Deep in Thought
It did not take long for Splinter to notice the differences in demeanor among his four infant sons. It had been nearly one year since he had begun his life with them, and right from the beginning he could note their individual personalities.
Leonardo, though only an infant, was a stubborn baby. Getting him to eat or take his bottle was a challenge, but only when he had not indicated that he was hungry. When Splinter wanted him to sleep, that would be when he would decide he was hungry or thirsty and would cry and fuss until his demands were met. If Splinter was trying to bathe him or change his diaper when he was in the middle of doing something else (namely, playing with his toys), the child would kick his feet and scream the whole time. Leo went by his own schedule and his own rules and no coaxing from his father could adjust them.
In spite of his stubbornness, however, Leo loved to do anything that his daddy was doing. If Leo knew Splinter was eating, he wanted to eat too. If Splinter was sleeping, Leo would lie down right beside him and sleep, and when daddy was bathing, Leo wanted to bathe too. Doing it at the same time was the only way Splinter knew how to get that baby to do anything he needed him to. As frustrating as the stubbornness could be, Splinter always felt a special sort of warmth when his son would comply simply because daddy was doing it too.
Raphael, many would say, was a very unhappy baby. Even after he had learned to use the simplest words to indicate his needs or wants, he would still prefer to whine, cry, or scream to get them. There would be times when Splinter would not even be able to figure out what the poor child was so distressed about and it would take what seemed like an eternity of consoling and whispered reassurances just to calm him down.
Raphael, however, was by no means a generally unhappy baby. He was a passionate child, as Splinter would say. When he would get upset, he would get very upset, but when something pleased him, it would not only make his day, but it would also make his father's day. All of his children's smiles and laughs warmed him to his core, but seeing his fussiest child grin brought on a warmth all it's own.
His youngest two, Donatello and Michelangelo, unlike their older brothers, were much more quiet and passive in nature. Donnie could remain occupied for hours just looking at a book of his father's that he had somehow gotten a hold of, staring at all the strange symbols and pictures. He didn't have much of an appetite, so he rarely fussed about being hungry and he enjoyed his quiet time, so bed time was no issue either.
Donnie's quietness sometimes worried Splinter though. Every parent knows that a quiet (and curious) baby can only mean trouble when they are out of sight. Many times Splinter would have to rescue Donnie from his own curiosity, such as trying to get a better look at the sewer water and nearly falling in it.
All of Splinter's boys were curious, but he knew that Donnie had a special kind of curiosity that would one day make him very intelligent and successful, in spite of all the trouble it could cause presently.
Mikey was not exactly quiet, but was by far the happiest baby Splinter had ever seen. Contrasting with Raphael's fussing, he would find Mikey giggling and smiling for reasons that he could not figure out. Except for when he was hungry, his youngest son rarely ever shed a tear. Seeing any one of his sons crying saddened the rat, but seeing the usually content Mikey cry brought on a hurt all it's own.
An infant's shrill cry rang out through the Hamato household, slowly awakening the snoozing mother and father lying side-by-side in their bed.
The mother sighed and reluctantly drug her head from the pillow.
The man turned and sleepily grinned at her. “Tang Shen,” he whispered. “Go back to sleep, my dear. I will take care of it this time.”
“Oh but Yoshi,” Shen protested, “she needs her mommy. I cannot sleep knowing...”
“All will be well,” he assured and rose from the bed. “As long as she has one of us. Please, you need your rest.”
Shen sighed and reluctantly tucked herself back under her sheets. “Well come and get me if you need me.”
Yoshi smiled contentedly and sauntered off to his daughter's bedroom where she stood up holding onto the bars of the crib, crying out and demanding some loving attention.
She quieted her cries to an expectant pout as she watched her father enter the room bearing a warm smile.
“What is the matter, little one?” he cooed as he took her from her crib and into his arms.
She gazed at him with her sleepy amber eyes. Her pouting lips morphed into a wide smile as she took in her father's loving warmth.
Yoshi felt his heart beaming with joy and affection as he looked upon her and instinctively held her closer to his chest.
“Oh, Miwa,” he whispered. “Daddy loves you so much.”
For a blissful moment, all was calm and in the father's mind, perfect. Until the baby let out another shrill cry that startled him out of his peaceful state.
He pulled her away from him to check her over, but she had made no movement. She was no longer breathing, and yet the sounds of her cries still rang out in his ears.
“Miwa?” he shook her lightly, but received no response, and yet, the crying seemed to become louder. “Miwa?!”
The rat awoke with a start and sat up in his bed. The crying he had heard in his dream continued in reality a few rooms away. It was the third time in only four hours that he had been awoken by his son's screaming and sobbing.
He caught his breath and glanced at the spot in his bed beside him; it was empty, just as it had been the last two years. Delegating a response to the distressed call was out of the question as always.
With a heavy sigh, Splinter rose from his sheets and wrapped his kimono around himself, lit the candle on his bedside table, and rushed off to his sons' bedroom.
