Thursday, October 23, 2014

Birthday Walk, with Mailboxes

At two, she seems poised on the edge of knowing, of actually meeting and growing curious about the planet. Sometimes now she seems so much like an alien: by which I mean, not yet of this world. She's the most gorgeous and funny alien I've ever met.

On the morning of her birthday, I talked to her as we walked, pointing out all of the important stuff: trees, leaves, squirrels, the colors of cars and houses and flowers. She participated, repeating the words she knew (tree! sqwrrl! car car car!) and asking, occasionally, "What's that?" She asked that once when we passed an animal smashed in the road, and I said, "Oh, that's nothing, nothing." And kept strolling. I don't have to introduce her to that part yet. Please don't make me introduce her to that just yet.

My heart was full of her two-ness as we walked. I carried all of the days of our acquaintence around with me, and I felt sure I would weep at something. But it wasn't the dead creature in the road that made me feel like I might weep. It wasn't showing her the trees and the kitties. I didn't feel like weeping when I picked a little orange flower for her and she carried it the rest of the way, and I didn't feel like weeping when the petals came off and she tried to put them back on.

Oddly, it was when I told her about mailboxes that I got choked up. Of everything I showed her, the mailboxes seemed so uniquely earth-y, so specific to our planet and the human experience. I told her that we all have mailboxes, and that a mailman comes and brings letters. Mommy and Daddy have a mailbox, and we go out to it and bring the letters inside. And if we want to send a letter, we put it in a box and it gets delivered wherever we'd like, just about anywhere in the world. The mailboxes on our street seemed so remarkable then, so beautiful. Or not beautiful, because they are weatherbeaten and leaning and a little sad. But still marvelous, still somehow miraculous. Welcome to being human, Henrietta. There are things called computers and emails and text messages that try to negate these mailboxes, but here they are. You're going to love this place.

Sometimes, when she's resisting bedtime, Henrietta asks to see the moon. Just because she knows it's there. And she knows if she asks for the moon, we give it to her. How could we resist? The three of us leave the house and stand at the edge of our driveway and point up to the sky. We say, "Moon!" with an extra long O. "Mooon!" we say. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Twenty-Five Marvelously Cute Things Henrietta Does at (Nearly) Two Years Old

Helping me make cookies.

1. She calls water "otter."

2. She calls yogurt "ogre." 

3. Tonight she did "this little piggy" on my toes. It sounded like this, "This! Piggy! This! Piggypiggy! Weeweewee Piggy!"

4. She comes up to me, holds out her arms and says, "Again?" This means she wants me to do "Itsy Bitsy Spider" up and down her arms. Then she does it back to me.

5. She counts. She counts like this: two? two? three! six? nine? 

6. She's devoted to saying thank you. She says it when anyone gives her anything, or when she gives us something, too. My favorite is when she says, "Thank you much."

7. Her favorite activity is undoubtably running circles through our living room, kitchen, and dining room, chasing us or being chased. She growls, we growl, and then we all giggle. 

8. Dancing consists of spinning around in a circle saying "Dance-a! Dance-a!"

9. She can say Rothko. She says goodnight to Rothko when we go to bed. 

10. When I drop her off to be watched while I work, we put on her shoes and I help her on with her toddler backpack and I hold her hand and we walk to the door. The image of her wearing her little backpack: I cannot get enough of it.

11. Aside from when she's throwing a tantrum, she's so insanely happy. She giggles and chatters to herself. Her first sentence was "That's funny," and she has a generous sense of humor. It doesn't take much to make her laugh and laugh. 

12. She is, unaccountably, fascinated by covering her head with a blanket or a towel or a box or whatever is on hand and walking around so she can't see. She runs into things, but she still does it. She seems to do it in order to run into things. 

13. She knows that The Little Mermaid is on her training pants. She calls her "Mer-mer." In fact, all princesses or pretty animated ladies are Mer-mers. 

14. One morning, when I was upstairs getting dressed, I heard her start saying, "Oh boy!" I'd never heard her say it before, but she said it over and over again: "Ohhhh boyyy! Ohh Boyyyy! Ohh Boy!" Now she says it all the time. Along with "okay." Sometimes she says, "Okay! Oh boy!" When Sam got out a slice of birthday cake for her this evening, she kept saying, "Oh boy!"

15. She loves balloons. She loves them so much. 

16. She holds her baby doll, pats her head, and tells her, "It's sososo kay." 

17. She likes to climb up things and then jump off of them, preferably into our arms. 

18. She snuggles me. We watch shows in the evening so we can sit together and she can lean her head on me and take my arms and wrap them around her. I don't mind. 

19. She's got this funny little mincing walk. She takes tiny tiny steps, making tiny stomps. 

20. When upset, for some reason she says, "Doctor! Doctor!" We have no idea what this means. I've heard Sam tell her she needn't be so formal with him, that calling him Dad is just fine. 

