Saturday, December 26, 2009

Opal, Virginia and Christmas

Yesterday was our first Christmas with baby Opal.
And even though she is still way too young to understand it as anything beyond twinkly lights and endless Christmas music that mommy sings to her off-key, having her here made it a different holiday entirely. Regardless of the depth of her understanding, it still felt like she was the welcomed focus, from the visit from my Ohio family to the hand-made hat/sweater/blanket combo from her grammy.

It was on Thanksgiving when it really occurred to me that we will never again encounter a holiday without her at our side. I toted her around that night attached to my belly in the sling as she alternated between gazing from behind the fabric to snoozing audibly. It was an impressive group of friends and family and trying to envision the evening without her, without the coos of those who snuck a peek at her precious sleeping face, without the pterodactyl shriek she let out in the midst of the toast, seems impossible. Hell, imagining eating breakfast without her propped on a pillow next to me (yes, I eat many meals in bed because it is the warmest room in the house to nurse) seems impossible.

I heard the famous "Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter on the radio a few weeks ago and I couldn't help but to indulge in a lengthy daydream about Opal at Christmas at age one and two and three, exhibiting the same sense of enchantment that she does now when I do something as simple as clicking my tongue or saying her name at just the right pitch. I really loved the way the newsman replied to Virginia, with a sense of respect for her comprehension of the magic and spirit of it all. And I can only hope to match that with my own daughter. As a good friend of ours said about Opal, "she is still so close to the mystery." And she is our liaison to that world.

Here is the letter to Virginia. Bless her heart-- I hope she maintained her skepticism for everything that disputes the miraculous and unexplainable well beyond her childhood.

"Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897 written by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church..."

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas 1980

The video is labeled “Campbell Family Events…1980-1996.” It opens with a festive scene in the basement of our childhood house on Karikal Drive, Christmas 1980. The video camera is set on a tripod and able to rotate only slightly on its axis to capture a limited field of view. The old super-eight used for filming gives the appearance of a hazy skin over the picture so the image has an eerie, ghostlike quality. There is a Christmas tree to the right, the children’s version that is allowed icicles and hand-made ornaments and dad’s favorite disco-ball-star tree topper--all the things not allowed on the more formal tree upstairs. The gifts are wrapped in matching paper, adorned with coordinating holiday bows and nametags and scattered across horrifically patterned carpeting. The unnamed man behind the camera speaks to each character in the scene as they scurry in and out of view; he seems to hope to inspire more intriguing footage:
“Heather, what do you have there?” “Chris, hold it up so we can see—ooooh.”

The characters he speaks to in the flim are the same people who are sitting together19 years later, watching the video with him. My mother, my brother and I. Only now, there are two extras added to the audience: my 5 year old niece Stella and my 2 month old daughter, Opal.

A three year old version of myself, stares back at us from the TV. She is dressed in pink jammies with the plastic feeties built in and has long brown locks tousled from a restless night’s sleep spent listening for Santa. Her nose is stuffed so the M’s sound like B’s. She doesn’t notice the large dollhouse in the corner that is just barely covered in a few sheets of gift wrap. Excitement has rendered her blind. She is simple and heartbreakingly sweet as she hands out the gifts to the appropriate people, asking for help along the way because she is far from being able to read.
My brother is six in the video; also wearing jammies with the plastic feeties, but his are blue. He speaks fast and is all business. He opens his gifts as quickly as they are handed to him, practically throwing each one behind him with little to no acknowledgement, making way for the next. He continuously checks to make sure he is lined up with the camera.
My mother is 28 in the video, with dark feathered waves pulled back like curtains from her thick, oval glasses. She looks slender and so much more grown-up than I must have looked at that age. It is a strange thing to see her at an age that is four years younger than I am now, and with two kids. She is quiet and helpful as she gathers the discarded paper and compliments the gifts. She looks tired but able to enjoy her kids’ delight.
My father, who steps in and out from behind the camera, is also in the video at an age that's four years younger than I, seven years younger than Jesse. This is filmed long before my dad gets braces so he still has that dapper space between his front teeth. He wears a navy velour jogging suit with a single chalk-stripe down the sleeve and the pants. He guides little-Heather towards the dollhouse, the thing (we learn every time we watch this video) he was up until the wee hours of the morning putting together.

