The Small Naked Drunk Man in the Bottom of My Bag

When my husband and I were footloose and fancy-free, we took a belated honeymoon to Italy. It was several years after we were married but no less sweet, and we embraced all the pleasures Italia had to offer. Not least of which were the ruins at the base of Mount Vesuvius, magnificently petrified in a violent hail of ashes and mud. We went to both Pompeii and Herculaneum, and because we were doing our best to shed American dollars to the tourist industry, we purchased a few doobobs and trinkets to bring back for the folks at home.

My personal favorite was a keychain of a statue unearthed in Herculaneum of the god Hercules. Apparently freshly returned from hunting (or playing cricket), his club is swung over one shoulder and he's got a nice animal skin to show for his prowess. The statue is remarkable for it's realism: you can practically smell the fumes of wine leaching from Herc's pores as he teeters back with his Johnson in his hand to take a whiz. He's been celebrating, it seems.

I loved it so much I bought a bunch of them and gave them away to slightly quizzical friends and family. I'm the only one who actually used Herc for a keychain; everyone else quietly tucked him away in the bottom of their junk drawers and promptly forgot that a god was taking a leak in them.

Hercules has been dangling drunkenly from my keys until a few months ago when his little metal ring broke and he began swimming unmoored amongst the receipts and lip balms in my handbag. Every now and then I find him, linty but no less loaded, and think about affixing him again to my lonely keys who miss the endless party. But I never do, and Hercules has been pissing unfettered in my purse ever since.

The Bun (our toddler) found him the other day. The boy has been entranced by the occult mysteries of "the handbag" of late, and I think that the discovery of my little drunk buddy didn't disappoint him in the inscrutability of the feminine purse. He held him reverently in his hands and turned him over and over again, looking at this little man peeing endlessly with sincere awe. I wondered how I would explain what he was doing there. Obviously too young to understand what being loaded is, I had no idea what he thought of him, my little idol to the carelessness of youth and revelry.

I suppose it doesn't matter. I just hope that three years from now when Herc is still floating around down there awash in those same receipts I've never chucked that the bun doesn't pick-pocket him and take him to school for show and tell.

Hercules used with permission

A Lesson in Procrastination

It seems that we took matters into our own hands a little too late. The bun, who is really far less bun-like and more boy-like these days but closely resembles the gravity-defying high-flying squirrel monkey, is not really talking as of yet. It seems it's not a priority with him; instead he reserves his energies for learning how to climb onto the counter to play with the coffee maker, dismantling the safety gadgets employed to keep him from being electrocuted, and hauling the kitchen step stool from one verboten area to the next in search of new dastardly and daring feats to keep his parents on their toes. In this he is very effective.

But talking really hasn't been a pressing issue for him. He signs the important words: "cat" is well represented as he chases them through the house at top speed and they flee in terror. His few vocal utterances include a variety of words that sound the same: juice, shoes, keys, cheese, represent generally important parts of his world. He calls me "Imama" instead of "Mama," which is really my fault since I would always point to my chest and say "I'm mama!" His father is either "Papa" or, more mysteriously, "Arf" which we have to conclude is from a book in which Lars would read the concluding lines "I'm a dog! I'm a dog! I'm a dog!"

"Star" is very clear, although sounds a lot like "Stick" which seems to have been conflated in his mind; both are now "St-rck." Moon is "Nononono" which is confusing since I'm never sure whether he's talking about the moon or vociferously questioning the moon's existence. And of course he says "No" like a champion. If you're going to have a word, that's a good one to have.

But the rest of the English language doesn't seem too important to him. Occasionally he'll pop out a new word unbidden and we're thrilled, although he may retire it as quickly as it came. Other times an adopted word clings to him like a barnacle and he repeats it over and over, lulling himself to sleep with it, singing it like a mantra during car rides, showing it off for all admirers.

Take, for example, his newest word, "Fuck." Or more precisely, "Oh, fuck."

That one popped out in a car ride in which his papa, almost getting blind-sided or missing a turn or something said quite naturally, "Oh fuck!"

A clear, high note rang from the back seat: "Ofuck." We looked at each other. The prophesied early curse word had sprung from the lips of our darling boy, tolling the ribald words of a bawdy house in the dulcet tones of innocence. "Ofuck. Ofuck. Ofuck," he intoned in the back seat as his eyes gazed out the window at the passing landscape.

We realized we were too late. Just the week before we had been talking about the necessity of curbing our colorful language around the bun. But it's difficult to take an amorphous deadline seriously, when the guardian of the deadline hardly says anything at all. We had time, we thought.

