The second question was. “Why did Pope Innocent III abolish Trial by Ordeal?” No clue. Couldn’t remember. Come back to it later. Find the easy questions.
Her eyes skimmed down the test.
“Which Supreme Court case supported validation requirements for performance appraisals?”
Crap! The questions at the top were the easy ones!
She flipped through the exam to the long form essay part. She could bullshit an essay easily enough. “I am writing a brief. “The case of Erie R. Co. v Tompkins 304 U.S. 64. (1938). I understand the facts of the case, but I am not sure about the holding and reasoning. Please provide me a summary of the holding and reasoning as it pertains to this case.”
She read it three times and still didn’t know how to answer it. The first two times she read it it was in one eyeball and out the other. The third time it stuck, but she couldn’t even remember the case. But part of being a lawyer was knowing how to bullshit, or so Wendy reasoned. If she could stretch it out while saying very little, her professor might accidentally construct meaning and knowledge where none had been intended. Who knows. It was very possible that if she started writing something in her brian might turn on.
“Okay…” she whispered to herself. “You can do this. You can do this.” And she took her pencil and started to write. And write. And write. And write. And write.
It was actually getting pretty easy, even though Wendy was certain she was putting nothing of substance on paper. Soon her gears got to turning and her confidence built up. Oh yeah! She remembered that! And that!. She flipped back to the short answer part of the test and started filling things in. It was all coming back to her now!
Her Daddy had been right! She really had just been overthinking things and worried. In no time at all, she was done! Proudly she stood up, head and shoulders above Lindsay and Morgan and Tonya and Peter. Those scrubs were still toiling over their tests, sweating bullets!
Waddling over to the proctor’s desk, she proudly. “I’m dooooone!” she sang so loudly she almost shouted. Gifted Kid was back!
The professor arched an eyebrow. “You’re done?”
“Yup-yup!” Wendy nodded. “All done! I go home now?”
“Young lady,” the bald withered old professor said, looking over the test. “This is incredible!”
Wendy beamed. “I did good?”
The professor pursed his lips together, searching for the right words. “I feel you did a very good job choosing lots of different colors.”
The law student blanched. “Colors?”
“And you almost stayed in the lines on some of these bubble in answers.” All of the circles for the multiple choice segments were filled or otherwise scribbled in. All of them. But the professor was right. The colors were pretty. He flipped a page over. “And I really appreciate the detail you went into for the short answers. Is this a yellow bunny on a blue hill?
“It’s a brown bunny on a gween hill.” What was she saying?! The words were just coming out of her.
“Ah,” the professor said. “I see. I see.” He flipped over to the essay portion that Wendy had started out bullshitting on before her brain kicked into high gear. “Very good use of space and blending.” The entire back portion of the test was a mess of overlapping scribbles; calling them drawings or doodles would be an insult to drawings and doodles. “I believe this belongs on the refrigerator at home in a spot of prominence!” He looked over the rim of his glasses. “But not in my classroom.”
Wendy took a step back in surprise and found her shock doubled. Her gait was wider than it should have been. There was not-quite paper crinkle too. “No cwasswoom?” she gasped.
“I think you, my dear, are a little too, well…little to be in this class. A daycare or perhaps a babysitter seems more your speed for extra-curricular parental attention.” He pointed off to a far corner. “Why don’t you wait over there for your Mommy or Daddy to come and get you?”
Wendy had to pivot and wobble all the way around to see where her professor was pointing. In the corner of the exam hall was a pile of stuffed animals, rainbow colored bears and a giant tan stuffed bunny with an orange carrot dangling from its mouth, as well as the odd rattle and cardboard book. “How did…? Me no baby!” She barely registered what she was saying.
“Why don’t you go find a nice soft block to teethe on,” the old man said condescendingly. Then he called out to the rest of the college students, “Does anyone have any erm…baby care supplies? I don’t have any children, but it doesn’t take an expert to realize when one is in need of, shall we say, freshening up.”
Wendy looked down between her legs. She had no skirt or pants; nothing to cover her bare legs. No shoes or socks either. The only article of clothing below her belly button was the massive Pampers taped around her waist and sagging between her legs.
And based on the color changing line running down the middle, she was indeed very, very wet.
But she couldn’t otherwise tell that she was wet. Outside of a bathtub or playing in the sprinkler, she realized she couldn’t tell what wet was. Nor could she remember the name of the color between her thighs telling all the big people that she needed changing.
Boo? Was it boo? Or maybe rad?
No no no!
She wasn’t a baby! She was a grown woman! She was going to be a lawyer!
Her legs wobbled and from up atop her perch of adulthood, little Wendy Merts plummeted to the ground, crashing down on her-
Wendy woke up with a jump. “Wah!” She gasped, her body jerking on the nap mat of the daycare floor. A dream. It was only a dream. Just a dream. She wasn’t back in the real world, yet. Just this one. In a weird way, that was good.
Being a little baby in this universe where she was supposed to be a little baby was infinitely preferable to being a grown woman in hers who had somehow been busted back to preschool.
She wasn’t back on the other side of the closet, and knowing that made it a little more tolerable when her brain finally caught up to reality.
The dimmed lights flickered on in the Ladybug Room. “Okay boys and girls,” Miss Donna sang. “It’s time to get up. Your Mommies and Daddies and Aunties and Uncles and Grammas and Grampas will all be here to pick you up in an hour or so.”
“And they’ll be very unhappy with us if you’re awake in your cribs all night because we let you nap too long,” Miss Jay added, cheerfully.
Miss Donna and Miss Jay. A black woman in her mid forties to early fifties at most; and an older though by no means frail white woman respectively. Her teachers. Her caregivers when Mommy and Daddy were away. They didn’t cuddle as good as Mommy and Daddy but they still fed her and changed her and played with her and made her feel safe.
In this reality…
In real life, Wendy had never met these two, and as far as she could remember neither of her parents had ever talked about this daycare or these women; and she had never seen a baby picture hinting at this place’s existence.
Some of the other babies had names that coincided with her real life adult classmates, but correlating a young twenty-something college student’s behavior with a crawling, babbling, pants pooping infant, was hard work. She had no way of knowing for sure if these rugrats were in fact the baby versions of her college classmates, or if the women who worked here had any connection to her past or present.
