The remainder of that evening was excruciating for Wendy on both an existential level and one of survival. It hadn’t taken long at all for her to confirm her theory that whatever babyish things happened on one side of the rip correlated to something perfectly normal, adult, and satisfactory on the other side.
“Mom?” she’d asked.
Her graying middle aged mother looked up from a book she’d been reading on the couch. “Yes dear?”
“We went for a jog this morning, right?
Mom looked just a tad confused. “Yes…?” she said, as if expecting a trick.
“And we had lunch?”
Mom put her book down in her lap. “Uh-huh.”
“But before that I took a shower?”
“I assume so. It’s not like I followed you into the bathroom.”
Flashes of memory: A younger version of her mommy playing and singing songs with a very naked Wendy giggling and engrossed like it was high theater. Her standing up, stark naked in front of her father like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Wendy’s face flushed. “Yeah…I did. Trust me. I did. And then I said I was going to take a nap? Or study?”
“Where is this going?” her real mother asked.
Wendy inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her mouth to calm herself. “Nothing,” she lied. Then she decided her mother deserved at least a half-truth. “You ever have a dream that’s so realistic that it takes you a sec to sort out what’s real and what’s not?”
Mother stood up from the couch and felt Wendy’s cheeks and lymph nodes. “No fever,” she said. “Nothing swollen. Are you sure you’re feeling alright?”
Reflexively, the law student stepped back from her mother and was relieved to have the capability to withdraw and refuse the touch. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m fine. Just studying too hard, I guess.”
Mom cocked her head to the side. “I don’t see why. You sounded like a real legal historian when we were jogging.”
Another confirmation that infantile play on one side resulted in academic success in the other. “Yeah,” Wendy said. “I guess I’m just overthinking it. I’m going to go back to my room.”
Wendy should have been happy, or so part of her thought. Her little discovery and the subsequent experiment had proven immensely successful. She’d even discovered more about the other reality thanks to her prolonged exposure to it. At first, her clothes would change, but prolonged exposure would affect her mind as well.
Internally, she didn’t want to call it, ‘regressing’. Her mother being a teacher, Wendy knew ‘regression’ beyond the pop-culture hypno mumbo jumbo. Regression was when a kid learned their multiplication tables and then completely forgot them after a two week break.
That wasn’t what Wendy had experienced. “Though I did pee my pants,” she whispered to herself. It was less ‘regression’ and more ‘self-infantilization’. Overall, the experience was closer to being drunk or high. She’d been more whimsical; more open to pretend; and her emotions had been heightened to extremes. Likewise, things like a wet diaper or a naked body weren’t deal breakers when it came to fun, and it took some shocking realizations for her to sober up.
Safe on the other side of the closet in her own reality, Wendy was feeling hungover, metaphorically speaking. She was looking at the past few hours and completely mortified by everything she’d done and been seen doing. The fact that no one in this reality remembered it correctly only helped a little. Her remembering it was enough.
“I’m not doing that again,” she told herself. “No way.” At the rate things had been going a few more hours in that place and she would have been happily munching on her toes and pooping herself with abandon. That had to be the interdimensional equivalent of waking up in Vegas next to a strange guy with a new wedding ring and not knowing your last name.
The only problem with that declaration was that now that Wendy was back in the real world, she was well and fully herself in dress and mind. Which meant that she was back to being terrible at studying.
“Come on,” she said, staring at the study guide she’d magically conjured into existence. “Come on!” She closed her eyes shut and willed herself to know the facts written on the paper. Nothing. Yet when she read them over again, her brain went ‘oh of course’, promised to file it away for later, and then never did. If babies suffered from object impermancy, Wendy was suffering from information impermancy: As soon as the information on the paper was out of sight, her mind couldn’t recall it for beans.
Was this some terrible cosmic twist? She could create the perfect research aids in the world on the other side of the closet but couldn’t access the information she’d conjured in any meaningful way? Sadly, Wendy knew it wasn’t the case. This was exactly how she’d felt trying to study before she’d stumbled upon a discovery that should be rocking the scientific community. At least the interdimensional light leaking in through her closet wasn’t quite as bright this time; either that or her eyes had adjusted.
She tried different positions and locations: At her desk; standing up and pacing; sitting on the floor with her back against the wall, in the middle of the carpet with her legs crossed; dangling upside down from the edge of her bed. She just couldn’t get comfortable enough to focus. Or too comfortable.
A knock at her door caused Wendy to startle and sit up from her bed. Shit! She’d fallen asleep and hadn’t even realized it. Evidently, she’d gotten too comfortable trying to read in bed. Her body, anyways. Wendy’s dreams had been the restless half-awake variety; either that or they’d also been about her trying and failing to study.
“Wendy? I’m making pancakes this morning. Do you want them before you go to class?”
The girl leaned over in her bed and her fingers groped at the carpet, grasping for the accidentally discarded guide. It had fallen to the floor in her fitful non-rest. “Uh…okay..?” Jesus, even her voice sounded tired.
“Are you decent, honey?” Dad called.
Wendy looked down at her clothes and sniffed. She’d fallen asleep in yesterday’s outfit, on top of the comforter. “Yeah..”
Dad came in. “I just figured you were up early to see your mom off and..” he stopped and sighed. “Oh Wendy. Not again.”
“Sorry, Daddy…” She felt inexplicably embarrassed and ashamed for doing her best and failing.
“It’s not me you have to apologize to, kiddo,” Dad said. “You’re the one who’s hurting yourself doing these crazy all nighters.” Hearing her father call her ‘kiddo’ gave Wendy strangely happy bubbly feelings. Wendy was an alcoholic who’d just been given a sip of beer. “Get changed and come get some breakfast before your mom leaves.”
A few minutes later, Wendy was in an ankle length denim skirt and a pink button up blouse. She still felt kind of sticky; if her top sheet was any indication she’d broken out into a cold sweat, (at least she hoped it was just sweat). It was nothing a trip to the bathroom for deodorant and some light perfume couldn’t fix. She’d still need to take a shower after the test to get all the gross feeling off of her skin.
Just thinking about the test and what would follow it made Wendy’s stomach turn and she was thankful that she hadn’t had anything in it. “It’s just an exam,” she said to herself. “Who cares if I’m gonna fail it? Everybody fails sometimes.” Wendy hadn’t yet….but it was coming. As if to torture herself, she untangled the knots out of her hair and pulled it back into a tight bun, wincing with every hurried and painful brush stroke.
Wendy took her spot at the dining room table, where a fresh stack of pancakes was waiting for her; the butter just starting to melt. Mom’s plate was half cleaned, meaning she was likely three fourths of the way done eating; she never finished breakfast. Dad was just sitting down with his own massive stack. He’d probably shovel Mom’s leftovers onto his plate as soon as she was out the door. “Figured this would help you both fuel up for the day,” Dad said. “Don’t want you snapping at some kid or bubbling in the wrong answer on the test because your stomach was growling and your blood sugar was low.” He nodded to his wife and daughter respectively.
“I’m not complaining,” Mom said. “I got a hot meal first thing in the morning that I didn’t have to cook.” To be fair, Dad did most of the cooking in the house, but the compliment was well intentioned and received.
Wendy couldn’t quite find her appetite. She ate the flapjacks, but no amount of butter or syrup was doing the trick. It all tasted like ash and failure to her palette.
Her mother seemed to pick up on Wendy’s feelings. “Everything alright?”
Dad answered for her before she could swallow. “She was up all night studying. Again.”
“For the exam?”
“That she’s going to ace?”
For a fraction of a moment, Wendy had forgotten that her parents could understand her if she spoke up, so she just remained quiet and stared at the dripping pools of butter and syrup forming on her plate.
“Baby,” Mom said from across the table, “you’re going to be fine. You know this inside and out. You’re going to pass it.”
Wendy wanted to scream and break down and throw a tantrum. She wanted to cry and sob about how she couldn’t study and how she was going to bomb and that the test probably wasn’t going to even be multiple choice. She wanted her Mom to hug her and hold her and pat her back and tell her it was going to be okay. Unless her mother had developed telepathy, she wouldn’t be able to see past Wendy’s mask of calm.
“I know,” Wendy lied. “Just..” she shuddered. “You love me, right? Even if I do somehow bomb this test and fail this course?”
Well meaning, but unaware of her daughter’s distress, Mom dabbed her lips with a paper napkin. “Oh, Wendy. Of course I love you. We’ve always loved you and always will. We just want you to do your best.”
To Wendy’s brain, ‘do your best’ was the same as ‘be the best’. “But will you be mad if I fail?” she repeated herself.
Her mother got up, grabbed her keys and leaned over to give Wendy a hug. “You’re not going to fail,” she said. “You’ll be fine.” Neither knew it, certainly not Wendy, not consciously, but the way she answered that question sealed Wendy's fate.
Wendy managed a few more mouthfuls of pancakes and shoveled the rest onto Dad’s plate. “Where are you going?” Dad asked.
“Gonna go read for a few more minutes,” Wendy said. “Test is at nine.”
Dad swallowed more of the breakfast. Since his wife and daughter tended to eat like hummingbirds at the best of times, there was the very real possibility that he’d made pancakes for himself just as much as his family. “Want me to give you a ride to class?”
Wendy stiffened and looked over her shoulder. “Why?”
“I’m not working today,” he said. “You’re tired. Figured you’d enjoy the company.”
“How would I get home?”
“I’ll pick you up after the exam.”
The law student nodded. A ride from a parent to school. Pick up after. That was a sign; had to be. “Okay,” she said. “Cool. Deal. Maybe sooner than later? I wanna get a good seat in the lecture hall.”
Dad laughed, good naturedly. “Want to make sure none of the other kids…I mean students… can’t look off your test?”
Wendy started back to her room. “Something like that,” she called back. If Wendy was being honest with herself, she’d admit that she was forcing herself to have less time to think about the objectively dumb thing she was about to do. If she had even two hours to wait and think this through, she might lie to herself and try studying some more. Or she might talk herself out of this crazy plan.
“Okay. Just let me finish up and put the dishes in the sink,” Dad said.
Daddy ate fast. That meant Closet Daddy did too. She didn’t have much time. She shuddered. What would happen if she changed her mind and asked her father to leave? Would she come out into an abandoned house on the other side? Or would she magically transport to a carseat?
Wendy didn’t want to find out.
“Just one more time,” she told herself, staring at the faintly glowing light coming out of thin air. “I’ll go through. I’ll go to daycare instead of college. I’ll take some dumb baby test and then Daddy will pick me up and bring me home. And everyone on this side will remember me acing my course exam.”
Good thing it wasn’t Mommy. She figured she had a better chance of getting back through with Daddy on guard duty. Little girls always had a way of wrapping their fathers around their pinky fingers.
She closed her eyes and huffed. “It doesn’t matter that I’ll probably pee my pants. No one will care or remember. Same with bottles. Same with strollers and carseats and highchairs and junk. Same with…” she gulped. “Just one more time. That’s all that I need to do.”
Wendy Merts was already walking towards the shimmering rip in her closet before she’d had a chance to re-open her eyes and rethink this gamble.
The first thing that hit her, even before her vision cleared, was the smell. The light citrus accents of her perfume and deodorant had faded out and been replaced by the strong lavender tones of baby powder. That made sense. Babies didn’t wear perfume, strictly speaking. Her nose wrinkled a bit. “That’s a bit quick…”
Then again, a change of smell was faster and more subtle than the entire wardrobe transformation. Wendy looked down at herself to see if there were any other changes happening. She was not disappointed. Her denim skirt was already busy shrinking, raising itself up over her knees and not stopping until it was just barely covering her underwear.
She lifted up the skirt to peek at her panties just as they started to thicken and bulge out, becoming panties no more. Panties didn’t have velcro tapes holding them up. The diaper didn’t stay visible long, however. The front and back of her blouse stretched down between her legs, fastening themselves to each other with an audible ‘Pop! Pop! Pop!” making her skirt flare out a little like a tutu.
The fabric on her blouse became more cottony soft, and the buttons blended and melted away while the sleeves shriveled up to just before her elbows. A smart blouse and conservative skirt had turned into an adorable onesie over her fresh diaper and a bit of decorative flare that didn’t preserve modesty or limit access to between her legs in any way but left no doubt that she was a baby girl in this universe.