We were wrong, apparently. Now we're scrambling to put the genie back in the bottle, and every time we hear him say, "Ofuck," we say, "Truck? Where's the truck?" or "Duck? What a nice duck!" but he's no dummy and our pathetically belated ministrations seem doomed. Even though we've more or less eradicated the ever-useful, always practical "Fuck" from our vocab, just yesterday "Oh, shit" propelled from my lips as a bottle of some viscous, sticky goo was administered to the floor through the diligence of our young scion. He hasn't mastered "O-shit," but he recognized enough similarity of experience to pull out that old chestnut, "Ofuck" from the small but mighty arsenal of words at his disposal.

Sometimes we hear him practicing to himself in his crib over the baby monitor, honing each syllable with razor-sharp precision. "Ofuck," he sings to himself. "Oooohfuck," he says more slowly, rolling the sounds around on his tongue. Of course the irony is not lost on us that he can barely say our names ("Imama" and "Arf") but can pronounce the one word we wish he wouldn't say with perfect clarity.

The Return of the Keys

Not quite epic, but close. I actually tried to reason with the bun this morning by showing him his father's keys, a picture of keys, and asking where mine were. He just took dad's keys and put them in the bookcase between The Insult and A Catcher in the Rye. Meanwhile, Dad looked in the last place possible, a sealed trash can which had boxes on top of it. Too difficult for the bun? No way! He even replaced the lid so we'd never suspect that my keys were festering there.

Interesting. I wonder what else is missing.

Operation Tubby Bun

It's been a month since we've been plumping the bun. We stick him on the scale every day and wish another ounce on him. We chase him around with buttered bread, milk with half and half in it, pasta with cheese and egg sauce. He laughs and eats more fruit. I think he's just about the same as before, but my husband, traditionally both more hypochondriacal and more pessimistic about doctors in general than I am, has been optimistically seeing the ounces inch up. Tomorrow we'll see who's right; the bun's got a follow-up doctor visit. Either way, we've decided that cheating is the only sure-fire way to get them to leave us alone, so no matter what we're putting rocks in his diapers for the weigh-in.

Love Letters

As predicted, moving with a bun is less than optimal, although I haven't decided to trade him in yet. Unfortunately, I also have the worst case of laryngitis I've ever had (not even a squeak could pass these lips until about an hour ago--and now I'm back to silence again) which renders loan discussions pretty much moot, and I had to use my husband as a translator with a contractor which was pretty much a comedy of errors. Trying to corral the bun when I can't holler a good "BUN!" at him for effect has forced me into creative discipline. Shiny things have their place; I can dangle them in front of him and hope they distract him enough that he doesn't yank the glassware that I just packed over on himself. It's worked so far.

So being sick and mute, while packing and chasing a tiny force of nature from room to room? I felt just about ready for a soak around 4:00 pm.

Leaving him in the exhausted arms of my husband, who has also been chasing him hither and yon, I drew a hot bath and tucked in with a Harper's. But the bun has, on top of being a "sprinter" and an "explorer" been a "whiner" and a "back archer" today, flinging himself to and fro like a petulant starlet dissatisfied with the service. And so my bath was punctuated by ear-pricking keening and the occasional fit of pique.

My poor husband kept trying to keep him from the door, but the bun knew where I was. He couldn't stand my being right there without access, and even with my husband dragging him away numerous times, he knew the route.

Finally, fed up with my near-away-so-far absence, he sent me a little message. Under the door like a spy he slid his secret sign, a yellow star from his shape-sorter. I saw his little fingers push it hopefully as far as he could through the crack. Would his signal receive a response or would there be radio silence?

Naked, sick, soaking in the tub wishing away the stress, and still I couldn't resist. I got out and shoved it back under in a different spot. Back and forth it went, me dripping on the floor, my bath steaming behind me, passing a plastic star back and forth with a very happy tot.

I have to admit, I was pretty moved.

The Future

You don't imagine that you're going to be the parent who will improvise your kid's lunch out of half a hamburger bun and some almond butter. But once you spread the butter on the lesser half, a vivid future lunchroom scene unfolds in a mental tableau: cruel schoolyard teasing heaped upon your undeserving progeny as he opens his embarrassing lunch bag filled with broken graham crackers, an unappetizing apple and a sandwich that doesn't even use proper bread. And after the vision fades to black, you will realize you are only following a long, ignoble family tradition. Also, you never suspect that putting a diaper on, much less PANTS, will become a trial worthy of Job. A trial that you will often choose to avoid by letting the little savage run around naked rather than fight him for supremacy in epic sartorial struggle. You will try to time his nudity so that there might not be any unpleasant surprises as he leaps onto the sofa. Sometimes you will be successful.

You might not realize it yet, but you will also be the person who lets your tot play in the lid of the dishwasher while splashing (mostly clean) water everywhere. And you will view it as killing two birds with one stone because the water will clean the kitchen floor when you wipe it up.

