Monday, December 27, 2010


This morning we took our first walk without our beloved, sweet, complex, oft neurotic-but-always-well-meaning pooch, Olive. Opal was in the backpack, and my hands were strangely free, searching for refuge pulling straps and wedged in pockets.

Olive died four days ago exactly, during our morning walk. Opal was attached to the front of me in the facing-out Bjorn, holding the kelly-green leash in her mittened hand. We moseyed through a spill of sunlight in the open-space near our house with not a single tree to intercept. Olive took one jolly lap through the tall, crispy grasses, bouncing and light-footed like her wild forefathers or kin in the jungle, returned to us looking not-abnormally fettered. She tossled with a passing poodle before lying down abruptly. She then seized for a moment and died, quickly, completely and silently at our feet, leaving us entirely shocked and gobsmacked with grief in her wake. (I speak for myself and for Jesse when he arrived. Opal, however, was not at all distressed. In fact, when Jesse arrived at the scene, he said Opal was wearing an emphatic grin).

There is a much longer story to precede this scene. The story of Olive and her impulses, of a hundred similar examples before the fateful moment she chose to eat through a suitcase to consume the dark chocolate inside. All of these instances narrowed into the single snapshot of that particular afternoon: the vision of wrappers and destroyed luggage and having no idea of the potential danger. The induced vomiting, vet calls and extreme supervision. If she starts acting weird, take her to the hospital. She never acted weird, never weirder than usual. In fact, she slept through the night and awoke to visit Opal and receive a dozen kisses and a plop-down hug. I thought a walk would do her good, burn some of the energy that congealed from being forced to stay in one spot for so long. But, it seemed the caffeine that was absorbed into her little body, in spite of the vomiting, increased her heart rate more than she could handle when she went for a run.

It was a perfect storm of events. The vet said over the phone the next day.

There is much more writing to be done on this topic, to be sure. Three years of Russian-doll emotions want to be sifted through and organized on the page, like lining up threads for needlepoint. It will take me a while to sort it out, it was not a simple relationship. But I wanted to write something in the meantime to mark the time in some way, put a notch in the sidewalk. To acknowledge the fiery life of this little dog and how suddenly, unexpectedly, it came to an end.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bon Appetit.

Opal is teeny.

Fifth percentile for height and weight. She wears the same diaper size that she did back in March, so little she wasn't even close to rolling from back to front yet—front-to-back was still a novelty!
On paper-diaper days (daycare and grammy-days), she wears 9 months or 6-12 month bottoms, else her drawers slip right off. Wearing a cloth diaper bumps her up to the 'appropriate' 12 month sizing. She's barely gained a thing in the 5 or 6 months since she's been crawling, cruising, and now walking (!)—due presumably to burning twice the amount of calories she did prior. Not only that, but her opinions and inability to yet refrain from asserting them has swelled into every zone, including and especially the high chair.

I remember the days, with a bit of nostalgic hankering, when liking a food was as simple as, well, liking a food. When there were no politics involved. These days, a sweet potato can be a thing of beauty for lunch, but demote to a thing of scorn by dinner. It all depends on the child's mood and how strong her will and resistance need to be on that particular occasion.

Which makes cooking for a one-year old an intriguing and complex stroll through an ever- changing neighborhood, where once a destination is achieved, it is quickly realized that the roads have all changed and a new map will be needed from there on out.

After Opal's one-year wellness visit, which was a month late due to a stream of sicknesses, I was inspired—let's be honest, hell-bent would be a more accurate term—to fatten up my kid. I spent a stream of evenings with my nose buried in Superbaby Foods and Anabel Karmel's images of happy toddlers shoveling colorful dishes into their tiny faces. I took copious notes on how much of each vitamin was recommended for her age and drew up careful meal plans for two solid weeks. My grocery list was in outline-form, with actual headings and sub-headings.

But when it came to the moment of truth, she downright turned up her nose to the shredded veggie with brown rice, thyme and Parmesan. Not even a nibble.
The home-made pizza with veggies on cornmeal crust, she refused to try.
Daddy's yummy beef and veggie stew, not on your life.
Home-made noodles and cheese never went into her mouth.
Baked tofu, root veggies and buttery couscous or quinoa, nope.
Mashed potatoes, no ma'am.
A pinch of nutritional yeast to add B-vitamins to her oatmeal actually made her cry.

Essentially, the only consistently loved meal of the day is breakfast, where she gobbles up either her daddy's steel cut oatmeal, cooked to perfection then blended with plain yogurt, bananas and raisins (totally yum!) or mommy's home-bakes zucchini or banana muffins with applesauce and yogurt. We've got breakfast nailed.

The rest of the day, though, is full of trials and errors. Starting with one thing and then deciding she wants something else and then something else again. The image of lunch usually consists of a high-chair tray full of un-eaten finger-foods, a plate of various colorful plops, and half of mom's grown-up lunch cut into wee-teeny pieces, in the likely-unsuccessful effort to share. We almost always find something she'll eat, but it takes many tries and it's rarely what I planned on.

Opal subsists essentially on all things fruity and in loaf form. Applesauce is a BFF, fresh fruit, jarred fruit blends. Spinach balls are a consistent hit, sprouted-grain breads with almond butter and jelly or hummus and muffins.
She had a brief love-affair that recently fizzled with french toast and all-fruit jelly. We'll see if they reconcile their differences. She and scrambled eggs are no longer on speaking terms.
Oh, and cheese. Let's just put it this way, cheese is an off-limits word in the Grimes household, else a ravenous mantra of cheese-cheese-cheese-cheese will ensue. Our girl loves her some cheese.
But as for veggies, it'd be accurate to say that without Spring Vegetables and Pasta, (Earth'sbest Organic Chunky Babyfood, bless it.) very little green would enter that itty-bitty mouth.

Ah yes, you can lead a horse to water...
and then you can put on a little light music, hand her a spoon and bowl to tinker with and join her with a meal of your own, trusting the fact that she is most assuredly not going to starve as she struggles to understand how to navigate this petite corner of her world.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bye-Bye Dada and Other Language Revelations

From her highchair, Opal is at the perfect angle to see the comings and goings through the front door. On an average day, Jesse gets home from work while she is eating dinner, his entry announced by the closing of his car-door which triggers giddy wiggles from the dog. Opal notices and launches into a mantra of dadadadadada! refusing to eat and staring down the door until he enters. The reunion between the two of them after a long day apart never ceases to move me. Even when she slyly turns away from his greeting-kiss, her delight is obvious in the anticipation of his entry and the immediate calling for him when he slips down the hall to quickly change out of his work clothes.
Give her another few months and a slightly broader vocabulary, and she'll be scrambling to tell daddy every iota of every detail of the day. Another many months from then—when her bedtime is a little later than 7pm— and she'll be telling both of us about the trials, tribulations, excitements of a schoolday over a family meal. But there I go getting ahead of myself again.

About a week ago, Jesse was home for the evening and when dashed down the hall to change, Opal hollered Bye-bye Dada! She then turned to me as if to measure the level of her success from my response, as if she'd been practicing this one in private for a while now and saving it up for a grand moment.

And indeed it was.

Jesse!! Did you hear that?? It was her first official sentence, not simply repeated verbatim, but understood, inserted into a perfectly normal, perfectly lovely evening routine. Just like that. So much of her language up until this point had been prompted, copied or strings of ramblings. And here, she took two words she'd been saying for a while individually, understanding them as pieces of the puzzle, held them up to the light and —snap!— put them together all on her own.

It's dazzling to watch this process.

Since then, she's been running wild with the bye-byes, celebrating her toddler-verbage as often as possible. It's been Bye Bye Dada (Dada also means Doggie, decipherable only by context and even then occasionally questionable), Bye Bye Mew Mew (Kitty), Bye Bye Mama (me) and Bye Bye B and Baby (stuffed companions). She says Bye Bye D (A small bottle of vitamin D that she loves to play with. Hilarious.) as if bidding farewell to a friend over the phone. M
My own personal favorite took place a few days into her bye-bye discovery; we were changing her diaper, of which she preciously refers to as dippy, and she said Bye Bye Dippy.

