Monday, May 24, 2010

Baby Opal Seven Month Letter

Little sweetie,
Every time I notice you doing something different, more advanced and note-worthy, I jot it down in a notebook, allowing some decent accumulation before consulting it at the end of the month. And, I tell you, the reflection is glorious because these bits and pieces could so easily slip into the everyday-that’s-just-what-she-does-ness of it all. These notes remind me that, no, you have not always been able to do it all. You are gathering skills in your cache that you have worked hard to develop. Nothing is to be taken for granted.

This month’s treasured list of bits, in relatively chronological order:

We spend a lot of time in play. No agenda. No beginning, middle or end. Just play. Some of our favorite playtime things to do are to bounce you in the swing, either in our bedroom doorway or out front dangling from the tree. Without fail, you shriek with glee, twirling in circles and balancing on tippy-toes before allowing gravity to take over your seat with grand elasticity.
You also enjoy the exercaucer, which is the same concept as the bouncy-swing--it also has a seat that you sit in, standing with feet on the ground with just enough room to push off,--but you are on a saucer so you can turn and slightly wobble but don’t go anywhere. A fabulous place for you to hang out for quick blips of time while mommy fixes breakfast and such.
And now, since you are a sitting-up-baby, you love love love to sit on the floor and play. You can entertain yourself for long stretches (preferring mom or dad to be right with you, if possible) with the rainbow-wooden-blocks-on-a-string or your alphabet-wooden-letter-blocks.
Noise. Anything that makes a ruckus is a hit. Wooden spoons on plastic bowls, drumming on cardboard boxes, board books, the high-chair tray. Banging hard toys against other hard toys (the plastic-clicky giraffe is oft an item that receives great abuse) is endless fun.

You also love to play gonna-getcha and peeka-boo and love to dance around the room with mommy and daddy.

Sitting up is your preferred position most of the time. In the bathtub, the high chair, on the floor, in laps. We give you belly-time to encourage your learning to flip from front to back (you are sooo close. I guarantee by 8 months, this will be a learned skill) but once you flip to your back, you usually bark lightly for help up to sitting. You are very sturdy in this position, except for the occasional reaching for a toy with too much gumption that inspires toppling.

You are developing an appreciation for snuggling. You have never been one to allow us to hold you in an embrace or wrap arms around you without squiggling to freedom. Even when you slept in our bed, you had your own special spot that did not want to interfere with ours. But now, you often hug your stuffed animals and relate to them like live, supportive beings. You let me read an entire book to you with your head on my chest and your tiny arms wrapped around your bunny, without struggling to sit up or reach to grab the book. (That was a milestone.) One night you wrapped your arms around my neck and played with my hair, which just about killed me.

You take a sippy cup now, which is heavenly because you hated the bottle. You now have a lengthy list of foods-tasted: Rice cereal, bananas, pears, carrots, sweet potatoes, avocados and peas, and seem to prefer the sweet things, pears and bananas. That’s my Ohio girl. Xo.
You have learned to communicate being finished with your food in a number of creative ways including, but not limited to, blowing in the food-filled-spoon, grabbing the food-filled spoon and staring at the food-filled spoon with pursed lips and crossed eyes. Needless to say, we have lost many a light-colored-cloth item to the vicious stain-power of carrots.

You breast feed much much less now. It took me a while to realize you were weaning yourself slightly because I just couldn’t believe you were needing so much less breast-milk than before. (You recently went from absolutely needing to eat every 3 hours to going 6 or 8 with no milk!) Many times when I thought you HAD to be hungry (because of so much time that had passed since last nursing), you squirmed and pushed away, and yet I still felt like you may not be getting enough. Just this morning I spoke with our on-call nurse and she said, point blank, TRUST YOUR BABY. Since you are gaining weight well, happy, healthy, content, you are clearly eating plenty.