She saw herself in the mirror. “Damn,” she whispered. “I really do look cute like this.” As if in reply, her hair started to shift and untangle itself from its bun, manifesting and rearranging itself into pigtails held aloft by tiny elastic bands. She squinted at herself. “Is my hair shorter?” No.
The hangover/alcohol metaphor wasn’t completely accurate. An accustomed drunk took longer to get a second or third buzz, needing more time and drinks to get to that same level. In this scenario, Wendy was some kind of miracle lightweight; with her clothes transforming to their babyish equivalent even faster than the last time.
Still transfixed in the nursery’s mirror, Wendy carefully lowered to all fours. Peeking out of the leg bands, her former underwear seemed to add five pounds to her backside, and what used to be her skirt barely grazed the carpet. “I’m kind of a crawler…” Wendy said. She sounded almost relieved despite herself. A diagnostic for a not-even-toddler would be loads easier than an exam for a law student.
Right as she was starting to get the balls of her feet out from under her, the door squeaked open and Closet Daddy came in. Wendy dropped immediately back to the floor, afraid that she might somehow break the imposed illusion.
“Okay baby gi-!” his eyes widened in shock for just an instant and Wendy was afraid that something had gone wrong. Was this somehow her real father seeing her in a onesie and a diaper? Impossible, considering how much younger he looked.
The panic passed when Closet Daddy’s eyes darted downward to the carpet. “Oh pumpkin. How did you get down there?” he asked. He bent over and picked her up like she was all but weightless and rested him on her hip.
The law student let out a relieved giggle. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Daddy,” she said, certain that he’d only get the gist of it.
Right on the money the younger version of her father called out the open door. “Honey, you about gave me a heart attack! I thought you said you put Wendy in her crib after getting her dressed!”
Mommy’s voice came back. “Oh! Sorry! I was but then I changed my mind. Wanted to give her practice crawling around!”
“That’s fine!” Daddy shouted back. “My eyes just saw an empty crib for half a sec and I panicked!” His voice had lowered by the end of the second as a younger version of Mommy power walked in.
“Sorry about that, dear.”
“No harm done.”
The now young couple gave each other a quick peck on the lips, and then leaned into each other, sandwiching Wendy between their embrace. Little spots of happiness danced in Wendy’s brain at the feeling of warmth gently enveloping her.
She caught the sight of them in the bedroom mirror. An odd sight because of positioning and proportions, but oddly comforting nonetheless. The girl did a double take when she saw her hair. Had it always been that lightly colored? Did her parents dye her hair when she was a baby? No. That was ridiculous. Baby hair just tended to be lighter and finer. But she wasn’t a baby… Not really. Not in body.
The hug ended and Wendy blinked away her surprise. Still in Closet Daddy’s arms she did one last look in the mirror and frowned away her doubt. It was nothing. A trick of the light, or just looking at herself from the wrong angle. That sort of thing.
“Have a good day at school!” Mommy sang out.
School. Right. That was the point of this stunt: So she could have a good day at school. “You too, Mommy.”
“You too, Mommy!” Daddy said, echoing his daughter’s sentiment. He grabbed Wendy’s wrist and made it wave bye-bye, even though Wendy had started doing it on her own.
“And have a good day at work, Daddy!” Mommy waved back.
Mommy disappeared down the hall, leaving Wendy and a less-gray, more youthful version of the man she’d grown up with. “Bye…Mommy…” she said again. In that moment, Wendy felt a surprisingly deep sense of loss and longing. On one hand, Wendy knew her not-quite-mother was only leaving for the day. On another more emotional level it felt like her mother was getting on a plane and moving to the other side of the planet.
How silly was that? Her Mommy was just going to work for the day and would be back by the afternoon. But Wendy was planning on jumping back across to the real world before lunch. And never use this other world again, past this exception for the test. She might legitimately not see this version of her mother ever again. Needless to say that did not help to stave off the sudden melancholy.
A light squeeze and a gentle pat on the back brought Wendy back to the present instead of a future that wasn’t here yet. “Don’t worry,” Daddy said. “She’ll be back after school. You’ll have so much fun playing with your little friends that you won’t even notice.”
Just the promise of that made Wendy cheer up a little bit. He was right. She had a mission to accomplish.
“But first…” Daddy said.
“To the daycare!” Wendy pumped her fist.
Daddy spoke over her. “To the living room!”
“Living room?” Her carrier and caregiver took a wrong turn into the living room when he should have been making a beeline for the garage. “Daddy? Wrong way! It’s not a weekend anymore!”
Closet Daddy ignored her, not so much as giving a “Mmhmm” or a “Yeah.” Out of the corner, by the couch, he pulled a massive purple and green walker into the middle of the floor and positioned it so it was facing the television. Wendy let out an undignified yelp being lowered down into it, her legs threaded the harness’s holes. “Won’t be long. Ten minutes. Daddy’s gotta clean up in the kitchen before everything gets icky and sticky.”
He disappeared behind her and went to the couch. Half-instinctively, she tried to spin around and follow him in the walker but instead of carpet her feet came down on hard sturdy plastic that had no give or traction.
Calling the contraption as a walker was a misnomer. Baby walkers had wheels and let their occupants' feet touch the floor so they could scoot around upright in a kind of silly highchair and office chair hybrid. This particular device had no such wheels and a floor of its own. It wasn’t a ‘walker’ as much as it was a ‘stander’.
Wendy grabbed the sides and pushed herself up to her feet. Miraculously (or frustratingly as the case may have been) the inside seat cupped her so that it barely moved when she stood. Functionally, it was closer to the feeling of getting up from a bar stool so that her feet were no longer dangling more than the motion of coming to a full standing position up from a chair.
How had Daddy managed to get her in this? It must have been a subtler form of in-the-moment alterations, much like how bathroom changing stations and otherwise normal sized Pampers inflated themselves to meet Wendy’s specific bodily dimensions. Just another perk of interdimensional exploration: Physics didn’t always make sense.
Standing as best she could, Wendy twisted and looked at her father digging through the couch cushions. “Found it!”
“Daddy! Stop! We need to get going!”
Remote drawn, Closet Daddy pushed a button and the T.V. flickered on.
Wendy’s ears were treated to a catchy tune. She turned around and faced the T.V. and caught sight of a family of orange and blue cartoon dogs dancing with each other.
“Mum!” The orange adult dog went off to the side.
“Dad!” Her husband kept dancing after the pause in the music then walked off to join the other dog. The music resumed and the two anthropomorphic puppies started dancing again. A game! They were playing a game!
“Bingo!” The tiny orange puppy joined what had to be her parents.
And finally, “Bluey!”
What was this show?
Not even thirty seconds in and Wendy had almost forgotten her impatience and hurry to leave. Only the sight of Dad sneaking around to the kitchen and the sound of silverware being rinsed in the sink brought her out of a mild entertainment haze.
The girl huffed and crossed her arms over her chest even though no one was around to see it. “Fine,” she called over to the kitchen, determined to be in a bit of a huff. Make it quick, though!”
She sat back in the device and let her feet dangle while the hammock-like seat engulfed her. What was going on with this show? Games in the park? A ‘shadowland’ game? It was rather like “the floor is lava” save that it was outside and the only safe spots were in the shade. And funnily enough, if it weren’t for the fact that everyone on screen was a cartoon dog, the dialogue and plot could just be from the slice of life of a fairly well to do middle class Australian family (at least she guessed they were Australian based on the accents).
It was so oddly compelling and engrossing that Wendy didn’t consciously notice the passage of time. Neither did she notice that she’d started playing with the various bits and baubles attached to the walker’s activity tray. As the cartoon went on, her hands busied themselves spinning and battling at things that blinked and wobbled and twisted and turned. The whirring and clicking and light grinding noises added themselves seamlessly to the living room’s soundtrack and soft electronic lights coming from this doohickey or that entered her peripheral vision while the cartoon dogs played their funny game.
Only a minor twinge in her bladder, the dullest ache, brought her blinking out of her couch potato trance. The feeling was hardly urgent and Wendy could hold it, she supposed, but why bother? It’s not like she was going to be going potty like a big girl before she got back home.
Deep breath. One…two…and she was going; the center of her diaper warming as it absorbed the pee then wicking it away from her skin and cooling it almost as soon as she was done. In just a few short trips across the dimensional divide, Wendy Merts had become a natural at wetting her pants; almost like she’d never been potty trained at all. To be fair, unless she specifically thought about it she couldn’t tell that she was wet. Her diaper was better than some of the top shelf menstruation products she used in terms of comfort and absorbency. Wet it and forget it was definitely a viable option.
“Maybe this is why some kids take so long to potty train,” she said to herself more than anyone else. “Hard to know what wet is when you never feel it.” That and there were so many other interesting, seemingly more important things to hold a baby’s attention. The cartoons were brighter and more vibrant than the boring real world was, and the toys were simple but easy distractions.
Not counting the suction cup mounting and the bright coloration, Wendy was certain she’d seen some of these in the hands of classmates and peers. The only difference was they were called “fidgets” when they were for older people and “baby toys” when they weren’t. Did that say more about babies or her classmates, she wondered.
A quick kiss to the back of her head made her jump in her seat a bit. As it turned out, Wendy’s bladder had a tiny bit more to give, too. “Daddy!” she squealed, half in annoyance and half in delight. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“Almost ready to go,” Daddy said. “Daddy’s just gotta get dressed so he can go to work as soon as he drops you off.”
“You don’t need to tell me,” Wendy said. “Just do it.” She watched her Daddy walk into her parents’ bedroom and gently close the door behind him so he could get dressed. Just like with her Mommy she felt a bit of sadness start to creep up on her, like some primal part of herself was afraid that she was never going to see the man in any incarnation ever again.
Without thinking she tried to push ahead and follow him into his room. She didn’t want him to get lonely! Sadly, there was no escaping the activity chair she’d been plopped into. She couldn’t slink out the bottom of it and it was too high up for her to be able to disentangle herself and high step out of it. In the real world, she could have rocked side to side until she tipped over and crawled out without much problem, but just like the stroller and the highchair before it, there was absolutely no give. Throwing all her weight into it just made her feel tired and barely caused it to wobble.
She inhaled, feeling a mighty need to call out for him, just to make sure he was okay. “No,” she stopped and scolded herself. “Nope. Not gonna do it. Daddy will be right back. Just gonna watch some T.V.”
Oh neat! The show wasn’t very long but each short got the catchy theme song again!
Her ears and eyes were occupied by the charming animation and voice acting. Her right hand busied itself with more of the fidget toys. Her feet bobbed and lightly kicked, brushing themselves against the floor. All the while, her left hand busied her mouth while she sucked on her thumb and fingers. She wasn’t likely to scream out, but it felt good to have it there as a precaution, plus it felt like she was properly multi-tasking.
Her almost panic attack was pretty much forgotten two minutes later. Daddy came out dressed in a button up shirt and jeans, his hair neatly combed and parted. “Alright pumpkin,” he said. “Let’s get you patched.”
“Actually, Daddy,” she said, popping her hand out of her mouth and wiping the saliva on her sleeve. “Can we wait a minute? I want to see how this episode ends?”
Her Daddy’s doppelganger paid her no mind, lifting her up out of the walker. “Okay, almost ready to…” he stopped and patted Wendy’s bottom. “Never fails,” he chuckled. “But first…!”
“Hey!” Wendy yelped. “Where are we going?” A rather obvious question, considering she knew the path back to her room by heart. A better question might have been “Why?”, though that would have been silly to ask too considering how quickly the answer came.
“Never fails,” Daddy repeated himself. He laid Wendy back down on her nursery’s changing table. In one practiced fluid motion he secured her with a strap and started popping open the onesie between her legs. “Get them changed before breakfast and they’re wet again before you can even get them out the door.” He stared down at her diaper and nodded to himself in confirmation.
“What are you looking at?” Wendy asked. She got her answer when Daddy grabbed a fresh diaper off the stack. “The pee line!” These diapers had a color changing wetness indicator running right down the middle. No doubt Daddy had felt how much her diaper squished in his grasp when he’d lifted her up and cupped her bottom under his arm, and now that he had her onesie unsnapped he’d confirmed his suspicion by seeing the stripe between her thighs transform from a soft yellow to a bright blue.
