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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Take me out of the ball game…in an ambulance.

It is a sound at a ball park that you hear all the time, a crack – something hard connecting with something hard. Only this time, the thing the hard ball was hitting wasn’t a bat, it was my four-year-old son’s head.

I heard someone from the opposite field yell, “Head’s up!” and even though that’s a warning to take cover because a foul ball is flying out from a field, I casually did what many do, I looked up. The sun was still glaring, even after 7pm and I couldn’t find the ball in the cloudless sky. I wasn’t even sure it was headed in our direction. From far away, I heard the groundskeeper yell my child’s name like one of those slow motion replays, “Juuuuliiiussssss… Nooooooo!”  I heard the thwack of something being hit and turned my head five feet to the right, just in time to see my baby fall to the ground.

I immediately grabbed for my child, clutching him to me and rocking like the insane. I kept thinking, “That did not just happen.” and I would rock some more. I looked down and it registered that he was crying, and that it was a good thing. A crowd gathered. An ambulance was called. A mom at the field, who happened to be a doctor, said she thought he’d be fine, but her eyes were large with worry. She advised us to go to the hospital “just to be safe.” Her words registered, but I’m sure I looked crazy, just blankly staring up at her without blinking. I was still thinking, “That did not just happen.”

A policeman came, then some firemen, then the ambulance. Howard was there, naturally, since he is the coach for our older son Tyler’s team whose game we were there to watch. I was asked routine questions, the first being, “Are you the mom?”
“Yes.” I’m the mom, I answered, but it felt false and guilty in my mouth. I’m the mom my brain said, but I wasn’t there for my child. I didn’t protect him. What kind of mom is that? I clutched Julius closer, nestling his sobbing face to me.

They all, in turn, tried to examine him – the basic neurological stuff you do when someone might have a concussion – check the eyes, find the bruise, squeeze some fingers, but by now, Julius who had calmed some from his incident was more worked up in fear of these strangers wanting to talk to him and touch him.

In the background noise, I heard the other coach asking if they should continue playing. A random woman retelling someone what had happened. A boy, asking my other son Michael, “Is that your brother?”
It’s odd the things that you register even in the midst of trauma; like that one of the policemen on the scene was my neighbor and was wearing the kind of sunglasses you see in movies to depict the cool cop, and that one of the EMS guys who tried to take Julius’ pulse had a really large and wrinkled thumb.

We climbed into the ambulance, and I was strapped to the gurney with Julius on my lap crying hysterically. Like most four-year-olds, just the word doctor brings instant panic, so it was normal for him to freak out. I was desperately trying to convince myself that he was behaving “normal” and would be okay, but he refused to make real eye contact and just continued crying, burrowing himself further into me.
The ice pack I was haphazardly trying to hold on his head, he flung across the ambulance. I liked that spunk, but Natasha Richardson loomed in the back of my brain. One second. One moment. Life changes on a dime. Nothing ever happens till it happens to you. All true and the thought pounded into my head. Please God, let this not be that moment.

The EMS people sat around us trying to do their jobs with little success. Finally, they gave up on assessing Julius and took to trying to amuse him. The man with the giant, wrinkly thumb attempted to make a balloon from one of the rubber surgical gloves. You would have thought he had never blown up a balloon the way he huffed and puffed and nothing happened. Finally after repeated attempts, twice filling the glove somewhat with air only to lose it with his next breath, he managed to blow up a medium-sized purple cow utter. Watching his attempt to tie it was equally comical, although I shouldn’t have been surprised with the challenges of his aberrant finger. He was ultimately unable to complete this task, finally accepting surgical tape from one of the other attendees to wrap it closed. Julius never once smiled, but he did stop crying.

