Wednesday, June 30, 2010


As a mama, I am constantly attending to my eight-month old daughter, Opal.
Never have I payed such close attention to anything in my entire life.
She is my sustained object of contemplation.

A few of the things I've noted as of late: How her top lip purses and her eyebrows squinch in perfect synchronization when she is caught in a moment of full concentration. How she communicates pure delight through a high-pitched squeal-whisper. How her smile begins to look forced when she is overwhelmed. How her body language is a little more animated with the stuffed animals she thinks are alive. The subtle difference between wanting attention and having completed a tiny achievement--grabbing the toy without doing a nose-dive into the floor or mimicking mom and dad in a way she is satisfied with-- that requests real acknowledgment, noticing. The blond fur on her itty-bitty knuckles.

The level of familiarity that comes from spending every waking moment with a child--or anything, for that matter--is astounding. Just watching, noticing, observing her live her little life.

And I've lately been having the reoccurring thought that she's doing the very same thing with me.

(Author's note: this is essentially an inadvertant continuation of a previous blog entitled Mimicry and a Simple Glass of Water, where I spoke about Opal learning to drink from a glass of water without us realizing she'd been paying attention. But while that piece focused on the studying/copying/repeating of basic skills and tasks, today I am interested in how my style of being in the world impacts her.)

It's easy to forget this little person is absorbing every word, emotion, intention that is in her sphere because she's not yet able to say so. She's not yet able to raise her hand during first grade and ask the teacher to pull her finger (ahem, which is what I did, learned it from my dad) and doesn't have many opportunities to practice treating other animals with the same sweetness she's seen us use towards our dog, for example. It's very easy to mistake the lack of confirmation for lack of awareness and attention.

Example: Opal and I were just finishing our walk with the dog yesterday morning and as we turned on to our block, I noticed our neighbor from across the street also walking to his house. A sweet man with a lengthy stride, he was a ways ahead of us and he clearly didn't notice our presence behind him. We were needing to get ourselves home for a bath and breakfast before naptime and my first thought was phyoosh, he didn't see us, and that I'd save having a chat for a better time. I was hot, my brain was functioning in too lazy a mode to even say hello and I probably wouldn't have questioned any of it if I didn't immediately take stock of the little one who happened to be strapped to my belly facing forward. She could see the neighbor walking ahead of us. She was cognizant of my lack of acknowledgement. It only took one glance down at her sunhat (that protected the cow-lick atop her head) to wake me right up.

My mind toppled over itself. In a flash, I was not only willing to holler hello, but I was struck with a sudden hunger to know more about this man, about his life, about what lives behind the door of his house. And suddenly, saying hello seemed grotesque in its inadequacy!
How is it that an observation can change so completely in the matter of one step, one swallow, one flick of an eyelash from the cheek, simply from having another set of guileless eyes and un-judging ears in my midst ?

Step aside religious studies and contemplative paths, parenthood is the hands-down winner in inspiring self-awareness.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Opal has preferred to be vertical for a few months now.

She fell deeply in love with her Johnny-Jump-Up-Seat the very first time she experienced the joys of harnessed bouncing and she continues to squeal like a madbaby as she pushes up from the earth, twirls and swings and slingshots herself all over the place like she's made an Olympic sport of it.
She also loves the Exer-saucer, another apparatus that holds her vertically while she practices the fine art of standing.
If you pick her up, she stiffens her legs so you have no choice but to hold her under the pits as she uses your arm muscles as unsuspecting braces as she bucks and bumps off of whatever is underneath her little feet while maintaining eye-contact with whomever is holding her, drool puddling on her chin and heading in slow rivers downwards, giggling and gummily grinning.

