Friday, November 13, 2015

How to Spend Five Hours Alone with a Tired Three-Year-Old Who’s Getting over a Cold

My nephew in his train costume on Halloween. He only wore it long enough for photos. Now, in November, he won't take it off.

You pick up your nephew from his warm gingerbread house of a preschool on a Thursday afternoon.

“Chewy!” he cries.

He grips you as if you’re rescuing him from a concentration camp.

Seven hours ago, he greeted the children and teachers of this same sanctuary with “good morning,” “hi,” “good morning,” smiling and waving to the left and right as if he was on a parade route.

“Bye, Mom,” he’d said in his eye-rolling teenager voice, letting her know it would be swell if she’d leave him there already.

Now he says, “Bye bye, school. All done, school,” and runs toward the exit gate.

“He was really good today,” his teacher says. “He slept for an hour. He ate pasta for lunch. We talked about Thanksgiving.”

“Thank you,” you tell her, as you envision the quality time you’ll spend with your sweet man-child tonight while Mommy’s at work.

“Chewy’s car!” your nephew says as you load him into his car seat. “Home!”

“Yes, we’re going home,” you say. “Did you have a good day at school? What did you do?”

He sucks down a bottle of water and stares at you.

“Do you have friends at school?” you ask.

Silence.

Back at the house, he wants to watch “train show” the second you walk through the door. “Train show” is a series of lengthy, amateur YouTube videos people filmed standing next to train tracks. Trains go by. That’s it. No plot. No characters. No dialogue. Just trains.

He loves trains.

You put on “train show” so you can finish your day’s work on the computer at the kitchen table, while your nephew sits in the middle of his own toy train track and spins his toy train around and around, while real trains on TV provide a suitable soundtrack in the background.

In between videos, he points to the specific train clips he wants to watch.

Steam trains. Coaster trains. Amtrak. Surfliner.

“That one. Not that one. That one. Not that one.”

He’s a man of few words, but he knows exactly what he wants.

“Do you want a snack?” you ask him.

“No.”

“Do you want milk?”

“No milk.”

Only trains.

As you work, you periodically lean over to check on him. He’s running in circles in the living room with his train Halloween costume over his head, hacking up phlegm from his dwindling cold. He loves his train costume now that it’s November. He wouldn’t wear it on Halloween. He went trick-or-treating in jeans and a t-shirt.

"Tritch-or-treat!"

You find a small bowl of raspberries in the refrigerator. You set them on the coffee table in case your little train conductor is hungry after all. Two minutes later, he comes back with the empty bowl and hands it to you.

“More.”

There are no more raspberries.

“Do you want something else?” you ask.

“No.”

After you’re finished working, you cuddle on the couch with your nephew while he continues to watch “trains! Toot toot!” But you get bored and you’re hungry, so you decide to make dinner early.

Dinnertime is a crapshoot. Your nephew lives on cheese, carbs, fruit, or air, depending on what kind of mood he’s in.

Mommy told you earlier he’ll now eat a grilled cheese sandwich with a thin slice of turkey hidden inside the bread, so when you find a block of cheddar and tortillas in the fridge, you figure a slice of turkey in a quesadilla is the same thing.

You painstakingly cook up a quesadilla so the cheese doesn’t spill out the sides. Otherwise, he won’t eat it. You gently slice the quesadilla in perfect triangles. Otherwise, he won’t eat it. You make sure the turkey slices are hidden inside the tortilla. You cut up an orange for color and hand him his plate.

You return to the kitchen to cook him an ear of corn. He loves corn. You also decide you might as well have a quesadilla too because you can’t think of anything else to make yourself.

You peek around the corner to see if he’s eating. He has taken one small bite of his quesadilla and is now transfixed by “train show” again.

You watch his corn boil and inhale your own quesadilla standing up in the kitchen, your hand on your belly, thinking, “I’m going to regret this cheese later.”

