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Life, Writing & Photography
...a Collection of Personal Discoveries
Copyright © by Greg German, 2008


 
Essays 
Turning Into Mother
~ a personal journey in seven parts ~
 

 

This essay follows my role reversal challenges as a stay-at-home-father (at that time) for my 15 month and 15 year old sons.   ...a life altering  experience founded in a repeating, eye opening, every day path of patience and self-education.

 

 

 

 

Afternoon Nap

"We're all tired and it's nap time, little boy," I tell Alden.

 Whining, he stands there next to me pulling on my pant leg.  His spider-like little fingers squeeze and pinch me.  Ignoring his persistence, I rearrange the covers in his baby bed. "There, just right," I say, affirming the job.  I reach down, pry his fingers from my pants, and lift.  "Wheeeeee."  The customary sound stretches from my mouth as I swoop him up from the floor. 

Weightless and tickled with surprise, he catches his breath.  The whining stops in mid-vowel; a wide-eyed look locks on his face.  In one fluid motion, I fly him over the bed railing, landing him softly, back-first, on the sheet.  He looks straight up—then turns his head with a jerk.

"That's nap position," I tell him, responding to his what's this glare.  I step away from the bed, look deep out the window at nothing particular and then draw the blind closed.  I hear him come to his feet.  He shakes the railing.  I close the other blind.  Slivers of January's early afternoon sunlight seep through the slats and decorate the wall.  Intrigued, Alden turns and tries to grab a piece of the silvery reflection.  I pick up his red-bucket basket of dirty clothes, all accumulated in the past 24 hours.  "Nighty, night!" I say, walking out the door.  "Daddy has laundry to do."  

Just as my foot leaves the seventh and last step from the upstairs I hear crying and the rattles of a well-shaken baby bed.  Alden is angry about my departure—tired, angry.  I just want him to sleep.  He needs to sleep, if even for an hour.  I need to sleep, too.  Last night he was up and down, awake and asleep four times between one and five in the morning—plus his morning nap never materialized.  Knowing the ritual, I ignore him.  He will either give up or fall asleep in five minutes or he won't. 

From the laundry area in the garage I can't hear him as loudly.  I stare at the other three full baskets sitting there at my feet like patient dogs.  "How does this happen?" I say aloud.  Taking a deep breath, I begin sorting.  Jeans.  Jeans.  Whites.  Towels.  Whites.  Baby clothes.  Colors.  Jeans. Cold, gentle wash, hang-dry only.  Whites. Towels.  Dirty socks.  Silk blouse.  Baby 'jamies.  Baby pants.  One red sweater.  Underwear.  Pee'ed on sheet, and baby pants.  "I knew something was stinking in here." I comment, talking to the laundry as if it can hear me.  Blue slacks. Sweatshirt, in the towel pile.  White bra.  Tan bra.  Dirty socks, inside out.  Black panties.  Puked on T-shirt.  "That’s incredibly stinking!"  Towel.  Underwear.  Long sleeve, green shirt, also puked on.  Colors.  Whites.  Towels. 

I decide on taking care of the stinking items first and re-sort them into an initial load of colors, start the warm water in the washer, add the Arm & Hammer…the Clorox color-safe bleach…the fabric softener…and return to sorting and, as I often do while bent over the washer, revisit my past, most particularly when my first son was Alden’s age.  Not me...not then…I wouldn’t have washed a load of laundry or mopped the floor.  That was women’s work…let alone change a diaper.  And I didn’t...I might have changed three of Kealan’s diapers, total!  Men didn’t do stuff like that…back then.  My Dad didn’t…his Dad didn’t…and neither did anyone else’s.  Men did the outdoor chores, worked on machinery and went to the fields.  I suppose that didn’t make it right.  We didn’t know any better…I didn’t know any better.

 "How does this happen?" I ask myself again.  “So few people and so many dirty clothes.” 

Alden continues to yelp, more persistent in challenging sleep.

The phone rings.  I take the garage stairs, two steps at a time, cross the living room, enter the kitchen and grab the phone at its third ring.  It's Regina, my corporate-entrenched wife, who is assigned to a project in Chicago.  Three months earlier it was a project in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Before that, Hartford.  Before that, Dallas.  Commuting weekly, she returns home on weekends— months at a time, this is our routine.  A telephone call between us is as common as a conversation across the room for others.  Hearing him in the background, she inquires about her son.  I assure her that he is okay and explain the history of the noise.  With mothering-reluctance, she accepts my judgment of the matter.  She understands his habits.   I ask her how things are this afternoon. 

While she talks, I move back to the Whirlpool and stop the machine which has chosen to begin washing without the laundry.  Regina provides details about the catered lunch at her office and a meeting she is soon to attend.  I grab a handful of colors and arrange them in the washer.  “We had grilled cheese and Campbell's Tomato Soup for lunch,” I purposefully report.  She asks how I am.  "I’m fine," I tell her.  "Tired, though.  Alden was up four times last night."  She suggests that I take a nap with him.  I agree, privately knowing that is impossible as I continue to sort through my pile of colors. 

My mind quickly scans the too many items remaining on my today's yet to do list —vacuum, dust and general pick-up around the house.  I like to have things in order when she returns home for the weekend—tomorrow.  As well, I need to sit at the desk and work on the checkbook, call a client about a brochure I am making and finish the website I am building.   And, I need to make a grocery store run…all of this, while looking after Alden, him between my feet, demanding attention.  After that, it will be time to prepare tonight’s supper. 

"Okay," I tell her.  "I have to go take care of the baby.  Obviously he has a problem."           She agrees.  I find a stained, blue bib, drop it in the washer, reset the timer, shut the lid and hang up the phone.

 

Alden stops crying immediately as I step into his room.  Still standing, he leans towards me, arms outstretched.  I find a corner of calm within me and, using his pet name, playfully ask:  "What's the matter with the Boo-Boo?"  He stretches closer toward me.  Giving in, I resort to another method of accomplishing the task at hand.  "You know, you are about to drive Daddy crazy," I say under my breath as I lift him up. 

I carry him to my bedroom, grabbing a large bath towel from the hall closet as we pass.  Towels, I’ve discovered, work well as naptime blankets. We both lie down on the bed.  He's warm beside me, quiet—and smells of baby powder.  That's a good thing.  A few deep breaths later he is asleep.  I wait, for fear of moving too soon and waking him up. 

Seduced by the bed, I allow myself five minutes of lying there and mistakenly replay the day's order in my mind.  Up at 6:15…read newspaper headlines…baked blueberry muffins…pried Kealan, my 15-year-old son (from my previous marriage), out of bed…forced a muffin on him for breakfast…ushered him out the door towards high school…wiped up kitchen…sat at desk and sorted bills…worked on web page for a client… Alden was up by 7:40… rocked with him for ten minutes watching CNN until he fully woke up…diaper not wet, a good thing…sat him on the pot three times before he pee'd … fed him a muffin, two bites of banana and a small bowl of cereal…did the dishes…picked up the living room…sponged bathed the baby…dressed him…played lion attack with "Bites" the stuffed lion…worked on a web page again while Alden played under my desk for 20 minutes…plus 10 minutes with him on my lap…gave up work and collected laundry…sopped up discovered spilled juice from the kitchen floor, then just mopped the whole thing…read "Thomas The Tank Engine"… failed attempt at morning nap time…started grocery list…put together the grilled cheeses…cooked…cleaned up kitchen and did the dishes, again…got in 25 more minutes of desk work…now, afternoon nap time.  Unknowingly, I doze.

Hearing the distant “ka-chunk” of the washer starting its spin cycle, I wake with a wide-eyed jolt and mentally wrestle myself away from my slumber.  I want this Alden-downtime to make business telephone calls and to approach some work without distraction.  Still groggy, I stumble out the bedroom door and bump the hallway walls a couple of times as I move toward the office.

