Tuesday, March 30, 2010

a pretty serene and tranquil situation

video

This is my very first video post!
The truth is, we have collected 100+ video shorts since Opal was born that we filmed on a lovely little cobalt-blue digital video camera, purchased entirely for baby-documentation purposes.
But as it turns out, you must have special software to download them onto the computer, which seems so silly to me, and we have yet to figure out that whole software thing.
So all of those fabulous bits of footage currently live inside the video camera, like a cartel of great conversations stuck in an elevator.
Oye, I am sure we'll figure out how to excavate them eventually.

But in the meantime, I am experimenting with the video camera that exists inside my actual camera, as a simple and humble setting on the dial.
It seems to do the trick and doesn't require any special software or secret passwords...so here is my maiden attempt at displaying this kind of video for all the world to see.

Filmed 3-25-09.
Opal is 5 months old.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Five months, Baby.


Sweetest little doodlebug,
you are five months old now and grabbing life by the wings—
such an exciting month you’ve had!

I write this from the couch, sipping a cup of green tea from the Miss Piggy mug and gazing out the window at the stirrings of an unexpected spring-blizzard we are being pounded by.
I can't see the color of my car beneath all the fluff and the branches of our front-yard elm look shaky beneath the heaving, heavy weight of white.
Both you and daddy are sleeping…

You turned five months the day after the Spring Equinox, which seems more than appropriate because you have certainly woken up, blossomed if you will, to the world around you.
Strikingly and suddenly so.

A few of the many highlights are as follows:

We went back to work at Windhorse, you and I, where mommy works on special projects and you get to ‘play’ (translate: roll around in the same space) with Zennon, a co-worker’s sweet son who is one month your junior (and a definite candidate for a future prom date). Having someplace to be and a light sense of purpose has been a thrill for both of us.

We all flew to Ohio just last week and you had no trouble with the flight or the travel in general—in fact, you clearly enjoyed the time we spent with family and friends in the midwest and didn’t seem thrown by the time changes at all. You perfected “the Opal show” (a one-man act consisting of full-body wiggles, rolls, squeals, grins and the well-timed blowing of bubbles) and slept better in Ohio than you do at home.

I am dying to talk about your recent developments so let's have at it.

You are so impressively aware of your surroundings! We can no longer nurse in a room where there is even one more person. You are very sensitive to noise and get too distracted trying to orient yourself to voices or other noises that may be in the room.

You reach for everything! And with shocking accuracy! No more talking on the phone or taking a drink of water while holding you unless I want the phone to go in your mouth and a domestic waterfall down the front of my shirt.
The things that are the most mundane and ordinary to me, you see as precious jewels with a soul and a personality. It really is extraordinary how you perceive the inanimate things around you in a way that actually infuses them with new life.

You still study all things with your eyes first, directly followed by the all-knowing, third-eye tongue.
You are so curious about food. You watch Jesse and I eat with edge-of-your-seat attention and seem aware and curious about tastes. You enjoy sucking on apple cores and smelling clementines. I foresee real food in your very-near future. You tried a sippy-cup last week and you approached it with glee and determination. Though most of the milk ended up on your shirt, the prospects are very good.

Your language development has taken a flying leap forward. What used to be mostly random bits and pieces now fits together into make-believe conversation (though to you, I am sure it makes perfect sense). You chat with your stuffed doggie before you drift to sleep with the cadence and inflection of an adult conversation, using coos and squeaks rather than words. Sometimes you even whisper to them as if you have a secret. This is one of the most radically precious situations that I have witnessed in my short adult life. It chokes me up. It makes me want to swoop you up from your crib and hold you tight while I weep into your hair and shout THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

You indeed have already spoken your first word: Hi Dad. Which comes out in any variation of Hi-Da, A-Da, Dada, or Hi Dad, but it is there and real and crystal clear. Though you say it to me as much as you say it to Jesse as much as the dog, so its meaning may not quite yet be understood.

You reach for your toes every time I change your diaper, but seem keenly more aware of them when they are naked. You do "happy-baby" yoga pose on the changing table which is often accompanied by a sigh of satisfaction and a squeak that is directed toward the butterflies that hang above. (Hey guys, you gotta check this out!)

You currently weigh 14 lbs, 12 oz and have slowed considerably in weight-gain.
You absolutely, positively love the cat and the dog. And it's mutual.