You return to the living room, where your nephew is taking his second bite. He looks up at you perplexed, whimpers, and hands you the quesadilla. You’ve fucked it up with turkey. Now he won’t eat it.

You remove the turkey and show him, “Look, it’s only cheese and tortilla now.”

That doesn’t matter. The cheese is now turkey-adjacent. It’s tainted. He won’t eat it.

You return to the kitchen, do the dishes, cut the corn off the cob, butter it, and put it in a plastic bowl.

“Corn!” he says, smiling, when you hand it to him. Phew. You’ve done something right.

He eats two bites of corn and finds a string from the cob. He pulls it out, hands it to you, and whines.

No more corn. Instead, he pulls out a plastic dump truck from his toy basket and shovels corn into the back of the truck. He drags the truck across the room, trailing corn on the wood floor.

You realize you didn’t have any water with your quesadilla, and in fact, haven’t had any water since long before you picked him up from school. Now you understand why Mommy “forgets” to eat and hydrate when she’s on kid duty, which is always.

You get tired of “train show.” It’s only 6:30, and Mommy isn’t coming home until 9:00, so you ask, “Want to go for a walk?”

“Oh-hey!” he says. (Translation: “Okay!”)

He has one shoe on before you can find your keys. No socks.

Outside he’s taking in the fresh air with a smile, storming down the street, arms and legs rigid like a soldier.

“Nighttime!” he yells, admiring the sky. He’s happy to be walking outside under the stars. You are too. He stops and looks up as an airplane flies high overhead.

“Ohhhhhh, airplane.”

Trains and airplanes. He’s all boy in a world where Mommy planned to make his life as gender-neutral as possible. Nope.

He resumes his purposeful stroll. It’s going well. He even lets you hold his hand, which he doesn’t always do. You remind him to watch for cars as he scurries toward driveways and streets. You’re in your own panicky game of Frogger, but you’re stoked to get some exercise. This was a good idea.

You walk a quarter of a mile. You reach 2nd Street, the street you take with him and Mommy every time you walk. It’s standard. You start to turn.

“Not that way!” he cries. He points toward the end of the street where the ramp down to the beach spools into blackness.

“It’s too late to go to the beach,” you say.

He screams; tears fall down his cheeks; his face turns red; snot pours from his nose.

“That way!” he yells again, pointing toward the beach.

“You can go this way,” you say, pointing down a well-lit 2nd Street, the direction he’s never had a problem with until now. “Or, you can go down that street,” you say, pointing toward 1st.

You give him two options so he can make his own decision and resume his normal state. No dice.

“That way!” he says, now pointing to the park across the street, where homeless people and drug dealers converge at night after the farmer’s market folds up.

“You’re tired. I think we need to go home,” you say.

“No home!” he screams and falls to the sidewalk. “Walk!”

You look around, expecting social services to appear.

You pick him up and begin the trek back to the house, as he howls his disapproval and wipes snot across your sleeve. Halfway home, he goes limp. You lug all 36 pounds of him sideways like a wet log. Passersby stare at you with pity or disdain. You can’t tell which.

You set him down in a stranger’s yard to shake off the ache in your wrists, the precursor carpal tunnel syndrome pain you’ve been experiencing for years now.

You pick up the overcooked ramen noodle again and wonder if you’ll be able to make it home or if you’ll have to set up camp on a stranger’s grass until morning. Your nephew continues to shriek.

You set him down two more times to rest your hands before you get home. Each time, he drapes himself across random yards like a drunken lawn gnome.

You finally make it home, where you sit him down on the front steps and attempt to calm him down before you go in the house so you don’t disturb the nice lady upstairs watching TV.

He finally stops crying when you put “train show” back on inside. By now, his quesadilla has hardened. His oranges are untouched. His corn is cold.

You bag up his dinner and put it in the fridge for later.

He has to eat something, you think.