Thirty-five minutes later, sounds of Alden turning over on the bed and indecipherable mutterings, drift between baby monitors.  In mid-keyboard strike I stop, dash up the stairs to the bedroom and begin lightly patting him on the back.  This settles him; I gain a few additional, undisturbed minutes. 

Realizing that the load in the washer finished spinning several minutes ago, I report back to the laundry room.  Dryer vent cleaned, I move the clothes from the labor of one machine to the other.  I choose whites for the next chore and pile them into the washer.

Distracted, I wander into the kitchen, open the refrigerator door and look for nothing in particular to eat.  What I don't see reminds me that I need to go to the grocery store.  I check cupboard for canned foods, then snacks; finally, after a few blank seconds, I take a handful of Cheese-its crackers and wander over to the glass doors that open to the deck.  I stare across the chilled back yard, past the neighbors' houses, past the row of evergreen trees and then the pasture that stretches on south. 

Thoughts randomly navigate my mind—it’s becoming partly cloudy. A change of weather, snow, is in the forecast.  On my arm, the window glass is cold.  The space across and beyond the pasture is deep.  Wind is blowing the evergreen tree limbs.  I allow myself one cracker at a time, deliberately chewing and tasting each small square.  That I am aware of this action fades into another thought, another life. 

Years ago…a day like this…cold…weather changing to snow…walking between farm buildings, I am dressed in coveralls, sweatshirt, heavy boots and gloves…I am doing chores—putting straw bales out for the fat hogs and pigs, cleaning the farrowing house, watering the horses.  …Deep in the country surrounded by nothing…miles of fields…hunting…driving the back roads, alone…shotgun and rifle beside me, waiting for a pheasant to dart between ditches…this weather, changing and cold, perfect for goose hunting, better yet, a reason for coyote hunting…me and the boys, my old friends back home. …I wonder, if they are driving, now, down dirt roads and across fields in their Chevy and Ford trucks, hunting.  That's what we used to do…on days like this.  Now, I am cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, changing diapers and I'm on alert for stray dogs crossing the yard.

I suck in a long, deep breath.  Letting it out slowly, I force myself to move away from the glass.

 

The washer is still washing.  I stop the dryer and fluff what's in there to speed the drying time.  Back at my desk, I shuffle through a group of papers, and then stare at my computer screen trying to remember what exactly I was doing when interrupted.  But it is too late.  Through the monitor, I hear that Alden is awake. 

Just as he wobbles out the bedroom door, sleep lagging behind him, we meet.  "How's daddy's baby?" I coo to him, pushing aside my frustration of not getting more done while he was asleep.  "Did you have a good nighty-night?  Does the baby have to go potty?  Let's go sit on the potty like a big boy."  Picking him up, I glance toward the bed to see if taking him to the toilet is beside the point.  No.  No sign of a pee'd on bed.  Putting him on my bed like that in the middle of potty training was not smart.   A pee'd on bed, I muse, really would have distressed me—just one more thing to wash.

Because Alden refuses to sit on his training pot, I balance him precariously on the seat of the referred to big-boy potty.  He settles into position for three seconds, proclaims he doesn't have to pee and teeters to get up.  I maneuver him back to sitting, a match of determinations that carries on for a few seconds.  Finally, I dash out of the bathroom, locate the "Thomas The Tank Engine" book, and dash back.  A bare butt hanging over the bathtub, an explicit portrait of rear-end anatomy poured over porcelain, greets me.  I foil Alden's attempt to reach the beached toy boat and reestablish him on the toilet.  His initial resistance gives way to the curiosities of "Thomas."  I point out, discuss some of the more intriguing pages with him to his satisfaction, and finally, mine.  "Good job," I tell him.  "Mommy will be so proud of you."

 

What I really want to do is go back down to the office to work.  But that's out of the question.  Before supper can be made, I must go to the grocery store.  I carry Alden down to the kitchen and set him on the floor with a toy train engine, a stuffed bear and an empty cardboard, paper-towel roll.  I show him how to look through the cylinder like a spy-scope.  Grabbing it from me, he lets the bear take a look, too.  The train then becomes the focus of attention as I drive it across the floor, in a circle, up and over my leg and then his foot, which tickles him.   He takes a slap at my hand with the tube and then trades it for the train.

 While’s he’s distracted, I look in the refrigerator again and add more to my grocery list, followed by the kitchen cabinets and finally the pantry.  Before I’m finished with the list, Alden discards the toy for the pan cabinet.  With a clatter, he removes two small pots and a lid.  They bang to the floor.  He looks up at me with a feigned, full brown-eyed look of surprise on his face.        "Wow, that's a loud noise," I tell him.  His attention aligned with the pans, I hurriedly go to Alden's bedroom and begin the getting-ready-to-go-to-the-store process.  Choosing a green, sweat-pant outfit, I listen to the pot-banging while ironing it and then step to my closet to find a shirt for myself. The banging stops before my shirt is ironed; I stop, mid-press, to go to investigate the silence.  

Entering the kitchen, I see Alden grappling with the refrigerator door; he has it open.  "Oh, oh, Daddy forgot to get you a snack."  I pick him up, set him on his stepstool, bib him and push him up to the table.  Expectantly, he sits there while I get him a graham cracker and a tippy-cup of milk.  Having weaned him from the bottle nearly eight months ago, milk time and bed time is a lot less complicated.  While he eats, I dash off to finish my ironing project.  Just as my hand touches the iron, Alden loudly questions my disappearance.  

"Alden, Daddy's upstairs," I holler toward the kitchen.  "Finish your cookie and I'll be down there in a minute." 

I take two more swipes at the shirt with the iron and then make a move to brush my teeth.  But, before I am done in the bathroom he meets me at the door, half of a gooey graham cracker in hand, face smeared with brown-creamed crumbs.  "Good job," I tell him.  "You got down out of your chair all by yourself." 

Happy to see me, he grabs me; the graham cracker goo adheres to my jeans.      "No, no, no," I say, quickly removing his hand from my knee. The handprint on my pants quietly frustrates me.  "Here, let's get you cleaned up; look at that baby's dirty face!" I tell him, lifting him up to see himself in the mirror. 

He enjoys the ride and reaches to touch the glass.   Foiling the attempt, I guide his hands to the sink, wash his fingers, washcloth his face, then make a quick dash with the rag over his curly, black hair—all while wrestling with his arms and hands which are flailing about trying to prevent the cleaning job.  Grabbing the Luster’s Pretty & Silky Detangling Spray, I give it a couple of squirts over his head, rub it in and then, much to his objection, pick through his tangle of hair until it takes on the desired look of neatness.  I finish the job by giving the hairdo a couple of well-placed pats with my hand.   Teasingly, I grab the washcloth and giving it a final, playful swirl to his face just to get even for his obstinate behavior.  He responds with an irritated war-whoop.  

"Now," I tell him.  "Let's get our clean clothes on so we can go to the store.  Oh boy! We’re going to the store."

Once in the Ford Explorer, I double check the diaper bag making sure all emergency items are accounted for: cup of water…lid tight, cup of juice…lid tight, wet washcloth in baggie, wet-wipes, paper-towels, toy train, small stuffed animal, cookies, sliced apple, "Thomas" book, three extra diapers, extra  pants and extra shirt.  I double check to make sure the latch of his car seat is secure and then push the button to raise the garage door.  A few hundred yards down the road it dawns on me that there is a finished load in the washer and a probably still-damp load in the dryer.  I’m annoyed with myself for forgetting to take care of the loads as the machines could have been working while I was gone.

  Back to Top

Grocery Store

My shopping routine begins in the grocery store parking lot…open back door…remove Alden from car safety-seat…put on his jacket…put on and tie his hood…double check for checkbook, billfold and cell phone…place back-pack diaper bag over shoulder…lift out Alden and secure him on to my hip with arm…lock and shut doors.  Though it’s chilly, I leave my bulky coat behind that I might have greater maneuverability and one less thing of which to keep track.

