Saturday, October 29, 2011

Postscript.

Just after Opal was born, I made a sport of lying in bed at night while envisioning what she would look like when she was older: 6 months, 9 months, 1 year. On the adventurous (or just plain sleepless) nights, I'd allow my mind to wander to the image of my baby sitting upright, maybe with teeth and walking, but my imagination couldn't carry me much beyond that. It was next to impossible back then to conceive of what life would look like by the time she reached her toddler years.

Now here she is—a wildly beautiful, full-throttle toddler-version of herself.

It recently occurred to me that no era of her life is immune to slipping through my fingers as does the fine, silken hair I'm constantly ruffling on her head. There will never be an age she'll hold on to indefinitely or a period she'll have the means to blatantly skip. She is on a journey with her very own, completely perfect rhythm that pulses forward as steady as the ticks of a metronome. And this rhythm cannot be tampered with: no rewinding, no speeding forward, no freeze-frame.

The gradual progression of life is so apparent when there's a child involved. As an adult, it's easy for notable-life to pass by in bulk chunks: the 4 years I was in college, the 3 years I was at my job, and so on. But the act of watching a child grow and develop physically, mentally and emotionally offers the endless reminder that so much is happening inside the smaller shreds and dashes of time.

I can't help but to consider that perhaps our grandest moments of success are not so much born from fireworks and foghorns as they are carefully and quietly germinated within a substantial collection of minutes and seconds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Opal's 2nd Birthday!

This year, Opal was old enough to know her birthday was approaching days before it actually arrived. What's more, she was old enough to know what a birthday is, having sung to multiple family members over the phone. She has also celebrated birthdays for many of her stuffed animals using a a shoebox with a gingham napkin and an LED candle, to switch off at the appropriate time of having been blown out. Cued by phrases like "How old is Opal going to be?" and "Who's birthday is coming up?" she learned to reply with gusto: Two ones! and Opal's birthday!

We brought up her new wooden kitchen from downstairs while she was sleeping the night before, something that stirred in me a hearty dose of sentimentality for how many times my parents had done the same for me. We covered it in a sheet with ribbons and bows. Colorfully wrapped gifts from Ama—wooden foods and pans, a pre-sliced felt pizza—were arranged artfully beneath it. Ama, who had flown in from Ohio for the occasion, woke early to be ready when the birthday girl emerged from her bedroom with feety-pajamas and bedhead. The adults of the house were giddy as hell that morning and nearly pounced on Opal's bedroom door when sounds of intelligent life emerged from the baby monitor.

Jesse and I went in together, singing Happy Birthday and tugging on one another like schoolkids hopped up on soda.
She took one look at us and started to cry.

In spite of this minor blip in the start to the day, it didn't take long for her to get a feel for this whole birthday festivity thing.
Blueberry pancakes? Well sure!
Gift after gift with my name on it? Sign me up!

We spent the whole morning playing Cafe' Opal in her new kitchen while sipping tea and coffee (ours was real, hers pretend) and listening to a stream of perky and shockingly nostalgic—The Muppets, Mary Poppins—children's music on Pandora. Occasionally Opal took a break from one thrilling game to climb into another one.

There are times when it feels like such a luxury to have no place to be. This was surely one of those times. We were on the floor in our pajamas, all of us, playing for hours until it occurred to someone that lunch may be a good idea. Three generations interacting as peers in the world of play and imagination, negotiating menu options for Clifford and Golla and discussing table settings in earnest. We cooked, brewed, arranged, conversed (with each other as well as through the stuffed-animals) as purposefully as though we were planning Thanksgiving for a score of friends and family.

We joined forces with our wonderful Boulder family—Grammy, Grampy, Alex, Will, Jamie, Dave and Lucy the doggy—to continue the festivities in the afternoon after Opal's nap. Opal got kid-friendly musical instruments and scarves from Grammy and when the music of Johnny Cash and Ray Charles filled the room, an impromptu dance party immediately ensued. We later went out to play in the neighbor's leaves and test the new Strider bike Opal got from Grampy! The day eventually concluded with cupcakes and ice cream, both firsts for Opal even though she'd been talking about ice cream for weeks before her birthday. She didn't so much enjoy its coldness, however, so she saturated the cupcake in the sweet, melted puddle it made on the plate. (I used to do that!) A woman of refined tastes, to be sure.

The next morning, we celebrated further with some of Opal's little friends who have birthdays very close to hers.

The weekend was a veritable love-fest. We sang, we ate, we danced, we played. We all-out roistered in honor of this little girl who has brought so much joy, delight, spontaneity and technicolor vision to our lives. It's as if, upon arrival, she tore down the drapery from all our eyes and declared Good Morning to you all!

And she does it again and again.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

OPAL FAY IS TWO!

The other night as Opal and

I sat in her rocker,

buried in a mound of stuffed animals and books

and reading The Very Busy Spider,

something struck her fancy and

she began to laugh.

And laugh and laugh.


I caught it upon contact,

the laughter, and there we were

like two birds squawking on a branch,

seamless in our feathered delight.

As the sky faded to a reflective black

in the window behind us,

I could no longer tell where her laugh

ended and mine began.


Jesse was just outside the door,

sitting and listening

until we were quiet again

and we had exhausted ourselves into

two sighing heaps.

He said: It was like the most beautiful song

I have ever heard!


So here's a day to celebrate all the

precious kiddos out there

as well as all the adults who

are along for the dynamic and

enchanting ride!


Love to you all,

Heather, Jesse and Opal


**This was the email that was sent to family and friends

on Opal's Birthday, October 22, 2009.**

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gratitude and Conclusions.


A few months ago, I awoke to the usual sounds of my toddler calling mama! mommeee! and in my state of pre-dawn orientation, having jostled my limbs and flesh from the residuals of sleep, the following thought occurred to me:
Opal's blog will conclude on her 2nd birthday.

There it was.

This is not to say that I subscribe to each and every early-morning hunch that occurs to me before I hoist my rickety, pillow-creased body from the sheets. For example, I effectively bypassed the idea that I should dye my hair as purple as a gum drop the time I was abruptly stirred from a Willy Wonka dream last week. I also scrapped the inclination to buy a flock of chickens, which followed a particularly lucid morning-dream where I moved to the country to sew my American-Gothic oats.

But this notion was different; a simple headline to inform me that this poignant, incredibly beneficial chapter of life was coming to a close, just like any other.

The fact is, I have written copiously and feverishly for as long as I could hold a pencil. I have boxes of journals that date back to my elementary years to prove it. I won a creative writing contest in the 4th grade and my teacher reported me as having "an impressive grasp on the English language." (I would say the same about Opal now.) I wrote poetry in high-school to avoid burning cars and carving the initials of boys into my thighs.

My mother-in-law had my (astrological) chart read when Jesse and I were still early in our relationship. She came back with a lot of forgettable information that flitted around the following hulk of a statement: She has to write. She simply has no choice.

Until this beloved blog, my adult writing-life consisted of a stream of writing classes and workshops, cranking out story after story (easily hundreds and hundreds of pages) with no real purpose, most of which wound up as sedimentary layers in a desk drawer or box in a crawl-space. Fewer than a handful of people actual read what I had to say. This created a distinctly unsatisfying holding-pattern in the writing process. I never felt like I was finished telling a story.

