Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Royalty, Toddlers and Squirrels.

Everyone was in their Sunday-best. Nina even said she went out to buy a dress special for the occasion. A few dozen of us had lined up on either side of the walkway that led to the house, pockets loaded with fresh rose petals for tossing. We were instructed not to step directly on the elaborate Tibetan blessings that had been chalked on the driveway and not to serve the katas outside of the house, please.

Rinpoche was returning from an extended trip to India, and more importantly, coming out of a year and a half retreat. We were posted outside the tremendous and stately home that his wife and daughter had just moved into a few weeks earlier, a house certainly fit for royalty. After greeting the two of them upon exiting the car, our faces would be awaiting him like a string of caricature-beads, eager, excited, efforting to compose ourselves.

He arrived while I fixated on whether a bow or a hat would be more appropriate greeting attire for Opal, surveying the intermittent cloud-chill. It happened so quickly, the appearance of the patten-leather Suburban, the whooping of the crowd and the flying of petals, the brief and warm eye-contact as he passed by in the midst of a toddler squirming to get out of my arms. We were led into the house and Jesse was quickly called away so I commenced to untangle our three katas from a christmas-light-caliber knot while also monitoring my toddler—mighty proud of her new velvet jacket—who had no intentions of either being held or staying put on land. We were called in to offer the katas sooner than I'd expected and so Jesse completed the untangling as we walked, Opal at our side, approaching His and Her Majesty and the Princess who is 10 months Opal's junior.

A dozen or so steps away from Rinpoche, Opal began to cry. She looked up at the Royalty surrounded by extravagant brocades and impeccable formality and turned tail with a shriveled face and eyes threatening to flood. Jesse scooped her up and handed me a kata, pronto. We offered our bows and sincere welcomes and even though everything wound up in its proper place as we shuffled out of the room, the scenario felt like yet another well-intended conundrum that feels so very common when one is traveling with a young child. Especially in the presence of Royalty.

Currently, the only sort of decorum Opal practices is the kind that involves serving afternoon tea to her Golla and Ragetty (Gorilla and Raggety Ann, respectively). She is nowhere near learning that there even exists a proper kind of behavior intended to accompany specific people or accommodate a particular situation.

Your daughter is looking at me like I'm crazy.
I've had people say these very words to me on more than one occasion, usually at the conclusion of omitting long streams of baby-jibberish, earnest tickle-tickles and peek-a-boos, rigorously attempting to squeeze a laugh out of her. I've long since stopped apologizing and explaining and depending on the situation, I may or may not mention how often she does this to us, too. How we simply have a larger landscape to work with and clearly less at stake. We also, my husband and I, happen to also have the buffer of a good collection of already-moments when we were able to get her to laugh and so most of it feels like icing or a fine cocktail, without too much worry of how soon we can get it to happen again.

It's not that she's unpredictable. She is, in fact, very predictable when we reside in a place that feels safe and familiar, and we use this information by choosing our environments wisely. It's a rarity for us to place ourselves in situations where it isn't appropriate for Opal to be a toddler or where we don't at least have a getataway car idling in back, so to speak. We gather at places where Opal can bounce and trot, yodel and holler with little resistence. We go to Grammy and Granpy's, to parks and kid's museums where a panorama of tiny humans running wild is what's expected. These days, we prefer to invite people to our house than to strap her into a high chair at a restaurant, and if a restaurant is inevitable, we do our damnedest to choose a place with plenty background noise and the space for her to lead one of us in circles with her tiny hand like a pony on a short lead, while other dining parents offer nods and been-there smiles of approval.

There are times, though, when we inevitably need or want to bring Opal along to something that is not exactly intended or suited for a baby. Inside the home of His and Her Majesty of Shambhala would be glowing example. It's certainly doable, just much less comfortable than average. Feels a little like having a frenetic pet squirrel break free from its cage in mid-prayer during Catholic Mass. One is much more concerned with the possible—probable—destruction of the squirrel than with the sermon.

The story continued when the same petal-tossing welcomers were graciously invited to tea and rice with the Majesties. Aside from the Princess who sat in a beautiful state of calm on Her Majesty's lap, Opal was the only baby. We opted to stay on the outside of the sitting room where everyone, including Jesse, knelt and sipped and spoke quietly. Meanwhile, Opal took a grand interest in the wooden staircase and the thick clunk it inspired beneath her brand-new Stride-Rites as she hollered mo cheese!, referring to the snack I'd been intermittently using to bribe her to be still for a moment.

We were encouraged to join the others, which we did, briefly. Opal luckily spotted the Halpern boys who she made a game of delivering her B and a handful of napkins to. A joke was made about how she learned early to serve, but the laughter was reserved and whispery. Personally, I wasn't able to hear a word Rinpoche was saying as I kept an eye on the little lady who was toddling through a mine-field of cups filled with creamy black tea and plates sprinkled with the remaining dregs of rice.

I assumed I wasn't the only one having a difficult time concentrating in that moment, so I made the executive decision to corral my little squirrel after not-so-long and reside contentedly in the outer-rooms until it was time to go. But, truth-be-told, I was deeply pleased to have had yet another moment of showing up fully, boisterously, warmly, imperfectly, with the gorgeous snaggle-toothed toddler in the lead like Reveille.

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