To Childhood Heathens Who Grew Up

Frost rimes the trees like the Queen Anne’s Lace that grew alongside the holler roads in June,

on the hazy afternoons when we had no place to be, no ends in sight, on the winding one-lane, old paved roads where we took flight.

Bike pedals slapping shin bones when we hit the hills just right,

free descent, lungs too strained for our squeals of delight,

we have always been wild and strange

creatures who wandered the Appalachian hills but sought a broader horizon.

Appalachian Gods

This week, instead of doing a #flashfictionfriday post I felt more slanted towards posting a nonfiction essay I have been working on for some time. Enjoy and hopefully next week I will get back to the fiction stuff. 😉

 

I feel compelled to write about these mountains like there is a voice inside of me that isn’t my voice but wants to be heard. I am the mouthpiece or the transcriber as it is. It is my heritage, the mystique of Appalachia, and the strange mark it leaves on all who are born here that yearns to be written. A little stain on the history of this country, this world. Appalachia is beautiful, fierce, and lonely.

When the sun rises over the Appalachian foothills, there is a strange frenzy of activity. I have heard that the safest time to be in the woods is at night because, like people, animals seek cover in the dark and prefer daytime for hunting. But I think it is more than just an evolutionary preference. The darkness of an Appalachian night is heavy like there is more in the air than dew. It is heavy like the breath of a million souls exhaling at the same time. There are ghosts in the Appalachian Mountains. And if ever there was a time they revealed themselves it was during those black nights.

People rarely write about cities and suburbs with the same romantic notions as they do about nature. Nature is an enigma, an evolving mystery, consistently surprising and confounding those who observe it. These mountains are not like cul-de-sacs. Men own their cities, they know every inch, every culvert, all mapped and laid out like a science. No one owns the Appalachian Mountains. But they hold every soul born here. They are unconquerable. Even scarred and pitted from years of strip mining and clear-cutting, there is a refusal to surrender to the appetites of men. They still loom larger and make me feel more than anything man has built himself.

For the people born there, the mountains mean protection. As a child, I played throughout its valleys, swam in the streams that bubbled from its peaks, and explored the forests that populated the hillsides. I never felt alone. There are eyes everywhere in the mountains, whispers with inhuman voices, a language not in the conventional tongue of man. It is ancient. We grew up in the shadows of gods.

Spirituality was in the very water we drank. Everyone born in southeastern Kentucky knew of the power of the laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, serpent handling, whether they believed this to be a God-given talent or the overactive imaginings of religious radicals. My grandmother claimed to have the power to drive demons from people who were possessed. I witnessed one such attempt when I was eight years old. Our neighbor had been tied to a day bed with a leather belt around his hands, holding him to the trembling bars.

There was no moon that night, no stars, low clouds made the entire valley claustrophobic and damp. He hissed at my grandmother as she came through the door, a worn Bible in both hands held out before her like a shield of faith. He spoke, but he didn’t, not in words I could understand, a faint echo in his tone. It was otherworldly, eerie. I am not sure I believe in the existence of demons, at least ones that exist on the physical plane with humans, but what I was witness to that night, I will never forget. Belief is very strongly regarded. My neighbor believed he was possessed that night. My grandmother thought she could exorcise his demons. When she left, he lay limp, sweaty, and regular. Apparently, he thought she could exorcise his demons too.

If there are demons in the world, maybe they are more likely to follow those who believe. Guilt, faith, and God lay heavy on the hearts of Appalachian men and women. They can claim atheism but religion haunts their every action, they feel the weight of God when lifting a beer bottle, the chorus of angels in explicit, secular music. It is harder not to believe, to push beyond the wall of guilt and act against traditionalism. Akin to “Catholic guilt” the people of Appalachia, more often Baptists and Pentecostals (or some form of either), carry their religion like a family heirloom, their inheritance. They did not buy it or build it, but it has been imbued with too many memories to throw away.

The Ultimate Baby Cheat Sheet

My daughter is about 16 months old. As our first child, we had a lot of buying to do to get ready for her arrival. We had a baby shower of course but ended up buying most of the more significant items ourselves, except the crib which my coworkers at my old job bought for us as a gift WITH a crib mattress (they were seriously the most amazing people in the world, and I miss them every day).
The cost of preparing for a baby can be enormous, especially when confronted with all these lists of what baby should have. I scoured these lists on Pinterest for months. I made my own lists, I made Amazon wishlists AND baby registries. I wanted to be prepared for anything and everything this unknown nugget would throw at me, especially as my husband was preparing for an overseas deployment a month after my due date. Anything that would make my life easier as I solo parented a newborn was a must have.
As a result, we ended up buying many things it turned out we didn’t need/would never use. I realize every baby is different and for some the items we ended up wasting money on could have been useful. However, I think our experience was pretty standard. Some of the things we didn’t use because she had zero interest in the item, like a cosleeper bassinet. Some products I honestly forgot I had bought and got by fine without.
The items I did use were used heavily and were actual life-savers. This post is dedicated to those beautiful objects that sometimes made parenting a breeze. Or at least made me not want to rip my hair out as badly.
I will link all the items to Amazon for easy reference to what they are and an estimate of cost. Of course, you can buy these from your retailer of choice if you decide you need them.
Boppy

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Usually passed out like this post feeding.