Like with any art, the creating of it is only part of the puzzle. There is really so much more to the equation. Sharing what's been created, feeling heard and gotten in some sense, receiving feedback and subsequently growing and expanding while under the gaze of loving (and at times, not-so-loving) witnesses are indispensable factors in the process of self-expression. Arguably as important as the actual act of expressing oneself. This blog has provided a place where the inception of those additional pieces could finally occur, and with a rhythm and a predictability that was and is indescribably satiating. Hallelujah.

I'm convinced that the continuous efforts to discover and re-discover a curious and genuine voice for this blog worked to buoy the last few—often difficult, often confusing and overwhelming—years of being a new mother. Surely there were times when all I wanted to do was sleep, bitch and eat sweet potato chips dipped in Guinness while journaling about a boring stream of life's inadequacies. But—and I say this from a great amount of experience—that deflated state of mind is about as fulfilling to write about as it is to undergo. And if it ain't fun to write, it sure as hell ain't going to be fun to read.

So, without changing the truth of the matter, content-wise, it became a ceaseless practice to write about these days, these trail-blazing experiences, in a way that was quenching to me. The act of typing became a method to shed light on the humor of a situation or strip back bad curtains to reveal something deeply fascinating about a moment or, gasp, myself.

All of my blogs are and have been (aside from checking for spelling and grammar edits before posting) first-draft pieces, much rougher than an article would be, much more personal and exploratory. A little brave. So much fun.

But good things need a beginning, middle and an end and Opal's two year birthday seemed like a good place to transition to the next thing. And though the specifics of that next thing are uncertain, we can be more than sure it will involve my busy little fingers clicking out a stream of words and letters. Perhaps I shall focus on the print-publication of parenthood articles. Perhaps I shall hone my fiction chops. Perhaps I will stumble into the genre of comic-books or screenplays.

Without hesitation, I'd like to offer a sweeping thank you to everyone who has read one, two, or all 97 (!) of these blogs. Thank you for sharing these amazing first two years of mamahood with me. Thank you for your soup-bowl ears and supportive comments to remind me you were out there. If you'd like to keep tabs on my future writings and publications, please email me at owlgaze@earthlink.net. Otherwise, go boldly.

Take the next obvious step and then read the tea leaves is what a teacher of mine once said.
So here we are, my friends. Pull up those argyles, lace up those boots and away we go.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Poignant-Funny-Clever-Abstract-Genious Channel.


My, how she has evolved into a burgeoning conversationalist over the last many months.

Words ripening like fruit in the sun...
~From Opal wantom to Opal like some.
~From Uncle Kees to Uncle Quis.
~From Notha to Another.
~From all done to Opal finished now.
~From Golla to Gorilla.
~From Tella, Tar and Pider to Stella, star and spider.

Opal-tongue...
~Play wiss me! Play wiss kiddos! No kiddos, iss Opal's B!
~Mama eat blueberries Opal. (Mama eat Opal's blueberries.)
~Mama fell raisin! (Mama dropped a raisin.)
~On the toy-phone: Hi Tella! Opal change dippy! Here mama, talka Tella!
~Mommy made this. What dis mama?
~What daddy doing? Where motorcycle go?
~No doggie, that's Opal's food. Doggie have OWN food.

Illuminated interactions with her world...
~A chat with B wile on a walk: Opal hear birdie chirping. Does B hear birdy chirping? Me too!
~After throwing food on the floor: B did it!
~After farting audibly at the dinner table at Grammy's, wearing a sly grin: Who did DAT?
~SomeBODY trees? SomeBODY car? (where DOES it all come from?)
~The butterfly is blue. He flew away in the sky!
~Beautiful dress mama. It new? You buy it?
~Beautiful flowers. People plant them, people happy.
~Bright light, mama, I wish you would turn soon PALEEZ!

Descriptions and common one-liners...
~What this is?
~I go shopping! I go buy shoes! Daddy come wiss me!
~Holy moly.
~Everything that happened before NOW occurred yesterday: I pet da horsey yest-a-day.
~While on a hike with mama: Giddy up, mama!
~While gingerly caressing mama's face: Good boy, mama.
~Emerging from the bathroom: I had PRIVACY!
~After being repremanded for not following instructions: I'LL CO-OPERNAPE!
~When she sees someone in a book who is sad: You're ok. Where his mama?
~When she bumps into the table, even if it really hurts: SORRY TABLE!
~Mama like some? Mama hungry?
~Where Horsey? He reading book in da living room.

Still more hilarious exchanges and verbal offerings...
~Opal: Who dis, mama?
Mama: This is the muppets.
Opal: (After some consideration) Oh, I ate muppets for breakfast yesterday!

~When mommy got into a light fender-bender in daddy's car: Mama bonka daddy car head. Kiss it!

~After returning from a grocery trip where daddy forgot his wallet in the car: Opal went to store with daddy. Daddy push Opal in BIG cart. Daddy no wallet. SILLY daddy!

~While spending time at Grammy and Grampy's house, she came across some of Lucy's do hair on the couch. She walked it over to Lucy and said: Lulu, I have something of YOURS...

~She is huge on naming anything and everything, though the names often change from one moment to the next. A few such names that have stuck, and that slay us to pieces, are the ones she gave to her three barnyard puppets: Pig-lick the pig, Hoo-hoo the horse and Beep the sheep.

The endless commentary is like having the radio set on the poignant-funny-clever-abstract-genious channel at all times.
If that's not enough reason to have children, I frankly don't know what is.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Due date and the Maple.

Here I sit.

The blessed maple, currently a pungent shade of salmon, undulates in the wind out front as if it were trying to make it home after an evening of spiked punch. It changes drastically in hue this time of year as if to celebrate our wedding anniversary and Opal's birth, as if it gets all dolled up in streamers and boas and blushes from head to toe in honor of the occasions.

Once early November rolls around, it will decide it's had enough and abruptly shed its adornments and be left standing there so vulnerable and bare-barked like a naked man in a heap of discarded clothes.

But at the current moment, it is still fully clothed and filtering paper-diffused sun through the front window-box, shadows of dancing leaves scattered across the carpet like playing cards.

Today was the official due date in 2009, which means Opal will turn two in 5 short days. Hallelujah.

I decided to look back through some of my old pregnancy writings—of which there are multitudes—and stumbled across this journal written 10 days before the due date. It has inspired me to look back more thoroughly through that 10-month almanac of growing a child, to perhaps edit and compile those pieces in a more cohesive way to share with others.

For now, I will share a brief excerpt from my internal world at 38.5 weeks pregnant:

What to say? I’ve got two animals curled up like cinnamon rolls on their respective chairs. Day three of being home from work and I must admit I am getting used to this. The maple out front is a citrusy shade of blood orange, only a few degrees from its final encore of psychedelic pink. I am feeling pretty weak at the moment and I honestly thought I would’ve had a baby by now!

No intention of rushing things over here, of course. I know this will happen in its perfect time. We are now ten days away from the official due date of October 17th and I have always intuitively felt that she would come early but who knows exactly what that means.

Last night was interesting. I became very shaky after dinner and had to lie down in the bed.
At which point I was instantly out of breath—simply from lying there. I melted into the covers, yawning deeply, eyes watering, and sincerely felt as if I was not physically able to get up and change out of my clothes. It was as if every muscle in my body was working intensely on other projects sent from higher management.

