To understand what happened to me this week, you need a little bit of background information and that little bit is this: I like the bathroom quiet.
Charlotte learned this much very early in life. She is free to be as loud as she wants in most of this house, but I reign over bathroom silence with an iron fist. I like my hygiene and bodily functions tended to in peace, thankyouverymuch. There is no unnecessary talking or noise allowed when: someone is on the toilet, someone is in the shower, teeth are being brushed, a diaper is being changed, or I am cutting Donald’s hair.
Yesterday morning I took the girls to a playdate at a nearby park. We left a little later than I had intended to, but I still made the decision to try to run a grocery errand on the way home.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but within about two minutes of entering the market I was made acutely aware of the fact that the last-minute errand was actually one of the worst ideas I have ever had as a parent. Charlotte was so exhausted that she was just bouncing off the walls to keep herself awake. She pushed the cart into an unsuspecting fellow customer, went running down the aisle, and generally made me question why it is that preschool-aged children are allowed on the planet at all.
I mean, really.
So with superhuman speed, I gathered what we needed and wrangled the beast and got us up to the cash register. Charlotte’s behavior did not improve while we waited in line. She was just…awful. I love my kid, but let’s call a spade a spade, it was miserable. She was exhausted, I was frustrated and everyone around us was suffering because of my mistake. I am generally an exceedingly patient person with children, but I could tell that I was losing my cool and then Charlotte knocked over a display case and I lost every bit of calm I had left. I reached out, grabbed her wrists, and pulled her face within an inch of mine.
“I have had ENOUGH!” I hissed at her. “BE QUIET AND STOP THIS RIGHT NOW!”
Instantly, Charlotte responded. “Why, Momma? Are you pooping? In your pants? At the grocery store?”
And then, looking more scandalized than a three-year-old ever has any business looking, she yelled out. “MOMMA! WHY ARE YOU POOPING IN YOUR PANTS AT THE GROCERY STORE?!”
The cloud of sickness that has been hanging over our home started abruptly a few weeks ago. Charlotte spent the morning playing at a park and gathering maple seeds with me and even though it was barely noon, she wanted to nap.
If nothing else, I am an opportunist. I jumped all over that nap like white on bread.
She napped for several hours that afternoon. When Donald came home, she woke up and helped him prepare dinner. As soon as we were finished, she brushed her teeth and asked for a story and fell back asleep.
The next morning she woke up feverish. By midday she was complaining of a stomachache. She spent most of the day sleeping and vomiting. One minute she would be running a fever, lying listless on the couch, shivering under a pile of blankets. The next minute she would be running around the house like nothing was wrong, coughing but otherwise unaffected. The entire time she resisted eating and drinking.
It went on like this for nearly a week with no noticeable decline or improvement. Nobody else in the family was showing symptoms of any sort, so we thought the most likely explanation was heat exhaustion. Charlotte has always been very sensitive to heat and prone to heat exhaustion.
But then one morning Charlotte woke up with a red swelling behind her ear. “Momma,” she said nuzzling against me. “Please make them stop hammering.”
It was seven o’clock in the morning. I could hear the birds twittering their morning songs outside. I could hear the baby babbling happily on a quilt on a floor. I could hear the dishwasher running in the kitchen. There was no hammering. I called the doctor, made a late morning appointment, and slowly got Charlotte ready.
She had a raging throat and ear infection and mastoiditis. The doctor prescribed antibiotics and ran through a list of symptoms to be on the lookout for, symptoms that could indicate either a brain infection or meningitis. I felt like a Class A idiot for not taking her in sooner. I gave her the first dosage of antibiotics a couple hours later. She immediately fell asleep. The doctor checked in with us twice the following day and once each day for the next week to make sure that Charlotte was responding to the antibiotics. The swelling behind her ear went down. By the time we went in for a follow-up appointment her infections were tamed. The only evidence left behind was scarring along her ear canal and the ordinary consequences of antibiotic usage that we promptly set about addressing.
Before Charlotte’s infections cleared up entirely, the rest of the family came down with some sort of flu bug, a hacking cough, and pink eye. The baby spent three consecutive days only sleeping two or three hours in the night and napping fitfully during the day. The congestion and the sleeplessness were forces to be reckoned with. I coughed so hard I pulled a muscle and hurt my ribs. Then, because I was holding the baby differently to accommodate my tender ribs, I developed two plugged ducts.
It was every bit as awesome as it sounds.
But the days have marched by and we are finally on the mend. One of the children is still dealing with conjunctivitis in one eye and the other child is still a hacking, sputtering disaster…but we’re resuming normal life activities and beginning to imagine a life outside of moping around with fevers and chamomile tea again.
This morning I am taking the children for a neighborhood nature walk. And I am thinking over and over and over again just how lucky we are to have our health the vast majority of the time.
1. About ten days ago, Evelyn cut her first tooth. It took us completely by surprise, but after a series of rough nights there it was, spiky and sharp and pearly white. Yesterday morning she cut its twin. Side by side, her right tooth ever so slightly taller than her left. I will miss the pure adorable that was my baby’s gummy toothless grin, but I am absolutely smitten with the new one that has replaced it.
2. Grandma is visiting! Charlotte is beside herself with excitement.
3. For the first time ever, Donald and I tried grilling asparagus with just a little bit of olive oil. It was unbelievably delicious.
4. We recently purchased six one-month-old turkey poults from a turkey farmer (rancher? breeder?) in the desert. We are hosting Thanksgiving this year and I cannot wait to see one of our birds on the table.