You don't see these things in your future, but they're there.

You and Who's Army?

Yesterday my husband was changing the bun when he said, "It was just about a year ago exactly that we were standing here and I asked your Mom a very important question." I racked my brain. We were already married, so that wasn't it. It wasn't a question about the bun, or at least not that I could remember. And then he reminded me: it was a question about WWII.

A year ago at this time our house was reminiscent of a war zone. The bun was barely a month old, and I wasn't yet comfortable changing diapers. My boobs had misbehaved terribly and even a month into our adventure they were loaded for bear but firing indiscriminately. The house was a wreck since neither of us realized that we could set the baby down to put away the dishes. I hadn't gotten out of my pajamas in weeks. We were living primarily on take-out that my husband got and we were both suffering from massive French cheese intake. My body still resembled a hit-and-run victim and walking was strenuous.

It was here amongst the anarchy in our house and the overwhelming stress that he told me a story.

"When I was studying international relations in college," he began, "I had this professor who told us about the conference at Yalta during the Second World War." My husband was pulling the bun's diaper off and working more efficiently than I ever had. "At the conference, where Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt decided the fate of post-war Europe, Roosevelt suggested getting the input of Pope Pius the XII." He expertly wiped the bun's bum and fastened the new diaper while I listened attentively.

My husband grabbed one of the little footless nightgowns that made changing diapers a snap but that I hated because they had to be pulled over the bun's little floppy head. "Stalin sneered. 'Where does the Pope keep his armies?' * asked Stalin, implying that the Pope could offer little in the way of military assistance and thus would be of no use to the Allies." He pulled the gown deftly over the bun's fragile noggin. "Roosevelt sat silently until the room was crackling with tension."

He gently pulled the bun's hand through the cuff of the gown. "After careful consideration, Roosevelt replied, 'In his sleevies!'" **

I blinked.

It was the dumbest joke I had ever heard.

I laughed so hard my stomach hurt and tears swelled down my face. I laughed for ten minutes at least. Later, when I changed the bun and looked at the gown with its sleevies dangling loosely around the bun's tiny hands I laughed again. I laughed for days because of that joke, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, sometimes out of complete silence.

Because of the timing and my husband's dead-pan delivery, it broke through the stress that had been preying on us since the bun was born. New parenthood is not for the faint of heart and we had forgotten how easy-going we usually were. Pulled as taut as drums those first few weeks, the dumbest joke I had ever heard broke the spell.

"That was a glorious moment in my life entertaining your Mom," he said to the bun as he pulled his one-year-old army through his sleevie. The bun suffered the indignity just barely; he didn't care where his army went.

But I know where they go: the same place the Pope puts his.

*The story that my husband recounted is true, except for the phrasing of the question. What Stalin actually asked was "How many divisions has the Pope?" The implication was the same.

**I couldn't actually remember the Yalta story until my husband retold it tonight; all I could remember was the punch line. That he knows about who said what to whom at Yalta, then spontaneously improvised history to make a joke, and finally dead-panned it while pulling the bun's army through his sleevie is a testament to my husband's enormous brain.

I find that extremely sexy.

Sick Days

"There will never be another time when he'll be so easy to amuse," said my husband as the Fed Ex envelope full of property titles fell off my head for the umpteenth time, the bun shrieking in delight. Too true. He's just coming out of a bad virus, and he's been logey and listless for the past two days. He's spent virtually every waking minute in our arms, big purple rings under his foggy eyes, limply gazing at nothing. Even when you're helpless to help and desperate to ease the suffering, there's a tinge of contentment when you're needed in such a basic and elemental way. The fever sapped him completely and we spent the time just curled up together in a little family ball. But today he was laughing with vigor.

Before he got the fever, he was behaving very oddly. He was whiney and miserable most of the morning, and then uncharacteristically desperate to fall asleep two hours before his usual nap. I expected him to sleep for an hour, but it stretched into a super-nap. When he woke up I became nervous because every time I set him down he seemed unable to get to his feet, his knees buckling under his tiny frame for no discernible reason, crying with confusion. He had been walking like a champion before the nap, and now he couldn't even stand up, his legs folding up like noodles after shaking like a leaf. What was wrong with him?

Because there were no other symptoms, I was pretty sure an exotic neuro-toxin had been transmitted via his clean crib sheet somehow. Or maybe his spinal fluid had disappeared for some reason. He was having an amino-acid deficiency which made him fine one day and weak-kneed the next. I called my husband less hysterical than I felt and said that I thought something might be wrong with the bun. He said he'd be home in a few minutes to check on him.

