Monday, September 28, 2009

Life Path and Legitimacy

Well my breasts are finally starting to get bigger. Pregnancy is like junior high all over again. Watching and waiting, weighing and measuring for the slightest change in weight or circumference. Larger breasts are supposed to be the one physical bonus of pregnancy.

The sad truth in junior high was that if you didn’t have breasts by junior high, you were likely not going to have much BREAST to speak of, not then, not in high school, not ever. Sigh, oh well. At least I have milk engorgement to look forward to.

I’ve been thinking a lot about legitimacy, lately. What is it that makes us feel legitimate in what we’re doing? Do we legitimize ourselves by being confidant in what we do? Do others legitimize us through accolades?

I’ve realized that nothing takes the wind out of my sails like someone asking me, “So, will you go back to teaching at some point?”

Not only does this make me feel like stay-at-home-motherhood is not really accomplishing anything, just a temporary holding pattern, a hobby or an extended vacation, but it also (and maybe more painfully) points out that “being a writer” is equally as illegitimate a life path or career, even ‘job’ seems too powerful a word to tack onto motherhood or writing.

Is writing, like being a stay at home mom, viewed as some kind of extended vacation? I guess I can’t blame people. Anyone can call themselves a writer the minute they pick up a pen; it’s like saying your major is psychology. Yeah, isn’t everybody’s? So what legitimizes a writer? Is it being published? Is it making money writing? Writing a best seller? Writing Harry Potter? There aren’t any hard and fast rules.

So what can I expect? People want to know if I will ever go back to my credible, if lowly position as a teacher. When I first chose to be a teacher it was because I liked the idea of being my own boss. No seriously, I really thought that I would have the freedom to teach by methods that worked for me and my class, to shape the curriculum based on student ability and interest, to implement authentic learning strategies. My education in education made the prospect of teaching look powerful and wonderful.

Unfortunately substitute teaching was more like secretarial work with thirty, rowdy, underfed, over-sugared, children running in circles around my desk. I became disenchanted very quickly.

But more than a replacement for the ill fit that was teaching, writing is what I need to do. I know that more clearly than I’ve known much of anything in my life. Maybe it’s a calling or simply a path that I’ve stumbled on to, chosen, or that has chosen me, which I am now perpetually and irreversibly on.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, for legitimacy or illegitimacy, I have to be a writer.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pumpkin Pecan Bread

This is quite possibly my favorite fall recipe, the flavors of pumpkin, cinnamon and chocolate are truly decadent and delicious. I just made this last night and, as always, was a great big hit.

· 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
· 1/4 cup honey
· 1/2 cup packed natural brown sugar
· 1 tsp vanilla extract
· 2 eggs
· 1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
· 1 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
· 1/2 tsp kosher salt
· 1/2 tsp cinnamon
· 1 tsp baking soda
· 1/4 cup water
· 1/2 cup chopped pecans
· 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, preferably 60% cocoa

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan with butter.
3. Combine flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Whisk and set aside.
4. In another large bowl, combine butter, honey, and sugar and beat for two minutes. Add the eggs and lightly beat until just combined. Mix in pumpkin and vanilla -- do not over mix. Gradually beat in the flour mixture in thirds.
5. Dilute baking soda in ¼ cup hot (not boiling) water, then beat into batter.
6. Stir in, by hand, the chocolate chips and chopped nuts.
7. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 325 for approximately 55 to 65 minutes. (test for doneness being careful not to over bake as it may dry out the bread)
8. Remove from pan and place on a wire rack to cool. If you plan to serve this to guests and want clean slices, then allow it to cool for 30 minutes. Otherwise dig in after 5 minutes.

*I can't take credit for this recipe, I found it years ago on Taste Spotting from the Whole Grain Gourmet

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pregnant Woman or Petri Dish?