Wendy looked up at the ceiling and placed her hands behind her head. “Okay. Fine. You got me. Just hurry up! We gotta get going! I don’t want to be late for dayca…er..I mean…school!” She kicked her feet in the air impatiently as if that might hurry her along to her adventure.
Daddy wasn’t quite ready to get started. Wendy lost sight of him, ducking down beneath the top shelf. “Hey!” she called. “Where are you-?”
“Boo!” Daddy popped up, his lips puckered out and his cheeks puffing like an orangutan. It was essentially the same thing as the peekaboo game he’d tried the other day….
Only this time, it worked. “Heee-hee-hee-heee!” Wendy kicked her legs and wriggled on the changing table, squirming in delight rather than impatience. Daddy’s silly trick made her cackle like she was seeing top tier stand-up comedy.
“There’s my happy girl!” Daddy cooed. “I don’t want to get the day started with you being a grumpy guts!” For good measure he dangled something just above. Wendy could tell that the little doo-dads were brightly colored- yellow, red, green, and blue- but Daddy was shaking it so fiercely that her eyes were having trouble focusing on what it was.
“OOOO!” The words shot out of Wendy’s mouth. “What is that? Give it! Give it here!” Her legs stilled themselves and her arms shot upwards towards the roof. “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”
“You want it?” Daddy teased.
“You want it?!”
In the back of her mind, Wendy was beginning to wonder how much this version of her father actually understood her. “Yes, I said!”
Daddy’s meaty hand stopped jingling the toy and lowered them down just enough so that Wendy could just reach them. The candy colored treats were in Wendy’s grasp almost to her mouth when her brain finally made sense of what the dangly bits were. “Keys?”
More specifically, toy keys. Plastic keys with blunted ridges on a plain white plastic ring. No sharp edges to cut tongue and gums on, and big enough so that it would be exceptionally hard for an infant- adult sized or otherwise- to choke on. Just in case, she licked them, and was slightly disappointed to find that they had no flavor besides.
“Okay,” she said. “You got me! Just hurry up and change-...” Her ankles were already crossed and her legs were already up over her head. In her near singular focus on acquiring and exploring the plastic keys, she hadn’t noticed Daddy using his free hand to untape her and open her diaper. Now without the toy keys, he was free to clean her up, wiping her bottom and between her legs with the greatest of ease.
One handed he balled the old diaper up and tossed it into the waiting pail. A flick of the wrist and its replacement was flapped open and slid beneath her. If diapers were spare tires, her Daddy could have worked as a racecar pit crew. She’d never changed a diaper herself, but with how easily and efficiently her parents did it, she could have sworn they’d been doing it for much much longer than however many months they thought she was.
He sniffed dryly through his nose. “No rash. Just a little wet. No stinkies. I don’t think you need any cream or powder.” That made Wendy a little sad. She really liked the powder! It made her smell pretty. Daddy glanced down at his watch. “Oh gotta get going!” Just like that, he finished pulling up the new diaper, securing it and then refastening Wendy’s onesie back together, and unfastened her from the table.
It was a little more than half a dozen simple movements but it was all done with such speed and automaticity that Wendy couldn’t help but let out an astonished ‘Whoah!” as her Daddy lifted her back up and speed walked out to the garage.
“On our way!” Daddy chirped to her. “We are on- our-way!”
Re-focused on her goal, Wendy smiled at her Daddy while he busied himself locking up the house and carrying her to his car. She was going to ace this non-test! And in the big scheme of things, this was just a quick bathroom break and waiting for her dad to get ready; something that would have had to happen regardless. No big deal! Everything was still going according to plan!
If it had been her first visit to this strange land beyond the rip, Wendy might have been distrubed at the giant car seat. How did it fit? How was there room for her? Did the car get bigger in the backseat? Would that affect how it steered and maneuvered? Having seen playground equipment modify itself to accommodate her fixed that. In near childlike faith, she stopped worrying about the physics of it all. She fit because she fit and that was enough.
Likewise, yesterday she might have futilely tried to slap her Daddy’s hands away while he slipped her arms through seat belt straps that connected in the middle of her five-point harness. She certainly would have said something about him reaching down and connecting them to the buckle between her thighs. Getting her diaper changed not two minutes prior had fixed that hesitation.
What was weird, she noted as Daddy closed the backseat passenger side door and walked around to the front was that she was facing the wrong way. Her car seat was facing backwards. Not even toddlers sat facing the wrong direction!
Also, calling it a car seat, specifically, was something of an oddity because Wendy wasn’t strictly sitting. Much of her weight was still distributed on her rear, true enough, but she was being cradled. It was more of a ‘car recliner’ than a ‘car seat’.
Positioned as she was, Wendy could see out the car’s back window, but because of the angle she was at she could only see the cloudless morning sky. If she leaned forward she could look out the passenger side window, but because of the restraints, she couldn’t sit up enough except to see more of the same. The mirror that hung along the actual back seat headrest directly in front of her made it so she could see Daddy’s rear view mirror; specifically his reflection checking up on her, but the rest of her world was confined to car upholstery.
“Comfy, Wendy?” Daddy didn’t wait for her to respond. He probably didn’t expect a coherent response.
Wendy said “Yeah” anyways.
The engine hummed to life, and Daddy leaned back and looked over his shoulder so he could back out of the driveway. Right as the car stopped to shift gears, he paused, spared a look down at her, and booped her on the nose.
An electric jolt, part adrenaline, part temptation traveled from Wendy’s nose to the base of her spine. If only she could bottle this feeling and take it home with her.
“How about some music?” he asked once the car started rolling forward.
“Sure,” Wendy said, looking into her back seat mirror like it was a television. “Do you have the Bluey Theme Song? Or maybe just turn on the radio? What about some-?”
She hadn’t finished speaking when Daddy turned the music on. He wasn’t even waiting for her to finish. A hard rock cover of The Itsy Bitsy Spider blared out; one of those albums of little kids’ songs done in non-nursery rhyme format so that the adults buying them wouldn’t be bored to tears. Wendy’s eyes bulged from her skull and she let out a cry with the first chord. A few minutes prior, she would have just winced and covered her ears, but plunged deep into baby brain the sudden volume shocked and discomforted her in almost unbearable ways.
The music had blared for ‘Itsy Bitsy’ and had been cranked back down by ‘Spider’ but tears still threatened and lingered in Wendy’s eyes.
“Sorry, baby!” Daddy said. “Daddy must’ve been jamming out to his music last time and forgot.”
And just like that it was better, and Wendy was able to enjoy the music, the skyline, and the motion of the car’s stops, starts, and turns. Closet Daddy’s warbling of ‘Bah Bah Black Sheep’? Not so much, but it wasn’t enough to make her cry in pain or panic. Her emotions were waves upon the beach: In, out, in again. Cresting and falling. Stunning and disturbing. Refreshing yet draining. At any given moment, Wendy was realizing, her feelings were either out and full force belting out of her or so tiny as to be inconsequential. On or off. No volume control. It’s why the playground trip had been so exciting.
Thankfully time in this reality wasn’t decreasing her mental faculties. She knew how to walk and talk and feed herself and go pee pee in the potty and that sheep was spelled s-h-i-p, even if she wouldn’t get an opportunity to demonstrate those skills. She contented herself during the ride by singing “The Elephant Song”, even if Daddy only heard silly babbling in its stead.
It was a mixed bag of songs as far as recognizability went. For every ‘Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed’ and ‘There’s a Hole in the Bucket’, there was a ‘Sorry, Excuse Me’ or a ‘What Do You See?’. These songs were completely unfamiliar to her, yet it was easy enough for Wendy to figure out the pattern by the second verse and finish the song. This gave her an extra boost of confidence. If she could adapt to unfamiliar baby songs, she could handle whatever this side of the rip threw at her in place of her law exam. She didn’t have to remember things from her childhood as much as be able to adapt and do what came naturally.
Speaking of the memory, the unfamiliarity of some of the songs did beg the question: Were these older songs that never caught on or were these newer songs that were being popularized today? Was this side of the rip a true time warp or a complicated alternate reality where everyone in her life was born over twenty years later? Given the cartoons she’d seen, she was inclined to think the latter.
She was all but headbanging to ‘Baby Shark’ by the time Daddy turned the car off and announced “We’re here!” He came around and unbuckled Wendy from the monstrously proportioned car seat, picking her up while Wendy instinctively looked around.
The more and more information she took in, the more she was convinced that this was an alternate version of the here and now instead of a place out of memory. The parking lot was relatively compact with a little over a dozen spaces total, ideal for a place where the majority of vehicles would be there just long enough to drop off and then pick up their little ones. The only other cars in the lot were parked farthest away from the entrance, likely employees; well maintained but lower priced vehicles that were likely past their warranties by now: a classic hallmark of people who worked hard but weren’t paid well enough.
The building itself was only one story tall, but from the outside looked impressively big. Gray bricked with large reflective windows and an archway leading inside, the building might have at one point been an insurance agency or an accounting firm. The bright red shutters on the outside windows gave the exterior a more homey, school house look.
The various colorful letters and numbers that had been screwed and drilled into the wall continued to drive the point home. Where once Romanesque columns likely held up the walkway, a pair of giant crayons framed the entrance. Just in case there was any sort of confusion as to what this place was, the sign above read: “Bouncing Babies Academy” in bright white bubble letters. For extra emphasis, a cartoon baby, smiling and sitting in only a plain white diaper bounced across the sign from left to right; with playful bouncing arcs showing it’s trajectory.
“This is definitely new,” Wendy said to herself. “I would remember something like this.”
“That’s right,” Closet Daddy cooed. “We’re here at school!”
“You can’t understand anything I’m saying, can you Daddy?”
The only reply was Daddy’s quick and thunderous footsteps towards the front door. Across the threshold was a well air conditioned check in area with a heavy countertop. To the left and right of the countertop were closed doors, and the space immediately behind the countertops was occupied by bookshelves filled with files. Definite dentist office or doctor’s office vibes.
A heavyset woman with thick curly blonde hair looked out from behind a computer monitor. “Good morning!” she practically sang.
“Morning, Diane!” Daddy said. “Checking in.”
“Of course,” she clicked on her keyboard.
“Morning, Wendy!” A sudden blush rose to Wendy’s cheeks at being addressed so directly by a stranger. A nice looking, but unfamiliar person was giving her attention, and she didn’t quite know how to deal with it. Yet another grown-up that seemed to know her name but she wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a line up! How awkward! “Someone’s a little shy this morning.”
“Give her time,” Daddy replied. “I just think she’s still sleeping. Mama’s morning milk is finally kicking in.”
“We can put her down for a nap if she needs it,” the woman replied.
“I don’t think so. I think once she gets crawling along she’ll be fine till lunch.” Daddy bobbed her up and down as parents did when trying to keep a young child calm.
A few more mouse clicks, and the woman said. “Okay. She’s checked in. Do you want one of her teachers to come and get her or…?”
Closet Daddy shook his head. “No. I know Miss Donna and Miss Jay have their hands full. I don’t mind going back.”
“Okie dokie. You know the way.”
Daddy went to the left door and opened it. He took an immediate left turn down a hallway past a water fountain and a small room with a vending machine. It was quiet, but not silent. Wendy could hear faint laughter and coos mingled in with children’s songs and the sound of women talking. The sounds grew louder and intensified when the hallway opened up to a large pod area, with different doorways arranged in a semicircle.
The pod itself had tiny tables with tiny chairs arranged all around them, practically a hobbit’s banquet hall. The area was empty of any such whimsical fairy people, sadly.
From the second door on the left, a middle aged black woman with her hair in braids walked out, carefully stepping over a baby gate. “Hiiii Wendy!”
“Hi Miss Donna,” Daddy said. He handed Wendy over without hesitation. “She’s already had breakfast and I changed her just before we got in the car. So she should be good to go for a while.”
