I abandon the hope of getting any writing done -- the essay that's been sitting idle for two weeks, the kernel of another that needs me to put notes on paper now, lest the shape of the ideas erode like sand sculptures in high tide. My head feels underwater anyway.
I usually eat a fast lunch before O. is ready to be fed, but his shrieks tell me he won't wait today. So I collect him from his crib. He doesn't realize I've picked him up -- he writhes and sobs and throws his head back, choking in between attempts to register his complaints. I press my cheek to his, damp and chapped by the work of his fingernails. No change. Only after we come to the stair landing, bathed in the flat light of a gray day, does he take note that he's been rescued. He looks at me, reproach in his bleary gaze, and hides his face in my chest as if the world is too much to bear.
I bring him to his favorite toy in the living room, a tower of plastic stacking doughnuts, and set him down. He grabs them right away and accepts this consolation. But as soon as I make tracks for the kitchen, he bursts into tears again. There will be no leaving him alone, it seems.
I try the high chair, but O.'s crying goes from aggrieved to furious, especially when I try to clean his dripping nose. He's relieved, though, to be strapped into the wearable carrier. From there, he watches me manipulate knife, fork and leftover pork chops for five minutes. I haven't eaten this way since he was only a few weeks old. The memory of that same furrowed brow nestled against my chest pulls at my heart -- O. turned one earlier this month. He is no longer a baby, but a toddler who is rarely content to be still. I've missed being able just to hold him, I realize, letting my chin rest on his dark hair. Though I wouldn't trade O.'s usual wiggly, giggly cheer for the cranky cuddler he's been today.
Still wearing him, I assess the leftovers in the fridge, none of which pique my interest. It's a mug cake day, I decide, and throw together cocoa, flour, and applesauce as O. begins to wriggle. "Hungry, little man?" I ask. He's not pleased to be put back in his high chair, but he's recovered enough to be distracted with cubes of avocado while I eat. Despite my stuffiness, I can still taste the dark chocolate, warm and just sweet enough on my tongue to soften my own edges. O. licks his fingers and I, my spoon -- at last, I can take a breath.
A hot drink beckons. And O.'s having no more of anything that holds him down, so I pop a bag of orange-spiced tea into the microwave and take him into the living room again to play. This time, the plastic doughnuts are only marginally more interesting. I manage to step away when the tea is done without O. protesting, though he notes my activities with an owlish glance. If he had spectacles, I think to myself, he'd be peering over them with disapproval.
I reach to set the mug on the half-wall behind the sofa, where it'll be out of his reach -- he's gotten so tall that the usual places on the end tables are no longer safe -- but it tips. In one bobble, the contents spill over cushions and carpet and now I'm ready for a cry. There's no way O. will let me address the mess in his current mood, but I can't leave it to stain. With a long sigh, I scoop him up in one arm and gather cleaning rags and soap in the other.
Of course, O. fusses when I put him back on the living room floor. By now I've steeled myself to ignore the tantrum I suspect is inevitable -- I'm out of tricks to redirect his focus, at least while I'm unable to attend to him directly. But as I tug on the arms of the sofa to work it away from the wall, curiosity overtakes O.'s dismay. He pads nearer to observe as I blot with the rags, pulling a cushion aside to get at the wettest parts.
This won't last, I think, as I climb over the seat back to assess the damage to the carpet. As soon as I kneel out of sight, he'll start up again. Just get it over with, I tell myself, and bend down in acceptance.
And then I hear a hoot of excitement. Followed by the scramble of hands and knees and the creak of sofa springs -- O. has climbed onto the seat frame, now low enough without the cushion for him to negotiate. He peers over the sofa back at me, thrilled by his accomplishment. Suddenly, he's all dimpled smiles and giggles of delight.
"So that's what you needed, huh?" I say, returning the smile, though mine is wry. He bounces and slaps the damp seat back, then, with some calculation, crawls to the edge of the frame. Before I can stop him, he lunges for the floor, landing face first in the cushion turned tumbling mat. He laughs at the novelty of it all, clambering back up to do it again.
I'll take it, I think, and I bend again to the task at hand.
I'm linking up with Just Write this week. For more stories and essays, click the button below.