Mud Cake (a really short story)

Untitled 27I laid down in the mud. It was cool and gritty and I could already feel it seeping through my pants and shirt, each growing soggy. Then I let my head fall back. A quiet sploosh followed as the wet and grime slid through the neck of my sweatshirt. The cold was a shock but then came relief as it cooled the back of my head and entered my ear holes. No more noise, just muffled shouts and finally silence as everyone around me stopped.

Or at least I assumed they’d stopped because I’d lost track of the outside world, all the yelling and arguing, the traffic, the endless search for a parking space, all of it gone, as I let the brown muck sooth the tightness in my neck. Letting my arms down into the wet on either side, I grabbed handfuls and ran it through my hair and applied it to my cheeks and forehead, the grit scraping across my skin.

I closed my eyes, and could hear nothing but the sound of my breathing and meditated on the vibration inside my skull. Exhaling out of my nostrils, I sunk deeper into the mire. I was slipping down into the earth until a voice, as if it was slithering through a cardboard tube broke through my frail cocoon.

Opening my eyes, I saw my wife leaning over me, she was saying something I couldn’t quite get so I pushed myself up with my elbows as water trickled out of my ears. “… you doing?” she asked, looking at me with incredulous frustration. I sat all the way up. Cars were still scrambling for that elusive slot, regardless of our spot in the corner median.

My children stared at me–more amused than alarmed–until my youngest smiled and said, “What are you doing, daddy?” Before I could answer–what would I have said?–his older brother punched him in the arm. Continuing to search my face for some sort of explanation, my wife finally sighed and went to separate the howling kids. “Stop it,” she tried not to yell.

I ran my fingers through my hair. The mud had caked up. I think it was time to leave.


Daddy Is a Softie, or How I Sleep

There are certain things about my kids that I begrudge now but that I’ll miss later on. I realize that, but then there are other activities that I will never ever remember fondly. Sleeping with my children is one of the latter I’m sure. Most nights one of my boys crawls into bed with me, my wife is in their bed with the other (to be fair, my wife has it a lot worse, but this is my story not hers). It’s ridiculous I know but them not sleeping on their own has been going on so long that it seems like it’s going to have to run its natural course.

In the meantime, I have fitful sleeps at least a few times a week. Both boys crowd me, pushing me to the very edge of the bed. Five-year-old B likes to throw his left leg over me. His elbows and knees are usually digging into my side or back. I throw him off only to wake with him attached to my side again. Two-year-old G is not big enough to put his leg over me but he can wrap his arms around and under my head as he did one recent night. I also woke at one point when his tiny fingers were digging into my eyes and nostrils.

Five years ago, we decided not to sleep train because we could not stand the sound of our baby crying. Now it’s come back to haunt us both. Perhaps it’s a small price to pay but at 2:30 am it sure seems like a big deal.

UPDATE: When I originally composed the previous three paragraphs on Thursday, I had no satisfactory ending and was unsure whether I’d publish them. Then came last night. Most every evening Mama lays down with the two boys around 7:30 and they fall asleep around 8. Around 8:30, however, there was still stirring upstairs, and then I heard Mama open the baby gate and trudge downstairs. Then came G: Mama, I wanna come down, followed by insults when she told him “no.”

I came out to the kitchen and whispered to Mama and G heard me. “Daddy, come get me. Daddy, come get me.” All I wanted to do was sit on the couch, eat popcorn, and watch football, so I fought the urge to go up and grab my baby and jumped in the shower instead. When I got out and got dressed he was still upstairs asking to come down and then he deciphered my footsteps. “Daddy, come get me.”

I tried to resist but the little voice was so sad. I knew it would ruin my night and that it’d probably be better for him to just stay up there and eventually go to sleep on his own but I am a softie, always have been, and my two boys know this, that I am a sucker for them. One more plea from G and I looked at my wife who told me I could go get him but that she didn’t want anything to do with it.