It has occurred to me lately that yellow dock root tea tastes somewhat like hazelnut. Or maybe my taste buds are hallucinating because their starved for real, fully-loaded, caffeinated lattes. Hmm. I am taking yellow dock root and nettle and chlorophyll to boost my iron and hopefully my energy levels—the baby is taking everything.

I am reminded just how unglamorous pregnancy is. Whoever started spreading the rumor that pregnancy is a time of decadence was severely deranged. I, like many women, pictured wearing cute new maternity clothing that made me feel maternal and sexy, eating whatever I wanted for nine months and gaining weight only in my firm, round, belly, then producing a beautiful tiny angel that slides effortlessly from my body—okay maybe I made that last delusion up. But I really do remember pregnancy with rose colored glasses. Maybe that’s a condition of motherhood or wouldn’t we all have only-children? I think so. Maybe I just try too hard, maybe I make pregnancy dull by trying to do it too well?

Most days I feel more like a petri dish than anything human, let alone sexy. I add various herbs and minerals, oils and vitamins to my body in careful doses to create just the right environment in my uterus for this human to grow. After a day of dark green and brown teas, vitamins and caplets, vegetables and proteins in just the right combination, I have this undeniable desire to eat or drink something really un-pregnancy, like a big glass of red wine and a chocolate cake. Is there such a thing as being too healthy?

I have not been sleeping well these days. After having given up nap (a harder transition for me than for Twila) I am usually exhausted from 4pm to 7pm. As soon as Twila crashes out, I have my second wind for a couple of hours. Around 9, maybe 10, I hit the sheets like a ton of bricks and am out cold until around 2 or 3 in the morning, then I am awake—wide awake as if it were noon for a normal person. I toss and turn; sometimes I get up and write.

I’ve heard that writers don’t sleep well; their stories come and disturb them at night. So though life seems to plod along without vest, inspiration, or vigor, I try to at least see the silver lining in my insomnia as that maybe I am gaining legitimacy as a writer, if only in my own mind; Julia Cameron would say that that is the most difficult legitimacy to gain anyway.

Julia Cameron also says that when life feels dull and stagnant, when we feel directionless, we must simply do the next good thing. Often this is a very small step towards whatever our large goals are. We don’t even have to think about the large goal, just what the next step is, we only need to see the path a small flash light’s beam ahead.

So I guess I’ll do a few more pages on my novel and make another cup of yellow dock root tea.

Monday, September 21, 2009

These Kids Today

So life keeps moving on, my belly keeps getting bigger, I keep lugging my three year old around…less and less but it’s really unavoidable at times. She woke up fussing and crying in her bed the other night and my mother senses deduced that she needed to go to the bathroom. So I heaved her up over my shoulder and carried her into the bathroom, legs bonking my pregnant belly. The baby is getting big enough now that she has a tendency to kick back when she gets nudged and bonked; an interesting prelude to what life with two will be like.

The first week of preschool is behind us and the second one begins today. I keep working on my short story and my novel as the edits on my non-fiction keep moving forward. I still love having the non-fiction project out of my hands for a little while—it was starting to feel like the kid who wouldn’t leave home. But now the project is off to college, being honed and polished and shaped by industry professionals who have expertise I am lacking. I’m so proud.

My pregnancy is, well, pregnancy. I don’t mind it but I’ve also never been one of those people who just loves being pregnant. It’s a little dull frankly. I miss coffee and wine; nettle tea and kefir can only give you so much of a lift in the morning and just don’t hold a candle to wine with dinner at night.

The other day in the car Twila asked me, “Mom, next time dad has wine maybe you could put your finger in it and just taste it” (I decided not to ask where she got this clever idea).

“Oh that’s okay Twila, it’s really not that big of a deal to me. It’s more important that the baby has a good start and gets all the nutrients she needs. I don’t mind skipping wine for a while. Besides, nine months is really a short time in my life, I can wait.”

She gave me a skeptical look from her car seat and said, “Mom, I know you miss wine. But don’t worry, the baby will be born soon and then you can have wine again.”

