Category Archives: Fiction

Gotcha!

She didn’t come up with the idea then but rather weeks earlier on a summer evening as they were running late to a friend’s house. He had the bad habit of opening his car door and hopping out before the car was even off—but not that night. That night he sat there transfixed, both hands on the wheel.

“Come on,” she said.

“Shh,” he whispered.

“What is it?”

“Shh.”

“Can you at least turn the car off?” Now she was whispering too and looking up and down the street. Were they in some sort of danger?

“I don’t want to scare it.”

“It? What it?”

He pointed to a lone rabbit in their friend’s front yard. The rabbit was white and mottled with brown patches, one of which colored its left floppy ear just so, and it was eating a dandelion. It took the flower by the stem and chomped down like a wood chipper so that the stem got shorter and shorter, one half-inch by one half-inch, until the bright yellow flower replaced the rabbit’s lips, hiding its expression entirely. Then, in one fluid motion of the mouth, the flower popped out of existence.

“Is that not the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?” he asked.

She agreed that it was, in fact, very cute. Even so, he made them wait until the rabbit had eaten two more dandelions and hopped away before turning off the car and walking up the steps to their friend’s house. That was when she had the idea.

She didn’t put it into place until several weeks later. They were again having dinner but this time at an over-priced Italian restaurant downtown. (He was always taking her to places like that when they were first dating—and they both hated it.)

Pointing toward a small triangle of grass between an alley, a trashcan, and a concrete sculpture of children fishing, she whispered, “Don’t look now,” and then described what—if it had existed—would have been the most adorable scene ever assembled: a rabbit having tea with a baby pig.

“I know there is nothing there,” he said. “That you’re going to call me gullible. And yet…” He turned to behold the ordinary grass.

“Gotcha!” she said.

From that point forward it became a game for her. Sometimes the woodland creatures would be dressed in top hats or tuxedo vests. Often they were enjoying mini cupcakes or biscotti. Once they were even joined by a yellow baby duck wearing a sleek, black bow tie. Every single time she painted the scene, he inevitably looked.

The couples’ lives changed radically over the years, but the petting zoo tea parties remained a bright constant in their ever-evolving relationship. He proposed; they married shortly after college graduation; she earned a master’s degree; he began his; they put a down payment on their first home; and then, to leave all other milestones in the dust, she announced that they were going to be parents. He became excited and then anxious and then even more excited because of all the anxiety. They bought tiny furniture and thick, contradictory books and the sort of clothes that make even the hardest of hearts turn to jelly. When they thought their life could not get better, she learned that she would not be a parent after all, that they would not be parents.

For a time, the animals did not assemble. They did not have tea or wear top hats or eat biscotti, and the couple could not remember why it had been so very funny that they had. The seasons changed, a new year brought new goals and distractions, and one spring morning she announced again, though more cautiously, that they might just be parents after all. And he was not anxious—wouldn’t dare it. The tea parties, however, did not return. Like so many inside jokes before them, they were forgotten. They may have been lost entirely had the husband not, two years later, started watching a show about sheep with their nine-month-old daughter. She saw the two of them snuggled up one morning laughing at a sheep carrying a too-large watermelon over its head and thought, Oh right. I almost forgot.

That day the family ate lunch at a sandwich shop halfway between her office and their home where he freelanced and watched shows about sheep with their daughter. She seized the opportunity of their window seats and, without segue or introduction, began describing the scene outside.

“There’s the rabbit, mottled of course, and the spot on his back, well, you won’t believe this, but the brown spot on his back is in the perfect shape of a bunny.”

“A bunny within a bunny?” he asked. “How Shakespearean.”

“Oh and there’s a baby chick and a newborn deer wobbly on his long legs and, of course, a family of sheep.” She held her sandwich up and continued: “They’re eating tiny sandwiches, like these but smaller, and each animal has its own tiny bag of chips. The deer is nosing one out as we speak. Oh, if only you could turn your head and see it, then I wouldn’t have to just describe it.”

Her husband smiled but he didn’t look, didn’t even seem curious. Instead, he pointed to their daughter in her high chair, as if to say, Why do I need to look out there when the most astounding thing we could imagine is sitting right here at our table? What he actually said was, “When did you put her in that lobster costume?” Then, when she turned to behold their daughter, red-faced and mid-bowel movement, he added, “Gotcha!”

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Baby Dinosaur

The paleozoologist could hear her from across the house as he brushed his teeth. Her staccato call was something between a cockatiel’s and a chimpanzee’s and it almost always meant she was angry. Angry at not having eaten enough or having eaten too much or—as was now the case—at being abandoned in her roofless pen.

By the time he made it to the dinosaur’s room, his wife had already picked her up and was rocking the once-extinct juvenile omnivore back to sleep with a “Hush, little dino, don’t say a word…”

“We can’t keep letting her sleep in the bed with us,” he said as she brought the dinosaur back to their room. “It’s not safe.”

