Sticks and Stones

Jagged, ragged sobs come from the next room.

Little Legs is on the floor, sleep-crying, after the last thirty minutes of yelling, screaming, begging and pleading for release from naptime.

“You don’t have to sleep, but you have to rest in your room,” Daddy Longlegs explained minutes earlier, gently leading him back to his room for the fourth time.

“Hate naps. Hate sleep. Hate Dada,” Little Legs said.

Daddy Longlegs said, “You don’t have to like it, but you have to have quiet time.”

He let the stinging blow of his son’s words glance off his cheek.

If only Little Legs understood the power of words, he would know the pain and joy they can give.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never (not) hurt me.

I hear a rustling from his room, a moan and another cry. The moan is from me, there will be no napping today, for anyone except Baby Brother. Little Legs is back up and well-rested enough to change tactics.

“Need Mama,” he says.

I jump up and my heart swells, ready to rescue him from his room, until it hits me.

Not only does he understand the power of words, he is using it to crush his parents, each one in a unique and specially tailored way.

Toddler 1: Parents 0

Tub Club

“First rule of tub club, don’t…”  

Daddy Longlegs did not get to explain the importance of sitting, not standing in the tub.

The great splashy thud informed me that words were not needed.  

Rule one of tub club made itself quite clear, with the imprint of a matchbox car on the backside of Little Legs as proof.

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

Daycare Cruddies

Finally, we beat the brain-rattling cough from daycare only to be informed of a potential (definite) exposure to RSV, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, and all the possible flus. It is almost laughable at the number of different germs fighting to infect Little Legs and Baby Brother. Almost, but not quite funny, especially considering the toll that each sickness takes on their bodies.

They lose weight, hours of sleep and their general sense of well-being. They bite and push one another, like little savages outside of their cave. At least the older one can grunt, “Me no feel good.” While his wordless brother is left with shrieks, squawks and other animal noises to express the same sentiment.

We understand, all the same. The thermometer helps to confirm what the back of my hand already tells me. A fever feels so much hotter on either one of their foreheads than mine has ever felt. Tylenol and Motrin are in regular rotation as we fight the fires burning within them.

Firefighting is exhausting work, but we must persevere.

This ongoing daycare nightmare started in the middle of March and it is now June. I question whether working is worth the constant stream of snot or the sudden vomiting or the development of a strange skin rash. I am not even including the shocking new words and phrases, such as shut up, that have tagged along to home with the toddler in my list of pros versus cons of daycare and working. Thankfully, the baby is too young to pick up anything, aside from every passing germ and most recently, picking his nose, which does not improve our chances for a healthy summer.

My brother said to expect six months of this and then it should be easy. Ha, I laugh, as easy as living with a tribe of tiny, irrational Neanderthals might be expected.

Yet, to quit now would be to throw all that time building up their immune systems away, only to restart in a few years with pre-k and kindergarten. In spite of our “progress” if it can be called that, I struggle with if it continues to make sense to expose them to other people, adults and children alike, in a quest to generate income, stay current with employment and to socialize them more than I could ever do at home?

I try not to dwell too long on these thoughts, but the questions repeat, the guilt weighs on me, and the sicknesses remind me of the physical cost to the time we spend apart. Germs and jobs make life hard and they don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

Sleep Fight

“Do you want me to sing you a song?”

I laughed softly at Daddy Longlegs’ tenderness in the ongoing struggle to get Little Legs to sleep.

Every night, the boy tries new tricks to stay up.

“Two more stories?” he requests after the 17th book lands on a pile next to him.

“Wa-wa?” he smacks his lips with thirst while holding a cup of water.

“Poo-poo diap-ee,” he announces, certain that someone will assist, with a suspicious glee.

We should feel flattered our company is so desirable that this young person wants to spend even five more minutes together. Instead, we are exhausted, exasperated and did I mention, tired?  

I remind myself that this is yet another phase, one that we will look back on with an aching sense of loss. Someday in the future, he will be knobbly-kneed boy, and then a teenager who has no time and no interest in snuggling up next to us.

So tonight when he fakes a cough and yells out, “Cough med-cine” or “Need Mama”, I will breathe in energy and breathe out grace and compassion for the toddler down the hall who keeps us in a constant state of motion.