Considering the only reason she’d tried to go forward with this reality hopping scheme was because she’d noticed a direct and pleasant correlation between what happened in the closet universe having positive and much more adult appropriate echoes in her own- a baby puzzle in one resulting in a fantastic study guide, for example- the current dearth of parallels were most disturbing. Some annoying itch at the back of her brain made her want to see if this place existed back on the other side and if these ladies worked here or not. Regrettably they did not make a pamphlet for how to deal with this sort of thing or explain to a stranger that you were curious if they remembered wiping your bum when you were less than a year old in a pocket reality just the other day.
Some of the other babies sat up from their nap mats and started crawling around. Others contented themselves with staying seated or remaining on their backs and gazing up at the ceiling. One or two still snoozed, practically comatose in spite of the increasing noise and light.
Wendy stayed seated on the comfy mat and took the time to look herself over. Chubby fingers at the end of chubby hands and arms. Legs and feet that matched. No breasts and the only curves on her body was from her tummy and the padding around her butt. She patted at her head and felt only fine wispy patches of hair, so short that even looking up at the very top of her periphery she couldn’t see any strands.
Her hair wasn’t that short due to scissors, she’d just reached a point where it hadn’t grown enough. She felt a clump of it on the very top of her noggin in a Pebbles Flintstone type ponytail, but that was it.
Outside of that and the purple onesie with the crinoline tutu flare around her waist, it would have been very difficult for someone to know that she was a baby girl. A strange experience, feeling like a stranger in one’s own body. She looked down between her legs, but snaps kept even the diaper beneath her onesie out of sight.
She was dry and comfortable, at least. That was a relief. Unconsciously, her tongue started to work it’s way around in her mouth. On an academic level, she wasn’t surprised to feel her tongue sliding past mostly gums. That didn’t make it any more shocking. Only a few measly bumps at the very front. They weren’t even full fledged teeth! Not really! A slight itching sensation and her tongue moving closer to the gums as one of those tiny emerging teeth re-submerged back inside.
Yikes! Tiny nostrils flared and tiny lungs paced themselves and strained to stop from turning into full on wracking sobbing. Wendy rubbed her eyes to stop the tears from coming out and spilling all over her chubby cheeks. This was not time for a breakdown or a crisis. Not now. Not when she was so close! Mommy would be here any time now to pick her up, and take her home.
She just had to keep enough of her marbles in one basket until the chickens hatched. Then she could cross that bridge in her nursery back to big girl world and get on with the rest of her very big, very mature, very adult life.
A pair of hands hoisted baby Wendy off the ground. “Good afternoon Wendy,” Miss Jay asked. “Did you have a nice nap, pretty girl? Lots of sweet dreams?” Wendy made no effort to reply. One of the first facts about this universe was that no one could understand her, no matter how articulate she was. “Let’s get you changed into something dry and playing.”
A nearly toothless smirk framed Wendy’s rounded face. The joke was on Miss Jay. She’d be amazed at just how grown-up and advanced Wendy was for her so-called age. Wendy folded her arms confidently and laid there on the changing table while the granny unbuttoned her snaps and peeled back the onesie.
Nothing was said, though…
Miss Jay just went for the little velcro tabs on her diaper and ripped them loose. “Wait. What’s going on? What are you doing? I’m dry!” That’s what she’d meant to say, anyway. The words that tumbled out of her mouth couldn’t even be properly classified as words. Just pure baby babble. What Wendy had actually said, if put into prose would require the writer to smash a keyboard with their fist and then delete letters at random.
“Are you singing for me, Wendy?” Miss Jay asked, crossing Wendy’s baby ankles and lifting her legs towards the ceiling. “Is that what you’re doing, baby girl?”
No! It wasn’t what she was doing. Not at all! Trying to tell the grown-up that was only resulting in more of the same total gibberish. She couldn’t talk! At all! She could still think; she still thought in words as she understood the concept, but she had none of them available to use with her mouth!
She had jammed her fingers into her mouth to stop herself from babbling. Maybe all of her words weren’t gone. Maybe just the big ones or the very long sentences. Maybe she could still say the words if they were very very simple. Babies could do that, right? Right.
What was a simple word, though? Cat? Dog? No, too obvious. Wouldn’t something obvious be good, though? Simple? Oh! How about ‘boat!’ she could say ‘boat’!
Wendy took her fingers out and concentrated on making her mouth work as hard as she could. “Ga!” No that wasn’t it. “Meh!” Still no! ‘Meh’ didn’t sound anything like ‘boat’.
“Bobobobo!” No! That wasn’t even the same length. What about ‘cat’? “Uk!” That was wrong too! ‘Dog’? “Akka!” No! “Urgle!” She couldn’t even say ‘no’. Everything just came out as random syllables. Complete gibberish. “Caaaaaa!” That one was supposed to be ‘ga!’ Eeeeeem!” That had been another attempt at ‘boat’. She couldn’t even babble in a one-to-one ratio. No matter what word her brain tried to think of, her mouth was going to say whatever it wanted to.
All the while, Miss Jay just kept doing unnecessary cleaning to her back and nethers. “You are a soggy little thing,” the old woman clucked. “Nothing that can’t be fixed though with a little powder to dry you out and a fresh pamper.”
Her mouth hung agape and even more babbling cries of shock and disbelief poured out. She was wet? Impossible, yet the caregiver had no reason to lie. It was just like earlier, except she’d done it in her sleep and upon waking couldn’t tell the difference! Her dream had been right!
She’d completely lost her potty training. The only thing adult about her was her mind, now. Yet if she couldn’t even talk or tell the difference between having wet pants and dry ones, was she really that much of an adult?
All of this existential pondering, surprise and terror came out as more unintelligible baby talk that sounded foreign to even Wendy’s tiny ears. None of it stopped or dissuaded Miss Jay from finishing the job she’d started. She finished powdering and sealing the fresh diaper, oblivious to Wendy’s very adult existential crisis.
“You’re so talkative today!” Wendy wasn’t! She really wasn’t! “Maybe soon you’ll start saying real words that I can understand!”
A faint flash of hope flickered in Wendy’s mind. Miss Jay thought she’d be talking soon! That obviously wasn’t going to happen, today, that’s just not how this reality worked. Everything was backwards for her, not forwards. However, maybe it meant that she’d be remembered as saying or doing something impressive back in the real world. Maybe singing? Maybe that was a hint?
It was comforting enough to quiet Wendy down and ease her panic over the state of her body, mind, and words.