“The books say it promotes early bonding.”

“She’s a dinosaur, for Pete’s sake!”

Both the paleozoologist and his wife had been ecstatic the day they brought her home. Oh, look at those little claws. And, Oh my gosh, she’s wagging her tail. And, Did she just roar? I think I heard her roar! But at a certain point the dinosaur had become a point of contention between the couple.

“We’re sleep training her this weekend,” he declared as though his not having said so already were the only thing keeping her awake each night—as though the creature had been patiently awaiting his formal declaration, eager to comply.

“I need to get some sleep,” his wife countered.

“Then I’ll do it!”

“If she’s awake all night,” his wife said. “I’m awake all night.”

The weekend came and went; the dinosaur remained in their bed.

“We’re spoiling her,” he told his wife the following night.

“You know what they say, ‘You can’t spoil a baby dinosaur,’ ” she said as though quoting a well-known proverb.

“I don’t think that’s a thing.”

“It’s just the move,” she said next. “You can’t move across the state without unsettling things. I mean, if we’re both unsettled, what chance does she have?”

The couple looked down at the dinosaur sleeping peacefully between them, sprawled at a diagonal so that she took up half the bed.

“Okay, but I’m going to the couch,” he grumbled. “I don’t want to roll over her in the middle of the night.”

“Oh good, could you take her with you? I really need some sleep.”

The couch was cold. The paleozoologist unfolded the plush throws as best he could with one hand and arranged them over himself and the Mesozoic creature snoozing on his chest. He was reminded then that dinosaurs are warm blooded as the blankets and baby quickly turned the cold living room quite toasty.

He didn’t even realize he’d fallen asleep until she woke him up with a tiny clawed hand to his face as she squirmed and squawked and tried to climb over his shoulder. (To where? He had no idea.) He held her and sang to her until she settled back down. Then she looked up at him, teary eyed and, realizing who was holding her, she reached the soft pads of her fingers up toward his face and grabbed ahold of his nose. He decided then, for reasons obscure and dinosaur-parent specific, that it was all worth it—the late nights and the couch sleeping and the occasional marital spats.

“You have me wrapped around your little finger, don’t you?”

The prehistoric infant just giggled.

Babybonic Plague

What is the half-life of the daycare cold? That’s what I’d like to know. Somewhere a scientist is carbon-dating a pterodactyl’s knuckles, but does anyone really care? I mean, it’s not like there are any pterodactyls left, right? (Or is this one of the animals you only see at the zoo?)

We were, of course, told that children are germ monsters and that sending your child to daycare meant she’d bring home every virus and bacterial infection that had ever graced your part of the country—including but not limited to Small Pox, Bird Flu, and the Bubonic Plague—but nobody said it would happen on day one.

Baby Plague moved through our apartment like WiFi, filling every nook and cranny and leaving in its wake piles of used Kleenex and collapsed, napping parents. Then, just when we thought it had passed, a second wave rocked our tiny home. Susan thinks it will leave when our last (as-yet-unborn) child finishes daycare—a hypothetical time-period measured not in years but in decades. I’m not so optimistic. I’m beginning to feel this is incurable. “How did you go?” St. Peter will ask me. To which I’ll reply, with a proud father’s gleam in my eye, “Oh just Baby Plague. Did I already mention I have a daughter?”


Baby Plague moved through our apartment like WiFi, filling every nook and cranny and leaving in its wake piles of used Kleenex and collapsed, napping parents.


There are things you don’t realize when becoming a parent. Namely, that to love your daughter means becoming a mouth-breather, but also that her precious, barely-audible cough will transform into a hacking, wheezing pestilence once your immune system starts taking a crack at it. You also don’t realize that you’ll only get to tell your daughter “I love you” for the first three months, because once daycare starts you’re going to “lub” her.

But who doesn’t love blowing their nose all day, sneezing in the middle of meetings, and napping through their evenings? On second thought, I love naps! Or rather, I lub them. Further still, what winter in Kansas has my immune system not been utterly compromised, issuing in weeks of sniffling, eye watering, and chicken soup? And sometimes all in the same bowl. Cold season is, well, just that. At least this year we get an adorable baby to blame it on.

What makes it all worthwhile is Bonnie’s gratitude. I can tell that she’s grateful because right after I change her diaper, swaddle her, read her a bedtime story—usually a longish one by Dr. Seuss—and put her in the bassinet, I lean down and my daughter thanks me. She thanks me in her inscrutable but transfixing baby language…by sneezing in my mouth.

Bonnie the Baptized

The first bath was easy. The nurse gently sponged her off and I stood beside the sink, one half awestruck and one half terrified, making me one whole dad. For the second bath, we had Susan’s sister to guide us along. It was short and efficient and I completely forgot to take notes. Which brings us to bath number three…bath number three was a massacre. The water was everywhere, Bonnie was screaming, we were running this way and that like two sleep-deprived chickens whose coop had just caught fire, and then–because I tried to carry her all the way from the changing table in the nursery to the bath tub on the kitchen floor, just as clothed as God made her–Bonnie peed all over me. By the time we started that infamous bath, my cupped hands were full and my shirt was soaked, and I couldn’t help but wonder how two college educated people like ourselves could end up living like this.