Little Peskies

I stepped out of the shower, prepared for anything.

Little Legs had been there for five minutes, which was enough time for so much toddlerfied, crazy-world activity. I tried to minimize the potential trouble by turning on a video about dump trucks and setting him up in a pint-sized rocking chair. What could go wrong, I thought.  

As I stepped into the steaming hot water, I said over my shoulder, “Be good.”

He did not respond. His attention was completely focused on the loading of a dump truck at a construction site. I assumed that meant he was agreeable to the terms of our shower arrangement. He would sit in his rocker like a baby zombie, glued to the screen, while I rinsed off and tried to wake up for the day. It was win/win.

Water streamed down my face and over my shoulders, it was refreshing after another night of broken sleep. I decided on another cup of coffee afterwards and peered out the shower door on a whim. I wiped the water from my eyes and squinted at the space where I had just left my son.

It was empty. The baby zombie was gone, zombified no longer. The sing-song voice of a narrator still explained the way that rocks were broken down into smaller bits that got smaller and smaller in a gravel pit and a screen still glowed with what I assume were rocks getting smashed, but no Little Legs.

“Buddy,” I yelled out, rinsing the last of the conditioner from my hair.

I turned off the water and turned up my sixth sense, the mama sense, keenly aware that he was up to something.

“What are you doing?”

I thought the sound of my voice might be enough to guide him to better decision making. I grabbed my towel from the wall and gingerly stepped out onto the rug.

“Ow, ow, ow.”

Little Legs had indeed abandoned his post on the chair. He was standing on a stool in front of the lighted mirror, wearing my watch on his wrist and my glasses on his face, while holding a pair of tweezers.

“What were you doing, guy?”

 He stabbed his cheek with the tweezer and let out another cry of pain.

 Monkey see, monkey do.   

He was going after the little peskies, yet to sprout.

What You Need

The toddler was on the ground, crying, “I need a nap.”

He situated himself outside of his daddy’s office door in a crying, sobbing 32-pound heap of boy. He knew what he wanted and yet when I scooped him up for quick transport to his crib, he shrieked. His screams became sobs in a sudden change-of-mind.

“Daddy is on the phone,” I whispered into his soft ear while holding him tightly against me. He wrapped his arms around my neck and squeezed my waist with his legs. It was the only type of snuggle he allowed these days.  

“No, not that, not that,” he pleaded with his arms still wrapped around my neck.

I shook him off like a flea as I dropped him into his bed and wiped the tears from his cheeks.

“Sweet dreams,” I said and pulled the door to his room shut with the pitiful sound of crying behind me.

I wanted to say, Little Boy, you are so lucky to get to lay down in the middle of the day for an hour. Don’t fight it.

As for me, I wanted to nap with every cell in my body. I longed for peace. I needed to be left alone.

However, now that both boys are sleeping and it is quiet, I miss their noise, their neediness, and the special kind of chaos that they create every single day.

Thanks to the Stones, there is a song that plays in my head, explaining this phenomenon.

You can’t always get what you want, but when you try sometime you find, you get what you need.  

Take a break, take a breath and take back your day.

Screen Time Woes

“Oh no, Baby. Oh no.”

Little Legs stared intently at the small screen in his hands; he hit all the buttons and shook the monitor with one hand and then with both hands. It was like watching a monkey trying to shake coins from a piggy bank. With each unsuccessful attempt, he grew more frustrated.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Baby gone.”

He handed the monitor off to me in tag-team style, his duty done, and returned to Daniel Tiger, his occasional babysitter/constant friend.

“He’s gone!” I said with a gasp, trying to get a rise from my fellow couch-potato.

Staring straight ahead, Little Legs said in agreement, “Baby all gone.”

Apparently, learning about Snow-Flake day was more interesting than the sudden disappearance of his only sibling.

There is a terrible transformation that takes place in Little Legs every time the tv is on; his eyes turn gooey, his jaw drops open and his brain melts into mush. A silvery trail of drool escapes from the corner of his mouth every so often, an indication that he all but forgets to breath when in the presence of a glowing television.