We made it to North Shore Hospital surrounded by our entourage of three EMS personnel, a fire fighter and a policeman. Luckily, either because we came in by ambulance or it was a slow night for accidents, we were quickly ushered to pediatrics. The doctor, an affable Indian man, came in and gave him the once over, while I whispered promises of tickets (our good behavior system to achieve toys) for every part the doctor checked. By the time he finished, Julius beamed. He had amassed 13 tickets – two eyes, hands, feet, ears, nose, head, mouth, including one extra for a mysterious 3rd ear. That was typically at least two weeks’ worth of work. “That was easy!” Julius chirped happily. “But you forgot to give me a ticket for being weighed and the lady who checked my finger”

“You’re right.” I agreed. “15 tickets for you!”

“16!” Julius countered, sensing his advantage.

“Okay 16.” I agreed happily. This was the first I’d seen of the old Julius.

“20!” He tried, smiling mischievously.

I grinned. “Now you’re pushing it buddy.”

The negotiations thus ended, he quickly and happily conceded, “Okay, 16.”

Howard, Tyler and Michael arrived at this time and we all lolled about the room like we had taken up residence. Leave us anywhere for any amount of time and we can do that. There was a purple cow utter balloon toss, bags of potato chips and M&Ms from the snack machine strewn about and a pile up on the bed watching TV. The mood was light, Julius seemed good and all the boys quickly forgot why we were there… for a while.

In the absence of any obvious symptoms, i.e. vomiting, headaches, nausea, lethargy or unconsciousness, the general rule with children is watch and wait. And wait. And wait. Three hours in, Howard and I seriously regretted our decision to all stick it out together. There had been a time, around two hours prior, when we discussed Howard taking the kids back home, me staying with Julius and having my mom come over so Howard could drive back to get us, but the consensus at the time was, all for one and one for all. Approaching midnight, the tides turned and it was every man for himself.
“Can’t we just leave?!” Tyler whined.
“I want to go home!” Michael pouted.
Somehow, the only one not complaining was Julius.

The doctor finally gave us the green light and sent our exhausted and cranky bunch home. Half asleep, we stripped them down and shoved them all into the shower to wipe away the ball field and battle field grime. They were all asleep before their goodnight kisses. For tonight, Julius was nestled in Howard’s and my bed. It was 1:30am. I was dead tired and even though the doctor said it was unnecessary, I was prepared to wake him every couple of hours, which I did.

The morning arrived quickly, having been roughly four hours of broken sleep. Still, Michael woke early, as is his nature, and Tyler and Julius slept late, as is theirs. Howard and I continued checking Julius till he woke, bouncy and happy, proudly displaying his acquired tickets and discussing what he would get for them.
Later, we visited his pediatrician who confirmed Julius’ recovery, shaking his head with amazement.
“That’s some story.” Given his injury, he stopped short of rubbing Julius’ wild head of hair, a gesture he often did. “You’re one lucky boy.”
Didn’t I know it. I’m still not sure I completely believe it. I keep watching his little face, the one that loves to kiss me long on the lips, and worrying, searching for any sign of distress. I stare at him deeper and breathe in his innocence and perfection. I am afraid. I have always been a little afraid. I don’t like my boys too far from me.  The more you love, the more you have to lose. One random moment. That’s all. And I was right there. It’s almost too much to bear, but I do because life is as beautiful as it is fragile and must be appreciated.  We may have gotten hit by a ball, but we had definitely dodged a bullet.

If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right

I had just returned to the kitchen, having settled a dispute between two warring Jedi knights in the other room, when my friend’s accusatory gaze pierced me like a light saber. She stood over my open freezer looking at me with raised brow. “You want to explain this?”

I averted my eyes. The “this” that she referred to was eight half gallon containers of Edy’s Grand Light Ice cream of various flavors lining my freezer. “What?” I shrugged defensively. “There was a really good sale.” I hoped she wouldn’t notice the four frozen yogurt cups resting comfortably on the shelf above.

“That does not explain this.” She snorted. “Have you taken up competitive eating?”

“You know I love ice cream. What’s the big deal?”

She looked at me almost sadly. “Really? You don’t think there’s a problem here?”

Clearly she did. “No. Like I said it was a good sale, two for $5. You can’t beat it, except once. It was amazing! I got them for $1.99.”