Wendy felt herself tense up when the woman gently patted her bottom. It was exactly the same way that Daddy had checked her less than an hour ago, but the same type of intimate contact coming from a complete stranger had thrown her off her guard. Her teeth grinded against each other unconsciously. “She seems good now.”
A toddler girl in jeans and light up sneakers ran out of a nearby classroom. “Miss Donna! Miss Donna! Jayden pooped his pants!”
Walking and talking? Wendy felt like her face started to match her onesie. From a physical standpoint she might be the biggest baby here, but she was far from the oldest.
“Oh? Did you tell Miss Cee?” the woman holding Wendy said, nonchalantly.
The girl nodded so enthusiastically her headband flew off. “Uh huh! He’s gettin’ his hiney wiped right now!”
Another adult stumbled out. “Emily!” she said, her voice growling but playful. “Get back in here!”
The toddler gleeful ran back, her feet stomping and her pants starting to sag to reveal her pink Pull-Up.
“Sorry Donna!” The new teacher said.
“Don’t worry about it, Kate!” The door closed behind them, leaving only the milieu of paper caterpillars decorated with children’s names in sight. Miss Donna regarded Daddy. “Some of the caterpillar kids are starting potty training. A couple keep tattling on each other whenever somebody has an accident.”
“Fun,” Daddy said, rolling his eyes.
“Yeah. Kinda at that awkward stage. Some are still in diapers, others are in Pull-Ups and a precious few are in big kid undies.” She grinned, ruefully. “Changing mats, training pants, and regular toilets all in one room. Such is the life of a caterpillar”
Daddy spared a look at the closed door. “All while having to teach shapes and colors and counting?”
Miss Donna nodded. “Mmmhm. It’s why I like the Ladybugs. Things are messier but simpler.”
“Amen.” Daddy agreed. He leaned in and gave Wendy one last kiss on the cheek. “Bye bye, pumpkin! Mommy will pick you up after work!”
Another surge of terror and melancholy loomed up in Wendy’s heart. Daddy was leaving. Going away. Maybe forever. The world became a big black raincloud and she felt as if she were at his funeral. Daddy’s retreating back might as well have been a closed casket. She would never see him. Ever again! Despite herself, her lips twisted and her face contorted as if to give a banshee’s mournful wail.
“Don’t worry,” the newest familiar stranger- Miss Donna apparently- told her. She gave a peppy little bounce. “You’ll see Daddy later today, after your Mommy pics you up.”
Wendy sniffed and wiped away tears she hadn’t consciously realized were starting to form. That was right. She’d see him again. Right after Mommy-
Mommy! With that single sentence, Wendy’s brain went on high alert: Mommy? In the real world it was her father who was supposed to pick her up from the exam site, way before lunch . After work? Mommy was still a teacher in this world. She wouldn’t be off work until at least three in the afternoon! Longer if she decided to buckle down and grade a bunch of papers. Wendy had only been planning on spending an hour, two at most at this place, now she would be in for a full day.
“Daddy!” she called out. “Wait! Stop! Come back! Waaaait!” But Daddy didn’t turn around. He didn’t so much as look back. The gap only widened as Miss Donna carried her further away into the daycare’s nursery. “WAAAAAAAAIT!”
“Don’t worry,” the stranger promised. “He’ll be back. He’ll be back.” She patted Wendy on the back to comfort her. It didn’t. Already a cosmic monkey wrench had been thrown into her plan. In and out had been the order of the day, but it might just be stretched out into a marathon.
Wendy was put on the floor bottom first, but wasted no time in shifting over to all fours, skittering toward the baby gate like a cat that had just been tossed in a bathtub. She could make it over and out, no problem. The baby gate was short. Shorter than even the fences at the park’s playground.
Just as with everything else in this reality, logic and proportion fell sloppy dead when she interacted with it. The wooden gate wedged feebly in a doorway sprung towards the ceiling as soon as she was within arm’s reach. In the real world, Wendy would have easily high stepped over it or even knocked it over with a well placed kick. At present, there wasn’t enough of a gap between the top of the gate and the door frame to slip her arm through and it had the strength of a wrought iron prison cell instead of a wooden gate. And of course, no one native to this timeline seemed any the wiser at the change or discrepancy.
“Daddy!” Wendy called out, even though her father’s doppelganger was long out of sight. “Come back! Get me out of here!” Tears dripped onto her face. She hadn’t mentally prepared herself to spend more than two hours like this and her emotions were still in full infant mode so that even minor setbacks felt like a death sentence.
Grunting, Wendy pulled herself up to her feet and shook the barrier with all of her might to no effect. “Let! Me! Out!” Her voice cracked and her throat swelled. She couldn’t spend all day like this! She didn’t belong here! She wasn’t really a baby! Just a law school student looking for a short cut!
A new hand wrapped itself around her waist and gently pried her from the baby gate. “There there,” a silvery haired woman with big glasses and well worn laugh lines on her face said. “It’s okay, baby girl. Just get all your feelings out.”
“I’m! Not! A! Ba-!” Wendy stopped herself, realizing that the outburst was having the opposite effect on her, making her feel more babyish, not less. Maturity was much like power, and having to declare it had the opposite perceived effect. Only babies insisted that they weren’t…
Leaning into the other woman, whom Wendy assumed was Miss Jay, Wendy started to slow her breathing and try to wrangle her emotions. The gentle back pats and rubbing motions that the grandmotherly woman was doing helped to. “That’s right,” she whispered. “You’re fine. You’re safe here. Everything’s fine. Little girl’s going to have a good day today. Isn’t she?”
Mutely, Wendy nodded. That was right. She was going to have a good day. Just like yesterday. Even better because by the end of it she’d accomplish more than the other had. Even now, in the real world some professor or proctor’s memory was being altered to remember giving a test and an encouraging word to a nervous but otherwise prepared young woman.
The young lady inhaled and held her breath before releasing it again. Then once more. Ragged breaths turned into peaceful sighs and the pounding of her pulse left her ears so that coos and babbles mixed with light nursery rhyme music could take its place. “There, we go.”
One small crisis averted, Wendy was placed back down on the floor, bottom first.
Just as quickly, more crying rang out, this one coming from an actual baby. “Miss Jay,” Miss Donna called out. “Lindsay’s leaked!” Wendy saw a chubby little girl, only identifiable as such, because of how lavender and frilly all of her clothes were- dress, diaper cover, tights, socks- everything screamed ‘little girl’. Wendy normally only saw kids in clothes like that during the Holidays or Weddings, and someone had dressed this childlike on a Monday morning. To ruin the effect a dark wet patch had shown up inside the kid’s dangling thighs and was spreading.
“I got the last one,” the older of the two caregivers said.
The black woman was busying herself laying the baby down on the nursery’s changing table and stripping the shoes and tights off the kid. “I know,” Miss Donna said. “I’m already on it. But we’re out of plastic baggies to put dirty clothes in.”
“Got it,” Miss Jay said. “I’ll pop over next door to get some. Does she need clean clothes?”
Miss Donna multitasked, grabbing gloves and a clean diaper out of a bin next to the table. “I don’t think so. I caught it in time to save the dress. Tights and panties just got wet.”
“So many layers probably made her leak,” the older of the two said. “Too much constriction down there.”
Miss Donna had already started changing the baby. “Preaching to the choir, there.”
“You’ll be okay here?”
“I think things’ll be fine for the two minutes it takes.”
Wendy joined the grandmotherly woman in scanning the room. The place was a dictionary level example of controlled chaos. Toy shelves laid barren, their colorful and soft contents strewn throughout the floor in a minefield. Babies, all of whom were decidedly less than a year old, played contentedly; some crawling, some stuck on their backs batting at shiny mobiles, others chewing on things that both were and weren’t meant to be chewed on. One particular kid sat and clapped his hands, yelling “YAH YAH YAH YAH!” at the top of his little lungs. The Ladybug Room might not have been for Newborns, but it was definitely not for toddlers, either.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Miss Jay said. “Need anything else while I’m out?”
“Coffee!” Both women let out a quick laugh. Then Miss Donna crooked her head over towards the cubby. “Seriously though, see if Morgan’s got any extra Luvs? We’re down to just one in her cubby.”
“That’s not gonna last the day with Morgan.”
“Nope. Gotta remember to tell her Mom to bring more.”
A little girl in a duck yellow onesie looked up curiously from their play mat. “Awww! Somebody heard their name! Don’t worry baby, we’ll take care of you.” Then to Miss Donna she said. “Be right back.” The older woman stepped up and over the retracted baby gate, on to look for plastic bags and spare diapers.
Meanwhile, Wendy found herself searching around the playroom saying names to herself. “Morgan…” she said to herself. “And Lindsay?” She was crawling over towards the changing table before even realizing it. Pretending to be only able to crawl had become like a second nature for her by now, she noticed, feeling a hint of pride at how skillful she was at deceiving the grown ups. Reaching the table, she looked towards the little boy. The same kid who’d shared the swingset with her. “Petey…?”
Carefully maneuvering in and out of stuffed blocks, board books, jack in the box style toys, and other kids, Wendy veered right of the changing table and crawled over to the cubbies. Mounted on the wall high enough so that the actual children had no hope of reaching, the square shaped holes were stacked with pacifiers, fresh diapers and extra clothes.
“Can’t. Quite. See.” Wendy whispered. Like a super spy in the movies, she waited just until the daycare worker finished re-diapering the actual child, picked her up and went to place her back in the middle of the room. Then she grabbed a table leg and climbed to her feet, staring at the names of the children.
Wendy squinted at the cubbies. Whichever woman wrote the kids’ names must have done it with their non-dominant hand or something. It was practically chicken scratch. Wendy leaned forward to get a better look, but thought better of stepping closer or release her grip on the table. The way things had gone so far, the very walls might stretch to keep the cubbies out of reach.
To the right of each name was a tiny photograph of the baby in question; some smiling, some not. Baby pictures could be tricky that way. She’d never met any of these children, but for some reason looking at the pictures next to the writing helped her decipher what was written. Much like the way that children can recognize the logos for McDonald’s and Disney long before they can actually read, Wendy decoded the names on the bottom row.
“Morgan. Lindsay. Peter. Tonya.” Just like the names of the children in her Law class! That sealed it! This couldn’t be a coincidence! Instead of fear, Wendy felt excited enough to burst! Now she was certain that at the end of the day people would remember her acing her History of Law exam! This was a good omen!
Her eyes skimmed up to the top row and froze. “Wendy…?” Wendy saw her picture. A giggling, eyes closed baby picture with a bonnet; a fairly standard shot for any baby picture. That wasn’t the problem. Just like at home, this was no chubby cheeked baby version of herself. That wasn’t the problem, either.
It was Wendy in that photo, but a younger version of her. Not much younger, the subtle difference between one’s early twenties and late teens, but Wendy was still sure that picture was dated. “How long have I been enrolled here?” She wondered. By her own reckoning she was only supposed to be nine or ten months old in this reality.
Like a drop of oil being smeared across it, the photo warped, bubbled and blurred. Just as quickly, the distortion cleared. “Huh?” Wendy dared to lean in further and stared, trying to sus out what, if anything had changed in the photo.
Big, red rimmed, white headed, pus filled acne, dotted the girl in the photo’s cheeks. The same affliction of krakatoan sized craters had befallen Wendy back in highschool the year before Mom and Dad sprung for a dermatologist. It had been bad enough that Wendy had rushed to the DMV afterwards to re-take her driver’s license picture. “Why does it…?”
Without realizing it, Wendy released her grip on the changing table and brushed her cheek. Her eyes widened and her breath stuck in her chest.
Oily, irritated disgusting pustules ready to burst open and pour directly onto her skin like a geyer if she so much as pinched one with her thumb and pinky!
A surprised shriek leapt out of her. So surprised was she that she stepped back and felt her heel knock against something and caused her to lose her balance. The trip down to the floor was a short and soft one, cushioned by the extra padding on her rump, but it was no less startling. “Pimples!” Wendy cried out, flapping her arms. “Why do I have pimples?!”
Her heart back to thundering she patted along her face and felt…nothing. No soreness or irritation. No bumps. Her skin was smooth, baby smooth even. Had she been hallucinating? She tilted her neck to the ceiling, trying to get a better look at her so-called baby picture, but couldn’t see herself from where she was sitting.
