Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bye-Bye Dada and Other Language Revelations

From her highchair, Opal is at the perfect angle to see the comings and goings through the front door. On an average day, Jesse gets home from work while she is eating dinner, his entry announced by the closing of his car-door which triggers giddy wiggles from the dog. Opal notices and launches into a mantra of dadadadadada! refusing to eat and staring down the door until he enters. The reunion between the two of them after a long day apart never ceases to move me. Even when she slyly turns away from his greeting-kiss, her delight is obvious in the anticipation of his entry and the immediate calling for him when he slips down the hall to quickly change out of his work clothes.
Give her another few months and a slightly broader vocabulary, and she'll be scrambling to tell daddy every iota of every detail of the day. Another many months from then—when her bedtime is a little later than 7pm— and she'll be telling both of us about the trials, tribulations, excitements of a schoolday over a family meal. But there I go getting ahead of myself again.

About a week ago, Jesse was home for the evening and when dashed down the hall to change, Opal hollered Bye-bye Dada! She then turned to me as if to measure the level of her success from my response, as if she'd been practicing this one in private for a while now and saving it up for a grand moment.

And indeed it was.

Jesse!! Did you hear that?? It was her first official sentence, not simply repeated verbatim, but understood, inserted into a perfectly normal, perfectly lovely evening routine. Just like that. So much of her language up until this point had been prompted, copied or strings of ramblings. And here, she took two words she'd been saying for a while individually, understanding them as pieces of the puzzle, held them up to the light and —snap!— put them together all on her own.

It's dazzling to watch this process.

Since then, she's been running wild with the bye-byes, celebrating her toddler-verbage as often as possible. It's been Bye Bye Dada (Dada also means Doggie, decipherable only by context and even then occasionally questionable), Bye Bye Mew Mew (Kitty), Bye Bye Mama (me) and Bye Bye B and Baby (stuffed companions). She says Bye Bye D (A small bottle of vitamin D that she loves to play with. Hilarious.) as if bidding farewell to a friend over the phone. M
My own personal favorite took place a few days into her bye-bye discovery; we were changing her diaper, of which she preciously refers to as dippy, and she said Bye Bye Dippy.

I registered in that very moment a pronounced and intense need to document every adorable word/phrase/revelation that passes her lips for, roughly, the next two decades.

That's right, honey! Bye Bye Dippy!

Bye-Byes also help her to cope and understand when something is coming to an end. Instead of just taking her away from an activity or a thing, it works much better to say "Tell the Lotion Bye-Bye!" Or when she wants to bring a stuffed animal into the bath, for example, to suggest she say Bye-Bye Monkey!
There's a palpable degree of empowerment that happens in language, indeed, on both sides of the conversation.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Locked Out.

I locked my baby inside my house last night.
And, as if it were a meal of dense red meat, I am still digesting that fact.

But I should probably start from the beginning.

Opal and I had just returned from an afternoon outing to Grammy and Grandpa's in Boulder. Six o'clock in the evening after daylight-savings makes it feel like it's passed your bedtime even before dinner's been served. I balanced Opal on one hip, car-to-house, along with two mammoth bags in an attempt to get it all in one trip.

I unloaded Opal and the bags onto the floor and greeted the animals, feeling that certain warmth that comes only in the winter months upon fleeing the cold for a toasty dwelling. A warmth that is compounded exponentially when it's been discovered that the dog hasn't torn open, consumed or scattered any food-like undesirables to clean up. I removed my coat and as I reached down to take off Opal's, I saw that she had my keys.

"Keys!" She said, pleased in the special category of knowing and naming an object successfully. And the cumulative moments that followed came from a single solitary thought-response to those very keys.

The thought was this: It's time for Opal's bath and I'll need to take those keys from her to get her into the bathtub. Things will go much smoother if I have something to replace them with, preferably something that can go with her into the bath. Her little (safe) plastic ring of keys are in the car. Perfect.