So I went upstairs and grabbed him and took him in the TV room. For the next hour-and-a-half, I fetched G water and milk and popcorn, trying to keep him from spilling all three. He never sat still and talked my ear off: how he wanted to watch Power Rangers, what color of popsicle he would eat tomorrow, where was Mama, and on and on until his mother mercifully came in around ten and took him upstairs.

He eventually fell asleep in my bed where I joined him an hour later. After staying up for so long, G was so tired that he was like a dead weight in the middle of the bed with little of the usual harassment of me. I guess that was one upside of bringing him down.

Terrible Daddy

IMG_1353Sad to say, I have not posted in over a month and so I thought I would catch everyone up. Almost five-year-old B is in a real smooth groove–there are not too many surprises with him–so most of this will concern 21mo G who is at the age where things change from week to week.

February started off rough, maybe not for him but definitely for me and Mama. Out of nowhere, he started calling us “poophead,” then that gravitated to “doodoohead,” and then crested with “butthead.” All the names were funny at first, but then it grew tiresome being called “doodoohead daddy,” and admittedly it stung at times. There was real intent behind it.

Whenever he got mad at anyone for anything he would turn to me and say, “butthead daddy”! Most of the time, I shook it off, but then there were moments when I was stressed out or in a bad mood and he would like me right in the eyes with tears or rage in his and sling one of these feces-related epithets at me. “Why am I a butthead?” I’d usually respond, but occasionally I could not help myself and responded accordingly. “No, you’re a butthead.” Not one of my best moments, but…

Fortunately, he seemed to tire of the name-calling, and as February rolled into March, I thought we were out of the woods. Would March bring us a kinder, gentler G? Yesterday shattered that notion. Last night, as his mother pulled him out of the bathtub, I sat at the doorway to the bathroom. She wrapped him in a towel and began to dry him off when he looked at Mama and then me and uttered the words “terrible daddy.”

It was like a gut punch. Not merely a dirty name, this was really descriptive. I laughed but in disbelief and repeated it to myself all night. Even writing about it now pricks a bit. “Terrible daddy.” Really? I’m scared to think about what’s coming next.

The Grateful Dad

My oldest son–at four and a half–walked into the living room this morning and I was momentarily jarred by how tall he looks. “B is getting so big,” I told my wife. “Yeah,” she said, “does that make you sad?” “No,” I replied, which is the truth. I’ve enjoyed watching both of my boys as they advance through life and each new stage has brought new joys to experience with them. “I don’t know how it makes me feel,” I said. B is already so articulate and thoughtful that all I could think about was him a year from now, that much bigger and wiser to our half-baked ways of raising him and the lame explanations we give to his whys, for instance. This time next year I can imagine him really putting me in my place.

“Well, at least you can’t ever say that you didn’t spend enough time with him,” Mama said, breaking my concentration on my parenting foibles. “That’s true,” I said, and nothing truer has ever been said. For the last four or so years I have been at B’s side, and I’m truly grateful for that chance, grateful to the old lady that she went along with the idea of me staying at home with our son.

In reality, she would have been so much better at this than me. The house would be cleaner, and our children more balanced. Most importantly, B would be less like me, which would be better for him, but not as fun for me. It’s a blast having a miniature version of yourself, who nonetheless is better looking and already better at things that I’ve done for 40 years.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to say that although it’s been really trying at times, I wouldn’t trade staying home with my progeny for anything, even if my children someday might wish I had.

Consider Yourself Warned

A little more than two weeks ago, Baby G turned one-year-old. Now that he’s been around this long, I’ve been able to reflect on the past year and have come away with a couple of observations:

1) They don’t tell you how hard having the second baby is going to be. When we were expecting our first child, everyone warned us how many sleepless nights there would be, about the crying, etc. No one said anything when we decided to have a second one and now that we do I understand why: Schadenfreude. They all had more than one kid and wanted us to experience the pain, too. Having a second child is not just twice the work but cubed. You’ve got to have one eye on the four-year-old and one on the baby. Stop paying attention for one second and the little one will turn over the bowl of cat food and start to eat it, or maybe he’ll mount the long, treacherous staircase. There is no down time.

