Two Birds in a Bath

When the temperature rises above comfortably cool, they find happiness in the shallow end of the water.

Bright colors cover their flesh, drenched in summer sweat and the smell of coconuts.

They sing their sweet song and flap their fleshy wings spraying water droplets against the lens of my favorite glasses. I find my smile under an umbrella.

It’s summer, and they are my two tropical birds in paradise.

 

Photo courtesy of Pexels

In response to Donna-Louise’s Prompt Pot – Birds

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Sock Surprise

She’s already ten minutes late; the bus is gone.

“Let me grab socks,” I say, unfolding a pair. I look at one purple sock and one green. “Did you do this?”

A small hand stifles her giggle. “Surprise!” She shouts.

“Not again,” I sigh. “Guess you need a new chore.”

If Confidence Were a Balloon

Slumped beneath the weight of her backpack, my daughter slinked from the school bus steps. Her ocean-blue eyes had faded to stormy skies and her skin was muted.

“How was your day?” I asked. I was concerned. Most days she raced off the steps with a grin so wide her eyes were shut. This day, she didn’t even wave.

“Fine,” she said. The word pushed out of her lips unwillingly, like the last puff of air leaving a balloon. She was deflated.

“Are you sure?” I pressed.

“Yep.” I watched her kick an invisible rock across the driveway.

“You know what?” I said as I cupped my hand around her small shoulder. “I think we should get some ice cream.”

“Really?” she stopped and looked up to me, squinting her eyes against the sun. I realized, in that moment, how fragile she still was. “Before dinner?”

“Yep,” I winked. “Let me get my keys.”

Ten minutes later, we were sitting at the table with bowls of pink frozen yogurt in front of us and I asked again, “Is everything alright, Hun? Did you have a bad day?”

My daughter stuffed her spoon deep into her cardboard bowl and swallowed a mouthful of creamy treat. “Sorta,” she shrugged.

I lowered my eyes to meet hers, pushed my bowl aside, and whispered, “wanna tell me about it?”

She looked away and tears started to gush from her eyes. “Mama, they chased me,” she sobbed. “I wanted to collect rocks and they chased me.” Her chest heaved, catching breath in spurts, and every bit of my heart crumbled.

“Who chased you, Hun?” I scooted my chair closer and wrapped my arms around her. I prayed that somewhere in my embrace she’d find strength, and a that my arms would take her sadness so I could store it under my own skin.

“My friends at recess,” she pressed against my heart like she did as a baby and continued to bawl. “I just needed some alone time.”

“Aww Sweetie, I think you were so brave for standing up for yourself. It can be hard to not give into the pressure of our friends,” I encouraged my daughter and inflated her balloon.

“I don’t know,” she said, then looked down at her sparkle-covered sneakers.

“Trust me. Sometimes our friends don’t understand when we need personal space,” I explained. “We have to tell them when we need to be left alone.”

“I did that Mama, but they kept chasing me!” she stuffed a spoonful of frozen yogurt into her mouth and wiped her face with her shirtsleeve. The parent in me wanted to scold her for staining her shirt, but the mother in me couldn’t. Instead, I handed her a sticky napkin to wipe the tears beneath her eyes.

Conversation comes easy for my little girl when she’s with family, but sometimes large groups of people drain her batteries. An only child for the first five years of her life, my daughter recognized at an early age that alone time helps her recharge. It’s especially necessary during the flurry of a long school day, when staying focused is so important.

“I know it can be frustrating. I need my personal space, too.” I took her soft cheek into my hand. “I get grumpy if I don’t have time to just be quiet and write each day.”

“Really?” she asked.

It is my job, as a mother, to ensure my daughter has enough air in her balloon, enough confidence, to succeed.

“Really,” I said. “Just keep reminding them. And if they don’t get it, it will be okay. At least you know what’s best for you.” I half-hugged her shoulder, then took a bit of my melted yogurt. “Mmm! Is this tomato flavor?”

My daughter laughed and straightened the slump in her shoulders. “Mama, you’re so silly. It’s strawberry!”