These kids today—huh?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Have Your Health and Crave it Too: The Wildest Rice

Okay, so far this is the winner in my search for the best wild rice salad.
I recommend serving it chilled but it is also lovely at room temperature or warm.

1. 1 cup long wild rice
2. 3 cups water
3. Salt
4. 1 tablespoon butter
5. ¼ cup Frozen cherries (or dried cranberries)chopped
6. ¼ cup chopped pecans
7. 2 glugs of good olive oil
8. 1 glug of good balsamic vinegar
9. A scoop of brown sugar
10. A squeeze of honey
11. Two squeezes of lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
12. Salt and pepper

1. Bring the water and rice and salt and butter to a boil.
2. Reduce heat
3. Cover and simmer for 45-55 min or until rice is tender and most of the water absorbed
4. Meanwhile, Mix the last five ingredients in a large bowl.
5. Add the cherries and the pecans, stir to coat with dressing
6. When rice is cooked, add to the dressing bowl, stir thoroughly
7. Serve or cover and chill for up to 24 hours

If you're feeling really wild, top the salad with goat cheese or crumbled feta.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Symbolic Water

Water is present in many of my sharpest memories throughout life. As a child I remember splashing across tiny streams in the redwoods of northern California, or splashing into the dangerously crashing waves of the Pacific which excited and thrilled with its wildness. Ryan and I have always said that we feel the most spiritual when we are in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. As an adult, life has felt the calmest and made the most sense when we’ve visited places on bodies of water.

Water is perhaps one of the richest symbolic images in writing and in life. Culturally, nearly every society has tradition, legend, or religion that is centered on water. Water represents life, birth, fertility, purity, cleansing, peace, rejuvenation. Why is this? Why does water mean so much to us humans?

When I first started writing The East River, it revealed itself to me as a story that hinged on the imagery of water in New York. I didn’t really pick the location I just had to piece together why it made sense for the river to be central to the story. What I discovered in this story about Jayden is that the River represented peace and tranquility in the midst of a loud and chaotic city, in the same way she searches for internal peace in the midst of a troubled life.

I guess in a way it mirrors my move to water to escape the noise and chaos of a city. When I think of water I think of peace and tranquility. The river in particular represents peaceful and tranquil images of movement, change, growth: the life journey. I have wondered—as I have started to play with and pick apart the imagery in my short story, continuing to shape it and see how it fits with my non-fiction book—could the image of water be universally significant to all people? And if so, does it represent the same things to all people?

Do, for example, some people associate water with war and violence instead of peace and tranquility? Are some people deathly afraid of water and therefore cannot imagine it representing anything but anxiety and fear?

From my experience, bodies of water tend to draw out and absorb, dissolve that which is negative and replace a person’s demeanor or mind-set with peace and calm. I had three friends out to our house this morning for coffee and we went down to sit on the dock and talk. Even the three most boisterous and talkative women I know were quieted to low talking and deep breaths and sighs.

I remember visiting my aunt in Pacific Grove as a child and though most nights were full of loud laughter and endless chatting, when we got out hot chocolates and went to sit on the long, flat rocks of the Pacific Ocean shore, we were content to say nothing at all, just sit and stare at the perpetually rolling waves.

What is it about water that seems to hold the secrets of creation?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Moments in Life

I feel like a chicken with my head cut off, running in little circles of freedom. I truly don’t know what to do with myself, the possibilities are so vast—no—endless, that it overwhelms the senses. I just dropped my Twila at her first day of preschool. Two hours yawns in front of me like an eternity of bright possibilities. I am literally high, euphoric about how well the dropping off went.

I just wasn’t sure how it would go or if it would go at all with my incredibly strong-willed and highly attached toddler. I have seen the girl throw a fit. You have not seen persuasive until you’ve seen this offspring-of-a-lawyer with the passion of her mother and the extreme-hardheadedness only a three year old person can posses, lobbying for something she really wants…or really doesn't want.

