We are back to stuffing Tophs places: his bouncer, the ExerSaucer, squished into a perfect pike position between the sofa and cinderblock wall. There is the play mat that he’ll tolerate for three-and-a-half minutes. And the blanket reinforced by pillows for when his head weighs him down and he topples (His head is in the 75th percentile, which is 65 percentiles ahead of his body). Then the rotation starts again, and we just change the Pandora station and wear masks to make him feel like he’s going places, meeting people.
That’s what you do with two kids. Watch the mobile one. Rig the other.
But leaving Tophs to grasp at plastic rings placed just beyond his reach by Eliot has become harder. He cries now. It’s the high-pitched and raspy yowl of an asthmatic kitty singing at a hookah lounge. Tophs lets me run to the kitchen, crack the egg, and he cries before it hits the pan. Not because he has colic or the runs—much worse. He’s tasted life outside the cave.
It’s like that awkward moment when you find a blind baby mole in your backyard and take it inside and give it a flea bath and put Miss Jessie’s Buttercreme in its curls and paint its little mole fingernails, including the extra thumb. Now try putting bifocals on that blind baby mole and sticking it back outside.
Shut up. No analogy is perfect.
We took Tophs and Eliot to visit my family in Ohio for Christmas. Even though we drove the minivan, we left Tophs’s contraptions at home, so for six days he was held. Then rocked. For hours. By humans. And even though Columbus is the grayest city in the world next to Palin’s Russia, he was coddled in rooms with multiple windows and window treatments.
We can’t be certain how deeply this constant adoration and access to light smog has affected him.
Tophs wasn’t sleeping through the night before the holidays, but he spent most of the night on his own. We’d put him to bed in his Pack ‘N Play around 8 pm, and he’d wake up at 4:30 am to eat. Somewhere between the rest stop in Beckley, West Virginia, and Christmas Day, this changed. This guy decided co-sleeping was the way to go.
I tried to put my foot down. I was all, Tophs, you will not be held by your parents all night! Do you know any other baby who does this?
The sweet baby Jesus is all he said.
Tophs is no dunce. He knew that if he wailed all night in Ohio, we would feel bad for waking everyone up, and we would pick him up just to keep the peace. We would do it each night, and whatever cry-it-out training he’d received back in the cave would be reversed.
In less than one week, my seven-month-old has become a newborn. I am back on the streets, trading my mother’s shoes for shots of espresso, forgetting to bathe, and blaming my acne on those crazy baby hormones.
So it’s a win-win.
The question now is, do we wean him? And how? Order just one set of faux wood blinds for our dorm? Smile and coo over his delicious dimple and then frown directly into his eyes? We need something both gradual and eerily effective.
Or maybe we just go boot-camp style. Totally stick it to him and let him cry it out at night as long has he doesn’t wake up Elie. Do you remember Oedipus? That cat didn’t gouge out his eyes because he’d slept with his mother and killed his pops. He gladly scraped out his eyeballs because he and his mother were letting their mythical Greek baby cry himself to sleep. Oedipus needed a distraction, and Catfish wasn’t on TV.
If we had only visited my mom’s house over the holidays, maybe I could have left Ohio with some dignity and made the transition home easier for the kids. I could have made up some story to tell them, like, That’s just how grandparents are. They live in houses and bake cookies while the rest of humanity lives in dorms and buys the break-and-bakes. We’re the normal ones, guys.
Problem is, we went to my sister’s house, too. My sister gave birth to her first baby just days before Christmas, so I feel like her house should have been a wreck. Tiny pee diapers balled up in the corners, Chinese takeout boxes stacked on the coffee table, puddles of breast milk curdling into balls of homemade cottage cheese. Bad news: It was spotless. Like totally Martha-Stewart perfect, and the walls were painted actual colors, and you could hang pictures from the walls without calling the facilities manager.
And the kids, they were there. They saw it all, man. Get this: There was a room that is a pantry. An entire room for boxes filled with the potential energy to become baked goods. Do you know how much Eliot loves biscuits and pancakes? I want to be Bisquick when I grow up.
Then there was the nursery: a white crib, book corner, and real changing table with storage bins. I mean straight out of Pottery Barn Kids. My sister even tied up some twigs and hung them on the wall.
How can I explain this to my children? Forget decorative twigs. We almost didn’t buy a Christmas tree this year because I was afraid of the extra stinkbugs it might draw. We’ve already endured one ladybug invasion that had Eliot yielding the fly swatter and saying, “Bug! Bug!”
I know what you’re thinking. You’re all, Taylor, what your kids are gaining by living on a college campus is more than book corners or plantation shutters. It’s culture. And plantation shutters are racist, anyhow.
I’m all, Did you read the part about the pantry? Plus, my sister doesn’t even have plantation shutters. You made that up.
Anyhow, we are back home now. The students are gone on winter break, but we don’t miss them because we’ve got toys to put in places where people should be. We park Elie Mae’s new shopping cart in the hallway because that’s the only place it fits, but my husband is a counselor educator, so here’s how we spin it into a positive: Wow, Eliot! Look at that! Works every time.
Her new doll, Ciara, has to sleep sitting upright in the front of the cart next to the egg carton. No room in the inn for Ciara. Shoot, she don’t even pay for her own microbraids (Ciara is phenotypically Black.)
Elie Mae seems happy to be back in the cave. She spends hours scanning her pajamas with her new cash register, which also doubles as a phone. On her lunch break, she visits Tophs on his reinforced blanket and says, “No! Stop!” every time he has the nerve to pick up his own toy. More on his memoir, The Quiet Sufferings of a Supported Sitter, later.
Tophs is still unusually clingy, which makes me wonder if I should hold off on sticking him in front of the TV with a Similac helmet while I run errands.
Thankfully, with Paul’s flexible winter break schedule, we are both home more and can take turns lifting Tophs out of the ExerSaucer, changing his diaper, and setting him right back in it.
Just kidding. We always put him in the bouncer next.