It is understandable for any adult to want to maintain this sort of maniacally blissful response in a wee one, parents included. Therefore, Opal has spent the last few months, by and large, cultivating the stand-up/sit-up position. Rarely was she spending her time horizontal anymore. It had become a position that rendered a lukewarm response, at best, where she quickly wound up hollering for assistance.
Every time I delivered Opal-updates that relayed information about our vertical-loving baby, I consistently heard well she may just skip crawling all together! as if that was something to be proud of. As if she were somehow exceptional in her ability to simply skip an entire developmental step.

Until I ran into a friend, Abby, in the produce section of Whole Foods about a week ago. Her gorgeous year-old son watched us as he vacillated between curiosity and dumping sweet potatoes from a bag as he sat in the seat of the cart.
I gave Abby the Cliff's Notes update on Opal I'd gotten so accustomed to giving and her face became very serious. Oh, she said, you may really want to encourage her to crawl. She went on about how they learn so so much during this developmental phase on the floor: problem solving, deciphering left and right, the body-mind connection as a whole. Abby is a fellow body-worker (I am a massage therapist and polarity therapist) and I value her insights greatly. She got me to thinking

When I got home that afternoon, I pulled Opal's developmental books from the shelf and sifted through them, re-finding what I remembered reading before. They all describe a typical baby's development very clearly. Ie, they roll, they sit up, they crawl, and so on. The books also describe ways to encourage these desired milestones. But nowhere did I find anything on the detriments of skipping a stage. So, it hadn't even occurred to me to do anything different than support Opal in what she was naturally drawn to.

That afternoon, as an experiment, we decided to cut back on Opal's time in the vertical position, to backtrack a bit, and really encourage her with floor-play for the foreseeable future.

And in the short time since then, her horizontal skills have absolutely exploded. Previously, she would tentatively roll from back to front, as if uncertain of the outcome of such a bold action. Yesterday, she did a triple-roll, belly-to-back-to-belly, grabbed my shoe and rolled to her back to examine it before it even occurred to me what was happening! She triple and quadruple-rolls from the blanket we lie down for her, making headway on the real carpet (gasp!) and winding up covered in doghair (note to self to increase the vacuuming). She sets her sights on a toy and goes after it with fearless abandon, pulling the blanket towards her, pulling, scootching, rolling herself to her target. Last night when I went in to check on her, I found her not only having rotated her body 180 degrees in her crib, but also lying on her belly, fast asleep!
It's as if she is becoming re-acquainted with the hands-on floor-world around her, collecting a whole new list of successes as she navigates, baby-pride beaming from her face.

Now, I don't imagine any huge developmental detriments would have occurred if I'd never run into Abby that fateful afternoon, and if Opal indeed continued on the path of vertical-living. But all shoulds aside, what has really dawned on me is how automatic it is to want to leap forward, to hurry up to the next thing. It's so easy to feel that progress is good and quick progress is even better.

Things are going plenty fast for me as it is. Opal will be vertical soon enough and for the rest of her living, breathing life (god-willing). I appreciate having the opportunity, at least on this occasion, to pull back on the reigns a bit and savor exactly where we are.

Also see this entry as it appears in

Friday, June 18, 2010


There is a photo of me as a baby, taken when I was a year or so old (judging from the teeth and time of year) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
In it, I am sitting triangle-toed, wearing a Myrtle Beach t-shirt that clings to my chunky little torso like sharpei-skin, in a white bonnet that frames an apple-face and an unruly tuft of hair uptop. My expression reads: I have sand in my ass and there's not much I can do about it. The blend of annoyance and resignation, along with the squinch-face chub, misfit handful of teeth and other perfectly random details in the periphery (the old-school campers in the background, for example, or the baby sitting next to me in a Michigan State t-shirt who was Chad Taylor, now married with 5 kids of his own--our mothers are still close friends) make this a favorite photo in the Grimes household.
It has been framed on a shelf in each and every one of the residences where Jesse and I have lived. Often when I am in a less-than-perky mood, Jesse refers to the I have sand in my ass photo, which is an effective technique to conjure up at least a slight laugh. Unfortunately, the photo took a good beating before we could make copies of it; there are bits of color lost and flaked off, including one like a perfect bullet hole in the center of my forehead. It's also jaundiced and cracking.

