Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Weekend Away.

For our 4-year wedding anniversary last fall, my husband—ever astute he is—offered to ship me away for a weekend while he stayed home with the babe.

"I thought you could go visit Lisa in Vancouver," were the specific words that sprung from his lips like a flock of Warblers. Lisa—a dear friend and one of my first acquaintances upon moving to Boulder as well as the lady who introduced Jesse and I—is indeed delightful company, a master conversationalist, instigator of unconventional situations and someone who is quite easy to relax with. The perfect concierge for my first weekend away.

Let's be clear. When I say first weekend away, I mean first overnight away. I mean first longer-than-a-half-day chunk away. And here we were, going big and bold, with 4-days and 3-nights elsewhere.

In Canada.


The Before.

A few days prior to departure, I drew up a meticulous schedule for Jesse, complete with a photograph and font variations. I was fixated with having every piece of laundry be clean and folded before I left and strategically laid out a handful of outfits. By the time Wednesday, the day before I left, rolled around, I was a steel-wool tangle of nerves disguised as how-do-I-get-all-these-blasted-ducks-in-a-row?!

"Honey, this is all helpful but we'll be just fine, you know." Jesse said over the phone. I told him I knew, know, that he is the most competent person on the planet, that Opal adores her daddy and these preparations were intended to help him to be able to relax more and enjoy his time with her once I left. But we both knew, and there was no need to admit, that the copious notes and 'helpful hints' (shield her in a smock and hat before mealtime lest you plan for a bath directly to follow, keep the humidifier dial at six o'clock...) were indeed to abate my own anxieties.

The night before my departure, Opal and I experienced simultaneous stomach issues. My insides felt like a questionable wiring job. Her's exploded with sandy diarrhea, filling her pant leg and socks like a cheap sausage and with a stench so intense that it stayed in her skin after a bath, skunked her, as Jesse said. She had another bout during the night, effectively skunking her room, requiring her to stay home from daycare that day and for daddy to stay home from work.

When I gave her a hug good-bye on Thursday, leaving curiously before her morning nap, she was wearing her happy-hour robe and headlamp hat. A decapitated doggie sticker stuck sideways to her lapel. She said “Bye Mama” and then fell to the floor, kicking and twisting in her p.j.’s. But by the time I pulled away, she and daddy were waving amiably through the front window.


At the airport.

In the beginning, I couldn’t help myself from sharing the news with anyone who would listen— the bearded guy on the bus, the lady with Nefertiti eye make up who shined my shoes. But it didn't take long to realize this state of travel-anonymity was a rare feast. The rushing masses of wheelie-luggage, the oblivious cell-phone gabbers and tiny self-consumed family systems, all ignoring the periphery to make their way eagerly to Point B. Such mindlessness and speed has been cause for irritation in the past, sparks for questioning-humanity conversations and the like. But for that first day alone, the airport-sea of chaos and extreme sensory stimulation offered the merciful potential of full consumption. A diluting-rinse for all the cramped-up life details in my brain.

In no time, I found myself relishing the booming voices from the overhead speakers, the breeze from zipping-by motor carts that were laden with wheelchairs (on your left, ma’am!) and finally, the roar of the airplane engine, going, going, going, like seamless hurricane winds against the side of the plane. I sat quietly by the window as the ground backed away and pulled a cotton cloak to its chin. I allowed my mind to go elastic.

An example of the sweeping ramblings taken straight from what was written in my journal on the plane:

“—Eyes open: a comfortable wash. Eyes closed: unexpected morbid thoughts of getting lost in space and never returning to my husband and daughter. Eyes snap open again out of reflex and turn to look out the window. The vision of pulling away from the ground, as if it were avoiding an embrace, is mesmerizing. Further and further it goes, no explanations, no goodbyes. Timid, complex as an edgeless quilt, each snow-encrusted square a mis-told history all it’s own. One square is an irrigation circle like a wall-clock with no numbers, no bold-faced minute hand, simply the barely-visible halted strike of a single sprinkler, an etched slice into the white pie. Another square is a minimalistic canvas with a slate-grey river veining through, reflective like pieced-together shards of mirror. Another is a tiny country neighborhood decipherable from a distance only as a poorly distributed pinch of seasoning (black pepper). Another boasts meticulous garden plots and resembles factory-made gingham..."

