Changes and Traditions

These last couple of months leading up to age three are all rapid change and growth. Increased vocabulary and refined pronunciation. Heightened awareness and comprehension. Assertiveness, a strong will. There’s a lot more resistance, a lot more “no!” She will hold up her hand and say, “No, mommy, leave me be!”

She still has an ethereal essence, a sweet and gentle soul. It shines through her big brown eyes even during crabby moments. But a fierce will is emerging, and though it sometimes wears me out, I’m glad for it. I want her to claim her space, raise her voice, stand her ground. She is an incredible combination of peace and strength and silliness, teaching me all the time.

If you ask her what she wants for Christmas, she will answer, “A present!” There is no material good she longs for, except perhaps another book to add to her collection. She is still blissfully unaware of our consumer-driven culture. I know it won’t be long before this changes, and I’ve been thinking of little traditions that focus on what truly matters. I love the tradition of decorating a tree in the yard with edible ornaments for the animals, detailed over at Wilder Child. It’s a simple craft project, an experience, and an act of giving. It turns our attention to the creatures we share space with and instills a sense of responsibility to wildlife. And it looks so lovely, the cranberry strands and orange cups of birdseed hanging from the tree. We’ve been reading Jan Brett’s The Mitten every night and thinking about all the creatures in our backyard.

If I had any talent for sewing, I’d quilt an Advent calendar. My favorites are the fabric ones with pockets for little felted ornaments and candy canes. This year we have a beautiful paper one from my sister. Perhaps next year I’ll craft one from fabric…

How are your little ones changing? How do you celebrate the season?

(Post 316 of 365)

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Pre-nostalgia

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Pre-nostalgia. Some nights, like last night, when I am at the library, I get a text with a picture. And I am reminded that, no matter what challenges we’re feeling right now, we are also inside one of the sweetest moments in time. Pause. Look. Breathe.

(Post 226 of 365)

Yoga and Poetry

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photo source

I’ve been waking up grumpy. Almost like a teenager. Like, pleeeeeease just five more minutes.

After two years of sleep deprivation, we are finally sleeping through the night. I should be rising with the smile of the well-rested. But every morning at 4 or 4:30 or 4:45, my toddler leaves her bed and crawls into ours. Sometimes she settles down, but most times she tosses and turns, thrashing her body against mine. She will say, “I love you so much!” and “Remember, we go party yesterday?” Because apparently every day is a party.

My friend Rachel wrote about her morning yoga routine with her little ones and it got me thinking. I have to turn this around. What if we started each morning with five sun salutations? What if we woke each day and recited this Mary Oliver poem like a prayer?

We practiced this afternoon. Hands together, namaste. Arms stretching way up. Bending forward to touch our toes. When I moved into other poses, like cobra and downward-facing dog, she started to climb my body. But a few sun salutations… I think we can do it. Tomorrow morning, we start anew.

(Post 224 of 365)

Why I Wake Early

-Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

and spread it over the fields

and into the faces of the tulips

and the nodding morning glories,

and into the windows of, even, the

miserable and crotchety—

best preacher that ever was,

dear star, that just happens

to be where you are in the universe

to keep us from ever-darkness,

to ease us with warm touching,

to hold us in the great hands of light—

good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.

Meet Me Here


Last week I read Pamela’s Erens’ Eleven Hours, a portrait of childbirth that juxtaposes the stories of two women, one who longs for a baby and the other in the throes of labor.

A passage I keep returning to: “She would like the surprise of children, the way they bring pieces of the outer world back to you, pieces of past, present, and future. The way they are always in a place where you cannot quite meet them.”

It’s true in a way, that children often seem to be in a place just shy of our grasp. The moments we’re able to shift our adult brains to child-wonder, to allow ourselves to be fully immersed in that world, are transcendent and fleeting. Just as I come to fully understand exactly where my daughter is, the phase disappears and she transforms again. I wonder, is it less about capturing these ephemeral joys and more about seeking to meet her right where she is?

(Post 221 of 365)

Imprints

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Fossil palm frond with fishes. Early Eocene (50 million years ago). Lincoln County, Wyoming. Currently on loan at Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT. 
I believe that during times of transformation, when we are vulnerable and malleable, experiences and images, people and places, imprint upon us deeply, the way they do during childhood. We carry fossils in the soft clay of our bodies.

When my daughter was a baby, when I was a malleable new mother, the days stretched out long before us. We read lots of books and took lots of walks and sang lots of songs. Around the time she was 7 months old, I discovered that the Peabody Museum had free admission from 2-5 p.m. every Thursday. The timing was ideal since my daughter only napped in the car. She would fall asleep on the drive to New Haven, and then I’d let the car idle in the parking lot, enjoying a blissful half hour of reading while she slept.