“Oh my God, your eyes are glazing over like donuts! You need to see someone.”

“Please. I mean, yes for many reasons, but not this.”

“Fine, then let me see your bag.” She held out her hand.

“Why?” I clutched the bag closer. Obviously, there was something in there she shouldn’t see. What? I wondered, as she grabbed it from me, fishing around my Let’s Make a Deal sack. Then, a superior sounding, “Aha!”

Uh oh. That didn’t sound good for me. I looked up to see her waving a small container and cringed. It was my “emergency sprinkles” cup. You know, for when you’re on the go. You know, right? Uh oh again. I decided to take the offensive defensive and jutted out my chin.  “I like to be prepared. So what?”

“So, you don’t think there’s an issue here?”

“Of course not.” I choked, sounding something like a dragon with flames stuck in her throat.

“Fine. Then, stop eating ice cream for a week.”

We stared each other down. As if on cue, children’s screams sounded from the other room and we both ran, okay walked with powerful stride, into the living room. Thank God, I thought, saved! I was never so happy to see a child laying on the floor whimpering and the rest jumping from one of my couches to the other.  In the mayhem, our conversation melted softly away.

At the gym at 6:45am the next morning, in between knee shaking lunges, I replayed my friend’s impromptu intervention and honestly assessed my unusual attachment to my daily treat.

Hoarder – check.

Indulged more than once a day – double check.

Ate alone, with company, for emotional comfort, reward, misery, joy –checkcheckcheckcheck.

On a first name basis with yogurt store owner – Joe check.

I want it. I need it. I have to have it – big screaming check.

Well there it was, plain as vanilla . I was a creamaholic.

Clearly my consumption was out of control. I would do it, I decided then and there. I would get the monkey off my back, or out of my mouth for that matter.  Of course, this was all just sugared up swagger since I still had eight containers (two Rocky Road – mine, two Cookies and Cream – mine/kids, French Silk – mine, Chocolate – mine, Vanilla – kids, Fudge Tracks – kids) as well as the frozen yogurt cups (mine) waiting for me in the freezer. Mmm. Just the thought of them made my salivary glands sweat. I had to get rid of them, fast. So I fixed my jaw and set about with great determination the terrible task of polishing off my goods one by one. Only a scoop left in the container? Might as well add it to my bowl.  I took to the task like a Roman at his last orgy.

When I got down to less than two tubs, something in the dark recess of my brain cracked, transforming me from typical suburban mom into a love struck teen, I began stalking the yogurt store, manufacturing reasons to be “in the area”, sitting in the car talking myself out of going in, only to trip over myself (and some other sugar crack riddled mom) in mad rush to heaven’s door. Floating out on a cloud of peanut butter cappuccino topped with chocolate crunchies, breathing deep contented sighs, I gained some insight to my pharmaceutically dependent father. It was not a proud moment.

As a child of divorce (see above) followed by a hasty and tumultuous remarriage and two additional step brothers to the one I already didn’t want, ice cream soothed and numbed me. As I developed from child to budding young whale, it became clear that ice cream, might not completely have my best interests at heart. In high school, I can mortifyingly attest that the boys all found my carrot eating, paddle ball playing mom way hotter than me. Cue two to three years of resentment binge eating.

“You really don’t need that,” short shorts mom says.
“You’re so right,” muffin topped, hanger-zipped jeaned 16-year-old responds, placing scooper deeper in the container for an extra big helping, licking the spoon for the most obnoxious effect.

It took some maturity – and a bunch of skinny/bulimic college friends – to realize that I needed to exercise more and switch to frozen yogurt, because even though my mother was annoying, she really was hot.

That night, after consuming the last of the Fudge Tracks (my kids’ container – yes, I have no shame), I had done it. I had rid my house of ice cream. It had taken more time than expected given all those extremely unfortunate, yet unavoidable stops at the shoe store which happened to be next to the frozen yogurt shop. “I just must have navy Espadrilles today!” But now my freezer was empty. I lay on the couch bloated and satisfied. Tomorrow was so far away.

