Olivia's heart fluttered as she took a deep breath and let her eyes sweep across her living room for what could have been the fifteenth time that morning.
Elliot had just called her from the first floor of her building and, while she knew she had taken every necessary step to make her apartment child-appropriate for a week, her hands still shook as she waited for Elliot and Kathy to take the elevator up to her floor.
It was not that she had had little experience with children or toddlers; there was enough time spent with relatives, friends and on the job in general for her to be well-prepared for any child. Eli Stabler, however, felt like a Fabergé egg coming through her apartment; everything had to be perfect for such a precious little thing.
She crossed the living room once more, ensuring that the space she had designated for Eli’s playpen was large enough, surveyed her bedroom, confirming again that she had moved her bed against the wall to make room from Eli’s separate crib, and then backtracked to the living room to, again, convince herself that everything in the apartment was set.
Blankets had been arranged to cover every edge she thought could be remotely sharp, the cords for her blinds were tied towards the tops of the windows, every bare electrical outlet was plugged and her lower cabinets were all locked with baby locks.
Olivia nodded to herself, satisfied that the apartment seemed to meet her standards, and tensed as she heard a knock at her door.
“Hey!” Kathy said brightly as she stood in the doorway holding Eli.
Elliot nodded silently as he stepped through the door carrying Eli’s playpen. Olivia pointed towards the spot that had been previously measured and watched bemusedly as Elliot began a quick scan of her apartment before setting up the playpen.
“You remember Auntie Olivia, right Eli?” Kathy said as she lifted her son.
Eli stared at Olivia apprehensively for a moment and then leaned back into his mother.
“You remember me, right?” Olivia said in a soothing voice, outstretching her arms. “I fed you apple sauce on Christmas Eve and you threw it back up on my shirt…”
Eli giggled and then reached out to be held by her.
“Oh, yeah,” Olivia said as she held him. “You remember…”
Kathy patted Eli’s hair as he hugged Olivia. “Okay…so, first things first. In the bag that Elliot’s going to bring on his second trip…” She paused to glance at Elliot who was half-tangled with the playpen on the floor. “…will be all the numbers we can think of that you might need. I’ve got Eli’s pediatrician, our general family doctor, our neighbors on both sides and Maureen’s cell number. I doubt you’ll need them, but I also added my mother’s number and my sister’s number on the list, too.”
“C’mon Kath,” Elliot said, continuing his wrestle with the playpen. “She’s a cop, not a twelve-year-old.”
She rolled her eyes and continued. “We’ve already made arrangements with the daycare. They’ll only need an ID and your signature to pick him up. They officially close at seven. If you’re there at even 7:01, they’ll charge us a ton of fees, so if you don’t think you’ll make by then…and judging from the number of times Elliot’s said he could make it by seven and didn’t…just give Maureen a call and she can get him before they close.”
Olivia made a mental list as she switched a fidgeting Eli to her left hip.
“He’s an incredibly fussy eater,” Kathy said, never removing her eyes from Eli as Olivia moved him. “Half the time he likes spitting anything back out just to see the face you’ll make when he does, but he’s usually pretty good when you use his tiger spoon. We brought the tiger spoon right, right Elliot?”
Elliot's face scrunched as he looked up and pinched a finger between the bottom of the playpen and floor. “Yeah...it's in the car. I'll be down to get it in just a sec.”
Kathy nodded. “Good. So, if it seems like you're getting more food on his shirt than in his mouth because he keeps spitting it back out, just go for the tiger spoon and he'll eat.”
“You have to 'Grr' when you do it though,” Elliot called from the floor.
“It helps,” Kathy said, chuckling, “but as soon as he sees it, he'll be ready to eat.”
“What's so special about the tiger spoon?” Olivia asked as she untangled Eli's hand from her earring that had caught his attention.
“No idea,” Kathy shrugging. “But, Maureen was the same way. She wouldn't eat unless we used this stupid spoon with a unicorn on it.”
Elliot gave a sad groan behind them as he temporarily gave up on the playpen and then headed for the door. He glanced at Olivia as he pointed to her keys on their hook next to her door. She nodded and he quickly left the apartment with her keys.
“When he comes back,” Kathy said, rubbing at a small spot on Eli's face, “I'll take out his Paddington for you. Eli just loves the little bear to death and he gets very fussy if it's not in the crib with him when he sleeps. It took us about a month to really figure out the bear was the trick to getting him to go to sleep...”
Kathy continued to prattle about the educational toys she had been trying to get Eli to use as Elliot made two more trips from their car and back to the apartment, carrying diaper bags, clothes and baby food. He moved about the apartment quickly and decisively, putting things into her fridge and in her cabinets as if he knew precisely where everything was supposed to go.
