It was night by the time we arrived in Brunswick, and I wasn’t feeling well. Achy, dizzy, not myself. By sheer force of will, I had managed the flights from Paris to Newark, Newark to Portland, and then the drive from Portland to Brunswick, where we would see our daughter, Cordelia, as Antigone in Anouilh’s Antigone the next night. We ate dinner with her director, a lovely man whose affection for our daughter and respect for our ten-year old son, Atticus, impressed me. Atticus liked him, too, though jet lag got him, and he fell asleep on an ottoman. Finally back at the inn, my husband, son, and I tumbled into bed.
In the middle of the night, I wake with an Uh oh feeling. Where is Goat?
Goat, whose formal name is Elijah Vanilla Crème Goat, traveled to London and Paris with us over Spring Break, seeing the sights and offering a friendly ear to a boy who is not so sure about unfamiliar places. I remember stuffing him into Atticus’ backpack when we left London, but suddenly, I have no memory of packing him early this morning, when, groggy, we left our miniature hotel room in Paris. I clamber out of bed and use my Itty Bitty Book light to locate the backpack, which I unzip quietly. I feel around. No white fur. No Goat. As I feared, Goat has stayed in Paris.
I feel like crying. “Bad mother,” I punish myself, despite the fact that my son is ten and perfectly capable of looking after his things. Except that we left Paris at 4 a.m., and none of us was firing on all pistons.
What to do? What to do? I know Atticus will be crushed. He is too old to accept a new Goat, a trick I tried once when he was three and his beloved Tubby had been mislaid. When the original, a pale green hippo with pink paws, was discovered, we had Tubby One and Tubby Two.
Goat is the last. Atticus and I have talked about this. He has always loved stuffed animals; animals ring his bed—penguins, dogs, rabbits. He sleeps with Goat and a small bear called Capitan, from Commedia dell’Arte. His sisters, ever so much older, have matching bears with Commedia names, too—Smeraldina and Columbine. The hazards of a theatre family—even our animals get names from Shakespeare or mythology. Goat, named entirely by Atticus, was the last new acquisition to my son’s menagerie. “Enough,” I said irritated last fall. “There are too many stuffed animals in this room, on this bed. No more animals.”
My exasperation, I know, is tied up in Atticus’ pleasure in remaining a little boy. By his own admission, he worries about getting older, is reluctant to grow up, to take on school work, to show how competent he is. And a piece of me empathizes with his fear. It’s nice to be cared for, to have few obligations, to have a Mom and Dad who swoop in to fix things. I explain that his reading by himself doesn’t mean I won’t read to him, and that his managing his homework independently doesn’t mean we’ll throw him to the wolves. The year has been a struggle.
He sees his sisters working hard in college. He sees me working hard as the Head of the School on whose property we live but which he, being a boy, had to leave before kindergarten. He sees his Dad working hard as a math teacher at my school. He feels cheated. He hates that he is so much younger than his sisters, hates having to do much that does not involve the Disney Channel.
Last fall, we went shopping for a baby gift, and Atticus spied Goat in a lovely boutique. “Look, Mom. He’s so great. He looks distinguished. Look at his beard.”
“No,” I said firmly. “We agreed. No more animals.”
Sadly, Atticus muttered, “I don’t have any goats,” but reluctantly returned Goat to the shelf. Secretly, in a mixed-messages mothering move, I snuck back and purchased Goat, hiding him from Atticus. I tucked him into the top of my boy’s stocking, where he was joyfully discovered on Christmas morning.
We named him that night as Atticus solemnly contemplated the animal he knew would be the last stuffed companion to come into the house. “He looks like the little blue cups of half and half I drink at First Watch, Vanilla Crème.”
“Okay, anything else? Want to call him Vanilla Crème Brulee?” I ask. Names matter. And I love Crème Brulee.
“Nope. Elijah. Elijah Vanilla Crème.”
“With Goat as his last name?”
“Yes, but I might call him Goat for short.”
Often after I read to him at night, Atticus my philosopher offers me his musings. This night he says, “Sometimes Christmas is hard, Mom. I look forward to it for so long, but then the girls don’t even want to do anything.”
“Well, we went to the Annie movie.”
