You stand alone in the kitchen sipping coffee, enjoying a quiet morning sunrise when you hear a tiny sneeze. Normally this would be odd, but you’re holding a baby, so it’s just cute.
Especially when the baby smiles because she finds sneezing funny.
Coffee in one hand, baby in the other. Out of the corner of your eye you notice something other than the smile on the baby’s face. Actually, you notice two things: two long strands of thick, yellow mucus oozing out of her nostrils.
She doesn’t seem to notice them, as the hilarity of the sneeze occupies her mind enough to ignore the sensation of the fluid leaking out of her face. Then her fist twitches, and starts to move.
The flash of a possible future barrels through your mind… the tiny fist, smearing mucus over her face in a wide swath… caked and crusty eyebrows… eyelashes delicately holding droplets of snot, like a spiderweb covered in dew… that fist opening ever so slightly, just enough to suck the gooey liquid between its fingers by capillary action, so a thin coating of mucus encases every digit on that hand.
The beating of a fly’s wings is slower than it takes you to have your horrible vision, but the baby is faster still. The fist moves, and you are powerless to stop it.
But it misses. Some divine being took pity on you and tickled her ear at the last possible moment. The fist harmlessly brushes the side of her head. You still have time. Her fist returns to resting position beside her body for a fraction of a second, and then it moves again, and its path is clear. It’s heading to her nose.
You are ready this time. Still holding your coffee, you hook your index finger around the handle in a death grip. Your thumb and other three fingers pounce and catch the baby’s wrist. While inches to spare! Even the wildly wriggling fist has no chance of making contact with this discharge.
It’s a short-lived victory, as both you and the baby remember that she has another fist, which is already moving swiftly toward her oozing nostrils. The first fist is quickly secured with only your middle finger and thumb, leaving your only defense the poultry pinky and ring finger. You deftly maneuver them into position. Babies are weak, after all. Success! Her tiny fist is all but enveloped by your puniest digits, still more powerful than the weakling infant.
There, in the pale morning light, you stand victorious. Baby in one arm, coffee cup balanced precariously with one finger, two tiny fists cuffed with your four remaining fingers. The golden sunlight gleams off the two yellow trails of snot on her upper lip.
You allow yourself a sigh of relief. At that moment the baby’s head dips forward ever so slightly. She buries her face in your shoulder and with hard, furious turns of her head, smears the sickly fluid into your shirt. Not just any shirt, mind you, but your coolest tee shirt, one of the last holdovers from your days as a young, carefree, childless quasi-adult.
And with every absorbent fiber growing plump with her nasal discharge, you feel the previous You, the cool, free, wild You that wore this shirt confidently under an amazingly lean jacket and over slick jeans, slowly drown under the thick, viscous onslaught of soft, baggy, flubby parenthood.
She lifts her head, and your terrible vision is realized.
Through a sheen of goo, she smiles, and rests her cheek against your snot-covered shoulder. You release her hands and put down your cup. You place your hand over her tiny head, and gently sway back and forth, smiling and humming her favorite song.
Ben Pinder is, among other things, an artist, husband and father. He lives with his family in the Hudson Valley. Yu can find more at Ben Pinder.