Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sam, Reading

Our first family visit to San Xavier del Bac

On our first Sunday here, I completely mistook the time the local LDS ward started, so I joined Sam at mass. We attended at the San Xavier del Bac Mission, located on a reservation about 45 minutes away. The mass was packed, all of the ornate wood pews full. It was a punishingly hot day to attend a packed meeting in a church without air conditioning. They had fans going and all of the doors open to the courtyards, and still we sweated. We passed Henrietta back and forth, trying to keep her entertained, handing her toy after toy after cracker from my purse. When she dropped toys, those around us were eager to hand them back to her, smiling. She did remarkably well for a ten-month-old, leaning into us and shyly grinning when she received attention, and when we were asked to offer each other a sign of peace, a woman made the sign of the cross on Henrietta's forehead, and Henrietta looked at her in awe. It was a lovely meeting, and at the end, when a man stood and announced that they were looking for readers, Sam went up and volunteered. It's something he's talked about doing for a long time.

A man in a tie led us back behind the altar to a little room where he handed Sam a book containing all of the masses for the year, and looked at me suspiciously when Sam said I wasn't Catholic, but Mormon.

There was something sort of satisfying about that look, actually. Sam gets so many of them when he comes to church with me (although they're often buried beneath eager member-missionary smiles and home teaching lessons), that I didn't mind having one sent my direction. It was nice, for a change, to be someone with an identity that I was willing to defend, and at the same time to feel no real need to, and to know that Sam would defend me if need be. He'd protect me from attempts to convert or judge me the same way I protect him. I'm Mormon; he's Catholic; we're married, and we're both fine with it. In that little room behind the altar, this seemed surprising all over again. Surprising, but sweet.

the interior of the church
And today, backdropped by what you see above, Sam read a passage from Corinthians. He read well, as I knew he would: strong and clear and wise-sounding. Sam's mom was with us, and she suggested we sit on the front row with the baby so she'd be able to see what was happening and stay interested, but she didn't stay interested past Sam's reading. She began to fuss and try to squirm free, and I was terrified of being front-and-center with a baby headed for a meltdown, so I fled, rushing to the back without my purse or any of her toys. This presented a bit of challenge.

The church wasn't packed today, since it was mid-day on a Thursday, so I set her down on the tile floor and let her crawl around. She slapped her baby hands against the tile as she crawled back and forth, stood against the wall and smacked it, crawled over to the big rocks that held the doors open and stroked them, tried very hard to pick up (and presumably eat) a mysterious bug, managed to put a tiny rock in her mouth (which I dug out), and made her way out the front door until she reached sun-baked tile which was so hot she stopped, blinking up into the sunlight.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bedtime Routine

This is what we do every night: We take her to her room. We read her a few stories like Goodnight Moon, or The Very Busy Spider, or Little Fur Family, or Moo, Baa, La La La (the current favorites). She plays a little, and I love that part, when that's all we're doing is loving her and focusing on her, and trying to make her feel happy and safe enough to sleep well. All day we've been about distracted business, all of us pursuing different ends with various means. But at night, we meet there, connected and clear about our purpose.

At least Sam and I are there for the same purpose. Henrietta would, in general, prefer we were meeting there for something entirely different. We attempt to distract her while one of us puts on her nighttime diaper and her pajama footie suit. She screams and tries to escape during that part. Sometimes she succeeds and gets halfway across the room, and I dread the night (it's bound to happen, right?) when she lets loose and pees during that window of time when she's diaperless. But eventually we wrestle her into submission and into her clothes, and we all feel glad that's over.

When it's clear she's ready (or, let's face it, when we're spent), one of us begins to sing, "Popcorn Popping" and the other joins in. It is perhaps the current greatest pleasure in my whole life, hearing Sam sing "Popcorn Popping"--an LDS children's song--with me. We sing, he sings, "I can take an armful and make a treat: a popcorn ball that would smell so sweet!" Sometimes he does the hand motions. Sometimes he does a rap version. (You're jealous that you haven't heard that one; trust me.)

Then we say goodnight to things. When I do, I say stuff like, "Goodnight bookshelf. Goodnight teddy bear. Goodnight pretty painting of boats." (Sidenote: it was depressing when her room was all packed up and I couldn't find things to say goodnight to. I think I said goodnight to the carpet. It was that desperate, the goodnight-ing.) When Sam does it, it's hilarious. He rhymes it: "Goodnight psychotic killer clown bunny from outerspace made out of parachute. Goodnight little pewter statue of a boy playing the guitar, which is a descendant of the lute."

Once I stop laughing, we sing "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus" and put Henrietta in her blanket suit. She hates this part, and I secretly worry that later on she'll have this bristling, suffocating, foreboding reaction when someone talks about Jesus, or at least when she hears that song. Just by association, you know? I hope not. For me, the song is emotional just about every night. She's usually settled down by the time I hear myself sing, "I'm trying to love as He did, in all that I do and say," and it's suddenly abundantly clear any time during the day when I've done the opposite of that, when I've been petty and vindictive, when I've missed the mark of His example by miles. Sometimes, that feeling is so big and overwhelming that I can't finish. My voice catches in my throat and I can't sing, and I just trail off. But usually I finish, even if I have to just hum it.

