Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Red Maple and the One Year Old.

It's one thing to be a mother.
It's something entirely different to be a mother of a one year old.

I'm not exactly sure how to articulate what I mean when I say that. When Opal was born and throughout those first months of her life, I can recall thinking mothers with one-year-olds (and older) had passed some sort of rich, complex initiation that I was just beginning. What will the weather be like on the other side of that milestone?

Well, here we are and the weather happens to be lovely.

The maple in the front yard is flashing the same construction-paper, deliciously faux-appearing leaves (the kind where the pencil-drawing marks are still showing) as it did this time last year. Many of which are curling on the ground in heaps as earthy shag carpeting due to a wild windstorm yesterday. The leaves, when the sun turns them like a thousand paper lanterns, are a daring shade of coral that out-yell every other tree on the block. On a cloudy day, or at twilight, they appear more wine-stained.
This maple has adorned itself to celebrate Jesse and I's wedding anniversary (October 28th) for the last three years since we've lived here and it will now don it's technicolor finest for sweet Opal's birthdays (October 22nd) for as long as we stay.

I distinctly remember last year's autumn, specifically those few days before she was born. I'd stopped working by then so I was surrounded by long breezy fall days. I was terrified of expending my energy in cheap ways, mis-using the allotment I had saved up for the labor and delivery. I remember thinking (and journaling) about how I really wanted to go for an outing, a stroll or a trip to Whole Foods, perhaps. But I knew I could go into labor at any moment and when that time came, I'd be wishing I'd saved my resources for more virtuous pursuits. So, the main things I gave myself permission to spend hours upon hours doing were writing and reading. Scribbling into my precious Stuff On My Cat journal or typing out essay after essay that never saw the light of day. Reading the current and optimally distracting issue of the New Yorker, and—what turned out to be an uncanny manual for pregnancy—John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.

I nestled into our crimson couch, my enormous belly buttressed by pillows like an egg in the carton, feet propped mercifully, with my laptop on a pillow on my thighs, with only my pre-mom thoughts, my dog and the vermilion tree out front. It stood like a watchtower and was totally comforting in its permanence. The amount of time I spent in in that very position was measurable in allotments longer than hours, it was chunks of day. Between-meals. Spans. And, inside the forced repose was a combination of necessary-anxiety and outright bliss. I don't remember the last time I've had anything that comes close to a between-meal-span to spread my thoughts out onto paper like soft butter onto bread. I'm so thankful I had that time.

But the payoff for a lack of those timely recesses, for the lists and sub-lists of items to squeeze into a tiny opening that is called nap-time, for trading in the prerogative of thinking of myself and my needs first, is enormous.
The version of myself that is a mother to a one year old—along with being the wife of an amazing father to a one year old— is someone whom I admire. My priorities are lined up like a harvest of fruitful crops.
My daughter is, in short, astounding.

This child uses her time like a master investor. Not a second is wasted, not a moment is missed.
I marvel at the things that can be accomplished by a little being who
1. Has a mind that is utterly free of doubt, concern for past and future, fear.
2. Has no responsibilities
3. Hears only affirmations, acknowledgements and validations.
4. Achieves everything on her list through play.


The main benchmarks worthy of noting are her developments in language, physical skills and interactions. She is scrambling to catch-up to the other conversational walkers in her world.

I recently read in the Dr. Sears Handbook that by the age of one, babies understand almost everything but can express very little. This is certainly the case for Opal. She has quite a collection of words she can say, and even more that she can copy, but the vast majority of
topics continue to be out of her reach. The result of this predicament is pretty straight-forward. When there is a word she can say, nana for example (banana) that not only gets the message across but also gets her the outcome she desired, she does a sort of wiggle-kick jolly dance, reveling in the satisfaction of communication. However, often there is a word she can say, no for example, that we understand but when don't comply with the result she hoped for, (Honey, you still have to get in the car seat—) she responds with a flailing, arched-back tantrum. Ahh. The dissatisfaction of unsuccessful communication. The same dissatisfaction comes from when she desperately wants to impart something but doesn't quite have the words to say it, which also results in a major upset.