Day one on the wagon, I woke with determination. I would do it. I would not waffle!* I had a nice healthy breakfast, followed by a nice healthy lunch. Around 4pm, the anxiety set in. “What have I done?!”  At 5pm, panic. “Get more!” followed by a body chained to table effort to suppress the intense desire to run to the store. I breathed deep and imagined popcorn. Or a nice cookie. Feh! Popcorn had no pop, cookies were crummy! Ice cream! My brain screamed. I scream for ice cream! I heard my father’s thick, semi-conscious voice in my head, “Addiction runths in our family.” It’s not nearly the same, I reasoned, uneasily recalling my friend’s disapproving judgment.

Then, it was dinner time and we were in the house for the night.  Now I’d done it, if I wanted something I’d have to drag my three children out with me, luring them with postponed homework and treats of their own. Definitely pathetic. It screamed addict. They’d probably see right through me too. It was even possible that they would say no and I’d have to make an extra trip to the candy store to bribe them. Even more pathetic. But I really REALLY wanted it.  Desperate, I wondered if i could get someone to deliver it to me. Not my husband.  He was wise to my game. What friend could I call…? My seven-year-old son Michael called down for a cup of milk. “Get it yourself!” I snapped up at him. Crap. I was strung out.

It continued like that for the next seven days. Cranky, anxious and reeking of cinnamon mints, I survived. By week’s end, I felt healthier, was two pounds lighter and the intense cravings had somewhat subsided. I managed emotionally torturous conversations with my father without my crutch and the freezer held, wait for it…. actual food!

That’s why, when lunch time rolled around, I bee-lined straight for my yogurt store and bought myself a beautiful cone of peanut butter and chocolate covered in sprinkles. Reward! Euphoria. Blissed out on my drug of choice, I decided that my pleasure outweighed my pain. My booty would continue going to boot camp. I would battle an extra few pounds. It was just too good. Besides I was not my father, I could lick it if I wanted to.

*Just so you know, it’s not like I have never gone a day without ice cream or frozen yogurt. When I travel or when I’m sick, I almost never have it. And there have been snow storms…

4th of July, Coney Island, and my family explodes.

To hear my husband tell it, it was something he wanted to do his whole life; an easy bucket list experience that although he was a Brooklyn boy had somehow eluded him.

That would sort of explain why on this Fourth of July morning as we sat together – me on the computer and him reading the paper, casually throwing ideas around about what to do, our children upstairs happily playing their Wii game – he almost jumped out of his seat with excitement.

“It’s the Nathan’s Hot dog Eating Contest!”

That didn’t even register a response from me, but he went on. “The women compete at 11:30am and the men at Noon.”

Again, I didn’t look up until I saw him quickly glance at the time on the computer. Uh oh.

And then I heard it, “I think we should go.”

“Bad idea,” I said too fast. We had been to Coney Island and the aquarium many times since his parents still lived around 10 minutes from there. I was beyond over it, and on a holiday weekend in 90+ degrees, the idea seemed like a joke.

“Come on,” he coaxed. “We’ll go to the aquarium and the beach! It’ll be great!” I looked up at him from my computer, my eyes full of skeptical negativity. His parents weren’t even in Brookly, having already migrated to the bungalows for the summer. We would by driving down the Belt parkway to mill with thousands for fun?? Had a fire cracker gone off in his head?

“We’re going!” He announced.

I breathed deep. Please make this go away.

No such luck. “It’s 10:15am.” He stated. We have exactly 10 minutes to get out of here!”

“Honey,” I began gently, using my best talking a guy off the roof diplomacy, “I don’t know if it’s such a good idea. And to get out of the house so fast to race there…”

He cut me off. “I don’t hear you coming up with better ideas. And this is something I want to do!” He puffed pent up frustration. “I mean, I really want to do this! I’ve always wanted to do this! And now I open the paper and there it is and we can make it there. Come on!” He looked so serious and earnest, I could only cave.