I put him in my lap and read him a book. As the kitten chased the moon again, I started to cry. He was miserable, but I couldn't see what was wrong. I was in the dark, helpless to fight against an enemy I couldn't see. Sure, it was probably just a cold, but how could I know? There wasn't any tell-tale snot, no coughing, bupkus! And he couldn't tell me what to do for him or what was wrong.

I was relieved when he got the fever. At least I knew I could give him Tylenol and that he wasn't wasting away with some parasitic disease from god-knows-where. Or if he was, there was now a symptom to identify something.

He's on the mend. I know because he's regained his curiosity in the gas line behind the stove and the power cord on the lamp. And he's laughing at the idiot with the envelope on her head.

Dream a Little Dream

Sometimes the most important events go by unheralded. After waging battle with sleeplessness for a year, when it finally resolved itself, apparently I was so ecstatic (and sleeping) that I forgot to write about it. I haven't gotten more than four straight hours of sleep since the incept date of the bun. I've slept more than that a night (on good nights--and when my husband would bail me out in the mornings by letting me stay in bed) but I haven't had an uninterrupted night of blissful slumber to call my own in so long I can't remember what they're like. While you may not have suspected that I was on the brink of utter madness and desperation, there were many strained and tearful conversations about what the hell we were going to do about sleep in this house. I got sleeping pills (which I couldn't take for different reasons--a cruel irony when one is insane with fatigue and prone to temptation) and we were just getting to the point where we were going to have to make some drastic changes in the bun's sleeping arrangements. Talk of anti-depressants was common.

It wasn't the bun's fault. It's true that he hasn't been a great sleeper. He would sleep well for the first part of the night, but like clockwork would wake up about three or four every morning. This was unfortunate but not the end of the world; however, because of my own bad chemistry when he would wake up, I would wake up. And stay up. And stay up and up and up, until I wanted to cry and scream and beat my sweet husband for being able to snore blissfully while I was counting blue veins in my eyelids, trying any mental trick to fool myself into a coma.

Insomnia is brutality personified, a torture program designed by yourself, for yourself. It is claustrophobia in your own head, the water-torture of self. For something so physically painless (I tell myself, even though I've broken down and gotten a jar of old lady face cream that reputedly sends those increasingly deep eye lines into recession, if not complete remission) it feels like a personal Inquisition which despite utter and complete fatigue (or in fact hastened because of it) is destined to repeat ad infinitum until it has destroyed both your sanity and your family.

Things were desperate around these parts, and I increasingly thought that self-lobotomization was a sensible idea if it would garner me the good brainwaves that seduced the sleep fairy. Counting backwards in multiples of seven just wasn't a heavy enough sedative any more. Even when the bun didn't wake up in the middle of the night, I did. So bedtime, no matter what, was a lose/lose proposition.

Illness came to my rescue. I was so sick last month that for a week I slept through my own bad brain chemistry. I was ill enough that the bun's wake-up calls went by unnoticed, even when I got out of bed and fed him, numb with chills, coughing my lungs out. But goddamnit, I'm just happy as can be that I was struck down by a virus. If it could break the siren's song of insomnia, I was pro-tuberculosis all the way!

Ever since the crud, I've been sleeping moderately better. There are still some pretty gawdawful nights* and the bun, who coincidentally started sleeping through the night on a more regular basis around the time I got deathly ill, still has moments which drive me back into the arms of my old abuser, insomnia. But I'm not about to rip my synapses out one by one with fatigue-induced madness, so we have to call this a victory. *My husband can attest to this. Just last night I had, for the first time in days, fallen asleep without aid. And then the bun woke up, which usually means that I have a long, grueling night of self-flagellation to look forward to, but for some reason I managed to lull myself into sleep a second time, virtually unheard of around these parts. But the bun still didn't have blankets, and my guilty mother-conscience began ringing in my head: "MUST PUT BLANKETS ON BUN."

Rather than tempt fate and wake up completely a third time, I poked my husband dreamily and asked him to do it. He agreed. But being beyond exhaustion himself (and blissfully free of my sleep problems) he fell immediately into a deep sleep again.

Poke poke a few minutes later. "Could you put the blankets on the bun?" I pleaded. "Yeah," he gurgled. I might as well been asking Sir Francis Bacon to do it--maybe even raising the dead would have been quicker. By this time I was climbing rapidly and sadly into consciousness, and was pissed that I couldn't get this fleshy lump to do one thing for me. When after a couple more minutes it appeared my husband had retreated back into the warmth of Endymion, I charged out of bed to do it myself.

"I'll do it," he murmured from the deep covers.

"I asked you twice!" I snarled. I marched into the bun's room, put the covers on him and knew I'd had it--I was cooked.

He begged mercy when I climbed back into bed twitching and completely awake now. "I'm so sorry, honey," he gurgled.

