the baby lurched forward, his wobbly head guiding the way.

“Little Legs, you can’t jump out at me like that.”

His mother’s heart pounded in her chest and she felt sick thinking about the momentary lightness in her arms.

A wail rose from the baby in protest of the bumpy ride and his brother skittered off like a water bug shooting across a pond.

He was ready for the next game.