Wednesday, July 28, 2010

They Just Want to Know Her

Opal's grandparents have much to say about the way she affects the people in her midst.

Ama and Papa (my mom and dad) flew out for a visit last weekend to celebrate Papa's birthday by visiting the kith and kin and spending a little time in the mountains.

We convened at Panera bread for lunch on the first day of their trip. Ama (author's note: how interesting is it that I am now beginning to refer to my parents by their grandparent-names.) fed baby Opal cereal and mashed green beans, gleeful to be doing so, and they immediately commenced to that precious little inside-connection that babies share with loving grandparents. Opal delightedly practiced her most recent moves on her new audience. She threw her head back and crunched her little face into an ornery grin, exposing two (front-bottom) little emerging Stonehenge-teeth, giggling. She banged the edge of the table like a Djembe. She waved at every single person who passed using a variety of wave-styles from the royal-rotating-wrist to finger-flicking. She babbled endlessly as if the table-top were a podium and the lunch-eating patrons her congregation.

At one point a woman walked up to our table—gently middle-aged, with a full head of feathered-waves and a peace sign on her shirt—and drew a tentative breath before stating the following:
I know this is weird but I've been watching your baby from behind and I just had to look at her face. I had to come over and talk to her. Do you mind? Is that weird?
We smiled and welcomed her to say hello and she kneeled down in front of Opal as if she were honoring royalty. She then launched into a one-sided conversation in a baby-voice, as if the rest of us weren't even there. Opal watched, intrigued and grinning, before reaching to pull off the woman's glasses and tossing them onto the floor. The rest of us sat there in our amusement.
The woman completed the spontaneous bonding session by pulling out her camera and asking if she could take a photo. She said she had a child of her own who was in elementary school, a child we all noticed to be sitting just a few feet away, observing the actions of her mother as she picked through a bag of potato chips.
I couldn't help but to wonder if this woman, her mother, did this kind of thing often. And if so, is there a collection of random-baby photos in a desk drawer somewhere, tossed with dated holiday cards and hotel matchbooks?
With our approval, she took a quick photo, sans flash, and was on her way, leaving us a bit speechless in the wake of her flurry.

Papa said I've never seen people respond to a baby like they do to Opal. People don't just want to just smile and wave, they want to know her.

Later in the weekend, a similar situation happened in Estes Park after Jesse, Opal and I and all four grandparents had gone out to dinner. An older man scurried up to us and asked if he could take a picture of Opal as she sat cross-legged and facing out, slung against my belly, appearing as dressed marsupial peeking out from her pouch. Her hat was slightly askew. Judging from the man's red-faced elation, he was pleased with the photo he snapped as he practically skipped away like a schoolboy.

Grammy Zeb said, We charge for those, you know, as the man's fuzzy grey hair vanished into the crowd. The stop light that held us temporarily hostage at the curb finally changed, stopping the cars and setting us free to cross, chirping perkily for those among us who were blind.

The adults spent the walk back to their respective cars waxing about the affect this child has on people.

Earlier, while standing in the parking lot of our Estes Park lodging, Grammy Zeb studied Opal for a moment while collecting her thoughts. Opal's got that IT thing, she said. That, even at nine-months, she takes the time to investigate people, pay attention to them, connect with them in a way that most babies don't.
Ama shook her head in a gesture of positive agreement.

My dad referred to her as an old soul numerous times during the weekend.
During a long-table dinner, surrounded by a dozen Colorado family members who gathered over a feast of Chinese food, he said I think she's been here before. I'm pretty sure she's someone we know, and gave me a wink over his plate of sesame chicken.

Meanwhile, Opal clapped wide-fingered at Auntie Alex while wearing a sloppy goatee of pureed pees. As per usual, she was immune to anything cerebral and oblivious to anything but the Absolute Present.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Baby Opal Eight and Nine Month Letter

Sweetest Doodle Noodle!

I had the idea to combine your monthly letter into two months this time around (not sure why, probably because we were away so much in June) and now that I sit down to write, I feel like I’ve got a veritable novella ahead of me!
Two adult months converts to at least a year in baby-time.