I said "be right back, honey!" left the door open a small crack, and dashed to the car and back in an estimated 10 or 15 seconds, no coat, crunching leaves, and face red with chill even from that short stint. As I opened the storm door with baby-keys in hand, a slight suction pulled the front door completely closed. The sound of shut was so secure and complete that it nearly made me gag. I knew without having to check that the door was locked from the inside.

I ran around to the back door in the off-chance that I'd forgotten to lock it before our afternoon outing, but no luck. My sweet house suddenly felt oppositional, resistant. Like a teenager who'd locked herself in her room, sulking and punishing. There was no give whatsoever, no crack in the mortar. Glass windows down for winter, heavy as a vault. And everything was inside: my purse, my phones, my contact numbers.
My child.
Our neighbors that have the spare key just happened to be in Mexico. The others just moved to Texas.

My airways shrunk with adrenaline. I ran to the next-door neighbor's house and pounded on the door, unafraid of my openly maniacal tone. Had the fleeting thought that it may make them respond faster. No answer. I bolted back to the front window to look in on Opal. Luckily, she'd found a thick folder of papers by the door and was scattering and crinkling them one-by-one, having a gay ole' time in her world of uninterrupted destruction, unaware of the goings-on in her midst.

I ran to the other next-door neighbor's house. Same maniacal knocking. Again, no answer. I ran back to see Opal pulling the contents from my work bag one at a time, examining one thing in the light and then casting it aside for the next item to appraise.

After two more empty houses and two more shifts of running back to peek in, I was tempted to take a more drastic approach and stand in the middle of the road and scream thinking someone would definitely be inspired to call the police. Opal was doing fine at the moment, but the idea of running from house to house until I found someone was staggering, and the further down the road I got, the further from my daughter I was. A car drove by and I waved and hollered like a fool, but my brown hair and dark clothing worked as camouflage in the dark.

I took a deep breath and noticed I couldn't feel the cold, or at least it wasn't bothersome. Rather, it felt welcomed, like continuously stepping out of a stuffy room, or having two hands on my shoulders shaking me into alertness.

House number five.

The house across the street and to the right, just barely visible from our front porch, is a burnt orange color, two stories, with white curtains in the front window that are always drawn. There resides a little white dog that's about the same size as the wind-up chihuahua some Canadian friends got for Opal. It yaps at each and every passer-by, living out it's own little fantasy of being all-mighty protector of it's Master's lair.

In the 3.5 years we've lived in this house, we've made a point of greeting most of our neighbors, and have made great friends with some of them. But these particular neighbors have always been an enigma— I've even used that specific word while in conversation with Jesse about them over grilled chicken and greens. There have been dozens of times when the guy who lives there has been exiting his car and walking into his house at the same time as I am, and I am determined to say hello. But he has never once looked up, always on his blue-tooth or distracted by something, or maybe I'm just far enough away to not even make it into his field of view. It's a regular occurrence and I've felt a strange obsession with meeting this person so as to end this obscure ritual of not saying hello (something that is ware-some on me, but doubtlessly irrelevant to his life). I've also seen a small child, a boy, floundering in the front yard and bouncing on the trampoline in back. And a woman with a Kate Gosselin hairdo climbing into the car in the driveway.

As I tore across the street and through their front yard, there was not a doubt in my mind that he would be the one to finally answer the door.

The little dog screeched. Good dog, I thought. His ranting along with the FBI-knocking will surely call anyone to attention. The neighbor answered.

I dumped a pile of words in front of him as if they'd gathered in my mouth in a disorganized mass. I haven't met you yet but I'm your neighbor and I locked my baby daughter in my house along with everything and I need to use your phone to call the police to come help. And I'm Heather.

He was alone in the house, said his name was Dave as he reached in his bag for his cellphone. He handed it to me, but it was a Blackberry and too complicated to figure out where the numbers were, so I handed it back right back to him. He called 9-1-1 for me. (Nobody else had a spare key and my plan was to get a cop to help me break the glass in one of the windows.)