This is the first time I have watched this video with my family since Opal was born. My family came to visit from Ohio last weekend and my father, brother and niece got to meet Opal for the very first time. (My mother came out right after Opal was born and got to hold her when she was less than 24 hours old.) It really was an amazing thing to watch my father hold her tiny body in the crook of his meaty arms and sway her gently. And to see my brother bop up and down with her propped over his shoulder, whispering into her ear. My darling niece was certain she could read Opal’s mind and spoke to her in a secret language. (At one point, she walked up to Opal, held her foot for a moment and then declared to the room that Opal was hungry.)

My father video taped some of our weekend together. And as we all enjoyed a good laugh at the expense of mom and dad’s fashion choices on that fateful Christmas day nearly two decades ago, while feasting on key lime pie and homemade margaritas, I couldn’t help but to look down at what I was wearing and think of the day when the footage of this present moment would be viewed by the next tier of family and the little girl with the stuffy nose and brand new dollhouse would step even further into the distance.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Yesterday Opal and I went to Target.

Another place to visit for the thousandth time but for the first time with her. Each of these outings feels significant-- from the first time I took her out in the car alone (she was 4 days old), to her first party (Thanksgiving, 5 weeks old), to our first trip to the grocery (last week, 7 weeks old), Her simple presence adds an effervescence and sense of accomplishment to things what could easily be considered mundane or ordinary. It's almost as if having her with me exfoliates a dead layer of skin from any experience.

Target was a virtual holiday consumer-fest with yuletide tunes blaring from no obvious speakers and baskets of red and green impulse-buys welcoming each shopper as they navigate the entryway. I had a short shopping list but felt seduced to veer off the beaten path a number of times as I made my way to those items.

All of these details (and more) would have been irritating to the pre-mom version of me, they would have inspired me to hurry through a no-nonsense shopping experience to get-in-and-get-out with only the essentials in hand. Having said this, I also realize that as a pre-mom, the odds were good that I would have considered this trip to be "running an errand," which is something that happens on the way to or from somewhere, sandwiched into its own teeny sliver of time. An errand is not really classified as an experience in and of itself. It is something one must do to have the things they need in order to have a real experience. Something you bang out before the meter runs out. And, judging from past experience, Target has mostly been a place for an errand.

Let me just interject one thing here: before I took my maternity leave, the work I did was with elders. A population that is known for its deliberate, often dawdling pace. And one of the things I most enjoyed in spending time with this demographic was indeed the lack of speed. In spending time with them, I felt as if I were merging from drag race to horse-drawn carriage, as if I had permission to hit the brakes and simply sit with them and read a book, watch an entire episode of The Price Is Right or take the whole afternoon to run a single errand. For elders, (or at least the ones I resided with) the errand was the experience. And yet this notion wasn't able to penetrate my world once I left them. On my way home, I inevitably still had three places to stop and two calls to make from the car.

But back to Target.

Opal stayed in her carseat, wedged safely in the front of the shopping cart facing me. She peered around in a hypnotic state, with the look of a child trying hopelessly to maintain eye contact while on the spinning teacup ride. Every few moments I pulled on her leg to bring her back to earth, singing her a personal rendition of Twinkle Little Star and inspiring strange glances from my fellow shoppers. She eventually gave up and gazed sleepily at her own hands for a while. You could almost see her internal gauge overloading with stimulation.

We passed another mama whose little one was not digesting the stimulation in quite the same way. She was carrying him in a sling and he wiggled and fussed and kicked his chubby little legs free. Her carseat (the exact same one as mine) sat in the actual cart buried in purchases.

New mama neighborliness clicked in.
"How'd you get your carseat wedged in the front like that?"
"Like this."
"Great. I am doing it now--" She asked how old my baby was as she resurrected the seat.
"Almost 8 weeks."
"Wyatt is 9 weeks."
"Maybe they'll go to prom someday."

And we both laughed and went our separate ways with our little ones and our lists and our respective homes to go to later. Opal tipped into a nap and Wyatt entered a wailing fit that I could still hear from the laundry section, a long while after we parted.

My shopping was complete. My baby was sleeping. I had nowhere to be and always love assisting in the continuation of a nap at (nearly) any cost. So I went to the in-store Starbucks and got a peppermint hot chocolate and began to wander. Aimlessly.