At one point, I decided to climb into the tub. My upper back ached and I asked Jesse to pour warm water on it, drape a washcloth over it, as I sat there, breathing audibly. I felt more like animal than human, all body and sensation with very few thoughts and a quiet internal world.

I just continued to breathe and lead my mind to consider Bigger things. The cottony sky of this time of year. The ocean and its rhythmic lapping. The earth and its rotation towards the sun and away again, boundlessly comforting in its predictability. The bulb of Moon that, when full, floats slowly into the darkness of night like a balloon on a string.

I wanted to dissolve into dust on the lens of such majesty. That way, Trust would not even need to be a conscious decision, it would be inherent. Leaves don’t need to decide that falling is the right thing to do. They don’t need to be convinced each year that they will reappear in the spring.

Again, I felt better once morning came. But I suspect one of these mornings very soon, the discomfort wont subside—the animal panting, the groans, the reorganization of organs like furniture in a room—until I am left holding a beautiful baby girl in my arms.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Long Version.


We had some friends over last night and I admittedly coerced them—albeit gently—into watching the video documentary of Opal's first year.

As Opal's first birthday came and went last year, I painstakingly spent dozens of evenings editing the footage from upwards of 40 hours of Opal-video into an hour-and-a-half long film. And then when THAT seemed too lengthy for the family members with shorter attention spans, I painfully edited it even further into a half-hour teaser.

The short version became the most widely viewed of the videos, to my chagrin. The music accompaniment for the longer version is by far superior, truly where the blood and sweat of effort for the project is apparent. But alas, I suppose every fine artist experiences a time when the thing they are best known for is not that which is their best work. Perhaps it is a bold cameo on a butter commercial or a pop-song written in the basement after having ingested one too many pot-brownies that proves to clumsily outshine the artist's subtler, more masterful works of art. Could be anything.

But, the fact is, the longer of the two films—the one that involved hours and hours of methodical effort— rarely gets watched while the short one that emerged at the 11th hour after a few heavy-handed editing evenings comes out quite often.

Jesse stopped the film last night after less than ten minutes, in spite of the fact that our friends—who were, incidentally, the same dear soon-to-be parent friends who the previous blog was written about—were clearly not pained in watching. They fogged up the screen to Jesse's I-Pad and cooed in all the appropriate places. In movie-time, we made it to New Year's 2010 by the time Jesse pulled the plug, clocking Opal in at just over 2 months.

An unfortunate thing to end to the film so abruptly when I hadn't seen it in so long. What?! So soon?! I think I said. I considered faking sick and retiring to the bedroom to view the rest of the film by myself, the long version, with a down comforter pinning down my lower half and a freshly blended smoothie in hand.

But I figured I could always do that later. Hell, Linnie's coming into town for Opal's birthday and we know for certain that she and Grammy Zeb will not require the slightest bit of arm twisting to get them to watch the long version together.

In those few minutes of last night's viewing, I was inundated with a swarm of nuanced feelings. The kind that are akin to memory, weakly painful and somewhat separate from the experience remembered as well as the experience of attempting to remember, only partially penetrating like dew on a windowpane. You see yourself in the images, you know you were there, you know it must have been monumental to be standing in some of those moments, ordinary in others. But you can't go much further than trying on the recollection like a dress or a shoe.

I suppose the distance is there for a purpose, though, or we'd be too weighted in nostalgia to move forward.

There I am in the first scene of the movie, so beautiful with my bedhead and my hospital gown, telling the audience with an exhaustion-induced lisp that I had indeed given birth that morning at 8:41am. We follow the spotlight of the camera through the room before it settles on our child—OUR CHILD— as she sleeps soundly in her clear-plastic hospital-issued bassinet. Her face is unspeakably beautiful, swollen and slightly bruised over the left eye, draped in a head of Liberace-hair. She is swaddled tightly in an envelope of bleached blankets that enhance her shockingly Asian appearance. We stand there in a stupor, completely oblivious to the disruption the video camera bulb must have caused her. We are frozen. Opal shudders without opening her eyes and breaks our spell.

You woke her up, I say to Jesse. My first official experience of deferring blame as a way to cope with her momentary discomfort.

I am familiar enough with the footage from those first few months that I can draw particular clips from the files like songs from a Juke-Box: dialog, instilled background music, all of it.

There are the scenes of her grandparents rocking her for the first time. How Brian tried to nab a quiet moment with her in her bedroom but was unsuccessful when I followed him in with Zebby to speak loudly and obliviously about inconsequential things. In hindsight, this was a mother who was desperate to fill the space, who was not yet ready for silence and the drastic change in reality that such a gap would force her to recognize. I also didn't see it at the time but the film shows Brian tilting his head back into the glider as he rocks her, tuning us all out completely. A look of bliss on his face like he is thinking about sunbathing as a child in a chocolate waterfall.

There are those scenes that were shot when Jesse first went back to work and I invited the camera in as if it were a bridge partner. Having been just me, the dog and this new little human being for whom I was entirely responsible until the day I die, the tiny video recorder turned out to be quite comforting to report to like my own tiny documentary crew. Hours and hours were spent breastfeeding in the beginning and I could drift into a state of such loneliness if I weren't conversing continuously with someone or something, camera included. It was as if I were combing out the thoughts and overwhelm like a mad heap of windblown hair, to keep them from getting too tangled and unmanageable.

These were the weeks before I began to write this blog, when I used verbal reporting as a way of rising to the part of Narrator Of My World. From this vantage point of investigation and disclosure, whether it be verbal or written, I was able to avoid sinking too deeply into the confusion and enormity that came with those feelings of being a new mama. I was able to step back just enough to gain some perspective, to crack a window and stretch my limbs. I gratefully still am.

The next shot in the video was a brilliant one of Opal having tummy time with a perfect naked baby-butt exposed to a drenching of winter-sun through the window. Having been only a few weeks old and tucked into herself like an Easter egg, I couldn't help but wonder if that's what she looked like inside my womb.

There were some shots from the sacred territory of our bed: when she slept between us in that tiny little mattress, when Jesse propped her up in his lap and tapped her belly or whistled to her, when he held her up by her tiny little arms as her head bobbled around like an acorn in a stream.

And like I said, video-wise this was just the first few minutes.
She was profoundly new to the world in those first few months and has long since sloughed off her baby skin for that of a free-roaming, free-thinking dynamo of a toddler.

She sure has grown over the last two short years.
And she most assuredly is not the only one.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

To the Parents-To-Be.

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a dear friend and soon-to-be-parent. But there happened to be a toddler pulling at my blouse at the time and I was having difficulty articulating the information I wanted to offer.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote the same friend an email to clarify the parent-gleanings I was feeling such a need to share. And in the process of writing that email, I realized just how genuinely excited I am for these dear friends to know themselves as parents.

When that baby arrives, her parents will welcome her into their lives and into their hearts and minds, having carved out a huge, cozy, sheepskin embrace to wrap her in. But she is not the only new face that will be in attendance postpartum; there will also be the newly sanctified parent-versions of my friends staring back from the bathroom mirror. A mom brushing her teeth. A dad shaving his face. Well, hello there.