The 9-1-1 operator very politely said they don't relate to lock-out incidents until I mentioned there was a one-year-old baby inside. He said he'd send someone out right away.

I'm coming with you, Dave said, as he slipped on well-warn tennis shoes. He didn't politely ask if I needed anything else or tell me to call if there was anything more he could do. He was definitive and concerned. And the brotherly tone made me want to cry.

I ran over first, deeply pleased to find that Opal was doing fine, having a heyday as a matter of fact. So busy unpacking everything in her midst that she didn't seem to miss Mommy a bit. There was even a strange sense of peace held in that moment. I didn't need to run away from her again. Help was on the way. She looked so warm and cozy and content—entertained, even—without even being aware that I was watching from outside. And the animals were both sound asleep, thus completing the strikingly ironic Rockwellian picture.

Until Dave caught up with me. His presence jarred Olive from her slumber and she exploded into a litany of murderous barking. (Understandably—what a strange scene that must have been from her perspective.) Her reaction startled Opal, who looked up to see us and began to sob. The dog continued to bark and Opal's cries increased in level of volume and hysteria. My entire body wanted to take one of the folded chairs that was still pointlessly perched in the front yard and throw it through the floor-to-ceiling window pane.

As I was attempting to calm both dog and baby from the outside, clearly to no avail, Dave noticed the small, sliding portion of one of the front windows was unlocked. Not until then did I realize I'd been clutching the plastic toy-keys through the entire saga. I threw them down and went after the screen window frame with a destructive fervor.

You only need to pull out the screen, he said. You don't want to bend the frame. Helpful, yes. Especially now, the next day, that the adrenaline buzz has long since washed away. But in the moment, I would've gladly gnawed through a sandwich of metal, glass and mesh to get to my baby girl. By that point, I'd estimate 10 or so minutes had passed since I was locked apart from my daughter. My patience was running thin.

Dave pulled the screen from the frame like a large, unwanted scab, and slid the window pane open. A deluge of warm air and volume escaped as I dove face-first through the opening.

Opal was a bit shaken and confused, but ultimately just fine. With her warm, heavenly little body on my hip, I thanked Dave for his incredible assistance—for saving my ass, I believe is how I put it—and we returned to our cherished home, this time sealing it up with us both on the inside. Opal wanted to be carried for a good half an hour before she was ready for bed, and I was more than happy to oblige. We sat on the couch and snuggled and swayed. I carried her in the sling and she rested her precious little head on my shoulder as the blood slowly returned to my extremities.

This morning, I baked a loaf of banana bread for our exceptional neighbor and walked over with Opal to drop it off as a proper thank you for exhibiting such outstanding acts of awesomeness. The little white dog howled her predatory tune. But this time, no one answered.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bathtime Diddies and Other Ways to Successfully Complete Daily Tasks.

I am readjusting again.
There has been a hasty transition lately from a world where small missions are accomplished in a basic, head-on manner to a parallel—yet much more complex—universe where most tasks that involve my daughter and her daily living needs must be done using creative, gamey, thoughtful, intuitive techniques in order to have any hope of being achieved.

Gone are the days when changing a diaper consisted of, simply, changing a diaper and when the most difficult part about getting Opal dressed was choosing what outfit was most suitable and fetching for the day. In short, though a straightforward approach to most things is deeply habitual, it is no longer successful. I'm consistently stopped in my tracks and forced to backtrack, take a deep breath and start over with a little song and dance.

Bathtime used to be nothing but easy joy. The trio of floating frogs with their squirting bellies, the two tiny buckets to pour water to and from and the massive mama-frog that works as a reptilian-dinghy for all the aforementioned items had always been a recipe for glee and hygienic success. But, as of late, simply putting her into the bath renders a response of sheer terror, as if I'm holding her over a bubbling cauldron of lava: kicking, writhing her slippery little body in my arms, screaming, red-faced and arch-backed (pretty standard tantrum-fare rendered much more dangerous due to the slick-factor). Entering into the bath now requires coaxing, a gentle introduction to the three frogs and an impromptu production on their behalf, involving melodies, water-boogies and splashes, to invite the small child into their warm, soothing waters. Peek-a-boo is played with the washcloths. A travel-sized shampoo bottle is used as bribery.