Sleep is still pretty fabulous. You go down at 6pm and sleep until 6am. The main variable is how often you wake during the night, which can be anywhere from 1 to 3 times, depending on how much you ate during the day. Luckily, though, you only get up to nurse and ALWAYS go right back down afterwards.
You had a few weeks of suddenly having difficulty falling asleep—when you had had no problem for a few months— fussing and even crying for a long stint before going down. I even tried holding you and nursing you, when your upset was unbearable but that only exacerbated your irritation.
We never figured out the root of the problem, but started to use the “Twilight Turtle” (a sweet little turtle that projects colored stars on your ceiling in the dark) and since the turtle has joined your bedtime routine, you have gone back to falling to sleep pretty quickly. Thank goodness.

You ride in your stroller big-girl-facing-out-style, preferring to be propped up to seated with the dog prancing just off to the side, comrades on a stroll. We still go for many walks with you facing-out in the sling and you love to hold the dog’s leash while we do this. And you do a commendable job, holding on for dear life with pudgy blanched knuckles. I just have to keep an eye that it doesn’t go into your mouth because all things you are fond of eventually land in your mouth. Teething seems to have little to do with it, for you, tasting seems to be more an expression of appreciation or curiosity.

You are totally captivated by Things. You make a study of anything and everything within arm’s reach. You get lost in gaze, become enraptured by the tulips on the table, the overhead light fixture, the dog, the vine, a necklace. You take as much time as you need to consider and analyze the world around you in pieces.

You reach to be picked up AND to be put down now.

You have definite tastes in toys, you know what you like and you are drawn to it. Your preferences are clearly emerging.

This month, I have realized again and again that your instincts are a valuable as my own. This is how it went with your sleep; you told us when you were ready to move from our bed into your own room and now you are telling us that you don’t need to nurse as often as I seem to think you do.
I also have felt, as your mom, like one of my many roles is to be the Great Normalizer. That it is essentially up to me to assure you that things are ok and normal and that the world is ok and normal when you react to situations with aversion or upset. Often that normalization comes from distracting you, re-directing your energy, making you giggle or taking a deep breath for myself. I feel like there is something of upmost importance in grounding myself into the role of I-swear-honey-that-everything’s-gonna-be-aok.

When the basement flooded with sewage, I must admit, having you in our lives helped your daddy and I to keep things in perspective. Just the fact that you continued playing, continued napping, continued eating, as the basement was demolished and the machines were screaming and the insurance guys refused to call was a real reminder of life-goes-on. And I thank you for that. You were our Great Normalizer for that situation.

You recently started to squinch your face with glee as an extreme version of your baby-smile, as if a large thread pulled the fabric to pucker between your eyes and nose. This is a killer and turns your dad and I into pureed puddles.
You are becoming a master at prompting puddles.

I wonder if it’s possible to kiss a kid too much.

You are incredible.

Xo always, Mommy and Daddy.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Quick Bit About Other Babies.

One of my favorite things about being a mother is that I now have eyes for the baby-demographic.

Before Opal was born, babies were certainly adorable in that generic kittens-in-a-calendar sort of way, but I was unable to decipher beyond the first layer of adorable fluff. I was not well enough acquainted with any of them to appreciate any particular character traits or personality bits.

By the time Opal was born, I had only held one other newborn baby--her cousin Max who was born six months earlier--so I certainly came to the table with the wide soup-bowl eyes of a beginner! And in the last six months of Opal's life, since I've been practicing the art of watching a baby, attending to a baby, asking questions and learning the language of a baby, I am able to apply that to the rest of the world. Or, more accurately, the rest of the world seems to have offered up a thousand little darlings for me to speak to in this new-mama way.

The way a new spanish speaker must feel when he suddenly notices the environment to be dripping with gracias and hasta prontos or a budding percussionist who suddenly feels a rhythmic pulsing beat present itself around every corner, this is how I feel about the availability of little beings to practice this new cognizance on.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tulips and spiders.

Yesterday, Opal dined on a two-course meal of pureed sweet potato and avocado, a meal that was clearly more interesting to me than it was to her. She did a new thing where she watched the orange and sea-foam colored pudding on the tip of the spoon travel all the way to her lips, which were pursed and closed, as she strained her baby-crossed eyes to maintain focus. She then went to reach for it, dipping her tiny fingers in up to the dimpled knuckles and flicked all her fingers from the thumb, one of her newest and dearest skills.

