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When Orion was almost 3 months old, I quit trying to get away from him. Here’s the story.
You’ve read it before; this is just a different version. 

It was the weekend of the Nevada Derby, so I was pretty melancholy to begin with. The 2014 Derby had been my last ride before I’d gotten pregnant. This year – 2015 – I was nowhere near ready to ride a 50 again. 

I had a disastrous ride on Dixie that day. I’d been trying to get myself ready for a half-marathon in May, and I’d scheduled a long run at a beautiful, remote-feeling park not too far from my barn. I wasn’t really sure about leaving Orion with G and going off all day to ride, but at the same time I wanted nothing more than to leave Orion with G and go ride. I was so worried that if I didn’t get time alone,

I’d go crazy or lose myself. So I made sure they had some fresh milk and some frozen milk, kissed them both, and bolted out the door. 

My plan had been to run seven miles down the trail, with my eager horse trotting happily behind me with my supplies. At seven miles we’d share some apples, I’d gracefully swing up on her back, and we’d trot back to the trailer. I’d probably want to pump, so I’d hook up all the parts to the electric breast pump and take care of my boobs before I loaded the horse and we got on the road. 

Yeah, none of that happened like I’d planned. Dixie was not interested in going for a jog, so I had to alternate driving her beside me and just forcibly hauling her with the tie rope as I ran ahead. Or, rather, jogged slowly ahead, then marched, then panted and trembled and hiked. I got tired all on my own, and then the trail turned right and started relentlessly climbing. 

Eventually I threw in the towel, found a stump, got back on, and headed back. Dixie was still a total slug, right up until a mile from the trailer when she perked up and trotted briskly for me… until a turkey leapt out of the Christmas tree farm on the right and she gave me the biggest spook I’ve had to ride in years. A half mile down the trail, when I did (voluntarily!) dismount to work the cramps out, Dixie started ripping huge poison oak branches out and waving them around like snack-sized WMDs. And my tits felt like they were three times their normal size and full of lava. 

In other words, by the time I got to the trailer I was 100% done with the whole adventure. 

I trailered back to the barn, unloaded, and unhitched with no further drama. When I got home, G put a brave face on it, but I’m pretty sure he and Orion had a long, horrible day. Orion has never taken to a bottle, preferring to get his milk from the source, so he was starving and I think he only napped after he cried himself to sleep. 

Lying in bed that night, while my frantically hungry and unhappy baby nursed nonstop, I realized I couldn’t keep on like I’d been doing. Orion hadn’t done anything to deserve the day he’d had. I really didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. I can slog out a half marathon, maybe injure myself or maybe get lucky. My horse can slog out a hundred, and have a lot more fun doing it with friends than doing ten miles all alone. The only reason for me to go ride hard and run hard and train was to feed my ego, and it was hurting the baby. 

Sure, it wasn’t hurting him much. Kids go off to daycare all the time and they’re a little unhappy and they thrive anyway. Kids have to stay with Dad while Mom does any number of totally valid activities, and maybe they’re a little sad but they’re fine. But I’m thinking about my baby, not your baby or some hypothetical baby, and my baby was sad when I left him. I wanted that baby with every fiber of my body. It’s not a hardship for me to set my ego aside and stay with Orion. 

So that’s what I did. I tabled the idea of pretty much ever ditching Orion until he was six months old – I thought when he was that old, I’d find a couple half-days of daycare and use the time to ride or write. I started running on paved trails, with Orion in the stroller. That’s when I moved Dixie to that pasture out east – I wasn’t planning on riding for two more months, so why not let her roam around a big pasture? 

It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, at least not at first. But it got easier. I quit pumping – I had tons of milk in the freezer, a baby who wouldn’t drink it anyway, and no plans to go anywhere for more than an hour without him. It got easier to drag Orion with me wherever I needed to go – the grocery store or the library or out to a park. I already loved him, deeply loved him, but as I spent all my time with him and he started to blossom into a little person, I started to really like him too. I enjoy Orion’s company. I think he’s usually fun to hang out with. 