“Wendy?” Miss Donna gasped and ran right in front of her, blocking her view. “How did you manage to stand up? Are you okay, hon?”
“Y-Yeah,” Wendy stuttered, even though she knew that the adult probably couldn’t understand her. Hopefully the tone still translated. “Yeah. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” Miss Donna’s lip pouted out, and she picked Wendy up again, cradling her and turning her over this way and that, inspecting the girl for bruises. “I swear child, some of you are gonna be the death of me.”
She didn’t put Wendy back down, quite the opposite, actually. The changing table and cubbies with her and her friends’ pictures on them got further and further away in a matter of steps. “If you want to practice standing up, let’s be safe about it.” That is how for the second time that day, Wendy Merts ended up with her legs threaded through a giant sling, her body weight not quite supported and her unable to get out on her own.
It wasn’t exactly the baby walker: For starters she was more or less dangling from the ceiling. In her walker at home, the part that she sat in wasn’t the primary feature. Here, it clearly was, with only a bar with some spinning widgets on it above her head to whack at. It also had more give, allowing her to bend her knees and jump, but still supported her weight enough that she could dangle if she wanted or just didn’t have the coordination to land on her own two feet. Part bungee cord, part baby walker, part hammock. “Aw poop…”, she realized. “I’m stuck in a friggin’ bouncer.”
And so she was.
About a minute later the older of the two women, Miss Jay, stepped back in, a gallon ziplock baggie in one hand and a stack of three or four diapers in the other. The baggie went to her coworker and the diapers got shoved in a cubby. “I swear,” Miss Jay said. “I don’t know why they dress that little girl up like that..” They spoke with the kind of certainty and candor that people did when they knew no one would overhear them, (or rather that no one who did would be able to report).. “It’s not like the kid cares.”
“Yeah,” Miss Donna agreed. She slipped the leaked on tights and diaper cover in and then sealed the baggie closed. “You’d think her parents would at least spring for diapers that didn’t leak as often. Keep all those nice clothes clean.”
“She’s a fashionista!” Wendy hollered over the low babbling and ruckus. “Always has been.” Both women turned to regard Wendy, but showed no recognition that she’d done anymore than squawk. “Right,” Wendy sighed. “Forgot. You can’t understand me.” She bounced a little bit, fidgeting nervously. “It’s true though…”
The twenty-two year old in the bouncer kept scanning the room, mired in her own thoughts. She had already determined that what went on in this daycare today would somehow parallel to what was going on in her real Law School class. The trouble is with so many variables, present she didn’t know how things were playing out on the other side of her closet. She didn’t know or recognize half of these rugrats; which made sense in a way because she’d be hard pressed to remember half of her adult classmates.
What was the real Lindsay doing, Wendy wondered.
Lindsay, the real Lindsay, anyways, was always fashionable. On days when everyone else would be taking notes in t-shirts and jeans, she’d be dressed in something flashy and stylish. Lindsay dressed the way people in the movies thought women dressed, as if normal people their age had the time to get up before dawn every morning and perfectly style their hair, do their makeup and have perfectly pressed and dresses, skirts, blouses, and the like ready to go. Wendy couldn’t remember seeing Lindsay walking around without a pair of heels.
This Lindsay couldn’t even walk yet, but that was probably the only reason she didn’t have shoes on stilts with pointy toes. Wendy giggled to herself; first about the idea of a not-quite toddler learning to walk in heels, and then the idea of her college aged classmate getting the baby treatment. The image of Lindsay getting laid down first thing in the morning, and then diapered and then layered into ever more ridiculously feminine clothing was hilarious to Wendy; hilarious enough that she forgot to consider how she herself looked.
Looking at baby Lindsay busily smacking a stuffed rabbit, Wendy thought the grown ups had a point regarding clothing and functionality: Underneath her fancy baby dress was just an average disposable diaper; one that leaked when pressed too tightly against her by double layers of tights and covers. Honestly, if Lindsay had been dressed like that as a baby, Wendy wouldn’t have been surprised.
For a true one-to-one ratio, Wendy would have guessed Lindsay’s baby equivalent would have been in some top-of-the-line leak proof guarantee diaper; or a fancy cloth one with golden safety pins. How funny would it be to find out that beneath her stylish silks and cashmere sweaters that Lindsay wore plain cotton granny panties from Walmart?
The big girl pretending to be a baby giggled at the imagined irony. She resolved to ask Lindsay if she dyed her hair when she got back. A ‘yes’ to one might hint at the other.
Laughing as she was, Wendy thought she felt her bladder spasm, and sucked in her breath. She jumped and bounced a little bit in her harness, but felt no additional wetness or squish beneath her. “False alarm.” She didn’t know why she was afraid of wetting her pants; she’d done it several times already, but some ever shrinking part of her reminded that it was something she should be concerned about. Unlike the rest of this daycare’s residents, Wendy wasn’t actually an infant. She didn’t actually need any of this stuff, she was just here to benefit from a glitch in a cosmic system.
From her spot dangling just above the floor, Wendy looked at the babies; the real babies, that is. They crawled and rolled and laid on the floor. What were her classmates doing? Did Lindsay’s repeated abuse of a stuffed animal mean that she was stuck on a question? Did Petey’s babbling of “YAH YAH YAH YAH!” mean that Peter was celebrating a job well done?
Wendy watched a bald little thing, Morgan, crawl around and explore the room in just a t-shirt and Luvs. Was this the adult equivalent of flipping through exam papers to answer the easiest questions first or skimming to get a sense of scope? Wendy didn’t know. She’d planned to be out of here by ten, but might be stuck for longer if what Closet Daddy said held true.
The caretakers had mentioned something about Morgan needing additional diapers. Did adult Morgan constantly take bathroom breaks or something? If so, Wendy had never noticed. There were no hall passes or bathroom breaks at the collegiate and graduate level. Adults just slipped in and out of the lecture hall as needed and professors being offended and stopping class because someone was quietly standing up from their seat was nothing more than a product of cinema. It was a silly correlation to begin with, Wendy knew. Babies just went through several diapers a day and the kid was down to one.
Tonya, the baby one anyways, started crawling to the empty toy shelves. Right next to Wendy’s bouncer, they were mounted into the wall and as far as she had seen, barren; their contents already spilled out and spread around the floor. Curious, Wendy looked on as the child crawled over, grabbed a sturdy shelf and pulled herself up to a standing position.
Miss Donna, who was busy playing on the floor with one of the other kids, caught sight of it. “Jay! Look!”
“On it!” Miss Jay shuffled over and grabbed a clipboard and started jotting notes down on it like she were watching the story of the century. “Somebody! Is! Cruising!”
“Cruising?” Wendy echoed. “Cruising? What’s cruising?” Based on the context, ‘cruising’ must have meant shuffling from side to side using a bigger structure for support.
Baby Tonya let go. “Oh!” The women said good naturedly. She took a step back and her legs started to wobble. “Oh! Oh!” Tonya buckled and plopped butt first on the floor. “Ohhhhh!”
Miss Jay reached down and gave her co-worker on the floor a celebratory high-five, then walked over and patted the little one on top of her head. “Good job, Tonya! You’ll be walking in no time!”
“Hey!” Wendy scowled. “What about me! I did something like that too! You just weren’t looking when I did it!” She couldn’t believe it: Not only was Tonya starting to surpass her, again, but all of those feelings of inadequacy and jealousy were being directed towards a literal baby! “Let me try! I can do it!”
The old woman pivoted and stepped to the bouncer. “Well hello, Wendy,” she said sweetly. “We haven’t had much time to talk today! I hope you’re doing well!” Every sentence ended on an upward note, the same way people did when talking to a puppy or a small child. “Are you?”
Wendy bent her knees and bounced slightly. “Get me out of here! I can cruise too or whatever you call it! I was doing it just a second ago!”
Miss Jay’s face lit up. “Uh-oh! Somebody’s a bouncy girl? Are you a bouncy girl?”
A flip switched on in Wendy’s brain. “Heh. Yeah, I guess.” she said. She felt the corners of her mouth tugging upward, and didn’t resist. “I kind of am a bouncy girl, aren’t I? Heh-heh.”
The woman’s face went silly and googly eyed. “Are you my widdle kangaroo?”
Wendy tried to giggle out a “yeah”, but the “Ha-ha’s” overpowered it.
“Hoppin’ around like a bunny rabbit?” The snowy haired lady snuck two fingers behind her head and bounced quickly on the balls of her feet. The extra bit of physical comedy sent the hilarity over the top.
“Yeah!” Wendy’s voice cracked from laughter. She wasn’t being tickled physically but the sight of the kindly old lady playing pretend lit up the pleasure centers of her brain. “Yeah! I kind of am a bunny rabbit!” The Pampers and her onesie weren’t a true cotton-tail, yet her butt was certainly fluffier than usual. She did her best to settle her weight back down to the floor so she could plant her feet and wiggle her hips.
“Such a cute baby bun-bun!”
Spastically, Wendy started clapping her hands, absolutely shaking with joy. She really was a bunny rabbit! She used her whole arms to clap, and from the outside she knew she looked like a monkey banging cymbals together, but she didn’t much care. Neither did she care that her fingers were splayed wide open, accidentally missing and interclasping with each other with each clap. There were two year olds with more coordination that she was displaying at the moment. Good thing she wasn’t supposed to be two.
All of a sudden, Miss Jay was facing away from Wendy. She hadn’t moved otherwise; hadn’t walked away to tend to another baby or started up another discussion with her work partner. She wasn’t doing anything.
“Miss Jay?” Wendy asked. “You okay?” The woman wasn’t moving. She was a statue or an animatronic that had been shut off. “Miss Jay?”
Miss Jay pivoted back around and stared at Wendy. Just stared. No talking or movement. Her face was set in stone and neutral like the fancy guards at Buckingham Palace. Her eyes were unfocused. Trance-like. Looking past and through Wendy instead of at her.
“Miss Jay?” Wendy said. “Miss Jay?” Was the old lady having a stroke or something? Wendy reached out to try and tap her on the shoulder but couldn’t reach. “Are you okay, ma’am?” The woman remained stockstill, slack and frozen in place. Wendy looked back over her shoulder and had only plain brick wall behind her. She craned her neck and looked at the spinning fidget toys above. “What are you looking at?” She waved her hand in front of the woman’s face. “Hellooo?”
The caretaker came back to life. “Did you get that Donna?”
Miss Donna was jotting something down on another clipboard. “Yuh-huh. Definitely noticed the change in behavior. The diagnostic says it would be better if she tried to make you laugh back, but she definitely noticed.”
“We can try again later, just in case.”
Wendy’s jaw dropped. She was being tested?! She couldn’t believe it!
“Social developmental level: Average.”
“Average?!” Wendy screamed. “What do you mean average?! When I was a baby the first time I was ahead of everything!” She was so mad she was literally bouncing. She was so surprised her voice had gone up nearly an octave. “You want me to make you laugh? I can make you laugh!” She made her eyes go jiggly and puffed out her cheeks like her face was a balloon, but neither of the grown ups were looking at her.
“Okay, okay.” Miss Jay put the clipboard on the empty toy shelf and scooped the girl up by the armpits. By this point, it was practically second nature for Wendy to wrap her legs around the lady’s thigh. “Don’t want you to get too used to staying in one spot. Don’t want to turn you into a little couch potato.”
“Not a problem,” Wendy replied. “Not a-” She felt a hand pat her butt. “Hey!”
“Hmmm,” the daycare worker said. “A little bit, but not yet.” The comment seemed more to herself than anyone in particular. It certainly wasn’t loud enough for Miss Donna or anyone not right up against her to hear.
“Not what yet?” Wendy tried to ask.
Instead of a reply she got ripped away from the woman’s hips. They were about the same size, but the difference in universe might as well have made Wendy a kitten. She could claw and squirm but there was nothing much she could do to stop herself from being pried lose.
Her feet hit the floor first. Miss Jay seemed to slow down, like she was once again half remembering something. That didn’t stop Wendy. “Let me down already!” she whined. “Up or down! Make up your mind!” Her legs curled up next to her on the carpet.