Miss Jay sat her down on the carpet and went to get another baby to clean up before their parents arrived. Wendy crawled away, babbling happily to herself, congratulating herself. More time in this place likely meant greater accolades when she returned to adulthood.
With those accolades in mind, Wendy crawled over to an unoccupied toy. A white plastic pole that was thinner at the top than it was at the bottom, but the difference wasn’t so vast as to call the shape a cone. Scattered around it- likely during her change by one of her friends- were several plastic rings of different colors and sizes.
The mission? Get all the rings stacked on top at once.
Super easy. Even a baby could do it.
Wendy reached out and grabbed the first ring, and by ‘first’ that is to say that it was the ring closest to her. She was having trouble describing the color; it was somewhere between grass or platypus; closer to unripe banana or grapes. All of those things went on the ground, so it only made sense that this would be the bottom rung.
She scooted closer to the pole, scooting on her butt and dragging herself forward with the heels of her feet until she was practically straddling the toy. Using both hands and still fumbling, she placed the ring on top of the stacking pole and pushed it as far down. Unfortunately, the farthest down it would slide was firmly in the middle.
No problem. Not a problem at all. Wendy just flopped over to her side, grabbed the second ring the color of grapes…the other kind…and pushed herself up to the side.
It landed on top of the first ring, the ring that looked like the other kind of grapes, and clocked against it. It was bigger than the first ring, too. Bigger was genuinely better. Heavier. It was a solid strategy.
Wendy concentrated, running her tongue in her mouth and feeling the tiny bumps that were the start of her baby teeth; waiting for the heaviness of the second ring to push the first ring stuck in the middle all the way down.
She waited, and waited…and waited…
Why wasn’t it going down?
Obviously it needed more heavy. Nothing left to do but to grab a third ring and get ready to slam it down with all the might her tiny body could muster. She couldn’t remember the name of the color, but it was the same color as Daddy’s orange juice. Oooooh! Maybe the ring tasted like orange juice! That would be yummy!
Hesitation long since lost, Wendy opened her mouth and bit down on the orange juice colored ring. Her eyebrows knitted together in consternation and disappointment. It tasted nothing like orange juice. It was closer in flavor to the plastic keys that Daddy had let her play with this morning, albeit much softer.
Her face suddenly un-scrunched itself. She kept chewing. The flavor wasn’t anything to talk about, but the feelings it gave her mouth were very very good! It was like scratching an itch she didn’t know she had and now that she’d found it she didn’t want to stop. It felt good, but putting it on the ring meant she’d have to stop. It’d be like getting out of a hot spring in the snow. From comfort to discomfort in a flash!
No thank you!
She opted instead to scoot away and over to get another ring, an apple one that was very tiny compared to either of the grapes. Gnawing on her orange juice ring, she took a moment to inspect it, and noticed that not only was it apple colored, but it had tiny tiny balls inside it that she could see by looking through the clear side. She did a double take. In fact, all the rings also had a clear side! Neat!
Wendy had very little confidence in her ability to get the balls out, but it might be fun to see if there was a noticeable difference between this ring and the one she was gnawing on. Tentatively, she shook the smallest ring and sent the tiny balls whirring inside, buzzing by skidding against the top and bottom of the hollow shell! How would that feel in her mouth?
She shook. She just shook and squealed around the orange juice ring, flapping her arms excitedly. She didn’t even care that more baby babble was burbling up out of her and around the plastic thing she had in her mouth. Too exciting!
Now, the real question was: Which ring should go back on top of the pole to try to make the grape rings go down, and which one should stay in her mouth?
Miss Donna came by with her clipboard and jotted something down. “Good job, Wendy,” Miss Donna said. “You keep trying, honey bunch.” She was doing it! She was doing it! This wasn’t going to be like in her dream at all! More happy baby noises came out of her!
Wendy’s ears wiggled at a sound that was becoming increasingly familiar to them. One she’d heard just a few minutes ago, and much louder because of how close it had been. Orange juice ring still in her mouth, she dropped the apple ring with all the delightful jangly bits on the ground so that she could pivot and scoot around with her feet and free hand.
“Whoof!” Miss Jay waid, fanning her nose. “Petey, what is your Mommy feeding you at home to make that?”
Oh. Petey was just just getting his diaper changed. Miss Jay was wiping him and tossing in the dirty wipes on top of the mess he’d made and quickly balling it all up and tossing it into the trash. Standard procedure. Petey was giggling and babbling something to himself between finger chomps.
The sounds she’d heard were just the velcro tapes on his diaper being torn off, just like when she got her diaper changed just a few minutes ago. The orange juice colored ring fell from Wendy’s mouth and rolled away from her. She didn’t go after it.
“Bubu?” Yes. Yes, her. She’d been on that very same elevated surface, getting one diaper swapped out for another, naked from the waist down in front of an old woman and everyone else who happened to look. She hadn’t been embarrassed at all. The thought of any sort of modesty hadn’t even occurred to her.
She’d wanted to die just a few hours ago, but her mind and emotions had already readily acclimated to the act that robbed her of so much autonomy, independence, and self-respect.
Even though she was busy trying to control her mouth, that was no excuse! For all she knew all the other babies were going through something similar, experimenting with words and language with their tops while someone else worried about their bottoms.
Oh crud! Only when she couldn’t really talk was she actually listening to herself! She needed to get out of here! Now! This time babble didn’t come. In its place was worried and fretful fussing cries. Balled up fists and scrunched up eyes followed.
Through her own screams she was aware of Miss Jay’s far off voice. “Awww, what’s wrong Wendy? Did you bite your tongue or something?”
Two very strong hands grabbed Wendy by the armpits and picked her up. Somewhere in the back of her brain, she knew it was Miss Donna. She knew her sitters by sight, sound, smell, and touch, now. At least two of those things would take more than a day to register so strongly. Her body immediately clung to the grown-up’s shoulder, with one massive hand supporting Wendy beneath and the other one steadying her behind her back.
“No,” Miss Donna said. “I don’t think so. Doesn’t sound like an owie cry. More like a scared cry or…” she paused and Wendy felt the grown-up carefully pat her backside and then stick her fingers through the leg cuffs of her diaper.
Wendy kept crying, anyway.
“I don’t think it’s that,” Miss Jay called over Wendy’s crying. “I just changed her.”
