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Three Minutes

“Where’s Jack?” I demand of my daughter. “He wanted to go out,” she says, as if THAT is the obvious answer. Maddie is wearing striped leggings with a bold floral print top dotted with blueberry jelly along the neckline, but that doesn’t register at the moment. That is something I’d noticed when I sat her down in the middle of the rug in Jack’s room with a pile of stuffed animals and implored her, at the tender age of three, to watch her six-month-old brother for three minutes. Just play sweetly for THREE minutes I begged.


I was desperate. Clearly. I hadn’t showered in days. As I moved through my morning, picking up a trail of toys, dust-bustering crumbs under the high chair, and wiping peanut butter fingerprints off the walls, I began smelling something rancid. I thought it was in the kitchen and checked under the sink, but it was also in my bedroom and in the hallway. Turned out it was me. I just needed a little hot water and some soap. A quick rinse.


I close the door to the hallway that divides our bedrooms from the rest of the house, then put the kids in Jack’s room, dumping that basket of stuffed animals in between them, and close that door too. Soft toys. Nothing either of my bless-ed beings could hit the other with. Jack only recently learned to crawl. He can’t get far. Yet.


I tell Maddie, “Do not leave this room unless it is an emergency. And if it’s an emergency, come get me in the bathroom.” I bring the baby monitor with me, volume turned all the way up, and perch it on the shower door. Then I take the fastest shower in human history. Five splashy waterfall twirls under the faucet and a hasty loofah wipe then wrap my towel around me and I am heading toward Jack’s room before I’d even rinsed off all the suds.


My kids are generally sweet together. My daughter has mostly gotten past her early disdain for the tiny intruder into her perfect parental love nest. When Jack first joined the family, two-year-old Maddie would toddle over to where I was nursing him and say that she wanted to kiss the baby, then she’d lean in sweetly…and headbutt him right off my breast. I’d gently admonish her, teach her how to tenderly touch a baby and express sisterly love. She would promise never to hurt him again. And then, like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football, I’d give her another chance and sure enough, those sweet little lips heading toward her brother’s tiny pink forehead would devolve into another tear-filled headbutt, to say nothing of my nipple pain from tiny teeth and the breast milk squirting on the walls and leather couch.


Overall, I think I’ve been a decent mother. I gave up a potentially significant career to throw myself whole-heartedly into parenting and was there for every dirty diaper (seriously, my husband changed approximately seven), every band aid placed on every booboo, every first everything as meticulously documented in two photo-caption-filled baby books. I was a PTA President and served on seven school site councils under five principals at three schools. I was there for my kids and for a lot of other people’s kids too.


Yet, I nearly lost my son due to my negligence.


“Where is your baby brother?” I yelp at my daughter as I drip on the hardwood floor frantically searching for a baby head in the midst of the fluffy menagerie of bears, bunnies and bumblebees. I tighten my towel while running through the also open hallway door as she whimpers, “He wanted to go out!” The kid can’t talk. Where’d she get that idea? And I am flying across the house to the kitchen, where I see that the back door is also open.  My heart is pounding as I approach it.

There is still a sliding glass door in the laundry room which is always kept closed on days like today when the gardener is here. But as I get to the kitchen door, I see that the slider is also opened and across the courtyard I see that the pool gate is propped open by the gardener’s trash can. He is on the far side of the yard, mowing the grass. The noise drowns out all sounds including my screams, but drowning is generally known to make no sound. Like my son, my modesty has gone out the door. I don’t even know at where I lost my towel.

And when I get to the pool there is my boy on his knees by the steps, splashing his tiny hand in the water. I scoop him up in my arms, naked and sobbing, but awash in gratitude as I head back into my house, locking the doors behind me. I have no idea if the gardener witnessed any of this scene, though he did have a bit of an impish grin the next time I asked him to trim the bougainvillea. And I will never know what was really going on in my daughter’s head that day. Did she lead him through all five doors the moment I turned on the shower? Was this an expression of independence or a premeditated plot? I know I feared my kids would have a complicated and antagonistic relationship, or worse, that we might have a sociopath on our hands. How amazing that they are still alive, despite their mother, and that now in their twenties, they are the best of friends, perhaps because of their mother. And every time they open doors for strangers, for me or for one another, I am grateful for every minute I got to teach them, and to learn my lessons as well.

(As shared at Story Salon on May 15, 2024 when the theme was "But what was really going on...")


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