Two days before he turned six months old, the Stairs Thing happened. Putting the baby in daycare to, what? Spend more time alone in a hotel? Just totally not happening, for any number of reasons. We didn’t move to Boulder Creek til he was almost 8 months, and I only feel settled now, at almost 10 months, and at this point I don’t want to drop him off with anyone else. He and his dad do just fine together while I ride, and I can write on my phone while he sleeps. It feels like forever since that long, introspective night with a sad, tired, hungry little baby. I haven’t gone crazy (although there’s a lot of late afternoons where I just count the hours til DAD COMES HOME YAY), and I haven’t lost myself. The months are flying by, and the baby is almost a toddler. This time, this little window where he truly, deeply needs me, it really is going fast. 2015 has been a total wash for my ego, but it’s been a happy one for everybody. 
PS I definitely want to run Skyline to Shore 50k next summer. YOLO!

6

I was talking to a friend – who shall remain nameless unless she wants me to out her – about how much easier it is to write about the gross, scary, sad, or even funny parts of parenting, and she said:
“You can’t be public with things that bring you joy on the internet.”

She’s right, too. Especially with parenting. Any time I have the urge to talk about Orion and how happy he makes me, a little alarm bell goes off in the back of my brain. 

Don’t say it like that. Someone will think it’s a dig against working mothers. Or bottle-feeders. Or women who had a natural childbirth. Or, or, or, on and on. People really are snarky assholes. 

But this is my life. If I leave out all the details and make my stories so vague they fit any lived experience of American motherhood, they’re kinda shitty stories. 

One of the reasons I write journal-type stuff is so I’ll remember it, really actually remember the good parts and the terrible parts, later. There’s no point in writing about what a cheerful little person Orion is – I’ll remember that anyway. 

So. Here’s something. It’s sweet, or at least I think it’s sweet. I’m not telling it to try to exclude your experience as a mother, or father, or pet owner, or Childfree vegan, or whatever your life experience is, so don’t shit all over it by pointing out how much harder it was for you, thanks. 

One of Orion’s nicknames is Little Smaug. You know how when Bilbo is sneaking around Smaug’s lair, and Smaug’s sleeping with an eye cracked open, and even though Bilbo is invisible, he still freezes like a rabbit when that baleful glare roams over him? Well, Orion is a pretty good sleeper now, but when he was tiny, he wasn’t. The only way he’d fall asleep was if someone was holding him, bonus points if there was a boob in his mouth. 

So I’d get all propped up, get the tired, hangry baby latched on the boob and tucked in under a blanket, and I’d pat his butt and wait. One angry little pale blue eye would glare up at me as he nursed, but gradually, it would start to blink shut. Like Bilbo, I’d start to wonder if I was going to get away with it, and maybe I’d quit patting and flip open a book on my phone, or try to pick up a bite of food with my free hand, or lean my head back against the wall and nap. 

But lo! Smaug never sleeps, just rests uneasy on his pile of treasure! The little eye would pop open. How dare I do the thing! Shrieks of dismay are sure to follow. 

I’d stop doing the wrong thing and go back to patting, and the little dragon would gradually calm back down. His eye would close again, he’d drift off toward slumber, and I’d start to relax again. 

The milky blue eye has turned brown, and the little dragon falls asleep much easier these days, but we still call him Little Smaug. We are such irredeemable nerds. 

5

The rat-thing is getting novelish. Hmm. 

How do you feel about taking up your calling as a healer? Please tell us in a short essay, referencing at least three times in your life when you’ve acted as a healer or facilitator of healing. 

Below the question, the cursor blinked in the little text box. Rebekah rubbed her eyes and picked up the coffee cup beside her laptop. The latte tasted heavenly, but more importantly, the caffeine might help clear her tired mind. 

“Brianna? Am I a facilitator of healing?” she called. 

A purple-streaked head popped out around the side of the big espresso machine. Rebekah’s best friend scrunched her pierced eyebrows together. “Are you kidding me?” she said. “What kind of question is that?”

“I wish!” Rebekah said. “It’s supposed to be the best massage school around. And its competitive” — she waved her arms in exaggerated air quotes — “so there’s an application process, but healing facilitation? I don’t even!”

“What’s the next question?” Brianna asked. 

