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.

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