Photo courtesy of Seabass Creatives/Unsplash

How to Survive the Holidays with Toddlers

Holidays can make you want to pull your hair out. So can toddlers. Combine them and by the middle of December, your insides will burn like they’re at war with eachother. You’ll be running around with leftover fruitcake crumbs stuck to your chin, babbling nonsense about never celebrating another holiday for the rest of your life. Trust me. I’ve barely survived this time of year through two children and that’s no coincidence.

I’ve made mistakes, taken notes, studied, and practiced what I’ve learned. And, lucky for you, I’ve compiled a short-list of surviving the holidays with pint-size children so that maybe you’ll be able to make it to the new year with a smile of joy, rather than insanity, spread across your face. 

If you decorate a tree:

Don’t get a real one. You’ll find your toddler and your animals drinking out of the tree’s water bowl, side by side. Then you have a fire hazard. And a kid covered in sap.

And don’t put any ornaments made of real food on the tree. Someone will eat them, and I’m sure you can imagine what kind of bacteria is living on that three-year-old preschooler-made ice cream cone ornament. YUCK. Also, don’t even bother putting ornaments on the bottom two feet of the tree. They will just end up in other places like on the dog’s ears or under your feet. Same goes for garland and pearls. 

Actually… It might be a good idea to skip the tree altogether.

If you should wrap presents:

Two words: gift bag.

Kids don’t care about your fancy foil wrapping paper and handmade bow. And neither will you when you have to open half of her presents. Bag it. Add some tissue paper. Slap a dollar store bow on. Done.

If you go to visit family:

Don’t expect your toddler to behave like a tiny civilized human being. She will not. Instead, she will scream at decibels you didn’t know were possible. She will cry when Aunt Betty gives her a loud, wet kiss. And she will bite Uncle Richard when he tries to tickle her.

Get toys. Get apps. Get back-up.

Nothing helps moms more during the holidays than a good, reliable grandma. Borrow one, if your mom and mother-in-law are unavailable. Pay large amounts of money and hire one. Is this a thing? If not, HELLO new business venture!

If you can’t find a grandma to heist for all holiday-related activities, stay home. Full stop.

If you consider going out to eat at a nice restaurant:

Reconsider.

Places are more crowded during this time of year and employees have less patience for your food-throwing, booger-picking kid.

This is your only warning.

If you bake cookies:

Drink a lot of wine. It’s the only way you will survive all the sprinkles and artificially-dyed frosting colors.

Don’t eat them. Especially the ugly ones. Elderly neighbors love that homemade shit. Wrap them in some bright green saran wrap and have your kid march them next door, frosting still on her face.

If you go sledding:

Dress really, really, REALLY warm. Your toddler will be fine, because she’ll be having so much fun sailing down the snow-covered driveway on her plastic disk in the cold ass post-blizzard tundra, but you may never see the inside of your house again. Hypothermia will set in if you aren’t prepared.

Before your eyes get frozen in the open position, bribe her with hot cocoa and cookies to go inside, but not the ones you baked, because remember: neighbors.

Cross your fingers (if you don’t have frostbite) that she accepts your bribery.

If you get invited to a kid-free party:

Go.

Find a babysitter: a nephew, the girl around the corner, the Starbucks barista, ANYBODY. This will be the only opportunity you have to get your jingle on, so do it. Wear your ugly sweater and your mom jeans, feather your hair, and spend the entire night annoying all your ‘friends’ who only have fur-babies by talking about your kids’ latest group finger-painting project and how you’re sure you have the next Michelangelo and Picasso on your hands.

It will be awesome.

If you host a family get-together:

Get drunk. It will lessen the blow when your great granny tells you that your faucets are out of date, your kids need a good spanking, and that you ruined the apple pies with Fuji apples.

Heavy drinking sounds like a bad idea, but it might be your only chance for survival.

If you are thinking of putting your kid on Santa’s lap:           

Remember, you are potentially scarring her for the rest of her life. And Santa-at-the-mall is not Santa. He’s some pervy, middle-aged man with vomit on his beard who likes little kids and smells like whiskey, so…

Okay, let’s recap:

This holiday season, if you have small children: stay home, stay away from Santa, forget the tree, bake shit, and drink your weight in booze.

