I turn from the refrigerator with a loaf of double-fiber bread and organic buttery spread. Kaiser and I run into each other. I drop the bread to grab the kid.
“You makin’ toast, Mama?” He steadies himself and hugs my leg.
“Yep. Butter toast. For you.” I sidestep around him to slip the cold slice into the toaster. We come face to face again at the refrigerator, four-and-a-half seconds later.
“Whatcha doin’, Mom?”
I open the refrigerator door and he scoots between the meat/snack drawer and my legs. “Baby, I’m putting the butter away.”
He stares at the string cheese and paws at my leg. Picking him up, I set him firmly against one hip, brace my body against the counter and use my one free hand to butter the toast.
“No crust, Mommy.”
Kaiser’s watching the ever-creepy “Lazy Town,” so I decide to sneak outside for a Marlboro Menthol Light. I take my first long inhale and look up. Kaiser. Face pressed against the sliding-glass door. He leans against it hard, pulling with baby fingers and his 30 pounds o’ determination. I slide it open an inch, turn my head to quickly exhale and hide the cigarette behind my back.
“Ey. Mama, you smoking?”
“Yep. I’ll be inside in two seconds. Close the door.”
“Smoke is nasty.” He pauses and rethinks. “I come outside with you.”
He’s wearing a worn-out, short-sleeved Thomas the Tank Engine pajama shirt from Target. Diego Pull-ups and no pants.
“No, honey. You don’t have your shoes on. I’ll be in in just a second.”
He looks at my feet. I’m standing on my pajama pants.
“But you don’t have shoes. Mama. You no have shoes!”
Damn it. I put the cigarette out and open the door wide enough to slide through.
Sitting a plate of Morning Star chicken nuggets and strawberries on the table, I plop Kaiser in his booster and head to the bathroom.
“I’ll be right back, ok? Eat.” I point to the plate. He stares at me.
“Cole. Eat. I’m going to potty. I’ll be right back.”
He stuffs a strawberry into his mouth and nods.
I trot to the bathroom and sit down on the toilet. Yeah. Ooh, Psychology Today. I think it’s a safe time to dump. Let me say this loud and clear: It. Is. Never. Safe.
I half wipe and run out of the bathroom with my pants down. I expect to see him choking, trying to Heimlich his two-year-old self on the kitchen table. I expect a chemical fire from the Oust I was usin’ in the trashcan. I expect a greasy-faced intruder standing at the sliding-glass door licking his lips.
“What? Cole. What?”
He’s clearly not hurt, dying or dead. I pull up my jeans and lean down next to his chair. Taking his face between my hands, I search for signs of trauma.
He points at our kitten, sitting in the sunroom. Black and white cuteness. She licks her paw and gazes at us sweetly. I turn back to Kaiser. He points accusingly.
“Little Murray Sparkles try to eat Cole’s chicken nuggs.” He shakes his fist at the kitten. “No, Little Murray Sparkles. You NO eat my nuggs.”
Oh, gah. I wash my hands and sit down. He smiles and holds out a strawberry.