I registered in that very moment a pronounced and intense need to document every adorable word/phrase/revelation that passes her lips for, roughly, the next two decades.

That's right, honey! Bye Bye Dippy!

Bye-Byes also help her to cope and understand when something is coming to an end. Instead of just taking her away from an activity or a thing, it works much better to say "Tell the Lotion Bye-Bye!" Or when she wants to bring a stuffed animal into the bath, for example, to suggest she say Bye-Bye Monkey!
There's a palpable degree of empowerment that happens in language, indeed, on both sides of the conversation.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Locked Out.

I locked my baby inside my house last night.
And, as if it were a meal of dense red meat, I am still digesting that fact.

But I should probably start from the beginning.

Opal and I had just returned from an afternoon outing to Grammy and Grandpa's in Boulder. Six o'clock in the evening after daylight-savings makes it feel like it's passed your bedtime even before dinner's been served. I balanced Opal on one hip, car-to-house, along with two mammoth bags in an attempt to get it all in one trip.

I unloaded Opal and the bags onto the floor and greeted the animals, feeling that certain warmth that comes only in the winter months upon fleeing the cold for a toasty dwelling. A warmth that is compounded exponentially when it's been discovered that the dog hasn't torn open, consumed or scattered any food-like undesirables to clean up. I removed my coat and as I reached down to take off Opal's, I saw that she had my keys.

"Keys!" She said, pleased in the special category of knowing and naming an object successfully. And the cumulative moments that followed came from a single solitary thought-response to those very keys.

The thought was this: It's time for Opal's bath and I'll need to take those keys from her to get her into the bathtub. Things will go much smoother if I have something to replace them with, preferably something that can go with her into the bath. Her little (safe) plastic ring of keys are in the car. Perfect.

I said "be right back, honey!" left the door open a small crack, and dashed to the car and back in an estimated 10 or 15 seconds, no coat, crunching leaves, and face red with chill even from that short stint. As I opened the storm door with baby-keys in hand, a slight suction pulled the front door completely closed. The sound of shut was so secure and complete that it nearly made me gag. I knew without having to check that the door was locked from the inside.

I ran around to the back door in the off-chance that I'd forgotten to lock it before our afternoon outing, but no luck. My sweet house suddenly felt oppositional, resistant. Like a teenager who'd locked herself in her room, sulking and punishing. There was no give whatsoever, no crack in the mortar. Glass windows down for winter, heavy as a vault. And everything was inside: my purse, my phones, my contact numbers.
My child.
Our neighbors that have the spare key just happened to be in Mexico. The others just moved to Texas.

My airways shrunk with adrenaline. I ran to the next-door neighbor's house and pounded on the door, unafraid of my openly maniacal tone. Had the fleeting thought that it may make them respond faster. No answer. I bolted back to the front window to look in on Opal. Luckily, she'd found a thick folder of papers by the door and was scattering and crinkling them one-by-one, having a gay ole' time in her world of uninterrupted destruction, unaware of the goings-on in her midst.

I ran to the other next-door neighbor's house. Same maniacal knocking. Again, no answer. I ran back to see Opal pulling the contents from my work bag one at a time, examining one thing in the light and then casting it aside for the next item to appraise.

After two more empty houses and two more shifts of running back to peek in, I was tempted to take a more drastic approach and stand in the middle of the road and scream thinking someone would definitely be inspired to call the police. Opal was doing fine at the moment, but the idea of running from house to house until I found someone was staggering, and the further down the road I got, the further from my daughter I was. A car drove by and I waved and hollered like a fool, but my brown hair and dark clothing worked as camouflage in the dark.

I took a deep breath and noticed I couldn't feel the cold, or at least it wasn't bothersome. Rather, it felt welcomed, like continuously stepping out of a stuffy room, or having two hands on my shoulders shaking me into alertness.

House number five.

The house across the street and to the right, just barely visible from our front porch, is a burnt orange color, two stories, with white curtains in the front window that are always drawn. There resides a little white dog that's about the same size as the wind-up chihuahua some Canadian friends got for Opal. It yaps at each and every passer-by, living out it's own little fantasy of being all-mighty protector of it's Master's lair.

In the 3.5 years we've lived in this house, we've made a point of greeting most of our neighbors, and have made great friends with some of them. But these particular neighbors have always been an enigma— I've even used that specific word while in conversation with Jesse about them over grilled chicken and greens. There have been dozens of times when the guy who lives there has been exiting his car and walking into his house at the same time as I am, and I am determined to say hello. But he has never once looked up, always on his blue-tooth or distracted by something, or maybe I'm just far enough away to not even make it into his field of view. It's a regular occurrence and I've felt a strange obsession with meeting this person so as to end this obscure ritual of not saying hello (something that is ware-some on me, but doubtlessly irrelevant to his life). I've also seen a small child, a boy, floundering in the front yard and bouncing on the trampoline in back. And a woman with a Kate Gosselin hairdo climbing into the car in the driveway.

As I tore across the street and through their front yard, there was not a doubt in my mind that he would be the one to finally answer the door.

The little dog screeched. Good dog, I thought. His ranting along with the FBI-knocking will surely call anyone to attention. The neighbor answered.

I dumped a pile of words in front of him as if they'd gathered in my mouth in a disorganized mass. I haven't met you yet but I'm your neighbor and I locked my baby daughter in my house along with everything and I need to use your phone to call the police to come help. And I'm Heather.

He was alone in the house, said his name was Dave as he reached in his bag for his cellphone. He handed it to me, but it was a Blackberry and too complicated to figure out where the numbers were, so I handed it back right back to him. He called 9-1-1 for me. (Nobody else had a spare key and my plan was to get a cop to help me break the glass in one of the windows.)

The 9-1-1 operator very politely said they don't relate to lock-out incidents until I mentioned there was a one-year-old baby inside. He said he'd send someone out right away.

I'm coming with you, Dave said, as he slipped on well-warn tennis shoes. He didn't politely ask if I needed anything else or tell me to call if there was anything more he could do. He was definitive and concerned. And the brotherly tone made me want to cry.

I ran over first, deeply pleased to find that Opal was doing fine, having a heyday as a matter of fact. So busy unpacking everything in her midst that she didn't seem to miss Mommy a bit. There was even a strange sense of peace held in that moment. I didn't need to run away from her again. Help was on the way. She looked so warm and cozy and content—entertained, even—without even being aware that I was watching from outside. And the animals were both sound asleep, thus completing the strikingly ironic Rockwellian picture.

Until Dave caught up with me. His presence jarred Olive from her slumber and she exploded into a litany of murderous barking. (Understandably—what a strange scene that must have been from her perspective.) Her reaction startled Opal, who looked up to see us and began to sob. The dog continued to bark and Opal's cries increased in level of volume and hysteria. My entire body wanted to take one of the folded chairs that was still pointlessly perched in the front yard and throw it through the floor-to-ceiling window pane.

As I was attempting to calm both dog and baby from the outside, clearly to no avail, Dave noticed the small, sliding portion of one of the front windows was unlocked. Not until then did I realize I'd been clutching the plastic toy-keys through the entire saga. I threw them down and went after the screen window frame with a destructive fervor.

You only need to pull out the screen, he said. You don't want to bend the frame. Helpful, yes. Especially now, the next day, that the adrenaline buzz has long since washed away. But in the moment, I would've gladly gnawed through a sandwich of metal, glass and mesh to get to my baby girl. By that point, I'd estimate 10 or so minutes had passed since I was locked apart from my daughter. My patience was running thin.

Dave pulled the screen from the frame like a large, unwanted scab, and slid the window pane open. A deluge of warm air and volume escaped as I dove face-first through the opening.

Opal was a bit shaken and confused, but ultimately just fine. With her warm, heavenly little body on my hip, I thanked Dave for his incredible assistance—for saving my ass, I believe is how I put it—and we returned to our cherished home, this time sealing it up with us both on the inside. Opal wanted to be carried for a good half an hour before she was ready for bed, and I was more than happy to oblige. We sat on the couch and snuggled and swayed. I carried her in the sling and she rested her precious little head on my shoulder as the blood slowly returned to my extremities.