The depth of my ire was delivered in the withering, unforgiving but utterly non-committal "Whatever" I spat before turning over to sulk and count backwards for a few hours. I knew he was completely fried himself, and I wished I could be sympathetic but what I really wanted was to poke him awake so we could suffer together. Or poke him awake just so he could suffer, period.

It takes a certain sort of hero to be married to me.

A Spy in the House of Bun

I have the luxury of spying on the bun. I can actually say that it's in his best interest at this point, and he won't accuse me of not trusting him or invading his privacy.* In fact, if he knew I was there he'd probably just want to play rather than to slam the door in my face and not speak to me for a week. We've been in a night-time transition these days. That's a little misleading since it seems every week is a transition, but at least this one involves a little less of me than before. Because I never know what's going on in the bun's room once I close the door, I have to assume he's doing just fine in his little jail-house accommodations.

When I've put him to sleep the past few nights, he's cried out for me. Once in a while it's downright bloodcurdling desperation, but there's been less of that lately: sometimes it seems that he has to pretend he's bummed out that I'm leaving, to drum up concern, as though to say, "God, it's about time she left. Oh yeah, I gotta make it seem like I need her, better cry." And I feel terrible as I close the door, while he's just cooling his jets as my footsteps fade away.

Sometimes when he climbs up to grasp for me on my way out the door he hits the button on his crib aquarium, and the lights come on with the cloying, saccharine music. I always assumed he hit it by accident. Tonight I learned the truth.

From my secret lair behind the bathroom door, I watched him. And there he sat, staring at his fish tank, sweet as can be. There was no crying. He wasn't asleep. He was just watching the fish bobble back and forth to the sappy tune, thinking about god knows what. When the song ended and the lights went out, I assumed that he would just lie down and go to sleep, but he turned on the fish tank again, completely willfully, completely independently. It was his "Tonight Show," and he wasn't quite ready for bed yet.

I watched this for three different cycles. Eventually the fish tank wasn't enough and he turned on the bird house, presumably the "Late, Late Show" of bunhood. I was completely mesmerized. Either my husband or I are with him virtually every waking minute, and I assumed that his time in his crib was spent either complaining that we weren't there, waking up somewhat crankily, or sleeping. Instead, he's having a little "me" time--a little break from the parents and taking in some relaxation.

I would be lying if I said that I was unmoved by it. But I also have to admit a little discomfort. Since he was born we've been the center of his world. We still are. But every day that passes is another day closer to his complete independence; his ability to entertain himself alone in his crib is a step closer to that ultimate goal and I'm both terribly proud and terribly sad. One day he won't need me to tuck him in at all.

•   •   •

Maybe I can still spy on him when he's sleeping.

*Another great feature of the bun's inability to defend himself is the fabulous scape-goat he provides. My husband, who has a density several times greater than earth gravity and therefore sucks any liquid to his shirt in a matter of milliseconds recognized this valuable feature tonight when I commented on how messy his t-shirt was. He looked at the bun. "It's his fault," he smiled.

Open Letter to the Bun

Dear Bun, LET GO OF MY LEG! Just for a minute or two. Just long enough for me to keep this scorching hot pan from sailing down on your head or at least long enough to make you some dinner. I can't walk when you're hanging on like an octopus. I can't get you milk (not that you drink it anyway). I can't get you crackers (which are crunching underfoot in the most unlikely of places). I can't actually do much of anything when you are HANGING ONTO MY LEG! So please let go. Just for a sec.

Also, the "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!" sound is a little over the top. I can appreciate the need for non-language based forms of telling me you're frustrated, but this particular vowel can feel like a nail-gun being shot through my cerebral cortex.

You can keep the new facial expression, though. It's pretty fabulous. A mixture between "Omigod!" and excited elation, it melts the ice of my heart after you've been clinging to my leg for an entire afternoon. It's far better than the glare which was seriously beginning to freak me out. I'm glad the glare has been dragged to the dust-bin of bun history. Its replacement is an overall improvement.

So just let go of my leg and we'll be fine.

I love you,

Mom

PS: Tonight's display of walking was really something. Keep it up. But I was just giving you chunks of cookie to keep you from jumping in my lap one more time. It was my moment of truly bad mothering. Don't get used to that much cookie--and you can climb all over me as usual tomorrow after I've gotten a better night's sleep.

The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me

Back before I joined the club with the lowest standards for membership ("Just forget to wear your rubbers!"), I used to go out socially once in a while. One night a few years ago, we went out with all of our friends to "Karaoke from Hell." It features a live band that has a repertoire of a couple hundred songs for which you become the lead singer for a song or two. You flip through their selections, write one down, and when you're called to the stage they hand you a ratty sheet of paper with the lyrics. They play loose but fabulously energetic versions of an eclectic mishmash of songs and you're a rock god for three pop-song minutes. It's enormous fun.