The abstract details were surprisingly comforting.

I had one of Opal’s burp rags tucked into the pocket of the seat in front of me as a conduit for some essential oils that are supposed to ward off contagious airplane demons. The pink posy pattern shuddered like a flag in a breeze of unknown origin.

I shared the row (an empty space in-between) with a wiry-haired, middle-aged woman with transparent eyes who went straight from deep head-bob sleeping to feverishly underling passages in her book “My Grandfather’s Blessings,” by Naomi Remen.

“I study blessings,” she said when she caught me eyeing the cover. Neither forthcoming nor inviting.

A little later I inquired about where she was headed (Okinawa, Japan) and, after many hours of speaking barely a word, felt compelled to let her in on the spiel. Anniversary. First time away overnight. It will be so great for them, and so on. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was telling her out of courtesy, obligation—to a stranger?— and the words came tumbling out in automation. I wanted to shove it back under my coat, not be so quick to hand it over, and re-affix my stare on the wing and the sky that somehow held it in place.

(*Author's note: Who was it that said the definition of a boring person is someone who says everything, omits nothing. I believe it was Kafka, though I can’t seem to find the original quote anywhere.)

“Good for you,” said the lady, only partially friendly. She then closed her book, inserting her finger to keep the place, and shared that she has, in fact, been visiting the same friend for one weekend every year for the passed 30 years. She currently has two sons and four grandchildren. “It’s life-giving,” she said.

I realized my book was wide open and that the photo of Opal that I was using as a bookmark was lying on my lap in plain view, so I offered it to her.

“Adorable,” the lady said, and handed it back after barely a glance. “But try not to stare at it too much.”


The Actual Weekend.

The three nights and two full days spent in Vancouver were delicious. Unique Lisa-inapired conversations were enjoyed all over the map: with bed-head and faces in tea steam until late in the morning, with another friend and a bottle of afternoon Chardonnay at a cafe by the coast as miniature ships inched their way along the horizon (the breathtaking view not at all distracting from our boisterous storytelling) and late enough into the evening with Lisa's sweet husband until nearly all of us sunk into slumber as we faced one-another in a circle of chairs. (Lisa: “Would it be wrong of me to wish for a troop of gnomes to come and brush my teeth for me?”)

There was an impressive tour through Vancouver, as guided by Lisa and her lovely friend Raena, from inside the tomato-red Mercedes they dubbed “Betty.” The taxi-boat ride to-and-fro just as the sun clawed its way through the dense clouds and inspired every Vancouver-local we came in contact with to comment on what a beautiful day it was! The next day we wandered through ancient forest— a spiraling ecosystem thriving as they do when untouched by human hands— and had Betty transport us to continue our wandering in Chinatown after an abundant feast of dim sum.

Throughout the weekend, I kept in good contact with Jesse, talking once or twice a day and emailing as well. He was so kind to send photos of he and Opal playing in her first fort, Opal in the outfit he picked out on his own (not bad!), he and Opal wearing underwear on their heads. The reports were sparkling. She was having a ball with family that’d come in from out of town. She and daddy were enjoying their time together. She was asking for mama, but easily calmed or re-directed. But by Saturday, she wanted to be held all the time, Jesse said, not even so much as to be set down next to him while he made breakfast.

I thought of her constantly, not so much yearning for her as having fond, simple mama-thoughts. There was a continuous stream of things I imagined showing her when she was a little older as well as thoughts of how she’d describe the things we passed in her perfect little toddler-diction. It wasn’t until Saturday night—I was to leave on Sunday morning—when I was socked by a longing as strong as any drug. I hadn’t spoken to Jesse since that morning and wouldn’t reach him again until Sunday morning when I got to Seattle. I was up for much of the night feeling as if my throat had closed, dreaming of her and waking to what I thought was her tiny voice through the monitor. What amazing things the mind and body can do! It was as if my missing her— and more importantly, feeling as if she was suddenly missing me, had the power to change the weather.

Once I got to Seattle, I breathlessly called Jesse to be informed that, in fact, Opal was doing just fine. No problems. Can’t wait to see you soon, honey. Immediately my appetite returned and my heart rate clicked into a moderate tempo.