“Don’t feel like walking yet, baby girl?” Miss Jay said. She bent over and fluffed out the faux skirt on her onesie so that it more resembled a ballerina’s tutu. “Okay. You don’t have to do it right now.” She stepped around Wendy to grab the clipboard.
“Walk?!” Wendy said. “I can walk! Look!”
It should have been easy for Wendy to stand up. From where she was sitting it should have been a simple matter of gathering her legs up underneath her, leaning forward so that her weight was on and then pushing with her legs to a standing position. The key phrasing here was: ‘Should have been’. She placed her feet flat in front of her and bunched her knees up to her chest but when she leaned forward, the girl just couldn’t do it.
Her center of balance wouldn’t shift from her backside to her feet. “Must be the diaper,” she muttered to herself at about the same volume that the older woman had used. “Throwing off my balance or something.” It felt like there was truth to that. She was having trouble making her knees touch and her back end felt slightly heavier, though not enough to weigh her down this much.
Grumbling and growling to herself, Wendy turned over onto all fours. “I got this. I can past this test. I can walk.” Deliberately, one at a time, she put her feet flat on the floor and straightened her knees.
“Awwww!” Miss Donna called behind her. “Look at her tryin’! You go girl!”
Wendy’s face was now closer to the carpet than her rear end, which was sticking up and out behind her. “I got this,” she said to herself. “I got this.” With a mighty heave, Wendy pushed herself upwards
“Oh-oh-oh-oooooooooh!” The adults cried out in unison. As quickly as she’d risen, Wendy fell, her knees locking for less than a second and then crumbling beneath her.
It was less a matter of strength and more one of coordination and balance. For the half-second she’d been upright she’d felt wobbly and uncoordinated; a novice learning a new complicated dance after only watching the tik-tok once. “What the heck?!” She slammed her fists on the carpet in frustration. She tried again, but with similar results.
“Nice try, baby girl! You’ll get it!”
“At least she didn’t bang the back of her head.”
Now the corners of her lips were pulling downward and her heartbeats was racing and her face flushing with exasperation. “Why can’t I walk? I was doing it just a little while ago!” She hit the carpet again, on the verge of a temper tantrum.
“Yah! Yah! Yah! Yah!”
“Shut up Peter!”
The little boy flinched. He might not have known the words that Wendy was screaming at him, but he definitely recognized the volume and tone. His lip quivered for approximately two seconds before tears and bawling screams shot in.
The Law Student jerked back on her hands and knees, starting to shut her eyes and lower herself into a submissive crouch at the sound of approaching footsteps. “Awww Petey,” she heard Miss Jay say. “Wussamatta baby boy? Are you wet? Thirsty maybe? Cranky? Just need a snuggle? Let’s figure it out.” The sound of the baby’s crying and the old lady trying to soothe him got farther and farther away.
Wendy opened her eyes and looked around. Neither of the daycare workers loomed over her, hands their hips shaking their heads in disappointment. Miss Donna was busy having Morgan stack blocks and Petey was on the changing table sucking down apple juice while Miss Jay unfastened his onesie.
They hadn’t made the connection, she realized. There was no infantile equivalent of “shut up” or any other insult. Babies her age…her perceived age…didn’t normally yell at each other. Not on purpose, at least. The kid had been crying his lungs out, but babies did that for anything. He’d been sitting upright and was neither bleeding nor bruised, so Wendy hadn’t been suspected.
There’d be no point in reprimanding her either, she realized. It’s not like she was suspected of knowing what she was doing. Being a baby meant literally never having to say that you’re sorry. To top it all off, the bottle of juice on top of the clean diaper seemed to be doing the trick. No harm, no foul, no guilt.
That settled, Wendy started crawling over to the empty toy shelves. If this reality’s equivalent of her teachers wanted to see some ‘cruising’ they’d see some cruising. If Tonya could do it, so could she.
A slight shudder of trepidation made its way through Wendy’s body. “Please don’t get bigger, please don’t get bigger, please don’t get bigger,” she prayed. With her luck today, Wendy knew, she could very well start to climb the toy shelf and steady herself only to have the top shelf rocket past her head and knock her off balance again. It’d be like writing an entire essay on the wrong prompt and having to start over.
With her right hand she stretched out and grabbed the top of the shelf. Nothing happened. Good. She scooted a little closer on her knees and leaned back on her heels so she could grab on with her other hand. The shelf did not warp or shift. Her fingers remained on top with her thumbs clasping underneath.. Also good.
Pushing with one end and pulling with the other, Wendy surged upwards until she was standing up right. Her body almost betrayed her, but she managed to steady herself. Her gait was too wide and her knees wobbly and her knuckles were turning white from how hard she was holding onto the toy shelf, but she was technically standing. Wendy froze; nearly breathless and totally giddy. “I did it!” She screamed. “I did it!”
Pure excitement coursed through her veins. It didn’t matter that this was something that Wendy had done and been able to do for as long as she’d remembered, the girl was full over the moon. “I’m a big girl!” she beamed. “I did it!” She wanted to jump to the heavens, but settled for bobbing her knees.
“Pulling herself up,” Miss Donna noted. “Very nice!”
For her next trick, Wendy started edging along the sides of the shelf an inch at a time, scooting and awkward like a circus acrobat on a tightrope. All told, it took her approximately half a minute to move a foot, but the grown ups were suitably impressed. “Oh-ho!” Miss Jay said. “Looks like Wendy is cruising too!” The grown ups noticed her! They really did!
“Oh yeah!” Miss Donna remarked. She slapped her forehead and jotted something down on the clipboard. “I forgot to make a note of that. She was trying some of that earlier, I just didn’t get to jot it down.”
“Two times already?” Miss Jay mused. “Looks like Tonya’s got competition!”
Wendy was feeling brave enough to let go with one hand so she could point to the baby girl in with a bow wrapped around her noggin and a yellow dress that didn’t come close to covering up her sagging Huggies. “Ha!” she crowed. “Beat that, Tonya!” Tonya didn’t so much as turn her head, but Wendy felt good putting one of her rivals on blast.
The excitement didn’t last long. More accurately it was replaced with a very different type of excitement, one of shock and brief panic. With one hand off the shelf, Wendy felt herself starting to lose balance and strength. Pivoting wildly on one foot, Wendy swung around and grabbed the siding for dear life, accidentally bumping the small of her back. A jumper out on a ledge, Wendy did the one thing she shouldn’t have done: She looked down.
It wasn’t a far drop, even to Wendy’s nearly babied brain. There was no sense of vertigo or further loss of balance overcame her as she looked down past her chest to her feet. Wendy was in no danger of falling back down just then. In looking past her chest, however, Wendy was in danger of losing something more precious than her mere balance.
Her clothes felt baggier. Her clothes weren’t falling off, just ill fitting. For just a moment, Wendy had wondered if her onesie was made out of particularly flimsy material. Maybe she’d somehow stretched it out or something. Similarly, her diaper sagged on one side, a tiny bit loose in the hips. Had in all of her movement she accidentally loosened the tabs on her diaper?
And then her clothes contracted back around her body like a vacuum seal. She didn’t want to admit what she was seeing but the girl could not deny the evidence of her eyes.
“My boobs?” Wendy asked, incredulously. “What’s happening to my boobs?”
The girl wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it happening herself, but she looked down at just the right (or wrong) time to watch her breasts start to shrink and recede like a zit right after it had been popped. The bagginess she felt in her clothes was caused by her losing body mass moments before readjusting to fit her new frame.
Not that she’d been afforded one in this reality, but she no longer needed any more support than a training bra. Her breasts were still there, and she still had the barest hint of hips, but they were severely underdeveloped. The first time she’d looked like this, she was in fifth or sixth grade and had been incredibly thrilled, proud even, that she was turning into a young woman.
“Oh no…” Wendy’s voice cracked. ‘Underdeveloped’ was the perfect word for it. “I’m getting littler,” she squeaked. “I mean younger!” Her voice was getting higher from more than just screeching in excitement. If not for the timing of her transformation, she might not have noticed. As quickly as her breasts had shrunken, her onesie had likewise reduced itself. The same force that made it so that ordinary baby clothes and furniture were adapting to fit her were continuing to do their job.
This alternate universe had done its level best to treat her like a baby: First others saw her as one. Then her clothes changed to fit the roll. Then her emotions. Then the environment around her. The only thing left was her very body. Those pimples on her face had been there. They’d just vanished after her form rewound itself to before that awful awkward year in her life. And judging by the sound of her voice and the receding curves of her body she was just barely on the other side of puberty: Fifth grade. Maybe Sixth. Seventh tops.
The first time Wendy had gotten really, truly, terribly drunk, It had been Wendy’s twenty-second birthday. Mom and Dad had given her run of the house and her friends had brought over enough liquor to tranquilize an elephant.
The first few shots made her feel bubbly. A few more and she was exceptionally silly and happy.. Mixing in the ninety-nine proof banana liqueur with their chocolate shakes had been a stroke of genius. She didn’t know who she’d made out with, but literally thought she was invisible if she closed her eyes. As her blood alcohol content rose, the night got worse. Fun happy dizziness became disorienting. Lowered inhibitions became violent mood swings.
Less than four hours in, what was supposed to be a fun night became a nightmare. She’d vomited and been genuinely proud that she’d made it to the toilet. She’d been unable to walk. She’d literally cried for her mommy.
The parallels were undeniable. This was worse and much more sobering than the sun that morning had been. She was literally getting younger, her body being warped and twisted to fit this new reality. It was utterly horrific to her and yet so logical. How had she not seen it coming? Ever since her first step into the rip, the closet reality had been busy fixing Wendy like a spider weaving to fill a hole in its web. All the cuteness and innocence had led her to underestimate the extent of the changes, leaving her feeling like a frog suddenly noticing how warm the water felt.
If she didn’t get out of here immediately, she’d be reduced to practically nothing. No boobs. No butt. No bush. Barely any hair. Next to no teeth. No voice. Nothing more than a fleshy blob with arms and legs and a sack of piss wrapped around the middle. Barely able to get around. Squalling and crying and completely at the world’s mercy.
A ten month old baby girl.
The very notion sent shivers up her shrinking spine.
“No!” She screamed, fighting for words so that she didn’t just break down and bawl. “ Oh my god, I need to get out of here. Help!”
Without waiting, Wendy pushed herself up to her feet. She’d run! She’d run and leap over the gate and get home…somehow! She could see it all in her mind’s eye. She could do it! She could escape!
The spirit may have been willing yet her altered flesh was weak and adrenaline could only take it so far. The poor girl made it one and half steps before her body lost its balance and her nose smacked right into the carpet.
“No….” she whispered. Tears started to well up. Existential dread was nothing compared to the tears and pain magnified by a child’s out of control emotions. “Nnnn…” If she opened her mouth again, she knew that nothing resembling words would exit it.
Too late, help came, just not the kind she’d wanted. Miss Donna walked up to her and picked her up. “D’aww…somebody had a tumble!” She rubbed and patted the panicking girl’s back. Shushing and mumbling sweet nothings to her. Wendy started feeling better and hated herself for it.
After her breathing slowed, Wendy was put back down and the grown up held out both hands palms up. “Come on, baby. Take my hands.” Wendy did so, thrusting her palms out face down into
“Ma’am,” she blubbered, “you gotta help me! I’m a big girl!” This was said despite the fact that she was now shorter than the other woman. Oh fuck she was shorter! She was being guided deeper into the room, away from the exit. Impotently, she pulled against the woman’s grasp.
She might as well have been trying to fight gravity.
The black woman took a step back, her face all smile and her voice incredibly calm, contrasting against the mounting panic in Wendy’s brain. “That’s right, sugar. Follow me.” She stepped back, her footsteps slow, gliding and deliberate.
The regressing girl did her best to copy her but her legs wouldn’t cooperate. When she tried to move her feet low and to the floor, her feet barely scraped a centimeter. When she tried to take bigger steps, her legs went into wild bicycle pedal motions: Right leg up above the waist, kick out, stomp down. Left leg up above the waist; kick out; stomp down. She was trudging through a pit of invisible pudding. It was more than the scaled up Pampers doing this; her gross motor skills were completely shot.