In the midst of having listed all the previous developmental accomplishments, and celebrating each and every one of them, the thing that stands out most for me is generally how wide-awake you are now, living and participating in every moment with heart-melting fortitude and spunk. I can hardly imagine how your conviction will expand when you are mobile and have language! Look out world!!

As my good friend Shauna so aptly put it about her daughter, Hana: "Just when I thought Hana was going through my favorite phase, the next phase happened, and that became my favorite phase!"

Your dad and I are experiencing love that knows no edges or bounds, no beginning, middle or end. Just all. Everywhere. Everything.
This is a mystical thing for you to have inspired as such a tiny human being.

I can hardly wait for what you will present us with next.

xxoo, Mom

Friday, March 19, 2010

The midwest, family and other things with wings


Ladies and gents, it's time to take out your pencils and check off another milestone from the list. Baby Opal has officially joined the ranks those who fly the friendly skies.

Jesse, she and I flew to Ohio last Friday to visit the conglomerate of remaining family members who have not yet met her. The sweet Aunts and Uncles, cousins and friends who have been dedicated to Opal's photos on face book, commenting on their favorites and requesting her presence in Columbus. Of major importance was my grandpa; Opal still needed to meet my only living grandparent, my dad's dad, who had overcome all odds the summer before Opal was even conceived by surviving a ruptured aortic aneurysm as well as host of related ailments that followed. I dearly love this man and introducing Opal to her great-grandpa Jack was one of the cardinal anticipated moments of the weekend.
And, of course, we were all ecstatic to visit Ama (my mom) and Papa (my dad), Uncle CB (my brother) and big cousin Stella (my niece) who would be turning five during our trip. Ama has been out to Colorado three times since Opal was born and my dad, brother and Stella have come out once. But Opal is clearly familiar with --and very fond of-- them all.

The airplane.
I was told if I put Opal in a carrier with no buckles, I'd be able to go through security without having to take her out it. Another example of a helpful bit of information that traveled down the pike from someone else's experience, making a situation all that much easier. Also, my brother provided the carseat and stroller and my mom borrowed a Pack-N-Play from a friend, so there was practically nothing to schlep. From the curbside back-check to the near-empty line for security, getting to our gate was a cinch. Opal had eyes like the shiny bottoms of two teacups, facing my belly in the sling, and attempting to turn her head 360 degrees like an owl to gulp up her over-stimulating surroundings. And even though I led our small clan to the wrong gate (read the ticket wrong, oops), no harm was done and we sifted into our seats with little effort. The plane had two rows of two seats and seemed ridiculously tiny to me. I couldn't walk through the center isle without bumping into people and there was no area at all beyond the final row of seats. This made things difficult when Opal did not effectively fall asleep at my breast as I had hoped and proceeded to squirm and fuss in the seat because her body was playing tug-of-war between full-on sleepiness and being hopped-up on the hardcore stimulant that is the airport. But we prevailed, myself having to deal with a bout of claustrophobia, and landed in the midst of a torrential downpour. Something happened as we climbed down the flight of temporary and incredibly steep stairs from the plane and ran across the tarmac into the Columbus airport in the middle of an impressive rainstorm that popped any sort of anxiety-induced residue and spit us out into our adventure like a group of shiny Sedans straight from the car wash.

Ama, Papa, Uncle CB and Stella were the welcoming committee, perched with wide-open arms in front of the food court.
And thus, the lovefest began.

I wasn't sure how Opal would do with a near constant stream of visitors or if she would be able to nap in the midst of so much excitement and in an unfamiliar environment. But it took less than a day to realize that she was adjusting with absolutely no difficulty. She fell asleep without a peep that first night along side her essential nighttime crew- the dog, the giraffe and the sound machine-- and slept through the night just as she does as home. We were utterly amazed! And naps came effortlessly as long as we put her down before she became overtired. In essence, during our four day kith and kin extravaganza, she played hard and she slept hard, maintaining a well-balanced temperament in the middle. Her adaptability was astounding.

There were too many precious moments to list here verbatim, but let's just say a level of effervescent solace filled the house from beginning to end, like a feast baking in the oven or a fresh fire in the fireplace. Papa played his guitar for her. Stella sang to her and gave her endless lessons in the interests of a five-year old. (Stella really did an incredible job. Not an ounce of jealousy or competition, just straight-up pure love and affection. Go Stella-bean.) Ama held her endlessly, got down on the floor with her and took dozens of adorable photos. CB was a pro at laugh-inducing silliness. Abby the elder golden retriever preferred a spot on the floor next to the baby. Auntie Steph gave her a stuffed bunny that she greeted like a long lost friend, as if to say where have you been? Friends and family filled the living room with Opal in the center, showing off her ability to roll over, play throw-the-toy and blow bubbles, shrieking with delight as she quickly understood the sure-fire ways to get her audience to laugh and cheer. Cause and effect, baby. And so it begins.