Inside the store, I take a shopping cart and one-hand maneuver it to a spot out of the way of other arriving shoppers.  Before I reach my destination, Alden begins his customary try of bending off my waist in an attempt to grab the cart himself.  Having let go of my arm, he lunges for the handle.  His center of gravity bounces between mid-air and my waist; I tighten my grip on him.  In turn, his desire to both grab the cart and to escape from my grasp is inspired. 

“Just a minute—hang on just a minute.” I repeat, as I drop the diaper bag into the cart basket.  I hold the cart in position with my left foot while I lift him off my hip to a point above it that I might lower him in to its child seat.  Almost instantly the action fails.  Though Alden’s right foot slides neatly through one of the seat’s leg holes, he expertly thrusts his left foot onto the cart handle effectively blocking his entry into the seat.  This sudden, momentum-halting action, the opposing forces of his weight going down and my arm muscles locked beneath the armpits of his coat, cause his body and head to slip half-way down into the garment.  Alden’s holler of surprise quickly blends into one of irritation. I subdue my reaction to look around and see just how many shoppers are staring in my direction.   I’ve had similar experiences several times in the past.  Hollering babies in stores bother me—especially my own. 

I recall, as I often do while shopping, the very first time I took Alden to the store alone—the defining moment of my handling an agitated baby in public:

 

After dropping Regina off at the airport, I decided on a quick trip to the grocery store for formula, bread, hamburger and a couple of other items.  Five minutes after entering the store he starts crying, hard—an angry, whelping, yelping cry with lots of tears running down onto his increasingly reddening face. Nothing I do to squelch the outburst helps…toy, binky, bottle, holding, back patting.   After a couple of minutes, I acutely felt as if everyone in the entire store was staring at us.  Their eyes weighed on me heavily; the incident itself is probable cause to attract attention, let alone the fact that I’m a man, shopping with a two-month-old, bi-racial baby—Alden’s darker, African-American-mixed-white complexion noticeable next to mine.  I saw their glimpses, the curious stares from white and black mothers and grandmothers and a few men shoppers alike—waiting, watching, wondering what’s going to happen next and what’s the deal with that? I seriously considered leaving the store, but I needed the items.  Reaching the checkout counter a few minutes later, a woman in front of me let me in ahead of her. Sweating profusely from the self-imposed embarrassment and the physical excursion of trying to pacify the baby while handling the cart, I impatiently waited for the clerk to finish her job.  Sweat poured off me like rain, stinging my eyes, dripping on the check I was writing.  Cart, groceries, screaming baby and all, rushed to the car, opened the door and tossed in the two sacks.  Then, a loud burp belched from Alden’s mouth… almost instantly the crying stopped.  Shaken, I drove home.

 

Today, I purposefully focus on the situation and manipulate through the jig-saw puzzle of placing Alden in the seat.  I accomplish the feat a few seconds later after removing his coat.  His loud verbalization regarding the matter stops.  Further defusing the scene and creating the appearance that I am an individual in command, I quickly move off toward the produce department while looking at my list.  “Here we go big guy.  Ver-rooom!”   I lightheartedly say, making an engine noise as we take off.  I feign a pinch to his belly-button.  He laughs.

Maneuvering through the produce area I pick up two apples, three bananas (more and they get soft) and a bag of carrots.  I look over the cauliflower and broccoli, thinking that would be good with dip, but then decide the cauliflower at $2.59 cents a head is way overpriced; anyway, it would take too long to prepare.  The bright stack of limes attracts my attention and I pick out a nice big one—good for a gin-and-tonic.  Coming out of produce, I angle along the expanse of prepared foods, salads, cheeses and deli meats.  I explore the prices and appearance of the cold-cuts and then order a pound of turkey. 

While it is being weighed and wrapped, I take a free, bait-displayed cracker and a bit of cheese from the fancy, high priced trap placed strategically near the scales.  I pop the cheese into my mouth and hand the cracker to Alden.  Pleased with the token, he immediately begins to sample it, temporarily distracted from his rolling confinement. 

Turkey in cart, I move around the corner and down the condiment aisle (ketchup), up the can aisle (Heinz Tomatoes and Tomato Paste (on sale), Libby’s Green Beans, peas, Delmonte Peaches, soup…Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, Cream of Mushroom, Celery, Broccoli & Cheese

At the back of the store, I order two packages of chicken breasts, five, pound-and-a-quarter packages of hamburger and select the four pork chops I want.  Knowing that it is best to keep Alden moving, I tell the butcher that I will be back in a few minutes to pick it all up.  I make a u-turn and enter the dry food aisle (Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, spaghetti, Lipton flavored rice and noodle packets).  Finished with the cracker, Alden’s mouth and face are now smeared with slobber-mixed crumbs.  I pull a Wet-One from the diaper bag and swab his face.  He attempts to duck away, not appreciative of the clean-up, and grabs at my hand.  Persevering, I try to ease his displeasure by handing him the box of Kraft Macaroni.  He tries an experimental bite and then settles to the impossible task of trying to open the box with his little fingers. 

From the corner of my eye, I notice two white women, their carts nearly overflowing with groceries, taking the time to stop and stare our direction.  I wonder if I have passed the clean up the baby test to their satisfaction.   Though they go back to their shopping when I move in their direction, I notice one of the women, the one with the too tight top and big rear end, sneak another look at Alden, then at me and then again at Alden.  I’m accustomed to multiple stares and double-takes while I shop with him.  Under my breath, I chuckle at their attentive curiosity. 

In the cereal and bread aisle I pick up a box of Crispex and Honeycomb, then two loaves of bread and a package of hamburger buns.  Alden finally throws the box of macaroni to the floor.  In mid-stride, I swoop it up and drop it back in the cart.  Patience waning, he tries to stand up, getting one leg out of the hole before I foil him.  Irritated, he tries again. 

“Just a little bit longer,” I tell him.  “You’re being such a good boy!”  I grab the tippy-cup of juice from the diaper bag and hand it to him.  He takes the cup, drinks and then just sits there holding on it.  I continue talking to him.  “Hang on just a little bit longer.  We’re just about ready to go home. You’re being such a good boy.”  

When I look up, the black woman, who has been glancing at us since we entered the aisle, says hello as we meet.  Black women, I have learned, are often not shy after ascertaining that I am Alden’s father. 

She stops and inquires, “How old is that baby?”  

Alden quickly averts from her gaze and words.  I acknowledge her and add:  “He’s shy today.”

The woman and I exchange smiles and continue shopping.  At the meat counter I pick up my orders, turn around and head for the dairy section (gallon of milk, Borden’s cheese slices, one dozen eggs, yogurt, tortilla shells).  My routine of aisles nearly complete, I head toward the checkout counters passing through the soft-drink section on the way.  Anticipating a cup throw, I trade the nearly empty juice container in Alden’s hand with the package of cheese.  I grab a big bottle of Dr. Pepper for my older son, a Sprite for my wife and Schweppes tonic water for me.  I turn the corner and scan for the least busy checkout station—two lanes of three shoppers and four of two.  Six are closed.  Aggravated about the closed lanes, I quickly scrutinize the amount of groceries both in the carts and on the conveyor belts of the lanes with two shoppers.  I glide for the one that might, in my estimation, allow me the quickest checkout. 

In line, Alden, talking about something incessantly, drops the cheese on the floor.  When I bend down to pick it up, he tries again to escape from his seated prison.  Sensing the move, I grab a leg, put the cheese in the cart, stand him up, pull him out and positioning him on my hip—a move he appreciates in gaining the opportunity to make a reach for the brightly colored candy packages trimming the checkout counter.  I shift him to the opposite hip, where he immediately catches the eye of a grandmotherly looking woman who has pulled in behind us.  She reaches up and touches his cheek.  This flusters him into closing his mouth and hiding his head on my shoulder. 