“Such a big girl!” Miss Donna cooed at her. “You’re getting so big! You’ll be walking and talking in no time!”
The praise made Wendy quiver with joy. “That’s right! I am a big girl! I’m the biggest girl in the whole world!” Despite the slight hiccup, everything was still going to plan, she reminded herself. She’d ace these silly baby tests. Then Mommy or Daddy would come and pick her up and the teachers would tell them what a big girl she was and they’d take her home and give her ice cream and cuddles and let her stay up late watching cartoons. “What am I thinking?”
The next step did not land true. Wendy lost her balance and plunged face first towards the floor. Only the caregiver’s fantastic reflexes saved her from bloodying her nose on the floor. “Whoops!” Miss Donna said, leaning in to catch her by the armpits. “I think that’s enough walking practice for now. Got it logged, Miss Jay?”
“Got it! Moving on to Jayden and Connor!”
Gently, Wendy was set down and both grown ups moved on to other babies. She was disturbed by how natural it felt to be this low to the ground. More unsettling, she realized that she was thinking of these literal infants as peers and friends. “I’m not a baby,” she said. “I’m a big g-g-grown up. Only babies worry about whether they’re big or not.”
She maneuvered around to a sitting position and looked at herself. Soon enough she might be little in the most literal definition of the world. How old was her body now? Thirteen? Twelve? Younger? She had barely felt her chest pushing back against her body when laying flat against the ground the moment before. Patting her face, Wendy could tell her cheeks weren’t feeling the same, her face having grown rounder since crossing the rip earlier that morning. Her arms and legs looked impossibly skinny, and she suddenly got a flashback of her tween self modeling in front of her mirror, worrying if she would ever fill out like her friends. Those ages were awkward enough the first time around. Wendy didn’t want a second time.
Her breath started picking up speed. She was close to hyperventilating. She needed a bag or something to breathe into. Failing that, she settled for sucking on her thumb. The relief wasn’t instant, but as her lips worked over her digit, her breathing slowed and it became easier and easier to think calmly.
“Otay,” she soothed herself. “It’s gonna be otay.” Her body was changing, but that was no big deal. Her clothes had changed too but they’d changed back once she’d crossed over back in her closet. No lasting harm had been done. It might take a little bit for everything to kick in back to normal, but she’d be okay. She’d just rush through the closet and once on the other side, she would lock the door until her body was grown up again.
If she kept getting younger, that would probably be okay too. Everyone in this universe saw her as a baby no matter what. There was nothing in her experiments to suggest that back in the real world the opposite wouldn’t happen and people would see her as an adult despite a diminished frame.
She was a little overstimulated and high on baby brain, but she’d been like that in the bathtub the other day and she’d made it out okay. All she had to do was wait out the clock and go back home, and she’d be thinking more like her big girl self the second she crossed that threshold.
In the meantime all she had to do was pass some silly baby test so that…so that…why was she taking a baby test again?
“Schoo!” Wendy shouted so loud that she literally shaked. A couple of the other babies around her startled a bit and then went back to pounding wooden blocks and stimming..
That was right! School! Big fancy grown up school! If she proved she was a big girl here in daycare, the grown ups would think that she did super good at big girl stuff. And she’d pass the baby test super easy too! She knew so much big girl stuff that it would be impossible for her to mess up a silly baby test.
She knew how to walk.
Except her body wouldn’t let her.
She knew how to talk.
Except nobody could understand her.
She knew how to go potty.
Except nobody would ask if she needed to use it. She’d just be forced to go pee-pee in her diaper. Wendy frowned. Come to think of it, it was weird that she hadn’t pee-peed in her diaper yet. She hadn’t felt the need to. What did it feel like again? She searched back to earliest memories…something about a dance and hopping in place? Maybe it tickled? That would explain why people got potty trained if going potty tickled. Who didn’t like tickling?
Why couldn’t she remember?
At least she knew shapes.
Okay. She sucked her thumb harder and thought so more. She knew all the colors!
Like red…and red…and…and…red…and…and…? Was her onesie red?
Panic didn’t rear its ugly head again. Confusion did. There was a puzzle to be solved here, but Wendy couldn’t quite figure out what the end result was supposed to look like. Even if she couldn’t remember all of her big girl stuff she knew she would do well on all the baby tests that Miss Donna and Miss Jay gave her. She’d always been smart, even when she was a baby. She only needed to do what came naturally until Mommy came to pick her-
Light harmonica music broke in on Wendy’s thoughts.
Had Wendy been a puppy she would have been wagging her tail. She knew that song! Up above the room, bolted high so that none of the babies could reach it, a television played. One of the grown-ups had turned it on and like any kid her age Wendy felt drawn to the happy music and bright colors.
“Bingo!” Wendy said in time with the song. “Bluey!” She felt super smart. Only her third time hearing it and she already had it memorized! She took a seat by Petey who had likewise been drawn in like a moth to a flame. “Hi Petey!” Her friend barely acknowledged her presence, hyper focused on the cartoon dogs playing on the T.V. screen. That was so Petey! She wasn’t even mad.
“Bottle time,” Miss Jay said after the first episode. She handed Wendy a baby bottle filled with apple juice. The way that it ballooned in her hands distracted her, but made her happy. It meant she was still a big girl…or bigger girl, anyways. It was just a waiting game by now.
The theme song repeated itself again. How many episodes were there and why couldn’t Wendy watch them all?! She laid back on the floor, drinking comfortably from her ba-ba, letting the juice flow freely and positioning herself at such an angle where she could see the screen. She reached back and borrowed the stuffed bunny that had been flailed around and used it like a pillow. Modern problems required modern solutions.
Still drinking she felt a strange, almost foreign pressure in her tummy. It wasn’t painful, just uncomfortable. Like a minor muscle cramp. Wendy wiggled a bit, trying to get comfortable. She rolled this way and that but it wouldn’t go away. Then she lifted her knees back up to her to her stomach and something happened:
Her face scrunched up and funny popping noises could be heard, though she couldn’t quite place it. Quickly, as if the discomfort were rushing out of her, she felt relief and she lowered her legs back down to the floor, smiling at the sudden nice warm feeling in her pants. Bonus! At the bottom of her peripheral vision, just around the bottle of juice, she saw what little remained of the little mounds on her chest vanishing beneath her onesie.
That explained the noise and the discomfort well enough. Her body was just experiencing the opposite of growing up. Ungrowing pains? It made sense that it felt a little funny; a little mushy. Speaking of her clothes, they were tightening again. The baggy folds and creases were being flattened as if someone was ironing her onesie while she was still wearing it. If not for the slight movements of the fabric shrinking and restretching itself, she would have barely noticed it. Earlier, it had left her diaper all droopy, but this time she didn’t have a big girl butt like her mommy to lose. Why were all the big girls having so big butts anyways, she wondered, giggling around her thumb.
A tiny bit of baby fat rippled to life, causing her tummy to stick out. It hadn’t been this way since her last years of Elementary school, when looming puberty kicked her metabolism into high gear and after school sports melted away the last of her chubby childish physique. “Muft be bak to gwade skool,” she mumbled.
Trying to think of what that meant in terms of years, she could only recall what it had meant to her back then : no longer using only one of those little scribble lines when writing her name, but two! Wow that was a big number!
The television clicked off as quickly as it had clicked on. “Okay, little ones.” Miss Donna said. “That’s enough T.V. time for today.” A couple of the kids blinked like they’d been in a trance and crawled away looking for new sources of stimulation and diversion. Tonya had nodded off to sleep on the floor. Lindsay had somehow managed to drool all over her pretty dress.
“Pffft,” Wendy said. “Babies.” She inhaled through her nose and sat up. “Ew!” she said. “What was that smell?” Her eyes wandered over to Morgan. She leaned forward and sniffed again. The stinky smell intensified.
“Miss Jay! Miss Donna!” Wendy sang. “Morgan needs changed! She’s stinky!” Of course she knew that the grown ups couldn’t really understand her, but they could still hear her making noise and recognize that she was pointing at her classmate. Their noses would do the rest.
“Peee-yew,” the caregiver said. “Yup. It’s about that time.”
Wendy smirked, feeling good about herself. These babies were lucky to have such a big girl among them. She was almost like a third teacher lady, really. In her own way she was doing a good deed, looking out for these little ones who didn’t know how to properly take care of themselves.
She went off the ground with a pair of hands scooping her up by the waist. “Up we go!” Miss Jay said. “Time for changies! Wendy first!”
A lump settled in the back of her throat. “What? No! I don’t need to be changed! I haven’t needed to go po-!” A sudden sense of sobriety overcame the girl. Speaking of lumps, she finally realized that there was a lump in her diaper and how it got there.
“Please, no!” She begged. “My Mommy and Daddy are the only ones who change my diapee! Nobody else!” Her words fell on uncomprehending ears. The clay-like lump smooshed a bit as she was first sat, then forced to lay down on the changing table. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t take much to force her regressed body down. With this universe’s physics still determined to treat her like a ten month old it took even less.
The table barely had to enlarge itself for her to fit. It was nothing at all for the older woman to shove her down and pull a strap over her deflated chest.
“I know, I know,” Miss Jay said. “You don’t want a diaper change.” She busied herself pulling on gloves and fetching a clean diaper. “You don’t want a diaper change.” No kidding! “You just want to play on the floor with all your little friends. You’ll feel much better and more comfortable when this is done.”
One by one the snaps around her crotch came undone. Her exposed, soaked and messy diaper sagged away from her body, tugging at the velcro tapes as if eager to be removed. She hadn’t even realized how many times she’d used the undergarment. Hadn’t associated the wet squishiness or the sticky lump with her going potty in her pants. She hadn’t even recognized a change in dexter. Law student? She couldn’t tell the difference between wet and dry or clean and dirty!
Wendy didn’t have the presence of mind or the confidence to be outraged! She was about to get her diaper changed! In public! Okay, maybe not in public public, but in front of all her friends from school and by a stranger that she’d known for less than a day!
In place of outrage, she tried pleading. “Please don’t change me!” She pleaded. “I’m a big girl! I don’t need to be changed! I’m super comfortable! I don’t mind waiting for my Mommy and Daddy to pick me up! They can change me! At least change the other babies first!”
Her crying and whining did her no good. The older daycare worker heard only the mewlings of a child who didn’t want to lay still long enough to be cleaned up. She opened the diaper and heard Wendy’s howling “NOOOOOOOOOOO!” as just the incoherent cry of a baby who didn’t like the feeling of fresh air chilling against her wet skin.
She didn’t flinch away from wiping down Wendy’s privates. For her perceived age, there was no such thing. Wendy still felt every bit violated while the residue of urine was dabbed off of her and solid fecal matter scraped off one wipe at a time.
Wendy had had that archetypal dream of doing a class presentation in nothing but her underwear.. This was worse. There on the elevated table, with her legs forcibly crossed and hoisted in the air, her vulnerability and helplessness was on full display. Her classmates, such as they were, didn’t seem to notice or care. They were too busy and preoccupied with their own distractions to truly notice each other, let alone Wendy. Parallel play was just another word for being stuck in a bubble.
“Where did all this come from?” Miss Jay remarked, looking down at the mess piled up inside Wendy’s open diaper and the sprinkling of used baby wipes that was slowly- far too slowly- accumulating on top. “Were you constipated or did you just have a big dinner last night?”
Anyone who has worked with infants and small children can tell you that not all cries are the same. The stereotypical “wah” most commonly comes when a child is afraid; calling out for help. Sad little tykes who don’t have the words to express sorrow have sobs that come from their belly. Frustrated to the point of tears Wendy let out a bawling, almost feral cry; screaming her throat almost raw and her tonsils rattling.
“I’m! A! Big! Girl!” It sounded downright hypocritical coming from her. She hadn’t had this voice since her age was measured in double digits.. “I! Want! To! Go! Hooooooome!” She didn’t know or care if home meant her nursery or her big girl room.
The grown up; the real grown up, kept on about her task, not minding the mid-change tantrum. For her, it was just another day. She rolled up the large (but not comically so) Pampers and stuffed it down in the Ladybug Room’s diaper pail. A clean one was slipped beneath her, yet remained open. Wendy’s angst and humiliation didn’t end there.