Cheers!

Photo courtesy of Pexels/Pixabay

A Lesson in Speaking Up and Saying Sorry

The neighborhood I grew up in doesn’t look quite like it used to when I was young. Sure, the tiny bungalows and ranches of blues, yellows, whites and brick continue to sit close to the sidewalk with cement slab driveways and manicured lawns framing each one. Mature trees anchor the street firmly in its blue-collar place. And, even today, I could set my watch by the freight trains chugging along two streets over. But it has changed in other ways.

Most noticeably, the neighbors inside the houses seem farther apart. The kids I played with as a child moved out long before I finished high school, and now they have moved on, making families of their own. The houses have changed hands to an older generation who care less about connecting with one another and more about their own to-do lists.

On any given day when I was growing up, a herd of neighborhood kids would congregate in front of my house to play hide-and-seek, red rover and tag. 

I remember one day, in particular, where we were all taking turns with the jump rope and skip-it.

“I dare you to jump rope from the top of the steps,” I said to Douglas, my next-door neighbor. Before the words even finished running out of my mouth, I regretted saying them.

“Yeah, I double dare you!” my step-sister, Steph, exclaimed.

With a wobbly voice, he accepted. I kept my mouth shut and held one end of the jump rope while my stepsister held the other.

We swung the rope around, making it soar up towards the sky. The first couple of times it came down, towards his feet, he cleared it – no problem. But then on the third or fourth time, something happened. I couldn’t tell if he tripped, or maybe lost his footing against the step, but before I could stop it, he fell backwards onto the concrete. It happened in slow motion. First he was midair, face contorting and arms flailing, then he was slamming against the ground beneath him.

Douglas’ head hit the jagged corner of the bottom step, with a loud thunk. Blood started gushing onto the concrete. His face turned chalky as he opened his mouth into a strange shape and screamed. Razor blades scraped against my ears. My feet weighed ten thousand pounds, but somehow I managed to pick them up, one after another. I ran to find my mom.

I thought he would be broken forever.

Another neighbor, Josh, ran over my driveway and through the next front lawn to find Douglas’ parents.

When the adults met back at my steps, harsh words were shouted and all fingers kept pointing to me and my step-sister. My face was hotter than the blood in front of me, and knew I was responsible. I should have spoken up, but I didn’t.

“It was my idea,” I said, accepting the blame.

Douglas was rushed to the hospital and I was sent to my room where I buried my face against the coolness of my favorite pink pillow. I tried to bury my regret, too, but it kept welling back up through my eyes, streaming down my face in hot spurts.

I wanted to hide there forever, but my mom didn’t let me. After my step-sister went home, she took me to the dollar store. She loaned me four quarters and a dime to buy a toy for Douglas as an apology. I picked out a bag of green toy soldiers because soldiers were strong, and so was my friend.

When we got back home, she made me knock on his door, present in hand. A red-faced Douglas answered with his parents at his side.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he responded.

“Are you okay?” I asked sheepishly.

“I got stitches,” he said, pointing to a freshly shaved spot on his head, sewn up with thick black thread. Looking at it made my belly feel like I just went down the first hill of a roller coaster at Cedar Point.

New tears burned the corners of my eyes. “I’m so sorry,” I said, handing him the bag of plastic army men as an olive branch.

“Cool,” he shrugged. “Wanna play with them?”

I looked up to my mom and she nodded, nudging me into the house. Douglas ripped open the bag and the little plastic soldiers spilled onto the wooden floor. We played with them while our parents drank fizzy cans of R.C Cola and mended the wound festering between them. When I looked up, my mom smiled, letting me know that everything was going to work itself out.

Though many things in my neighborhood have changed over the last thirty years, the bloodstain on my stepdad’s front step remains. It has faded only slightly with time.

Each time I see it, it reminds me to speak up, say sorry, and take care of my friends and neighbors.

***

Right now, more than ever, I need my mom to reassure me with that smile that everything will, again, work itself out.