Sensing victory, he grinned and barreled up the stairs, “BOYS! We’re going to Coney Island!”

If he thought I was a hard sell, he was sorely mistaken. A chorus of protests immediately followed. “Noooooo! We don’t want to go!”

“We’re going!” He confirmed and three underwear clad boys jumped up and down in complaint.

Our nine year-old pouted. Our seven year-old outright refused to put on his bathing suit, after having the Wii control forcibly removed from his little hand. Always the most dramatic of the boys, he screamed the whole way to the car, while our four year-old skipped happily into the car with the promise of cotton candy. It’s nice to have one kid who can still be bribed.

We made it to the car in under 15 minutes with my husband barking orders like a soldier. “Don’t worry about food. We’ll get something there.” I struggled against my inner hoarder and pretty much listened, just grabbing a few granola bars and shoving them in my bag.

The car ride was an exercise in parenthood patience. The minute we pulled away from the house, all the boys complained of hunger and I gave my husband a look as I passed out the bars, although my seven year-old was on a hunger strike and screamed when offered his snack.

My husband, typically a stickler for the speed limited, today is a man on a mission. He flies down the highway doing 70mph and when we hit traffic at around Flatbush he takes to the streets. Like a mouse in a maze, he worked his way toward his, uh, cheese covered hotdog?

Streets were blocked off. There was no parking. The minutes ticked by. Only 15 minutes before the eating extravaganza began.  He swerved. He honked. He threatened to leave me to search for a spot while he took the boys to the show. I raised a brow. There was no way I was comfortable driving around the streets of Coney Island, but had I known what was coming, I would have taken him up on it.

We found parking around 10 blocks from Nathans. My husband saddled himself with a chair, umbrella, bag of towels and clothes and started off in a sprint. The older boys somewhat kept pace, but my little one, trying to keep up, tripped and fell on the sidewalk, skinning his knee.  Now I needed to carry him, in addition to my 10 pound bag and also desperately needed to pee. My husband took no mercy on either of us and forged forward, following his nose toward the famous franks.

Pant pant, can't keep up!

Pant pant, can’t…keep… up!

Sweating and some of us bleeding, we closed in on Nathan’s. Hundreds, maybe thousands of others moved in as well. A man’s voice boomed through the loudspeaker – “Sonya – The Black Widow – Thomson has just eaten 45 hot dogs in 10 minutes!” I looked up over the heads of the crowd to see a diminutive woman with her arm raised in victory.  I gain five pounds eating one hot dog. Apparently, the trick was to eat 40.

The sun beat down on my husband laden with chairs and bags. My seven year-old’s face was bright pink, eyes rimmed red with tears and rage, and possibly some malnutrition. My nine year-old was miserable. And I held my bleeding 4 year-old. Sweat pooled between my boobs and trickled down my back as my wild eyed husband stared desperately at televised JumboTron, pretending family didn’t exist.

Why am I standing with 10,000 people watching it on TV?!

Why am I standing with 10,000 people watching it on TV?!

The men were not set to compete for another half hour. I said the only thing I could think of to soothe the beasts, “Who wants ice cream?” This was Coney Island, ice cream, hotdogs, cotton candy and pretzels were sold in every other shop. As expected, my oldest and youngest immediately nodded and my middle one shook his head with distaste. “I’m not eating!”

Deep sigh. He was one tough kid.

“Why can’t we just go?! This is stupid!” My nine year-old complained. There was no argument from me. This was a disaster, I handed them their cones and said, “This is something daddy wants to see and that’s it.”

“But we can’t even see anything!” He argued with self-righteous frustration. “We may as well be home watching TV.” Another point for the smart kid.

“Oh just eat your cone before I eat it,” I warned, which shut him up fast.

