Friday, November 29, 2013

Small World

Small World
The advantage of living much closer to family is that I could make a semi-spontaneous decision to go see my sister in California. Sam was desperate to finish his novel and Henrietta and I wanted to see her aunt and cousins, so off we went, the two of us making the eight hour drive together. She was remarkably well-behaved during that eight hour (okay, nine hour) drive, and once we were there we  went to the beach and ate fish tacos and went to a glorious California farmer's market and cooked good meals and stayed up late talking to my sister. And we went to Disneyland.

I'm a bit of a Disneyland skeptic, as it turns out. I loved Disney when I was a kid, but I confess I don't much understand people who still love it as adults. So I was going mostly on my sister's word that we'd have a good time.

Henrietta and I had terrible trouble actually getting to the park (long story), and it took a complicated hour getting from the parking structure to the gates, so by the time I got there I was exhausted and hungry and I sort of hated everything, including Disney. I ate a sandwich as we rushed to a big theater showing a live performance of Aladdin, and it was during that show that I started to change my mind. Henrietta loved it, for one. She loved it immediately and completely, bouncing up and down on my lap and making her happy sounds. And I was transported back to when I was a kid, playing the cassette tape soundtrack to Aladdin, rewinding and fast-forwarding so I could copy down every word of my favorite songs, going to the other room to ask my mom, again, what "nom de plume" meant. It was such a complete and perfect time machine, that music. And I was suddenly looking forward to Henrietta loving those movies all over again.

In Toon Town

But she was tired, very tired after the show. It was time for her nap, and that place was much too exciting for her to consent to one. I tried tricks that worked beautifully just weeks ago, and still she screamed and screamed, and I didn't know what else to do but force the issue until she screamed herself to sleep. It got cold as she slept in her stroller, and I was completely unprepared for it. My sister and her family were all off at rides, and my cell phone had died, and despite our pleasant experience at the Aladdin show, I thought I had probably made a mistake in coming at all. Henrietta woke up after not too long, and with her teeth chattering I tore the cardboard back off a dark chocolate bar package and dug around in my purse for a pen and wrote a note to my sister, saying we were just going home and I was sorry we were lame. She came back just as I was poised to leave it and gather our things, and she talked me out of leaving and sent me off with my nephews to Tower of Terror.

Where I waited, trying to catch my breath after the horror show of nap-avoidance.
And there, on that ride, as I screamed and laughed, I realized what else I loved. Briefly, everything about that ride was real. It was a big pretend machine, and we were all pretending, and I wasn't Henrietta's tired mom, I was exactly what they said I was, a frightened guest at an old haunted hotel. It was a marvelous feeling, to be removed so forcefully from my real life, and I loved it even more on a ride that took me Soarin' Over California, meaning I was in front of a big IMAX screen showing scenes of the state I love, and my feet were dangling and they were blowing back my hair with pretend wind and I breathed in fake orange and pine and ocean smells, and it worked so completely on me that I was weeping, tears down my cheeks and landing on my shirt, it was so beautiful and the pretending was so perfect.

I'm unlikely to ever be a grown woman wearing mouse ears (and I saw an embarrassing number of them), but it's an incredible thing, to hold a tiny someone on your lap who is experiencing that same complete transportation. My sister and I came back another day, just us with Henrietta and her four-year-old cousin, and we went on It's a Small World and Winnie the Pooh and we walked through the castle and visited the Enchanted Tikki Room and we met the Pirates of the Caribbean and toured The Haunted Mansion, and Henrietta loved them all, her eyes wide and her happy sounds abundant and her little bouncing body on my knees.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Darling Has a Birthday

The other day I was running on a trail that goes along a dry wash here in Tucson. It was gorgeous out, seventy-something degrees, and I was listening to RadioLab, a podcast I'm crazy about. The most recent episode is called 23 Weeks 6 Days, and the whole hour is about a couple who has a baby at that point in gestation, and the difficult decisions they face, and how science lends insight to those decisions (or doesn't).

When I turned around to head back to my car, the woman was just about to go into labor and they couldn't hold it off anymore, and she and her husband were talking to doctors about their options and the various risks. And suddenly I was bent over on the trail, sobbing. Everything about my difficult pregnancy flooded me, and my gratitude that we were spared those difficult decisions was so humbling that I wasn't sure I could finish the run. It seemed like I should sit right where I was, far from my car, and not move for a very long time.

Henrietta on her first birthday, visiting a farm.
Greeting Goats
Checking out the smelly sheep.
Henrietta turned one year old almost exactly a month ago, on October 9. And since then I've been trying to figure out how to capture it, or what to say about it that would be meaningful. It was both a very big day--almost a sacred day, to me--and fairly ordinary. On her actual birthday we took her to a farm with a petting zoo and pumpkin patch, and on the way home we got her a small cup of vanilla ice cream. And it was a sweet day, but of course she didn't understand any of it. 

Henrietta and the Chickens

In the big barn, walking with her dad and grandmother.

That Saturday we threw her a small party and I made her a kitty cat cake, and while she really loved the balloons and her cake, she didn't understand any of that either. We had a friend tell us that the first birthday is really for the parents, and it gets progressively more about her as she gets older, and that seemed true. We made it to a year; we're here; we're a family; she's changed absolutely everything, so let's just stop and think about that for a second.

Kitty Cake

Birthday Girl, with Crackers, I

Birthday Girl, with Crackers, II
With her dad, and cupcake.
 She changes so quickly now that I feel like I can't keep up with recording what she learns. She's such a spunky, vibrant, vocal, curious soul. She spends all day walking through my mother-in-law's house, picking up items that strike her fancy, putting them into other objects, stopping to consider, and then taking them back out and going on her way. She laughs a lot. Sometimes she sits on my lap and I manage to get her giggling, and then we both just giggle, and I am astonished all over again at how lucky I am that she's here. She is literally the greatest pleasure of my life, and how can I possibly capture that? How can I possibly thank her and thank God and thank whoever or whatever else is responsible? 

When I got done with my run, I stopped by the grocery store on the way home, so when I came in I was bustling around the kitchen trying put everything away and trying to get us lunch and therefore trying to keep Henrietta from attaching herself to my legs. I was saying things like, "Okay, I know Sweetheart. Just give Mama one second." And though my tone was kind, it was my kind tone that isn't authentic; it's my tone that channels the nice mommy I know I'd like to be, and not the really nice mommy. But when I went to put away a head of celery, that podcast popped back into my head, and I put the celery down, and picked Henrietta up, and held her, and kissed her, and hugged her and told her I loved her and thanked her for coming to be my kid, and my voice was breaking and Sam was asking what was up, and Henrietta was squirming to get down, having received enough attention, thank you very much. 

I don't know why were spared the difficult decisions and heartbreak of a very premature birth. We were expecting one, and trying to prepare as best we could. And if she'd come very early, we would have fought with her and for her and would have been glad to do so, though it would have drained us. And I guess I don't have anything more profound to say than that about her first birthday. This has been the fastest and best year of my life, and I am grateful, more grateful than I've been for anything in my life, to have my dear and darling Henrietta Plum.