And these happened to be especially charged months because they contain a baby who is learning to crawl!

You are just a few days from nine months old, at this point.

And a simple descriptive snapshot of this morning depicts just how far you’ve come. You played on your own on the floor, fully entertained while I made us breakfast, putting blocks into and taking them out of a large plastic bowl. Occasionally, you’d shake your hands in the air to exhibit pride, or an idea, or a thought, or just calling for a witness, but you were totally content on your own.

You can work the floor beautifully now: reaching, getting up on all-fours and then scooting and sitting back, twisting while sitting, scootching and even frog-hopping a little, but the pieces have not yet combined to make for a forward-crawling baby. At the beginning of June, you were not even able to roll from back to front and now look at you! Your floor-skills have exploded in a six-week span of time! I have no doubt that by next month’s letter, I will be describing a baby who is speeding around the living room like an adolescent puppy! But for now, I savor the ability to be able to sit on the floor and play while staying relatively put. Though I’m sure the next phase will have it’s own certain charm as they all do.

There’s been a recent development with napping and bedtime. You now have longer gaps between naps, somewhere around three hours when it used to be two. You also go to bed closer to 7pm, when it used to be 6pm, much to daddy’s pleasure! He is so happy to be able to spend more time with you after work. We even have time to take the dog for a walk (if the temperature isn’t too ghastly hot) and go for an evening swing at the park. It feels like these extra awake-hours allow for many more possibilities.

The way you play and relate to other babies has matured so much even in the last few months. Back in May at a play-date, I remember you and your baby-friends all playing individually in the same space, occasionally reaching for the same toy or rolling onto one another. Yesterday at the park, you and Zane continuously reached for each other, wanted what the other one had, talked, and totally interacted with one another. You had us in stitches with your dramatic dynamic, it was very sibling-esque. And in the pool a few days ago, I could tell you were loving having other babies, and some bigger kids, splashing around you. Social time is so much fun for you. You love to be where the action is.

You threw your first tantrum last week. Full-blown and impressive. Yet, you still managed to maintain incredible adorability, with your too-big diapers and the pants overtop pulled almost to your armpits. You were way too scrumptious to take seriously. But this is a good example of how very expressive you are about your likes and dislikes. And often, as expected, your “likes” consist of things that are not on the allowed-toy list. Some examples of favorites: the phone, car keys, tube of sunblock, papers.

You have a tooth! Late in June when we were in Vermont for a wedding, a little toofer peeked its way through on the bottom right (your right). You are a teething fool, drooling and often snotty, sometimes having diarrhea, gnawing on everything and anything like a little beaver. We use the homeopathic teething tablets and they seem to help.

You were a first class traveler in the month of June! We flew to Hilton Head early in the month to meet the wonderful Campbell clan: Ama, Papa, Uncle Chris and Cousin Stella.

The flight was lengthy and a bit arduous, but fully worth it for the fun that was had in-between. It was just so difficult for you to sit still on our laps for that many hours, understandably! You also weren’t too interested in napping or eating while on the plane, so our arsenal of distractions and comfort-tricks were slim. I found that lay-overs helped, we could at least squeeze a feeding and a nap-in-the-sling in then. But you were incredibly interactional with the people on the plane and in the airport.

At the beach, you got to play in the ocean for the very first time and boy, did we have fun! You pawed at the sand and giggled as the waves lapped at your chubby little knees and thighs. You squealed as daddy and I lifted you over the waves while they crashed beneath you. You loved making drip-castles with your cousin Stella and spending time in the shade playing with your Ama. You also had a blast floating around in the swimming pool in your fancy little baby boat. Back at the condo, you loved dancing and clapping to the music Uncle Chris and Papa played for you. You enjoyed being with family so so much.