The Return.

The worst part was the 3-hour layover in Seattle. No movement towards home. Any other day, those 3 hours to myself would have been an extravagant wedge of space. I wont lie to you, I didn’t hold back when it came to hot chocolate and chair massage, but if I’d had a chance to hop on a plane to get me home earlier, you bet your britches I’d have been the first in line.

I was giddy and fluttering as I pulled into the driveway, all gawky with tangled limbs. When I entered the house—a house that, incidentally, I adore coming home to—daddy was holding Opal in his arms. His grin was much more vigorous than hers. As I described later to my mother-in-law, I had to use every ounce of restraint not to linebacker her face-first into the carpeting. Opal’s veneer expressed that she was basically unaffected, though there was clearly more going on underneath. She gave me a quick hug, scurried over to dump her basket of finger puppets unceremoniously in a heap on the floor and holler for her B.

Since then, for the accuracy of our records, Opal has been glued to my side and slightly fussy at times for the better part of the week. She had also been experiencing sustained and major meltdowns every time I leave her for a nap. But as I finish this lengthy entry, it has been one week exactly and, overall, she is doing just dandy. We made an audacious move and it was a booming success. (Thanks, Daddy! xo.)

As it turns out, daddy is the one who’s gone this weekend and Opal's been asking for him, calling him on her fake phone and standing by the front window, anticipating his headlights. I can only imagine how she’d like to lasso and hog-tie the both of us to our living room couch as this point, bless her heart. And maybe we'll let her.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Front Row: A 14.5 Month Development-Blitzkrieg as Told in List Form.

We just sit around and watch her, with eyes too focused, as if honing in on 11 tiny grunting football players on a too-small television set. We don't blink, we don't look away. Our glass of wine or water or juice remains untouched on the up-high counter until long after the performance is over.

We utter a continuous stream of adjectives that land in the air like blow-horn emissions, vague and grossly inaccurate in describing the scene—brilliant! incredible!—and we eventually, inevitably land at a place where we have nothing left but rhetoricals. Is this what other parents do?
We then complete the process by sliding lithely into simple exchanges such as the following:
Me: Hey honey, did you just see her do that? (Even though he is sitting right next to me.)
Jesse: I did. That was awesome.
A bit later...
Jesse: Hey honey, did you catch what she just said?
Me: I did. She is just outrageous.
And so on.

We watch her, we play with her, we watch her some more—how did she figure that one out all by herself ?—and then we discuss it over dinner after we put her to bed.

And so concludes a well-aimed sketch of our lives at present.

I keep a journal handy for those moments when documenting something notable that Opal has done, said, accomplished or discovered is needed. (It could be argued that it's not so much me needing to document it as the world simply requiring such divinity to be documented—like a human-almanac—and I am simply doing my part by stringing together a line of gorgeous beads that I've found.)

The least threatening way to share some of her most recent gems is in list form.
Let's dive right on in:

1. Traditions.
When I go and get Opal from her morning nap, it's tradition to launch immediately into a game of peek-a-boo, no discussions, no questions asked. There is a quilt hanging over the front of her crib which serves as the perfect prop as I drop to the floor and say "wheeeere'smommy?" a question that is quickly responded to by her dropping to hands-and-knees, crawling to one side of the crib and lifting a corner of the quilt (in proper voila' fashion) where mama's mug is exposed before her very eyes. A predictable surprise which never fails to be a satisfying crack-up.
To take it a step further and inspire uncontrollable explosions of laughter (only intended for very short stints) I then emerge over the side of the crib as octopus-mama with arms flailing as if under water, lapping over like car-wash strips.
So many customs contained in a day. This one is so established that now all I have to do is crack open the door to her sacred naptime-cranny to inspire a little girl—brilliantly beautiful with shiny eyes and slanted bedhead—to spring her head jack-in-the-box style over the side of the crib and announce boo!

Peek-a-boo is a treasured activity hardly limited to post-naptime, though. Yesterday, she walked into the living room, stood in front of Jesse and I, squatted at the knees, paused, and hopped up declaring boo! She basked in the wake of her independent display of entertainment, a totally conspicuous grin, then repeated the entire thing.