Then, just as I was about to give up on this unsuccessful session of eating, Opal's attention clearly settled into something else; she discovered that there were two tulips in a wine bottle sitting on the table in front of her. Her face took on an expression of utter enchantment.

So I took a moment to look, too.

The tulips were from the precious family of bulbs that'd been planted in our yard the first autumn we lived in this house, two and a half years ago. They were the same size when I cut and put them in water (with a lucky penny at the bottom) and in the matter of a few days one grew tall and wide, with a telephone chord for a stem and petals of crimson-painted silk, thick and ironed. Nothing drooping. Perfect posture. The other one wilted, its weary stem not quite strong enough to hold up the confused tousle of shrunken petals, its stamens indecently exposed.

The tulips made me think of siblings who grow up in the very same household with the very same parents and the very same childhood into two stark different adults. I thought of twins in utero, how one often somehow soaks up nourishment a bit more readily than the other. I thought of my own breasts, how different the experience of breastfeeding was for the left (struggled, bled, incredibly painful) than the right (champion, over-producer of milk, piece-of-cake) and even now, how different they appear (the right one is much much bigger). I thought of luck and karma, the seeming randomness of opportunity as well as the seeming randomness of failure. All this, each of these thoughts, entered only through the portal provided by my dear daughter.

She does this.

Developmentally still unable to multi-task, she lingers on one thing at a time. In the midst of breast feeding, she'll notice as the light hits my zipper and her top lip stiffens as if she's witnessed a miracle and her eyes flex with micro-lens focus as she reaches for it. The words "easily-distracted" are inaccurate and even a bit crude. She is amazed and allows herself to travel to and from the objects of amazement and hang out there as long as necessary because there is nothing else to do. Nowhere else to be. There is plenty of time for such studies. And why the hell would I ask her to rush? The passage of time is such a drastically different beast for her.

So, when the moment allows, she walks me through my own, well-established world with the eyes of a traveller having set foot on uncharted territory. Notebook drawn, video-camera charged, camera cocked and loaded, she breathes life into details I have become blind to. Star gazing in my own kitchen and living room.

We spent some time analyzing the creeping vine today and I noticed it has some yellowing leaves and spindly spots.
During a contemplation of the ceiling light fixture, I observed it's drastic need to be dusted, and as we looked, a tiny spider parachuted its way through the air, backed with the safety-line of its own web. Then, as if it saw us and reconsidered, it speedily made its way back up to the ledge as Opal and I just watched.
I wondered if I would have completely missed this detail had she not been nearby, instigating this kind of attention. I wondered how many spiders have dropped in front of me in my lifetime that I was completely oblivious to.

Friday, May 7, 2010


I'm not going to lie, this has been an impressively tumultuous week.
And the current state of my brain could be accurately described as melted butter without a container.

We had a sewage flood in our basement on Sunday night.
--They call it 'black water.' Our house took on 'black water' like a vulnerable ship at sea.--
And between the plumber, the (shockingly thorough and helpful) cleaning/drying/demolition guys and the asbestos lady, today was the first day we did not have extra people spilling out of our house. The first day without drying machines and their blaring harmonies of white noise.
This week, I spent many of Opal's naptimes walking with her in the sling to help induce at least a little rest and to give me a much-desired pause. And as for the naptimes with no demolition crew or extra company, the noise remained, and I found it impossible to do much more than the absolute essentials followed by spilling myself onto the couch like something that might leave a stain and didn't care.
When they finally pulled the plugs on all the blowers yesterday, the silence was ear-splitting, our finished basement was a distant memory and I felt leg-less and somewhat baffled, grasping for some slippery semblance of the same routine I often want to pull away from.

Enter blog, stage right.

At this point, it really doesn't matter so much what I write.

Doodlebug is down for a nap and the simple act of placing a small pillow on the kitchen chair (which, without assistance, is about as comfortable as a cutting board), pouring myself a choice beverage to accompany the time of day and opening up my computer (noticing the fingerprints like scuffs on good shoes but rarely doing something about them) is calming in and of itself.