I don't sing, as a rule. But all of my friends are actually musicians in one form or another, so each of them got up and sang a selection. Our hulking, rugged friend who's a guitar tech sang an amazing version of "Fever" by Peggy Lee. Our petite slip of an Edwardian lass sang a Cars song. My husband performed a rousing punk rock version of The Who's "My Generation."

But it was our 1920's Sensitive Jewish Intellectual friend who brought down the house. He got up on stage and stood there, grasping the microphone like a drowning man with a lifesaver. He had picked "The Rainbow Connection" and he sang it quietly, quaveringly and perfectly. Something about his personal style which is so gentle, and his funny stage presence, which was serene but completely charismatic, turned a song which could have easily been played off as a cynical ironic goof into a surprisingly breath-taking moment. The boisterous, raucous insanity of the club became hushed when he was on stage. Total hipsters and cranks turned and watched. Everyone was completely smitten with the pathos of it. We were collectively verklempt.

Our sensitive friend moved this fall to New York City. We miss him something fierce. He went to go get himself some education, which I can appreciate, but we wish that he was here to hang out with the bun who could benefit from such a sweet male role model.

I bought a CD for the bun the other day that has entertaining versions of kids songs by a variety of popular artists. Tom Waits, bless his craggy heart, does a version of a lullaby that might only lull old drunks to sleep in New Orleans. Cake does a fine rendition of "Mahna Mahna" that remains stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

The third song on the CD came on as I was dancing with the bun in my arms. I began waltzing with him to the familiar melody line, and then the soft feminine voice of Sarah McCla

[We interrupt this post to give you the bun's first computer stylings: 6NQTNV C N CVFGFV We now return you to the entry already in progress.]

...and then the soft feminine voice of Sarah McLachlan began singing the sappy but utterly charming lyrics to "The Rainbow Connection." I was turning in time, ONE two three ONE two three, back and forth around the living room bathed in golden wintry light, the bun laughing as he threw his head back and gave in to the dizzying joy of spinning around in circles.

Something about the confluence of experiences, the nostalgia about my friend who bailed on us in pursuit of higher education, the schmaltzy but masterful version of a very poignant piece of my history, and the surpassing in this moment of all my expectations about being a mother made me leak like a faucet. Waltzing through the house humming "The Rainbow Connection," the bun bent akimbo, back arched with his hair blowing like Muppet fluff, I was overwhelmed by the simultaneity of the sorrow and joy I was feeling.

My husband walked out as I was concluding the perfect dance. The bun had no idea I was a mess, but my husband certainly did. "Look at your mother," he said. "She's so sweet! She's a complete nut, but she's very, very sweet."

Now I have a Pavlovian response to the song. Every time it comes on I either have to assiduously ignore it or walk out of the room. If I sit still or just look too long at the bun, no matter whether he's climbing the toilet or eating cat food off the floor, I start to blubber like a little girl. Motherhood reduces me with alarming regularity to a bleary-eyed romantic goober.

Have you been half asleep And have you heard voices? I've heard them calling my name Are these the sweet sounds that called The young sailors? I think they're one and the same I've heard it too many times to ignore it There's something that I'm supposed to be Someday we'll find it The Rainbow Connection The lovers, the dreamers and me

I've never heard a melody so sweet.

A Case for Full-Length Mirrors

We had a full length mirror once, but when we rearranged the house to accommodate the bun we lost all our wall space. We always intended to put it back up, but days passed, then weeks, and we just kept putting it off. Now we don't put it off; I actually can't remember where it is. My mother watched the bun this afternoon, and I almost sprinted out of the house to go shopping. Once upon a time I wasn't a shopping person, but now that I don't have time to do it at all, I can't think of anything that would be as enjoyable for a couple of hours as trawling up and down the rows of clothes, talking to no-one, touching clean fabric, relishing that I don't have to slowly explain to an unsympathetic audience why he can't eat the electrical cord or the cat food or the ancient avocado that is black with cat fur.

I raced to the store to find pants I've been lusting after since I got the catalog, and found myself plundering aisles of clothes almost like a starving person faced with the buffet at the Hotel Bellagio. Clothes! All new, none with yoghurt stains or eau de derriere on them. They weren't out of date by two (three? four?) years! They weren't even on deep discount in the bargain bins!

It was crazy. I was completely overwhelmed.

I took stacks of clothing to the dressing room. I had one hour-- I had to maximize my time. I had four or five different changes of outfit, and I wanted to make sure, for the first time in my life, that they fit since I might literally never have another hour to return them.