While he sneaks peaks at her, she asks, and I tell her Alden’s age and name.  “What a cute little thing,” she replies. 

I’m aware that the time for leaving the store before Alden gives up all his patience is growing short.  While the woman continues to distract him, I one-hand-maneuver the checkbook and fill in everything but the amount.

 Back to Top

Supper Time

            Home, I gently remove Alden from his car seat and carry him to his bed, the motion of the car having lulled him into a second afternoon nap. 

            Taking advantage of the freedom, I address the damp load of clothes in the dryer, re-setting the timer for 30 minutes.  I grab the meat and other perishable items from the back of the Ford and get them in the refrigerator.  I let the other items wait, choosing instead to make the business phone call I need to make.  After conversing with my client, I work for a few minutes on the brochure, finish typing the text I was working on earlier, insert and align a photo on to the page and print a draft for proofing.  After that, I balance the checkbook and thumb through upcoming bills.  Hearing dryer’s timer buzz on the sound I get up and go back to the machine.  I remove the dry clothes and shove in the wet whites.  Knowing the whites will dry quickly and that denim dries faster than cotton towels, I wash jeans next.
            Hauling the basket of dry clothes up to the bedroom, I return to the garage, get the rest of the groceries and lug them into the kitchen.  While stocking the shelves, I decide on my invented supper creation for Kealan and me—Tijuana Surprise.  He’ll be thrilled about that, I think.  I set out a can of refried beans and a can of Rotel Tomatoes & Green Chilies (extra-hot), and then check to make sure that I have a bag of tortilla shells.  It is now about 4:15; Kealan will soon arrive home from hanging out with his after-school friends.  A stagehand, he has to attend the school’s play practice at 5:30.  We’ll need to eat early.   

            The fact that Alden has already slept longer than he should this late in the afternoon is begins to concern me.  Repercussions of such naps could mean an alteration from the routine…later than normal bedtime or additional wakings in the night

             “Alden,” I quietly say to him while gently shaking his shoulders.  “Alden, it’s time for the baby to wake up.” 

            Sleeping soundly, he doesn’t stir. 

            “Come on Alden, let’s wake up.”  I turn the light on hoping that will help.  “Alden!” I say more loudly while tickling his ribs.  Wake up!” 

            Nothing happens.  

            “He’s out like a rock,” I say out loud.  “This is not good.” 

            Deciding to try again in a few more minutes, I leave the room for my bedroom where I sit on the bed and stare at the basket of laundry that needs folding.  Tired, I flop back on the bed and stare at the ceiling.  Last night’s, every night’s, up and down routine with Alden and the day’s running-around-never-caught-up-always-something-to-do-but-what-I-think-I-want-to-do schedule noticeably settles in to my back.  I have supper to make.  And, he’s still in there sleeping.  “I hate folding clothes.” 

            Standing up, I go back into Alden’s room, pick him up, check to see if he is wet, balance him on my shoulder and carry him down to the living room where we sit in the recliner.  Trying to persuade waking-life back into him, I gently bounce him up and down.  He lifts his head, struggles to open his eyes, then plops his head back onto my shoulder.  Come on, baby,” I plead.  “Let’s wake up now…it’s time to wake up.  Kealan will be home in anytime and I need to start supper.”  I sit, trapped—waiting. 

            Finally, Alden opens his eyes but makes no attempt to move, laying there like a teddy-bear.  This is a good sign and I know that more alert wakefulness will soon follow.  The front door opens and Kealan walks in.  Alden looks up, sees his brother and lets his head fall heavily back to my shoulder. Seizing the moment, I offer Kealan the baby, suggesting he can look after him while I begin supper. 

 

            In the kitchen, the perpetual motion of cooking begins.  I turn on the stove, set the cast-iron frying pan on the burner, go to the fridge take out and unwrap the hamburger, plop it in the pan, turn and rinse off the packaging paper and throw it in the trash.  Opening the cupboard, I take out the salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion flakes and proceed to season the frying meat.    Glancing in the living room, I see Elmer Fudd is chasing Bugs Bunny across the television screen.  Alden has crawled off Kealan’s lap, located a toy train and is eagerly showing his brother.   I suggest that he might want to take Alden up and set him on the pot. 

            Stepping back to the kitchen counter, I open the Rotel and refried beans and then go to the refrigerator to locate the mashed potatoes, peas and roasted chicken that I am going to reheat for Alden’s supper and place them in the microwave for 45 seconds.  Before I shut the refrigerator door, I take out Adlen’s peaches, a sack of grated cheese and a can of Coors for myself.

            The dog starts barking so I go to the sliding glass doors and look out back to see what has jump-started him.  Seeing nothing, I step outside in my socks and holler, “Quiet!”  The dog turns his head and looks at me like I’m a fool, barks one more time and then proceeds to trot out the back gate.  I stand there in the cold for a moment watching the thing as he sniffs for something around the evergreen tree. 

            Totally overcast, the clouds are noticeably lower and darker.  There is a feel of humidity in the air. 

            Evenings like this have always been my favorites—dusk…light fading beneath heavy clouds…approaching weather.  I remember making those end-of-day-circuits on the dirt roads surrounding the farm…after chores, just me and the dog in the pick-up, no one else around for miles, hoping for one last pheasant to run across the road, a chance for quick shot and a sniff of gunpowder, a metallic smell, lingering in the air.  I glance west where it all use to happen, 235 miles away, and then go back indoors to check on the hamburger.

            Alden bounds across the floor and snags on to my leg before I make it back to the stove.  I reach down, pick him up and give him a playful whisker-rub to the neck.  “Daddy’s got you!” I say gleefully.  “Did you go potty for Kealan, like a big boy?”   

            Glancing at Kealan, I get a yes nod.  “Good job!  Now, go play with Kealan while Daddy finishes supper.”

            Alden disagrees with being handed off to his brother and screams like a stepped-on-cat.  Alertly, Kealan contorts him into a Superman flying position, begins to make whooshing sounds and zooms him off, up the stairs, to his bedroom and waiting toys.  The tactic works and the hollering amends into gleeful laughing.  

            Attending the hamburger, I take a long drink of beer hoping that the alcohol will loosen the muscles tightening in my lower back.  I am tired.  Stretching helps little. 

            Plates and silverware in hand, I set the table, followed by drinks, then drain the grease from the hamburger, stir in the Rotel and beans, blend and leave it to simmer for a moment and then go to check the laundry. 

            Whites dry, I replace them with the jeans and go back to the kitchen, deciding that the other load of colors and towels can wait till later.  “Time to eat,” I loudly announce. 

            While waiting for the boys to appear, I check on Alden’s food in the microwave, reheat it for a few seconds and then dish it on to his plate.  I briefly warm the tortilla shells and set them by the stove.  “It’s ten after five, Kealan.  You need to eat now if you are going to make play practice at 5:30,” I holler from the bottom of the stairs.  “Make sure everyone’s hands are washed.”

 

            Alden and I remain at the dinner table after Kealan leaves for play practice.  Alden plays with his spoon, puttering around his potatoes.  His gravy, jelly, buttered and peach-blotched face are the focus of my attention—a real sticky mess; there are potatoes in his hair, and his hands are worse yet.   “Having fun, Alden?  You’re making a big mess for Daddy.  Here, have another bite of chicken.” 

            I dash the fork toward his mouth and slip in a piece of the chicken before he knows that it is coming. He freezes in place for just a second, surprised at the new, warm lump in his mouth.  I anticipate the chicken rolling down his chin but he resumes his potato swishing and chews the morsel like it belongs in there. 

            While Alden continues playing with his food, kitchen clean-up begins.  Picking up what dishes are left on the table, I step over the splotches of Alden’s missed-mouth-bites which now decorate the floor, and deposit them in the sink.  Deciding that the remainder of the Tijuana Surprise is my tomorrow’s lunch, I ease the meal into a reusable Gladware bowl, stick it in the fridge, then wash the skillet. 

            Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Alden’s attempt to vacate his hi-chair.  Wet wash-rag in hand, I stop him and wipe the initial chunky layer of misplaced food from his arms and face.  Resisting like a boxer, hand arms flailing, he produces a collection of irritated screeches and grunts, something similar to that of a rooster being strangled and a pig choking.  The struggle intensifies as I trowel the wet washcloth over his face.  I take an extra nip at the corners of his mouth, swab an ear, dab the corner of an eye, all before making a quick swipe and a swirl across over his head and hair.   Satisfied that I got the worst, I untie his bib and support his awkward, self-started bound to the floor.   Grabbing the truck he’s left parked by the pan cabinet, he starts to play. 

            Paper towel in hand, I follow him to the floor and commence collecting the goop beneath his chair.  I chase a few peas around a table leg.  Aware of my tired and aching back, I finally decide the dog can do a better job than me.  Conveniently, outside the glass doors, the dog, an I’m starving look on his face, sits there waiting for such an opportunity.   The animal knows the rules:  bolt in, lick up everything on the floor beneath and around the table as quickly as possible…don’t even think about going further into the house…and then dash back out the door when master says, git!

            “Okay,” I tell the dog.  But, he’s already inside taking care of business.

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Evening

            Kitchen clean-up behind me, I turn on the TV to catch the local FOX 4 News At Six which is now half over. Trying to take the scrambled load of the day off my back and feet, I ease into my recliner; the moment is noticeably refreshing.  Half read from this morning, I pick up the Kansas City Star, begin scanning the headlines and stories.  Halfway through page six, my reading abruptly ends, Alden having sneaked up on me.  Unexpectedly, he crashes his little hand squarely into the back of the open paper, knocking it out of my hands and on to my face.  He’s thrilled with the action and hits the paper again and laughs.  Though disgruntled with the interruption, I don’t allow myself to be angry.  Instead, I let the paper slide down beneath my eyes and then just stare at him.  I just want to be left alone for a bit, Alden.  I just want to read the newspaper, watch the weather on TV and do nothing.  My back is killing me. I keep the thoughts to myself and say, “What’s going on, Alden?  How about you let Daddy read the newspaper for five minutes and then we’ll read a book or something.” 

            Not heeding the suggestion, he skillfully climbs up on my lap and comfortably assumes his place.  We sit there quietly for a couple of minutes rocking and watching meteorologist Gary Lezak do the weather wrap-up.  At the commercial, I flip through the channels until I come to the Rug-rats cartoon.          

            The show catches Alden’s attention.  Comfortable in the fact that he has settled onto my lap for a spell, I make the foolish mistake of believing that I might read a few more pages of the newspaper.  But, after a few awkward attempts, I give up—with him in my lap there is not enough room to turn the pages.  We watch TV.

            …Tommy, the fearless, diapered, leader-baby is busy convincing the gapped-toothed baby twins, Phil and Lil that they should support Chuckie, the always fearful red-headed youngster, that he can overcome his fear of heights and ascend from the house to the backyard…the steps leading to the grassy expanse an imaginary height and distance, comparable to a insurmountable rocky cliff.  Spike, their dog, eagerly wags his tail, anticipating that the Rug-rat babies will soon join him for a frolic in the yard.

            I become aware that Alden is using his fingers in an attempt to pry open my dozing eyes.  Hazily, it occurs to me that I am listening to, visualizing in my head, the cartoon play itself out …Angelica, the consistently evil, three-year-old, tries to convince the twins that giving Chuckie a push will help him overcome his fear of heights.

             “The jeans in are in the dryer,” I say suddenly, coming out of my stupor.  “Let’s go check on them, big guy.”  I lock Alden onto my hip as I get out of the chair.  He’s excited about going down the garage steps to the wash room.  He understands what goes on around the machines and is always eager to help.  I stand him on the floor next to the dryer.  Without delay, he attempts to open its door. 

            “Here, let Daddy help.” I say, while making sure his little hand is on the latch.  “Pull hard.” 

            When the door pops open his hand follows mine in to check the laundry.  Still damp; I figure that it needs at least 30 more minutes of drying.  Acting fast, Alden pulls a pair of jeans halfway out the door. 

            “Whoa there big guy, they’re not quite done cookin’ yet.  Let’s put them back in and shut the door.” Guided through the process, he happily slams the door.  “Good job!” I praise.  “Let’s wash these towels next.  Hand me one from that pile.”

            He watches inquisitively as I bend down and grab a towel. “Like this,” I say, showing him how I drop the towel in the washer.  I start the water and throw in some detergent. 

            I see Alden patiently waiting for me to take the green tea towel he is holding from his hands.  Bending over, he picks up another. 

            “Put it in here,” I say, picking him so he can see inside the washer.  He stares intently into the hole and then awkwardly throws in the towel.  “Good shot.”  

            He stretches to reach another towel, so I place him back on the floor.  Grabbing one, he tries to throw it up and over the front of the washer.  Catching it, I quickly guide it into the hole.

             “Good one!” I exclaim.  Then, in bucket-brigade fashion, we busy ourselves with one towel after another.           

            “Here, let daddy help.”  Impatient now, I grab the rest of the towels and stuff them into the tub just as the water stops running and the agitator starts.  “Now, let’s go play.”

 

            Settling to the living room floor, I grab the small box of toys stored beside the easy chair.  Without hesitation, Alden grabs the container and pulls it over, spilling the toys into a pile.  A ball rolls under the end-table, blocks scatter about, a number of tiny trains, cars, airplanes and boats tumble into a pile along with a small stuffed bear, a cat, a book and a rattle left over from when he was just a few months old.  While I stack blocks into the shape of a house, Alden crawls over my leg, grabs the bear and tosses it into the kitchen.

            “But Alden, I thought that bear wanted to play with us,” I comment while making a sad look on my face.  “Don’t you want the bear to play with us?” 

            Sensing my sad expression, he walks into the kitchen, brings the bear back and sets it on my lap.  

            “Oh, thank you,” I say in my best baby, teddy bear sounding voice.  I dance the bear on the floor.  “I’m so happy you’ll let me play, I’m going to give you a big kiss.”  I jump the bear to his face and begin making loud smacking sounds. 

            Laughing, he grabs the bear, clutches it to his chest and falls over backwards.  Then, sitting up, he attempts to throw the bear at me.

            Snatching the always smiling toy from the floor, I begin making playful nips with it on his stomach.  “I going to gobble you up now,” I say.  I stop when his piercing screams of glee reach a plaster-peeling level.   “Here, let’s finish building a house from these blocks.” 

            Interested in stacking the squares of wood, he hands me two of the pieces and then awkwardly sets a third onto the growing shape himself.  Three pieces later, he abruptly stands and toddles into the kitchen.

            “Where are you going?” I ask. 

            After a few seconds he says, “Dink. Dink. Duce.” 

            I pause for a moment, processing the words.  “Drink.  Okay, Daddy will get you a drink of juice.” 

            Refreshed, Alden returns happily to the living room floor, sits down, pushes over the block house and begins playing with his favorite blue, Thomas The Tank Engine train.  I restack the blocks to an impressive level.  Noticing the new construction project, he runs the engine directly into the stack. 

            “Ehhhah, it’s an earthquake,” I respond. 

            Gleefully excited, he watches me rebuild the stack.  Six blocks later, much to his delight, another train wreck is instigated. 

            Prompted by his late afternoon nap, I try to keep him active later than normal.  I watch the clock.  Finally, after several extended bouts of rolling around on the floor and eight demolished building projects, I become weary of the effort and repetition.  Pulling a plastic truck from the toy pile, I maneuver it into the neighborhood of destruction and commence loading up the debris.  He joins me and then watches curiously as I guide the truck to the corner of the toy-box and dump the load. 