This morning, I baked a loaf of banana bread for our exceptional neighbor and walked over with Opal to drop it off as a proper thank you for exhibiting such outstanding acts of awesomeness. The little white dog howled her predatory tune. But this time, no one answered.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bathtime Diddies and Other Ways to Successfully Complete Daily Tasks.

I am readjusting again.
There has been a hasty transition lately from a world where small missions are accomplished in a basic, head-on manner to a parallel—yet much more complex—universe where most tasks that involve my daughter and her daily living needs must be done using creative, gamey, thoughtful, intuitive techniques in order to have any hope of being achieved.

Gone are the days when changing a diaper consisted of, simply, changing a diaper and when the most difficult part about getting Opal dressed was choosing what outfit was most suitable and fetching for the day. In short, though a straightforward approach to most things is deeply habitual, it is no longer successful. I'm consistently stopped in my tracks and forced to backtrack, take a deep breath and start over with a little song and dance.

Bathtime used to be nothing but easy joy. The trio of floating frogs with their squirting bellies, the two tiny buckets to pour water to and from and the massive mama-frog that works as a reptilian-dinghy for all the aforementioned items had always been a recipe for glee and hygienic success. But, as of late, simply putting her into the bath renders a response of sheer terror, as if I'm holding her over a bubbling cauldron of lava: kicking, writhing her slippery little body in my arms, screaming, red-faced and arch-backed (pretty standard tantrum-fare rendered much more dangerous due to the slick-factor). Entering into the bath now requires coaxing, a gentle introduction to the three frogs and an impromptu production on their behalf, involving melodies, water-boogies and splashes, to invite the small child into their warm, soothing waters. Peek-a-boo is played with the washcloths. A travel-sized shampoo bottle is used as bribery.

And once we've crossed that threshold, we can definitely celebrate a major triumph, but we cannot yet rest on our laurels. There is one other element of bathtime that required nearly six solid months of baths to figure out: hair-washing.

It's not the hair-washing that's the problem, actually, it's the rinsing of the soap. Ever since Opal became physically strong enough to resist lying back to rinse soap from her hair, she has done just that, and with a fervor and determination that is unshakable. I've tried covering her eyes with a washcloth. I purchased a clever, albeit gimmicky, foam visor that boasted keeping 'the suds out of your little one's eyes,'—an item Opal practically scoffed at and tore from her head at first attempt. So, frankly not knowing what to do, and not being able to convey to Opal, honey, if you don't lean back, soap suds are going to go into your eyes and all over your face and make you cough and rub your eyes and be miserable, I just did what I had to do as quickly as I could. A stressful, but thankfully fairly brief, story within the story of bathtime.

Until just last night. After an alluring and successful bathtime opus, she got into the tub with minimal resistance and I was feeling especially capable as a parent. (A feeling that comes and goes, and often—admittedly— is decided by whether an action is deemed successful or not.) I was experimenting with water games and rhymes to inspire a smile or two while dousing her in lavender suds, when I pointed up to the shower nozzle, where a basket of colorful shampoos were hanging. She looked up. I kept pointing and she kept looking up, plenty long enough for me to wash and rinse her hair without her even seeming to notice! After many many months of struggle, all I needed to say was Look Up.

We are learning our way.

Sometimes the Elvis magnet allows for a smooth and resistance-free diaper-change. Sometimes the plastic cup filled with a black beaded necklace occupies Opal long enough for me to slide her into the high-chair without back-arched, cartoon-blur kicking. Sometimes a sticker is all I need to get her into the carseat. Poofs (glorified Cheerios) are sometimes successful bribes for many tasks.

But sometimes not.

And so goes the story of our one-year-old learning to assert herself in a world where most things are out of her control and jurisdiction. She is at the very beginning of a world where she is able to communicate her wants and needs, but often isn't yet able to decipher between the two. She is doing her job of pushing against authority and sustaining a healthy sense of skepticism in most things, and she is doing it beautifully. All that makes perfect sense to me, and sometimes I'm even able to appreciate it.

But we still need to cut your fingernails, little darling.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Estes Park and Three Precious Moments

We took a family vacation, just the three of us, to Estes Park last weekend, as a combined celebration of Opal's birthday and our four-year anniversary.

We stayed in a cabin in the woods with all the amenities perfect for the cool autumn weather. They included, but were not limited to, a fireplace and hot tub on the back deck. Jesse and I floated in the hot tub under the stars and again in the morning with our coffee while the Little One slept soundly in the other room. Elk perused the lawn in the morning as leisurely as neighbor-dogs, to which Opal pointed to with a snowsuit-arm, and exclaimed anmals! (Animals.) She was both dumbfounded by their stature and anxious with glee. We took an a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, which turned out to be much bolder than we planned for—basically consisting of a path that stair-stepped us to the top of the world and back—with Opal in tow in her new backpack. All of it was beyond lovely and nourishing (and went by hauntingly fast) but there were a handful of additional Opal-gem moments that linger strongly in my thoughts from our weekend, like a particular aroma. Moments that inspired such a bottomless, visceral joy in both Jesse and myself, that they require immediate documentation in the hopes to never be forgotten. Like carving all our initials into yet another tree.

As I said, we took Opal for her first real hike in the mountains in the snazzy new hiking backpack she got for her birthday from Grammy. To say she was enchanted would be an understatement. With her head placed directly behind the one of us who carried her and her tiny mouth inches from our ears, we heard a non-stop stream of baby-commentary, high-pitched coos, giggles and practiced words gaining and lessening in volume. Essentially a greatest-hits of happy baby noises. Not a single whine or whimper for over 2 hours. She wound up passing out cold, rag-doll flopping over the steps and bumps, unconcerned with the blazing, high-altitude sun that baked her cheeks from certain angles, sleeping so deeply she snored. There were many moments where the landscape of sound consisted of nothing more than the crunch of our steps, the paper-whistling of breeze through the leaves and our child's snoring.

The next moment involved wadoo (water) in a spectacular indoor pool on the premises of the cabins we rented. It was heated like an mammoth bathtub with jets to create froth and a constant current. The three of us splashed, kicked and pollywogged to and fro. At one point Opal nestled her little wet head on my shoulder and stayed there for minutes and minutes and minutes, creating a small suction between skin and skin. Hardly an astounding visual for the average passer-by, perhaps, but Jesse and I passed a stream of expressions back and forth of wow! and can you believe this? like gulps from a warming jug of wine. This kind of cuddling is not average fare and the moment was appropriately intoxicating to fit the metaphor.

In fact, Opal hasn't been a very snugly little Doodle during her wee lifetime. Affectionate, totally. Warm and loving, absolutely. But beyond her sleep-routine of reading books and drinking milk from her sippy cup while being cradled in our laps, or the times of being carried in the sling, she's a lady on the move. A big fan of hugs and kisses, but no lingering. Try and hug her for too long and she'll squirm away and whimper. Even the before-sleep lullaby I sing to her with her in my arms nearly always ends abruptly when she reaches and launches herself at the crib.

During our second and final night in Estes Park, none of us slept much at all. Opal was in the same room as Jesse and I in a Pack-N-Play, a situation that worked well over the summer but not so well last weekend, at least during the night when we were in there, too. Although she couldn't visibly see us from where she was lying, she knew we were there. At home, in her own separate room, she occasionally moments of fussing and then puts herself right back to sleep. (And for the rare occasions of real crying, we definitely go in to comfort her, but are able to leave again which is what she seems to require to fall asleep. Comfort then Space.) But those moments of light-sleep, adjusting herself and mumbling, were met with the confusion of where the hell am I and why are mom and dad in here? should I be awake? Thus, she was awake off and on from about 1am on, as were the rest of us.