I feel motherhood has given me access to a part of myself—one that is capable of insurmountable strength and patience, of the deepest, most penetrating love and empathy—that I simply hadn't known before. Perhaps there are other methods to acquaint oneself with such a state of selflessness and shocking capability, but I find it safe to say none could be so direct as parenting. As they say, it's the ultimate Bodhisattva vow.

Needless to say, there were multiple introductions going on in our house during those first few weeks.

And I get giddy at the thought of our friends having the opportunity to know themselves in such a different way. We loved them like family when we were two kid-less couples and then when we were one kid-less couple. Soon we will be meeting in the land of kiddos, two no-kid-less couples, where warm child-bodies in sleepers nuzzle into necks. The place where finely honed parental-eyes notice intricate details of development, akin to watching a tulip painstakingly hatch from her buried bulb and burst forth from the surface. A sort of hyper-vision that anyone who is not a parent to your child is impervious to.

The following is taken from the email I wrote to get to the heart of what I was trying to say:

I wanted to sincerely apologize for something I said this morning.

When you mentioned that your parent-friends said the first 3 months of the baby's life are the hardest, I said something like "it's not all that hard."
Why I said that, I'm not quite sure.

What I meant to say—and perhaps it would've come out better if we were in a different environment—was that there's just SO MUCH MORE TO IT THAN THAT.

Sure, the first few months will be full of WTF?! and HOW DO WE DO THIS?
and you will feel like you are inventing the wheel on a moment-by-moment basis.
But you will totally ROCK and be continuously amazed by what you are capable of
AND you will have this child in your arms, this precious brilliant little being who is reaching for you and who allows you to experience love so deeply and so profoundly that your insides feel as if they've been flipped inside out and hung to dry in the sweetest breeze.

It is the farthest thing from easy to be a parent, no matter what the age.
Matter of fact, I wrote a trilogy of blogs last month about Opal's intense toddler-oppositoning and our numerous, unsuccessful, attempts at discipline.
There were many mornings I wanted an escape and I was flat-out exhausted a lot of the time.
And yet, she continued to amaze us and make us laugh with the funny, genius shit she says and she continued to bring her unbearable light to our days even while we went through that intense patch.

Frankly, you will be able to roll with whatever comes your way—easy days, hard days, and every goddam thing that comes in between.
Some days gracefully and some days not so much.
(Acceptance, self-forgiveness and self-trust in parenting are all things I will continuously be learning and working with until the day I die.)
But I guarantee for those first few months and beyond when people ask you both how it's going, there will be a dozen other words IN ADDITION TO 'hard' that will also be in your description, including—but not limited to—WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW.
Not easy. Insanely rewarding.

I hope this made sense.
It was bugging me to feel like I left it this morning saying parenthood is a bowl of cherries and a box of chocolate and nothing else.
In fact, in my experience, parenting is proving to be a bowl of cherries and a box of chocolates and EVERYTHING else.

In conclusion, go on with your bad selves, soon-to-be mama and papa.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Discipline. Revisited.


As with everything, an intense period is just that. An Intense Period.

It's been quite a month. Opal has been impressively committed to flexing her oppositional toddler muscles, especially while Jesse was away. I needed to set limits with her that matched her determined efforts and yet those limits were hardly making a scratch on the skin of the situation. Then she also happened to catch cold #112 and, though I wanted to cut her some slack and be extra nourishing, I didn't want to stray too far from providing adequate discipline.
All this creates a mama who is stone-tired.

But she has since relaxed a bit and got healthy in a flash. I have since toughened a bit and Jesse's been home for weeks. Things, I am pleased to report, have lightened up immensely.

In those first few wearisome weeks of the month, I dove into my parenting books (Parenting with Love and Logic, The Discipline Book by Dr. Sears, to name a few) to find some precious nugget of advice that would help me shift the weight somewhat, some technique I'd been overlooking that Opal would gladly respond to. Clear communication, consequences, nothing felt particularly helpful.

It wasn't until recently that I stumbled on some passages in Chapter 1 of The Discipline Book. I'd been skipping ahead to chapters like "Taming Temper Tantrums"and though I'd had the book for months, this was the first time I had actually taken the time to read the beginning.

After summing up the current most popular styles of discipline—the Authoritarian, Communication and Behavior Modification approaches—the book went on to discuss the Attachment Approach to discipline.

Parents who rely on any of the three above approaches to solve a discipline problem may find that their child's behavior improves, but only temporarily. Without a secure grounding in parent-child attachment, the other discipline approaches are merely borrowed skills, communication gimmicks, techniques that are grabbed from the rack and tried on in hopes of a good fit.

...With a firm grounding in a connected relationship, a parent can use the other three approaches to discipline (authority, communication and behavior modification) in a balanced way...but when these techniques don't work, you need to fall back on a deeper understanding of your child.

Eureka. This was what I had been waiting to hear.

Opal's misbehavior was not nearly as distressing as feeling like I'd been using one technique after another, rather blindly, naively, with no success. I had been so focused on making the behavior better somehow and was feeling somewhat disconnected from her in the process of attempting to achieve that end.

So I took those words as a cue to back off a bit. I also started applying much more energy to tuning into the moment before taking action if an action is needed. What is happening here? What is behind this meltdown? I had become quite the quick-draw.

Since I read that passage, there have been a few more nights like the one mentioned in the previous blog, where Opal wants her mama to get up with her during the night. A part of me certainly is still concerned that I am "training" her to need her mama to rock her to sleep, after all these months of helping her to learn to sooth herself. And granted, there are times when it is more than appropriate to allow her to cry for 10 minutes before going in (when that crying is a tired-cry and not a help-me-cry), times when it feels right to toughen up a bit after she suggests the 3rd dozenth stalling object and it's clearly all a game to her.

But there have also been a handful of times where—all rules, techniques and future concerns aside—it just feels right to rock her for 20 minutes in the middle of the night even if she's not sick and in her own cozy, splendid room. And that's for damn sure what I'm gonna do.

Here's the kicker: I find that I am much less tired—rejuvenated, even—when I am able to make decisions based on the temperature of the present moment and the voice of my loving intuition versus the voice of a set-list of rules. Parenting or not. Now, I'm not suggesting an increase in softness; I am suggesting an increase in awareness.

How interesting to discover that my ability to cope with Opal's strong will and the tricky, thorny, more baffling moments hinges much more on this fact than on whether or not she chooses to behave.

Again, Eureka.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Thin Line.

There is a line between the moments when my toddler is genuinely in need of help and affection or if she is, well, straight-up playing me. And it can be such a thin one. Kitty whisker thin. Spider web thin.

As an example, Opal was sick last week with a snot-filled nose and a whiskey-drunk cough. That was also a week that Jesse was out of town.

Because of her bug-induced discomfort, Opal was having a very hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. During her normal bedtime routine, she is transported to her crib after three songs, regardless of her level of obvious fatigue. When sick, she requires being rocked and sung to until a near comatose state, lying on my chest on the rocker, a folded crease down her center as she collapses around her beloved B. But even then as she omits a little whistle of a snore with arms like limp fillets, she will often catch me as I pause or slightly shift to relocate her little body, and say notha song mama.

Don't you go anywhere.

An extra 20 minutes of singing and rocking is a small price to pay for a sleeping sick baby. In fact, early in the evening there is nothing more splendid that doing just this. At midnight and then at 2 and then at 4:30am, different story.