2) Yet, it’s amazing how much you love the second one. It’s a little different from the first because there aren’t as many surprises but it’s still fresh in most ways, getting to know the new baby, and seeing what kind of person he–in our case–is and is going to be. To be honest, I didn’t want another kid. We liked the first one so much I thought we should be content with the son we already had but Mama prevailed. Now, I can’t imagine life without our little butterball baby, his white hair, appetite for all kinds of food, and ever-present laugh.

That said, this past year has been one of the toughest stretches of time I’ve endured. Having a second child is definitely worth it, but it’s a bit like being hazed every day for months on end. Consider yourself warned.

Life on the Outside

Around 7:30 last night, I walked outside to retrieve a jacket that had been left on top of one of our cars. As I rounded the corner of the back of the house, two people were walking down a gravel road that runs near our place. For a brief second, I felt melancholy. I remember being able to take a nice stroll at dusk, before the wave of children and their bedtime took over our lives. I yearned for that pre-baby luxury.

If your single or childless so much is still going on at that time of day, but not in our house. I grabbed the jacket off the hood of the car and trudged back inside. The kids and Mama were finishing up story time and I went in and sat at my computer, waiting until she would return downstairs and we’d settle into our slow crawl towards bedtime.

Fifteen minutes all was quiet when I heard a sound. Was that vomiting? Then a yell from Mama for me to come upstairs. Baby G had gorged himself on dinner only an hour or so early and had puked some of it back up, on himself and Mama. I took the disgusting sheets downstairs while G took a bath.

“These kids are never gonna go back to bed now,” Mama told me when I returned. Four-year-old B and I went into the next room to play. When Mama came in with G wrapped in a towel I was teasing B about going to Target to buy a Marvel action figure, maybe Black Panther. “Too bad we can’t go,” I said. “Will it be open in the morning?” he asked. “It’s  open now actually,” I said. “Too bad we can’t go.”

“Why not?!” said Mama. “Let’s just go. These kids are gonna be up forever.” Really?” I wondered out loud. The thought of us all going out as the night was descending seemed revolutionary. “Let’s do it,” she said, and so we quickly threw on some clothes and headed  out in the car.

As we drove along it was blowing my mind. All these places–restaurants and stores–still open, so many cars still on the roads. I ticked down the names as we passed. “Red Lobster’s still open. Outback’s still open.”

A little after 8:30 we arrived at Target and all ran in. B was hyped for a new toy, G was digging riding in the cart, Mama and I were both jazzed to just be out and about. We found no Black Panther at Target so then–feeling wild and crazy–stopped at Wal-Mart nearby where we located a Hawkeye figure from the new Avengers movie. Success!

By 9:15 we were back in the car and on our way home. Little G fell asleep as we neared the house  and so around 9:30 Mama lifted him out of her Jetta and took him upstairs to his little bed. B was still so excited that we let him stay up to play until a little after 10 before he went up too. I followed thirty minutes later, Mama shortly afterwards.

Today, we’re all a little exhausted from our night out, but it was well worth it. If nothing else, Mama and I got to see what life on the outside is still like.

Little Grey Men (or Worse, Green Hulking Ones)

A couple of months ago, my three-and-a-half year old son told his mama and I that aliens come visit us at night. I’ve always been easily scared and so was taken aback by this news. I’ve never mentioned aliens around him and I’m pretty sure his mother hasn’t either so his statement was unsettling. Even though it’s a common enough notion in our culture, where would he have gotten this idea from?

Since then, B has mentioned the aliens several times but has since separated them into “mean” and “nice.” It’s consoling to know that some of them mean us no harm, but I’d rather he drop the subject. Unfortunately, earlier this week, he mentioned the “nice” ones in conversation and then on Wednesday night woke up and told his mama that it was okay, the aliens were not coming that night.

Now, I know that this is just the product of a child’s wild imagination, but when my wife told me what he said the next morning, I have to admit that I was a little creeped out. Why is he talking about this so much? Are little grey men–or worse, hulking green ones–coming to our house at night, and, if so, what do they want? I’m getting chills up and down my spine just thinking about it.