You don’t want him to starve on your watch, so you bring him a bowl of plain yogurt swirled with Trader Joe’s pumpkin butter. He slurps it down.

“More yogurt,” he says, handing you the bowl. He gulps a second bowl. You’re relieved his stomach is filled with something, so you head to the bathroom to warm up a bath before you introduce him to a new, unwanted event that may set off his internal alarm bells.

One of the glass shower doors is stuck and won’t open—the one next to the faucet. You stretch across the tub to turn on the water and get it to the right temperature. Then you tell your nephew he can watch “trains” again in a few minutes, and you begin to undress him in front of the TV.

You smell poop.

You drag him to his bedroom and lay him down to wipe his butt before his bath. You realize after you’ve already torn off the sides of his pull-up diapers you’ve caught him mid-poop.

He arches his back, his legs straight, his butt in the air. You scoop poop out of the gymnast’s butt while he performs a perfect bridge and rocks back and forth.

You ask him if he wants to poop on the potty, knowing the answer. You put on a fresh diaper so he doesn’t finish pooping on the floor instead.

You head to the bathroom to turn off the bath water.

Your nephew decides at 7:00 PM it’s time for bed. When you return to his room, he hops into his toddler bed, pulls the comforter up to his neck, and refuses to get up. It’s cold. He has no clothes on.

You wonder if he’s finished pooping yet. Clearly, he’s not ready to be tucked in.

“You can go to bed as soon as you’re clean and dressed,” you say.

“No bath,” he says, writhing under the covers.

You wrestle him to the bathroom and take off his diaper. One small miracle: no more poop.

“Hot!” he says when he sees the water. He hasn’t touched it yet.

“It’s fine,” you say and set him into the tub. The water is now lukewarm. You reach across the tub behind the door that won’t budge and turn on the faucet again to warm him up. Your middle-aged back aches. You wash him as quickly as possible.

Your shirt is now wet with water and mucus.

“All done,” you say, expecting him to be thrilled bath time is over.

“No,” he says. He is now lying on his stomach, floating in the water. He won’t get out.

When you finally coax him to stand up, you swaddle him in a towel as he coughs in your face. You feel the mist of spit hit, and you begin to count his sick days in your head and pray he’s not still contagious. Four days. You’re doomed.

On the bathroom floor, he crumples into a ball, forehead against the floor, his body still wet. You take this as your opportunity to smear butt paste on his red booty. Then you somehow manage to dry him off and put on his pajamas. Thankfully you brushed his teeth while he was still in the bathtub. Score one for Aunt Chewy.
The post-bath, head-burying ceremony.
As you sit on the toilet and brush his hair, he pulls down the front of your shirt, points to your cleavage, and says, “Butt!”

You laugh and text Mommy.

“Lolololol,” she writes.

It’s 7:30. You figure you’ll get him into bed by 8:00.

“Let’s watch Peg,” you say, suggesting a real TV show. You can’t take any more “trains.”

He asks for a bowl of goldfish crackers. You’ve already brushed his teeth, but at this point, you think, Why not? It won’t kill him.

He’s clean, calm, eating crackers, and watching Peg Plus Cat when you think the drama is over. Then he stubs his toe on the bottom of the couch and starts weeping again.

You wipe his nose for the fifth time and wash your hands for the tenth.

“Give me a hug,” you say, trying to comfort him.

He wraps his arms around you and slams his skull into your face. 

“It’s time to read books,” you say, as you both rub your aching noggins.

He willingly trots to his bedroom with you to read books before bed. He gets cozy under the comforter. You crouch down on the hard floor next to him. Everything hurts. You read him a book about a mama and baby bunny. With the turn of every page, he shouts, “Bunny! Bunny!” and points, covering up the words you are trying to read.

You read him Goodnight Moon, and as you reach for a third book, you say, “This is the last book.”

After the third book, he wants a fourth. You say no. He cries again.

