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Doodles and Spaghetti Noodles

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It was the winter I had my first promotion, the winter I purchased my first house, the winter I finally finished my large jigsaw puzzle, and the winter I had my son, Cayden. His constant pull for attention cut back on my promotion, his rampant screams resonated through the house, and, one day as I swaddled him in my arms, bottle in hand, he managed to kick so hard that the bottle fell and tore the jigsaw puzzle apart.

When the nurse first handed Cayden to me, my tears fell down on his baby blue blanket. His father, Steven, snapped picture after picture of us. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what Steven already knew. Cayden didn’t look like my friends’ babies. He didn’t look like the babies seen in magazines, happily sitting in diapers or biting a toy of some sort. Cayden didn’t look like the baby that had appeared in my dreams for thirty years. Instead, he had a flat nose and a short neck and limbs. He looked normal from afar, but upon a closer look, it was evident that he was far from it.

I thought I was uncomfortable when I first brought him home. The saying goes that things get can’t get any worse. Well they did. The more he grew, the more people at the daycare looked at him. Park commuters stared as I pushed him in his stroller. The subway guards gawked as I carried him in my arms, ready for a humiliating adventure. I canceled get-togethers with friends and co-workers and made myself a prisoner in my own home. All I had wanted before I got pregnant was to have a beautiful, bouncy baby – a most prized possession – to show off to my friends and co-workers at those get-togethers, and to have my baby play with all the other babies. Some wishes never come true.

It was the middle of spring when Steven told me that he had to go back to Massachusetts for a while. His company needed him there to start off a new branch.

“How long?” I quivered.

“I don’t know. The director said five months. It normally takes five months for new branches of the company to get rolling.

“You can’t expect me to stay with this kid ALL ALONE for five months! I can’t even take him to the gas station without having a million eyes gawking at us!”

“Well forget them! Just ignore it! Let them stare until their eyeballs pop out of their sockets!” howled Steven, rushing his fingers through his hair.

The newspaper in my hand ended up across the living room. Steven slammed the bedroom door. Cayden’s screams started to pour out from the nursery.

It was the third month that Steven was gone. I wanted to try potty-training Cayden. I called Steven, and he agreed. It was time. The pediatrician warned me that children like Cayden take forever to learn. I didn’t care. It was one of those things that just had to be done. I started slowly. The first week I promised him that if he didn’t have any accidents in his pants, I’d cook him up a big, juicy plate of spaghetti noodles, his favorite.

“Spaghetti noodles?” he asked, his eyes gleaming, only it sounded more like “hagezzi oogles?”

“Yes, Cayden. S-p-a-g-h-e-t-t-i n-o-o-d-l-e-s,” I corrected him, enunciating every letter.

To my astonishment, Cayden kept his end of the promise. So on Sunday afternoon, instead of working on my monthly job presentation, I was busy in the kitchen, boiling noodles and whipping up spaghetti sauce. The watercolors and canvas – supposed to be used for the backboard of my presentation – lay abandoned on the kitchen table. Cayden was wiggling in his seat, intently watching me boiling noodles and mixing the crimson spaghetti sauce.

“All done!” I hummed, slapping some noodles and spaghetti sauce on a Winnie-the-Pooh plate.

No response. Cayden had been watching me for the past hour or so, but the room was silent. Fearing the worst, I slowly turned away from the stove. I quickly became one of the gawkers.

The watercolors were empty and the canvas was wet and glossy. My heart sank. What would I tell my boss? That my kid had decided to make some doodles on my canvas with my watercolors? Heart pounding, I inched closer and closer. I was ready to scream at Cayden, but my mouth suddenly dropped open. For what was on the canvas weren’t doodles of any sort. It was a portrait, a beautiful watercolor portrait, of Cayden and me. We were both enclosed in the outline of a red heart. My eyes swelled up as I swung Cayden in my arms. I didn’t care what my boss would say. That portrait was going with me to work tomorrow. I kissed and kissed and kissed my little boy, my tears dribbling on his face. Steven was right. Let them stare until their eyeballs pop out of their sockets. I shouldn’t be ashamed of taking Cayden out in public. They should be ashamed of staring. With that, I slammed my front door, and took Cayden out for the whole world to see.



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