Later in the month we flew to Vermont for the wedding of wonderful Mitchell’s daughter, Chandali. Five hours in the plane straight to 3 hours in the car made for a long travel day! But it also made us realize that we could all handle stress pretty darn well. Wouldn’t want to do it often, but these kind of discomforts are a good reminder of your adaptability and resiliency.(And they make us all appreciate the comforts of our normal routine!) But, as with Hilton Head, the epic journey was well worth it for what awaited us on the other end. We got to see family and dear friends we rarely get to see. You got to meet Sadie and Dechen, who are close to your age, and loved watching Lungta, Satori and Drahla run around. I also think you enjoyed getting all dressed up and having somewhere to go. You absolutely gobbled up with attention.

Other bits and pieces:

~You love to dance with mom around the room to anything with rhythm and a good groove.

~You love the tags on toys often more than the toys themselves.

~Tons of drool so you often wear a bib around the house to keep from drenching your shirt.

~When music comes on, you dance in your seat, bang the drum, clap and often look for something to shake. Me thinks I see a percussionist in our midst.

~You are great in the water. Love to kick and tolerate floating on your back. You absolutely loved hanging out with Eva and Zane in the baby pool at the rec. center. You splashed and squealed and played with water toys. Oh boy!

~Bath time is currently a new beast. You climb over and out of your baby tub with little effort and reach for the shampoo bottles that sit on the edge of the big tub. You hate lying back to wash your hair, only want to sit up. You love bath toys and splashing, and bath time is now also playtime, which is wonderful, we just need some new equipment.

~This brings us to the concept of baby-safety. We are right in the cross-roads at this point, learning as we go along. Some plug-covers and table-edge-bumpers. We removed the coffee table entirely from the living room. But we still have LOTS more to do.

~You are very adept with the Da sound. You can engage in an entire conversation using this one sound in a variety of volumes and cadences with hand-gestures. It really is a sight to behold. You also do the sound “bif”, usually when you are tired, and you do the “p” sound very well.

You seem to understand SO MUCH of what we are saying, especially the phrases we repeat: say bye bye! (you say, dada! And wave), say hi doggie! (you say hi dada! And wave at the dog.) say all done! (you say, dada! And do the sign language for ‘all done’ the best you can.) where’s daddy? (you say dada! Dada! Dada!)

I have no doubt that you understand a vast amount more than we realize.

~All the bumpers are now on the crib. I found you one night a few weeks ago, having rotated your body 180 degrees, scooted all the way to the other end, having drug your big gorilla with you the entire length of the crib. I also find you sleeping on your belly often, which is such a big-girl thing to do. Xo.

~You lean back into daddy and I when we read you your books now. You seem to really relax and enjoy them.

~You are eating well, three meals a day. You seem to be getting bored with the simple foods I’m feeding you and I look forward to getting more creative with recipes and things. You still prefer the sweet stuff, fruits and such. You like oats and sweet potatoes with a dash of cinnamon, green beans and peas, but fruit is your favorite, hands down.

~You love giving high fives and playing peek-a-boo and mommy/daddy’s-gonna-get you!

~Now, when we Skype Ama and Papa and Chris and Stella, you recognize them immediately and seem to play up the “Opal show” in order to persuade them to come out of the screen and play.

~For only the second time ever, you laughed WITH me as opposed to as a result of me trying to get you to laugh. While sitting in your high chair one morning, you made a funny noise and gesture that cracked me up, so I began to laugh and you began to laugh right along with me! So there we were, Mama and Opal just cracking up, hysterical.

And last on the list,

~You now like to be “tucked in” at night with a little massage and a song after we read her books.

What a crazy-amazing little person you are!

You boggle my mind with your ability and willingness to spread basic goodness and make people smile, no matter where you are. You are a determined little genius with your intensive body-on-the-floor studies. I see you growing stronger, more confident and more agile as a direct result continuously trying new things, even when you fall flat on your cute little face. Ask any adult to attempt a fraction of what you do every day and many would scoff at the idea of stepping out of their comfort zones like that.

Way to go, little mama. You continue to light up every single nook and corner.

Your daddy and I are mad about you.

Xoxo, Mommy.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

All Smiles

We used to use the word inscrutable to describe Opal.