The Campbell family took a trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for a week each summer from the time when I was a non-walking baby all the way through high school. We made the journey by car, drove the twelve odd hours in a day and a half, tracing the route in green highlighter on the AAA Trip-Tik which we consulted every few miles, accelerating in enthusiasm. In the early years, we camped in our Jayco camper, pulled with great exertion from the rear of our tired station-wagon. Eventually we graduated to overly air-conditioned hotel rooms with balcony windows that steamed up like a shower door. We grew up along side this beach, watched it grow boardwalks, malls and neon arcades and observed the roads cram with tourists. And it, in turn, observed our interests mature from spending all day at the beach building sand castles and collecting shells to observing members of the opposite sex in swimsuits. We began to bring friends and wanted to go off on our own. We drank alcohol from opaque sports bottles.

Last week, Jesse, Opal and I flew to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, to inaugurate a new era of family vacationing with the next generation of Grimes'. We shared a condominium with my mom, dad, brother, Chris, and five-year old niece, Stella, that backed up to a lagoon that was the dwelling-place for turtles, gators and a motley collection of birds. The surrounding landscape was that of a jungle, tangled solid with centuries of growth, that'd been carved out for roads and gulf-courses and bike-paths. Biking through this sort of enormous nature, dangling with globs of Spanish moss that twitched and swayed in wind with the fluidity of Jellyfish, inspired a feeling of humility. It was as if, left to its own devices, these trees and this earth would gladly swallow up the automobiles and asphalt as easily as a gator with a turtle in its mouth, to return to a state of knitted-leaf, organically quilted perfection.

We spent the week vacationing indoors as well as out. Everyone graciously adapted to the nap and food rhythms of an 8-month old. Existing like this, everyone under one roof, was a pleasure in so many ways, from dining together for every meal to staying up way too late after the kids went to bed, playing cards and watching old Saturday Night Lives, laughing until cackles turned to the liquid cries of irrepressible emotion, head in hands.

Stella was the ambassador of playtime and she took it upon herself to train Opal of the cultural ins-and-outs of a five-year old. She generously shared her babies and toys and spent hours on the floor with Opal, playing peek-a-boo and cooing her into wide grins and fits of giggles. The connection between the two of them was palpable, Opal watched Stella like a constellation of stars. Seamlessly captivated. And though it had been three months since she'd seen everyone except for my mom (who flew out to Colorado in April) she undoubtedly remembered them all, settled into their laps and arms with no effort, took long walks with them, allowed them to feed her. There wasn't a moment of hesitation, only a clear understanding of who is family.

We spent our fair share of between-nap-times in the water until our flesh puckered. We alternated between the silky-clean water of the pool and the beach, where we were constantly glazed in a sun-baked, sticky layer of salt. The humidity was visible at all times of day; skin had a cellophane-sheen any moment it stepped away from air-conditioning. In the pool, Opal was delighted and proud to apply her skills from the swimming classes she took at home--kicking, one-two-three-jump! and back floats-- as well as taking a baby-load off in the floaty pool Ama brought her. Beach-time was spent digging in the smooth, syrupy sand in the tide pools and where the baby-waves could lap at her legs. Cousin Stella drip-coated our legs and feet with sand as if we'd ordered up expensive spa treatments. Opal clawed at the ground as if she were sitting in and on something worthy of great and focused study. We took her knee-deep into the water and lifted her over the waves just as they crashed beneath her. She shrieked with joy and reached for the foamy water, splashing herself with salt as she smacked the water's surface. So much newness! So many untouched details to dive into and explore head-on! Bless her heart, she had a voracious appetite all week and slept like the dead.