We stayed, sweating in misery until finally Joey Numnuts, I mean Chestnuts, swallowed down 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes, tying his former world record. With the JumboTron, we could see close-ups on Joey as he shuttered and shook down each of his dogs. Each of his multiple competitors was equally engrossing, heavy on the gross.  It was fascinating. It was disgusting. It was over. Thank the lord.

We quickly gathered our stuff, meaning our disgruntled children, and pushed through to the open street. “Now can we go to the beach?” The kids whined, but because he was clearly possessed today, my husband had other plans.

“We’re going to the aquarium!” He announced, and there was a collective groan before my middle son started screaming, “I’m not going! I’m staying right here!” He sat down on the sidewalk, refusing to budge. With the diverse crowd and a history of freak shows, he drew barely a glance.

“Come on!” My husband threatened.

“NO!”

“Get up!”

“NO!”

He tried another approach, “Come on, we’ll do this and when we get home we’ll play Playstation.”

Negotiations in progress

Negotiations in progress

My seven year-old lost it, “That’s all I wanted to do on my day off! I just wanted to relax!”

“Come on,” My husband softened, “we’ll play two games when we get home.”

But he was beyond reason, and sat himself on the boardwalk and refused to budge. “I’m never going home. I want to stay here now forever!”

My husband gave up and I somehow got him to  move by taking him by the hand and just walking, forcing him to get up and move with me. He complied, spitting fire like an angry dragon the whole way.

By some miracle, we made it through the aquarium without drama. It was 40 minutes of sweat gazing at walruses and sharks and jelly fish and we fit in the (boring) 15 minutes sea lion show.

Hot dog contest – check. Aquarium – check.

Next up – beach.

We trudged our way up to the boardwalk and looked down at the overcrowded beach. It was after 2pm, and we were all exhausted and hungry. We sidled up to the nearest take out joint, specializing in everything, and ordered 2 slices of pizza, a hot dog, knish, chicken fingers, French fries and a lemonade. Not a thing here that I would eat and my sadistic seven year-old of course refused nourishment.

Looking around anxiously, we surveyed the area. There wasn’t a table or bench unoccupied. The beach with this food and kids would be a disaster, so we did the only thing a family with no shame and Brooklyn roots could – we broke out our blanket and lay it down on the concrete next to a fence that overlooked Lunar Amusement park and the boardwalk.

My husband stood up, holding an umbrella for shade as two boys ate and one sulked behind a chair my husband had opened up for me, but I would never sit in.

Cement picnic. Lovely.

Cement picnic. Lovely.

We were all so done, but my oldest had been waiting all this time for the beach.  Did he actually still want to go?

Yep. He did.

Cue the screaming and pouting and internal dying.

“Okay, then we go,” I said and stood up to throw out our garbage and gather our things. My wise oldest boy took a long, hard look at the beach. Scores of people, many of them crazy looking, passed back and forth before us like cars on a highway. We were the frog in Frogger. Would we make it over to the overcrowded sand?

We would never find out.

“I want to go home.” Her said.

“We’ll go if you want to honey,” I soothed, while holding my breath.

“Let’s go.”

Huge, inner exhale of relief.

It was walking toward the exit of Lunar Park and the street, that I heard the howl. There were so many spinning rides, it could have come from anywhere, but there was only one mouth that could wail like that – my 7 year-old. My eyes so far behind my head, I could still see the beach, I sighed, “What is it?”

I should have known it was coming, but I was still surprised when I heard him cry, “I waaant to goooo to the beach!!!!” I almost laughed. It was too much.

“Sorry Charlie, that ship has sailed, my friend.” Good mommy had left the building when we lay the picnic blanket on the steaming concrete next to garbage and near-naked, tattooed girls scarffing, what else? – hot dogs.

When he refused to budge, I promised very bad things in the near future. He budged.

With a small child on my back, we made the pilgrimage back to the car. Heaven.

With the air conditioner on and the DVD entertaining, my husband and I relaxed and breathed.

“Well, that was….”

I smiled, speechless. In truth, despite hating almost everything about the day, it was so unbelievably bad that it was comical.