“Yea, I guess it was okay.”
“I agree. It was medium.”
“But you gave me Goat, Mom. That was pretty great.”
“I’m glad. It’s fun to have surprises sometimes, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he says, drowsy. Theirs was not a long relationship, but one that mattered.
At 2 a.m., from my bed in chilly Brunswick, I do not have the heart to wake my husband, who is finally in deep slumber. Fretting, I email Lili, my former student, who lives in Paris. We had been with her the night before. She lives in the Marais across from the Pompidou, and Atticus, suspicious of Paris because it felt darker and drearier than London—possibly because it rained most of the time we were there—loved her. He even ate the savory crepes her fiancé prepared; it had been a magical final evening. I write, “Don’t laugh. Could you call the Odeon St. Germain and see if they found Goat, Atticus’ lovey? I think he slipped down between the beds. He’s white, so I think I just missed him.”
In moments she writes back, “They have him!” I thank her extravagantly. Relieved, I give in to illness and jet lag and go back to sleep.
In the morning, Atticus pokes me gently at the side of my bed, eyes brimming, “Mom, I can’t find Goat.”
“Honey, he decided to take an extra day in Paris. He wanted to visit the Pompidou. Lili is sending him home tomorrow.”
“He stayed in Paris?” Atticus is incredulous, disbelieving.
“Yep. He liked the crepes.”
“You’re teasing. Did we forget him?”
“What’s going on?” my husband asks groggily.
“We lost Goat,” Atticus quavers.
“We didn’t lose him,” I explain to Seth. “We know where he is. Lili has him and she is sending him tomorrow.”
Seth asks, “You talked to Lili? It’s 7:00 a.m.?”
“I know. Email.” Seth rolls over. Atticus, soothed, goes back to his I-pad. Crisis averted. Atticus is okay. I am ill but much better than I had been at 2:00 in the morning. I am grateful that Lili saved the day. My mother-guilt is assuaged.
Later, Lili sends a photo of Goat to reassure Atticus. She writes, “Totally my pleasure to be walking around Paris with an adorable stuffed goat. The French word for a child’s sacred stuffed animal is ‘doudou,’ and they take these things very seriously—the hotel staff was sincerely concerned/protective/relieved.” Lucky Atticus to misplace a lovey in a land that values a child’s relationship with a stuffed toy.
We see Antigone. Cordelia is exceptional—fiery, vulnerable, authentic. Five minutes in, Atticus’s head droops onto my shoulder. He snores softly. I try to rouse him, but he is too tired. We are a pair—one over-tired boy, one sick mother. Only my husband, Seth, seems intact and alert, unscathed by jet lag. His experience working abroad serves him well; he travels light and adapts fast.
The next morning, Cordelia bustles into our room at the inn, administering Source Water, chosen for electrolytes, scolding me about dehydration, patiently watching her brother’s magic tricks from the kit he acquired at Hamley’s in London, the highlight of his trip. A few days later, we head back to Cleveland. Lili assures us that Goat is en route, and about a week later, he arrives. Atticus worries that Goat may have been harmed, squashed as he was into the padded envelope, but a quick shake and he is uncrumpled.
That night, once again, Atticus clutches Goat next to him in bed. “I liked London, Mom. I didn’t like Paris. I like home best.”
His eyelids flutter, lashes resting finally. I look at his silky dark hair, the round curve of his cheek. He needs to leave his little boy self at his own pace, not at mine. Goat may need to keep him company on the way. He is my own Peter Pan, my own Dorothy, refusing to grow up at anyone’s will but his own, and realizing, after his travels, that there’s no place like home. Sweet dreams, Atticus. Sweet dreams, Goat.
Ann Klotz is a mother, writer, teacher, and headmistress in Shaker Heights, OH where she writes most often about how these identities intersect. Her work has appeared in Independent School Magazine, Community Works Journal, The Legendary, and Motherload: An Anthology.
Just a little in my notebook today
To chip away at the block, I promise
Pen to paper – a prayer in the silence
Though not always calming, not always kind
Just a little today, a trickle not
A tidal wave to pummel, to engulf
Life’s work made so much smaller, narrower
Out of focus, unrecognizable
Just a little, simple lessons for some
Today, a how-to guide to making friends
“Come with me,” I plead. “Stay with me awhile.”