In my pre-pre-school worries, I imagined the fit of the century, tears and begging, shouts of desperation, fingers and arms grasping, clinging to my clothing, tears so violent they appear dangerous to her health, I have seen no less a fit than this over a minor evening tooth-brushing debate. But nothing could have prepared me for what actually happened.

I have learned over the years of being Twila’s mother that preparation pays off. Some children get overwhelmed by too much talking, prepping and planning, but Twila is just the opposite. She likes to know what to expect, what will happen, every last detail which she will then reiterate to herself, to me, to others with a very serious look on her face, a furrowed brow and the use of all ten fingers to tick off the checkpoints of the event. So we prepared for the first drop-off day.

We talked, we practiced, and we played “go to school” about a thousand times which is exactly as boring as it sounds. The game consisted of walking to the living room (the car ride) saying hello to an imaginary teacher, giving a big hug and kiss, saying goodbye and exiting. Exactly thirty seconds later I would return from the kitchen (our home) to pick up Twila from the living room (her school). This whole interaction took about ninety seconds and then we would repeat it, over, and over, and over, and over again. And we watched Sid the Science Kid a really wonderful (if totally unrealistic)show on PBS about a little boy who goes to class every day to learn about Science and then comes home and tells his parents about it. I overlook the fact that there are four kids in the classroom—four, and one very happy teacher who does a musical dance number each day which applies specifically to the topic that the kids have chosen to study. I guess as an ex-teacher the show offends my sense of the possible, though I suppose I would be singing and dancing too if I only had four well-behaved kids in a classroom. But I digress.

The show is fantastic because this kid just loves school. Each day he and his mom sing a song on their way about how much Sid loves his mom but he also loves going to have fun at school—really great prep for a planner kid like Twila getting ready to go to school. So the moment arrived.

We discussed all morning just what we would do when we arrived. We would check out this cool wooden rocker toy that we hadn’t gotten a turn on during parent day yesterday, then we would go to the rubber stamp table, have a big hug and kiss and then say goodbye and she would rubberstamp some art for her dad and me. And that, my friends, is exactly what we did.

I perched my giantly pregnant body on to the frail edge of the wooden rocker boat while my petite daughter tried to make herself heavy enough to budge the massive load that was her mother. After just a moment she assessed the situation and said, “Maybe I should do this with someone my own size.” As if on cue, the perky little girl named Jade who had spoken to just about everyone the day before was behind her, round, black eyes flashing with friendliness, ready to play. I un-wedged my legs from the rungs; my back-end thudding to the carpet. Twila and Jade rocked for a few moments and then both decided to move to the rubber stamp table where I helped each of them to some paper and a seat and then said, “Okay, let’s say our goodbyes.”

She kissed me a tiny-lipped kiss, squeezed me tightly and as I stood to go, she turned, waved her hand vigorously and shouted with a big smile on her face, “GOODBYE!”
Then she was back to stamping with Jade.

It’s hard to say if I would have cried harder than I did if it had actually been hard for her to say goodbye. There was something so important about the moment. It felt as if the whole future of our society, the fate of the world hinged on my daughter being able to say goodbye to me. The levity I felt, leaving that place was almost unparalleled. I can think of only a handful of other times that I have felt such an intense sense of pride as a parent.

Surely dropping your child off for her first day of school is in the Top Ten of life’s amazing moments. I have a feeling that I will think of that moment when I see her off to college for the first time, watch her get on a plane to study abroad, fluff her dress on her wedding day or see her holding her own child; just as when I dropped her off today I thought of the first moment I held her wet body in my arms, clapping wildly as she practiced her signs, cheering when she said her first recognizable words, or letting go of the tips of her fingers as she took her first unsure steps. As is always the case, she amazed me with her strength and confidence.