She diligently practices the words she does know. I can hear her in the carseat reciting the following to herself as she flips through the pages of her book: dada, wadoo (water), bee (bunny), hi (with a long I-sound), nana (banana), meal (milk), slight giggle, boo (book), roar (sound a lion makes), squeal, bye-bye. This is essentially the word bank available for direct recall in her little brain.

There are also many words that are prompted by visual cues around the house and the larger world. Eash, eash, eash (leash, always repeated a number of times) is prompted by me getting out the coats in the morning to take the dog for a walk. Nanananananananana to infinity occurs when she spots a banana on the counter until we give it to her. (We try to remember to hide the bananas but often one slips through the cracks.) Poo (poofs )when the poofs come out. Momo (more) at a meal when she wants more and ada (all done) at a meal when she is finished. She calls her doll baby and is quick to point out buttons (butta) and noses (noo, with a long O-sound). She recites the sounds a lion, sheep, horsey and kitty make when asked, roar, baa, neigh and meowmeow, respectively. She also calls out meowmeow when chasing after the cat. She names many of her toys: ba (ball), ba (balloon), bee (bunny), baby (baby doll). She often tells the dog dowe (down) while pointing at the ground. She says whoa when something shocking happens, which is one that endlessly cracks us up.

She totally recognizes Ama and Papa on Skype and says their names clear as could be. Hi Ama! Hi Papa! This, the toothy grin and the waving visibly melts their hearts.

She greets passers-by without discrimination and hollers bye-bye when anyone leaves the room, even just for a moment.

In spite of her impressive repertoire of vocab words, she spends a decent amount of time whimpering and pointing when she wants something she doesn't yet know how to ask for.

She understands many instructions, like "say hi to the butterflies" (she has a string of butterflies on her wall). She will turn to look up at them and say "hi B" and smile at her own comprehension.

Her ability to copy words is astounding. A few days ago during a walk, I asked if she could hear the birdies chirping and she said birdies chirping clear as day. O-meo (oatmeal) and appo (apples) for oatmeal and apples. If a word is too challenging to copy directly, she whispers an abbreviated version to herself, pa for pizza for example, as if storing it in her little mind to work on later.

Her physical abilities are improving continuously. As of a month ago, we were celebrating the fact that she was able to stand on her own for a few seconds at a time, using something to climb up as a prop to get her there. Since then, she's figured out how to stand up from a seated position without the need of any bolster—what a sight that is to behold!! She understands how to first sit back into a wide-legged squat with hands on the floor, then to a squat with no hands, then to standing. What a feat! She's been able to do that for a few weeks and still squeals with delight each time she executes it without a plop (whoa.)

She loves to walk with her push-cart walker. Her little feet get going underneath her like blurry animation, scrambling onward, leaning forward, breathing audibly, until she hits an obstacle. There, she either hollers with frustration or sighs with the relief of an out-of-control skier having hit a stalling fluff-pile of snow.

Last week, she took a few real steps! The moment took me completely by surprise. She was standing a few feet away from me, as per usual, giggling and sideways-grinning. I scooted back a bit and held out my arms, also as usual, but this time she took three solid steps to get to me! I think she was just as shocked as I was! A moment of that caliber has happened only a few times since that then, but she is clearly becoming more and more steady on her feet. Standing is a piece of cake and cruising from thing to thing can be done without conscious thinking.

On another note, between 10 and 11 months, Opal weened herself entirely (see the previous blog, Farewell to Breastfeeding). When I returned to work part time in August, my body produced less and less milk, so we supplemented with formula. It was a not-so-slow progression to transition entirely to formula, as my supply dwindled. Now, she happily takes her formula from her sippy cup four times a day as she snuggles with either daddy or I in her rocker.