            Grabbing the truck he begins to repeat the process.  Back aching from sitting awkwardly on the floor, I scoot over, lean against the recliner and close my eyes for a moment.  I remain aware, however, for approaching movement—a full-body jump or a tossed truck in my direction, an incident from a few weeks ago while I was lying on the couch having taught me a lesson about closing my eyes for a few seconds.   Alden had been, just six feet away, playing  in the kitchen with the pots...and then, there was a  surprising wonderment of hard, flat pain in my head, attached to a solid clunk…a thick sound, and a bright flash of light…and me, finally, focusing on Alden, rolling-pin in hand…a wide smile on his face. 

            I recall the event while jointly listening to Alden’s play and the television. The commotion of blocks and trucks on the living room floor and Star Trek, The Next Generation, warping through space, merge into one sound.  Forcing myself not to sleep, I open my eyes just a slit and peer through the blur of my lashes.  I locate Alden on the floor; satisfied that he is a leg’s length away, I allow myself another couple of minutes of false slumber.

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Bath Time

            Grabbing the dust mop, I swipe it across the kitchen floor picking up a few odds and ends crumbs missed an hour ago.  The action is more an involuntary habit than a necessity as I manipulate my body and mind to keep moving through the evening.  Work, still waiting on my desk, flashes across my mind.  I would like to just quit for the day, sit down and watch T.V., drink a beer uninterrupted and not think about anything.  But that will not happen, like it hasn’t happened since I don’t know when and won’t as far as I can see.

            Pausing by the glass doors, I lean my face to the clear surface; the cold from the chilled glass sinks into my forehead.  A ribbon of snow has blown, swirled and accumulated across the deck.  Gazing deeply into the dark, I notice there are no stars. 

 

            I used to go out on night’s like this—a long time ago, flash-light and rifle in hand, hunting, just for the fun of it.  That one time, it was cold...near zero…Larry and me, unbeknown to the whole world…secret hunters, deep in the country.  Truck lights out, we’d driven across a frozen field to the edge of Limestone Creek, pulled on our gloves and made our way down its steep bank.  Making a huge racket, it seemed, as we pushed and stumbled through those thick, dry weeds…seeds and sticks flying into our eyes…then slipping on to that slick, hard tunnel of ice.  Our light beams bounced randomly off the walls of trees on either side of us.  Frontiersmen we’d claimed, on the look out for coons, skunks, birds…anything that moved.  And there we went, laughing and talking, sliding through a night colder than it was safe, around the bend to where the creek meets the Solomon River and on.

 

            Alden walks into the kitchen and motions, his arms upheld, to be picked up.  Trading him for the dust mop, I position him onto his favorite spot on my hip.  “Time for the Boo-boo to be taking a bath,” I say.

            “Baf.” He replies.

            “Yes.  Baf time.  Time to dunk the baby.”  I make a playful swoop, letting him slip from my hip, just enough to simulate a drop.  He’s tickled with this movement, so I do it again.  “Dunkin’ the Boo-boo,” I say, going through the motion again as we move up the stairs to the bathroom.  He laughs, excitedly—bath time being one of his favorite activities. 

            Here, turn on the light,” I suggest as we get to the bathroom door. 

            Familiar with the procedure, he smartly flips the switch.  As the light splashes on, he scrambles to be released from his perch and slides to the floor. 

            “Hang on there, buddy,” I say, manhandling his eager and direct move to the tub.  “Let me get that diaper off first.” 

            Catching him beside the toilet, I expertly snag the tape strip securing the Huggies.  A deft move later, I’ve both twisted and pulled the keeper loose and flipped on the water facet.  The diaper, slightly damp, falls and rings his right foot like a wreath. The smell of urine wafts through the air.   At the same time, while blocking Alden’s frantic pushes for the tub with a well-positioned leg, I test the temperature of the running water with my hand.   Not approving of the restraint, he vocally responds with a high-pitched accumulation of grunts, squeals and malformed words.  I force myself not to let the struggle and verbal collage get on my nerves.  Satisfied with the temperature, I squeeze some shampoo into the water to make bubbles.  Nimbly, I pick up the squirming, jabbering boy and plop him onto the toilet seat.  “Let’s try and pee-pee first,” I suggest.

            Immediately resisting, he heaves one leg toward the floor in a revised lunge toward the bathtub. The move quickly evolves into a fall; his right hand, having been used for leverage and support on the toilet seat, slips.  I stop the motion with a quick, underarm swoop, and lift him up.  His feet kicking, I place him back on the pot.  Without hesitation, he makes another determined jump.  “Whoa, there baby,” I say, my hand to his shoulder, restraining him to the pot.  “We need to pee-pee, first. 

            His resistance and vocal rebellion intensifies. 

            “Pee-pee for Daddy, first,” I repeat.  “Alden!”  Stop.  I don’t want you peeing in the tub!”

            “Baf! Baf!” He interjects vigorously.

            His determination sways me that peeing is not going to happen at this moment.  “Okay, then, don’t pee!” I tell him, surrendering the effort. 

            The struggling and yelping both stop immediately as I help him to the floor.  Ignoring my presence, he immediately bends and digs into the bath-toy basket.  Purposefully, he grabs the green boat and pitches it into the pile of rising bubbles.  A red starfish dives in after the boat, followed by the yellow whale, three sponge alphabets, a plastic space shuttle, a rubber ball, and the blue boat. Then, imitating me, he bends over the tub’s side and tests, swishes the water with a hand.

            “Yes, it’s water,” I say reassuringly.  “In we go.” 

            He stares eagerly at his feet as I tease them through the bubbles and into the warm bath.   Pleased, now oblivious to my presence, he grabs the nearest toy.

            I pick up the diaper lying on the floor, grab a baggie from beneath the sink counter and shove the damp thing in there.  Then, I sprinkle in some baby powder, give the sack a couple of twirls and tie it shut.  Soon to be sour smell now contained, I run the package into the Diaper Genie

            Taking advantage of the lull, I sit on the toilet and lean back, actually feeling comfort in its hard porcelain tank.  Realizing that it’s about that time of the evening when Regina calls, I make a quick move to retrieve the phone.  “Daddy will be right back,“ I tell Alden as I slip out the door.  In the back of my mind, like I always do in these moments, I think about babies drowning in the tub when the parent steps out.  I retrieve the phone and newspaper, quickly.  Retaking my position on the toilet, I grab the washcloth drying on the edge of the tub, wet it, and then squeeze it across Alden’s back.  This irritates him.  He sloshes sideways trying to get of my reach, and lets out of whoop of reprimand.  Countering, I splash water on to his chest and then plop the wet rag over his head. 

            He grabs it, sticks it in his mouth and takes a couple of sucks.

            “Icky,” I say. 

            After a couple of more sucks, he takes the washcloth out of his mouth, contemplates it, then splashes it through the bubbles.  While he’s distracted, I try for the sports page and get about halfway through it before the phone rings.  It’s Regina.  We talk.  I explain what’s going on now and what else happened during the day.  She tells me she’s just leaving work and is going out to eat with some of the other consultants in her office.  Though she does not go into specifics, I know what that means.  They’ll all go out to some nice restaurant, complain about work, have drinks, nice food, laugh and talk.  The bill will come and the company will pay for it.  After that, she will go back to her quiet hotel room at the Hilton.  She’ll have a relaxing shower, maybe do a little work and watch TV or talk to a girlfriend in another state.  She and I might talk again.  After that, she’ll have an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

            Although one time, when Alden was up for the fifth time, and it was 3:30 in the morning, and I was still without one minute’s sleep for the day, I joined her in the fray.  I was already exasperated when she finally answered the phone in her hotel room:  “The baby’s awake, I’m awake, and now you’re awake, too! I hollered just before I slammed down the phone.

            Finally, before hanging up, I hold the phone to Alden’s ear for her to speak to him.  “Here, talk to Mommy.”