2. Body and music.
She loves the song "Skip to My Lou" as sung by Elizabeth Mitchell from my I-tunes. When the song is over and shifts to the next song (which happens to be the timeless classic "12 ladybugs") she immediate chimes in LOU-LOU-LOU-LOU. We cannot currently listen to any other music while the little one is in our midst. We have it on continuous-repeat and, believe-you-me, the moment she is strolling down the hall for nap or bedtime both Jesse and I dive at the I-pod like flag football to change it up.

But there is nothing cuter than her dance moves: a slight bend at the knee, hands-fisted and arms pulled tight to the body, a slight rotation left to right, hinging at the hips, stomping and marching when on the hardwood floor or a piece of cardboard. Movements that have nothing to do with the music that accompanies her, aligning with only the pulse that metronomes in her own temples and wrists and chest, utterly free of self-consciousnesses or need for approval. It's hopeless for either Jesse or I to try and match her on the dance floor.

3. Memory.
She pulled a plastic bag from the pocket of my backpack this morning and said poo-poo and it was indeed one of the bags we used to pick up Olive's poop.

Daddy was wearing a shirt that said Boston, which he pointed out to her once in passing. Many days—weeks?—later, she pointed to it and said Oston.

I made the mistake at some point of picking up a piece of trash and calling it 'dirty' while shaking my head to convey that being dirty was not something to be proud of. (Or put in your mouth, for that matter.) Now, she is obsessed with pointing out all things dirty and, if possible, bringing them to mama. It took a long while to convey that toys on the floor were not dirty but food on the floor definitely was.

Lately when I sing our daily songs to Opal, she chimes in. Just recently it happened twice—I sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. How I wonder what you are." And Opal stepped in by singing UP-A-BA!—"Up above the world so high..." She hit her cue perfectly. Then again while I sang "3 little monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and bonked his head. Mama called the doctor and the doctor said..." and Opal looked up at me from the changing table, and as she rubbed pretend lotion into her belly, said NO-MO—"No more monkeys jumping on the bed."

4. Play.
One of her favorite pastimes is delivering random objects to the people in her space.

She puts the knobby puzzle pieces in the correct spots and even figured out that this is one of the rare occasions where the the circle does indeed fit in the square opening.

She plays beautifully, often surprising me with her creativity and ingenuity. I never quite know what I'll find when I peek my head out of the kitchen into the living room, with sudsy hands or food in mid-prep. Oh! She figured out how to put the finger puppets on her teeny fingers. Wow! She's dragging the monkey and the doggie around the room on the make-shift leashes we tied on earlier. Hurray! She stacked the cups all by herself.
More often than not, she'll march into the kitchen and join me, with an armful of objects to line up on the open dishwasher door. The dishwasher is a no-touch apparatus (because of easy accessibility of knives) but there is no law against putting plastic cups and B on the open door as I load up plates, sippies and myriad mugs. The moment is concluded by clearing all the toys with a sweep of the arm and yelling CLO! as we shut the door together.

Or she may appear with something in her clutches, repeating OPA-PEEZ. Translation: Open, please. A purse or satchel or eyeglass cases or a box of cards. She occasionally carries with her an item that will, bless it's heart, never open. Keys or a piece of crumbled paper, for example. But for the most part, she seems to understand exactly what it is she's requesting.

She picks out the books she wants to read. Gone are the days when we, as parents, get to pick out a small stack of our personal favorites. She currently wants to choose from a small selection of books about birdies, dadas (dogs), books with peek-a-boo flaps, books with animals, specifically gollas (gorillas), or the Achoo book (the one where the hibernating bear is awoken by a pepper fleck from the stew his friends were making in his cave while he slept. An excellent book with rhymes like layers of flavor and a twist at the end that never lets me down). Though occasionally she does mix it up, like tonight when she asked for mymore, mymore.
???—Sorry kiddo, no compute. Until she reached over the side of the rocker to grab the book "My World." What, you can read now? Have mercy.

She loves to have tea parties which is a splendid opportunity to include the people around her in her affairs. She loves to help mama water the plants by pouring water from her empty cup while making the sound sshhhh. The likeness she conveys of water-pouring is uncanny. She also periodically snags a diaper wipe and spot cleans the entire house.