I gave her similar leniency while we were away last weekend on a precious, low-budget family getaway. She was at the tail end of the cold and in unfamiliar environs.

Now she is better and we are home.

But she still, understandably, wants to lay wiss mommy.
One more time! she says with a plump little pointed finger and a face quickly squinching into desperation. One more time!

Last night was the first night she's been well and back in her own bed. Clearly time to tighten up the loosened elastic that our hallowed bedtime routine had become.

After our 3 songs, after tucking the "floor animals" in for bed (the ones who did not make the elite selection to be in the crib), I started to take her to her bed. No, I DO IT! she shouted, wriggling out of my arms. Predictable phase one of the stalling process. I helped her "climb into her crib" followed by telling her how delighted her ragtag crew of stuffed animals was to see her. Time for bed, honey. Mommy will tuck you in as soon as you lie down. The child has no intention of lying down on her own accord.

No, I do it! I do it! She says, meaning she wants to lie down in the crib by herself, which she is perfectly capably of doing. She just doesn't do it. She stalls and jumps around and begs for more songs or a drink or more chamomile or a band-aid. She even says she pooped (untrue).

So I tell her I love her and kiss her on the head and say for her to call me when she is ready for mama to tuck her in.

Honest author's note: I really hope walking away from her while she is upset doesn't fuck her up somehow in the future. I'm also a bit concerned about when she can simply crawl out of the bed and follow me. But nothing good comes from wrestling with a toddler. There is no creature out there with more stamina.

She never lets me get very far, though. Screams and screams, I'M READY! which is usually necessary for her to finally calm down enough to willingly go horizontal and to which I respond immediately. This is pretty standard bedtime fare.

Last night, she woke at 10:30pm screaming MOMMY! MOMMY! (That's a killer.)

I went in and she was hoping for a revisitation of the song and dance from earlier. I allowed for her a quick song in the rocker and put her back to bed, relatively smoothly.

But when she called again at midnight, I realized we were embarking on some unfortunate habits. This time I went in, hugged her, kissed her forehead—without picking her up—and said, honey it's time for bed.

The blood curdling screams that followed were the variety that, if heard from a different room, would have sent me launching over furniture, careening through any hapless barricade to get to her. Witnessing this while looking her right in the eye felt like allowing her to shut her hand in the door without stepping in to intervene.

Opal sleep wiss mama! she bargained, desperate. This, for the record, would not be something I was opposed to if we actually slept while in the same bed together, which we don't.

Mama PICK YOU UP! (pick me up.) PLEEEEZ! The screaming was so devastating and alarming that I came very close to going in and waking up Jesse as an allied force. (He wears earplugs and can often hear her through them but he slept through the whole thing this time.)

My fear was that picking her up would lead to being expected to do this every 2 hours every night from here on out and it was this thought that made it possible for me to not cave.

Finally, I said calmly, Opal, mommy loves you very much. But mommy is tired and Opal is tired. Call me when you are ready for mommy to tuck you in.

The screams peaked I'M READY MAMA!! and she let me lay her down and allowed kisses from all her stuffed animals. She kept crying a tired, throaty cry—Opal tired, Opal go night-night—for another minute as I left.

She woke up a handful of times throughout the night and gently called for me. But I knew from the sound of it that nothing was wrong and I let her find her way back to sleep.
And luckily I found my way back as well.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Battling of Wills.

There has been more than one morning this week where my daughter nearly drove me to drink.

Slugging back a cold one while still in one's pajamas is certainly not something I condone, but let's just say that I'm beginning to have a much better understanding of why some would succumb to such a notion.
To set aside fancier phrasing in order to get the point across, battling wills with a toddler can be really really really hard.

Here's an example.
(Mind you, it's just one. This last week, such instances have easily tallied to a half-dozen per day.)
Our two tasks for this paricular morning before heading out for a playdate with Krista and Zane were the following: to get Opal dressed (a change of diaper included) and to place lunch items into her lunch bag. To be clear, the PB&J was already assembled, the applesauce packet chilled and ready in the refrigerator, both requiring simply to be relocated to the purple bag.

Those two tasks took over an hour.

A whip-cracker, hardly, but I don't consider myself to be a mama who puts up with much child-induced grief. When Opal is uncooperative or contrary, she promptly gets a consequence. When she kicks or hits mommy, she gets a time-out, no discussion. When she uses a tone that is commanding or one that is whiney, she is instructed to use a gentler voice in order to get the attention or outcome she is craving or she is simply ignored until the volume chills out naturally.

Most times in the past, something has shifted after a consequence is given. Lately, not so much.

Recently, most actions that are not initiated by Opal's sharp little brain trigger a major meltdown. This morning it started with intense opposition to putting a diaper back on after sitting her little naked booty on the pink Dora potty seat. She ran around like a lobster avoiding the pot, screaming, squirming and wriggling with trained expertise. I tried to delay time-outs as long as possible, giving her choices as a first option.

Your choices are to change your diaper and get dressed on the floor or the diaper-table, which would you prefer? (Answer, of course, the floor, where she can zip and wriggle with no concern for falling.)

(A different angle.) When you cooperate with mommy you can help me pick our your shirt for the day! No response, just more jerking and flailing and orneriness for many minutes of stalling.

(Yet another different angle. More of a stern tone, not anger, just no-more-nonesense.) Ok, now it's time to cooperate with mommy. You can choose to cooperate now or go into time out. Same.

She was given a time out with a naked booty.

I did my best to not show my frustration and keep it light. One of the most recent books I've read stated very clearly that time-outs should not be a punishment, persay, as much as simply not offering your precious company to your child for a short period of time. That's the punishment. The book recommends to stay in a pleasant mood while remaining in eye-shot of your toddler. Being in the same space—reading a book, looking through the mail—while not engaging with them for the set amount of time.

After time-out #1, we traveled from diaper-opposition to straight-up hitting and kicking mommy, leading us post-haste into time-out #2, still with a naked booty.

I've had many chats with Jesse about this topic and I'd love to have dozens more with other parents. Opal is certainly just exercising her brawn and muscularity of being a two-year-old; she is obviously doing nothing wrong by pushing her limits. I recently read—in the book Parenting with Love and Logic— that if a toddler doesn't push back or throw tantrums, this doesn't mean he's being good, this means his spirit is broken. (Chew on that one.)

Yet having said that, there's still this strange expectation of cause-and-effect that I fumble with. If I give the proper consequence, she should respond, right? If I set the proper boundaries, she should shape up, correct? And when she suddenly stops responding, one can't help but to feel as if there may have been a better way of approaching the matter.

This line of thinking is a trap and more than just a bit self-agressive. During an evening chat with Jesse about feeling this way, we came to the conclusion together that it's our job to set limits that have her best intentions in mind, give appropriate consequences, remain consistent and let the rest go. But, ooh, not so easy in the moment!

So, back to the naked baby in time-out #2.
The opposition turned to a classic whining-fussing combo over the fact that she was not offered a Princess Band-Aid as a bribe, in spite of her passionately suggestions to do so.
Then, sadness. The tears. The MAMA PICK UP! Plunging her sobbing little face into my shirt, wriggling and still thoroughly clashing against being diapered. Lordy.