It was a little after 5am when I finally got her up and drug our weary bodies into the living room. Got her into a clean diaper, slid her into her cozy facing-me wrap and clicked on the gas-powered fire in the fireplace. (Small sign reading above: This fireplace is NOT for roasting marshmallows or popcorn. Thank you. Management.) Suddenly the moment went from slightly taxing to perfectly serene. She was resting her head on my shoulder and breathing deep, slow, meandering breathes so I piled some throw pillows into a heap behind my back and sat down with her, rocking side-to-side within the nest of fluff I'd assembled. Within moments she was snoring face-first into her bunny that was rested between my neck and chest. I wrapped my arms around her, stopped swaying and closed my own eyes, wishing there was someone—Jesse—there to witness the slight smile on my face in the middle of this outrageously cozy and uncommon scene. We slept like that for over an hour—my sleep packaged in brief, dreamy chunks, perforated with waking to the pre-sunrise dark, the fire and the weight of my beloved girl's body limp with visceral comfort against my own. Her sleep was deep and seamless, motoring and efficient. A situation, like so many, that I hadn't felt a longing for before it happened. In a moment, all questions were answered, all holes had been filled, all worries inconsequential.
The noiselessness that resides inside of rare, unpredictable and unabridged moments like this is—a word I've knowingly used before—medicinal.

Before long, the world outside began to glow with morning and I was awake and mentally deconstructing the music of Opal's snores. A sudden and forceful snort came out of her face and woke her right up, to which she responded to by sitting straight up, gazing across the room to the fireplace and announcing all done.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Red Maple and the One Year Old.

It's one thing to be a mother.
It's something entirely different to be a mother of a one year old.

I'm not exactly sure how to articulate what I mean when I say that. When Opal was born and throughout those first months of her life, I can recall thinking mothers with one-year-olds (and older) had passed some sort of rich, complex initiation that I was just beginning. What will the weather be like on the other side of that milestone?

Well, here we are and the weather happens to be lovely.

The maple in the front yard is flashing the same construction-paper, deliciously faux-appearing leaves (the kind where the pencil-drawing marks are still showing) as it did this time last year. Many of which are curling on the ground in heaps as earthy shag carpeting due to a wild windstorm yesterday. The leaves, when the sun turns them like a thousand paper lanterns, are a daring shade of coral that out-yell every other tree on the block. On a cloudy day, or at twilight, they appear more wine-stained.
This maple has adorned itself to celebrate Jesse and I's wedding anniversary (October 28th) for the last three years since we've lived here and it will now don it's technicolor finest for sweet Opal's birthdays (October 22nd) for as long as we stay.

I distinctly remember last year's autumn, specifically those few days before she was born. I'd stopped working by then so I was surrounded by long breezy fall days. I was terrified of expending my energy in cheap ways, mis-using the allotment I had saved up for the labor and delivery. I remember thinking (and journaling) about how I really wanted to go for an outing, a stroll or a trip to Whole Foods, perhaps. But I knew I could go into labor at any moment and when that time came, I'd be wishing I'd saved my resources for more virtuous pursuits. So, the main things I gave myself permission to spend hours upon hours doing were writing and reading. Scribbling into my precious Stuff On My Cat journal or typing out essay after essay that never saw the light of day. Reading the current and optimally distracting issue of the New Yorker, and—what turned out to be an uncanny manual for pregnancy—John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.

I nestled into our crimson couch, my enormous belly buttressed by pillows like an egg in the carton, feet propped mercifully, with my laptop on a pillow on my thighs, with only my pre-mom thoughts, my dog and the vermilion tree out front. It stood like a watchtower and was totally comforting in its permanence. The amount of time I spent in in that very position was measurable in allotments longer than hours, it was chunks of day. Between-meals. Spans. And, inside the forced repose was a combination of necessary-anxiety and outright bliss. I don't remember the last time I've had anything that comes close to a between-meal-span to spread my thoughts out onto paper like soft butter onto bread. I'm so thankful I had that time.

But the payoff for a lack of those timely recesses, for the lists and sub-lists of items to squeeze into a tiny opening that is called nap-time, for trading in the prerogative of thinking of myself and my needs first, is enormous.
The version of myself that is a mother to a one year old—along with being the wife of an amazing father to a one year old— is someone whom I admire. My priorities are lined up like a harvest of fruitful crops.
My daughter is, in short, astounding.

This child uses her time like a master investor. Not a second is wasted, not a moment is missed.
I marvel at the things that can be accomplished by a little being who
1. Has a mind that is utterly free of doubt, concern for past and future, fear.
2. Has no responsibilities
3. Hears only affirmations, acknowledgements and validations.
4. Achieves everything on her list through play.


The main benchmarks worthy of noting are her developments in language, physical skills and interactions. She is scrambling to catch-up to the other conversational walkers in her world.

I recently read in the Dr. Sears Handbook that by the age of one, babies understand almost everything but can express very little. This is certainly the case for Opal. She has quite a collection of words she can say, and even more that she can copy, but the vast majority of
topics continue to be out of her reach. The result of this predicament is pretty straight-forward. When there is a word she can say, nana for example (banana) that not only gets the message across but also gets her the outcome she desired, she does a sort of wiggle-kick jolly dance, reveling in the satisfaction of communication. However, often there is a word she can say, no for example, that we understand but when don't comply with the result she hoped for, (Honey, you still have to get in the car seat—) she responds with a flailing, arched-back tantrum. Ahh. The dissatisfaction of unsuccessful communication. The same dissatisfaction comes from when she desperately wants to impart something but doesn't quite have the words to say it, which also results in a major upset.

She diligently practices the words she does know. I can hear her in the carseat reciting the following to herself as she flips through the pages of her book: dada, wadoo (water), bee (bunny), hi (with a long I-sound), nana (banana), meal (milk), slight giggle, boo (book), roar (sound a lion makes), squeal, bye-bye. This is essentially the word bank available for direct recall in her little brain.

There are also many words that are prompted by visual cues around the house and the larger world. Eash, eash, eash (leash, always repeated a number of times) is prompted by me getting out the coats in the morning to take the dog for a walk. Nanananananananana to infinity occurs when she spots a banana on the counter until we give it to her. (We try to remember to hide the bananas but often one slips through the cracks.) Poo (poofs )when the poofs come out. Momo (more) at a meal when she wants more and ada (all done) at a meal when she is finished. She calls her doll baby and is quick to point out buttons (butta) and noses (noo, with a long O-sound). She recites the sounds a lion, sheep, horsey and kitty make when asked, roar, baa, neigh and meowmeow, respectively. She also calls out meowmeow when chasing after the cat. She names many of her toys: ba (ball), ba (balloon), bee (bunny), baby (baby doll). She often tells the dog dowe (down) while pointing at the ground. She says whoa when something shocking happens, which is one that endlessly cracks us up.

She totally recognizes Ama and Papa on Skype and says their names clear as could be. Hi Ama! Hi Papa! This, the toothy grin and the waving visibly melts their hearts.

She greets passers-by without discrimination and hollers bye-bye when anyone leaves the room, even just for a moment.

In spite of her impressive repertoire of vocab words, she spends a decent amount of time whimpering and pointing when she wants something she doesn't yet know how to ask for.

She understands many instructions, like "say hi to the butterflies" (she has a string of butterflies on her wall). She will turn to look up at them and say "hi B" and smile at her own comprehension.

Her ability to copy words is astounding. A few days ago during a walk, I asked if she could hear the birdies chirping and she said birdies chirping clear as day. O-meo (oatmeal) and appo (apples) for oatmeal and apples. If a word is too challenging to copy directly, she whispers an abbreviated version to herself, pa for pizza for example, as if storing it in her little mind to work on later.

Her physical abilities are improving continuously. As of a month ago, we were celebrating the fact that she was able to stand on her own for a few seconds at a time, using something to climb up as a prop to get her there. Since then, she's figured out how to stand up from a seated position without the need of any bolster—what a sight that is to behold!! She understands how to first sit back into a wide-legged squat with hands on the floor, then to a squat with no hands, then to standing. What a feat! She's been able to do that for a few weeks and still squeals with delight each time she executes it without a plop (whoa.)

She loves to walk with her push-cart walker. Her little feet get going underneath her like blurry animation, scrambling onward, leaning forward, breathing audibly, until she hits an obstacle. There, she either hollers with frustration or sighs with the relief of an out-of-control skier having hit a stalling fluff-pile of snow.