She loves to eat real food and has an obvious aversion to most baby foods. Her Ama (my mom) always comments on how impressed she is with the foods Opal dines on (and likes!). Her current favorites consist of steel-cut oats with plain yogurt and pureed raisins and bananas for breakfast. Soft-roasted sweet potatoes and beets, grilled chicken bits, spinach balls and avocado for lunch and dinner. Smashed squash with a little nutmeg. Muffins are a hit, as are eggs and most kinds of fruit. We took her out for pizza on her actual birthday and she adored it. She hasn't tried macaroni and cheese yet, but I anticipate that when she does, she'll be a goner.

Still only the two bottom teeth, but she is presently working on a third, on the bottom. Drooling, rubbing the area with her tongue, diaper rash and runny nose. It's amazing how much teething throws everything for a loop.

Opal is becoming very affectionate with her closest loved ones. She puckers up and gives us kisses (complete with little kiss-smacking noises!) and often wraps her arms around our necks when she is sleepy. It is a very common occurrence for her to give the dog a big bear hug and kiss. She kisses Bee and her Baby Doll several times a day.

She is incredibly friendly and social in most situations, especially once she's had the proper time to acclimate. She'll holler "HI" to any passer-by, a stranger in a restaurant, a passing bike, a fellow shopper. But often when men who are not super-familiar enter the scene, Jesse's brother Dave or his best friend Eddie, for example, she gets visibly shy. With Eddie, she showed clear signs of intense emotion, really wanting his attention and approval, and yet shying away from him and protesting more than usual in his presence. She acted like a teeny-weeny little teenager.

Play-time includes some of the most precious interactions that could be imagined. She is so curious and so focused and full of discovery that sitting next to her, if just for a little while, is like visiting the bottom of the sea. Enamoring. She unpacks her toys from their respective baskets in a presumably-strategic manner. Sometimes she wants to make noise. Sometimes she wants to silently put things in and take them out of a container. Sometimes she wants you to give her instructions, other times she wants to deconstruct the room entirely on her own. She loves sitting in the middle of a heap of books, like a bird in a nest. She adores her finger puppet collection and makes a near-daily tradition of taking them out and returning them to a receptacle of some sort. She loves opening and closing drawers and doors. Playing peek-a-boo is always a hit. Her wooden animal puzzle is almost always pulled out (we are currently missing the cow and the pig and have contacted the proper authorities). And her new Schroeder-sized piano is an absolute knock-down, drag-out hit. It sucks her to it like a vacuum.
Bath-time is also extraordinarily brimming over with cuteness. There is nothing in the world like a naked baby, splashing and squealing with delight. (Hurray for the squirting froggies!)

Making her laugh is my (and I can speak for my husband, his too) life's work.
Whether it be gleefully surprising her in a game of peek-a-boo, making faces, funny noises, dancing around the dinner table or kissing her armpit, hearing the sound of her laughter, shockingly spirited and powerful for her petite stature, mutes out every other detail that could possible exist in that moment. Reset. Clear. Recharge. Carry on.

What else to say?
This is my attempt to, if ever so slightly, illuminate this cascading baby-inspired world that surrounds me. Feels a little like pressing leaves between the pages of a book with the intention of looking back on them years from now. I've got my own veritable flattened tree right here. The first chapter of, god-willing, many.
I can hardly remember what I spent my time collecting before she came.

Love love love that Doodle. Happy First Birthday, Angel.

ps: Since I didn't mention it earlier, Opal's first birthday celebration lasted for an entire weekend. Opal-palooza. We took her out for pizza on Friday, which was her actual birthday, to a super-cool local pizza joint called Lucky Pie. My mom flew in from Ohio on Saturday morning to join the festivities, which we continued with a gathering at our house for friends and close family (see the photo up top of Opal digging into her birthday muffin. No cupcakes this year. But don't you worry, kiddo, that will happen soon enough.)—complete with balloons and party hats and pink princess plates. Sunday we ventured to Denver to celebrate with GG and the family, where Opal was in rare form, performing a one-baby show with minimal props and a captivated, squealing audience. It was a wildly jolly time for one and all.

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