All in all, a ton of joy.

But by Tuesday, Opal had still not met Grandpa Jack. As luck had it, he came down with a case of pneumonia just before we arrived. He was no longer contagious after a few days of antibiotics, but he just wasn't feeling up to visiting until our last evening in town. It would have been heartbreaking not to have been able to introduce the two of them during this trip, because our next time out would likely be after her first birthday. Fortunately, he snuck in at the 11th hour and was able to spend a short amount of time with Opal before her bedtime. He watched with a comic-strip grin as she performed her mastered tasks like a one-man show off Broadway. He was also there to witness her very first word: Hi Da (Hi dad.). Whether or not it was intentional or its meaning understood, the word came out clear as a bell and how wonderful for Grandpa to be a part of the intimate crowd who responded with shrills and clapping.

During this brief, but rich and impactful, trip, we noticed Opal collaborating with the world around her in a way she hadn't before. She's no longer a scrumptious, yet passive, bystander and she's capable of so much more then just lying adorably still for photos and plopping onto a variety of laps. Beyond a doubt, she was interacting with her visitors, studying faces, reaching for toys, fingers, the dog, rolling, tumbling, smiling, repeating the actions that resulted in the most attention from her fans. It really was something to watch her engaging in this way.

This quality of being an active participant in her environment bloomed with wild freedom during an afternoon visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory, which is an other-worldly botanical landmark and one of Columbus' finest treasures. An indoor horticultural paradise, it is also home to a butterfly house and many of the blown glass works of art by artist Dale Chihuly. We had Opal in the sling, facing out, and walked her through room after room of protected ecosystems--the desert, the rainforest, the palm house--taking our good old time letting her gaze at the different colors, soak in the varied climates and run her fingers over leaves and through moss, like so many heads of hair. I could feel her body respond to the cascading shades of green, presumably understanding these unspeaking layers of life on a much more visceral level then any of her adult attendants were able to. She was clearly digging the whole experience, but the piece de resistance was the butterfly room.
Technicolor pieces of Chihuly's glass rose from the earth among the plant life, having the appearance of being organic while at the same time looking outrageous enough to stand out from the serenity in screaming juxtaposition. The butterflies flocked to a red and orange swirling glass piece as tall as the ceiling that was part fire, part water, part wind. Opal squealed, kicked and squiggled as if to say, let me go play with them!! She flapped her little arms like wings.
At one point, a butterfly landed on another, much younger, baby who was visiting the gardens with her parents passively from her stroller. The father, a friendly, familiar fellow, handed the butterfly over to me, placing it right on my finger as if it were a trained parakeet. The butterfly didn’t fly but didn’t seem physically wounded, either. It crawled around on my finger and fluttered its wings like a dog wagging its tail. Opal was elated! She pointed and gently touched it, as if to say LOOK MOM! giggling, squealing and kicking her little legs like a swimmer. It was truly the kind of brilliant moment that stopped us all in our tracks. Strangers even stopped to have a look.
Opal was captivated in a way we had not yet seen and she was more than happy to generously share her blissful little corner of experience with the rest of us.

It was truly a successful trip on all counts.

When I returned home, my mother-in-law said that children naturally experience "milestones" during travels; they grow up a little bit each time. Maybe it's because they are challenged in ways they may not necessarily be at home, or put in situations that allow them to behave differently. Or maybe it's as simple as being taken out of their comfort zone. Regardless, she said she saw it happen every time she took Jesse on a trip. He returned having matured in some tiny way. And once they were home, he was no longer the same boy as before they left. That younger version of him was left to memory.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Back to work

Last week Opal and I went back to work.

On day one, she dressed in her most professional striped socks and I donned a shirt that hadn't yet been stained in spit up. We sang along to the Beatles as we packed our work bag with diapers and burp cloths and off we went filled with the purpose and anticipation of two young girls on the first day of school. On an average morning, we tell Jesse to have a good day at the office as he heads out the door, and for three days last week, he was saying the same thing to us.