Outside of yourself it’s safe, love surrounds
Just a little today, I’ll think instead
Of how he held my gaze, and that shy smile.
Suzanne Samuels is currently working on a historical novel, The Orphans’ Wheel, set in Sicily and New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. Her essays, stories and poetry have appeared in Snapdragon, With Painted Words, and Cyclamens and Swords, as well as other journals. Her work can be found at suzannesamuels.wordpress.com.
We stepped outside, the grocery store’s glass doors parting to a stage of early spring after a harsh Minnesota winter. My son rode in a baby carrier strapped to my chest, sunlight warming the pudgy cheeks that had been protected for his first months by a baby blanket over his car seat. Above the rows of cars, the sky expanded like a child’s picture: bright blue crayons dotted with puffy white clouds, cartoon-like in their perfection.
“Now we are walk-ing out-side!” I whispered, carefully enunciating each syllable. We spent our days together, and I narrated everything. It was all a first for him, which made it all an adventure.
“Sky!” I pointed upward. “See the blue sky?” He wiggled his chubby legs, rocking us both like a fit of giggles. He might not have understood my words, but his excitement told me he understood something deeper. “And those are clouds! See the white clouds?”
Before us, the blue horizon stretched as far as I could see, as though connecting the past to the future. I squinted my eyes in the bright sunlight, wanting to take in the beauty, to freeze the moment like so many with him for all eternity. In the distance, on the soft curve of a cloud, I spotted a memory.
I’m a young girl, my back against a warm flannel picnic blanket, gazing at puffy white clouds that form pictures. My mom sits beside me, her legs tucked to the side, humming softly as she tends to our red-and-white cooler. A Dorothy Hamill wedge frames her pretty heart-shaped face and youthful freckles. “You have such an active imagination!” she turns toward me and smiles, her hazel eyes twinkling in delight at the cloud image I’ve presented her. I close my eyes for a moment and bask in her warmth, as though she were the sun, before searching for the next picture that will tickle her.
Where had we been? What had I seen in those clouds? I couldn’t remember now, from the vantage of my early 30s. It was such a small memory anyway, like a dew drop falling from a tree. And yet the feeling had stayed with me, rising this spring day as though it were the sun warming me.
My gaze dropped back down to the rows of cars before us. We had an early childhood class to get to, and some nursing to take care of. My son didn’t know that my mom had just died after a long battle with cancer. He didn’t know that I lost her too soon, and that he would never get to know her. He wouldn’t even remember these little moments of our early days together — every one of them as precious to me as though they were the air I breathed. But I knew that even when he was old and I was no longer with him, his heart would always remember.
“See the blue sky?” I leaned forward and kissed the top of his downy head.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I whispered.
Caryn Mohr is the Social Media Editor for Literary Mama. She was named a finalist in the 2015-16 Loft Literary Center Mentor Series in Poetry and Creative Prose, was a participant in the spring 2015 session of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ Writer to Writer mentorship program, and frequently takes creative nonfiction courses at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Caryn has a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, with her husband and two sons (ages 9 and 11), and can be found on Twitter @carmohr.
will include a red spot on your infant’s cheek. Smaller than a penny, smaller than a dime, smaller than the smallest toenail, but you will see it. It will be shaped like a gun turned one way, the V of a lazily drawn bird the other way.
The doctor will ask if he has had a fever.
No, he has not.
She will ask if his lymph nodes have seemed swollen and red.
No, they have not.
She will ask Then why do you think he has cat scratch fever? You don’t know. You point at the gun-shaped spot, but by now it is smaller than the smallest toenail of a pigeon.
She will tell you he is fine.
She will tell you his spot will go away.
She will tell you to stop nursing him at night, because he is a big baby, and he does not need to nurse at night. He could run into dental problems if he keeps nursing at night.
Aha! You will say. There WAS something!
Renee Beauregard Lute is a graduate of the MFA program at Hamline University in St. Paul, and her work has been published in a number of literary journals and magazines, including Bellevue Literary Review, Mamalode, and Literary Mama.