I live where toddlers cram spongy Cheerios into jellyfish mouths, trip and lurch like damp little drunks, and hone elimination skills on a squat plastic potty. I’m not actually present for any—my day-hour rituals are of a more droning and fluorescent nature—but some things are safely assumed.

Enter evening, when the babes retreat, the light dims, and the chorus lulls.

That’s the Monday through Friday breakdown. There are also weekends: two days per when the sauce in the sippy cup sparks spontaneous flits and twirls and lascivious text parades in lieu of wobbly grievances in the vein of “Milo drank my appul juuuice! Waaahhh!!”

It’s a whale of a deal, this only-in-New York living arrangement, with a couch-change price tag, eggshell walls you lose on the way up, appliances that glitter and clink expensive newness, and a porcelain bathtub with mineral curves so pure and sweet and sad that to bathe is to go back.

See also: a small unit set apart from the rest—a tidy afterthought with a big sure lock. But who’s fooled? My bedroom: porous like nobody’s business.

I.

It’s pleasing to three-year-old Me, the amount of light, real and artificial, filling the room right now, and as I look down, my legs floating off the edge of the soft sinking couch that feels against my bottom just like the one we have at home, I watch my feet, striped in purple and red because of the socks I picked out myself and put on earlier. These aren’t the only stripes. There are others, ones made by the sunlight coming in through the window that is not a regular window like the ones at home, but a window with something on it so that the light makes lines as it enters the room. These lines go in a different direction than the ones on my socks, which makes little boxes on the tops of my feet. I keep on looking at my feet, because I think the lines look neat all together as they are, and a little like the floor in the bathroom at home, where I remember standing and looking up up up at my dad brushing his teeth. I wonder when I will see my dad again. It probably won’t be very long from now, because I remember wondering the same thing many times before and always, every time, I have seen my dad again. Suddenly there is a picture in my head of some quiet water, and I think maybe it is the water from earlier.

II.

This arrangement is all wrong. It’s like my 31-year-old thighs, parallel to the floor and about three feet above it, are popping out of cartoon jail, wedged between three skinny pillars: pinched, chafed, wrong. My lower abdominal region is also constricted, made concave by a jutting, hard-plastic table-for-one. Suddenly I’m aware of airplane sounds, not from actual planes but from the mouths of women who hover above me, their lips moving in rapid succession. And suddenly—food! It hits me like a full-on air assault, rubber-tipped spoons loop-di-looping fast and furious toward my mouth, depositing quivering iridescent globs of creamed corn, mushy peas, mashed carrots and sweet potatoes and neon squash, next egg custard, berry medley, brown-ripe banana, pureed pears, applesauce, honeyed yogurt, more banana… I take it all in, too, determined not to make a mess. But I’m horrified, the whole thing is horrifying and I want it to stop. My stomach is really hurting and I’m so worked up I can’t even cry. Desperate for relief, I transform myself into an eel, sliding easily out from the chair and slithering to the center of the room, where the best toy is laid out: the giant road rug, complete with crosswalks and traffic islands and signs to the zoo. Coasting at leisure, I spy in the top right corner a small dark clump of trees, and, pausing for no more than a second, I disappear silently inside it.

 

On waking, wholeness. Precious.

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KRISTEN ELDE, an editor by trade, lives and writes in Brooklyn. Her words have appeared in the Web publications McSweeneys, The Northville Review, Pindeldyboz, and Word Riot, in addition to such magazines as BUST, Health, Runner's World, Running Times, Shape, The Writer, and Writer's Digest. She's also one half of the team behind a wildly unpopular parody food blog, to which she loves contributing.

20 responses to “Twelve Toddlers and a Lady”

  1. Wow. Loved this, the structure of it, and talk about starting with an insanely well-written bang. “Lascivious text parades”? Great stuff. I can’t wait to hear you read this someday.

  2. I’m going to second that appreciation of ‘laviscious text parades’.

  3. Marni Grossman says:

    At least it makes for good copy, right?

  4. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    I’m a bit freaked out by the adult high-chair.
    And what noises did people make BEFORE there were airplanes? 🙂
    Enjoyed the piece, Kristen.

  5. kristen says:

    Thanks, Ronlyn.

    And re: pre-airplanes–maybe dive-bombing bird noises? Although that might’ve been a bit too creepy-Hitchcock for the toddler set. Hmm.

  6. Zara Potts says:

    I think maybe before airplane noises they made train noises.. not quite the same though. You can’t do loopy spoon acrobatics when you’re pretending to be a train.
    Nice piece Kristen!

  7. Ducky says:

    If you live in Park Slope, I feel EXTRA SUPER DUPER bad for you. Those kids!!! Ugh!

    Love these:

    Desperate for relief, I transform myself into an eel…(can’t count how many times I’ve done this myself.)

    My bedroom: porous like nobody’s business.

  8. kristen says:

    Heh. Red Hook, not Park Slope, though w/ names like Milo and Otis and Nando, well… yeah.

    Also, thanks! Hoping my future holds more eel transformation dreams.

  9. Erika Rae says:

    Nice! This was fantastic. I particularly loved that barrage of food. Phew!

  10. Girl… you can string some amazing phrases together! The words are like magic… I love, love, love this:

    “It’s a whale of a deal, this only-in-New York living arrangement, with a couch-change price tag, eggshell walls you lose on the way up, appliances that glitter and clink expensive newness, and a porcelain bathtub with mineral curves so pure and sweet and sad that to bathe is to go back.”

    Mineral curves??? Oh baby….that’s beautiful!

  11. kristen says:

    Aw, thanks, Robin!

  12. Beautiful writing. Wow. From the opening paragraph, I’m knocked off-center in the loveliest of ways. Is transforming oneself into an eel something that can be taught? Or is it genetic?

  13. kristen says:

    Thanks, Matthew. And I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. My mom is actually an eel.

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