And once we've crossed that threshold, we can definitely celebrate a major triumph, but we cannot yet rest on our laurels. There is one other element of bathtime that required nearly six solid months of baths to figure out: hair-washing.

It's not the hair-washing that's the problem, actually, it's the rinsing of the soap. Ever since Opal became physically strong enough to resist lying back to rinse soap from her hair, she has done just that, and with a fervor and determination that is unshakable. I've tried covering her eyes with a washcloth. I purchased a clever, albeit gimmicky, foam visor that boasted keeping 'the suds out of your little one's eyes,'—an item Opal practically scoffed at and tore from her head at first attempt. So, frankly not knowing what to do, and not being able to convey to Opal, honey, if you don't lean back, soap suds are going to go into your eyes and all over your face and make you cough and rub your eyes and be miserable, I just did what I had to do as quickly as I could. A stressful, but thankfully fairly brief, story within the story of bathtime.

Until just last night. After an alluring and successful bathtime opus, she got into the tub with minimal resistance and I was feeling especially capable as a parent. (A feeling that comes and goes, and often—admittedly— is decided by whether an action is deemed successful or not.) I was experimenting with water games and rhymes to inspire a smile or two while dousing her in lavender suds, when I pointed up to the shower nozzle, where a basket of colorful shampoos were hanging. She looked up. I kept pointing and she kept looking up, plenty long enough for me to wash and rinse her hair without her even seeming to notice! After many many months of struggle, all I needed to say was Look Up.

We are learning our way.

Sometimes the Elvis magnet allows for a smooth and resistance-free diaper-change. Sometimes the plastic cup filled with a black beaded necklace occupies Opal long enough for me to slide her into the high-chair without back-arched, cartoon-blur kicking. Sometimes a sticker is all I need to get her into the carseat. Poofs (glorified Cheerios) are sometimes successful bribes for many tasks.

But sometimes not.

And so goes the story of our one-year-old learning to assert herself in a world where most things are out of her control and jurisdiction. She is at the very beginning of a world where she is able to communicate her wants and needs, but often isn't yet able to decipher between the two. She is doing her job of pushing against authority and sustaining a healthy sense of skepticism in most things, and she is doing it beautifully. All that makes perfect sense to me, and sometimes I'm even able to appreciate it.

But we still need to cut your fingernails, little darling.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Estes Park and Three Precious Moments

We took a family vacation, just the three of us, to Estes Park last weekend, as a combined celebration of Opal's birthday and our four-year anniversary.

We stayed in a cabin in the woods with all the amenities perfect for the cool autumn weather. They included, but were not limited to, a fireplace and hot tub on the back deck. Jesse and I floated in the hot tub under the stars and again in the morning with our coffee while the Little One slept soundly in the other room. Elk perused the lawn in the morning as leisurely as neighbor-dogs, to which Opal pointed to with a snowsuit-arm, and exclaimed anmals! (Animals.) She was both dumbfounded by their stature and anxious with glee. We took an a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, which turned out to be much bolder than we planned for—basically consisting of a path that stair-stepped us to the top of the world and back—with Opal in tow in her new backpack. All of it was beyond lovely and nourishing (and went by hauntingly fast) but there were a handful of additional Opal-gem moments that linger strongly in my thoughts from our weekend, like a particular aroma. Moments that inspired such a bottomless, visceral joy in both Jesse and myself, that they require immediate documentation in the hopes to never be forgotten. Like carving all our initials into yet another tree.

