By Susan Buttenwieser
One sip of hot coffee with milk, swallowed seconds before toddler topples her breakfast off highchair tray.
Toast crusts basted in toddler saliva retrieved from floor.
Honey Nut Cheerio remnants. Slurp out of princess bowl hunched over kitchen sink.
Rest of now-lukewarm coffee with congealed milk. Serve over ice and gulp while trying to convince toddler to wear something other than her zebra dress for the fifth day in a row.
Cheese stick inside folded over bread heel with mustard dollop. Eat with one hand and apply sunblock with the other, carefully working around butterfly stickers lining toddler arms that must not be compromised in any way. Fish dirty dress out of laundry basket as a change of clothes. Shove into backpack along with a clean diaper, sippy cup, Goldfish crackers, plastic bag of broken sidewalk chalk, and toddler’s beloved cracked turtle bucket. Scoop up toddler and click her into stroller.
Iced coffee from coffee truck parked on 7th Avenue in front of sex toy store. Banana chocolate chip muffin is an unplanned purchase to placate toddler, which could be argued is the slightly healthier option over a donut.
Occasional sips of lukewarm water from fountain covered in pigeon poop. Frozen water bottle was forgotten at home and the only other source of hydration, now that every last drop of iced coffee has been drunk including the ice, is toddler’s sippy cup or a complicated negotiation for a trip to the nearby deli. Temperatures have already reached 93 degrees on this smothering, wind-free morning. Stand on black rubber mat that is flip-flop melting hot and push toddler on swing. Sweat cascades from armpits, forming a tributary down the lower back area. Smells from overflowing garbage can and glass-shattering shrieking from nearby children create head-ache vortex. Adjacent mom, a one-woman show of every nursery rhyme ever invented, doesn’t help. Especially when toddler looks over at her longingly.
Handful of toddler’s Goldfish crackers while she plays in nearby puddle with beloved cracked turtle bucket. Nearby dad provides a long detailed discourse on how the nose is blown to his son. “Look at me. Hold the tissue like this,” the dad says, his brows furrowed in concentration. “Now blow. No, look at Daddy. Watch Daddy do it. Like THIS. Look at Daddy. See? No, not like that. Like this!”
Just three more Goldfish. And that’s it.
Stuff bag at bottom of backpack as inhalation prevention technique.
Temptation of Day-Glo orange crackers proves too overwhelming and suddenly they are completely gone. Dry off toddler after she has crawled through the sprinklers, using crumpled up napkins discovered at bottom of backpack. Move to sandbox area. Shellacked-in-Lycra mom takes a break from micro-managing her child’s attempts at making a sand castle to offer wipes for toddler. “So you can wash his face,” she says and has trouble accepting that toddler is actually a girl. “You should pierce her ears so people can tell,” she advises. “Was she premature? Is that why she’s not walking yet?”
Hurry home with hungry, snack-deprived toddler. After feeding and changing her, wipe her off with washcloth and put her down for a nap.
Cold, macaroni and cheese rejected by toddler. Eat with tiny purple spoon and read the Daily News.
Banana-chocolate chip muffin crumbs straight from the paper bag, using fingers as shovel. Try to write. Make coffee and bring to desk. Panic about clutter. Decide a fruit snack will help with concentration. Cut up apple into slices and return to desk. Get distracted by folder filled with pictures from high school. Somehow an hour passes and now there’s only maybe another 30 minutes for writing, showering, sweeping kitchen floor, folding and putting away the clean laundry that has been in the basket for two days, chiseling off crusted food blobs on stove top and the mildew growing up the edges of the tub, paying the overdue Con Ed bill, watering the not-quite-yet-dead plants. Intersperse with anxiety attack about plethora of dust balls, lack of meals cooked from scratch, the miniscule amount accomplished on a regular basis. The only thing to show for this day so far is pushing a stroller five blocks without getting hit by a car. Whatever is left of a professional life feels far away.
Late afternoon refreshments:
Frozen ice water during excursion to the library and supermarket. Underbelly of stroller weighted down with books and groceries, balanced only by toddler body.
Tall Boys with dinosaur chicken nuggets on Curious George plate and side of uneaten peas after bath and bedtime story, toddler slumbering soundly in her bed, the New York City night pulsating outside darkened living room windows.
Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Teachers & Writers magazine and other publications. She teaches creative writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women.