Easily my favorite baby product and the thing I used the most. A boppy is a nursing pillow that fits around your waist. It is technically a nursing pillow but is useful for bottle feeding as it allows you free use of one hand at least. I breastfed, so the boppy allowed me to have both hands free (once Little Bit had learned to latch and stay latched correctly). Once she got older, we would prop her in this to help her strengthen her neck, and she learned to actually sit up using this pillow. My mom would even lay her in it for naps, and it was convenient for stuffy noses. The only caveat is that you need to invest in multiple covers. I had one, and the regular milk dribblings meant a lot of washing and not having a cover for the pillow itself which I needed during washings as well. I’d say a minimum of two but three might be better if you can swing it.
 
Bottle Sanitizer (if you don’t have a dishwasher with the sanitize option)
My apartment did not come equipped with a dishwasher, so a bottle sanitizer was a must for us initially as I did not want to boil water constantly. There are several variations of bottle sanitizers including some you can put in the microwave but we went with a plug-in appliance that sanitized in less than 5 minutes. It worked great and was definitely much easier to use than more traditional methods. However, once we moved into our house with a dishwasher with sanitize functions, we no longer needed this appliance.
Diaper Genie
I have heard people bashing the Diaper Genie, that is was an overpriced garbage can, for years before I got pregnant and so was a little hesitant about this purchase, but it honestly makes a huge difference in odor. Where there are babies there is excessive amounts of poop. And that poop just progressively gets stinkier and stinkier as baby progresses from milk to solids (I have also heard formula fed babies have smellier poops than breastfed babies). The Diaper Genie shuts these odors in and includes a charcoal filter for additional smell protection. Your nose and the noses of your house guests will thank you. We bought two, by the way. You will need to purchase refills for the bags and the charcoal filters, but you can buy these in multi-packs.
Cloth Diapers for Burp Cloths
We did not choose to use cloth diapers over disposable diapers for our daughter. I really wanted to but in the end was too intimidated to
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She loved playing with the clothes too.

try. However, I got these flat fold cloth diapers to use for affordable burp cloths, and they were invaluable. They are simple cloth squares you can prop under baby’s cheek while feeding to catch dribbles, the keep nearby for spit up, for the use of general spills while unable to move to grab an actual towel, etc. They are super cheap to buy in bulk, and you can bleach the crap out of them, literally. Burp cloths with cute designs are way marked up for their purpose and not nearly big enough anyway. I had some burp clothes I had received as a gift at my baby shower, and they were suitable for one use before they were ready for the laundry. Not nearly as absorbent as the cloth diaper either.
 
Glider Rocker
This was a more significant purchase as a piece of furniture but also definitely worth the cost. There is only so much manual rocking a human being can do, even my National Guard hubby who lifts. A rocker is a huge help, and a glider rocker has the smoothness necessary for undisturbed soothing and near effortless transition from sitting to standing. They usually pair with a footstool which you will use, and you will be glad you bought both. We did not buy the glider linked above but bought ours from Walmart, and it has held up excellently and still gets some use today. Also, our kitty (RIP) peed on the cushion, and it came clean easily.
Pack ‘N Play w/Diaper Changing Station and Bassinet
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Bonus: You get pictures like this which are priceless.

I can’t recall the exact brand we have, but it looks very similar to the one linked above. We got massively lucky on this one, and our uncle found a gently used Pack ‘N Play with the diaper changing station and the bassinet insert (but not the little newborn bassinet on top) and gave it to us as a gift. Yard sales, by the way, are fantastic places to find baby stuff as babies grow so fast they don’t use anything long enough to really destroy it. But we used this thing regularly, the diaper changing station especially for quick changes in the living room where we kept this thing erected permanently for quick baby drops when I needed to have my hands free. I also would take it outside and let baby play in it safely while still getting fresh air during the summer.
 
Baby Gym
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The monkey was definitely her favorite.

This item gets a little less use just because the amount of time it is safe for baby to play with is so short. It is best for newborn to right before they start to crawl. After that, they start tugging it down on them or just crawling away to inspect more exciting things.  But my baby rolled over for the first time on this, and she absolutely adored the little toys that attached to it (and which un-attach for extended play options once the gym itself is no longer usable). I included it because you can purchase these at a reasonably low cost, no doubt you can find multitudes of them used in yard sales or at Goodwill.
 