“He doesn’t have any allergies that we know of,” Kathy said, “but if something happens just let us know when we get back. Also…” Kathy paused as she pulled a camera out of her purse and gave it to Olivia. “He’s been taking some steps here or there and I think he might start talking a little any day now. If you see him doing anything…special, this takes pictures and video.”
“Sounds good,” Olivia said.
“Okay, all set,” Elliot said with a triumphant grunt as he lifted himself from the floor. “The playpen is set up as well as the crib in your room. His food is in your cabinets, spoons in the drawers, including the tiger spoon…I put his blankets, the diaper bags and the bags with his clothes and toys on your bed since I’m not sure where you wanted to put those. Everything else…the stroller, carriers and whatever I put next to your closet.”
Olivia shifted Eli and bounced him on her hip. “We’ll be fine.”
Elliot reached for Eli who started fussing as he pulled him away from Olivia.
“Oh hush,” Elliot said as he held him. “Daddy just made three trips carrying all your stuff up here.”
Eli simply giggled and Elliot passed him to Kathy who gave him a big hug and a kiss on the cheek before giving him back to Olivia.”
“Thank you so much for doing this Olivia,” Kathy said, looking like she was going to hug her as well. “We really can’t thank you enough.”
Kathy smiled at Eli as he clutched Olivia and she rubs his head. “Bye, my baby boy.”
“Eli, can you wave ‘goodbye?’” Olivia motioned for Eli to wave and he copied the motion of opening and closing his hand, but backwards, essentially waving at himself.
“We’ll work on that,” Olivia laughed. “Have fun. And, don’t come back sunburned because I don’t want to hear any whining.”
Kathy turned to leave the apartment, but Elliot stopped her. “Did you tell her about the thing about the playpen?”
“Oh! I nearly forgot,” Kathy said and took a step towards Olivia. “He’s been doing this thing lately since he’s been standing. He just pulls himself up with the sides of the playpen and…kind of tries to get out of it. It’s usually not a big deal since he really can’t get over the edge.”
“Except the time when he did,” Elliot mumbled.
Kathy turned and glared at him. “Don’t start with that now. Okay? Before I’d gone outside, he was asleep and the carpet broke his fall…” She turned her attention back to Olivia and tried to smile again. “I don’t think you’ll have a problem with him doing that since he’ll probably be worn out from daycare by the time you get him, but just a little F.Y.I. He may try to climb out of the playpen. He uses that bar that runs across the mesh and a couple of his toys and just kind of pulls himself up. He’s gotten out a couple times and even hit his head when he fell once, but he’s always been okay. If he looks like he might be feisty enough to keep trying it, just pop in the Blues Clues DVD and he’ll be calm for close to an hour.”
Olivia made another mental note as Kathy and Elliot said their goodbyes again and set Eli on the floor in a standing position. He wobbled for a moment and then wrapped his small arms around Olivia’s leg to steady himself.
She smiled and sighed. Well, now what?
As she bent to pick him up and go into the kitchen, she heard a knock at her door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me again,” Elliot’s voice called from behind her door.
She answered it a moment later with Eli in her arms again. “Hey.”
Elliot pulled a small envelope out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Olivia.
“What’s this?” she asked.
“It’s just…I know you said you volunteered for this, but…”
Olivia frowned slightly at his pause and opened the envelope with one hand. “Elliot…there’s at least three hundred dollars here. I can’t take this.”
“You’re not taking it. We’re giving it to you. If he wants something or you need to go out and buy anything for him….or, if you just want to go splurge on some Manolo Blahniks, it’ll be on us.”
She handed the envelope back to him and shook her head. “I can’t take your money. You two use it down there.”
“No. It’s yours.”
Olivia tried to shove the envelope back to him and close the door, but he grabbed and stuffed it down her shirt before she could get the door closed. Eli laughed and squirmed in her arms.
“Yeah, you like when your daddy gets the best of Aunt Liv, don’t you?” Eli laughed again. “We’ll see who gets the last word when he gets a little surprise from Aunt Liv in his locker.”
She walked into her bedroom with him and put him in the crib as she looked over the things Elliot had laid on her bed.
“Hmm…,” she said aloud. “Looks like your mom packed you enough clothes to last for a month. I think she thinks Aunt Liv is going to be changing your outfit every other hour while you’re here.”
She heard Eli shift behind her and watched as he pulled himself up to a stand, but then lost his balance when he noticed her watching and fell backwards on his bottom with a plop.