Luckily, finally, the excessive drama had left her tattered and limp and I was able to get her diapered and clothed. I paused for a moment in a just-off-the-worligig state of what the f— just happened? My toolbelt was totally empty—tools strewn about the floor in a state of disorder—and the thing that finally worked was pure and simple baby-exhaustion.

We resumed the present-tense mission to calm the crying, which was nebulous in whether its motivation was manipulation or real emotion. I carried her around the house in the Ergo backpack as she slowly settled and the sobs turned to sleepy tongue-clicks.

It was then that I wondered how long it had been since I last took a breath, considering how nice it would be to have some big, burly man smelling of Old Spice and peppermint to carry me around in one of these baby-backpacks. Weightless and snug, with legs dangling from each side like a synched marionette, having finally surrendered the collection of struggles and emotions that seemed so necessary just moments earlier. One arm curled around my blessed bunny, one holding a well-chilled gin and tonic.

(So now, I break out the discipline books to refine my game.
I shall report back with my findings...)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Zane.

Opal's buddy, Zane, turned two last weekend.

This is quite a milestone because it means Opal will also turn two in a few months, a shocking but inevitable fact.

Zane's dear mama, Krista, and I were in pre-natal yoga together and we've been friends ever since, so the kids have spent time together literally since birth. And I can't help but wonder if it'll stick, if they will be suiting up to go to prom together fifteen some odd years from now while Krista and I deluge them with when-they-were-baby photos. Here you are at the mall that time when Opal hugged you with such gumption it toppled you right over. Here you are in the sandbox burying your toes. Here you are on Santa's lap looking as if sweet old santa—with the button-down cowboy shirt beneath red velour cloak—was pinching you both from underneath.
(He wasn't, we were standing right there.)

Or even better, if fate would have them turn out to be super-close buddies. The guy who Opal can visit after school to play boardgames with while she confides about the woes of growing up, the boys she likes, the things that intrigue her. In this scenario, they'd tease each other in that gentle way that's nothing but love and talk about their dreams while eating Monsterberry Crunch in their pajamas.

Krista had a party at her house for Zane last weekend and it occurred to me, not for the first time, that other parents—a brilliant, dynamic group of people, funny and relaxed and exceedingly easy to talk to—are now our sturdy peer-group. There we were, drinking beer and watching the kids play in the yard (nearly everyone there had children) while discussing life as a parent and life outside of being a parent (but with being-a-parent remaining the main reference point).

I couldn't help but to think about when I was growing up, how the adults at any kind of gathering seemed tremendously dull and featureless as a rule. As a kid, the gap of having two decades between us and them created an opaque partition making any kind of peer-like appreciation an impossibility between the youth and the adults.

But now I wonder how interesting our parents' conversations must have been as they lined the periphery at our holiday gatherings when I was a kiddo, how much effort was put into manning the grill, preparing the drinks and blowing up the balloons of appropriate theme. And how off-color the jokes must have been that were told just out of ear-shot.

I think of my mom, when I was young, and her mornings of having coffee with the other neighborhood moms and their kids. I distinctly remember watching Sesame Street at various houses on our block while sipping OJ from a tiny plastic juice cup—the word of the day is galoshes!—requesting a dozen refills. The moms laughed and gabbed in the kitchen, creating their own imaginary metropolis that was just as convincing as our forts and dollhouses. Monkey bread—with the sugary, cinnamony, buttery middle piece—may or may not have been involved, but my memory recalls something having always been baking in the oven. Nourishing, informal and relaxed.

It's a little different now with so many mamas at work. Krista and a few other mama-friends are so near and dear to my heart that it makes my voice quiver if you catch me on that kind of a day. Some have jobs and some don't. Some work a little and some went back to full time as soon as possible. There may not be a dozen of us gathering daily in the mornings with our strong coffee and OJ and galoshes, as with my mama. But we have our own version of gathering for walks and playdates and trips to the park with our Bakti Chi steaming from the drink-slot in the stroller. And then another birthday rolls around and faces from far and wide gather in one reverberating setting, shaking hands and giving hugs and sitting in groups of five and six in a circle like family around the campfire.

A community like this is so exceptionally important. It can be a lonely world to be a parent without an extended family of folks who are in the same boat—a clan who is adept at the same language—who can arrive unannounced long after the party is over and help themselves to tea or the beer in the fridge. These last few times I've been out sick for a few weeks, keeping a low profile so as not to spread anything or wear my energy too thin, I've felt a taste of that loneliness, particularly while Jesse is at work. It is a need for the kind of aeration that comes from getting out of the house and engaging in a highly nutritive visit, thus restoring my collapsed antennae back to their inherent state of fluffed-up, winged expansion.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where to begin.

Indeed it's been many weeks since I've posted, but don't think I ever forget for even a minute. I begin to long for it when too much time passes—the clicking at the keys, the discovery of the perfect word—and I turn itchy and I'm grumpy until I finally sit my ass down to write. Then I think to myself, now what was more important than this again?

It's been quite a month. Since the last blog, there was a lovely family visit which overlapped with Opal catching an ear-eyes-throat virus while at the same time cutting her molars. I then managed to pick up a subsequent illness that I haven't yet beaten after more than two weeks. (I still get queasy after a few hours of exertion and feel like the right side of my skull is perpetually submerged in bathwater, a thing that is as disorienting as talking into a cell phone with an echo). This is the second LONG illness I've had this summer and to say it's been an emotional and physical drag would be a grotesque understatement. But I'll spare you the details and simply defer you to the post "Sickness." from only a few months ago if you'd like some indications on the specifics of being ill while caring for a toddler.

Fundamentally, though, everything is fine and this is but a blip on the radar.

I've recently written a few article-type essays (one for the Shambhala Times and one for Elephant) which are a hell of a lot of fun to write, but also a little like offering my spiels while wearing Sunday formals, with a full face of make-up and a slightly artificial British inflection. Proper and buffed.
My intention for this blog has always been to be a place where I can show up in my tank-top with lopsided breasts and a pigeon's nest for a head of hair while I deliver the straight news and gory details on parenting and the like to those who choose to listen. First draft, no polishing necessary. This hasn't always been achieved as I tend to obsess upon polishing. But let the record show that it's been my intention to work towards working less.

So, here I am, merely one step up from being in my pajamas—casual loungewear—and wearing my new woven cap that keeps me from mindlessly twisting at my hair, gearing up to look at my own reflection in a cup of murky-pink Kombucha.
It's the same feeling as when I finally called my grandpa last night after way too long: a bit heartbroken at the amount of time I'd let pass by, water-logged by the preceding gap, a little guilty and brimming with love for him. I didn't quite know where to begin.


Not in Front of the Children, Pal.

We can no longer talk about Opal in front of Opal, especially with regards to discipline.

Here is an example:
Opal's default volume when trying to communicate is currently one of panic and command. PICK IT UP RIGHT NOW MAMA!!! She screams.
And when I say Opalll—with the long "L," wearing the quintessential watch it lady parent-face—she yells PLEEEEZE!!! at the same volume.
So we are working on teaching her to continue to excel at asking for what she needs but in a kinder tone of voice.

On a particularly bossy day last week, we were all riding in the car together, Jesse and I in the front and Opal in the back in her car-seat. I said to Jesse, softly, maybe we should try just ignoring her when she yells like that. When she whines, we either say we can't understand her until she talks in a normal voice or we invite her to keep whining but in a different room. This has worked beautifully, which I haven't recognized until this moment in the writing of it. She rarely ever whines unless she is sleepy or tired, but not even then all that much. So why don't we try that with the screaming? She can choose to keep screaming but she'll get no attention until she's done and chooses another option.
Jesse gave me a look that said, not now, honey, the walls have ears.