“Yeah,” Miss Donna confirmed. “It’s not that.” She started whispering and cooing to Wendy. “What’s the matter, honeybunch?” She started gently shushing Wendy and patting the girl’s back. More confounding, Wendy’s little body liked it, and little by little, even though she didn’t want to, she calmed down. Her emotions were quieted, if not under control; or more accurately, they were under control, just not Wendy’s. “It’s okay,” Miss Donna promised. “It’s okay. Whatever it is, it'll be alright.”
Deep in her heart, she knew it wouldn’t be. Not until she could get home. Not until she saw her-
Wendy lifted her head up off of Miss Donna’s shoulder. She knew that voice! “Awwwwk!”
“Look who’s here, Wendy!” Miss Donna beamed. “It’s Mommy!”
Standing on the other side of the baby gated doorway, with a big toothy smile, and arms outstretched, back from a day of teaching and grading papers, was Mommy! Granted, Wendy already knew that, and had said as much…kind of.
“Hi Wendy!” Mommy squeaked. “Did you miss me?”
Miss Donna wasted no time in striding across the Ladybug Room and handing the baby girl over to her mother. “You bet she did, Mom!” A quick handoff, and Wendy’s position and mood considerably improved.
Mommy bobbed and rocked Wendy a little bit while repositioning her so as to hold her and they both be comfortable. “How was she today?” Mommy asked Miss Donna.
“Oh she was great,” Miss Donna said. “She played. She did some cruising. Ate all her food at lunch. Went right down for her nap.” She was ticking them off like a list on her fingers. “She was a little cranky just a second before you came in, but I’m thinking she just was getting a little homesick, y’know?”
Mommy gave Wendy a kiss. “Awww, I missed you too, Wendy.” Then she gave a couple more. “I’m so glad to have you back.” Wendy giggled furiously. She was happy to have her Mommy back too. Everything would be better now. Mommy redirected her attention to Miss Donna. “And…the test?”
“Test?” Miss Donna said. “Oh you mean the developmental screenings?”
“Yes, that one.” Mommy said. “How did she do?
“Caa!” Wendy burbled. She wanted to know too.
“Whelp. We’re not done yet,” Miss Donna admitted. “Our screenings are less like a pen and paper lab test and more just setting up circumstances and seeing how they react.”
“That makes sense,” Mommy nodded. Wendy was less agreeable. She squirmed uncomfortably in Mommy’s arms. Would this mean she’d have to come back tomorrow? Was her exam in the real world suddenly multiple parts or something?
“And we don’t do it all at once. We don’t want to stress the kids out.”
“Of course not.”
Wendy was starting to stress. If she left and didn’t come back, would her law school examination be mysteriously incomplete?
“So we just sit back and record. We encourage a little bit here and there, but nothing too intense. It’s all about what they can do and what they can show us. Not what they can’t do.”
“Well?” Mommy asked, biting her lip. “What can she do?”
Miss Donna waved off both mother and daughter’s anxiety. “Personally? I don’t think you have anything to worry about. We’re not seeing any signs of developmental delay. I think Wendy’s right where she needs to be right now.”
Mommy visibly relaxed. “Phew. Sorry. That’s good to hear.”
Wendy did not. “Caaagaa?” That had been baby for, “What do you mean right where I need to be? Like average? I’m not average! I’m advanced! Gifted! I should be acing this test!” Did that mean that she was getting a C on her law exam? If so, what did that mean for her? This reality was supposed to affect the real one, not the other way around!
There was a slim chance she could have bullshitted her way to a C and she wouldn’t have lost her boobs, butt, teeth, and toilet training for it!
Mommy bounced Wendy a little bit. “I’ve got a squirmy wormy on my hands,” Mommy said. “Better get her home.”
“Okie dokie,” Miss Donna chirped. “Bye Wendy! Bye Mom! See you tomorrow!” With what remained of Wendy’s adult brain, a defiant resolve started to brew. Despite being in her Mommy’s arms, she was metaphorically standing beside herself with indignation. She wasn’t ever going to see Miss Donna or this dumb daycare ever again! Incomplete or not, she’d definitely finished her test in the real world. Miss Donna didn’t know what she was talking about. …
The car road home was agonizing for Wendy. Mommy had the same rear facing car seat with a mirror set up in the back that Daddy did, but now Wendy barely recognized her own body. She was almost a blob now: Hardly any hair. Arms that barely worked. Legs that were even worse. A mouth that was only good for slurping, sucking, drooling, and making noise, and no control of her insides.
She was cute. Precious. Adorable. Loved. And just knowing that she was thinking that about herself alarmed her to no end. She was only now beginning to realize the full breadth and depth of basic skills that were evaporating out of her grasp. She had to get home. She had to go back to her real home; where she was an adult.
If she spent much longer like this, it occurred to her, she might very well have to grow up and learn everything all over again. How awful! Curse whatever fate or force had robbed her of vocabulary like the color of different grapes but left her with enough imagination to picture such things!
The car stopped, but the motor was still running. Where were they? Why were they stopping? Did Mommy have more places to go than straight home? Why weren’t they moving?! Without realizing it, Wendy let out a screech.
“It’s just a red light, honey. Mommy has to stop.”
Wendy balled up her fists and re-scrunched her face. No she didn’t! Which one was red?! So what if it was? She was scared and confused and just wanted to go home and anything that kept her from getting exactly what she wanted was terrible, and tragic, and scary, and needed to stop or go away whichever came first!
The car started moving again, and Wendy quieted down. Good. It worked.
Until it didn’t.
Wendy let her displeasure be known until Mommy or the red light (whatever that was) listened and kept going.
At the third stop, Wendy saw Mommy rooting around in the passenger seat for something. She then leaned back and gave Wendy a bottle. “Here, honey. Are you thirsty?”
Automatically, Wendy’s tiny hands gripped the bottle and shoved the nipple into her mouth, downing the creamy milk. It was cold. It had probably been refrigerated all day while Mommy was working. “I know it’s not as good as just before bed, but Mommy made it just for you during her lunch break.”
Made? Made how? Did Mommy own a cow at school? Impossible! Also, there might have been something wrong with Wendy’s tongue. Something was different about this bottle. It was still very obviously milk, but it didn’t taste quite like the milk she drank since time immemorial. Not bad. Just different. Perhaps, she speculated, that infant tongues were more sensitive than grown-up tongues, and no one could tell. Every other part of her body looked and worked differently than as an adult. Clearly the tongue wasn’t an exception.