For many months, until just recently, she has taken her sweet time getting used to the people in her surroundings. She would examine her environment with an expression of unwavering concentration. It was never a frown, simply the look of someone gathering the available information to make a proper and thorough assessment of how to best proceed.

The earnestness of this initial bout of baby-seriousness was heart-breaking, though she always eventually relaxed. Eventually.

We often talked about how she never seemed to easily give away what most adults so eagerly vie for from a baby: a smile, a giggle, a snuggle, a reach. And, during that time, we appreciated her tendency towards acting as more of a mirror to those who were nearby rather than showing off or people-pleasing. (And, if I recall correctly, Jesse and I also went through our own process in lightening up from caring so much about how people interpreted Opal, doing our best not to succumb to generic phrases like "she's tired" or "she's hungry" or "she's going through a phase where she wants her mommy.")

Today, inscrutability is no longer the case.
It didn't happen overnight, but Opal has successfully transitioned away from her phase of baby-austerity for reasons that were self-inspired and unbeknownst to me.

We journeyed to Vermont for a wedding a few weekends ago. We spent upwards of five hours in a full airplane, window-seat, not enough room to bend forward for something without knocking up against the tray table. We blitzed through the arsenal of toys we packed long before the plane reached cruising altitude and resorted to entertaining our daughter using the germ-laden safety card and Sky Mall magazine pages (may they rest in peace). My metal water bottle, the shade of custom gold jewelry, was a life-saver. We were able to squeeze out a couple of fifteen minute naps, induced by even shorter nursing sessions. Our girl was exhausted and desperately requesting to be put down on the ground so she could practice her new floor skills and stretch out the baby-muscles.

And yet, in spite of each and every uncomfortable nuance and detail of it, Opal was constantly offering up a smile to anyone who was willing to look up. And not the tentative, what-a-cute-baby-is-it-a-girl? kind of smiles, but full-on, no holding back grins. As she sat on my lap, or faced outward in the sling when we were still in the terminal, I could judge her expressions without being able to see them, solely based on the reactions they induced from others, which were sudden and immediate, like a flashlight in the eye.

The woman who sat in front of us on the place couldn't help but to turn around a number of times. Well hello again!she said as if Opal were a neighbor she continued to greet over the fence.
The teenage boy across the isle with a tuft of lopsided red hair waved and giggled in spite of himself.
The flight attendant cooed and asked how old she was and where we were headed.

As we waited for our flight to leave to come home, I walked Opal around the terminal in her sling, facing out, again unable to see her face. (I often wish for an invention, something of a tiny review mirror to wear on the wrist, to help me see her face when she's facing forward in the sling so I know if she's smiling, has spit up or has circles of dried snot under her nose.) And every time we walked through a bit of a crowd or high traffic area, people not only stepped aside to make room for us, they engaged with her. Waving, beaming, looking up from conversations and cell phones, whispering to their friends and pointing.

I would have probably remained relatively anonymous had I been traveling solo. Now, it's no secret that I am the first person to strike up a conversation with my seat-mate on the plane or bus, but I've never been inspired to work a crowd. Opal was absolutely working the crowd, and bringing me along for the ride, making it pretty challenging to get too wrapped up in myself or take the whole thing too seriously. Each moment my mind sunk into over-thinking about the hours we had ahead of us, or how to get Opal her much needed sleep, or how hungry she must be, poor thing, I'd look up to find that she was holding another completely non-verbal conversation with a stranger. Oh, hello there. Yes, she is a happy baby. Oh, you have grandkids of your own? How old? Of course I'd love to see a photo.

It was as if I was constantly being handed the phone without knowing who was on the other end: Here. My Mom wants to talk to you.

I'm not sure how to articulate this without cueing up the cheesy after-school-special music, but here we are again with this precious almost-nine month old kiddo getting me into a place of self-reflection. By watching her throughout these travels, it occurred to me just how much I pick and choose who to open myself up to, especially while traveling, depending on a laundry list of variables. (And I would even venture to say that I'm someone my friends would describe as relatively friendly.)