As I said, we took Opal for her first real hike in the mountains in the snazzy new hiking backpack she got for her birthday from Grammy. To say she was enchanted would be an understatement. With her head placed directly behind the one of us who carried her and her tiny mouth inches from our ears, we heard a non-stop stream of baby-commentary, high-pitched coos, giggles and practiced words gaining and lessening in volume. Essentially a greatest-hits of happy baby noises. Not a single whine or whimper for over 2 hours. She wound up passing out cold, rag-doll flopping over the steps and bumps, unconcerned with the blazing, high-altitude sun that baked her cheeks from certain angles, sleeping so deeply she snored. There were many moments where the landscape of sound consisted of nothing more than the crunch of our steps, the paper-whistling of breeze through the leaves and our child's snoring.

The next moment involved wadoo (water) in a spectacular indoor pool on the premises of the cabins we rented. It was heated like an mammoth bathtub with jets to create froth and a constant current. The three of us splashed, kicked and pollywogged to and fro. At one point Opal nestled her little wet head on my shoulder and stayed there for minutes and minutes and minutes, creating a small suction between skin and skin. Hardly an astounding visual for the average passer-by, perhaps, but Jesse and I passed a stream of expressions back and forth of wow! and can you believe this? like gulps from a warming jug of wine. This kind of cuddling is not average fare and the moment was appropriately intoxicating to fit the metaphor.

In fact, Opal hasn't been a very snugly little Doodle during her wee lifetime. Affectionate, totally. Warm and loving, absolutely. But beyond her sleep-routine of reading books and drinking milk from her sippy cup while being cradled in our laps, or the times of being carried in the sling, she's a lady on the move. A big fan of hugs and kisses, but no lingering. Try and hug her for too long and she'll squirm away and whimper. Even the before-sleep lullaby I sing to her with her in my arms nearly always ends abruptly when she reaches and launches herself at the crib.

During our second and final night in Estes Park, none of us slept much at all. Opal was in the same room as Jesse and I in a Pack-N-Play, a situation that worked well over the summer but not so well last weekend, at least during the night when we were in there, too. Although she couldn't visibly see us from where she was lying, she knew we were there. At home, in her own separate room, she occasionally moments of fussing and then puts herself right back to sleep. (And for the rare occasions of real crying, we definitely go in to comfort her, but are able to leave again which is what she seems to require to fall asleep. Comfort then Space.) But those moments of light-sleep, adjusting herself and mumbling, were met with the confusion of where the hell am I and why are mom and dad in here? should I be awake? Thus, she was awake off and on from about 1am on, as were the rest of us.

It was a little after 5am when I finally got her up and drug our weary bodies into the living room. Got her into a clean diaper, slid her into her cozy facing-me wrap and clicked on the gas-powered fire in the fireplace. (Small sign reading above: This fireplace is NOT for roasting marshmallows or popcorn. Thank you. Management.) Suddenly the moment went from slightly taxing to perfectly serene. She was resting her head on my shoulder and breathing deep, slow, meandering breathes so I piled some throw pillows into a heap behind my back and sat down with her, rocking side-to-side within the nest of fluff I'd assembled. Within moments she was snoring face-first into her bunny that was rested between my neck and chest. I wrapped my arms around her, stopped swaying and closed my own eyes, wishing there was someone—Jesse—there to witness the slight smile on my face in the middle of this outrageously cozy and uncommon scene. We slept like that for over an hour—my sleep packaged in brief, dreamy chunks, perforated with waking to the pre-sunrise dark, the fire and the weight of my beloved girl's body limp with visceral comfort against my own. Her sleep was deep and seamless, motoring and efficient. A situation, like so many, that I hadn't felt a longing for before it happened. In a moment, all questions were answered, all holes had been filled, all worries inconsequential.
The noiselessness that resides inside of rare, unpredictable and unabridged moments like this is—a word I've knowingly used before—medicinal.

Before long, the world outside began to glow with morning and I was awake and mentally deconstructing the music of Opal's snores. A sudden and forceful snort came out of her face and woke her right up, to which she responded to by sitting straight up, gazing across the room to the fireplace and announcing all done.