And now I have another whole hour to write.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Weekend Editions: Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

My quest is always continuing to find the most delicious and easy whole wheat pancake recipe. This one is in the running. I made it Saturday for my husband, three-year-old daughter and ten-year-old birthdaughter—it was an all around hit!

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, well beaten
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons honey2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Stir together dry ingredients.
2. Add eggs, milk, honey, and oil. Stir until dry ingredients are moistened (batter may be lumpy).
3. Cook on preheated griddle until bubbles form and edges start to dry.
4. Flip and cook until lightly browned.

I served them with sliced bananas, drizzled with hot real maple syrup--delicious.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Crutches II: The Escape Artist

If we knew the realities of life, I mean if we kept them present in our mind every moment, we might go mad.

We all know the facts, or many of them anyway, the landfills grow exponentially every day, we are exposed to countless environmental pollutants each second. We cannot escape it. The drinkable water dwindles, people die—every second all over the world—of starvation, of gross violence, the likes of which many of us will never have the misfortune to encounter. Children are lost, fathers watch their children go hungry, powerless to find or purchase food. These are just words; words we hear every day. But every once in a while we glimpse the actual feeling of living in fear for your life, living in a war zone, what it might actually feel like to hold your crying child knowing that what she needs is something as simple as food or water, and that you cannot provide it.

I usually think of these things at night, as I hold and cradle my sleeping daughter and feel my heart swell with incredible love, thinking I would do anything for this child, happily give my life. But what if I couldn’t? What if I couldn’t do the one thing she needed? It eats my soul in the late hours of the night when I should be sleeping, instead I fall head-first into the pain that some people experience. What about the parents of the little girl who was kidnapped at nine years old and was gone for eighteen YEARS and came back, having birthed two of the kidnappers children. How do you survive this kind of pain for eighteen years? The pain of not knowing where my child is would kill me, I’m afraid. At these late hours I actually feel the sorrow and dread and paralyzing fear of these parents, these victims of violence. How do you live in a world like that? How do any of us go merrily along our way when things like that happen to people, to any people anywhere? How can we allow it? It seems the only way to thrive amongst these horrors is to escape thinking about them.

How could we function if we spent each day feeling the pain and sorrow of the world? Each person finds his or her escape. Sometimes its work, sometimes reading, sports, food, alcohol, cigarettes, television, something to pull our minds away from the realities of the world we live in.
I recently attended my ten-year high school reunion and, being five months pregnant, was without one of my old favorite escapes: alcohol.

I felt very pleased with my healthy lifestyle before getting pregnant with Twila. I drank only moderately, I hadn’t been a smoker for some time, I have always eaten well, I drank lots of water. It was about two months into the pregnancy that I realized that addiction, dependence on substances does not necessarily equal excess.

This reality came crashing in on me when I looked out over the horizon of pregnancy and saw SEVEN more months stretching in front of me. No coffee for seven more months? No wine with dinner? What is there to do, to look forward to if not my morning latte and my evening cabernet? I experienced for the first time since high school what it meant to live life bare—without benefit of chemical escape.

The thrill of a high school reunion is to gain a voyeuristic peek at how everyone is doing. Who has blossomed and who has stagnated and who has gone totally to pot? Not surprisingly, the quieter, shy, even nerdy high school students all seemed to be doing wonderful things—traveling the world as doctors, actors and aid workers. The jock boys were still drinking and definitely looked worse for the ware.

Without my favorite social crutch, wine, I almost did not want to go to my reunion, a socially awkward event by definition. Usually wine helps me right through the tongue-tied-ness of the first conversation, the always-awkward exit, the painful small-talk. But this time I had to navigate the party bare—without chemical escape and without my favorite crutch to lean on, I hobbled through sober. And the most amazing thing happened.