Opal held nothing back, even when she was undoubtedly hungry and it was the middle of the night and we were still wandering around some strange airport terminal when she should have been at home asleep and sandwiched between her bunny and doggie. She even smiled at the militant airport security guards and a maybe-homeless man with skin of leather and his life in a duffle on his back. One security guard said he'd never seen a baby who was nearly as cute as his granddaughter and pulled a creased wallet-photo from his pocket of a gorgeous baby, close to Opal's age, with onyx eyes and black curls gathered in a bow. The dusty nomad's face changed completely when he looked down at Opal. His eyes went from half-mast to wide open and his crooked-tooth smile was doubtless and absolute and shaved decades from his face.

These men transformed before my very eyes. Had I been without Opal, they may very well have been invisible to me. I may have spent a much larger section of the day forgetting how colossal the world is when when you keep looking up.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lawn Games

Fourth of July weekend brings to mind some very specific childhood recollections: the creamy sweetness and impressive saffron hue of store-bought potato salad, the pungent scent of Deep-Woods Off bug spray, the sea of inharmonious classic rock songs from various boom-boxes in the good-view field where we stretched out our blankets to watch the fireworks. And, not to be forgotten, the lawn games.

The lawn games from my childhood were not for the weary or faint of heart. We played with water balloons that left marks and squirt guns that stung the skin. We dove belly-first onto our Slip-N-Slide, a stretch of yellow plastic that was suited up with various hoses to create a horizontal water slide effect, with no fear of the inevitable rocks that would snag us from underneath. I remember playing horseshoe at an elementary-school age.

But the piece de resistance of all lawn games was lawn jarts.

Lawn jarts were essentially oversized darts with the purpose of being propelled vertically into the air while aiming to hit a bull’s-eye on the ground. And, like most of these sort of adult games, canned libations in beer-coozies were often part of the mix. I remember running around in very close proximity to these games as a kid, skipping and dancing with friends or being chased in a game of freeze-tag, totally oblivious to what was flying through the air around me. There is no doubt the adults were keeping an eye on things because no calamities occurred during the many summers where lawn jarts were a ubiquitous part of picnicking. But accidents do happen, and unavoidably lawn jarts were taken off the shelves (in the United States and Canada, at least) years ago.

My parents, who are now grandparents, have long since replaced the horseshoes and lawn jarts with a kinder, gentler game called Cornhole, for the next generation. Cornhole involves tossing beanbags through holes. No sharp points or blunt edges.

I am intrigued with how what is regarded as appropriate for one generation often changes so drastically by the time the next generation rolls around. My parents were just telling me how they never wore sunscreen as children, played for hours in the mid-day swelter without giving it a second thought. I wore Coppertone and Banana Boat when I was a kid, which were the popular brands that were available. Since then, there have been many studies stating that the parabens in these kinds of products are absorbed into the bloodstream and mess with estrogen levels. Opal wears all natural, paraben-free sunscreen that is safe enough to serve on toast.

My mother-in-law often talks, amazed, about how her son (my husband) never used a car seat when he was young. She put him in a little plastic bucket seat on the passenger side when he was a tiny baby and he remembers standing up in the back when he was old enough to do so. What a colossal leap to the present; not only does Opal’s car seat have a base and an intricate sent of installation and strapping instructions, it also comes with a built-in level. Not to mention the fact that in some states it’s law for children to sit in a booster seat until they weigh 80 pounds.

So there you have it. Fourth of July will continue to happen when Opal’s having kids and her kids are having kids. The decisions I’m making as a parent this Fourth of July with my 8-month old daughter may very well be deemed as unsavory a decade or two into the future, not because I’ve done anything wrong but because, to grossly oversimplify, things will change, and what is applicable and befitting will change. The level of understanding and wisdom will change. I can count on that. And at the moment, I’m feeling relatively at ease with the Not Knowing as long as I’m armed with some basic sensibilities and a good dose of humor to accompany the deviled eggs and cole slaw.