I tried again, “Actually, I loved it almost as much as I hated it.”

He agreed. “I’m re-thinking  the river rafting trip down the Delaware I was planning this weekend.”

Oh my God. Was he kidding? A trip down the Delaware with the three kids definitely terrified me. So I just shrugged and made light, “We might be a little ahead of ourselves. Our kids are not that adventurous.”

Once home, our children happily back in their underwear playing Wii, me back on the computer and my husband flipping between the news and a baseball game, peace and normalcy had returned. The world was right once more.

Suddenly, my husband’s voice called out, loud and excited. “Everyone! Everyone! Come quick!”

I barely picked my butt off the seat, when I realized what the commotion was – the Nathan’s Hotdog eating contest from earlier was taped and showing on the news.

Three boys and my man rapturously watched Joey Chestnut devour his competition.

“We were there!” My husband beamed. “We were there!”

And finally, three little boys beamed back.

Mom Gets Lizard. Mom Loses Lizard.

This is the day I lost my Smiles.

For clarification, Smiles is our new baby bearded dragon. Also, Smiles isn’t technically mine. My nine-year-old son Tyler is his official owner, as he’ll happily declare for all to know. He was the one who begged for him mercilessly, who cried when we said we would think about it, who brought out the big guns and lamented his first born status of having to share everything with everyone, namely his two annoying brothers. Smiles, named for the wide, open mouthed expression on his face, was his – except when it became necessary to feed, care or pay any general attention to it, then as it turns out, Smiles is mine.

I can’t say I mind, I took a quick liking to the reptile. Maybe it brought me back to my younger days, scanning the bungalow colony woods in summer scouting for those bright orange salamanders. My friends and I would catch them, count their spots, declare their age, and put them in pitiful little Tupperware tanks that we would decorate with grass, dirt and rocks. No animals were ever so loved by their captors, who routinely forgot to feed or give them water. Or in the case of my sweet younger brother – or at least sweet in this retelling – forgot to punch air holes in his plastic home. It took him awhile to figure out that his prized critters weren’t actually sleeping. I remember once leaving them out on the bungalow porch too long in the sun. You don’t want to know what I found when I returned from camp later that day. Let’s just say, to this day I don’t eat dried apricots.

Even with the 30 year time passage, I should have known better, but I guess I’m just an old nostalgic sap, I liked him. I really liked him. He isn’t orange or spotted like the “Sallys” of the old days. He’s a more lizardly grey brown, all the better for blending my dear. And he’s not smooth bellied and sweet; Smiles is a predator. Just watch him catch a cricket. Even lounging on his branch feigning sleep, in a flash he’s on the move. Snap, there go another cricket. I try not to think too hard about my transition from loving the innocent soft salamanders of old to the wizened, scaly dragon I identify with now. There’s something frightening there but again, I’m not thinking about that. Smiles knows what’s what. You’ve got to appreciate that.

In the week we’ve had Smiles, we have definitely bonded. I talk to him, bring him fresh vegetables, stroke his head, take him out to cuddle – don’t judge me, my boys are getting bigger. Sometimes, when I come close to the tank, Smiles runs up to the nearest branch and stares at me with a gaping smiling mouth. At least that was how I perceived it, until I read a book on bearded dragons that said that they sometimes show dominance and aggression with their wide menacing expression. Ouch. I don’t care what that book say, Smiles loves me.

So on this gorgeous May morning, I decided that Smiles should feel the real sun on his back instead of the infrared light bulb that heats his cage. Tyler was in Hebrew School already and the other boys were occupied with a video game. It was just me and Smiles as I walked out my front door into the bright happy morning.

At first, it was a Norman Rockwell picture. Me and my lizard on the green green lawn, under the blue blue sky with the yellow shining sun, so pretty. We basked as Smiles slowly scampered from my hand to the grass and back, until I got distracted for one damn second when my neighbor’s son biked past. I wanted Julius and Michael, my other boys, outside biking as well, and turned my head to call into the house for them.

