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?

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.)

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


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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Camping with Ferrets and a Lone Duck.

We took Opal camping for the first time last weekend and, as Jesse so aptly put it, we lived to tell the tale.

All-told, it was approximately a 24 hour escapade, with multiple hours on each end for preparation and take-town. But it certainly seemed like a lengthy trip, condensed as it was.

We hardly roughed it. I purchased a "family-sized" tent from Costco that had been set-up and suspended from the rafters in the store, enticing me with my oversized bags of blueberries from below. It was large enough to accommodate a queen-sized foam mattress alongside Opal's Pack-N-Play, providing an extraordinary area to lounge, play and eventually sleep in. We packed camping chairs, an overstuffed cooler stocked with a variety of food and beverage options, the Coleman stove, citronella candles. We packed Opal's Twilight Turtle (that projected stars onto the interior of the tent) and her Giraffe that created battery-powered white-noise. We brought her 3 changes of clothes—she went through every one of them!—while Jesse and I stayed in our same clothes through the length of the journey.

With all this gear, we considered ourselves immune from calamity.

The campground that was selected for our maiden voyage was Lone Duck Campground in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Jesse and I had been there many years prior to Opal's birth, during the era when we subscribed to Sunset magazine. We'd tear out the "Weekend-Trips" pages and follow their instructions on how to have a good time in the particular city they'd featured. I don't recall Lone Duck making it on to their recommendations list, but we did learn where else to visit in Manitou Springs. The town is completely adorable, from the accoutrements gift shop that sells all things bacon to the old-school arcade furnished with a row of Skeeball. We were guided on where to eat, go for scenery and for adventure. We even used Sunset's suggestion to find a place to rent bikes.

But, as I said, Lone Duck was discovered independently. I'll never forget pulling into the campsite the evening of that first visit just as the sky opened up to storm. Jesse and I spent the first few hours sitting in the front seat of his Subaru waiting for the rain to pass, listening to mood music and using his dash as an impromptu bar for a bottle of Sake and two sake cups. (We finished the bottle before the rain finally let up enough to put the tent together.)

Lone Duck is one of those just-add-water, already-assembled type places. The amenities included (but were not limited to) a swimming pool, a playground, an arcade accompanied by an endless supply of fresh-popped popcorn and a fishing pond stocked with one single, solitary Lone Duck. There was a souvenir/convenience store open to offer a variety of impulse buys—ranging from snub-nosed pliers to teddy bears dressed in leather moccasins—to vulnerable campers until 10pm. The sum of the aforementioned details created a place that vacillated between comforting and blatantly silly.

It was mid-afternoon when we pulled into our campsite with a sleeping kiddo in the backseat of the car. At that time, we thought we found some prime real estate located in the far-off corner of an empty gravel culdesac next to a lush thicket of grasses, completely surrounded by trees. But by 8pm that night, there were 5 other vehicles, tents and sets of campers crammed into that same culdesac, stripping the space of any real rustic appeal and replacing it with more of a tone of "Block Party."

But it remained lovely. None of our fellow campers were obnoxious in any way.

(The author must take a moment to reflect on a camping trip taken with Jesse and Olive-the-dog long before Opal came along. Those who were camping close-by grew in volume and rudeness in direct proportion to their increasing beer consumption—blasting classic rock, revving car engines, hooting and grunting like animals—to the point where Jesse and I actually put in earplugs while we sat by the fire before deciding to pack up our entire camp and leave.)

In fact, the fellow camping just down the way from us, who sported a dozen or so 666 tattoos in an array of fonts and sizes, happened to be camping with his two pet ferrets. He brought them over to greet Opal, offering his own delightfully bright eyes that immediately brought his appearance back to the level of neutral. They sniffed Opal's arms in a tickly weasel fashion that had her in stitches. Later in the night when a random firework was set off in the distance, it was our dear 666 friend, Jake, who yelled Knock it off!

He's turned out to be our protector. Jesse said.

There was nothing for a toddler not to love about our tent. A down comforter on the foam-mattress where she could walk and read and play with her Tommy Trains and finger puppets. It was limitless access to mommy and daddy's bed, on the ground, enveloped in orange walls. She enjoyed the playground as it brimmed with friendly kiddos of all ages, hi kiddos!, (it was too rainy and cold for the pool) but I consider it to be a safe assumption that she'd have preferred to stay in the tent with mommy and daddy for the entire stretch of the afternoon.