“Aunt Liv’s watching you,” she said and she winked at him; Eli erupted into a fit of giggles at her wink.
Olivia went through the various bags discovering which bag held what while Eli scratched around in the crib behind her, occasionally singing to himself as he played.
An hour later, as she tried to get Eli to eat a small lunch, she saw the significance of Eli having a month’s worth of clothes.
Partially mashed carrots and green beans were smeared in several lumps on the high chair, on the floor, across the table and on Olivia's clothes. While she was certain that between Eli trying to feed himself with his hands and her attempts at getting spoonfuls of food into his mouth, Eli had managed to eat some food, Olivia was still skeptical of how much he actually got to eat from the sheer amount of food on his clothes, all over his skin and intertwined in almost all the curls on his head.
“I think,” Olivia said, as she gathered another spoonful of carrots, “your mom and dad neglected to tell Aunt Liv a few things about actually getting the food to stay in your mouth even with the oh-so-special tiger spoon.”
Eli jabbered to himself, effectively ignoring her attempts with the spoon, and squeezed the glob of food that he had amassed on the high chair table.
“Eli,” she said, grabbing his attention. “Can you go like this?”
He stared at her for a minute as she opened her mouth wide and then mimicked the expression.
Olivia took the moment and popped the spoon into his mouth. “Mmm...good right?”
Eli actually shook his head at her, crinkled his nose and let the carrots spray out of his mouth, showering the chair and Olivia's shirt, again.
She sighed, but could not help smiling at him. “You know if Aunt Liv didn't think you were so darn cute, she'd be calling your parents right now.” Eli giggled and dove his hand back into his food pile.
Once she had resigned to give him an early bath to get all the food out of his hair, Olivia tried to clean off herself as best she could while continually leaning out of her bathroom to watch Eli in the playpen. As she got the last bits of green beans off her neck, she found herself completely surprised to see how quickly Eli could go from sitting and playing quietly with his bear to rattling the sides of the playpen and fussing slightly.
“I think it's time for nap,” she said as she lifted him and walked to the crib in her bedroom.
She set him in the low-standing crib, but he immediately began crying, raising up his arms as if wanting to be held. After several attempts at soothing him with her voice, Olivia gave up and walked around the apartment holding him and rubbing his back, trying to make him as sleepy as possible. Just when she thought she had him tired enough, he shifted in her arms and threw up enough on himself and her shoulder to warrant another bath and another walk around the apartment; it took another round of cleaning and walking before he had stopped throwing up and was ready to sleep.
After she cleaned up the orange and green mess off the high chair and her floors, Olivia jumped in the shower, finding more mashed carrots and green beans in places she never thought possible, and was half way finished drying her hair when she heard a sound coming from her bedroom, almost as if someone was coughing.
Olivia walked into the bedroom and stopped short as she found Eli huffing as he tried to get his leg over the side of the crib. Mesmerized, she watched him a moment more before jumping into the room to catch him before he got his leg over the side.
Her heart raced as she held him, though she was not sure if it was the fact that he could climb, but that Eli, at nine months old, had the presence of mind to push his blanket into the corner of the crib and stand on it and his bear to get him high enough to get up and over the crib’s bars.
“No, no, no,” Olivia said softly as she held him. “Aunt Liv doesn’t want you to fall, Eli. If you fell and hit your head on Aunt Liv’s hardwood floors, your daddy would have a fit and take her out with his bare hands.”
He stared at her for a minute and she wondered vaguely if he had understood what she said, but she dismissed the thought a minute later when he turned his attention to her still damp hair.
Olivia put him on the floor for a moment, but then snatched him back up again when she remembered the raised floor staple in her bedroom on which she had been sporadically stepping and about which she had been continually nagging her landlord for the past decade.
She finished drying her hair in her bedroom, amused by the fact that Eli did not attempt any climbing acrobatics while she was watching him, and decided to take Eli to the park for the rest of the afternoon.
Feeling slightly awkward with a
diaper bag draped across her shoulder, Olivia pushed Eli in his stroller as he
spoke in a language only he could understand and pointed at the various things
he saw in
Months earlier, Michelle at the Administration of Children’s Services had sat with Olivia and earnestly explained that she felt Olivia lacked the discipline and the drive to be a mother. Olivia had gawked at her, immediately retorting that she had more discipline and drive than anyone she knew, but when Michelle calmly suggested that Olivia did not seem ready to put aside her time consuming and often dangerous career path to make a child number one in her life, Olivia lowered her tone.
In the months that followed, Olivia had tried to find ways to prove to herself that Michelle and ACS were wrong and when opportunity knocked, she jumped for it.