Different though it may taste, the milk was still very good. Comforting. Nostalgic and familiar, like opening up a tub of one’s favorite icecream after a long day at work. The lights and stopping were far far easier to cope with.
“You’re right where you should be,” Mommy repeated. She adjusted her shirt. “I guess that means Mommy should start weaning you more.” She smiled, more to herself than to Wendy. “But I think I’ll wait till you’re one. I like our special mommy daughter bond.”
Bodily, Wendy kept slurping down the milk. Internally, Wendy realized, too late, that it didn’t taste like cow’s milk because it wasn’t cow’s milk. She tried to stop herself, but her mouth and tongue weren’t under her control, and some ingrained habit or instinct kept her draining the bottle until it was dry.
Wendy did not cry when she saw the reflection of her house. Rather, she was finally able to rip the rubber nipple from her mouth and let out a healthy belch. At least she could still do that on her own!
Mommy turned the car off, came around to the back, and got Wendy out of her carseat. “Come on baby. Let’s go play for a little bit.” Both halves of Wendy’s psyche smiled at that. Playtime meant an opportunity! For play! For attention! For freedom! She didn’t even mind when Mommy opened a snap on her onesie and stared at her diaper. “You’re okay for now.”
Wendy would take it! One less change meant one less babyish thing to go through. It was a bit concerning that she was declared ‘okay’ instead of ‘dry’, but she’d take the win where she could find it, no matter how narrow the margin of success.
The inside of the house looked familiar, and alien all at once to Wendy’s infant eyes. Everything was huge again! Not just the baby stuff that needed to stretch and inflate to accommodate her. The television was practically a movie screen. The bookcase in the living room was a tower. The couch was a bouncy castle!
And the family picture on the way to her bedroom no longer looked so out of place. In it, there was a Mommy, a Daddy, and a baby girl not even a year old sitting in a pretty pink dress and white tights, the big floppy bow was more wrapped around her head than weaved and tied into her wisps of hair . And she was smiling a big, goofy, innocent smile; likely because the man behind the camera had a squeaky toy or something. A perfect family moment captured in a studio setting. That more than anything else that had happened so far today made Wendy worry about how much time she had left.
Yesterday in the tub, her frazzled brain had almost completely forgotten that she didn’t belong here. The possibility of return had barely occurred to her until Daddy had seen her standing there naked. Now that she looked the part she’d been cast in and adult thoughts were becoming rarer and rarer, she might not even think to crawl back into her closet.
It wasn’t a problem, Wendy realized. Even in this state with her reduced vocabulary and gross motor skills, she knew enough about herself to still keep who she was on the inside. All she had to do was stay focused and be patient. Mommy would leave her alone in her room soon enough. All it would take was one minute leaving to talk to Daddy or fetch something from the kitchen or search for a toy that had been left in the living room and Wendy could crawl back to the safety and sanity of her big girl room and big girl life .
“Back in your room, safe and sound!” Mommy sang. She put Wendy down on the carpet and closed the door. Not a problem since the bedroom door wasn’t Wendy’s way out of this place. Mommy kicked off her shoes and started browsing the room. “Now what to play with what to play with?”
Wendy took a moment and sat on her bottom, her Pampers pushing her legs apart, and just took in the sight of it all. Everything was so big, now. So humongous. Knowing that nothing would change just made it all the more real. The changing table and the diapers wouldn’t warp because they already fit her. The crib railing wouldn’t need to rise to keep her contained. It wouldn’t be a mystical force keeping her from turning a knob and opening a door but her own physical limitations.
Mommy wouldn’t look ridiculous dressing or changing her, or holding her. Nor would she be particularly awkward looking. Nothing would be out of proportion. Wendy had been through this experience already at the daycare, but something about it being in her room made it all hit differently. She knew these four walls and this roof, even if the furniture was foreign to her.
And it was all so big.
Except it wasn’t.
She was just little.
“Waaaaaa!” No! Those thoughts didn’t belong in her head! She didn’t belong in this place! This place, this time, this universe! She looked to the closet door, her gateway back home.
There wasn’t a shining flare of extra dimension light there anymore. Just a teen tiny mote, no bigger than the beam of a flashlight, shimmering like a mirage in the desert. The gears in Wendy’s mind began rotating fast enough to make sparks. Looking back in her memories, she realized that the light from the other side had been getting dimmer and smaller all along. She’d thought she was just getting used to it; that her eyes were adjusting; but really the cut in both realities had been slowly closing itself like a wound scabbing over.
She’d drastically underestimated and misunderstood something. This reality wasn’t just trying to get her to conform to it. This wasn’t some magical baby universe. She was a foreigner, an invader, and instead of trying to kick her out or destroy her, it was ‘fixing’ her. She was supposed to be a baby here, and that tear in her closet shouldn't exist.
She was running out of time and had more than just her own dwindling focus to worry about keeping her here.
Screw patience! No time to wait! Even if it meant making a break for it with Closet Mommy in the room! With surprising alacrity, Wendy leaned forward and straddled past her splayed out legs, crawling her hands out towards the carpet and snaking over her own legs to plop over on her ber. Wow…she was…very bendable like this. No way was she going to take her eyes off that little winking beam. From her stomach it was minimal effort to gather her legs up underneath her and she shuffled and crawled to the open closet.
An arm scooped Wendy up under her belly. “Where do you think you’re goin’?” Mommy cooed playfully. She spared a look towards Wendy’s destination. “The closet? It’s not time to get dressed yet, silly goose!”
“Gaaaaaaah!” Wendy fussed. Ironically, that was the exact sound to express the potent mixture of fear and frustration that she was feeling.
“It’s not time to play hide and seek either,” Mommy replied with saccharine sweetness in her voice. Wendy had genuinely thought that her Closet Mommy was preoccupied with finding the right toy. It seemed that the now-giant woman had eyes everywhere and ears that could hear the slightest crinkle in a crawl.
With one impossibly long arm, Mommy put Wendy back down on the floor, facing away from the closet. With the other, she held a bright sunshine ball with a smiley face on it. “Let’s play with the ball. Can you say ball?”
“Caa!” What Wendy had meant to say was likely far cruder than what came out of her mouth.
“Baaalll!” Mommy said, enunciating each individual phoneme to the point of exaggeration. “Let’s play with the ball. She put the little rubber ball-just slightly bigger than a softball-on the carpet and gently rolled it to Wendy.