I tried. I tried to speak up. To do my part, but it wasn’t enough. That roller coaster feeling in my belly won’t go away this time. I keep worrying about what the future holds for my girls, my neighbors, my friends.

Will more blood spill, because we didn’t speak loud enough? What can I do now?

Little plastic soldiers won’t work this time.

Photo courtesy of  Tim Marshall/Stocksnap.io

That Time We Vacuumed a Pea from the Baby’s Nose

Our day started with three Jehovah’s witnesses, two plumbers, and one dog in heat. That would have been enough for any normal family, but my overachieving 18-month-old decided to stuff some peas up her nose during dinner for extra excitement.

The shenanigans started while I was helping my husband clear the table. I picked up a plate and some silverware and took literally ten steps to the kitchen.

“Mama!” I could hear my six-year-old giggling from the dining room.

“I’ll be right back, Sweetie,” I responded. My husband was filling the dishwasher. “Dinner and dishes? I’m pretty lucky!” I said, smacking his rear end.

“Mama, you have to see this! Ash put a pea in her nose.”

“A what?” I sighed and rolled my eyes before handing him my plate. Then I turned and walked casually back to the table. I know my youngest daughter is a trouble-maker. She’s like a cat, cute but sneaky. My oldest, Rey, was stifling laughter with her hand when I arrived. The baby had a bright green pea protruding from her left nostril. I snorted. “Grab my phone babe, I need to document this,” I said, along with every other great parent when her child had gotten herself into trouble. My husband ‘carefully’ tossed me my phone before returning to the kitchen.

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I snapped the photo, then pushed on her nostril, popping the pea out faster than one of those machines that pops out tennis balls.

“Taken care of,” I pretended to dust my hands.

“Wait Mama, there’s more!” my oldest shouted. She likes to exaggerate, as most kids do.

“I’ve told you before not to tell stories.”

“Mama, I mean it. Look! Look!” she jumped up, pointing and shrieking from the other side of the table. I decided to entertain her and peek. I reclined the high chair and peered up the baby’s nose to find yet another pea. It was within pinky-reach, so I quickly pulled it out.

“Well that’s enough fun for me,” I sighed and walked away, wondering if it was too early for a gigantic glass of wine.

“Mama, I think there’s another one,” my oldest had gotten up from her chair. She had one eye closed while pushing Ash’s nose up, stretching the nostrils wider for a better view. “I see something green!”

“Stop being silly,” I admonished. “It’s probably a booger.”

“No really, Momma! I’ll get Daddy’s flashlight.” She ran to the kitchen, came back with a tiny hand-held light. She shone it up the baby’s nose and there, tucked in the highest part of her nasal cavity, was another freaking pea. They were piled in her nose like lottery balls in the tube, only there wasn’t a prize to win.

“My dear God,” I whispered. “Only my child.” I pulled her out of her highchair and attempted to plug the pea-less nostril whilst blowing into her mouth to get it dislodged. Nothing. I used a nasal aspirator. Nope. That stupid little pea was stuck.

We put out a call on Facebook for tips on dislodging objects from body parts, because the people on Facebook are always right. Right? Not surprisingly, nothing helpful came of that, either.

“I don’t know what to do,” I said to my husband. “Maybe it will just fall out on its own?” After many trials, no luck, and a frustrated baby, I called it quits and put both kids in the tub.

A while later, my husband popped his head into the bathroom. “Do we have juice boxes and duct tape? I have an idea.” Good ideas don’t normally start with duct tape, but my husband is resourceful, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“Check the kitchen,” I said, drying off the kids.

When I came out of the bathroom, he had duct taped a juice box straw to a sippy-cup lid and to, finally, the vacuum hose. “This is going to work. I know it,” he said.

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“Wait. You want to vacuum the baby’s nose? Are you alright?”

“Yes and yes. You hold her down. Rey, you hold her arms and I’ll use the juice box straw to vacuum out the pea. Are we ready?”

“Oh boy,” I said. “I guess we don’t really have a choice.” I laid Ash on the bed, straddled her gently and held her face so she couldn’t move. Her cheeks were squished together like a little Cabbage Patch Doll. My eldest daughter held her arms firmly in place and my husband carefully put the tiny white straw in the end of her nose. I held my breath as the vacuum hummed, coming to life.