I begin to breastfeed her while I sing, and Sam kneels down and crosses himself, and we say a family prayer. We have completely different styles of praying. Sam tends to ask God how His evening has been, and he's perfectly sincere in his question. He talks to Him frankly, with as much humor and candor and genuine curiosity as he brings to a conversation with anyone else. I love to hear Sam pray. And I love when it's my turn, too. When I pray, I feel a clarity in my relationship with God and with my family that I don't feel any other time. I'm not sure why, but it's about a thousand times more meaningful than when I pray alone. It's so clear that He's aware of us then, so clear what I want to ask Him for and thank Him for, so clear that the three of us together are One Thing, this Family, and we're all in the same little canoe, trying to steer it right, and we would definitely appreciate some direction.

Sam leans down and kisses us both on the forehead. He sneaks out, and I keep feeding and rocking her. Ideally, she falls asleep, and I place her in her crib, and all is peaceful and sweet. But lately, she's not at all asleep, and I set her down, and she screams like she's being run through with red hot pokers. Her bedtime routine is the best part of my day up until that point. And then I wish to be fired. I wish she could fire me, find a superior mom, a mom who has the foggiest idea of how to do that part better. Try as I might, there isn't a better way. I'd hold her and rock her all night long if it would do any good. But it doesn't anymore. She must fall asleep on her own, and it ruins her life to do so, every time. I think she's still adjusting to our relocation on the other side of the country.

I don't know why this bedtime routine is so meaningful to me. I'm sure it's like a thousand others. I'm sure your is the same, or similar. But still, it's mine, ours. And I love it. I want to do it every night for a million years. Except for that last part. That last part, the wailing part, can just leave me alone.

Friday, August 2, 2013

On Arriving in Tucson, Bobcat Families, and Hope

Taken the morning we left Boston, headed to the airport.

We're here in Tucson, and have been for a week. I'm beginning (we're all beginning) to acclimate. That first day, my heavens, was so disorienting. I started the day in the heavy, vibrant, humid green of a New England summer, and it seemed like I blinked and by afternoon I was here, in the middle of the desert, and all of the Summer green was delicate and dry. It felt like my entire previous life had vanished, like I wasn't sure it had ever happened at all.

taken yesterday, on a walk. you see what i mean by contrast?
As we talked about this move, I kept having an inexplicable longing to drive here, instead of fly. We opted not to, because it would have been insane, but I think once we arrived, I knew where that longing came from: maybe if we had traversed the entire country to get here, I'd feel like our arrival made some sense. I'd have seen the physical distance mount. Instead, wham bam, goodbye East Coast and hello completely different world.

big western sky, mountains

just outside my mother-in-law's front door.
To be fair, I hadn't slept much in the days leading up to our departure (who does, right?), and I had spent the day wrestling Henrietta in airports and planes. But still, driving from the airport to my mother-in-law's house, I felt like we'd made a mistake, like if we'd been able to spend even five minutes here with the intention of transplanting, we would have known that. The landscape didn't look at all like home. I tried to be cheerful, but the feeling stayed with me while I moved our bags in and we got ready for dinner. And then, out on the back deck, three baby bobcats arrived.

They jumped up in a tree and swatted at each other from various branches. They chased each other between deck chairs and strutted their stuff around the potted plants. We watched them play and lounge while we ate dinner, and it suddenly seemed like this place was just fine. That this place was maybe even marvelous. And that we hadn't made a mistake after all.

Some of these pictures are from a few days later when their mama came too, but the truth is that I was having the same sort of feeling on the day she arrived with her babies. It seems like every time I'm discouraged or feeling displaced, they show up. She's so beautiful; they're all so beautiful. I love the markings on her legs and belly. I love the babies' little tails and pointy black and white ears. I think maybe I'm supposed to be frightened of them. My mother is worried they'll haul off Henrietta while we're not watching. But we stay on this side of the glass and make no attempts to interact with or bother them, and for some reason I'm not at all worried. Instead, I'm grateful. I think I've seen them three times, and every time they've healed an ache in me.

We have a lot to work out here. We're still very much in transition, and will be for some time. There's a lot that's uncertain, a lot I worry over. (Namely, our buyers dropped out four days before we moved, so we're still paying a mortgage. Ugg.) But I'm remembering this is what helps me whenever I move: I attach to the landscape, the new animals and plants, the beauty I've yet to grow so used to that I don't see anymore. And then I'm okay. I look up at the enormous sky and picturebook clouds and blue outlines of mountains and towering saguaro cacti, the lizards and jack rabbits and orioles and cat families out the back window, and then I'm better than okay. I'm hopeful. I'm happy. I'm here.