He entered through the open doorway and the dim light from his candle illuminated his youngest baby's tear-filled cyan eyes. He was standing up and holding onto the bars of the crib. He leaned his shell-covered chest against the bars so that he could keep his balance and reach his chubby arms out to his father.
“Da-da...” he sobbed.
Splinter felt a pang in his heart. It was not often that he saw a frown in place of Mikey's infamous grin. This was a sight that he had seen too much in the previous twenty-four hours.
He set the candle down on the table beside the rocking chair before making his way to the crib and taking the sobbing little one into his arms, but not before checking on Donatello to be sure that Mikey had not disturbed his poor bunk mate. Much to his relief, the slightly older tot slept soundly.
“What is troubling you, Michelangelo?” he cooed.
Mikey's sobs subsided a bit and he rubbed his eyes before resting his head on his father's shoulder.
Splinter sighed and sat himself down in the rocking chair, moving Mikey into a more comfortable cradling position.
Mikey continued to pout with discontent.
“Are you wet?” He leaned forward and sniffed his diaper. “Yes, you are.” He rose from the chair and laid the one-year-old on the floor.
“Da-da, no...” Mikey whined in protest as his father walked away for a moment to retrieve a fresh diaper, some wipes, and the powder from under the crib.
“I am not going anywhere, my son,” Splinter whispered and returned to his fussy son. He knelt down by Mikey's feet and unfastened his diaper. He could not see it in the dark, but he knew that the diaper rash was as bad, if not worse, as it had been if Mikey's continuous fussing was any indication.
He shook his head. Only a few hours the little one had slept in his own urine and feces the previous night, but that was all it took to form the burning rash on the underside of his tail.
Mikey began to sob again as Splinter wiped him clean.
Splinter sighed. “Again, honey, I am so sorry. I know this is daddy's fault.” He sprinkled the powder on him generously, which seemed to soothe him a little.
“Oww...” he whimpered.
“I know, I know,” Splinter whispered and fastened the fresh diaper on him. He took him back into his arms and grinned at him. “All clean.”
Mikey's lip began to quiver and he broke into sobs again.
Splinter sighed and held him closer. “Ssh, settle down, now...”
He glanced at the clock on the wall; it read ten after five. Normally he would have been getting out of bed twenty minutes from then. “I suppose there is no point in me trying to go back to bed.”
Mikey just stared at him with misty eyes.
Splinter retrieved his orange blanket from his crib and wrapped him up snugly in it. “Come,” he whispered. “Let's get you a bottle.”
Mikey's eyes widened. “Ba-ba?”
Splinter chuckled and tickled his chin. “Yes, a 'ba-ba'.”
Before departing from the bedroom, he checked on his older three once again and, with only one free arm, tucked each of them in again.
As he was tucking in Leonardo, he felt something tugging at the collar of his kimono. He glanced to Mikey to find him nibbling at his clothing.
He shook his head and smiled. “What are you doing, you silly little turtle?” He gently nudged the infant's cheek to stop him, much to the turtle's dismay. “Aw, you must be very hungry.”
Mikey only continued to whine at the loss of his 'chew-toy'.
Splinter hugged him closer. “Come now, I will get you some milk.”
Splinter carefully lay Mikey down on the floor of his dojo as the little one contentedly sipped on his bottle of warm milk.
“Daddy is going to try to meditate,” he explained. “You should try and get some sleep little one.”
Mikey simply stared back at him with dazed eyes as he continued to sip.
Splinter chuckled lightly and sat beside him in his meditative position. Gravity pulled at his relaxing muscles as he closed his eyes and tried to forget the stress that his fatherly heart brought upon him. His mind drifted to only the sound of water rushing through the sewer pipes and the soft sound of his son sucking the contents from his bottle.
“Da-da!” a sweet, high-pitched voice pulled Yoshi from his meditative state.
He released a lighthearted sigh and turned to the source of the disruption. There behind him sat his black-haired little daughter smiling at him with a fervent glimmer in her amber eyes.
“What is it, Miwa?” he whispered.
Her grin widened and she crawled toward him and into his lap. She stared at him a moment before raising up her arms.
“Da-da!” she cooed.
Yoshi pulled her to his chest and held her close. He chuckled. “What do you need, child?”
Miwa pulled her arms free from his embrace and rested her hands on his shoulders as she pulled herself to his face and kissed his nose.
“Love da-da,” she said.
Yoshi melted. “Oh sweetheart, I love you too.” He hugged her as tight as he could without crushing her tiny little body.
“Yes, child, 'da-da' loves you,” he whispered.
He nuzzled her head.
A sharp pain moving up his spine shook him from his peaceful state of mind.
With a yelp, Yoshi hopped to his knees, feeling a weight drag behind his aching tail and then, almost as quickly, release.
He whipped his head around to find Mikey sitting up behind him, crying with his hands to his mouth.
He groaned and took the child into his arms.
“Shoosh, daddy did not mean to hurt you. It is alright. It is alright, Miwa...”
Splinter's heart skipped a beat. Miwa? How could he call his son by his late daughter's name? He looked into the child's cyan eyes and saw the pain. He knew it was from the diaper rash, but to him it stung his heart as if the baby was aware of and hurt by his mistake.