I bit my lip and squinted my eyes, praying that it would work. He slowly pulled the straw back, nanometer by nanometer. Time seemed to stop as more and more of the straw became visible. When the end of the white plastic was finally pulled from her nostril, I could see a tiny green pea stuck to the end. The three of us erupted in joyful hoots and hollers.

Kids do stupid stuff. All the time. And some of the stuff is stupider than other stuff. This, amazingly, sums up  what six years of parenting has taught me. So if anyone needs a vacuum attachment for removing small objects from children’s small body parts: noses, ears, etc., I have one and it works like a charm.

Sisters: Two Hearts Tethered Together

The young girl pressed her nose firmly against the glass and her breath made a tiny circle of steam underneath. Long brown hair fell all the way to her hips. “When do I get my bubblegum cigar?” she questioned her stepdad, unimpressed by the tiny balls of fury on the other side of the window. “I want to go home,” the girl stepped away from the glass. Her lips squished into an odd-shaped frown as she folded her arms and shuffled her small frame to her left hip. “Hospitals are boring and they smell funny.”

When she was finally able to go home, stuff was different. There was the crying. So. Much. Crying. At first, anyway. And there were the smelly diapers. Yuck.

But the worst part of this new little person, was all the sharing she had to do with her. First, her mommy couldn’t color in her Lisa Frank coloring book or watch Jem and the Holograms like she used to, because she had to feed and clean the baby. That made the little girl’s lips turn upside down into a frown. Then when the baby got older, she had to share her Beverly Hills 90210 Barbies (which the baby ruined, by the way) and the television. Instead of Jem, they were watching Barnie. Can you believe she had to watch that big purple dinosaur? Who was this small, red-faced thing and why was she suddenly so important? She was pretty sure sisters were no good.

In high school, the older sister started dancing and the younger one followed her lead. Dancing bonded them together. They were able to make their separate paths, distinct from the other, but together simultaneously. They began to share laughter.

It wasn’t until the older sister, newly wedded, packed up a U-haul for a move north that she first felt the tether strung between them. It connected them at the heart. “I’ll miss you so much,” she said, wrapping her freckled arms tightly around her sister. “But I’ll be back soon. And you can visit whenever you want.” As they untangled from their embrace, the older girl looked at her baby sister, no longer a baby, and tried to remember if she had ever felt as close to a person. She hadn’t.

“Please don’t leave,” her younger sister said quietly. “I need you.” Tears stung her already glossy eyes.

***

A sister is the only person who will willingly pick spinach from your teeth when you have no mirror or floss. And will tell you how God-awful that brand new mustard-yellow cable knit sweater looks without so much as a mouth twitch.

She will somehow be your best and worst wingman simultaneously (when you’re young and single, of course). And laugh at your honesty when you admit that you kind of thought hurricanes and typhoons were almost the same.

She’s the one who had to wear the horrible matching outfits for pictures with you, scarring you both for life.

She will let you borrow anything from her closet. EHH-NEE-THING. And will snatch that Bud Light right from your hand when you’ve had too much to drink. And tell you when you need to lay off the pizza and hit the gym. But she also tells you how pretty you are.

A sister is special because even though you may fight, it’s nearly impossible to stay mad at her. You can have pajama parties with her as an adult and make up dance routines to Footloose or Like a Virgin without feeling like a moron. She has seen your house at its dirtiest. Hell, she’s even cleaned your dishes once or twice. And If someone hurts you, she’ll cut a b*tch. Without question. Without fail.

She is the best aunt to your kids, the best listener you know, the best friend you’ve got. She’s your sister.

***

The little girl was me and the tiny ball of fury was my younger sister, Brittany. Today, almost two and a half states stretch between us, but it doesn’t matter. She is the first person I call when I need to cry. When things get all wonky, she sorts them out. I do the same for her. We’ve got two hearts tethered together.

We’re seesters.

Photo courtesy of Annie Spratz/Unsplash