I stripped down and began throwing clothes on my body: plaid pants with a flower print shirt. Brown sweater with yellow pants. It was chaos, anarchy. It was every article for itself, and I took no prisoners. I felt like a kid cut loose in Wonka's factory: I was crazed, delirious from the consumer madness, drugged from the stimuli, slightly ill from being so wound up. It was intoxicating and disgusting, buzz and hangover, rolled into one.

After the initial high of wearing clothes that hadn't yet lost their shape due to over-washing, I caught a glimpse of my mostly-naked body in the mirror that stretched from floor to ceiling. It could have been worse. But I got a good, long look at a terrifying sight.

Baggy, limp, grey, shapeless, stained, stretched-out.

My bra was like a hobo personified by lingerie.

When I bought these bras a year ago, they were function over form, one hundred percent. White, cotton, no under-wire, good support, comfortable, your basic nursing bra. They were a beacon of functional design, a paeon to utility. They wouldn't win any awards on the Paris runways, but I could sleep in them and whip out the udders from the completely un-sexy, unflattering peek-a-boob flaps in an instant, and it was one less thing I had to think about.

I've lived in them 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a year. And it shows.

The nursing bra phenomenon is a necessary evil. In the beginning, you need anything that will make your boobs seem less an enemy to you when they bloat up, leak and misbehave at all the wrong times. The flaps seem ridiculous before you have to stick your boob in the face of a squalling infant; but after a couple of days, you realize that anything that will make your boobs more accessible are a heaven-send. Tuck in an absorbent breast pad, and you've met your new best friend. Eventually, I forgot that my bra was even separate from me.

Now, a year into my adventure, I forget to latch up the boob-flaps all the time. I've constantly got wrinkles under my shirt from the sagging cotton and unhooked buckles; at times it's like I've got a wandering nipple or the skin of an elephant sagging around my chest. I've worn these bras so long that I've forgotten what it's like to let my boobs fly free as they were meant to be in a state of nature. The bras are literally a second skin.

So it was pretty alarming to turn around and discover how pathetic they were. There I was, one slightly dingy boob-flap hanging down, the other one latched but dimpled and baggy. The straps were stretched out and I had never bothered to tighten them up again. It was perhaps better than looking at myself in control-top panty-hose over a pair of granny pants, but only by the slimmest of margins.

I came home with a few new clothes and a grim appreciation of the need for nice undies. I told my husband about the event and scratched my head in wonder: "I had no idea what I looked like in my bras," I said. "It's been literally months since I've seen myself from the neck down in a mirror,"

He gazed off. "It's been months since I've seen you in your bra too," he said dreamily.

This is completely untrue, of course. He sees me in all states of undress, often with one boob unceremoniously hanging out after I've forgotten not just to latch the flap, but to even pull it back up over my nipple. He sees me wandering through the house topless, clad only in boxer shorts or pajama bottoms that don't fit and these hideous nursing bras. I think he blocks it out mentally. If he took a good look, he would get a retinal burn and possibly never recover.

Oh, he's seen me in my bra, all right. He just hasn't seen me in any nice ones.

Rain of Glass

The bun and I were playing on the sofa in front of the living room window when I looked at him and realized, "He's my son." While it seems utterly absurd that I would stumble across this particularly obvious statement of fact, it was profound. I could sense in a real way that he was mine--that no matter what befell any of us in our lifetimes, no matter what sort of teenage angst was in his future, no matter what personal successes and failures, adversity or joys he would face, that he would be my son, and I would follow him through each one with my heart in my throat and on my sleeve. And so would his father. It's amazing how relatively quickly we became accustomed to having a bun around. For the first few months, it seemed like everything was hanging in the balance and disaster barely averted moment by moment from our tiniest and most fragile of beings. There was a sense of holding our breath, a superstitious belief that if we didn't watch him every second and continue praying to the manifold gods of wee things that the four seconds I turned around to grab another cup of coffee would be the four seconds that he discovered the ancient art of knife-throwing. Which may or may not be true; uncannily, he gravitates toward the most dangerous object in the vicinity, no matter how careful we are.

But at a certain point, we got used to the third person in our lives and he became just that: a person. Less an anomalous freakish miracle, or helpless magical bean, instead he's just a little human, sharing our lives. I still look with wonder at him, but it's less mysterious to me now. He just is.

But there are still moments of crisis management. After the bun had fallen asleep last night, my husband broke a glass on the floor and it shattered into a hail of tiny razor blades. While I was un-phased, having seen many glasses come and go and expecting many to perish in my future, my husband seemed genuinely panicked. We meticulously began scanning the floor for minute shards, but he kept apologizing. And then getting angry. He was actually going through the seven steps of grief over the glass.