Last week, she took a few real steps! The moment took me completely by surprise. She was standing a few feet away from me, as per usual, giggling and sideways-grinning. I scooted back a bit and held out my arms, also as usual, but this time she took three solid steps to get to me! I think she was just as shocked as I was! A moment of that caliber has happened only a few times since that then, but she is clearly becoming more and more steady on her feet. Standing is a piece of cake and cruising from thing to thing can be done without conscious thinking.

On another note, between 10 and 11 months, Opal weened herself entirely (see the previous blog, Farewell to Breastfeeding). When I returned to work part time in August, my body produced less and less milk, so we supplemented with formula. It was a not-so-slow progression to transition entirely to formula, as my supply dwindled. Now, she happily takes her formula from her sippy cup four times a day as she snuggles with either daddy or I in her rocker.

She loves to eat real food and has an obvious aversion to most baby foods. Her Ama (my mom) always comments on how impressed she is with the foods Opal dines on (and likes!). Her current favorites consist of steel-cut oats with plain yogurt and pureed raisins and bananas for breakfast. Soft-roasted sweet potatoes and beets, grilled chicken bits, spinach balls and avocado for lunch and dinner. Smashed squash with a little nutmeg. Muffins are a hit, as are eggs and most kinds of fruit. We took her out for pizza on her actual birthday and she adored it. She hasn't tried macaroni and cheese yet, but I anticipate that when she does, she'll be a goner.

Still only the two bottom teeth, but she is presently working on a third, on the bottom. Drooling, rubbing the area with her tongue, diaper rash and runny nose. It's amazing how much teething throws everything for a loop.

Opal is becoming very affectionate with her closest loved ones. She puckers up and gives us kisses (complete with little kiss-smacking noises!) and often wraps her arms around our necks when she is sleepy. It is a very common occurrence for her to give the dog a big bear hug and kiss. She kisses Bee and her Baby Doll several times a day.

She is incredibly friendly and social in most situations, especially once she's had the proper time to acclimate. She'll holler "HI" to any passer-by, a stranger in a restaurant, a passing bike, a fellow shopper. But often when men who are not super-familiar enter the scene, Jesse's brother Dave or his best friend Eddie, for example, she gets visibly shy. With Eddie, she showed clear signs of intense emotion, really wanting his attention and approval, and yet shying away from him and protesting more than usual in his presence. She acted like a teeny-weeny little teenager.

Play-time includes some of the most precious interactions that could be imagined. She is so curious and so focused and full of discovery that sitting next to her, if just for a little while, is like visiting the bottom of the sea. Enamoring. She unpacks her toys from their respective baskets in a presumably-strategic manner. Sometimes she wants to make noise. Sometimes she wants to silently put things in and take them out of a container. Sometimes she wants you to give her instructions, other times she wants to deconstruct the room entirely on her own. She loves sitting in the middle of a heap of books, like a bird in a nest. She adores her finger puppet collection and makes a near-daily tradition of taking them out and returning them to a receptacle of some sort. She loves opening and closing drawers and doors. Playing peek-a-boo is always a hit. Her wooden animal puzzle is almost always pulled out (we are currently missing the cow and the pig and have contacted the proper authorities). And her new Schroeder-sized piano is an absolute knock-down, drag-out hit. It sucks her to it like a vacuum.
Bath-time is also extraordinarily brimming over with cuteness. There is nothing in the world like a naked baby, splashing and squealing with delight. (Hurray for the squirting froggies!)

Making her laugh is my (and I can speak for my husband, his too) life's work.
Whether it be gleefully surprising her in a game of peek-a-boo, making faces, funny noises, dancing around the dinner table or kissing her armpit, hearing the sound of her laughter, shockingly spirited and powerful for her petite stature, mutes out every other detail that could possible exist in that moment. Reset. Clear. Recharge. Carry on.

What else to say?
This is my attempt to, if ever so slightly, illuminate this cascading baby-inspired world that surrounds me. Feels a little like pressing leaves between the pages of a book with the intention of looking back on them years from now. I've got my own veritable flattened tree right here. The first chapter of, god-willing, many.
I can hardly remember what I spent my time collecting before she came.

Love love love that Doodle. Happy First Birthday, Angel.

ps: Since I didn't mention it earlier, Opal's first birthday celebration lasted for an entire weekend. Opal-palooza. We took her out for pizza on Friday, which was her actual birthday, to a super-cool local pizza joint called Lucky Pie. My mom flew in from Ohio on Saturday morning to join the festivities, which we continued with a gathering at our house for friends and close family (see the photo up top of Opal digging into her birthday muffin. No cupcakes this year. But don't you worry, kiddo, that will happen soon enough.)—complete with balloons and party hats and pink princess plates. Sunday we ventured to Denver to celebrate with GG and the family, where Opal was in rare form, performing a one-baby show with minimal props and a captivated, squealing audience. It was a wildly jolly time for one and all.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Farewell to Breastfeeding.

Ode to the things we get used to as mamas and then the subsequent things we get un-used to.

For the better part of a year, I became deeply accustomed to considering how everything I put in my mouth would affect my child.

What to eat. What to drink. How would the sugar I just sucked down affect my tiny daughter. It's been a constant consideration.

And it will presumably take a very long time to train my brain to un-think in this way, to adapt to the fact that the child at the end of my breast is now a fantom limb while the real child scurries off to her toy corner, hollering follow me shrieks of glee.

As with co-sleeping, the magic number in my head had been a year.
I figured (based on who knows what) that I'd breastfeed for at least one year and then, in all probability, for longer.
And when the time would come to ween my daughter, I expected to have some say in the process. I envisioned sharing a few lengthy chats with Jesse over dinner, prompted by the feeling of needing a change and accompanied by a notebook and pen to aide in the planning/decision-making process.

Alas, not so much.

It all transpired in the matter of exactly one month.
Opal began to sleep through the night at the tail-end of August (see A Simple Plan: Revisited)—still a notable luxury— and it took less than a week for my body to no longer require me to wake up and pump in the middle of the night. Then, days later, I didn't even need to pump before I went to bed, many hours after Opal did.

She started her day-care (two half-days per week) the first week of September. At that point she was nursing four times per day—in the morning first-thing, before bed, and before two naps. (This included pumped milk for Jesse or her Daycare mama to give her from a sippy cup.)
Flash forward another week and I was no longer producing enough milk for one of her two naps! Enter Baby's Only Formula as a new character in the cast of pantry-fillers. By the following week, I needed Formula for both naps and to supplement bedtime. (Eeek! It's just happening so fast!) By the last week of September, I was nursing Opal one time per day, first thing in the morning, hanging on fiercely to those uninterrupted moments between she and I as we nestled in the rocker in her room.

I've heard of many mama's who comfort nurse, which is essentially allowing your child to suck on your breast when there is very little to no milk to offer. This particular option just didn't jive for us. As my body slowed in milk production, Opal's independence increased exponentially: the teeth, the inadvertent (or occasionally deliberate but never malicious) biting, the kicking, the squirming, the reaching, the popping off to smile or point or practice a sound that tickled her throat to get out. I tried once to offer her an empty breast for comfort when she was sick, but she seemed not only uninterested, but vaguely insulted.

So there it is.

The last day came without warning. I awoke on the morning of October 4th, the day of my Mighty Licensing Exam, without any milk to offer. The bar was stone dry. Zero inventory. The previous day was the very last day she was to nurse and I didn't even know. (Not sure what I'd have done differently had I known—likely an increase in sentimentality over ceremony.)

Two weeks exactly have now passed.

In all honesty, I'm not at all enjoying the option of eating or drinking whatever is put in front of me with no one to consider but myself. It doesn't feel like freedom yet, though I'm sure soon enough I'll imbibe on a regular Chai and enjoy every sip as well as the frenzied vibe that follows. (I bravely attempted to drink regular Chai tea only twice during the year since Opal was born and let's just say the outcome was ugly and seemed slightly cruel in it's effects on the tiny body of my girl.)