And no sooner had his non-verbal clicked into comprehension did Opal begin to SCREAM her lungs out in the back of the car. One LONG stretch of source-less, screeching, shrilling, as if to say, ignore THIS, mom and dad.
Point received.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Home.


Something happened to my perception of time. They tell me this is August but I'm still circling somewhere above mid-July, like a confused little commuter plane awaiting further instruction.

Has it really all come and gone, this 2-weeks-of-mama-time-away we spent the better part of 2011 preparing for? Are we really on the other side of it now, confidently enjoying a chat and watching the sun set from a different perspective?

The last few weeks have been more of a belly-full to process than I would have guessed. And returning to normal is just as big of an adjustment now as the initial transition of settling in to (meditation) program-life was during my time away.

I tried not to expect anything in particular from Opal upon returning home. I'd heard of many kids who gave their returning-parent a definitive cold shoulder until things settled down a bit and returned to ordinary. (This notion terrified me much more at the beginning of the week than when our reunion was close at hand.)

I sped through the 2 hour drive home, on the morning of August 3rd, with the impetus of having been shot from a catapult, though also trying to maintain some sense of mindfulness in the journey, so as not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater of the emotional space I'd gathered during the preceding 12 days. My car was the only thing given permission to speed. No cell phone calls were made while on the road. Not too much messing with the radio, though I did stumble on an unfortunate story about a young girl—she was about Opal's age—who had died from cancer. I cried for a good 20 miles and then opted for silence or, perhaps, classic rock.

Finally, I pulled into the driveway—my car felt so heaving and intrusive—and I could see them in the window as reflective silhouettes. I heard Jesse say "Look who it is! It's mommy!" Opal looked confused for the first few moments while in Jesse's arms, uncertain and skeptical. Her expression was exacerbated by a sizable spider bite that swelled like red ink in the center of her perfect milky cheek.

As Jesse stepped through the front door and towards me, she reached for me, wrapped her arms around my neck and tucked her little chin into my bare, sweaty shoulder. The tears rushed down my cheeks as we stood there, so warm, like a baptismal offering of coming home home home. Jesse grinned and reached to hug the both of us.

Just like that, the whole thing was behind us. I had returned.

Opal led me to the living room and introduced me to all the games and tricks that had been established by she and daddy during the time I was away. The stool that served as a car when placed over stretched-out legs, the accompanying red-light-green-light drawings, the elaborate school bus scenarios, the wooden train that lived in Jesse's office until I'd officially left, scheduled to emerge when Opal most needed a pick-me-up. This little world encapsulated in our living room dripped with carnivalesque qualities—so brilliant, so lush— and I just sat there like the coach after a winning game, having been doused in a blazon of Gatorade.

It was beyond good to see my family. It was like someone had drawn in the color again.

And, shortly thereafter, the Ordinary of Life ensued. Jesse got ready for work while Opal and I had lunch, vacillating between Hey Mambo and Nick Drake (Opal's turn for a song, mommy's turn for a song) on my laptop while eating. We warmed her milk in the microwave (what a wonder!) and read our favorite books for her nap. I holed up in our fridge-box of a bedroom while she slept, sipping tea and making homecoming-calls to my family gently and leisurely, protecting myself from the heaving mounds of tasks and to-dos as if it was the hospital I had returned from and not the mountains. As if I needed to save my strength.

That rest of that first day followed a joyful suit. An ornery, joyful trip to the grocery. Delicious dinner when Jesse got home from work. A meandering stroll with my husband and daughter while casually and profoundly discussing the teachings of the program, which Jesse had also attended years ago and was delighted to revisit in discourse.

However, surprising or not, the days that followed were much less easy; the details of my life—with the exception of motherhood—felt jarringly unfamiliar. Perhaps I'd broken away from my routine for just long enough to totally lose my footing. Or maybe I'd been away from the demands of speed and technology for just long enough to feel an abruptly toxic effect when they were reintroduced. Or maybe the mountainous heap of 12 days of life, calling on me like an irritated collection agent, was too much to sift through all at once. It's taken until today, five days of wading through a disordered and overgrown internal state, to finally feel a real clearing in the weeds.

Insert large inhale/exhale here.*

This was one of those experiences that is quite tricky to discern into a piece of writing, especially one that requests a beginning, middle and end. I draw to mind the image of the cartoon elephant who springs from the diving board and is frozen in mid-swandive headed for a thimble full of water below. There is just so much. It is just so big.

The content of the program: the teachings, the people, the friendships, the insights that were just dying to effervesce once the volume was turned low enough and the proper space was given, the emotions that scurried about like active woodland creatures in and out of the scene. The Wild Heart.
The swelling gratitude for my husband and amazing family (Grammy, Grampy, Auntie Alex and Jaimie, Uncle Will and D, and Looloo the doggy) for enveloping Opal like a protective cloak while I was away. The devastating brilliance of the team Opal and Jesse made while in my absence.

Opal said Holy Moly!! the other day while reading a book, plucked it from the clear blue sky. A state back-and-forth laughter ensued like an unexpected display of fireworks, ending only when we were both pleasantly deflated on the floor.

Holy Moly.
I will end with Opal's words because I couldn't have said it better myself.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Truth Is.

The truth is, the renewed sense of confidence that dawned in early July (about me leaving tomorrow for Shambhala Mountain Center for nearly 2 weeks, away from Opal and Jesse) has not gone anywhere. It's still there.
And yet.

This week, weeds of doubt have grown up and through the ok-ness, like madness desperate for air. Sleep has been lost, tossy and disjointed. I've got a gas bubble like an angioplasty in my belly and a deviant little troll-well of a canker sore beneath my tongue, which forces me to talk with a lisp and chew with my mouth open. I've cried at work and been attacked by wretched mounds of self-critism like getting unexpectedly buried in sawdust on the walk home.

Also. I am more than a little excited.
I'm curious about what it will feel like to pack for a trip without concern for endless baby paraphernalia. And what will it feel like to be completely autonomous for nearly half a month? Will it be disorienting, like when amputees feel as if the limb is still there—the phantom limb—to even go so far as to scratch at the hollow space? Will I feel Opal's presence in a tug on my pants or hear her little footsteps clomping behind me and then turn in spite of myself to find that she's, of course, not there? Will I have hallucinations the way I did on the fifth and final day of being away from her last January?
What will it feel like to feed myself meal after meal after meal without having to get up from the table to get more applesauce, to wipe up a spill, to grab a knife to cut the bites smaller?
What will it be like to have only Big People Conversation day in and day out for 11 cycles of 24 hours? Will I be rusty when I get home, as if I'd neglected my native language?

And.
How will Opal fare without me? Will she cope by snuggling closer to daddy and grammy? Will she busy herself more than she already does, unaware of the fact that she's avoiding tears? Will she ask daddy where mama go? only here and there or enough to make Jesse go secretly crazy? Will she ask him again when there is a noise or a song or a smell that makes her think of me and will Jesse sweetly repeat the phrase no honey, mama is not home yet, but she loves you sooo much. (He will shine.)