21. When given a sticker, she places it immediately on the back of her neck.

23. She climbs on my back and says, "Kitty-ya? Kitty-ya?' This means I'm to crawl around on the floor pretending to be a kitty. You better believe I do it. 

24. When I come to get her, or when I come home, her face lights up like no one's face has ever lit up for me. It's astonishing every time.

25. When she wants something, she says, "Gah me." When she really wants something, she says, "GahmeGahmeGahmeGahme!"

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Sound of Rain Falling on Leaves

As I made the two of us a smoothie, I noticed it began to rain. It was only sprinkling, but I rushed Henrietta out to the back porch, both of us still in our pajamas, telling her we needed to save the sidewalk chalk before it disintegrated. I picked up the thick sticks of chalk--already a little damp-- piled them in a bucket, and set it down inside the back door. When I turned around, Henrietta had climbed up into a patio chair, and was looking up at the rain.

I pulled up another chair, and we sat together. It was gorgeous out, mild and misty and so quiet we could hear the sound of rain falling on the tall trees in our back yard. Henrietta was barefoot, and a bit concerned about the leaf debris on the bottoms of her feet. "Help! Help!" she said, showing me. And I did my best to brush them clean. She wore her jammies with the ballerinas on them, and a grey and black faux fur vest which she's recently become obsessed with and insists on wearing at all times.

I loved her as we sat there. And not just the way I love her as her mom--with a blissful and billowing and fierce sort of devotion--but as a companion. That's what we were, sitting there: companionable. We both wanted to be there for no other reason but to sit for a moment and look at the trees in the rain. Our wills--which do their share of clashing throughout the day--were for a moment perfectly simple and sweetly aligned.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What it Means to be Settled

Honey Dewlicious Melon

And then, one morning this past week, I felt settled. I cut up a melon for breakfast, and it was in the top five most delicious melons I've ever tasted. The three of us sat at the table, eating melon (or rejecting it wholeheartedly, in the case of Henrietta) and talking. The house was in good enough shape that I cleaned up easily, without stepping around enormous boxes or having to look at a baffling mess in the living room while I did it. We had all rested. We had things to do which didn't seem like pressing emergencies in order for us to live in this place. We could just be here, working out our days in this new house with the big, green trees out our windows.

The view from our bedroom window
I'm not sure why exactly, but so far Alabama--the place itself--hasn't been the difficult transition I expected. It is undeniably beautiful here, which I'm sure helps. On my way to Target I pass green fields full of horses and the most incredible trees. The trees, the trees, the trees. Can you tell I lived in the desert? It rains here, rains quite a bit, so moss grows on the trees and the rocks, and sometimes when I'm outside I see the world's finest, fingernail-sized frogs, which look like tiny leaves until they jump. Henrietta plays in our backyard, running over to look at the neighbor's chickens, running to chase me, running and laughing. She has so much room.

The house is the right house. It's big enough for us to stay here awhile. I type you this missive, dear reader, from my own office, located in the back top corner of the house. It's quiet in here, full of my things and the art I love is on the walls, and my books are on the shelves, and I can see my sewing machine waiting for me.

Looking out the window, wrapped in sheer curtains
At the produce market, I stop a woman who is grabbing big handfuls of strange, long purple and green mottled beans. Pink-eyed Peas, the sign reads. I say, "Excuse me, but how do you cook those?" "Same way I cook collards," she answers. And she tells me. We have them for dinner the next night. Another night I make cornbread and Sam boils shrimp. Another night he fries okra. I steam summer squash and toss it with a little butter and Sam declares it the best thing on the table.

People are so kind here. And I know some of them may not be as kind as their exterior, but I'm frankly so pleased to mill around with kind exteriors all day. The young man at the grocery store, eyes bright and clear, looks in mine, and says, "I would really love to help you out to your car with these groceries." And I am so astonished that he seems to mean it (even if it is store policy--store policy! to help everyone out with their groceries!) that I can't answer for a second. I want to hug him.

I don't really know what this place will bring. I don't know how long we'll stay. But I have a feeling that we'll stay for awhile. That we are, to some extent, experiencing what it means to be settled. Cross my fingers, say my prayers.

Walking to the Farmer's Market

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Next Big Adventure

We're moving to Alabama. Sam landed a job teaching at a University there.

This one.
The move came as a shock. I hadn't planned on moving back to the South. We'd felt inclined to move all the way out here, from Boston to Arizona, and now we were going to move back across the country? And why, exactly, had we come out here? Nothing has really worked out the way we'd hoped. In fact, many of our ideas for surviving here have outright failed. Sam began to say, "You know when I found that five-leaf clover just before we moved? I'm thinking I found it so I'd know I was already lucky. I wish I'd known I was already lucky."  He also began to suggest we name our next child Equity Dwindle, which is rather a beautiful name, right? (No, I'm not pregnant.) If nothing else, we've learned this year. We've grown up this year. We've enjoyed being close to family. And the two of us have had time to hang with Henrietta constantly for the first two years of her life. And that's worth a lot to us.