Many of the moms I know from breastfeeding club, who have babies roughly Opal's age, have gone back to work by now. Nolan's mom is a cop in Arvada, and since she's still breastfeeding, she often has to wear a bullet-proof vest over boobs that beg to be pumped. Piper's mom is a school teacher and pumps in the teacher's lounge, often having to stop when the bell rings whether or not her boobs are emptied. Lucy's mom is a software engineer and she stays with grandma all day. I don't know what Lydia's mom does, but I know she's been back to work for at least a month now.
At of last week, of the eight of us moms who stay in touch from breastfeeding club, there was only one other mom aside from me who hadn't gone back to work.

Jesse and I discussed the topic of work long before Opal was born so there'd be no surprises. It was decided that he'd continue to work and I would stay home with the babe, maybe making some extra cash doing odd jobs from home or during the weekends while Jesse is home with her. We have no interest in putting her in daycare for long stretches of time until she is much older. Jesse often says that one of the main things that gets him through the work day is knowing that I am with his little darling and will give him a full report when he returns in the evening.

Before I got pregnant, I worked for a wonderful business called Windhorse Family and Elder Care (WFEC) for many years, and continued up until I was waddling around the office looking for a place to prop up my swollen pregnant ankles. WFEC is a home health care agency that specializes in taking a holistic and mindful approach to caring for elders and I have worn many hats under it's roof of employment. I started off simply attending to the clients, then added team leading and case management to my repertoire and eventually took my seat as "Administrative Director" for most of 2009. All of my jobs with WFEC have been a thorough package of both rewarding and challenging, especially in the beginning, but the administrative role was the one that hoisted me marvelously from my comfort zone. Each day was a lesson in communication and offered many puzzles to solve. There were very few opportunities to be on auto-pilot and many moments of embracing the humility of a beginner, all done in an atmosphere of incredibly supportive and encouraging comrades and co-workers. Growth growth growth!

Anyhow, Jyoti, the owner, graciously offered for me to return to the administrative job once Opal was a few months old and bring her with me. This was a stellar idea in theory, but once Opal actually arrived, I couldn't imagine giving both she and the job the attention they both petitioned.
But it seemed that the job was intended for a new mama and baby team because another Windhorse friend, Ann Marie, took that position with her 3 month old, Zennon, thus christening the office with a fantastic array of baby-world adornments. They asked for Opal and I to join them to help with special projects here and there, and now that Opal is becoming more independent, the timing was perfect. We were right at home with the diaper pad, swing, foam nap-nanny and play mat, not to mention the perfect company of another mama and baby! Thus, not having to feel guilty for constant interruptions or having to explain the unpredictability of nursing and napping because Ann Marie was doing the very same dance with Zennon.

So there it was, my first day back to work in nearly 5 months (if you count the month I was off before she arrived) with my Doodlebug in tow. Another exciting milestone to check off the list.

And I must say, work was pretty damn fun with her around, as well as Ann Marie and little Zennon, albeit not the most productive. But productivity is so often overrated. The key factor was that I had one task and one task only-- to organize employee files-- and I was to chip away at this task until completion. There was no multi-tasking to be had, no calls to answer, no emails to check, no meetings and goal-setting and on-the-spot work-related interruptions. Just me, my baby, a my task. Inside of this simplicity lived a zen-like bliss.

I brought the playmat, a veritable collapsible, portable baby-Reno, and a bag full of more toys then she could have effectively focused on in an entire day, let alone a few hours. The work-chunk of the afternoon was spent in the following fashion: Opal plays on mat contentedly, I file, Opal wants held while I file, Opal is hungry and I take a break from filing to feed her, Opal is sleepy, so I take her to the back office to nurse and rock her for a while in the hopes of achieving a nap, Opal closes her eyes for five minutes, I blitzkrieg file, Opal is back up and on the play mat... and the beat goes on like this.

There was something so satisfying and relaxing about having a witness to it all who was going through the very same motions with her little one at the very same time. Assuredly, Opal would squawk when Zennon was quiet or Zennon would cry when Opal fell asleep. Both babies would call for us right we got into a tiny groove and they even both fell asleep in our respective laps, post-nurse, just as we had both planned on leaving for the day. (Is this what life is like with twins?) Such distractions have the potential to be irritants if there is a deadline looming or a specific amount of work-hours required, but this is not the case right now. During a three hour shift, it felt accurate to bill for a total of an hour and a half. But the payoff is much larger than the cash reward. Opal and I had somewhere to be, an outing to hinge the rest of our day from, and social time with another mama who happens to inspire fabulous humor in such situations. We spent much of our time laughing at the spontaneity--and unintentional irony--of our wee-ones.

