I hear their screams from behind me,
high-pitched and breathless
enough to make me look up
from my very important task,
mild irritation etching deep grooves
across my once unmarred forehead.
Kids, they say, will do that to you.
I see them across the lawn.
One little boy, and one big girl
(but still little in all the important ways),
legs flashing, tearing through the freshly mown grass.
Sure to stain their rough, small feet green
and in turn leave marks on the carpet
when they race, oblivious, through the living room
just as they are doing now.
I am about to dress them down,
that big girl and that little boy,
for needlessly stopping my heart
and my work, for that matter.
Can’t you tell Mommy is working?
Then I see what prompted the screams.
A small, brown, furry ball,
a fluffy tail, small, obsidian eyes
gleaming maniacally, or so it seems,
as it gazes intently at my boy and
before I can move, or speak,
or do anything resembling taking action,
that tiny brown nightmare
flies like a shot after him.
It is coming after him, sweet Jesus,
and as I pitch forward, stumbling gracelessly
off the porch steps and lurch across the yard,
I see the future unfurl in front of me-
feverishly, sickly, saccharine sweetly,
in what I know is sure to be the interlude of
so many moments spent impatiently
waving them away and then
the lingering blackness of what comes after.
When screams no longer ring
like church bells from that holiest of instruments.
A child’s voice, begging me to join them
in worship of a fleeting summer’s day.
Or at the very least, if not the end
(please don’t let it be the end),
a night spent in the emergency room,
tussling with my precious.
Just enough of my weight to
press his small, pale body into the papered bed.
He won’t understand I’m helping
as strangers in white coats stab him
repeatedly with their needles and their indifference
as I whisper “I’m sorry” into his little ear,
wet with tears to match mine.
But then, thankfully, I am at his side
and I scoop him up and press
his sweaty body to mine as he wraps
his chubby thighs around my softened waist.
He giggles and pats my cheek with grubby palms,
enjoying this new game, blissfully unaware
of the pint-sized danger that
lurks behind him in the grass.
I position myself, then, between
what I’m sure is a rabid squirrel
and the other third of my heart, my daughter
who peeks curiously out from behind me.
I’m ready now, to kick and stomp,
bare feet be damned, you will not silence
my house, you will not empty it,
not while I am alive, no, never
have I loved these kids as much as I do right now.
And in that moment of great overreaction,
I realize, with equally great relief
that gray marauder, that thief of joy
is really just a baby himself
and not poisoned after all.
In moments we are, all three,
on hands and knees, gazing intently with sparkling eyes,
our rough, small feet stained from the grass,
sure to mark our passing in this house.
She says, “he’s thirsty,” so we give him a drink
but no, we can’t keep him, despite the protests.
He fell from his nest and his mother is surely worried.
Earnestly, we scour our cabinets, selecting supplies.
An empty milk jug recycled in the most delightful way,
with some rope to tie our makeshift nest to the tree.
When the other protector of the house returns,
he asks what on earth we are doing, and
we shush him and wave impatiently.
Please don’t interrupt this very important work.
We place the soft, sleepy villain ever so gently
inside his new bed, and cross our fingers, hoping
that his mother will save him.
It’s all we can do, really,
as we close the door on this day
with the sun still stubbornly burning
in spite of the advancing darkness.
Amber Nordstrom resides in Northwestern Wisconsin with her husband and two children. She was born in St. Croix Falls, but has lived in California, North Carolina, and many other states between the two. She has a B.S. degree in Human Development and Family Studies, and works as a freelance writer.