Also.
I haven't been able to sit my butt on a (meditation) cushion for more than 15 minutes, a few times a week, over the last many months. So I'm quite curious how it will unfold to sit on a cushion with 150 other people, morning to night, day after day. No different from a woman who has refused to diet who then suddenly chooses to go on a strict, albeit short-lived, cleansing fast. I'm bound to feel a bit remodeled come Wednesday, one way or another.

I feel giddy in anticipating the magic that is inherent in these kinds of programs. The alchemy of people and minds is glossy, intoxicating, transformative. The late night talks over sake outside the tents, the long, meandering walks through the Ponderosas to get to the meditation hall, the slow, steady excavation and buffing of the walls within the mind.

At the moment, it's all tossed up inside, with emotions feeling a bit like the arcade game with the claw that grabs at wide-eyed, cheaply-made stuffed animals. I'm doing my best not to lurch too far forward because time-do-pass no matter how much shoving I feel compelled to do.

Who the hell knows— I may get there and be shocked to find that I want to linger with my fingers in the honey all afternoon. I may make a count-down calendar from post-it notes. I may cry and cry and then be done—the way Opal stops dead in her tears and announces Opal all done kying!— ready to celebrate the fact that life must be pretty damn good at home to feel such heartache, even before I walk out the door.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wild Man

Today, Opal and I went shopping at Saver's. Tired, Opal was in full lounge-lizard mode in her stroller as we approached the cash register. She dished out inscrutable stares— part gangster, part holy man—to the passers-by. The man in front of us in line was loud-talking and wild, with eyes like an uneven level. He could've been homeless, certifiably crazy, hopped up on caffeine, cocaine or simply recently laid. It's so difficult to tell about someone from just a flicker. Regardless, his energy was mammoth and as he swung around his gaze locked with Opal's and he stopped dead in his tracks. She didn't flinch.

Dat girl be an anGEL! He said, looking up at me. I stepped to her side and put my hand on her head, a cautiously friendly barrier.
Say thanks, honey. I said. She didn't budge.

No. He said. For reeels. Dis girl is gone do some ANGEL work. Look at doze eyes. Look how she be CONNECTIN.'
I was growing to like this wild man pretty quick.

I just smiled at him and continued to comb the hair from Opal's eyes with my fingers. He was still looking right at her.
She lookin' at me like she KNOW me! Like she know me better den I know me!

I laughed and said she's been doing that for as long as she's been here. Looking at us like she sees something written on our faces, then we run to the mirror to see what she sees and find there is nothing there but what we always see.
Finally he looked up at me and said WHOA! She look just like you! She the SPITTIN' image! Then he reached into a torn khaki pocket to pay the lady. You really made the bank on dis one!

At that moment another cashier offered to help us in another lane, so we bid the wild man farewell and exited the moment. As we wheeled away, he hollered KEEP CONNECTIN'!! And I could hear him say wow as he collected his things and was on his way.

Opal reached for a raisin.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Retreat.

As in, meditation retreat rather than retreating from a large, fierce animal.

In less than a week I leave for a ten day meditation retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC). Opal will stay home with daddy, dear grammy and the cat. The trip has been months-off on the distance for a good stretch of time until, suddenly, the months became weeks and, now, days.

It all started with a fateful evening drinking wine early in the year with Ulrike Halpern, Boulder Shambhala Center Director and close friend. She spoke honestly about how there would never be a "good" time to do a long retreat. Period. She said next summer I'd have a toddler AND be pregnant, perhaps. The following summer, there may be TWO Opals to deal with. And so on.

Essentially, the logic of waiting until a better time is inherently flawed.

(Frankly, even before Opal was born, there was still never a "good" time. There is always life and obligation and hustle-bustle keeping you tied down. And breaking away to plop on a beach or prop oneself up against a roulette table in Vegas may come easier than staying in a tent in the mountain to do mindfulness practice. For approximately the same cost!)

I agreed with her, even when the influence of the wine had dissolved the next morning. I auspiciously found that I had a good chunk of work credit for SMC that is good until the end of the summer. So, taking that as a nod in the right direction, I filled out a few papers, got a recommendation from my MI (meditation instructor) and the rest is, as they say, history.

Changing the calendar page to the month of July, however, came with some serious trepidation about leaving for so long. I recall on July 4th during a garden party, when someone asked me how I felt about leaving for retreat, all I could think was I just want to get it over-with.

The next day, serendipitously, a friend asked me over to talk out her plans for the rest of the summer which had been causing her a great deal of anxiety. She plans to visit her ailing mother for the month of August and cannot bring her daughter (who is exactly Opal's age) along because of her mother's compromised immune system. She and her husband were in the process of deciding, should she try and fly her husband and daughter out to stay in a nearby hotel? Should they simply stay in Colorado, where her daughter's familiar things and people remain?

As we sat (her husband joined in) and sipped Ginger tea on the couch, I found that what flowed from my lips was the very council that I also needed to hear.
Ultimately, it will all be ok, as long as mom and dad remain relaxed and confident in their choices. Changes may not be comfortable for any of them, but this is life. And the little-one is learning that although life may not always look the way she wants it to look at times, she can TRUST that she is safe and cared for and can get through all sorts of situations and changes even when things feel a bit different.

We all agreed, too, that it's a good idea to keep up with her routine and continue to have people around her that she is familiar with, as much as possible.

When I got home that night, I said to Jesse, we can totally do this.

I certainly want to show Opal that, while most of her life is rooted in the comfort of well-established routine, she is also adaptable to any situation mommy and daddy choose for her.

In this case, I want her to learn that mommy may go away sometimes for short periods but she (Opal) will always be completely and uber-lovingly cared for and mommy will always come back. I want her to learn—throughout her life—that it doesn't do any good for she or mommy to put a pause on self-growth and restoration in the sideways attempts to protect others from discomfort. Taking care of oneself is ever an imperfect work in progress, but the effort of such restorative ventures as this bold and heartful retreat is duly noted and appreciated when there are days when I forget to brush my teeth until dinner!

What's more, at least on this occasion, my vacation will take me to a meditation cushion rather than to a roulette table in Vegas. Stated simply, I'm giving it my best shot to work with my mind in order to be a more helpful human being out there. And not just to my daughter.

And Opal gets to see that. She sees and gathers it all like a bottomless, open-mouthed basket at the market. She's seen mommy continuously support daddy as he pours his heart and soul into supporting the Shambhala Vision. Now she gets to see daddy support mommy in doing the very same thing.

And so it goes... Ki Ki So So!

Addition: 7/20/11
Last night it occurred to me that I will be gone for 12 days, not 10. The extra two days gave me pause and puts the number from just-over-a-week to almost-two. I suddenly became quite nervous that she would grow up—shed her baby-skin, just like that— in those almost-two weeks and that I'd come home to an unrecognizable Little Girl! I then became concerned that this window of her development would go undocumented and simply dissolve into the ethers.
To cope, I grabbed her baby journal and scribbled down every detail I could come up with to put us in the present tense. Then I made Jesse promise to document every significant living second of our daughter's life during the time I am away. I went to sleep feeling such sadness and longing for us to all be on a walk in the open space—daddy popping wheelies with Opal in the stroller, me in my new hat and the sun setting in translucent sediments over the mountains—after the 3rd of August.