            He stops playing, listens intently and then jabbers off a long sentence, that obviously means something. 

            “Tell Mommy nighty-night and give her a kiss,” I tell him.  A few words later, he gives the phone a smack with his lips.  I take the phone, say good-bye myself.  After I hang up, I locate the discarded washcloth under the water, grab the soap and commence to washing.  Preoccupied with a boat, he doesn’t resist.

            Upon taking him out of the tub we play hide-the-baby-with-the-towel a couple of times before I begin drying him off—hair, legs, arms, body.  I follow up with the lotioning process,  when, unexpectedly, I stand up, lift the lid to the toilet and plop Alden down on the seat. “Pee-pee?” I inquire, expectantly.   He sits there for a moment, then tenses, concentrating hard.  A faint, dribbling sound of pee hitting water emanates from the bowl.  “Good job!”

            Once off the toilet, he turns, peers deeply in to the bowl, reaches for the flusher handle and confidently flushes the toilet.

             “What a big boy you are!”

            Taking the ethnic hair stuff Regina has taught me to use, I sit back down and massage the conditioner through his fine black hair.  Being of ethnic persuasion, as she puts it, Alden’s curls need to be taken care of a certain way, with certain products.  It’s not the same as white folks’ hair she’s told me repeatedly.

            Finally, I lay him across the knee-high clothes hamper situated directly in front of me.  Alden knows the procedure.  This is the diaper changing station.  Relaxed, warm and fresh, he lies there calmly.  I grab both his feet with one hand and my pre, laid out diaper with the other.  I pull his legs up, shove the diaper into place, apply three puffs of Baby Powder…legs down, pull adhesive straps tight and stick into place…stuff the boy into his pajamas and there I have it—one clean, nice smelling and wrapped-for-bedtime baby.

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Bed Time

            Carrying Alden back to the living room, I sit him in the recliner and hand him Thomas the Tank Engine’s Catch Me, Catch Me! —his second favorite bedtime book.  While he’s distracted looking at the pictures, I make a quick bound to the laundry room.  Jeans now dry, I replace them with the damp towels from the washer, clean the lint trap, set the machine to high and race back to Alden who has already hollered for me twice.

            “Daddy’s getting you a cup of milk,” I tell say as I step past him into the kitchen.  “The Boo-boo is looking tired.  Are you really a tired baby?”  Before I have finished pouring his milk into his tippy-cup, he’s pulling at my pant leg.

            “Up. Up,” he says, reaching for me, both arms outstretched.

            I reach down, pick him up and secure him to my hip.  He watches intently as I put the lid on his cup and the milk back in the refrigerator.  I let him pick up the cup from the countertop and we return to the recliner. 

            He snuggles into position, my arm wrapped around him, his head resting in the corner of my shoulder.  I partially cover him with his yellow blanket, rock and watch a few moments of the television show, ER.  Before he is finished, I begin reading him Thomas.

            “Gordon is big.  Gordon is blue.  Thomas the Tank Engine is blue too,” I begin the story quickly finding the rhythm of the words that Alden enjoys.  “I am fast.  And you are slow. I will race you.  Go, go, go!” 

            I point out the stern look on Thomas’ face as he responds to the old, bigger engine. “I will catch you, I will, I will!  Even over the big, big hill.”

            “Hill,” Alden repeats.

            “Yes, a big hill,” I reply.  He listens and looks at the pictures carefully.

            When the book is finished, I take the empty cup from his hand, set it on the end table and turn out the lamp.  We sit in the dark and watch ER.

            He is soon asleep in my arms, my not having moved fast enough to get him to bed while still awake.  Continuing to rock, I feel a small part of the day’s commotion peel away.  Having rolled into a different position, Alden continues to sink comfortably and quietly into deeper sleep.   The day’s action temporarily suspended but for the mindless glare escaping from the television.  I soak in the moment’s lull—rocking, the baby warm on my lap.

 

            A commercial later, Kealan, returning from play practice, opens the front door.  Noticing the dark room he quietly looks over my shoulder, sees Alden, and asks, “Sleeping?”

            “Sleeping,” I reply tiredly.  “How was play practice this evening?”    

            Sitting on the couch, he gives me a few details.

            “Any home work?” I ask.

            “Some reading in history and few problems in math.”

            “How was school today?  Anything, new going on I need to know about?”

            We converse quietly about a couple of friends’ pickup trucks and what they are doing to them…attaching lift kits…putting on bigger tires…installing a new stereo.  He wants a truck too, but that just is not in the picture.  It’s understood that he’s irritated about that, but that topic is not breached this evening.

            “Hungry?” I ask.  There’s left over Tijuana Surprise in the fridge or a couple of donuts left.”

            We sit, watching the remainder of ER.

            Alden is heavy on my arm by the time the show is over and I am aware that he has drooled a wet spot onto my shirt.   Kealan goes to the kitchen and then walks past with a donut.

            “Home work,” he says matter-of-factly.

            “Yes, it’s probably about that time.  …a half-hour ago,” I add as he disappears up the stairs.  “Don’t forget to feed the dog.”

             Coordinating a leg, body and Alden-in-arm motion, I lift us both out of the chair, cautious not to wake him and walk though the dark hallway to his bedroom.  One-handed, I pull back the sheet, gently lay him down and place a blanket over him.

            For just a moment, I stand outside his bedroom door lost in the hallway’s shadow, waiting, making sure that truly he is asleep.  Alden’s habit of springing back into alert and hollering wakefulness, after a short period of nighttime sleep has been engrained into me the past several months.  It’s not a matter if he will sleep all night, but how short of a period it will be before he wakes up tired-angry, hollering and crying. 

            Repeatedly, I have failed to assemble the remedy to his beastly, nighttime behavior, the condition, the curse which results in my lack of sleep night after night.  And, when he does sleep more soundly, I am still caught in the scheme—getting up anyway to see what might be wrong with him, why he has not wakened at an untimely hour, and finding nothing the matter, but with me.

            Finally satisfied and hoping for the best, I go directly to the washer and dryer, fluff the towels, reset the timer for 40 minutes and prepare to wash the last pile of clothes.  The only thing I can think of is getting the load behind me, so I don’t have to look at it tomorrow.  Water on …detergent in …color-safe bleach …softener …clothes in the washer …spot-treat a stain on a shirt with Spray & Wash …in with the rest of the clothes …close the lid.

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…till after midnight

            A beer from the fridge persuades me from otherwise immediately taking advantage of this moment to get the work done waiting on my desk.   Guiltily, I go back to the recliner, watch the news, read the newspaper and drink the beer. 

            About a minute into the last TV news story, Alden whimpers.  Springing from the chair, I rush to his bedside where I find him tossing, yet still sleeping.  I gently and rhythmically pat him on the back while quietly whispering, “Shhhhhh.”  After a couple of minutes he settles into a deeper sleep. 

            Leaving his room, I stick my head into Kealan’s as I pass by and inquire about his home work progress.
            “Fifteen minutes,” he tells me.

            I suggest that maybe he should go to sleep now and get up earlier in the morning to finish the math.  He infers that that’s not a good idea.

            “I’ll remember that when I am dragging you out of bed in the morning,” I quip.  “Light’s out at eleven.  That’s exactly a half hour.  Goodnight.”  He mumbles something in response, but I have already headed toward my office.

 

            I adjust the baby monitor sitting on my desk that I might more distinctly hear Alden the next time he begins to wake.  Then, blankly staring at the computer screen, I finally locate the spot in my mind where my last work encounter, ended, hours ago.   …insert Arial text...dark blue…create a form field…locate, manipulate and place photo …create large header title…consider the page layout…take notes…listen to the baby monitor as Alden rolls over rustling the covers…look at the clock…1135 p.m…He’s been well asleep for nearly two hours, I think…find notes…come up with an idea…stop and write a check for the gas bill due in three days…check calendar…

            Delivering sounds to me, I stare at the baby monitor and hold my breath.    It’s not quite a cry, but related.  I check the clock— twenty minutes since the last noticeable noise.  Anticipating what might come next, I don’t move for a few seconds.   I need him to sleep.  I’m exhausted, fighting sleep, my back aches and I’m nearing the conclusion of my project.  Then he cries, and stands up.  I can tell by the rattle of the bed.  Cursing, I get up and dash up the stairs.  But it is too late.  He is already wide awake, crying profusely.