You tell him he’s tired. It’s time for bed. You turn off the lights and cover him up. He’s unsettled.

He’s forgotten his stuffed goat and two shiny blankies. You find the soft, floppy goat on the rocking chair next to the bed, but it takes five minutes for both of you to wander the house to find the blankies stashed in his bucket you brought home from school.

You put him back in bed with his requisite sleep-time accoutrement.

“I’ll be right here in this rocking chair,” you tell him, thinking he’s so tired he’ll fall asleep within five minutes. It’s already after 8:00.

You sit in the rocking chair in the dark and notice your neck is sore from carrying him a quarter of a mile down the street. You’re as tired as he is. You might even be able to sleep sitting up in a chair for the first time in your life.

This is why young people have children, you think.

You listen for the measured breathing indicating the munchkin has fallen asleep. It doesn’t come.

Instead, he twists his blankets into a knot as he beats the bars of his toddler bed like a drum.

“Chewy!” he says to himself. “Mommy! Chewy! Birthday cake!”

His belly rumbles with the pumpkin butter yogurt/goldfish cracker meal of champions he ate earlier, but your stomach is the one making loud, gurgling noises because you’re still hungry.

He gets quiet. You think it’s safe. You tiptoe out of his room and leave the door slightly cracked.

He cries out in the darkness, “Where’d you go, Chewy? Chewy!”

“I love you. Go to sleep, baby,” you say, returning to his room, fixing his blankets, and plopping yourself down in the rocking chair in the dark again next to his bed. You then realize why Mommy is two seasons behind on Homeland.

It’s 8:15. You sit there for ten more minutes in the silence. You consider pulling your iPhone out of your pocket to play Words with Friends, but the screen’s light will act as a nephew homing beacon.

You consider pulling up facebook and posting, “I’m being held hostage in a three-year-old’s room. I’m an amateur. Please send help.”

You know you’re spoiling him, and you’re a sucker. You don’t care. You continue to sit in the dark, bored and exhausted.

Surely he’s asleep by now, you think, around 8:30. You head to the hallway again and slowly close his door. He doesn’t freak out. You count this as a win.

Five minutes later, when you’re back in the dining room on your computer, you hear slow, tiny footsteps on the hardwood floor, heading down the hallway. Your nephew peeks around the corner, smiles at you, and melts your heart.

“What are you doing?” you ask. “You need to go to sleep.”

You steer him back to bed.

You find him in the hallway again five minutes later.

“I’m so tired,” he says, wiping his bloodshot eyes with the back of his arm, as if he’s a middle-aged woman in a Tennessee Williams play.

You consider crafting him a mint julep.

You steer him back to bed and realize his bedroom smells like fresh poop. The smell wafts from the overflowing diaper genie. You decide it would be cruel to force him to sleep in this room without disposing of the big blue plastic bag of stinky diapers. So you reluctantly turn on the light. He stares at you as you pull open the diaper genie and realize you’re 42 and you’ve never emptied a diaper genie before.

How the hell does this thing work?

After a few minutes of fumbling, you succeed in cutting the bag and retying it. Your nephew follows you to the kitchen, where you dump the diapers in the kitchen trashcan, promising yourself you’ll take all of it outside when Mommy gets home.

By now, you’re thinking your nephew may need another diaper, but you don’t dare change him. You steer him by his shoulders back to bed.

Two minutes later, Mommy walks through the door. It is at this exact moment when your sleepy, ailing nephew falls asleep. It’s after 9:00.

You pour yourself three fingers of Amaro Lucano while Mommy scarfs a giant post-work burrito.

That was only five hours. Mommy does this every day for 24. How does she do it?

You tip your nonexistent hat to your warrior sister.

The end.



P.S. The next morning Mommy takes Mini Train Conductor for his annual checkup. He cooperates like a champ. He has an eye test, a blood test, and a urine test. He doesn't flinch and thanks the doctor on his way out. Of course he does.

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