Another bonus: My dear mother-in-law, Zeb, lives 4 minutes from the office, driveway to parking lot, accurately timed. So we experimented with having her babysit for Opal for a few hours while I went to the office. This was Opal's first time being left somewhere other than our house and it went beautifully. Grammy Nibs (one of the many grandma nicknames of Zeb) played with her on the baby-Reno mat, sang her songs, read her books, and then her Auntie Alex stopped by and they all went for a walk. The report was glowing, full of smiles and contentedness, another gold-star outcome. But I must admit, the office felt very quiet without her.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nordstrom's

Opal and I went to the mall a few weeks ago. It was a particularly cold and grey week, like sitting on metal in shorts, and I was not in the mood to take my sacred daily walk in such conditions. So I put the dog in day care for the afternoon and piled Doodlebug into the car to hit the mall scene. I wore tennies. I had something to return. I was armed with an afternoon snack (for myself--luckily Opal's afternoon snack still comes straight from the boob). I brought the stroller, purposefully timing the adventure to correspond with naptime in the hopes that Opal would sleep while I paced the isles at a decent cardio clip.

A visit to the mall is unfailingly better in theory. My memory comes straight from adolescence and no other, more accurate, memory of going to the mall as an adult comes to mind. To me, the mall depicts a time when I could spend an entire afternoon filling the space with no consideration of productivity, without getting either bored or irritable, executing the craft of aimless-wandering and time- squandering like a master. I have long since lost those skills. I no longer have the desire to try on dozens of clothing items that far exceed what I can pay and I am no longer able to feast on Cinnabon's, Steak Escape and soft pretzels the size of life preservers without getting a bellyache.

Suffice it to say no mall experience could ever match up to the memory of youth.

But even now, the level of amusement extracted from people watching, window shopping and feeling all the richer for having NOT spent the amount asked of me from any price tag is enough to sustain me for a few hours.
Opal, however, did not sleep as I kicked up the dirt with my nimble, rubber-soled feet and circled passed the Ghiradelli chocolate lady, the guy at the cell phone kiosk and the Mrs. Field's cookie baker at an impressive clip. I told the chair massage guy with each brisk passing, "Just waiting for her to fall asleep..."

But she never did. She protested. She whined. She squirmed. She was not, ladies and gentlemen, impressed by the mall and is way too young to have any nostalgic reasons to be.

After about an hour of this off-and-on fuss, I resigned myself to the fact that my little one was not likely to snooze as I had planned. So I decided to hit the restroom to pee and change her, then hopefully find a location to nurse her that was better than my car. Then we'd head on home.

Since I parked by Nordstrom's, that's where I asked to be pointed to a restroom, hoping for a stall that was big enough for the stroller as well as a changing table.

What I walked into so exceeded my expectations that I had no choice but to stop in the doorway, gaping in disbelief.

Listen closely. What unfolded before my eyes was not merely a restroom, it was a lounge that consisted of a handful of nooks boasting microfiber couches like mini living rooms. There were hallways that sprouted into bathroom stalls and entire changing areas. It was as if I'd stumbled into a breastfeeding Zion.
"Um, um, hello" I greeted the other mothers as clumsily as a high school geek that somehow made it to the cool after-prom. I squealed when I saw the separate sink alongside the changing table and yet another sink--stocked with soap and paper towels-- INSIDE the handicapped stall. There was a moment, a flicker, in which I couldn't think of a single good reason to ever return home again.

I must have looked a bit out of my league because as I exited the diaper-changing corridor, a gorgeous mama wearing skinny jeans and high heels--that didn't even quiver as she pushed her toddler in the stroller-- offered me her spot on an eggplant love seat in a corner with taupe walls and enormous framed still life paintings of fruit. The clock on the wall was bold-faced with type-writer font, something you'd find in a classroom. Norah Jones was playing.

I took a drink of water from my bottle, only then slowing enough to realize how thirsty I was. I situated Opal, who melted into a goo-pile of satisfaction on my lap as she gobbled, and thought of what a different world it would be if spots like this were not the exception. Little rest areas along the way that allow mamas to quench their own thirst as well as their baby's, offering pillows the size of dog beds to rest joints that ache from carrying, pushing and hoisting little bodies and playing smooth jazz that beckons for the accompaniment of capacious exhales.