Shag Rug or Rug Pad
So, as my baby was learning to sit up, crawl, and walk she was constantly falling like every other baby. The tumbles I could not prevent, but we had hardwood floors in the house. We needed to provide padding to diminish injuries, especially for her soft noggin. I ended up buying a shag rug for the thick pile AND a rug pad which resulted in the cushiest flooring I have ever felt. It is impossible for Little Bit to hurt herself when she falls on this rug and is super comfy just for floor play, especially for people like me who had hip problems during pregnancy. There is an upfront cost investment for this but entirely worth it. The rug pad also helps protect my hardwood floors and keeps the rug on top from moving which are additional perks. You could probably buy a rug with a smaller pile, and still be just as insulated, no doubt our setup is slight overkill.
Baby Sleepers
So. Many. Sleepers. I preferred these Carter’s terry cloth sleepers, but you can buy plain cotton ones as well. Honestly, this and onesies are all my baby wore as she spent most of the beginning of her life sleeping. Even when I took her out, she was usually dressed in a sleeper, though she was born in November, so the cold weather was a factor. Honestly, cute (often overpriced) newborn outfits that look like adult clothing is a money racket in my opinion. I bought my daughter some cute outfits, but they never seemed as comfy and would disrupt her sleep sometimes. A coming home outfit and special occasion clothes are really all you need besides sleepers and onesies in the beginning.
Onesies
Besides sleepers, I kept my baby dressed in onesies. On a couple of super cold nights in our old drafty apartment, she would wear both. But onesies are great basics and accessible to both put on and remove (you can roll them down over the shoulders and pull off from the bottom). They come in a million and one patterns and colors and are usually made of cotton.
Baby BathtubIMG_2945
Another baby object I have heard people say is overrated is the infant tub which sits in your regular tub. I found mine incredibly useful and much more comfortable than the sink. For one, the bathtub is ergonomically shaped for the baby to lean back on and support their heads. In the sink, without any additional support, you are using your own hand/arm (you will still need to keep one hand on the baby in an infant tub, at least until they can support their own head). But the tub also comes with a little hammock for newborns which was super useful and could be thrown in the washer afterward. The bathtub I use has three different options for baby to use, the hammock, a side sans hammock for newborns, and an infant side, all with varying angles as the baby develops. It saved water and offered additional support for baby. I bought mine for $5 at a Peddler’s Mall.
Baby Carrier
Finally, a product I found absolutely invaluable was a baby carrier. This particular one is a front carrier and is not meant for newborns. I think they recommend only using this product on infants 8 weeks and up as newborns cannot support their heads well. I attempted to use a Moby wrap, but my daughter hated the constriction of the wrap. The carrier allowed her hands and feet freedom, and she was able to use my boobs as a pillow. While solo-parenting this was the only way I was able to grocery shop as I couldn’t fit my food and her car seat in the shopping cart. This carrier felt comfortable on my back even after an hour of use, and the straps are adjustable. The carrier can be used up to 32 pounds, about the weight of my daughter now at 16 months.
Jumperoo
 
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Buttons and babies go together like PB&J.

Another of my favorite products, my daughter absolutely adored her jumperoo. Doctors advise against baby walkers so we bought this as an alternative for individual play and building leg strength. it has three height settings so it lasts quite a while (unless you have an early walker) and has a variety of entertaining toys. My daughter could spend hours in her Jumperoo bouncing and playing with the toys and listening to the music. Worth the investment and the space it takes up for sure. If you can find it gently used all the better! We had to buy ours new though.
 
 
 
Baby Swing
Baby swing barely made this list. Honestly, they are not worth buying brand new. Look for a nice, gently used one (always check for recalls when buying products used and always register new products for recall alerts). My sister-in-law found ours at a yard sale in excellent condition for about $20. They cannot be used for a long time, babies shouldn’t sleep in them. If they fall asleep you will need to move the baby to a safer sleep environment. And the weight and height limit is low, my daughter grew out of hers by about 4 months. But it did help with soothing some of my daughter’s colic symptoms which were bad from the time she turned 6 weeks to 3 months. Baby swings also take a lot of batteries and drain them quickly which can get expensive.
 


 
Besides diapers, diaper cream, formula, bottles, baby soap, etc. these were the most useful items in the beginning. Though I received a crib as a gift it got very little use and still is not used as baby cosleeps and has since birth. This is more common for breastfeeding mothers to do as they need to be fed more often and you get more sleep. Your comfort level for cosleeping is your own business, FYI. I never had a problem with my daughter and was always highly alert to her position on the bed. Also, solo parenting is terrifying and having her next to me in case of an emergency was very comforting.
I could easily raise another baby on just the items above, which don’t get me wrong, is still a house full. So save money and time and stick with the things that work.

Someday

I know there will come a day
When our daughter does not know your absence
When the distance between you and her
Is bridged and Daddy returns
Home.
 
The day when playtime is physical
Not seen through the screen
Of a “smartphone” that still doesn’t understand
The power of human contact.
 
And the USO story times become fables
As you build forts under Minnie Mouse comforters
And she follows the words you point at as you read.
 
And you enjoy homemade cookies fresh from the oven
Still steaming when you crack them open.
 
And you come home to find our love for you is still the same.