Most people respond to my news of no longer breastfeeding with something along these lines: Isn't is great to have your body back? and How wonderful that you can go away for as long as you want now!

To these ideas, I will speak frankly. Never once did I feel a desperate desire to get my body back. I didn't at all mind sharing for that short period, that just wasn't my experience. (Now, to the mother who was on Dateline NBC because she continued to nurse her 7 and 8 year old daughters, I would be totally on board with the sentiments of demanding your body back.)
As for going away, well, I've been able to go out until late at night—at least plenty late for my needs!—since Opal was 4 months old. Either I'd nurse her right before bed and make sure I was home by the time she was hungry again, or when she got a bit older, Jesse could put her down with milk in a sippy-cup. As a matter of fact, I could've gone out for many more solo-movie nights and ladies' wine nights than I did. I clearly wasn't chomping at the bit to head for the hills.

On the other hand, I'm not feeling a particular yearning to go back in time or to force my body into a state that it's organically finished with. (By taking herbs or pumping excessively to stimulate the mammary glands.) I don't feel a longing for the connection that was so exclusive in breast-feeding, I suspect because Opal's daddy and I both bond with her all over the place. It's not as if removing the puzzle-piece of breastfeeding leaves a gaping void in it's wake.

The thing that takes the most getting used to, if I may speak candidly, is learning how to gracefully vacillate between supporting my daughter in her developing autonomy while also feeling a deep and honest ache as I watch her grow.

An ache that lives in the very organs that, at one time, scooted over to make room for her tiny body to grow.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sickness and a Bit of Rambling

It's been an impressive week.

The author would like to be begin with an apology for her recent absence. She wont bore you with a list of excuses because the list consists of a single distracting item: The State Licensing Exam for Massage Therapy.
The test actually took place nearly a week ago (hallelujah I passed) and for the two months prior, all pockets of free time were dedicated to re-filling my head with intellect of the anatomic and physiologic variety, force feeding my brain as if attempting to fatten it up with smartness.

Believe-you-me, my out of shape writing-muscles were chomping at the bit and I've been dying to write all week, but Opal and I have been battling a full-body bout of a food poisoning/flu bug combo. Up until today, the only appealing way to spend nap-times was horizontal and reading the new Franzen novel. So, pleased to report that I'm feeling as if my insides and my outsides have re-establised a general sense of alignment—poor little Doodle threw up a few times this morning, but she also seems to be improving—I feel it's time to initiate a reunion with my blog.

Hi. Hi.
Nice boots.
You, too.

So far so good.
Anyhow, what shall I say about the world from inside the vantage point of my trusty noggin?
Which words to choose and which route to take? Again with the sore muscles.

Let's touch back in on the sick stuff.

Monday night, I was sicker than I can remember being in my entire adult life. (Rivaled only by a blurry recollection of spitting into a bucket due to a throat infection from Mono when I was in the 8th grade.) I puked. I shat. I did both at the same time. There were accidents. I was unable to stand without my knees threatening to collapse and my skin going cold and damp. It was a solid 12 hours of wild physical elimination with no reserve, no abandon. It was a fast-track cleanse. And the following two days were a blur reminiscent of the grand partying escapades of my youth.

By the time the brillo-patch of smoke cleared, days later, Opal came down with the pukes.
Thankfully, her version was a much softer, gentler one. But even still, if given the option, I'd have easily taken on her two hours of puking for my twelve. No questions asked. I'd have just perched myself over by the toilet, pleased to be doing my time for some higher good, while she remained healthy and continued to amuse herself by putting balls of tiny socks into the egg carton and discovering various angles from which to harass the dog who slept on the chair.

But clearly, I wasn't given that option and that's not how it went.
Jesse was sleeping downstairs to prepare for leaving on a trip to Halifax in the morning where he was to lead a program of 150 people.
So it was the dog and I who heard her through the baby monitor—a cough followed by gagging followed by the evident and liquidy audio signals of vomiting. I raced into her room to find her sitting with her impeccable baby-posture and heartbreaking vulnerability, covered in a putrid, rejected combination of what she'd eaten that day along with mucus and sprinkled with hundreds of tiny kiwi seeds (her new favorite food). Nothing in the crib escaped unscathed. The sheets, the down comforter, the stuffed animals (thank goodness for the fact that we made an unsolicited yet concerted effort just one week earlier to find a back-up for her favorite stuffed animal, her lifeline B the bunny—), not to mention her jammies, her hair, her hands. The look on her face as she turned her water-dish eyes my way, crying, was a combination of shock and something-is-totally-wrong-here-and-I-need-my-mama-bad.

Within moments I'd stripped the baby and the bed, cleaned and re-dressed both in fresh, unsullied goods, and snuggled next to an unsure little Doodlebug along with B's understudy (everything about the replacement stuffed bunny is the same, same size, brand, shape and texture, though the original is noticeably more worn and has whiskers while the other is clean shaven and has finger-digits inexplicably sewn in) and Opal's favorite book with the pop-up rainbow. By the third or fourth page, Opal was grabbing to help me turn the pages and by the time the book was complete, she looked up from inside her nestle in my armpit, flashed me a big just-two-gals-up-late-reading-books sort of grin, gently poked my face right about my lips and said, noh. (nose).

As I write this, I am remembering a line that came from an Alzheimer's training I took a few weeks ago. The instructor described how folks with this kind of dementia have no ability to put on airs in any way and so they respond best when genuineness shows up before them. What a gift, she said, to work in a field that challenges you to remain connected with the truest version of yourself. (I work giving massage to residents with Alzheimer's and dementia.) It was something that to that effect, though the exact words may have been slightly different. She talked about how the elders often became agitated when someone came at them with their own agenda, not taking a moment to check in or inquire about what they may be needing. Interpretation and translation of these needs often requires nothing more complex than simply slowing down and clueing in. Babies are strikingly similar.

As I rocked with my daughter in the same chair we've shared for nearly a year now, reading speedily and strategically skipping words to keep up the pace with her rapid page-turning, kissing the top of her head again and again, able to smell a faint sniff of lavender from her bath that night in a spot of hair in the back that was left untouched, I had the overwhelming desire to thank her.

She does this, unwittingly, and all the time. She calls on me to show up in front of her with 100% of my finest mama self, the prime cut, the cadillac. And, in so doing, leave what it is I think I would rather be doing in a drawer somewhere with the lighters and twistees and moist hand toilettes. Those arbitrary ideas, e.g.: sleep, are most likely not to be visited again because once I get to where she calls me to be, I would almost always prefer to be exactly there.

The rest of the night wound up being quite merciful. We spent a few hours caving up in her low-lit room, wading through the minutes as we read her favorite books, sang my favorite songs, rocked and cleaned up a few more bouts of vomit, until sleep was close enough to touch. She was eventually able to fall asleep (in spite of a strangely timed, uber-lengthy and wall-shaking thunderstorm that arose just as I was leaving her room) and slept through the night. I'd have slept in her room or with her in my arms in the rocker (or curled up with her in her crib!) if it seemed the most comforting for her, but she is a girl who needs her space to sleep. So I lied in my bed across the hall with my eyes slitted like mini-blinds, prepped and ready to leap to her side.

These last few days have passed quietly and spent close to home as we both healed up. (It took until yesterday for me to be able to eat real food again without feeling devastatingly nauseous.) No day care or work. No meetings with friends. No long list of errands. We've clocked in many slow and mindful walks together with the dog, often more than once per day. We've spent hours sifting through the depths of the toy bins in the living room, discovering long lost items we hadn't thought of in months (Hello Baby Einstein Pelican that plays a Beethoven symphony in four parts! How we've missed you!). No agenda and no particular place to be.
Grandma has payed us many welcomed visits, bless her heart. The two of spent many meals at the table with Opal, marveling at her ability to say the words purple, mirror and oatmeal with unmistakable precision. We applauded as Opal pushed her little walker back and forth in front of us, proud as a peacock, with teeth brimming like tulips from her bottom lip as she grinned so intensely she pushed out rivers of drool. We shook our heads at the mention of what Opal was wearing on that particular day, as if the beauty of it all was just too much to bear. Stacks of undistracted sweet moments.