I realized it was okay. I felt good, I got in the groove of talking and floating from conversation to conversation, I smiled and felt energetic enough to make small talk. I did all these things that normally I credit alcohol with doing for me. Not only that, but I got to see with clear eyes what it looks like to be overly socially lubricated. Some men at the reunion were incoherent by ten o’clock. I mean literally, could barely stand and could not be understood. And old friend who sees them out every now and again leaned over in the midst of the crowd as we watched them sway and stumble and struggle to keep their eyes open and their heads facing forward, and said, “They’re like this every night.” What, I wondered, are they escaping?

Most of them are men for whom life has been good. Many born to privilege, college was a given, good jobs lined up for them. Why the need to hide from life, when life looks better from their view than for most of the rest of the world? But maybe that makes it all the harder. Maybe on some deep, buried level, those who have it best—those who are in the throes of the idealistic American Dream—find it the most painful to acknowledge the realities of life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Crutches I

I walked along the banks of the Mississippi River yesterday, enjoying more of the “date” aspect of my long-lapsed artist dates. I tend to incline towards working during my artist dates and frankly it is an indulgence to work alone in the quiet of a coffee shop or in a sunny park instead of my usual harried routine of snapping off a few lines here and there in between demands and needs from my daughter. But Julia Cameron is very specific about using the artist date for rest, fun and creative play for which you are normally too busy. So for the second time since I started The Artist’s Way, I actually went and did something fun.

I strolled along the stretch of Mississippi River Boulevard that caps the south end of Summit Avenue in St. Paul. This has long been a favorite spot of mine. The views of the river from the end of Summit are awesome and there are thick, grey, stone benches sprinkled all over the grassy knoll leading up to the scenic overlook. Summer flowers bloom explosively around the benches like extravagant wedding bouquets. But that is not the best part of the place.

I walked to the edge of the railed overlook, breathing deeply and absorbing the sights and sounds of this, one of our last, hot summer afternoons. This railing has not always been here, at least not one so imposing. I looked down the steep cliff beyond the wrought iron fence at the sloping sandy decline that led to that spot, that favorite place, the flat outcropping of sandstone, which makes a perfect platform. Perfect for sitting, for thinking, for talking, for smoking.

When I was in high school I spent many school days on that very rock formation, often with my friend Meghan, laughing, talking and smoking fantasia light cigarettes.

As soon as Meghan got her license (she was the first by eight months) and her car, there was very little reason left to stay in class. We drove to many wonderful places during our junior year of high school. We road-tripped to Wisconsin in the middle of winter with our bathing suits and sweet-talked our way into a hotel pool where we spent the day in the Jacuzzi tub, laughing, talking and occasionally running out the disabled emergency exit to roll in the snow and then dash back to plunge into the warm sanctuary of the hot tub. We went to coffee shops, afternoon matinees of movies and sometimes one of our houses.

But mostly, when we skipped off from the school lot in midmorning, if the weather permitted, we headed straight to the south end of Summit Avenue to smoke and talk. Cigarette after cigarette we smoked, watching the bright colored papers burn down to the filter, greens, pinks, blues, we chose a cigarette color based on our moods. They were the worst cigarettes I ever smoked but very pretty.

And in this way we escaped the mundane days of high school.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Have Your Health and Crave it Too!

Fresh and Healthy Taboul

2 cups cracked wheat (bulghur)
2 cups very hot water

1 cucumber, chopped

2 small tomatoes, chopped

1 bunch green onions, (8) sliced

1/2 cup fresh chopped mint

2 cups fresh chopped parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon pepper

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1. Soak the cracked wheat in the hot water until the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.
2. Drain any excess water, if necessary, and squeeze dry.
3. Combine the salad ingredients, including wheat, in a medium bowl.
4. Mix the dressing ingredients together and stir into the salad mixture.
5. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Can You Repeat that Please?