The last time I can recall wandering aimlessly was 5 and a half years ago, the middle of June. It was an actual homework assignment to go somewhere you would normally rush through with blind eyes and slow down enough to see what is there. I was doing a week of Naropa's summer writing program and, as luck would have it, I went to Target for this assignment. I have a very distinct memory from that experience of Aimless Wandering: the doll isle. I remember spending an exorbitant amount of time in the isle that shelved Barbies on one side and Bratz Dolls on the other. After a long enough period of time, it truly felt like a stand-off between classic/pure and modern/edgy and I had almost convinced myself that if I stayed long enough, there would be fisticuffs.

This particular round of Aimless Wandering led me to take interest in the other shoppers.

There was a mother and her adult daughter, both dressed down in sweats with faces that were clearly used to wearing makeup. They were buying ingredients for cookies. "Where are the red sprinkles?" "Do you see the red sprinkles anywhere?" They didn't notice Opal as we passed.

There was an elderly couple wearing matching his/hers holiday sweaters (with different pants) in the frames isle, examining an 8x10 frame at a variety of angles for scuffs. They also did not notice Opal.

There was a young couple in the baby isle with one of the scanner-guns they give you to select items for your gift registry. They couldn't have been much older their twenties. Both had very dark features and olive skin and in spite of their toothy smiles, they seemed very shy.
"Ah," I said, "It wasn't long ago when we were buzzing things for our registry..." I smiled toward Opal, sleeping soundly and sucking on her lips. They barely even peered over the side and said, "Oh, right," and laughed slightly.

The fluorescent lights eventually made my eyes feel hard-boiled and my hot chocolate was gone, so we made our way to the check-out. A teenage girl was in line behind us, hair in a high ponytail, unloading closet organizing items and a zip-up hoody with one-pointed focus. When she looked up, she seemed shocked to see us standing in front of her and said, "Oh, cute little boy." Opal was in a hat and buried under a blanket in her carseat.

I didn't feel the need to correct her. I was just happy she noticed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Parent Obsessions and Fixations, Part 2

Ok, I am sure your first question is, if this is part 2, then where is part 1? Good question (though the only person who currently knows about this blog is my husband. So, good question, honey.)--

Part 1 was actually an email I sent to some friends last week in which I spent an inordinate and unplanned amount of time on the topic of the obsessions and fixations that only new parents have.
Some examples that were mentioned:

1. Keeping Opal's extremeties warm. This often results in the poor child being overdressed and residing in a state of mild perspiration.

2. Calling the "nurse on call" too often (the word "excessively" may also fit here, if this were a madlibs-type situation. But I will go with "often.")

3. Going to extremes to get the baby to sleep. Hours are clocked in on a daily basis trying to help Baby Opal get to sleep. By the point this help is needed, she is sleepy and irritated but unable to cross the threshold on her own. Shushing, swaddling, slinging, rocking, bopping, swaying, gliding, singing, nursing (or any combination) are the techniques used and then repeated when she inevitably wakes up upon touching any surface.

4. Going to extremes to keep the baby asleep. I have personally held my bladder, ignored hunger and thirst, neglected phone calls and overlooked cramped and numb muscles to avoid waking the baby when she's has fallen asleep on me while nursing. I have also driven aimlessly and wandered grocery isles long passed mission-completion when she has zonked out in her car seat. Sleep seems like such a precious and fragile situation.

This leads me to the current New Parent Obsession/Fixation that has something, but not everything, to do with sleep:
Getting the bedroom to the perfect temperature at night to sleep and contiuing to fail misterably.

As I stated before, keeping the wee one warm during these cold winter months is something I take very seriously. I believe that a baby who is too warm is better than a baby who is too cold. Because of this, the temperature of our bedroom during the night has been a virtual science project. How to line up the thermostat with the space heater with the warm-air humidifier to result in a comfortable (erring toward warm) sleeping environment has continuously baffled both my husband and myself. We have achieved the lukewarm temperature we long for only a handful of nights in the 7.5 weeks since Opal was born.

Yes, our house is indeed equipt with all the luxuries of a furnace and thermostat, which may be the simple route most other parents would take. But we want to avoid having the thermostat set too warm because all that blowing makes us both feel crusty and hungover the next morning. Also, it seems silly to heat an entire house when we are only using one room for a solid 8+ hours.