It is no wonder that the AACAP recommends only one hour of non-educational programming per weekday for this age group, here I will paraphrase, to prevent/reduce toddler brain rot.

I readjusted the camera from the floor to the crib.

“He’s not gone, the camera was just out of focus, silly.”

Still, no sign of concern or active life, just a little drool and the wave of his hand.

The Brother Project has a very, very long way to go and in the meantime, I have to figure out what to do about the zombification of screen time.

New Ball, Same Problem

“Soccer balls are meant to be played with outside,” I explained.

Little Legs cried harder; big, fat tears left snail trails down both cheeks.

“Inside, inside, inside,” he said.

He scooped up the still-shiny-brand-new ball with both hands and gingerly carried it to the back door.

I intercepted, again, and kicked it back to the yard.

“Let’s pass it back and forth to each other.”

His face turned red as a murder-scream escaped from his tiny body. He was furious, his ball was out of his possession and his mommy was not listening, double grounds for the big emotions.   

He raced after the ball, grabbed it and ran back to the door. He started pounding the door with an angry fist, hopeful for someone to let him, and his ball, into the safety of the house.  

“Alright,” I relented. “We can put the ball back inside.”   

I opened the door and he carefully rolled the ball inside, watching its path through the living room and into the kitchen. Satisfied with its resting place, he turned around, ready to continue playing.

“Coons,” he said, reminding me of what happened to the last soccer ball.

“I know, the racoons got your ball and shredded it up last time. You were really upset when we found it, weren’t you?”

He nodded and pointed to the woods.

“Coons. Ball, coons.”  

“We will be more careful this time and bring it in at night. The racoons can’t get to it that way.”

He shook his head in a flat rejection.

He was not taking any chances, and I was not about to change his mind.   

Sharing is not caring

Sharing is not caring in our household, its grounds for war.

Little Legs and Baby Brother are still adjusting to one another, six months after BB’s introduction as a pink and wrinkled bundle of boy. The adjustment is more painful now than before as BB has entered the world of mobility. He does an army-crawl/scoot combination to get across the room with astonishing speed. Like watching a rock sprout legs, I remain in disbelief at the transformation.

There are no toys that are safe from BB’s sticky clutches or endless stream of drool. Some toys beg to be grabbed over others, usually they are the most well-loved ones that will cause the greatest amount of distress for Little Legs.  

For example, Little Legs noticed Dog-Bear, the dingy white polar bear with whom he sleeps every night, was not at his feet where he dropped him to play with trains.

“Dog-Bear gone?” he asked.

I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Dog-Bear was nearby and in the arms of another.  

Little Legs looked to his left and to his right before he discovered his crib-mate wrestling and rolling on the ground with Baby Brother; like a cat and a large rat, they were a well-matched pair. Little Legs screamed in horror and ripped Dog-Bear away from his brother.

“Hug, Dog-Bear,” he rubbed his nose in the nubby fur of the coveted stuffed animal with a sigh of relief at his safe return.  

He wrapped his arms it and then suddenly stopped and held it out for my inspection with a lip curled in disgust.

“Wet,” he proclaimed.  

Perhaps, I mused, the future threat of drool on his best friend would be enough to encourage more cleaning and less mess making.

“Sorry buddy, it looks like your brother got ahold of Dog-Bear.”

At this astute observation, Little Legs began to cry.

“You have to pick up the toys that you don’t want to share.”

He registered this information with a sniff and a nod, grabbed a block and made his way back toward his brother. I assumed it was to replace Dog-Bear. How thoughtful this first-born son was becoming. I watched with pride as he brought the new toy to his brother.  

Instead of delivering the block, Little Legs raised the block with both hands up over his head and brought them down towards his brother’s still-soft cranium.

I intervened at the last second, shielding Baby Brother from the strike of a tiny tyrant, the self-imposed punisher, with my hands. I grabbed Baby Brother and held him close, safe from the immediate threat of his sibling.  

Clearly, the path of their friendship is long and winding, but I know (fervently hope) that eventually they will find each other as not just brothers, but as best friends and a shelter from any storm. Until then, we just have to protect the baby from the current typhoon that is his toddler brother.

Easier said than done.