A photo was taken of Opal in the sand, unintentionally resembling the photo of myself from way back when. Same tuft of hair and apple-face, same blended expression of annoyance with the elements along with the excitement that comes with new environs. Same collection of hodge-podge peripheral details (bicycle dropped on a slanted horizon-line, half of sweet Stella) that make a snapshot like this the true, un-contrived slicing and capturing of a moment that will live happily with the other memory-jogging tchotchkes on a shelf for years to come.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Considerations over the high chair: Music

So here is how the morning often goes: Doodlebug and I sit down for a hearty breakfast together: She takes rice cereal mixed with one or a variety of flavors followed by water from a sippy-cup to slurp and spit out like a goldfish. I take an egg and toast or something of that nature. (Tea comes later during her nap because any time before then it just winds up cold.)
We eat together in fits and spurts, feeding her three bites in a row while the momentum is favorable and then cramming a bite twice-fork-size into my mouth during a gap while she is intrigued with the plant, the dog, the wall behind her, the thing that fell to the floor.

We always have music.
Either the dial is set to KGNU Morning Sound Alternative, unless it's still early enough for the morning news, or we go random from my I-tunes library. Gone are the days of collecting music either in stacks of cassettes or case-logic pages of cds. It's often hard to comprehend how many songs actually live in the belly of my computer because it doesn't grow in width or girth with every song added. My music spans a good 15 year period, a crowd of misfit-tunes, chronologically confused, paired alphabetically by artist-name as randomly as lab partners in community college.

As it turns out, there are many songs that I've neglected for ages that live quietly in my hard drive, waiting, not having made the cut to be on a playlist or on the I-pod that goes on walks. Many of these songs are pregnant with memory and flashback-potential, now turning up during breakfast when I am unsuspecting and spacious, feeding my little girl, vulnerable to each and every associated recollection that trails behind like a brimming, laden sleigh.

It's a shock when a potent song from a forgotten era arises, like finding an old photo or baby's dress in a drawer.
I am taken over with the involuntary urge to sing along, often maniacally, with each and every word, nuances and solo riffs included, reliving for a brief moment the days when I first lived inside of that song, those lyrics.
So many of the songs I'm referring to are associated with my late teens and early twenties, before I made the life-saving trek out west. (Those were days that often brimmed with inner-turmoil and I suppose I am now able to safely re-visit them because I am so securely harnessed in the present-tense, encased in iron-clad hindsight.) But many tunes take me back only a short distance, to the night of my wedding, to one of many road-trips taken with Jesse or vacations with the Midwestern kith and kin. There are even a few tunes collected from when I gave birth to the little being sitting directly across from me.

No matter what the specific remembrance is, these melodies, tunes, verses, are all part of my pre-mama musical soundtrack

As we listen, Opal maintains impeccable concentration on a button of squished sweet-potato that beckons from the high chair tray to be examined with all ten fingertips and I can't help but to wonder how much she will ever really know about the life I lived before her. How much will I tell her and how much will continue to remain safely contained in the caverns of music.

This blog also appears on, a wonderful little journal of creative mindfulness:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Simple Plan

It's just passed 5:00am, inches from morning as is indicated by the brightening azure backdrop of sky out the window and the silhouetted trees that were invisible in the darkness only minutes ago. A bird began chirping at 4:30am somewhere close to my bedroom window, close to my head, and continues to carry on his one-bird solo of a few repeated notes.

Jesse was just out here, he emerged from the bedroom and collided with the sudden light of the hallway as if it were a screen door, rubbed his little-boy eyes and said "Why are we both awake?"
"Seems to be a party," I said as I gently scraped the last bite of yogurt from inside a coffee mug so as not to shatter the middle-of-the-night quiet--seeming as vulnerable to scratch as an old vinyl record--with spoon-to-cup screeching.
The 4:00am hour has often been a time of inexplicable restlessness for the both of us. Mostly unspoken, I lie in bed at that hour and notice his breathing to be the shallow, conscious respiration of the un-sleeping, followed by soft turns from one side-body to the other.