Once the door is closed, three sleeping, breathing, human beings (don't be fooled by the little one's size-- she is a pocket sized furnace with the heat she puts off.) and a dog throw off the numbers in a way that is impossible to compute. So, as we are still working it out (presumably we will have it nailed by the time spring rolls around), we are surviving a bedroom that is steaming by midnight and (because one of us inevitable wakes up cursing the heat and unplugs something if not everything) freezing by mid-morning.

And that has felt OK enough, never seeming like much more than a nuisance. Shedding clothes, re-applying them and then complaining about the enigma of it all the next morning has become a bit of an established practice.

But then I read something yesterday that turned simple inconvenience/annoyance to big worry. In an article on S.I.D.S. in the current issue of Parents magazine, it says "cases (of S.I.D.S) in the U.S. peak in winter when infants are likely to be overdressed," and that "scientists believe that overheating may affect babies' arousal mechanisms."
This statement greatly impacts my ability to carry out the aforementioned obsession/fixation with keeping little Opal's extremities warm. Especially at night.

And last night, I barely slept a wink. If not for the bedroom temperature conundrum and the resulting perspiration, then for the concern that either Opal would become dangerously overheated or freeze to death.

Let's just say I checked her breathing more than once and am greatly looking forward to summer. The article also said blowing fans are supposed to prevent S.I.D.S. Hallelujah.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Here's something that unleashed my brain from the tree it's usually tied to:

the other day I got the hiccups and I noticed Opal got them at the exact same time.

A few minutes later my hiccups went away and I noticed hers had also gone away at the exact same time.

I couldn't help but think of how often she got the hiccups when she was still in my belly, another temporary pulse in a body seperate from yet housed inside of mine.

We lived like Russian dolls for the better part of this year and now we are autonomous--

but how true is that, really?

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I love that the only requirement to forming a club is to gather a group of people who have something in common. That commonality is a juicy and intriguing variable. A quick online search for clubs warranted more in a span of five minutes than I can begin to list. The Procrastinator's club, Shuffleboard Club, Chocolate Club, The Goonies fan club, Stuffed animals fan club, to name just a few. There is something so comforting to me in the fact that camaraderie can be discovered for anyone, no matter how diverse and eclectic their interest.

I love that.

The first time I walked through the doors of the Friday Afternoon Breastfeeding Club (aka, FABC, not the most glamorous of acronyms, but you get the gist) I felt the sense of belonging that comes from having a known and established commonality with everyone in the room, though I had yet to meet every one of them.

1. We were (are) all such new new mothers that the oldest of the babies could just barely hold her head up.

2. We were (are) all new to the art of breastfeeding.

3. We were (are) all living in a constant state (at various degrees) of befuddlement.

Within minutes of setting up camp on the floor at the feet of a handful of mothers who chose the chair-sitting route, I felt a level of comradeship that was intoxicating. With Opal attached to my left boob and my arms pulled ungracefully from both sweater sleeves, (I don't think I will ever be a subtle breastfeeder-- someone who manages to stay fully clothed and dainty aside from a sneaky little nipple.) I juggled familiar conversation topics round-robin style from one mama to the next. The mama in front of me was going back to work in a week and wanted to discuss pumping. The mama to my right had a baby with acid reflux and her doc told her she should use a pacifier, which terrified the mama. The mama to her right was dealing with hard, sore boobs and was afraid of mastitis.

And in the midst of this glorious whirlwind of moving mouths and sucking babies, was the discovery that I had figured out something that another mama yet to bring to light, as well as the fact that another mama had figured out something that I had not yet uncovered. This created a universal neutral that settled me deeply. A pool of wisdom that we could all ladle from. Thus is the power of clubs. The commonality of the experience itself trumps any notion of right and wrong, getting it or not getting it.

Add to this the familiarity that occurs naturally when you visit with the same people on a regular basis and the alchemy that forms is close to religious.