Before Rebekah could answer, the bells over the door tinkled and Stan Marsh, the local Fish and Wildlife representative, walked in. He was tall, blonde, and a little doughy, somehow remaining pale despite an outdoors job. His earnest face lit up when he spotted Brianna. He was easily ten years older than the young barista, and his crush on her was legendary in both duration and unlikelihood. He hardly seemed to mind the one-sidedness. 

“Hi, Stan,” Rebekah called. 

Out of Stan’s line of sight, Brianna rolled her eyes at her friend, but when she ducked around the espresso machine her smile was pleasant enough. “Morning, Stan. How’s things?”

“You girls will not believe how weird my day already is. Caramel mocha with an extra shot, please.”

“Calling us ‘girls’ isn’t the way to anyone’s heart, Stan,” Rebekah warned. But a poacher story sounded better than describing her spirituality, so she slammed the laptop shut and carried her cup to the counter. 

“I got flagged down on the edge of town by this guy who lives out at Bear Glen. He’s got a little dog and a dead, uh, a dead rat-thing in the car with him. Spends a good five minutes telling me this story about how the dog flushed a rat out of the barbecue grill, except it turned out to be this rat-thing, and the dog killed it but it bit the dog and poisoned it. Then he drops the dang corpse out the window and drives off to the vet. I threw it in the bed of the truck – it smells real peculiar – and came to brighten up my day with your heavenly brew, Bree, before I go fill out some forms.” 

Brianna, intrigued despite herself, pushed the paper cup across the counter and took Stan’s card. “What do you mean a rat thing?”

“And what do you mean it smells peculiar?” Rebekah said. “It smells dead, right? You do this every day, Stan.” 

Stan tucked his card back in an overflowing leather wallet. “It’s just weird, ladies. I can still say ladies, right? Because you are both ladies?”

Brianna couldn’t hide her eye-roll this time. “Whatever, Stan. Is it one of those cryptid things?”

“I want to see,” Rebekah said. 

“Me too,” said Brianna. 

***

Rebekah tentatively poked the black corpse with a bamboo stake. She’d grabbed it from a planter beside the door as the entire population of the coffee shop (currently five people) had trooped out to see the rat-thing. 

“It doesn’t look anything like a rat, Stan,” Brianna said. She sounded reproachful. 

“Well that’s not what I called it, dear. It’s what that guy called it. He thought it was a rat in the grill, but why there’d be a rat in the grill, I don’t know. I’d call it a facehugger if you asked me.”

“Eatin’ the grease off them lava rocks,” Old George said. He’d been outside, nursing his one free refill and smoking underneath the no-smoking sign, when Stan and the women had emerged. “Them rats eat anything.”

“But it’s not a rat!” Brianna complained. 

A facehugger, Rebekah thought. Like from Aliens. Gross. She tuned out the bickering and flipped the corpse over, inspecting it. 

The rat-thing was about the size of a large rat, or a small terrier, but that was where any resemblance to a mammal ended. It was segmented, almost like an armadillo, but instead of pebbly grayish skin, it had shiny black overlapping scales. It had the head of a possum, pale grey with eyes set narrowly together and a small nose. They were glazed milky white in death, and Rebekah was glad it didn’t appear to be looking at her. 

It had six legs, each ending in a paw with two claws facing forward and one facing backward, like a chicken’s foot with too few toes. It did have a tail, but instead of the narrow whiplike tail of a rat or opossum, the rat-thing’s tail was a powerful wedge of muscle. She poked it with her bamboo stick. 

“Hey, shut up, look at this. Is that a stinger?” she asked. 

The others quit bickering and looked at the tip of the rat-thing’s tail. A bulbous sac flopped at the end, narrowing to a sharp tip.

“Looks like a scorpion. I used to live in Sedona and they’d get in your shoes, stung like a wasp if you forgot to bang your shoes out,” Marisa said. A plump fifty-something with deep Clairol-crimson hair, she’d been getting out of her Honda Civic when the rest of the coffee shop had gathered around the DFW Ford Ranger. 

“Scorpion ain’t got no face, though,” George said. 

“Scorpions have claws, too,” Brianna added. 