"We need to get more expensive glasses. These suck!" He gasped.

"These were expensive." Department store expensive, not crystal expensive.

"But the glass was so thin!"

"Thin can indicate expense," I said.

"Then we need cheap thick ones," he grouched. "Or we need to put these ones away until the bun gets older."

He was stewing. I could see the gears of his mind working: first, the one shard of glass that remained on the floor was going to get embedded in the bun's hand. Then, because the shard was so small, it would go unnoticed for several years, festering. Two outcomes, both tragic, would develop silently: either the sliver would get infected and the bun was going to die of blood poisoning or some exotic biological toxin; or the glass would eventually dislodge from his hand and go straight to his brain where he would drop instantly from an aneurism.

To avert this disaster, we needed to rally and treat the scene like a hazmat site. The floor needed to be meticulously cleaned to a high-buff sheen which could handily serve as dinnerware if need be. Most importantly, we needed to get rid of the glasses, dishes, and, just perhaps, the windows too: they could be replaced by sheets of plexi. It was all coming together in his mind.

I looked at him, personally slaying the dragon to protect those small crawling bun-knees. "I'm not going to revert to complete incivility and drink out of plastic cups while he grows up," I stated. I had to cut him off at the pass, or we were going to live in a rubber romper room by sunrise.

He didn't answer but kept scouring the floor with his eyes. I watched him as we both crawled back and forth, crossing each other's path multiple times. "We can't panic over broken glasses, honey," I said.

"But he's the bun," he said. I know. He's the bun. He's the amazing gift we could never have imagined being so perfect, so vulnerable.

"If we panic over glasses, we're going to be stark neurotics by the time he's five. We have to harden our hearts just a little."

I'm not sure if this is true or not. It made me feel callous and mean-spirited when it came out my mouth. These past couple of weeks we've been struggling with getting the bun to sleep by himself, and there are often tears as a result. And I've had to harden my heart just a touch to walk out of his room when he's crying his little heart out, looking at me with watery eyes and reaching for me as I close the door on him. It kills me, but the sleeplessness kills us all so I do it.

And then I walk out to my husband, who is also looking at me with watery eyes because it kills him to hear the bun cry out in the dark, alone.

The truth is, being a parent is about making these decisions that seem designed to make your heart ache. Now it's the simple ones, like getting him to sleep and listening to the tears, but soon there will be harder ones. I dare not imagine them. I know that if I do, I will become the neurotic I prophesied to my husband. But they're out there, in the future, rising up to meet us as we try our best to shield the bun from the hail of glass with our naked, fully exposed hearts.

Role Models

We got the bun a Fisher-Price zoo* for his birthday, complete with lion, seal, polar bear, elephant, a monkey who jumps up and down and a freakishly large blue bird which whistles "Hail to the Bus Driver" for some perverse reason. I bought a couple of extra animals so that it was more abundantly critter-filled: a zebra, camel and kangaroo now round out the menagerie. Two kindly looking chubby people are the zoo-keepers, presumably with cheerful dispositions who never groan over the mountains of plastic lion and elephant dooky. We were playing with it today. That is, I had brought it out, the bun had chucked a couple of animals across the floor, and then moved on to the next thing.

"Look," I said to my husband as the bun jumped off his chair, ignoring us completely. "The gates to the pens are so easy to get into that the animals can come and go as they please."

"As they should," he said.

"And when they get sick of the food, they can turn on the keepers."

"Rise up!" said my husband. "Fight the power!"

"And then they can organize resistant movements which seek to elevate the quality of living for all plastic animals. Or perhaps it will end badly when the animals imprison the keepers in these zoo enclosures: pogroms for Little People, the animals taking over the whole shebang."

"It could happen."

I paused and watched the drama unfold in my mind. "We might be some complicated role models," I said.

*I love this zoo. I might have bought it for myself rather than the bun. But I have a complaint.

Each of the animal dens has a button you push to make an animal noise. The seal barks, the elephant trumpets, etc. And while the bird who whistles "Hail to the Bus Driver" is pretty strange, I find the lion and bear's respective sounds to be a little pathetic.

Perhaps Fisher-Price in its wisdom decided that a real lion roar would be a little too scary for a toddler. I don't think it would, but what do I know? I've only had the one kid. But you'd think that they could have gone out of their way to make a slightly more convincing sound effect than going down to shipping and receiving and getting the loading bay clerk to mumble into a microphone.

"Roar," says Jerry from shipping in the lion's den.

"Roar," Jerry says again in the bear's cave.

That's it? "Roar?" Not "ROOAAAAARRRR!" or "RA-aaaaaar!" or a good growl?

You think it would have killed them to make a little effort and pillage "The Lion King" for a couple of sound effects?