5. Did she really just say that?
Opal's language—the actual forming of the words, the sounds and enunciations— improves on a daily basis, along with the ability to form entire words now instead of simply fragments. The letter L used to come out like a playful guppy in her mouth: blue was bla-la-la-lue for weeks until the guppy settled and now it's a precious two-syllable BA-LUE. Milk was mil until recently. Ball, book, car and many others have also recently regained there proper consonant-endings.

Knuckles used to exist as a one-syllable utterance that we only understood contextually (which, come to think of it, was the case for many words) Now it is knuckles, plain as day and pleasingly paradoxical to hear passing through her tiny mouth. Not only can she pronounce the word, but her placement along with the lack of it's overuse, is impressive and skillful. She knows that knuckles follows some variation of "good job" and is quick to follow up praise that is given with a simple "knuckles." However, she refuses to simply go around and "do knuckles," simply giving it away to impress the masses. It needs to be preceded by appropriate and authentic measures.

She calls her beloved stuffed gorilla golla.

She says BESSU when we sneeze. She said TANKA this morning when I handed her a toy she was looking for. No joke, TANKA. Last night, she called Jesse HOMIE. We had used the word in jest and she gobbled it right up. (Ahem, yet another reinforcement for us to continue to spell-out swear words.)

Her favorite sentence is still one of a hundred bye-bye fill-in-the-blank variations. Bye-bye mama, bye-bye dada, bye-bye dippy (diaper—see the earlier blog "Bye-Bye Dada and Other Language Variations.") and so on. A very resourceful phrase if you consider it.

Gompa, gompa, lu-lu (grandma, grandpa, Lucy the dog) is the mantra for heading over to grandma and grandpa's house, which is ever the anticipated outing.

6. More play.
Many of her stuffed animals are on leashes, including but not limited to the fuzzy shitzu bound by a necktie, chi chi the yapping chihuahua that is lassoed by a curtain-tie and the Velcro-pawed monkey that has the distinct privilege of wearing the actual dog-leash which is hooked on a collar that was fashioned by a ribbon. The monkey is her favorite creature to walk, an activity that travels with the accompanying mantra: Waka-moki! She recently realized that it's much less cumbersome to 'walk the monkey' by actually carrying the monkey versus dragging it behind you, vulnerable to get caught on furniture corners and trip you up. She blasted from behind the loveseat just last week, holding the monkey above her head like a flag of glory.

7. Developments and understanding.
A few days ago, Opal walked up to me, tugged on my pants (an action fully associated with toddler-hood, one of many examples throughout the day where it's declared before my very eyes just how much she is growing up!) and said poo-poo. Once she realized she had my attention, she turned tail and led me down the hall to her bedroom to stand purposefully in front of her changing table.

TODAY was her very first day of feeding herself with her own spoon from her own bowl! She's been eating off-and-on for months from a spoon that I fill and hand to her. But today she had her own spoon and her own bowl of chunky soup and she went to town. Let's just say it was wise to robe her in a food-smock and head-cover beforehand and that I was cleaning up soup (from lunch) from inside her nose tonight before putting her jammies on for bed. What a thrill.

She points out when mom is wearing a necklace or buttons, necka and butta, respectively, and when mom or dad have on a hat. She loves to wear necklaces, buttons and hats of her own. She has a lovely amber necklace that she requests on a regular basis and also holds beads and scarves to her neck to make it appear as if she's adorned in neckwear.


There is much much more, but I'm on the other end of tired and desperately wanting to post this before it grows big enough to rival the world's largest rubber band collection.
But if you need anything, you know where to find us.
Front row, center.
Shouting bravo! from behind our 3-d glasses, with un-hinged jaws and hands made raw from clapping.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Eight-minute speed round: Knuckles Pishy.

Tonight, our bedtime books consisted of the following: the book about colors (hello birdies!), the book about houses from around the world (hat-hat-hat when we reach the eskimos) and the book about Clifford the big red dog when he was a puppy (dada!).
Once we finished, we turned the music and the lights off and clicked on the fish. Opal's noise machine doubles as a night-light projector and comes with different slides of wildlife. Opal's favorite is by-and-large the image of the fish. HI PISHY! when we turn it on and NIGHT-NIGHT PISHY when she goes to sleep.