If I had to pick one word to sum up your personality at this stage in your life, it would be “fun.” Your father and I are constantly swapping stories about the clever things you say, the silly things you do, the adventures you get up to. We so thoroughly enjoy being a part of your life and watching you grow that it’s hard to imagine that there was ever a time when you were not a part of our lives.
For whatever reason, you LOVE to hear about this. To you, it is a great wonder that we existed before you were born, much less that we DID things or KNEW people. Interesting things. Cool people. And to you, these mystery activities and relationships are the makings of fascinating stories, stories that you simply cannot get enough of. Over and over you repeat these stories.
This, Charlotte. I LOVE THIS. People ask me sometimes how it is that I know so much about my family. The answer is that we told a lot of stories, kiddo. Every night we sat down around the dinner table and we ate and we laughed and we shared stories, and all these years later I remember them. Those stories give me a sense of orientation and I love passing them on to you (and watching you dress up later and act them out). I wonder endlessly at what sorts of stories you will help us create, which ones will become family lore and which ones will fade and be forgotten when we’re gone.
But we’re having fun outside of storytelling too. You especially seem to be having quite a bit of fun with your sister.
Charlotte, you are too young right now to grasp the meaning of this particular family story, but when your sister was born, your voice was the first thing she responded to. She was a silent and unhurried baby at birth, but then she heard your voice. She heard you come into the room exclaiming about her new baby, and she picked her head up off my chest and wiggled about as though she were looking for you.
And from that moment, you have been her very favorite person. For nearly a month, you were the only person who could make her smile, and she still makes your father and I earn her laughs but will give you great peals of laughter at every opportunity.
I watch the two of you together and am just left in awe at the relationship you are forging. The two of you are building a friendship that I sincerely hope will endure for many, many decades to come. When I hear both of you giggling together as “Evelyn the Flying Baby” and I chase you around the house or pull you along the floor together on a blanket, I find myself thinking about my own sisters and our relationships. I remember your Auntie E pulling me and a gallon of milk in a wagon on the way home from the corner dairy. I remember having a nightmare once and waking up to your Aunt R tucking me back into bed so that I’d stay warm. I remember climbing in trees with them and pretending we were Olympians on the balance beam our father built and doing cartwheels in the front yard.
And as I remember these things, I look at our relationships today. Your aunts and I sometimes talk very frequently and sometimes do not talk much at all, but there is something about sharing a childhood that creates a bond between two people which cannot be broken. It is a precious relationship, this one that you and Evelyn are growing together, and I genuinely hope that you enjoy experiencing life together for the rest of your days.
Speaking of fun with babies, by the way, you are also very much enjoying this:
I found that old pink scarf in a cabinet the other day. The next weekend your cousins handed you down an old baby doll that you instantly fell head over heels in love with. And boom!, ever since I’ve spent half of each day helping you wrap up your baby the way that I wrap up your sister.
Cutest. Thing. Ever.
May you always enjoy storytelling. May you always appreciate your sister. And may you never lose your creativity, sweet child.
We love you more than bears love honey (and everyone knows that’s an awful lot),
Momma and Daddy
One morning last week, I was just settling in to read a book or twenty to Charlotte when I heard a cacophony of desperate clucks in the backyard.
“Wait here,” I told Charlotte. “I’ll be right back, I just want to make sure the neighbor’s dog isn’t hassling the chickens again.”
And I grabbed the baby.
And I went outside.
And I walked toward the backyard.
And at the very same moment that I realized that my birds were being attacked by coyotes, I heard a very deep growl behind me.
Slowly, cautiously, I turned around and came face to snout with a large, young male coyote. He was lean and dusty and his teeth were bared. He stood between me and my open kitchen door, the door that lead to the house where my three-year-old was lying sick in bed waiting for me to read to her, and time.stood.still.
I was suddenly acutely aware of my surroundings. I felt Evelyn shifting her weight toward me, tensing her body, and it dawned on me that to the coyote in front of me, she was seventeen pounds of delicious. My mind felt like it was processing every possible option at the speed of light – could I stuff the baby in the tree? were there any rocks for me to throw? would shouting for help put Charlotte in greater danger because she might come to see what all the noise was about?
Two seconds later, one of the smaller coyotes nipped at the large coyote’s tail as it loped past. The large coyote stood silent for a moment, looking at me, then turned and trotted away. In no time at all, they were gone.
I ran inside, shut the door, then rushed back to the bedroom to check on Charlotte, and came pretty fucking close to melting into tears of relief on the spot.
“I want to read the pirate book,” she told me. So we did. We read the pirate book. We read and my heart slowed and I thanked the heavens for my daughters, for these moments, for our lives and our health and our lack of coyote mauling.
A few hours later, the coyotes came back.
This time I was ready for them. I set the baby in the bouncer and I locked my daughters in the bedroom so that the coyotes could not, under any circumstances, reach them. I dialed 9-1-1 so that if I were injured all I needed to do was press the call button. Then I looked around for something to throw at the coyotes to scare them off.
The nearest thing was a package of cookies left behind by some relatives after a family gathering the weekend prior. So I grabbed the package of cookies, took two steps outside, closed the door behind me, and chucked the sweets at the nearest coyote.
That wimpy little Nabisco package got the job done. It hit the coyote right above its back and all three of the flea-ridden suckers took off. And none too soon because as soon as the package hit the coyote, all of the cookies inside went flying. And as soon as the cookies went flying, every chicken in my yard went off of predator mode and into FREE FOOD! mode. They started running toward the cookies before the coyotes were even out of the yard.
So in summary: unless you want a heart attack, do not ever walk into the middle of a pack of hungry coyotes with a baby on your hip. And also, chickens are dumb. The end.