It took us a month to get the hang of it, and then she started to actually enjoy bath time. By then Susan had an extensive checklist of wash cloths and duck towels and creams and soaps and I had a fool proof method for getting the water temperature just right. (You make it one degree too hot and then throw in an ice cube.) Also, our daughter had learned to splash, causing us each time to break into spontaneous renditions of “Splish Splash (I Was Taking a Bath),” which made us not mind so much that we were getting covered in water.

It all seemed like good preparation for Bonnie’s first sacrament. This time, however, it wasn’t going to be sour milk we were cleaning off our baby, but rather the most ancient of meals gone bad: Original Sin.

Because Susan has seen plenty of baptisms, her thoughts were mainly occupied with people–the friends and family who had come from near and far–and with making sure they were all welcomed and got to see the baby and were going to be fed. As always, while she worried about what actually mattered, I kept my head permanently lodged in the clouds.

As we approached the baptismal font, I thought of all the parishioners who dipped their fingers each Sunday in these waters to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads, recalling their own baptisms. As we came a little closer, I saw the cleansing waters of the Jordan, the humble Lamb approaching John the Baptist with Bonnie swaddled in his arms. Susan meanwhile had an eye on the Godparents, making sure they were in position, another eye on our niece Katie who was standing dangerously close to the three-foot tall candle and, somehow, a third mama-eye on me holding Bonnie in her slick baptismal gown.

The deacon raised the pitcher of holy water and I moved our daughter over the font toward her own personal parting of the Red Sea. Then her eyes grew wide as the water poured over her forehead and I realized, for the 20,000th time, that “Hey, we have a daughter. This is our baby. Here is our little human, perfectly made.”

And then my next thought: “Oh, please Lord, in your infinite mercy, don’t let her poop in the water.”

Second-Shift Parenting

Your mom’s favorite joke right now is how enamored I am with the chair the nurse brought me, the one that converted into a bed. Apparently, it’s all I can talk about when people ask about your birth. But really what can I say? If I say the birth was easy, the person I’m talking to would say, “Maybe for you!” If I say it was difficult, they’d add, “Oh yeah?  You did a lot of the pushing then?” No, they probably wouldn’t say any of this, but these are the sort of low-hanging-fruit jokes I would make. So I limit my commentary to the chair the nurse brought me. Have I already mentioned that it converted into a bed?

After you were born, I started getting to chip in with the whole raising you business. Your mom went through twenty-two hours of unmedicated contractions, then seven hours of Pitocin, and then finally an hour of pushing. She carried you, our most precious cargo, for nine months—through nausea and sleepless nights and a rash that covered the majority of her body—before pushing you miraculously into the world, but I supervised your first bath, so really we’re even. Actually, I just sort of stood there while the nurse sponged you off and shot more instructions at me than I could ever possibly remember.

It’s hard being a dad. I feel so late to the game. Your mom has been raising you for nine months; I’ve been at it for nine minutes. And even now I’m left out of a lot. Because I have to work and, you know, can’t feed you, I miss all that night parenting everyone raves about.

Okay, so maybe that’s not so bad, but I also miss all the day stuff too. I’m a second-shift parent, which is just as expendable as it sounds. Really, I’m an assistant second-shift parent, assistant to the parent, in charge of all those “can’t screw it up” tasks like taking your temperature or changing your diaper. Wishing I could do more. And yet I love you with a force that keeps me working more at work so that I can play, guilt-free, at home. And it is an all together new love. It is the sort of love that comes with new set of instructions for living. And a new definition of what it is to live—and to love.

For instance, I’ve always taken for granted that agape, “The Love of God,” was a mystery of the faith that I’d never comprehend. Or worse, I have taken it to mean only the love I feel towards God. But then this morning your mom handed me you, because it was my shift. I held you in my arms while you cried until we both fell back to sleep. And in that short hour nap as the sun rose, I dreamt terrible things: Committing accidental crimes and being imprisoned for them. During the day I visited the cells of my fellows, converting their hearts as best I could and trying to remain hopeful and useful. Then, as so often follows the day, even in dreams, the night came and I remembered you at home, crying in your mother’s arms, and at this I let out a wail, not a mature crying spell but an infant’s bellow—so absolute was my sorrow.

When I woke up to find you in my arms, still fast asleep, it was not the relief of an innocent man set free by the morning, as I have felt many times before. No, it was the relief of the shepherd, the woman who had lost her coin, the father whose son had returned—as if from the dead. And I started to see then, if only briefly and imperfectly, what “The Love of God” really means, because the worst part of my dream wasn’t being in dream prison. No, the worst part was not being there to rock you back to sleep when you cried.