The days have felt deliciously loose-waisted and elastic, edgeless and fluid, a lot how we passed the time when Opal was much younger. These kinds of days don't work so well as the norm now that Opal is older and more mobile and longing for the things that stimulate her to continuously change. But as for now, post-test and post-sickness, spending time with her (and her grandma) in this way feels about as medicinal as it gets.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Daycare: The Unabridged Lengthy Version

Before we know it, she'll be picking out her own tutu—tiara ensemble in the morning and hopping on her bike to ride to school.

Just over a month ago, I would've dismissed the notion of daycare as something other people do. Things were going smoothly and we were in our as-of-a-month-ago groove. I had a few massage clients who I visited in the evenings and on weekends and I was beginning to piece together support for a might-be, basement cottage sewing business.

Opal remained the nucleolus within the nucleus within the cell of a day.

And then.

I was offered a part-time job giving massage to the residents of a lovely Alzheimer's facility just down the road. Landed, plop, like a small, soft animal in my lap. Had it been three months earlier, I would have politely handed the animal back, or put in on the ground to scamper away.
But as of a month ago and as of now, what we have is an 11 month old baby who is ready for (very part-time, 10 hours a week, or so) a change in environment. More excitement and adventures.
And we happen to also have a mama who is just as ready for the very same thing, along with some money and an additional sense of purpose. So there you have it; the offer was just too good, as was the timing. I said yes on the spot and started the following week.

Opal stayed with grammy (Jesse's mama) while I worked and loved every minute of it. Playing with special grammy-only toys, chasing after their gentle canine-giant, Lucy, and being doted on by everyone who walked through the living room—grammy, grampy and auntie Alex to name but a few.

But when grammy was scheduled to leave town for over two weeks, I began my quest in exploring other options for Opal-care during work hours, saving other grammy-sitting possibilities for the luxurious variables like, perhaps, getting a haircut or going out for a date night.

My first thought was to hire a babysitter—classic, simple—for two afternoons a week. But that idea came with a very distinct question mark around never quite knowing how they would be spending their day. Would the sitter be on her cell phone all afternoon texting her boyfriend (like I used to do when I was a babysitter, ahem.) while Opal vied for her attention with her big figgy, dewy eyes? Would they stay in the house all day playing with the same toys and doing the same (anti-climactic) things she's been doing for months? Would our neurotic dog cause problems and force us to spend an extra $10 per day to put her in Doggy Day Care?

Then grammy asked about daycare, which, honest to god, hadn't occurred to me until then. As I said before, the idea of daycare did not exist in my Opal-under-one vocabulary, which has been the case with many developmental milestones: Oh, wow, I thought we had a lot more time before that one came. I best be hitting the library and emailing other mamas to inquire bout' this one.

So I called every commercial daycare center in Louisville and found that only two had infant-rooms, typically for children one year and under. Opal and I went to visit them both.
There were a handful of things I noticed right off the bat. Neither of the centers allowed children Opal's age to play outside. The cribs for the little ones were part of the play room and had very little privacy. Whether or not Opal would have little friends to play with depended entirely on the ages of the kids who happened to be there. So if the majority of the kiddos were very young that day, she'd have to entertain herself amidst a sea of status-quo toys, bless her heart, sweetly turning the pages to a board book while whispering the her-version-words to a nearby stuffed animal.

Another thing of note, as we were leaving our second visit, the infant-room staff woman (who, at first, I felt exuded a certain sense of calm but quickly realized it to be exhaustion) said softly to me when the director of the center was out of earshot, "This is so hard. Taking care of so many babies is so hard." And she shook her head as if caught in an inadvertent plea for help.

The following day, while sitting at the park watching our little ones crawl over blankets on the grass as if they were navigating their way over a series of rafts on water, one of my mama friends who has two young children in part-time daycare, reminded me, "Just remember, nobody will do it the way you do it. Nobody will even come close. That's just how it is. Nobody will ever match you or your environment. You're her mama, after all."

Good point. So then the question became, what did good enough look like?

When I was a wee peanut, I remember spending time in a home-based day care in a house that was so close to ours that you could just barely see the edge of the brown roof from our porch. I was much older at the time, elementary-aged, and I went before and after school. The details are fuzzy: the early morning cold and dark, the smell of microwaved oatmeal, my arms wrapped around a stuffed animal, seemingly lots of kids including a little demolishing tank of a toddler boy weaving about, the TV filled with Fragile Rock and Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Very different than my own mama did it, for sure.

I continued searching.
I requested info and suggestions from other mamas and checked out Craigslist, which is where I found two women who were intriguing enough to call. Both boasted extensive degrees in child development and had many years of experience under their belts. Both watched children in the comfort of their homes. Within the week, I had called and visited them both and found that one of the homes, the home of a woman named Cindy, seemed like a really good place for Opal. A really good place.

The scene from our visit: a large, clean, comfortable home with lots of natural light, hardwood floors, rugs, a sweet backyard where they do go out to play on nice days. There were separate sleeping areas for all of the children and rooms with closing doors for the younger ones. Pierce, Connor and Elisabeth, 2 years, 8 months and 3 years, respectively, played freely in the space, clearly relaxed and unencumbered. Toys of all colors, textures sizes, books galore. Within moments, Opal wriggled out of my arms and scurried over to where Pierce and Elizabeth were playing with an open-up farm house and joined right in. In that moment, I felt as if I'd discovered something I'd been looking for without ever knowing exactly what that particular missing thing was. It was as if my eyes declared in unison, Well, hello! You happen to be precisely what we want to be looking at.

I commenced to calling every single referral Cindy had listed in her orientation packet. Most of them were mamas who'd had, or have, children in her care. Nearly all of them took the time to either call me back and leave a message or to have a leisurely chat. In addition to handing out one after another gold star for Cindy's daycare, they also provided a hefty load of unexpected support as mamas who have also gone through this transition in their own respective ways.

Jesse joined us for another visit and our final decision was made. Just like that. Another parenting verdict under our belts.

I was so busy with the particulars of filling out forms and collecting what was needed to fill Opal's daycare bag that the reality of the adjustment didn't really hit me until that first morning, now nearly two weeks ago.
I was shocked by how hard it hit me. I woke up crying. I cried for the entire length of Opal's nap. I couldn't eat or check emails. I felt as if I were stuck out in an unexpected storm with no umbrella and no place to duck underneath. After a while, it dissolved and became just water that eventually stopped coming and dried up, for the most part, by the time Opal woke from her morning nap.

I made a plan on that first day to call Cindy at a specific time (while the kids were napping, so as not to distract her from their care) to see how little Doodlebug was fairing.
I stared down the numbers on my watch until my eyes were sore and my head a little achy until I could make that call (Opal fussed a little when you left, as all kids do at first, but she took her bottle and crashed for her nap in no time. Bless her heart.) and again as the minutes ticked by at a pitiless, lethargic pace until 5pm when I got to wrap my arms around her again.

Funny thing is, when I knocked at the door to pick her up after a grueling, meandering span of five hours, my body rushed with the nervousness of a brace-faced schoolgirl going for a first date, heart skittering and hands sweaty. I may have been a bit too loud and eager to smoosh her and kiss the under-part of her chin, a gesture she responded to with bright eyes and a smile, but certainly much less yearning than her mother displayed. She was perfectly fine. She'd taken a three hour long afternoon nap, as a matter of fact. She was that fine.

By day two, she was showing up to the door (in Cindy's arms) holding the most recent toy of intrigue. Day three, she was saying bye-bye to Connor and the cat as we stumbled out the door. Day four, she pointed to the ground to indicate wanting to continue with playtime and hollered when I put her in the car seat.