Trying out pink headphones on our way there.
Last week we flew to Alabama to find a house. In five days, we looked at a few dozen houses, some of them several times. The very green trees lining the road were a delicious shock after the desert, and the way we felt about the town shifted dramatically every time we looked at a house. After a good house, one in a nice neighborhood with kitchen updates and a garden tub, I looked around and loved everything. After a house which reeked of dog pee and cigarettes, or one whose stair railing came off in my hand when I tried to grab it, or one that Sam said was surely a portal to a demon world, I felt very sad and lost and wanted to go home, wherever that was. 

Trees and the road. 

Henrietta was a trooper. Sam's mom came along, so she often stayed with her grandmother in the car watching shows on my iPad and eating a lollipop. The kid ate a lot of lollipops. But often she'd insist on coming in with us. I could see her in the car from the front porch, her face broken in devastation to be left behind, and her grandmother trying in vain to comfort her. So I'd go back out and extract her from her carseat, and she'd immediately find the door to the backyard and begin running as fast as she could, running and laughing and ignoring the insane heat and humidity, and raising her arms up in the air. Well, raising one arm. The other she kept clutched to her torso, holding her lamb with its head and arms draped over her arm. She learned how to pick bright dandelions, crumbling them in her hand so she held a tangle of wilting flower parts. Once we convinced her back inside the house, she had a knack for finding the empty room we were thinking of for her, the one with the big windows and lots of light. She'd go in and close the door, lie down on the carpet, kicking her legs and talking to herself for minutes on end.

The classic luggage cart game, with Grandma.

I think Alabama is going to be okay. I think it's going to be good. We found a pretty brick house with tall trees in the yard. Our friends from grad school who live and work there had us over for dinner, and they were so kind and delightful. Did I mention there are fireflies there? I've never lived in a place with fireflies.


Last night Sam and I stayed up late talking. We had one of those great conversations where everything is going to be new, so you're thinking hard about everything else you'd like to be new. We're going to get responsible with money--for real this time. We're going to each have offices at home, so we're going to work harder. We're going to stop keeping treats in the house. Henrietta is going to watch fewer movies (she loves movies with all of her heart). We're going to take turns going to the cool coffee shop with good writing space. It was dark in our living room here in Tucson, Henrietta finally asleep on my lap, the music from the credits of Tangled playing from the television. As we talked, I looked around at our bookshelves, still heavy with our books and knickknacks that have come along on all of our moves. I could imagine packing them soon. Wrapping them in paper and securing them in a box full of other things wrapped in paper. And I imagined walking around that new house--which I only have a shadowy sort of love for now, since I'm quickly forgetting what it looked like--and learning its walls and doors and corners, trying to decide whether my big white fish looks better on this shelf, or that one. Sam picked up our sleeping Henrietta and talked to her softly as he rested her head on his shoulder and her eyelids fluttered. I walked behind them, turning out lights, glad we'd all go together.

The view from the local State Park, where we decided which house to get.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Marriage and Shorthand Arguments

Just before I got married, the women in my mother's ward--though they didn't know me all that well--were kind enough to throw me a bridal shower. Somehow the conversation turned to marriage advice, and I still remember just about everything the bishop's wife said about marriage. My impression of her prior to that shower was that she was quiet and smiley and not particularly "real"--if you know what I mean. But she was more than real that night, and I am still so grateful. Just about everything she said has proved true of my own experience in marriage.

Among other valuable and down-to-earth advice, she told me that eventually our arguments would whittle down to shorthand. That after awhile we'd know each other so well and we'd have had the same conversations and disagreements so many times that we'd be able to say, "Hey, could you ...?" And the other person would know instantly how we meant to finish the the sentence and be able to say, "Yeah yeah, okay. I know." And there, that would be it. A entire fight that previously would have brought tension for several days would be over in eight words. At the time, I confess, I couldn't really imagine what she meant, but now, over five years in, I think Sam and I are beginning to reach shorthand.

There's this memory I have of our first few months of marriage that can, without fail, make me feel like giggling at how cute and misguided I was as a new bride. I had decided that I wanted more help around the house, that we really could be sharing more of the burden of running a home. We were both working full-time, and it seemed there was no reason why we couldn't split the tasks more evenly. And I geared up for the conversation and prayed about it and thought about how I would say it and sat Sam down on the couch and told him how I felt. I was so earnest! And I can't really explain why this makes me feel like giggling, except that somehow I thought this would be the end of the conversation--that I just needed to communicate how I felt and Sam would surely agree and then we'd maybe make a chart of chores or something (?!) and then we'd be more equally yoked in this matter. That's not exactly how it worked. Sam was like, "Okay, sure, whatever." And then he asked what specifically I wanted help with, and I realized I didn't really know. We were so new together, and just making sense of our home and our lives, and I had no idea that it would just take time, lots and lots of time, years and years to really figure each other out.