“Getting kind of rashy,” Miss Jay remarked. “Let’s take care of that.” That was the only preface Wendy got, the only warning. Cold, smelly cream was smeared all over and between her cheeks.
“Staaaaaahp!” Wendy bellowed. Miss Jay kept right on going, lowering her legs down so that she was resting on the new padding. “Make it staaaaaah-” She cut herself off, feeling something hot and wet drizzle against her legs, and hearing the hiss of liquid sprinkling out and hitting papery pulp. Wendy looked down by her legs. She was peeing! Peeing right into the open air mid change and hadn’t even realized it.
“Oooops!” Miss Jay chuckled. She pulled the diaper up but didn’t tape it on. When Wendy had finished, she let the urine christened nappy flop back open and reached for yet another diaper. “Guess I wasn’t fast enough. Good thing I’ve still got good reflexes.”
“You mean good thing it wasn’t one of the boys,” Miss Donna called out. She’d grabbed a mat and was changing kids on the floor.
The second change in as many minutes was just as humiliating as the first. It was practically second nature for Wendy to suck her thumb to keep the screams and tears at bay.
“There we go,” Miss Jay said, finally snapping Wendy’s onesie back up over the new fluffy white padding. “I bet that feels a lot better.”
“It doesn’t,” the girl lied. She crawled away, hearing the dry rustling of the fresh diaper fill her ears. How had she not noticed that before? Now that she was dry every movement sounded so crisp and precise. Was that going to be how she’d have to tell whether or not she needed changing? “No,” she realized. After today she wouldn’t have these kinds of problems anymore.
Based on their screams and yowls, both Morgan and Lindsay had similar opinions about getting their diapers changed. Having that in common only made Wendy feel less like the big girl she knew she was on the inside and more like the baby she was increasingly starting to resemble on the outside. “Mommy…” she whimpered. “Hurry.”
She crawled around the room, looking high and low for a clock. She had no idea how long she’d been in the daycare and how much longer she had to go like this. There weren’t any clocks in sight and neither of the caregivers could understand her to tell her what time it was. Babies didn’t need to ask what time it was.
A more chilling thought: What if there were clocks in this place and she just didn’t recognize them anymore? What if the squiggles and decorations on the walls weren’t just laminated lady bug drawings but also numbers and shapes that her brain couldn’t access the meaning to anymore?
Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw another child that was a little too big to be in this place. It was when she turned her head that she realized that she was looking in a mirror bolted to the wall. “What the…?” She looked like a kindergartener who had somehow managed to play dressup. She was running out of time!
As a last gambit, Wendy crawled over to some of her classmates. “Tonya?” She asked. “Do you know what time it is? Do you know what time even is?” The tiny little thing stared blankly at her and then released a stream of monosyllabic gibberish that could barely qualify as babble. Wendy slumped her shoulders and looked down at the carpet. There went the theory of there being some kind of secret baby language.
The carpet came a little closer to Wendy’s face. Wendy did a double take and looked at her elbows. Still locked. She looked at the babies and realized they all seemed a little taller. She was still shrinking. “Oh poopie…” Her voice came out even higher. A poor choice of words, too!
She experimentally wiggled her hips and crawled around in a circle. Unable to tell wet from dry she relied on the papery crinkling sound behind her to let her know she hadn’t had another accident. How old was she now? Five? The diapers and onesies might not have to stretch all that much to fit. Didn’t they make diapers big enough to fit kindergarteners and late bloomers?
A shadow moving over her interrupted Wendy’s train of thought “Hey sugar,” Miss Donna said. The woman seemed absolutely ginormous now, a true titan. The two grown ups seemed like members of a completely different, practically godlike, species!
Miss Donna, sat down and pushed some plain wooden blocks in front of her. “Do you wanna play some blocks with me?” Placed subtly next to her was a clipboard.
A test! Yes! Wendy was quivering with excitement. She’d seen this one earlier while stuck in the bouncer! “Uh-huh!” This might not help her get out of here any quicker, but surely it would make things easier on her when she did!
Her petite hand bolted out and grasped onto the first block and dramatically shot up in the air. With grace and aplomb and stacked it onto a second one…and watched it immediately fall off. “Huh?”
“Go on,” Miss Donna said. “Try again.”
She did. Much slower this time. Her legs, bladder, and bowels weren’t the only thing she was having difficulty controlling. Her arm was acting like one of those claw machines, getting the gist of where she wanted to go but lacking a great deal of precision. Was it her gross motor that was off? Or her hand-eye coordination? Both?
After much care and effort, she was finally able to stack one wooden square thingy on top of another. Hey! She still knew square! “ Dere!” She heard herself say. She had to grit her teeth and focus to correct herself. “There!” Now her tongue wasn’t cooperating.
“Very good!” Miss Donna clapped her hands. Wendy found herself following suit, bouncing on her bottom. “Another?”
“Okay!” She took the block from the lady’s hand and expertly…knocked the first block over. Cheeks puffing, she tossed the offending collection of splinters.
Miss Donna didn’t seem that bothered by it. It’s not like it went very far anyways. “That seems about right,” she said, moving the pen around on the paper.
About right? About right?! She was supposed to be acing this! Soaring high! Not…not average!
An electronic.beeping buzzed in the air. Miss Donna got up and touched a gray square to stop it. Was that a clock? A timer? “Lunch time everybody!” She scooped up Wendy and a baby whose big kid counterpart Wendy was unfamiliar with.
Wendy was carried over the baby gate, out into the collective pod area. Unlike before, it was now abuzz with activity. Toddlers and preschoolers waddled and toddled about, being seated at the tiny tables while the grown-ups maneuvered with machine-like efficiency between tables, microwaves and stacks of paper plates and plastic cutlery.
The pod doubled as the daycare’s cafeteria. Lunch boxes were being unpacked and children were being seated and handed sippy cups.
The law student was not among them. Miss Donna took her over to a U-shaped wooden table that was higher off the ground than anything the other little kids were sitting in. The seats were built in, too. No chair legs required with buckets built in; a communal centipede highchair. Wendy was threaded into the center seat. It was a tight squeeze, but not too tight. One big breath later and it wasn’t so tight. “Be right back!” Miss Donna promised.
Wendy saw her skin ripple and settle with additional baby fat. If her body wasn’t shrunken down to less than a year old, she was close. She reached up and touched her hair, gripping at the fine tufts on top of her head. No bald spots detected, so she had that going for her at least. She still sat taller than the nearest classmate. Maybe she was two? One and a half? Hard to tell.
Down on the floor, older kids shuffled about, almost as easily distracted but given so much more freedom. They were still trusted to sit down and eat their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and snack on their cut up grapes and apple slices.
Most weren’t potty trained from the looks of it. They had the same bulges along their midsections that Wendy had. The only major difference was when they leaned over or raised their hands over their head, someone got a look at the top of their diaper peeking out over the top of their pants, instead of out the bottom of their dresses or onesies like Wendy and her friends. A few of the taller ones had hints of pink or blue in their disposable underwear; Pull-Ups. But there wasn’t much difference.
It was enough to make Wendy feel ashamed and embarrassed. She didn’t even have shoes on. Compared to how she was dressed these one and two year olds were ready to go get their law degrees. How sad that she had reason to be jealous of kids because they got clothing that mostly covered their legs and backsides?
While the rest of her class joined her in the communal highchairs, Wendy noticed a couple of grown ups busily mixing formula and taking bottles off of heaters going back and forth into the leftmost room. Quiet, hungry cries just barely made their way out of the door, but it didn’t so much have a baby gate. That must be the room for the babies who couldn’t even move yet. Wendy suddenly didn’t feel quite as sorry for herself.
The class now plopped in their bucket seats, and a moment to tie terry bibs around the children’s necks. Miss Jay and Miss Donna started dishing out food into plastic bowls. Tiny, but still steaming bits of pasta.. “Go on!” Miss Jay said. “Eat up. It doesn’t taste as good if you let it get cold!”
Wendy felt her mouth start to water just looking at the bowl. Peter’s crawler equivalent dug right in, smearing pasta sauce all over his lips and cheeks. “Careful!” Miss Donna said, her voice full of joy. “Don’t eat too fast!” She pulled the insulated bowl out of reach so that Petey wouldn’t accidentally choke himself.
The girl with the body of a two year old and the mental state of a…whatever…was about to follow suit, but she stopped herself. Was plunging in like an animal really the most mature, most big girl grown up thing to do? She was going to get out of here at the end of the day, but she had to make her time here count, just in case. She might be at a daycare, wearing a onesie and a bib and seated in a highchair, but the adage that there are no second chances rang true all the same.
She saw Tonya with her mouth open, patiently waiting to be spoon fed. Miss Donna gave the girl a bite and the baby girl ate it up, somehow chewing daintily and smacking her lips at the same time.. “Good girl, Tonya! Eat it all up.” Tonya seemed the height of refinement and Petey the slob.
Hedging her bets, Wendy followed suit and opened her mouth wide, ignoring that she could easily reach the bowl in front of her.
Miss Jay was quick to notice. “Looks like Wendy needs some help too. Not ready for finger foods.”
“Help?” Wendy balked “Not ready?” She would have had a third utterance saved for the grown up’s timely intervention. A plastic spork half speared and scooped up the bit of ravioli and shoveled it into Wendy’s mouth.
Her jaw clenched down on it and…and…and…
Delicious! Just one bite and Wendy was humming and flapping her arms. Truly, this was the nectar of the gods! She opened her mouth for another bite, not caring that she’d taken a perceived step backwards in her level of care. The only thing that annoyed her was that Miss Donna and Miss Jay dragged the bowl away from her to more easily load the next spoonful from. Right next to her, others got to greedily shovel the tiny cheese-filled bits into their gullets and only got interrupted when Miss Donna or Miss Jay wiped their mouths for them.
She lurched forward towards the bowl. “Want! Want! More! Waaaaan!” The grown ups, as was their way, had already made up their mind and so she had to be patient and wait for more spoonfuls of the yummy stuff to be parceled out one at a time. Hers was the last cold bottle of milk to be given out and the biggerer kids were already being herded back for potty time, diaper changes, and naps. A few of the bigger ones had had accidents. That made her feel slightly better. One bawling two year old was led back knowing she was out of panties to wear and would have to wear a diaper for the rest of the day. Wendy could relate.
Sucking on the bottle, her teeth started to itch. Wendy ran her tongue along the inside of her mouth. She jumped when she tasted gum where her molars should be. She was losing teeth! Another suck and she felt her canines retract. The inside of her pants crinkled a little less than it should have at that.
Her eyes scanned the table and honed in on Morgan and others chattering away, saying nothing. They all had some teeth at the very least, so she needn’t worry about going all gums. That and the pleasant feeling she got from suckling calmed her down.
Besides making her tummy and pants fuller, the food was having an additional effect. Wendy droopily put down the ba-ba and let out a yawn bigger than her entire body. One yawn set off a chain reaction that spread through the entire group. Miss Donna and Miss Jay looked at each other knowingly and after clearing the plates and leaving them in a nearby sink off to the side, carried Wendy and her classmates back into the Ladybug Room one at a time.
“Here you go, hon.” Miss Donna whispered softly and gently to her. “For nap time.” She reached into Wendy’s cubby and gave the girl a light pink pacifier, it’s bulb now perfectly sized for her mouth, not shrinking or engorging required. Wendy accepted it and started sucking on it as she was laid back down on the changing table, her eyes fighting to stay open while Miss Donna started to change her.
Her eyes popped open at the coldness of the wipes, but immediately closed again once the diaper had been replaced and her onesie snapped back up. A cabinet was where all the nap mats were stored and Wendy was more than half-asleep when she was placed on top of the first one and covered in a light blankie. “Night night, baby girl.”
The world was hazy in the baby’s vision, her long delicate lashes like fluttering curtains. She caught sight of Miss Donna removing the baby gate. Miss Jay came in with another baby and did the same to them. Then another. Then another. Briefly, Wendy considered escape but just couldn’t find the energy or the willpower to make the attempt. Where would she go? She didn’t know how to get back home from here. She was just a baby…
“Nini,” she yawned.