This particular morning, Opal woke at 3:30am, which is a very common time for her to stir, her subdued baby-babble coming from the monitor like blips from a short wave radio. She was clearly not upset, just momentarily awake. I usually go into her room whenever she wakes up, even though her wake-ups are rarely cries, to check on her and nurse her back to sleep. It seems once she sees me in the shadows of her little room, she is unable to fall back to sleep without the sedating effects of nursing. But left to her own devices, un-checked-on, she is often awake for only moments and quite capable of self-soothing.

Before I go to bed, I cannot help but to inspect her room for temperature and see that her little naked legs are not exposed to the dry air. And this inability to resist peeking in almost always wakes her, in spite of my painstaking efforts of tiptoeing and holding my breath (curse the click of the doorknob and the creak of the closet door!). So, for many nights now, I have nursed her back to sleep right before I go to bed, 10:30pm or so. At that point she's been sleeping for a good 4 hours already.
Lately I've had the feeling that she is more than capable of lasting the remaining 7 or 8 hours of nighttime without food as well as putting herself back to sleep in the interim.

Last night was the first night to put My Simple Plan into action. When she woke, I planned to give her ten minutes to fall back to sleep on her own. If she struggled or was awake for a longer stint, I'd assume she needed me and would go right in.

So when she yawned and cooed and smacked her lips at 3:30am, I was ready and listened with extreme ear-to-the-monitor focus. As suspected, she was back to sleep, soundly, in five minutes.
I, on the other hand, am a different story.

I think I've gotten accustomed to the completeness of nursing her when she wakes: going to her within moments of hearing her light agitation, feeding her, lying her back in her crib into the welcoming arms of her squadron of stuffed animals and climbing back into my own bed carrying the comfort of knowing my child is soothed and sleeping with a full belly. A basic series of A, B, C and D actions with no waiting to see.

Without those predictable steps, my sleepy little brain fills up with Did she stir because she is hungry? Even though she is sleeping, is her little belly growling with hunger from deep within her subconscious? (And the most sleep-repellent of possibilities) When will she wake up again to announce that she does, in fact, need me?

This brand of wait-to-see insomnia was also the case for the first few nights she slept in her crib. It was equal parts wanting to rest and also having no desire to sleep for fear of missing an earnest call for help. Similarly then, she slept better in her crib then she had before.

So here I am with ears on wide-open alert for a potentially hungry baby, breasts suddenly like uncut baguettes, waiting, ready.
It's been two hours now since that initial wake-up call and since then she hasn't made a twitter. I exhausted my arsenal of get-back-to-sleep techniques (concentrate on deeper breathing, feel my body one bit at a time from toes to head, focus on each of my individual senses) to no avail and wound up out here to witness the sunrise from my couch with a good book and a cat curled up like a cinnamon roll at my feet.
Jesse went back to bed long ago.

Later in the morning, now. 10:15 am:
I am delighted to report that Opal did not wake again until 6:30am, eight solid hours after her previous feeding!
When she finally announced herself, it was with barely a sneeze and the yummy groan of a morning stretch. As her eyes adjusted to the etched out shadow of mommy hovering over her, she smiled gently and without any sense of urgency, looking well-rested. She rolled over to give her furry bunny, her counterpart for the evening, a squeeze before reaching for me. I had not gone back to sleep by that point and when I picked her up, I held her close, supporting her neck the way I did when she was the tiniest being and I sniffed the tuft of hair behind her ear, feeling the whole of my body relax with the weighty, anchored feeling of having returned to something so longed for.

It's clear that these kind of transitions are so often more difficult for me than for her.

I also thought of something Jesse has been attempting to pin down for months now, place a finger on the pulse of one of the many fleeting, trembling truths of parenting.
It goes something like this:
Day by day we are falling more in love with our child, more attached to her, while day by day, if only incrementally, she is asking to be more and more independent and free from us.