Marisa pursed her lips. “I didn’t say it was a scorpion. I just said it looks a little like a scorpion stinger.” 

A cryptid, thought Rebekah. Another previously undiscovered creature, pushed out into the open by humans. Countdown til someone mentions climate change in three, two, one–

“Poor thing. It’s the global warming, pushing it out of its nesting ground,” Brianna said. 

“There ain’t no global warming, this is a natural part of California life,” George snapped reflexively. 

Rebekah tuned the others out again. She sniffed the end of the stake she’d been prodding the rat-thing with. Stan was right; it did smell peculiar. Musty, sweet, with a sort of acrid twinge at the back of her throat. 

She was suddenly sad for the poor dead rat-thing. It probably had come out of the hills, so desperate for food that it was eating grease off some modern mountain man’s barbecue grill. She dropped the stake behind the planter as she headed back inside. 

Rebekah decided that she wasn’t going to get anything else done on the massage school application today, and she needed to go in to work early. She scooped her laptop and its umbilicals into her messenger bag and headed back out, skirting the argument by the truck. She heard Stan’s voice booming over the others, something about El Niño, and she grinned to herself. Life in the Northern California mountains had certain predictable rhythms to it. No discussion stayed on topic for more than ten minutes before metamorphosing into climate change, natural cycles, and the elusive El Niño.  

Rebekah trotted quickly across the highway. Home was a quarter mile up the road, but she thought she’d stop by Doc Burns’s van and see how the rat-thing-killing dog was doing. 

4

They’re not all going to be fiction. I guess this is an essay? 
More fiction tomorrow. I think the rat-things may be a longer story after all. 

I clean a lot more than I used to. I don’t mean to brag, oooh my house is cleaner than yours – depending on where you look, it’s spotless or it’s a junk heap with a spider living in the dog-hair dust bunny. But I spend a lot more time cleaning and tidying and wondering why I’m cleaning and tidying. 

Part of it’s because I have a nice new space, without all the clutter that psychologically derails many a good cleaning spree. You know what I mean? You’re gonna really clean the kitchen, but before you can clean under the burners you have to make space for the grates on the counters, and to make space you have to put up the flour and find somewhere for the can opener to live, and my god there’s so much dust on those spoons, and before you know it you’re exhausted, the kitchen looks worse than when you started, and there are still crumbs all over the burners. But so far, my space is mostly uncluttered (and I’m fighting hard to keep it that way.)

Part of the ceaseless cleaning, of course, is because Orion is crawling everywhere, putting everything in his mouth. But I’m really not that worried about what he eats. I think it’s really important to let him crawl around outside, and he’s going to get more germs and literal dirt in his mouth from the outside than he could possibly get from my unswept living room floor, so. 

Part of the cleaning is just the particular balance of hormones soaking my brain right now, as a nursing mom. I’ve noticed that my visceral response to a lot of things has drastically changed. There’s baby slobber everywhere and I don’t care. Baby snot doesn’t even register. Makes sense that I’m inherently a little more inclined to scrub the applesauce off the floor, right?

But I’ve recently realized it’s just that the countertops are basically the only thing I can control. My husband goes to work, yells and cajoles other adults, gets different workplace processes implemented. Me? I open doors and cans for the cat. I refuse to feed the dog as much as she wants, or let her eat off my plate, or let her lie in the kitchen, or let her knock the baby down and take his food – but she never stops trying. She’s a middle-aged Lab; she’s never going to stop trying. And Orion! Babies just rage around doing whatever they want, and parents either fool themselves about it or accept they can’t make the kid do a damn thing. 

All I can do is run and clean the house. 
My dad got sober maybe thirty years ago, and I grew up with a lot of AA slogans. I’ve read a lot of on-point criticisms of AA over the years, and I certainly don’t think it’s the only road to Rome (or that Rome is the only place to be, if you follow my strained metaphor), but it’s been a useful philosophy for me for most of my life. Anyway, he’d say that you’re powerless over people, places, and things – meaning that the only thing you can change is your reaction to things. We can argue about definitions of each of those words, and you can come up with increasingly implausible scenarios, but it’s not a deterministic rule. It’s just a handy phrase that I try to keep in mind. The only thing I can change is my reaction. The only thing I can really control right now is whether or not I sweep the living room today. 