In the evening, we took a short drive to evade a series of monstrous, bloated clouds and wound up in Green River Falls. A precious dollhouse of a town with a tiny lake that brimmed with ducks and geese and a foot-bridge that lead to a gazebo right in the center. It had an expansive kelly-green lawn with picnic tables nestled under shade trees, an impressive park with half a dozen slides and swings and a sandbox as big as our bedroom at home. There was a row of little shops ending with the quaintest of diners called, aptly, The Pantry. Jesse and I had ridden our (rented) bikes down here during the aforementioned Lone Duck adventure, and dined at The Pantry, were served by a waitress who wore her hair in a classic Beehive. (However, I would not have remembered how to get to this place had it not been for Jesse, so the Beehive portion could easily be a figment of my imagination.)

The Pantry had opened a garden patio with an open-air bar and full menu, nestled beneath enough shade trees and umbrellas that the impending storm no longer concerned us. A portly feline that dangled from a branch near the entrance sold Opal instantly on our spontaneous dinner choice. A live musician—an irresistible John Wayne-type cowboy—serenaded Opal with Hush Little Baby and the crowd of diners cheered and waved and grinned in her direction. Opal was so lit up that the notion of hunger didn't even occur to her until we returned to camp.

She didn't get too close to the campfire—HOT!— but it was heaven to sit her on my lap in our respective fleeces as the sun tucked away for the evening, and read her a book while she sipped milk that was warmed on the Coleman stove. There is something wildly liberating about taking her bedtime routine on the road and having it continue to be successful.

Encased in stars and the hushhhh of her noise machine, worn from her long and thrilling day, Opal fell asleep without a single peep. Jesse and I were able to sit by the camp fire—just the two of us!—where we waxed about what life would be like when Opal has a sibling as we sipped on beer and ate peanut butter cups. This peaceful and kid-free moment was not a moment I had expected.

Somewhere between the quiet time and preparing the area for bed, another car of campers pulled in right next to us. It was as if people were checking into the adjacent hotel room in a hotel without walls. When we climbed into the tent with Opal, I remember distinctly noticing how the conversations of our neighborhood of campers seemed to be getting louder—perhaps the drinking was loosening the vocal chords, perhaps we couldn't hear so well when we were sitting by the pops and crackles of the fire. Jesse asked if I wanted ear plugs but I declined, not wanting to miss anything if Opal needed me. (Silly, I know, she was less than an arm's length from my chin.) And if she woke, I also did not want to miss the reason why.

Then the rain came. The tink-tink-tink of individual raindrops shifted to the blaring wash of downpour in no time and the outside conversations were no longer an issue. (I must admit I felt a certain devious sense of satisfaction in visualizing the chatty campers being forced to scurry into their tents.) A storm ensued that lasted for what seemed like hours, though I couldn't see my watch in the dark and am not at all sure of the timing. Cycles of lightening followed by ground-shaking thunder accompanied the deafening, seamless downpour. Opal didn't even stir. Jesse and I lay there in the darkness (the Turtle-stars had shut off from the timer) and listened, smiling in spite of ourselves at our little toddler who was to wind up being the best-rested of the three of us.

I'd been so concerned with Opal not being warm enough at night. It gets frigid in the mountains at night, even in the dead of summer. I packed her snowsuit to sleep in, if push came to shove. But the night wound up being cool, not frigid, and she stayed put beneath her weighty comforter so she was perfectly comfortable . She woke twice during the night, independent of thunder crashes, and I held her and rocked her back to sleep with very little effort.

Again, I took great pleasure in transferring these familiar acts from home to a tiny vinyl hut in the middle of the night in the middle of a gravel lot in the middle of a campground in Manitou Springs. As I said before, there is a feeling of such satisfaction in being able to move the whole experience of day-to-day family life to new environs. Gives you a sense of being adaptable, capable.

In conclusion, our dress rehearsal of the Grimes family, unplugged, indeed went off without a hitch, barring lack of sleep and a minor cooler catastrophe.

Next stop: Colorado wilderness. Where we have a plot of space all to ourselves (and the previously inhabiting wildlife) just off a dusty old pull-off road where the Subaru can sleep close-by.