Wendy sat there, practically forced to catch it because the ball trapped itself between her legs, scuffing and slowing on the carpet, gaining even more friction on her tutu, and lightly bouncing off her padded crotch and coming to a rest just before her knees. With an exasperated, practically defeated sigh, Wendy bent over and used both hands to pick up the orb.
The younger version of her mother clapped excitedly “Yaaaay! Wendy did it!”
A spring of excitement bubbled up and Wendy couldn’t help it. She twittered and tweeted at the praise, not caring if it was relevant or deserved. A growing, near cancerous part of her loved it.
“Okay, Wendy,” Mommy said. “Now throw it back! Throw it back to Mommy!”
The very beginnings of an idea sprang to life in Wendy’s still big girl brain. Gripping the ball in both hands, she wound her arms up, hiked them over and behind her head, and catapulted the orb to the other side of the nursery! Then Mommy would have to go get it, and that would buy her the time she needed. Oooh, the crib would be better! Something to make Mommy have to crawl on the floor.
“Ooopsie!” Mommy said. “You dropped it!” Sluggishly Wendy turned around and looked behind her. In her excitement she’d dropped the ball and saw it rolling towards her closet. “Mommy’s got it!”
The grown up stood up and on long striding legs, stepped over to the closet. Just like her father on the other side, she paid no mind whatsoever to the faint rip in reality whilst she retrieved the ball.
LIGHT! BLINDING LIGHT! Like a curtain peeled back or a wound being reopened, that same spot light supernova dazzling light poured into the nursery when Closet Mommy’s head so much as brushed past the closet’s threshold. Better still, she didn’t seem to notice it. Everyone but Wendy was still totally oblivious to the rip. And being oblivious to it once again went on par with being unable to use it, her Mommy’s body passing through like it was just smoke. Meanwhile, Wendy could see it waver brightly, shining through the room even as it rapidly dimmed back.
That meant there was still a chance!
Mommy came back and sat down across from her little girl, holding the ball. “Let’s do it again!” Yes! Let’s! “One…two…threeeeeee!”
Through no effort of her own, Wendy obtained the ball, this time it lightly ricocheting off her thighs. “Yaaaaaay Wendy!”
Wendy focused through the chubby cheeked smile that was uncomfortably contorting her face. Yay, Wendy indeed. She grabbed the ball, wound back and-
“Ooops!” Mommy said. Wendy giggled loud and hard when Mommy had to get up and walk over to the closet again. There was no stifling or muting the joyful noise. “If I didn’t know any better,” Mommy said, “I’d say you were doing that on purpose.” She playfully shook her finger at Wendy. “If you do that one more time, you’re gonna have to get it yourself, young lady.”
So when the opportunity arose…she did.
“Uh oh!” Mommy cooed. “You did it again! Now you have to go get it!” Wendy flapped her hands and shoved her fingers into her mouth, she was so happy, and for multiple reasons. Not only had her plan worked, but Mommy liked how far she’d thrown the ball behind her! Mommy’s pseudo-stern voice turned into playful whispers, and urging for Wendy to “go get it.”
The law student trapped in a baby’s body was happy to oblige. Hissing and panting, she rolled over to her hands and knees and started crawling for her closet, her way home. There was still the tiniest sliver of light left. Still a chance that she could pull this off and leave all of this behind.
Head down looking at the floor, she crawled towards the nearly invisible portal, the rip in reality, and on her way home. The next moment, her little nose was nearly touching the void as she looked up with a gap toothed smile. Ever since discovering the damn thing, she had never been so happy to cross it.
Nor had she done so in front of someone else.
“Wendy?” Mommy said. Wendy’s body slowed. Stupidly, the girl looked back. “What’s that light coming from your closet?” Mommy frowned and started to get up. “Has that always been there?”
Mommy saw the rip! Wendy bolted! She wasn’t going to get another opportunity! Eyes closed she barreled through the threshold of the door, screaming and squealing, praying that the adrenaline would carry her that extra inch or two farther before it was too late.
With time seemingly going on slow motion, Mommy’s voice called out after her, “WENDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” The last thing Wendy saw before the light of a million suns flash banged in her eyes was the looming shadow of her mother’s arm as she dove after her.
Wendy didn’t stop crawling, didn’t so much as open her eyes, until she’d pumped her head on something heavy and wooden.
Pain! Owies! Wendy sat back and drew in breath to scream. Scream for Mommy and Daddy to come and make it all better. She opened her eyes, though, and stopped.
She’d done it.
She was in her room. Not the nursery, but her room. Her big girl room! Her adult room! The heavy wooden thing she’d banged up against was her work desk! Over in the corner was her bed, not a crib! Goodbye changing table, hello dresser!
Her joy was almost cut short when she looked down at herself. She was still in the same chubby baby body with the same diaper on and the same purple onesie pulled over her shoulders and snapped up between her legs.
That was okay, though. She remembered the last time it took a bit for things to snap back to normal. Her body and clothes had to reacclimate as it were. Soon she’d be out of baby mode and back into a more ladylike style of dress and body.
Hey! She’d remembered the color purple! That was proof that it was working! The only thing that could go wrong now, is if her real mom and dad barged in. It wouldn’t do for them to see her in this state. Even that wouldn’t be so bad. They’d just zone out for a second and ignore it this time again, treating her like the adult she was supposed to be over on this side. It’d be embarrassing, but nothing she wouldn’t be able to get over.
“WENDY!” Her mother’s voice! Her real mother! Wendy gathered her feet up underneath her, already trying to stand. Any second now, Mom would open the bedroom door and congratulate Wendy on her doing so well on her History of Law exam.
Something was off, though. The voice was much louder, much more panicked than it should have been. “WENDY?!” It wasn’t coming from behind her bedroom door, either.
Wendy turned around and saw her Mommy, not her mother, barreling through the closet door and into Wendy’s reality. An elk caught on the train tracks of life, Wendy gaped up at Closet Mommy’s looming figure. Closet Mommy…was on this side…of the closet. She’d been followed!
Her feet already underneath her, Wendy tried to stand and run for her very adulthood. The only thing she succeeded in was pushing off with enough force to send her rolling back to the carpet, bonking the back of her head on the floor.