(If you happen to read this and you’re in a really bad place, please remember that walking the fuck away from an abusive relationship is a perfectly acceptable reaction.) 

3

Orion and I were walking to get the mail and stopped to talk to a guy who lives further back up in the woods and I honestly don’t know, do you have such weird conversations? Cause I do, all the time, I’m just walking along minding my own business and next thing I know someone is telling me about his dogs. Couple of embellishments but this is largely as I heard it.

Beauty knew there was something in the grill as soon as we walked out onto the deck. I had been to the post office and when I came home she was going nuts in the back sun room. I put my package down – a box of socks from Amazon, funny what sticks in your head – and walked back there to see what got into her. 

She’s a Jack Rat, see, a Jack Russell crossed with a Rat Terrier, and she’s real smart. Not too hyper, I mean, she’s a terrier, sure, but nothing like her momma, Beatrice, she was the Jack Russell, whooo she’d go harder than a meth cook. Anyway, so Beauty was sure there was something on the deck. Once she got me back in the sunroom she went straight back to the back door and stood there, quivering, glancing up at me and then up at the door knob, just in case I had an attack of the stupids and forgot what she wanted. 

I asked her, what’s wrong, girl? Is it a rat? Is there a rat out there? Getting her all hyped up. I thought it was a tree rat, see, one of them big things looks like a squirrel got its tail skinned. They’re fast, but she’s faster, she’s killed a couple of ’em. She knew what I was doing, but she didn’t go crazy like she usually does, hopping up and down barking at the door. She just stood there, steady, trembling, waiting. 

Well, I figured she didn’t have to play my game to deserve her chance to have fun, so I opened the door and she shot out and something in the grill thumped as it hit the inside wall.

It was one of them propane grills, a big, nice four-jet one. Had lava rocks to distribute the heat evenly, a bun warmer in the lid, little burner on the side to keep your bar-be-que sauce hot, bottle opener on the other side. I paid damn near four hundred dollars for it. Such a nice grill. But anyway, it went thump and Beauty starts darting back and forth under it, claws scrabbling on the deck boards. I couldn’t work out how a rat got in there, but I didn’t really stop to think about it. I didn’t want a faceful of rodent so I grabbed a broom propped by the back door and used that to flip the lid back. 

Something black and shiny and fast popped out of there and I had just a second to think, hey, that ain’t no rat I ever seen before Beauty was on it, snarls bubbling out of her like a tea kettle, and it hissed and they were rolling around on the deck together. 

I flipped the broom around, held it like a spear, see, but I’m not gonna lie, I couldn’t get a shot at the thing because that little dog was all wrapped up in it. I could see the legs, and that long, thick tail, and I saw the fangs when it hauled off and bit Beauty in the face. She shrieked and let go of where she was worrying at it and it was like the son of a bitch levitated, it just went flying across the deck so fast. It hit the corner of the house and started up it, got chest-high to me before I could blink. Beauty got herself flipped back on her feet and she jumped like I’ve never seen, straight off the ground flat-footed and she hit that thing six feet off the ground. 

They came tumbling down together but something was different, and it took me a minute to realize that the thing had been shrieking the whole time and now it wasn’t shrieking. See, terriers, they’re vermin killers. They’re not big enough to grab the big vermin and shake them and snap their necks, not like a real big dog can, so what they do is grab their prey and squeeze their lungs and suffocate them. And that’s what Beauty was doing, now that she had it by the right spot she wasn’t gonna let go. 

And she wouldn’t let go, not for damn near twenty minutes. I went and got the shotgun – it had birdshot but I loaded it with buckshot, I wasn’t taking any damn chances with that weird looking son of a bitch, but she wouldn’t come off it til long after we both knew it was dead. 

So there you go, Warden. I dunno what the hell it is. Like a goddamn armadillo crossed with a rat, but that face almost looks human. Beauty looks like she don’t feel too hot, so I might watch those teeth for poison maybe. We’re on the way to see Doc K and get this little girl patched up, so if you don’t have any more questions right now?