             I’ve been here before—tried it all…let him holler…let him cry for hours, literary, until I couldn’t stand it any longer…rocked him and walked him, fed him and read to him…left the light on, turned the light out…sang to him, talked to him…played music, even left the vacuum running in his room, which on occasion has worked, putting him out like a switch. Who knows what will work at any given session? It’s a phase, the doctor has said.  Well, I’d like for it to phase the doctor into giving me a good idea and reason why this happens and what to do about it.

            “What’s the matter, with Daddy’s baby?” I coo, walking into his dark room, my frustration subdued.  I leave the lights off so as not to give any false impressions that nighty-nite is over.

            His clamor stops for a moment when he hears me—then erupts again. 

            I check to see if he has pooped himself or is wet.  Pulling on the diaper’s elastic band, I sniff first and then check wetness with a finger—dry.  Then I manipulate back to the sheet.  Not pleased by this action, he wrestles to stand.  Gently, using the flat of my hand, I apply just enough downward pressure to keep him on the bed.  Drumming my fingers on his back, I quietly begin to sing his song, the one I made up just for him, months ago…
 

                        Alden sleeping in the trees,

                        Rocking in between the leaves.

                        He is dreaming of the birdies and the bees

                        Flying on the wind and breeze.

                        They are going out to see

                        The fishys swimming in the deep blue sea.

                        Nighty-nite.
 

            At the songs conclusion, I beginning humming the melody, which, after a few repetitions, I turn into a long, baritone hum, a single-note drone that I keep up until I need a breath.  Then I start the sound over again—the drone, something I stumbled onto one late night that worked.  I figured if it helped monks in Tibet find their inner peace, it might help Alden too.  And, sometimes, it does. 

            After a few minutes, I feel his muscles begin to relax.  The loud crying tempers to a hushed whimper.  Then, as suddenly as he was awake, he is asleep—quite.  I am half asleep myself, my body half draped over the railing like used towel. I stop the droning, but keep on patting him.  After another minute, I let my hand just rest on his back.  Finally, after realizing that I am holding my breath, I carefully lift myself up, out and away from the bed, as if removing a piece of grandma’s china from the cabinet.  I stand there for a few seconds, waiting for something bad to happen. But nothing does. 

            Stepping into the hallway, I finally breathe.  Fatigue swallows me.  I just stand there outside of his door, listening and waiting.  Suspicious, I bide a bit more time, sit on the carpet, and then just lie down.  The hall is totally dark.  Over the months the floor, here or in there, directly in front of Alden’s bed, has often been my station of sleep.  My mere, invisible presence in the dark, after he has fallen back asleep, it seems, is a tonic of security.

            I assume that Kealan has long ago turned out his light.  Sometimes on really long and loud nights he will come from his bedroom to see what the problem might be, what he might do to help.  But really, there is never anything he can do but show concern and go back to bed.

            I wonder if he fed the dog. 

            The floor is hard.  Ironically, it feels good—really comfortable.  I start to consider something but almost immediately loose track of what it is I am thinking about.  Then I see a moment back on the farm ...tired…late at night, really dark outdoors, having walked out here to check the sows in the farrowing house…hot inside, the smell of cedar chips and freshly born pigs and afterbirth…baby pigs sleeping and nosing into udders…one sow, at the far end, having a problem with labor. 

            I am suddenly aware that the carpet is rough on my cheek.  I ignore the sensation, choosing instead to become more familiar with the prickly feeling.  I wonder if I have just thought about my past and the old farrowing house or if it was just a dream.  It feels good down here on the floor, the weight off the ache of my back, and I debate with myself if it feels good enough to remain here for a while or if I should get up.

 

            Groggily, I sit in front of my computer.  But, nothing happens.  My mind fails to work.  Frustrated that I am too tired and that the conclusion of my project will have to wait until tomorrow, I curse.  I swear about my dependence on the machine it and its dependence on me and everything else I thought I would get done but didn’t. 

            I dawns on me that Regina and I didn’t talk after Alden went to bed.  I assume that by now she is asleep.  I consider calling her to find out but then, controlling my moment of jealousy, not just of her sleep but also of her work, decide against it. 

            She’s a long way from those Arkansas cotton fields she worked in when she eight years old.  I enjoy reminding her of that fact, when we discuss her job—who she works for and where. She works hard at what she does, sacrifices.  Instead of calling her I curse time, the fact that it is after midnight and I am still up.  But who cares, I decide.  I shut the machine off.        

            Mid-stride up the stairs, it dawns on me there is a load of wet laundry in the washer.  I cuss all over again…me, my forgetfulness, the clothes and my life.  Grumpily, I trudge back down the steps to the laundry room and stand there in front of the machines as if facing an opponent.  It strikes me how white everything is in this spot.  The washer is white, the dryer is white, and so are the walls—all made whiter by the glare from the bare white light bulb positioned above me.  White—but nothing here is sterile.

            The stabbing tightness in my back, along with the thought of having to bend over and pull those towels out of the dryer nearly conquers me on the spot.  I move anyway—reaching so far back in there it seems, to get the last ones out and into the basket.  Finally, I throw the washer lid open and peer, blurry-eyed, down into that dank, bottomless washer well.  All the clothes are knotted up, the spin cycle having wedged the wad tightly to the sides of the tub. 

            Irate, I pull the wet things out one by one …black bra…grey sock…green, long sleeved shirt …maroon underwear …aqua baby pants…navy sock…tan panties…a blue, striped t-shirt.  Everything comes out heavy.  I ache all over.  I am tired of standing.  I can barely see.  And then, a clean, damp baby-blue sleeper in one hand, my other, arm deep, in the dim bowels of the washer pulling on a brown, knit shirt, I realize that I am my mother.     

            The thought stampedes over me and renders me motionless.  I just stand there, holding myself up on the washer, stoop shouldered and head hanging.  “I have turned into my mother.” I hear myself say the words.  I feel her exhaustion wrapped around me.

            My eyes closed, I envision her …standing over the washer…hanging clothes on the line…standing over the stove…standing over the sink…making the beds…running the baths…feeding the dog…picking up the house…mopping the floor…dusting the furniture…buying the groceries.  Everything.

            “And now, I have turned into her,” I say sympathetically out loud.  Me…the guy who can gut a deer with a pocket knife…castrate two, fifty pound fat hogs in a minute…who broke horses…drove tractors and threw hay bales all day in blazing heat…me, a hunter of coyotes, a catcher of fish…now a maid…a cook… a washer of clothes…a cleaner of dishes…a wiper of dirty baby butts…       

            Nearly defeated, I try to figure it out—how I turned into my mother.  I am disgusted—me, being the man that I am

            With my next breath, wavering, I am swept with guilt—but how can I be angry about turning into Mom?  That insults her, her life and everything she is about.  And Grandma, too,

             “I’ve turned into my Mother and Grandmother,” I say vacantly.  Frustrated, I shake my head in compliance and begin to move.

            Standing erect, methodically, as would my Mother, I finish putting the clothes into the dryer, set the timer and touch the on button.  There is no turning back.  Because I am thinking ahead, I open the nearby closet door and scoop up a coffee can of Old Roy dog food.  My assumption is that Kealan forgot to feed the dog, and I will do the vacuuming and dusting tomorrow.  Listening for Alden, dog food and basket of dry towels in hand, I walk back up the stairs.  It is nearly time for me to go to bed.