That was when it happened. Smiles took two quick leaps and scooted right into the bushes that line my front lawn. It was my turn to have a mouth open and wide and my eyes as well. “Howard!” I screamed for husband, lunging for the plants. I was quick but he was quicker, and within a second, he was gone.

The person who would throw a paper towel at a spider and then run out of the room screaming was now full body deep in the bowels of a bush crawling with creepy creatures. I was beside myself. I could not believe what I had done. What the hell was I thinking bringing a small lizard outside without boundaries? All that went through my mind as I clawed helplessly through the mulch and dirt, scratching my arms on the branches and staring maddeningly at the leaves was that Tyler was never going to forgive me.  I could see it. On my deathbed, he would bring it up… remember when you lost Smiles?

Full on panic set in as the minutes passed and I realized my hope of recovering my baby dragon was as fleeting as he was. Howard was pulling apart our front shrubs. I had my face nose to nose with a giant spider and merely blew it aside. Things were crawling on me and I pushed my face lower to the ground and deeper into the bush. The shrub thinned out and I could see through it to the other side and Howard’s face staring back at me.

I was crushed. For one of the only times I can remember, Howard had the decency not to pour oil on the fire with, “Why would you do something like that?” or “What were you thinking?” I can only imagine how desperate I looked. Although, I got some idea by my father-in-law who was there as well, slowly circling the bushes with very large feet. Every time he caught a glimpse of my crazy eyes, he started repeating this tense, optimistic mantra, “Don’t worry, hon. You’ll find him. Don’t worry, hon. You’ll find him. Don’t worry, hon. You’ll find him.”

That was when Julius and Michael decided to make their appearance running from the door. Howard and I halted them immediately, both afraid they might step on Smiles and wanting to keep them unaware of the situation, but it was useless, the little lizards were on to our game. “Why’d ya take him outside?” Michael wanted to know. “You lose Smiles?” Julius asked. Crap. There were no secrets now. In my mind I had already jumped ahead to the pet store to buy a replacement baby bearded dragon, but now with the boys in the know, there was no way out for me. The gig was up and I was officially the worst mom ever.

We continued like this, gently circling the shrub, staring hard at every branch – who was I kidding? He was four inches long and the color of bark.  I sometimes couldn’t find him in his cage. I pictured his little face that was either happy to see me or territorially posturing for dominance. I was on the verge of heavy tears. Suddenly, Howard whispered something like, “I see him.”

There was no way. On my lawn of a thousand plants, a million blades of grass, Howard had found him, sitting in the center of the shrub next to the shrub that we had just mutilated. Slowly we closed in. Howard attempted retrieval but Smiles was deep in the shrub and he couldn’t get his hand around him. He tried coming in from behind but was afraid his tail would pull off if he tugged at it.

Barely breathing, I pulled apart the bush the best I could. He really was in there, deep in a crisscross of intersecting branches, his little face looking straight up at me without the hint of a smile. A large spider crawled over his back. I waited a second hoping he’d eat it or something. No such luck. Feeling like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, I slid my hand down and around, praying that he wouldn’t bolt. He didn’t. I pulled Smiles out and into the cave of my shaking hands. Gently hugging my hands to my chest, I walked into my house, placed Smiles back into his tank and cried.

All day, I watched Smiles closely for signs of stress, but he was fine. Only I spent the rest of the day in a state of shaky exultation. We found him! In all the bushes and all the grass, we found him. It was a near disaster. It left me thankful and vulnerable. I had almost committed one of those parent crimes that children carry with them for the rest of their lives, or at least thru therapy.

When Tyler found out what had happen, his mood was light and airy. “You lost Smiles.” He almost joked. He had no idea of the tragedy averted. Later, Howard and I reflected on how differently the day could have gone. If he hadn’t looked in that bush… If he had run… we would all be without smiles for a long time. Thankfully we survived our first week as baby bearded dragon owners, and now I’m just going to shed this day like reptile skin, smile and move on to the second.

 

Found!

Found!