The case for Ian Byroms lay waiting to be scrutinized in case of errors, but there she was taking Eli to the park just because she wanted to take him. All her efforts notwithstanding, Michelle had made another point and Olivia had not readied response for it.
“You were raised by a single parent yourself, Olivia,” Michelle had said. “Wouldn’t you think a child could be better raised by two parents?”
Outside of the fabulously wealthy, Olivia had rarely heard of ACS giving children to unmarried women, especially when said women held jobs that put them directly into the line of fire and the lack of a maternal instinct seemed to echo off them as they entered the room.
I’ll have to get married, she thought. Even if he’s not the one, I’ll have to get married if I ever want one of my own.
After pushing Eli around the park for close to twenty minutes, she saw an open baby swing on the playground and headed straight for it.
“How about a little time on the swings, Eli?” Olivia said as she took Eli from the stroller.
She was about to lift Eli into the swing when a flush-faced woman with too much mascara and bushy hair stormed towards her.
“Hey!” the woman yelled. “What d’you think you’re doing?”
“I’m sorry…?” Olivia said, eyebrows furrowed and not liking the woman’s tone or body language as she approached.
“We’ve been waiting for that swing.” She pointed at the red-faced, fussing two-year-old she had in a child leash.
Olivia held Eli tighter. “I…I didn’t know there was a line.”
“There isn’t, but I was saving it for Mikey once he got off the tube slides.”
“Oh,” Olivia said, putting Eli in the swing. “Well, we got here first and I’m sure he’ll get tired soon enough.”
Olivia reached around to begin pushing Eli, but the woman pushed her shoulder and stepped closer.
“Who do you think you are?” she yelled. “I was saving that swing for my kid!”
Stopping the swing and taking Eli in arms to keep herself from doing anything too rash, Olivia reached in her pocket and pulled out her badge. The woman’s eyes went wide and she took a step backward.
“Look,” Olivia said. “I’m sorry that you thought you were saving this swing, but there’s a million people out here, no one was using this one and just wanted to push my godson on a swing for a little while. Now, I’m trying to be nice, but if you touch me again, I’ll be forced to ruin both of our Saturdays over something really insignificant.”
“C’mon Mikey,” the woman said after a tense silence. “Let’s go see if your Uncle Colin can meet us a little later.”
She glared at Olivia and stormed away in huff, nearly dragging her child who was in the midst of having a temper tantrum.
“See that, Eli?” Olivia said as she pushed him. “That’s what happens when you grow up thinking the world owes you something. Don’t grow up to be like that.”
Eli babbled in his baby-speak and pointed in the direction of the woman and her screaming toddler.
“That’s right, Eli. An example of how you don't want to be.”
Olivia pushed a laughing Eli for a little when he started to fuss in the swing and she finally took him home. When she tried to change him, she figured she surprised him by taking off his diaper too quickly because he shivered once and then wet the front of her shirt.
After another bath, and a shower for herself, Olivia put Eli in some blue sleepers and allowed the Blues Clues DVD to play in the background as she sat next to him and help him colour in a colouring book on her coffee table. She had bought the book on her last-minute dash to the market down the street to make sure she had everything she might need to make Eli comfortable. In the end, she was glad she had bought it as he took to colouring like a much older child would have.
He simply stared looked at the large crayons at first, trying to munch on the red and then just banging the blue on the table until Olivia showed him he could make marks on paper. She sat watching him make little marks across the paper until he seemed more determined to draw on her table than in the book and then she scooped him up to read Where the Wild Things Are.
Eli patted each page as she read and giggled as she showed him scene after scene of “Max” having a “wild rumpus” with the other wild things. By the time she had finished reading to him and showing him all the pictures, Eli was rubbing his eyes and was becoming very still in her lap.
When Olivia finally laid Eli to sleep, she fell across her sofa with a flop, feeling as if she could sleep for the next hundred years. One day of taking care of a baby had exhausted her and she wondered how people twins or other multiples managed to do it.
Michelle's voice seemed to ring her head as she considered the idea of having to take care of a child all by herself all the time. The idea that single mothers, and even her own mother, managed everyday to do what had exhausted her after only half a day seemed almost laughable.
She pulled herself from the couch and checked on Eli before crawling into her own bed with a sigh. Kathy and Elliot were presumably still flying towards the tropics and, though she felt incredibly tired taking care of him, Olivia knew she was going to miss Eli as soon as his parents arrived to get him the following week.
Allowing her eyelids to close, Olivia decided she would just cherish the time she could spend with him and tried to sleep, waking once every few hours as she heard Eli rustling in his crib near the foot of her bed.