PAIN! BLINDING PAIN! A babyish yelp mutated into full on wailing. Her emotions were still wildly out of check and the minor bump she’d taken might as well have been a snapped limb. The panic and confusion of being followed through the portal only intensified her feelings of helplessness and anguish.
She was up and in Mommy’s arms in an instant. Wendy could only keep crying out, unable to form anything resembling words just yet.
Even if her mouth would cooperate, she wasn’t sure she could form a coherent sentence to describe everything that was going on; yet alone affect the situation. This was so frustrating, no longer be in a reality blurring her words and still being unable to spell one!
“What the heck is this place?” Mommy wondered over the baby’s howls. She slowly rotated in the middle of the room like she was taking in an art exhibit or if she’d just landed in a strange new world. In a way, she had. “This place,” she said. “I know this place.” Her calm tone belied equal parts wonder and anxiety. “ It kind of looks like your room, but…different.” Wendy pounded on the woman’s shoulder, trying to get her to let go.
Mommy just ignored it. “These are definitely your walls. Same carpet. But the desk instead of your toy box? That bed is where your crib would be.”
Ironically enough, it was more physical pain that stopped Wendy from crying. Her gums stung and itched. Without thinking about it she started to gnaw on her lower lip. Teeth! Her teeth were starting to come back in! She was growing up! Slowly, weeks by weeks, her body was fitting back to the reality she was in. Just a little longer, and she would reach her first birthday.
“That’s where I was going to put your dresser after you didn’t need your changing table anymore…” She shifted her focus down to the baby in her arms. “Is this…? Is this your room when you’re older? Are we in the future?”
Kind of? Not really? Close enough. “Yyyyyy…” Her mouth! It was starting to obey her! She could explain this! Ten more seconds and she could literally talk her way out of this situation! And on this side of the rip, Closet Mommy could likely understand her!
A look of wonder twisted itself into surprise, then horror. “Your teeth?” A bit of hair drooped over the top of Wendy’s forehead, and Closet Mommy touched it, clearly trying to process what she was seeing as real. “Your hair! It’s growing!”
Not long now! Wendy smiled and felt another tooth click into place. “Mmmmmaaaaammmmma! Mama!” A word! A baby word, but still a word! A real sound that she’d wanted to make!
“No…” Mommy whispered, eyes growing wide. She about faced towards the closet. “No. No. Nononononono!” One person’s miracle was another’s horror. The fear and protective maternal instinct kicked into overdrive. “This place, it’s changing you. We need to get out of here!” Mommy said. She was dashing for the opening. There was still the faintest sliver to be seen. “Please make it work!”
Wendy prayed it wouldn’t.
The last thing Wendy said; the last thing that she might likely speak in a fairly long time, just when Mommy started charging back through the rip, was a booming, mournful “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”
A blink of an eye and they were back in the nursery. And over Mommy’s shoulder, Wendy Merts, now aged ten months, had to watch as the very last bits of this universe knitted itself back together. It was like a wound closing in time lapse photos. The last beams of near mystical light shrank and shrank into nothingness until the final mote twinkled out with an inaudible poof. No more light. No more tunnel.
“GAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” No more words. Only tears and screams were left to her.
Mommy bolted out of the room, clutching Wendy tight to her. Wendy started screaming her throat raw; equal parts panic attack and tantrum. “I know baby, I know,” she shushed. “That was scary!” She bounced Wendy up and down in her arms, cradling her, trying to distract and soothe the terrified infant to no avail. “I don’t know what that was, either!”
Yet Wendy did, and that made it worse. Over her own bawling, Wendy heard a door close and Mommy started running towards it. “Howard!” Mommy called. “There’s something in Wendy’s room!” Wendy didn’t bother to stop crying.
Daddy talked over her. Both of her parents were used to talking over a distressed and mewling infant. “What is it?” The worry in his voice was genuine.
“I..I…I don’t know. I can’t explain it! It was bright and…so..so…and Wendy crawled into…and…it’s in her closet. Go look in the closet.”
Wendy only screamed more when Daddy’s footsteps tromped away and faded into. Her Mommy stopped using words too, and just made quiet gentle, shushing noises in an attempt to calm the tsunami of emotions. Wendy was cradled with both arms, but lacked the wherewithal to act or thrash or otherwise try to escape.
Her one and only chance at real escape failed. Now she was stuck like this. She had a…a…she didn’t even know how long she had to wait to get back to her old age but it was probably a really long time like an hour! Her brain was still filled with memories from the other side, but her emotions were all wildly into overdrive and her vocabulary was shrinking by the second.
Daddy came back. “I don’t see anything in there,” he said.
“I swear there was something.” Mommy insisted.
“Can you show me?”
“No, I’m not taking Wendy back there!” Mommy hissed, barely maintaining her composure.
“Okay,” Daddy replied, “Let me hold her and you go look.”
There was a pause and then. “Fine.”
The sobbing and distressed ten-month-old was handed to her other parent while the first went to investigate. Daddly, sadly, used many of the same soothing and calming tactics as Mommy, and was no more successful than her.
Mommy came back a few minutes later. “I just don’t understand it,” Mommy told Daddy. “I could’ve sworn…”
Daddy gently said, “Well whatever you think you saw definitely spooked Wendy. She normally doesn’t cry this hard.”
“Yeah,” Mommy said, the doubt already creeping into her tone, “yeah. Let’s get Wendy settled first. She’s more important.”
They moved her over to the couch and laid her across so that she was partially in both of their laps. “Wow,” Daddy commented. “She’s getting so big!”
Not big enough! Not big enough, at all.
Through her bawling, and the snot, and the self pity, and the fear, and sadness, and fact that she very likely needed a new diaper and couldn’t recognize it, Wendy was still observing her parents. Watching them closely and listening through her squalling.
They looked at each other. Daddy started with a nearly silent count. “Two, three, four”
Mommy joined and they sang together, loudly, sweetly, but a little off key.
“We’ve got the whole world,
In our hands.
We’ve got the whole world,
In our hands.
We’ve got the whole world,
In our hands.
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.”
Wendy’s crying lessened. What? What was that?”
“We’ve got our itty bitty baby,
In our hands.
We’ve got our itty bitty baby,
In our hands.
We’ve got our itty bitty baby,
In our hands
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.”
She knew the tune, but the words had been altered. Altered so that it was all but them and her. She quieted and listened, watching while the absolute love and adoration that they had for her poured over her. Likewise, she couldn’t help but reflect it back up at them.