“Oh, Michelangelo...” he whispered. “I am so sorry, my son. Daddy did not mean to call you that.”
The baby let out another pained sob.
Splinter placed a thumb on his chin and gently pried his jaws open to check that there was no damage done.
“Open up,” he whispered.
Mikey reluctantly opened his mouth and Splinter saw the small white spots emerging from his bare gums. It was then that realization splashed over him.
“Oh of course, you must be teething,” he said. “That would explain the biting and chewing.”
The older three had all gone through their teething stage, the most recent being Donatello only a few weeks prior, but none of them had shown much discomfort during that time. They fussed very little and simply dealt with it by chewing on whatever they could get their little mouths on.
Splinter hugged Mikey closer to his chest.
“We must find you something to chew on,” he whispered. “But for now, maybe some sleep would do you some good.” He gave the baby a comforting grin and stroked his cheek with his thumb. It seemed to soothe him for a minute or so, but soon after, little groans of discomfort began to escape his throat, which quickly turned to full sobs. Splinter sighed.
“Oh, what am I going to do with you?” he groaned. He knelt down and picked up the orange blanket and wrapped it snugly around Mikey's shelled body. He trudged off to the kitchen, hoping an early morning cup of hot tea would soothe him at the very least.
Mikey released another unhappy wail as Splinter flipped on the kitchen light. Splinter hushed and bounced him lightly as he retrieved his worn teapot from the top of their stove and went to the sink to fill it.
A yellow rubber ducky sitting beside the sink caught little Mikey's attention. He began to squirm in his father's arms and reach for it.
Splinter shut off the water and looked at his now squirming son.
“What is it, Michelangelo?”
Mikey reached further and began to whine again.
Splinter chuckled. “Do you want the duck?” he cooed. He picked up the duck and handed it to Mikey.
Mikey eagerly accepted the rubber toy and wasted no time to stuff it into his aching mouth and bite it as it squeaked.
Splinter laughed as he set the pot on the stove and turned it on.
“If that makes you feel better, little one,” he said.
Mikey violently gnawed on the rubber toy as air vigorously puffed in and out of the bottom hole, the toy's squeaker long since dormant, something Splinter was silently grateful for. The incessant squeaking of the rubber duck used to drive him crazy when his sons would get to playing with it.
The teapot began to squeal and Splinter removed it from the burner. He retrieved a mug from the cabinet and filled it almost to the top with the hot water.
Mikey began to grunt and reach for the mug.
Splinter smiled at him. “What do you want?” he cooed. “Are you hungry?”
Mikey's eyes widened at his father and he began to grunt louder. “Eh! Ehhhh!”
Splinter chuckled as he dropped a teabag in the hot mug and stepped over to the fridge to get a premade bottle of algae.
The sight of the bottle ignited Mikey's excitement and he squirmed in his father's arms to get it. Splinter held him steady and handed him the bottle, which he eagerly accepted.
Splinter chuckled. “I guess you were hungry.”
He returned to his mug and stirred his tea before removing the teabag, discarding it, and trudging back to the living room to enjoy his morning tea.
He lay Mikey down on the couch beside him, where he drowsily sipped on his bottle. Splinter watched him fervently and stroked his plastron.
By the time Splinter had finished his tea, Mikey had drifted off to sleep. Splinter carefully scooped him up and returned him to his own crib, being sure to check on his other three before returning himself to his dojo.
He sat himself Indian style on the hard, rugged floor, closed his eyes and let his mind drift to another world.
He sat beside her on the floor of their dojo, both solemnly in their peaceful, meditative state, while their daughter slept.
The sound of her steady breathing eased his mind, illuminated his heart. Her cherry blossom scent enlightened his soul. He couldn't resist; he peaked an eye open ever so slightly and watched her from the corner of his eye.
She was beautiful as always. Her long black locks resting at her shoulders, her eyes relaxed and resting, but her slight smile still so active.
His hand slithered over and grasped hers.
She released a lighthearted sigh before opening her eyes and smiling at him. She chuckled.
“What?” she said.
He smiled wider at her and silently pushed a black lock behind her ear so as to get a better look at her tantalizing amber eyes.
Yoshi sighed at the baby's abrupt interruption.
The dojo turned to black and his beloved began to fade before his eyes.
He shut his eyes submissively, but his love's hand gripped his shoulder.
“Go back to your meditation, Yoshi,” she said with that unfaltering smile. “I will take care of it this time.”
Splinter reluctantly returned his meditating brain to reality and prepared himself to go respond to the distressed cry of his youngest son.
Much to the father's surprise, though, within seconds, the loud crying subsided.
He waited a minute to see if it would resume, but it did not. He told himself to go check on the baby regardless.
Splinter rushed off to his makeshift nursery and hurried to the crib that held his two youngest sons. There Donatello slept soundly with Michelangelo dozing beside him, chewing on the arm of Donnie's favorite stuffed panda that lay between the two of them.
He smiled fervently at the scene and bowed his head.
“Thank you, my love...”