Of course, this is a conversation we've had since then. And I confess I haven't exactly handled it better. In fact, the problem is that I usually wait until I'm good and resentful before I bring it up. And then, sadly, I'm not really praying and thinking very carefully about how I say things. It's late at night and I'm tired and I make accusations and I'm not very nice at all. Most recently, I accused Sam of ruining my opportunities to work on my writing because he didn't help around the house more.

Sometimes I'm a terrible person.

After that conversation, I was pretty much immediately sure I had been a fool, and that I had handled it all wrong. And in the middle of the night I remembered what the bishop's wife had said, and realized this conversation was probably one that would benefit from shorthand. Sam knows I'm always anxious about the house, he knows I'd love more help. And I know he's willing, but that he's not always sure exactly where to pitch in. And why fight about it, again? Why not just say--before I'm angry and resentful and before I've attached all sorts of other frustrations to this particular problem--"Could you help me a little more around the house? I'm feeling overwhelmed by it." And Sam could say, "Yeah, okay. What do you want me to do?" And hopefully I'd know. And we wouldn't have to pull out the big guns to make our points. We could carry on, sit down to dinner, put the baby to bed, and hang out on the couch--all heavy conversations accomplished--and talk about the really important stuff, like what to watch on TV.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Strange Art of Trying

I once told a woman I didn't know all that well that I was "trying" to do something. She immediately said, "You're trying, you're lying." And the rhyme was so catchy and she seemed so sure of this truth, that I thought she must be right, even as I hated her for saying it.

But motherhood has changed my sense of "trying," and now I feel sure that this woman was wrong. To me, trying--especially when divorced from concern of outcome--is a noble art. And the most difficult and important one I practice as the mother to Henrietta. For Henrietta and I, it doesn't work to force it, and it doesn't work to give up entirely. It only works to come at it from somewhere in the middle, to approach it as gently as possible, as unemotionally as possible, yet still with a great deal of persistence. 

Here's what I mean: Henrietta is not, sadly for me, an eat-everything-on-her-plate kind of girl. She's picky, and it seemed for awhile she was getting pickier, and I was worried we were going to end up with a white diet kid--the kind of kid who only eats cheese, white bread, pasta, etc. I'd offer her a strawberry, and she'd spit. I'd offer her a piece of broccoli, and she'd politely hand it back to me. I knew it would do no good to shove the broccoli down her throat or express how disappointed I was that she wouldn't eat it. I've read enough to know that adding my emotions to what she chooses to eat is a terrible idea. And for awhile, I sort of gave up. I stopped making real meals. I'd throw her a quesadilla or some Mac & Cheese--things I was pretty sure she'd eat--and call it a night. But I could feel that this wasn't the right approach. I had to try, even if she never willingly put broccoli to her lips in her life. I read somewhere that a kid has to be exposed to a food 10 times before she's comfortable with it. So I kept telling myself that--10 times, 10 times. And some days I'd feel more like trying than others. But I tried to share my own food with her, and show her what I was eating and enjoying, and not get upset when she outright refused whatever I had prepared. And last weekend, she grabbed a strawberry from my own bowl of strawberries (though she had her own on her plate) and ate the whole thing, and now she can't get enough of them. Strawberries three times a day! And she's eating peas again, and dipping crackers in peanut butter, and it seems, suddenly, like her food adventurousness is exploding. Cross my fingers, knock on wood. 

These babies, they change so quickly. And it's hard to have this job of guiding someone whose tune changes, and who can't yet communicate exactly what she wants or needs. I sometimes want so badly to enforce my sense of what's necessary--to hold her down and brush her teeth as she screams, to give her nothing but celery until she learns to love it, to shout that yesterday she seemed to love eggs, so what's wrong with her today?! But I'm learning that it's no real use, and that it's more useful to save my shouts for when things are really dangerous, like when she's standing on the chair with one leg up on the table, two seconds from cracking her skull on the tile. 

This is such a strange art of trying--to try with tenacity, but without a goal, and without a demand, and without a sense what what success might actually look like. To let her guide me, more or less. To follow her lead. 

And I'm finding this is--as so much of motherhood is--a larger lesson. I'd do well to be this gentle with myself. To try tenaciously to establish better habits as a human--eating better, exercising more, writing more often, keeping my house cleaner, living a more humble and spiritual life. But doing all I can to divorce those attempts from expectations, or a sense of shame or failure. 

I think about that woman sometimes, wishing I could find her and tell her: You are dead wrong. Trying isn't lying. It's the only real truth.