Cindy was mercifully tactful in her reply.
She withheld stating the obvious, which was that my daughter had indeed adjusted beautifully to being away from mama and in this new environment. She suppressed the desire to vocalize that it was and would continue to be mama who'd feel transitions more poignantly, more painfully, than Opal. That this was just the beginning and that it would presumably continue for the rest of my living, breathing life.
Instead, as she glanced back and forth from me to Opal and then back to me again, she said, "Yea. My daughter didn't like the car seat too much either."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The 10.5 Month WonderNoodle

I'm a mama who needs to revel in her daughter's magic.
I'm at the point where I will absolutely not be able to sleep tonight unless I plop down in the middle of a hearty session of impressed reflection.
If this kind of thing turns you off as a reader, allow me to have warned you in advance and recommend that you skip on to something else.
Myself, I have some waxing to do.

My daughter is 10.5 months old and she is not at all the same baby I reported on a little over a month ago. Her developments are pronounced and bold-faced as I witness her in a state of awe. I can't help but to wonder how much I could accomplish—perkily— if I approached my endeavors with the same sense of trust and open-hearted abandon as my daughter does. There is no worry. There is no expectation. And there is no self-judgement. It's a little like watching a hummingbird dance its wildly animated, edgeless shimmy—it doesn't know or care that you are watching. It does what it does for the sheer glory of doing it.

Better begin or we'll be here all night.

To My Dear Opal:

The most obvious place to start is with the fact that you had your first crawl just a few days after your nine-month birthday, which consisted of a few four-legged steps toward Grammy while I was out getting a hair cut. Grammy was so excited that she called to tell me, even though I was driving home and minutes from being there in person. The next few days you were shy about it, and a handful of days passed before your daddy got to see your handywork (I actually think he saw it first on a video that I took and showed him), but within the week, you were confident and moving through the space like a wild animal.

After a few weeks passed, you figured out how to pull yourself up to standing, tasting for the first time the view from a fully vertical, bi-pedal position. The splendor! Now you use crawling to get from point A to point B, but once you get to your destination, you pretty much prefer to be standing. You cruise unsteadily while holding on to the couch, our fingers, or your little toy-walker (the 'lawn mower' as cousin Stella called it when she saw it on a Skype call). You haven't yet grasped the concept of movement-while-erect. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that tentativeness is a thing of the far-off past come your first birthday.

Kudos, kiddo.

The crawling is surely the marquee-headline, but there are so so many other bits to report on.

Sleeping: After having gone through a lengthy phase of challenges with getting to sleep—you'd often pull yourself up to sitting and pace the length of the crib in spite of facing total exhaustion, and then collapse into a rousing melt-down—you seem to be back in the saddle. We shifted your naptimes to one in the morning (9:30 to 10:30 or so) and one in the afternoon 1:30-3pm or so) in order to get you used to the routine they will have in day-care (more on that later!) and you have taken to that like blue on sky. Ahhh, much to our delight.

Speaking: You said MAMA for the first time right around your 9-month birthday, while driving up to Estes Park with Ama and Papa! So we had many appreciative witnesses for the occasion. DADA is still your favorite catch-all word for everything, but Mama does make consistent cameo appearances. Beeeeeee Beeeeeeee is such a funny sound and often can get you started into fits of giggles. Your current vocabulary is extensive, in my opinion: mama, dada, doggie (in variations), hi, bye bye, banana (nana) and apple (ap). You are also impressive at mimicry. I say "cheese" and you reply with your apt version "zeeez". It is a daily occurrence that you repeat something we say with a voice and word that is close enough for us to know exactly what you were attempting to say.

Eating: HUGE STRIDES. About a month ago, you started to feed yourself with the tiny wooden spoon (easier to hold than the springy plastic ones) and you are getting quite adept at it. I load the spoon with food and hand it to you and you take it from there. Your aim is excellent, for the most part, though it's not uncommon for food to end up in your eyebrows, up your nose, in your hair and on the adjacent walls. Also, since you've started to practice feeding yourself, mealtimes have doubled in length-of-time, often taking upwards of an hour each.

Just recently, you have really begun to excel in the art of feeding yourself with finger-foods. Catalyzed by my home-made banana bread, your skills totally bloomed. Since then, you have enjoyed such finger foods as provolone cheese, tempeh, pita, steamed yams and other veggies.
It's wonderful to be able to feed you what we are also eating, cut up into tiny tiny bits. This morning, for example, I fashioned an all-yolk omelet for you with spinach and Parmesan that I cut into minuscule bits (as opposed to pureeing) with a knife and fork, and fed to you from a spoon. You loved it. I loved it, too. Makes life so much easier.
You can also do the sign language sign for "more" now, though you don't quite understand placement. You continue, however, to be a pro at the sign for "all done."

A few weeks ago, you started with the ET finger, and enjoyed being the instigator of making connections with daddy and grammy and I by touching pointers together, laughing with glee at the fact that we knew what you were asking for. Now the pointer is less about connecting with others and more about information gathering. You point at something when you want to know what it is, when you want to hold it, taste it or touch it. You point at food as a way of saying "more." You point at the crib when you are sleepy. The pointer has taken on a life of it's own and, I must say, it gets the point across with power and precision.

Another favorite game is the give-away-get-back game in which you hand an object to someone and they are to say THANK YOU and promptly hand it right back to you in kind. If someone is not keen on the second half of this ritual, you are immediate to set them straight with a holler. You even tried to play the game with Ama and Papa while we Skyped a few weeks ago, dropping a tube of sunblock onto the laptop keyboard and peering at it and their sweet, 2-D faces, as if waiting for them to understand, pick up the object and hand it back to you.

You Love Books. Period. Especially Touch-and-Feel Books. You love to read books to yourself and your stuffed animals. It's a sure-fire way to buy me 5 or 10 minutes to clean up the kitchen after a meal to set you in the highchair with a book and an animal to read it to. Your favorite thing to do while in the carseat is to read a book out loud. There is nothing more precious than to gaze back at you in the rear-view mirror to find you with a book held high like a newspaper in front of your face chatting aloud without reservation. That's my girl.

You love walks. They are back to being part of our daily routine, I am pleased to report. The weather is cooling off and we go out first thing in the morning. You hold the green dog leash and exude a sense of self-satisfaction that is almost aromatic. The green leash renders a pavlovian response of glee from both you and the dog now.

You still love music and dance whenever you hear anything with a beat. One of your favorite toys is the drum your Ama bought for you and lately I've been strumming some guitar chords for you and you come right up and strum the chords yourself.

You've been able to clap audibly for over a month now and do it often to show pride or excitement about something.

You nestle up against daddy and I, climb up our legs and backs, wrap your arms around our necks. Are you growing into a cuddler? Joy.

Last night, we shared an amazing moment after I nursed you and read you your book as usual. You turned around to face me with the distinct purpose of giving me a hug. You thoughtfully wrapped your arms around my neck, nuzzled me and began to softly giggle. I nearly died. The sweetness of this action had the power to cast a spell of amnesia over any and every challenging mama-moment that has happened and that will happen for years to come.
And it was done purely by your own initiative, that's what got me. You are no longer a passive little almost-person. You have your own thoughts, ideas, actions and motivations. I have a feeling it will take me a long while to get used to this.

During a recent play-date with one of your best girl-friends, Eva, who is two days your junior, Eva's mama commented on how engaging you are. She called you an 'entertainer' and was impressed with your awareness of the people in your sphere.
This is an aspect of your personality receives frequent comments. Your ability to and love of engaging. You will start two half-days of daycare this week (tomorrow!) and I know you will flourish because of this fact. (Mama is going back to work part-time giving massage to elders.) Your little mind thrives on new and stimulating environments to find adventures to get into, new kids to play with. I will expand on this subject in more detail after we've both had a week or so of it under our belts. Frankly, at the moment, I am feeling a little nervous about how I will miss you so.

What I've been thinking of lately is is this: For so long, you have been a baby who's been so intent and focused on her body and the physicalities of it all: how to sit up without falling, how to roll over, how to get on all-fours, how to crawl, how to cruise. These things have been very consuming for you. And though you have many major physical milestones yet to hit, I can't help but to notice that the level of comfort in your little body seems to really be improving, opening you up to other things, allowing your personality to peek and snicker, allowing you to see the world outside of your flesh and bones even a little more clearly.

And here we are, your Mama and Dada, standing nearby in that very world with open arms and jaws resting comfortably on the floor.