As I walked down the hallway toward the club yesterday, with Opal dozing deeply in the fleece sling, I felt I couldn't scurry to get there fast enough as I anticipated the complete acceptance that awaited us. Opal and I were greeted by name by a half-dozen ladies, followed by questions of how our week was and and how things were going since we'd last been together.
These are women I may have never met had we not conceived and birthed children in close proximity to one another (in age). If you look at it that way, it seems like the specific gathering of ladies in this room is actually pretty random. I love this-- it inspires me to look at any stranger and be curious about what it is that we have in common. What club could we be in together?

The previous week I had complemented a hat that one of the babies was wearing. A gorgeous old-fashioned little knit bonnet that had been crocheted by her grandmother. And this week the baby's mom brought a whole bagful of the hats that the inspired grandmother had made for us! I couldn't help but envision her in her own little grandmotherly crocheting club, feverishly knitting these bonnets for her daughter's fellow new-mama friends, reminiscing with the other grandmothers about what it was like when they were new mamas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ducks and Cupcakes

I have a confession to make. I have the same inconvenient feeling of nervousness that used to gather in my chest before giving a speech in class. I realize I haven't felt this feeling in quite some time and me thinks this is because I have become quite comfy cozy in my little human-cubicle and haven't pushed myself (coaxed) to my edge in a long long while.
I was thoroughly tempted to delete the entry previous to this one, my first blog entry, or to revise, deconstruct and edit it down to an eight-hour-later, distilled, haiku version of itself, but I decided to leave it be in all it's first-time glory and move forward. Here we go.

My brain still has many non-mother habits. One being the laughable idea that things will go as expected. That time will, moment by moment, be filled mainly with what I have come up with (which sounds incredibly boring when put on paper).
Control would be an accurate all-inclusive word. During the past 7 weeks with Opal in my life, this habit has definitely lessened (from tight leather to forgivable elastic), but I still find myself having to consciously discard well-laid plans on a daily basis.
And this is how it showed up today:

This morning was bath morning, an exciting and adorable undertaking indeed, but one that requires a little preparation. Opal nursed for a few hours and we purposefully let some time pass so as to avoid any aquatic spit-ups. Space heaters warmed the bathroom and bedroom respectively. The diaper was changed, bath water at a perfect notch just above luke-warm. Towels, washcloths and shampoo strategically in place. After a dozen tries, I am finally getting the knack of this.
Opal is still so young that her little legs turn inward like a tadpole, the way they do for creatures who do not yet crawl or walk. She kicks around and licks at the water that drips down her cheeks as I wash her hair. Her skin looks luminescent like rice paper under the water and her eyes dance and flicker as if to say, "Oh man, make me a little older and give me some hand-eye coordination and watch me go!"

(Author's note: Opal has popped her head out of the Moby and currently has it resting on my right arm, head tipped and bobbing slightly as I type. She is sound asleep and snoring slightly. See attached photo.)

Post-bath we re-located to her sizzling bedroom (though bedroom is a misnomer because she sleeps with us.) for a fresh diaper and a baby-massage. (Her skin has been showing the effects of the dry climate coupled with the constant force-air heating so we've been doing massages with baby lotion that costs more than my own.) Clean pajamas and into the Moby sporting a dainty little skull-cap and I was feeling like I had just completed a piece of well-mapped choreography. Satisfied. Complete.

The ducks were lined dutifully in a row and I was prepared to begin doing some of the things on MY agenda. My big, grown-up mommy agenda. (Like, say, wash the sheets--heaven!-- or change the word that accurately describes the kitchen from disaster to fine. Or, as much a treat as a cupcake after the veggies, maybe she would nap in the Moby long enough for me to write a bloggy chunk! Boy oh boy.

No sooner had I stripped the bed and loaded the sheets into a basket did I hear a whimper, the pre-cursor, followed immediately by the largest, heaving vomit we have yet experienced. It dripped and puddled and pooled while, somehow, at the same time clinging in milky curds to everything. An impressive sight. (And I find it optimistic that the first place my brain traveled was scientific curiosity-- How in the world did all of that fit into her tiny belly??)
And in a single moment, as if to follow the sweep of a wand, a Groundhogs Day-esque do-over was required of the entire morning.

I don't know quite how to tie this up without sounding like a syrupy children's book lesson complete with Kenny G playing gently in the background.
You just have to laugh at yourself. You just have to.
And look, many hours later, I am indeed enjoying my cupcake and doing some writing!
But the sheets are still sitting in a pile on the bed.