Bare feet against the soft, warn kitchen rug, hips just gently keeping time to the radio's pulse of world music, the smell of steamed sweet potatoes, freshly pureed for Opal's lunch for when she wakes.
With my new machine, it's effortless to create silken pudding the most eye-shattering shade of orange that will undoubtedly speckle and splatter all that lies within a 3-feet radius of her high chair. (Little Polluck in training.)
And in the midst of the feed-the-baby, catch-the-spoon, keep-it-interesting dance, I will forget entirely about the rest of it. The rebuilding, the price-tags and the uncooperative insurance people will simply dissolve.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A lengthy analysis of fine.

How’s it going? It’s going fine, thanks.

It’s an interesting thing, what we choose to share when asked how we are doing. It depends so completely on the specific moment of being asked and all of the moving parts contained in that single moment—the context, the amount of un-interrupted time we have ahead of us, how close we are to the person asking, how able we are to not over-explain ourselves—as to how in-depth of an answer we choose to dispense. Not to mention the fact that the feelings accessorizing any given occasion are often better off transient, like bodily functions or hitchhikers.
And the mere act of examining them may freeze them unnecessarily in mid-air.

Why am I even discussing this?

Lately I’ve had the sense that since I don’t spend a ton of time waxing about the difficulties of motherhood, it may be misperceived that I’m not experiencing any challenges. This is simply not the case. I suppose I just choose to talk about the harder, more unsettling topics in very specific, more contained environments.
But the hardships certainly do exist and are a mandatory part of life, parenting or not.

The fact is, I have daily moments of questioning, where I have no idea if I've made the right choice as a parent, especially on the bigger decisions (vaccinations, etc.) or if the immediate outcome is slightly unpleasant. I also often struggle with the inability to control the many floating baby-oriented variables of my day. But I struggled with the same control issues long before motherhood, the variables were just different and more me-centered. I sometimes feel anxiety around how to spend hour after hour after hour with this little being and if I am filling time properly by stimulating her enough, bringing her enough joy, providing her with plenty of rich situations and feeding all of her senses. But I can say for damn sure that I was plagued with much more anxiety before Opal came along.

I have heard many people refer to Opal as a perfect baby, insinuating in some way that we must have it so easy. Lucky you, they say. And this makes me wonder if there is a need for me to talk about our challenges more than we do.
Yes, we were definitely blessed with one incredibly magnificent child, but we are still brand new parents with an infant baby, figuring the whole thing out like the rest of the world, one day, one upset, one success at a time.

Being a mama is by and large the most magical thing that has ever happened upon me. It may be cliché, but I have no issue with declaring that I am a changed and ever-changing woman. My vantage point no longer has me as the nucleus of my own world, and this is a welcome shift in perspective. Something I celebrate on nearly a daily basis.

But this sort of celebration and relief is not to be confused with declaring motherhood to be easy or effortless or a walk in the proverbial springtime park. The joy that I’m talking about doesn’t hinge on having things go my way—it is a joy that pre-parenthood never had the language to know.

An example: For the first few months, we spent hours every day helping Opal to fall asleep for her naps and bedtime. Really, hours. It was just what we did, what she needed us to do, and the choicelessness of it was a consolation. But there were many times when she would fight sleep, fight us fall asleep and then wake up immediately upon being put down and require Jesse and I to both perform an impressive circuit of Vaudevillian stunts to induce slumber. All of that was exhausting and sometimes frustrating to be sure, especially if I felt there was something else I needed to be doing with my time.
But if you would have asked me how I was doing then, my report may have left out the specific details of ugh*. Not because of any deceptive motivations or attempt at sugar-coating, but because out of those long long hours of effort, what my mind retained most was the finished product, lying next to a gorgeous, lightly snoring angel. One glimpse of that sweet little face as I drifted to sleep somehow hit the rest with a big amnesiatic eraser, leaving all that preceded as soft as pencil smudgings in my memory.

And so it goes.
That is but one of a hundred examples where a brief era of discomfort comes and then goes, moving aside for the bigger, more bold-faced, memory-worthy moments. And those grand, magical moments with a child far outweigh the grand, magical moments that accumulated before she came along.

And those magical moments are what I am likely to wind up reporting on.