“We’ve got our wonderful Wendy,
In our hands.
We’ve got our wonderful Wendy,
In our hands.
We’ve got our wonderful Wendy,
In our hands,
We’ve got the whole world in our hands.”
Wendy couldn’t have screamed if she wanted to. She wasn’t in control of her emotions anymore. They were. And that was okay. They were Mommy and Daddy. They weren’t her original mother and father, but they were still essentially the same people. They loved her.
“There, all better now, right?” said Mommy while gently brushing through Wendy’s sparse baby locks.
“Seems like it is,” Daddy nodded. “We’ll be good with a switch to toys. Maybe the bucket, I think she could get the hang of it this time.” He looked at Wendy, then lifted his head to Mommy. “Oh, how about we try the learning board? It’s barely been out of the plastic”. Mommy gave an excited nod of approval in return.
Daddy, whose ‘closet’ designation seemed a moot point by now, shifted Wendy all the way over into Mommy’s lap and shuffled over to a small mass of toys in the corner. As he dropped to his knees, he rummaged through a box and picked up two toys. One was a plastic bucket that rattled with its contents; its lid filled with very specifically shaped holes. Obviously, inside there were different shapes inside the bucket and the object. Wendy liked shapes and colors, even if she didn’t know their names anymore. Very amusing!
The other was a white wooden board filled to the brim with doodads: Plastic gears; latches; puzzle pieces; and chain locks that secured absolutely nothing. Child experts would call it a ‘busy board’. To Wendy it looked kind of fun.
“You think she’s old enough for the board?” asked Daddy as he looked over the side, pointing at the little stickier with a cartoony character proudly saying ‘12+ months old’ in a bubble. “Might be a bit too soon”.
“Guess we’ll see,” Mommy said. “Remember that little test they were going to do today at the nursery? Miss Donna wouldn’t tell me how far exactly Wendy succeeded. You know how Donna is, she doesn't want to set up expectations for parents. But she did tell me she did well, I bet she can do something more advanced by now!”
Knowledge had poured out of Wendy’s brain like an unplugged sink, but even in her current state, with more fingers than teeths, she remembered things. A lot of things. The little baby girl glanced past her Mommy’s lap with a frown of curiosity, ignoring the giant’s claim of how cute she looked when she did that little face. Those toys… They were slightly advanced and marketed towards bigger babies.
Mommy sat the girl upright just in time for Daddy to come back. He shuffled back over, still on his knees so that he was closer to Wendy’s eye level; board under one arm and bucket in the other.
“What do you want to play with, Wendy?” he asked. “This or this?” He jostled the board, then the bucket. “Which one?”
Still with Mommy’s hands steadying her at the waist, Wendy leaned forward and slapped the top of the plastic bucket. “Kap!” Which was supposed to mean. ‘That one!’
“This one?” Daddy asked, jiggling the bucket. “Not this one?” The only reply that he got was her slapping the bucket. This time, Wendy knew what she wanted and needed, and it had nothing to do with what used to be on the other side. “Okie dokie,” he said, before looking up at his wife. “Guess the board was too advanced. But the shapes are still months ahead!”
The lid came off temporarily, and shiny plastic shapes tumbled onto the carpet. Wendy was gently lowered so that she could sort them, while her two loving parents watched every single move, offering gentle words of encouragement.
“Go on, honey.” Mommy said. “Try it out. Take your time.”
Smiling to herself, Wendy proceeded to grab one of the plastic shapes, glancing at the similar hole on the bucket’s lid. She could sense her parent’s fidgeting with expectation as she holied up in the air…
“Hmph-pa!” she babbled as she threw it on the ground, earning raising eyebrows of surprise from the two adults.
“No Wendy, you’re supposed to place it here. See?” Her Mommy interjected, pointing at the lid of the little bucket.
Seizing it, Wendy pushed the lid open, before grabbing the shapes and throwing them one by one into the bucket. With how uncoordinated her little pudgy hands were, she had to try several times to get ahold of them all, but one of the good side of being a baby is that nobody is going to force a toy out of your hands when you’re playing with it, even if in the “wrong” way.
As her parents tried once more to explain to her how to use the toy, Wendy had shot them the most defiant look a ten months old baby could muster, and proceeded to shake the bucket.
The rattling of the pieces made such a unique sound. It was the sound of planes, sky colored planes, or maybe sky colored dogs. Either way, it was as delightful as she had hoped. Doing it again, Wendy felt a bubbling sensation in her mind as her lips twirled into a large smile. On the third rattle, a giggle punctuated it, soon followed by many others until both sounds filled the room.
Smiling down at the baby girl having the time of her life over a rattling bucket, Wendy’s parents exchanged a look, before bursting out laughing.
“Guess *both* are still a bit too advanced, eh?”
“Yes, Wendy decided it’s too soon for boring learning games, it seems.” Mommy said with a chuckle, as her giggling baby girl slipped from her steadying hands. “Could you fetch the rest of the toy box, dear? Looks like it’s going to be casual playtime, finally.”
As her mountain of a Daddy went back and forth to her room in a split second, coming back with a box three times her size, claiming there was still plenty of time to play before bathtime, Wendy beamed up at her parents. She was overjoyed, not only at having tricked them out of their budding high expectation, but of what it may mean for her future.
Yes. She would take her time this go round. Now there was nothing but time to start over again. But this time, it would be on her terms.
Maybe she wouldn’t be a law student again the second time around. Maybe she’d try to be a teacher like Mommy or a…she didn’t remember what Daddy did. Maybe she’d be an astronaut. She’d have to relearn everything again, she knew, walking, talking, toileting, reading, math, and more. But she had time now. Plenty of it.
Time to learn from her past mistakes. Time to do things right. Time to enjoy the temporary things. The little things. No more big picture planning and panicking. No more overestimating herself or her limits. Or her interests. She didn’t even like Law. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you like it.
This was the second chance she never knew she needed.
Either way, she was happy now. Looking back on it, she certainly wasn’t happy then. Happy people don’t jump dimensions or justify why it was okay to be put back in diapers and treated like a baby. Not unless that’s what they really wanted deep down.
“There,” Daddy said. “All better.”
Wendy agreed. She even gave them a little giggle.
“I think she thinks so, too.”
And thus, a new life ahead of her, Wendy decided to get down to the serious, serious, business of playing.