We were winding up the bedtime routine, rocking in the rocking chair as she willingly drank her milk, something she's been inexplicably boycotting lately. I hummed Twinkle Twinkle into he ear as she gulped. After half the sippy was down the hatch, I said "Good job honey."

She set down her milk to calculate a reply.

She looked up at me, held up five open fingers and said "knuckles mama." Then she shifted her held-open hand to face the fish-projection on the ceiling and said "knuckles pishy." At which point she picked up her sippy cup, pudgy as hell with self-pride, and continued to drink while I re-hinged and replaced my jaw in it's rightful place.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011


There is a member of my family (who shall, for the moment, remain nameless) who prides herself in carrying multiple tools of documentation with her at all times. She lives her life from behind a view-finder the way someone who fears chemical warfare may permanently adorn themselves in a gas-mask. Aside from periodic breaks to eat or use the toilet, I can never recall seeing her without a photographing weapon of choice. This is a topic of prominent irritation for the whole family, who no longer attempt to hide their groans when being filmed while chewing a bite of turkey or intercepted on their way out the door for a force-faced family photo.

I never understood this near-panic stricken desire to document every waking moment.
Until now.

For the first many months of Opal's life, when the days seemed to brim with an abundancy of time (which could admittedly be a hind-sight mirage) I felt on top of my chronicling game.

At that time I was organized and had a plan for gathering and sharing Opal-highlights. I wrote a monthly letter to my her, describing in great detail how she was growing before our very eyes, offering her one example after another of the details of her rapid and successful flourishing. I also posted albums on Facebook with captions and a small synopsis. I sent a monthly email to family and close friends with photos attached and another small synopsis of the particulars, the developmental attributes, the mesmerizing aspects of this little girl's existence. A proclamation of our Noticing, long before she would ever understand or nearly care.

These wildly in-depth registers were incredibly comforting for a while, helped me to harness the time as it passed, as if the next month was authorized to proceed when I typed, emailed and posted it into being, rather than when the calendar said so.

As to be expected, this impressive— perhaps rigid?— level of documentation is indeed no longer happening. Somewhere around the 1 year mark, when life-in-addition-to-momhood began to flourish, a time that coincided with spending every evening for upwards of month editing the 9-hours of video we'd taken of her in her first year down to a 30-minute nub to share with the family for the holidays, I started to fall behind in other areas. The photos are piling up. The bits and nibbies of Opal-notes and particular scene sketches are shoved in a drawer. I have a half-dozen blogs perched in the unfinished drafts folder like a row of unpainted tchotchkes on a shelf.

I am indeed documentation-constipated.

And Opal has no interest in pausing to wait for me to catch up. Rightly so— I could barely keep up with her when keeping up with her was all I had to do, my hobby, my job and my cure for insomnia and when Bravo! Get the Camera! accompanied her kicking a blanket off or batting at a dangling toy.

She's on fire now—grasping things on a daily basis. shocking us with brilliance that is honestly too stunning and inscrutable to pin down.

In a way, it is difficult to simply witness such shocking splendor— a peacock standing before its wall of feathers or a manatee chomping at lettuce as if they were both weightless in space, or an orchid omitting a drip of sap like a tear or a sunset that looks as if the sky were melting into the neat pencil-line of the horizon—without wanting to capture it all and take it on the road to nibble on like an endless supper.

So this year, I aim to relax a bit.
To allow myself to enjoy Opal with perhaps a little less time behind the pen or the view-finder.
I'll never not scribble down the noteworthy moments or snap photos or blog about, as the example du jour, her new obsession with walking the rag-doll monkey around the living room repeating walka-walka-walka-walka through a thoroughly self-pleased grin.
But I do aim to gather the moments with more an attitude of treasure hunting rather than panic-induced hoarding.

And to the dear auntie who was referred to in the beginning: I understand more than you know the impulse of wanting to set up camp permanently behind the camera lens. It somehow dulls the inherent heartbreak of the simple fact that all moments pass, never to taste the same in retrospect as they did the moment they occurred.
But the good news is that a continuous stream of other moments are right around the corner, ready to pounce, giggling "Boo!" with side-sloped bedhead, candy-striped jammies and a very warn bunny tucked under one arm.