“Can I go nuddies to the park?” I knew this would be the start of a very interesting conversation with my inquisitive, nearly three-year-old. I looked up at Twila at the end of the table leaning one arm on my husband’s Economist magazine, holding her cup of chamomile tea with her other hand.
“Well, other than getting germs in your body, you probably could at your age.”
“What about at your age?”
“Not at my age, it’s actually illegal for adults to be naked at a park.”
“So when I’m older I can’t go nuddies to the park.”
“But if I’m older and there are a bunch of girls there and everyone else is nuddies then I could be nuddies. And if it’s just the girls then you can go nuddies too, mom.”

Toddlers are wild fun…and utterly exhausting. I wish I could say every exchange with my child was this enjoyable. Lately I’ve been exhausted. I don’t think my total exhaustion with my daughter is unique. I’m sure, or at least I hope, that all parents go through this with their young children: the sense that they will never learn those simple tenants of life, respect, foresight, caution, the ability to follow through on simple instructions. Some days I feel like we have stalled out developmentally.

Some days it seems we spend all day long going over the same request over and over and over again. My gentle requests become pleas which become directions which become orders which become threats and finally I am begging full heartedly with my head literally in my hands.

Yesterday it was about being nice to the cats. Just don’t pull their tails or lay on them with your full weight. That’s all, that’s all I ask. And I have been asking this simple thing for what seems like ten years. Indeed there are times when I believe she will be ten when she finally stops retrieving our cats by putting a Vulcan death grip on the bony base of their tails and hauling them from room to room.

Again, I am quite sure this “toddler behavior” is not unique to our family though there are days when I feel like the most put-upon mother on this planet. But what I think MIGHT be unique to my daughter is this odd tick she has. She has this habit of asking me to repeat myself two and three times per sentence. It seems, by the end of the day, I’ve been conversing with my great grandfather Magnus in his final years. “I SAID, DO YOU WANT WA-TER OR SOME MILKKK?”

“What you said?” It is difficult to patiently and clearly repeat each and every sentiment I want to convey, two to three times. I very often consider my words carefully, wondering if this observation or question or idle comment is worth the effort it will take to relay it thoroughly to my precise daughter who doesn’t let even the most off-handed remark go unanalyzed.

Many close friends and relatives have asked if we’ve gotten her ears checked but the thing is, she doesn’t miss anything. When I am talking to her dad in low whispers she has been known to jump in with opinions, questions, votes on issues that were not intended to be presented to her. We have frequently said her name very quietly from the front seat of the car to test this theory and it is always met with a whispered, “yes?”

Our theory is that by “What you said?” she really means, “what did you mean by that?” So we take it slow and try to patiently explain the details of every idiom, expression and remark we make. Still some comments seem puzzlingly simple, obvious and still need to be repeated and I am stumped at what this phase is and when it will pass us by.

But she asks the most amazing questions like, “who made God, and why does she listen to us?” and “How did Mr. Sun get up in the sky?” And when I lose my temper and have to stand counting to ten before I open my mouth to talk, she quietly sidles up to me and pats my knee or my back and whispers, “It’s okay mom, it’s going to be okay.” And when I am ready to breathe and be spoken to she looks up at me with her saucer blue eyes and stretches her arms out wide asking, “You want a hug?” Then she strokes my hair and pats my back and I have the strangest feeling that I’m being held by my great grandmother.

So we wait with a sense of humor and sometimes even grace in the face of tireless questions and un-thought-through actions, trying to keep piling on the love while enforcing a firm hand, digging deep for those reserves of patience through deep breaths and gentle smiles. And we just keep going. Hopping from great question to great conversation to deliciously gentle moments and good choices like hopping precariously from lily-pad to lily-pad.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Season Ends

It’s the first of September, the ending of so many things, summer’s weather seems to have ended already, soon summer will end, the busy chaos of summer draws to a close, the long days wind down into quiet, darker evenings. But some things begin too.

The quiet peace of Fall begins, the cool biting crispness in the air becomes present like the taste of a tart apple. Apple orchards open up, my husband’s favorite season of sports begins, and Twila begins preschool.

This is a long awaited and momentous occasion for her, for both of us really. She is so excited and so nervous and I can’t say I feel any different. As difficult as separation has been for both of us these past three years, we are both really anticipating this new season in our lives. But as much as I relish the time that I will have alone, I also mourn the end of an era for Twila and me.

Never again will I have her all to myself each day, just her and me, the whole day stretching in front of us, deciding what to do, where we’ll go, who we’ll see, what games to play; I know I will miss that independence and unadulterated bonding time. Sure we will still have the two days a week she is not in preschool, but soon the baby will be born and things will never again be the same.

The baby, I am excited to meet this new little one, yet I don’t dream and anticipate the way I did when I was pregnant with Twila, putting so much of myself, my brain power, into her arrival, her future, her personality, her room, my parenting skills and techniques; I don’t think about this pregnancy as much.

In some ways this phenomenon has been tremendously helpful, time is just flying by; the baby will be born before I know it. But in other ways, I feel like this baby is already experiencing the second child syndrome. This baby will never have the kind of personal one-on-one time with me that I now mourn losing with Twila—and Twila got three years of it. It’s amazing, really, the prejudices our birth order bestows upon us from the very instant we are conceived. Perhaps if I hadn’t nursed Twila so long, I would have known sooner that I was pregnant. From moment one, this second child was affected by birth order. Incredible.

But we do our best don’t we? Some parents manage with six. I know I will be close to my limit with two children; two maybe three seems like our number. The mind reels at how parents have successfully and lovingly raised upwards of seven or eight children. I know they’re out there and I know many are happy well-adjusted kids but as a parent, I cannot fathom keeping them all straight, let along their needs, personalities, idiosyncrasies, fears, worries, hopes and dreams. How do you have the time?

How would you remember the darling and poignant things each one says in their innocent youth, or the sweet ways each child begins to comfort and parent you, using all the comforting skills they’ve learned and heard from you?

Yesterday, I was playing with some color schemes for the cover of my book while Twila biked in our driveway out front. That lasted a minute or two before she spotted me playing with a brand new set of watercolors; she forgot about her bike and new helmet so quickly you’d have thought it was a toothbrush and a plate of vegetables. “Can I help you mom?!” I sighed and grudgingly helped her to the table on the front porch, passing her a single sheet of paper, a paint brush and very stern directions to keep her paint on her own page and to NOT mix colors. She nodded piously and agreed with sober determination. But mom’s page is always more interesting to paint on. “Do you need help? Do you want me to put a little pink right there?” She doesn’t nap anymore and after a day of constant face time, I am ashamed of how short and irritable my responses to her were. When I had to go in and check dinner I made her solemnly swear to keep her hands to herself, for thirty seconds while I was inside.

When I came out she was delicately reaching her paintbrush over and making the gentlest brush strokes on my page. “Twila what are you—“ she startled back and in pulling her arm away, knocked my blackberry to the cement with a clatter. I think my exact response was “ARGGGGGGGGGGGAAAAHHH!” It echoed through the giant oaks and across the lake. Birds took flight and Twila went white as a sheet.

“Pick that up right now and get inside!” She wordlessly did as she was told. Inside I sat on the step-up-stool in the kitchen and put my forehead in my hands. She stood silently next to me. Why was I so angry? I couldn’t answer my own question even then but could also not pull myself back from the furry I felt at not being able to do one small thing by myself.

“You want a hug?” she quietly offered. “Not yet.” I said into my hands. She stood beside me and quietly rubbed my thigh. “Shhhhhh, it’s okay, it’s going to be okay.” She whispered. I pulled her into a giant hug and squeezed her tight, realizing that right now, as our one-on-one time together draws to a close, I am not appreciating the quickly disappearing moments of togetherness we still have. I was struck by my short-sightedness and my lack of appreciation for this precious and dwindling season. As I hugged her, her tiny hand patting my back, I thought: To heck with drawings and color schemes and deadlines, this is what matters. And with similar vigor I thought, we need preschool.