Inside the museum, we spent most of our time in The Great Hall, a place imprinted upon me from childhood. I would slowly circle her stroller around the colossal Brontosaurus. When she was learning to walk, she toddled between the smooth benches and the exhibit railing, the great skeletons towering above her. Soon she was off exploring, walking through the different rooms, making her way up the stone stairs.

Today, a rare unplanned afternoon before us, I ask if she wants to visit the dinosaurs and she says, “Yes, yes!” This place, imprinted, feels familiar and sacred.

Today we did not need a stroller. She follows the dinosaur prints herself and swats my hand away when we reach the stairs, announcing, “I can do it myself!”

We practice pronunciation as we go. She recites: Triceratops, Neanderthal, javelina, sarcophagus.

She points to Darwin and asks if he is Santa Claus.

Darwin’s work showed that at a very basic level all life is related. The vast diversity of plant and animal species, including humans, has evolved over time from one original source. 

We make our way to the fossils, the palm frond and fishes discovered in Wyoming, preserved for 50 million years in siltstone. Underwater evidence. These things we get to keep. Does that many years count as forever?

(Post 219 of 365)

Childhood Bookshelf

I went to pull an old Glimmertrain journal from my bookshelf tonight and this childhood book, which had been stacked on top, slipped out. I could instantly feel myself sitting on the hardwood floor of the upstairs hallway beneath the skylight in my childhood home, plucking books from the bookshelf and reading for hours. Believe it or not, I pored over this one. It was less an interest in saints and more an interest in lives. I took this book to be factual, biographical. Proving that really, I’ve always loved nonfiction. The stories had an unbelievable, and often tragic trajectory, a woman living in poverty and obscurity who eventually attained sainthood, or a nobleman who gave up his earthly possessions to live amongst the poor. Fairy tales, or reversed fairy tales. I also obsessed over the names: Cecelia, Elizabeth Seton, Ignatius, Francis. And the saint my sister is named for, Kateri Tekakwitha. Her story is by far the best, and we had other storybooks about her life, too. It’s incredible the way books, images, pieces of art leave an imprint. I can feel the cool wood floor on my legs, the way I’d get lost in books, the peacefulness of being in my own world. Perhaps I should also say that My First Book of Saints was not in league with the better-loved books on the shelf like Little House in the Big Woods, Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, My Antonia, and so many others that escape me now at this late hour.

(Post 211 of 365)

When I Grow Up: 91/365

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As a kindergartener, when I got home from school, I would ask my mother to put on a record, usually Linda Ronstadt’s Simple Dreams. The record player and stereo were housed in the kitchen closet, where my mother sometimes holed up with the yellow telephone with the world’s longest cord for a few minutes of private conversation.

The stereo speakers were in the living room. I can still hear the scratch of the needle hitting the record. I’d lean against the ottoman poring over the album art while singing along to “Blue Bayou.” I was particularly obsessed with this picture, Linda in her slinky black dress and high heels, flower in her hair, melancholic and sexy. Her back-up band of dudes waiting around smoking cigarettes. If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would’ve told you without hesitation: a singer.

 

 

 

Moon Child: 90/365

According to my mother, when I was two-years old and she was very pregnant with my sister, I declared, “Mommy, I didn’t come from your tummy. President Carter sent me from the moon to be with you.” Proof that I am a liberal from outer space.

Sax: 75/365

When I was eleven, I took saxophone lessons. Downtown, in a dim and dusty room above the music shop that doesn’t exist anymore. I lasted six months. I think it took me that long to even get it to make a sound.

It’s still one of my favorite instruments to hear played, especially on the streets of New York. Sometimes there’d be a sax player on the corner of 34th and 5th, and if I opened my office window, it would rise up, distinguish itself from the street noise, and change the entire day.

Figuring: 16/365

I’m just over two weeks into this project and I’ve realized that many of my posts begin with story and resist naming one specific truth, instead offering many. Yesterday’s post (#15) didn’t name one true thing in particular, but a flurry of small truths.

I was not allowed to have sugar as a kid.

I had a sweet tooth.

I spent a lot of time outdoors.

Bike riding will always smell like Bactine.

I was well-mannered.

I had kind neighbors.

My first best friend lived next door.

I ran naked in the street with my best friend on a rainy day in 1980.

When you become a parent, you reconnect with those early childhood places, the smells and sounds, who you were and who others were to you. I realized – it hit me last night – that I’ve been severed from my childhood self.

When I was thirteen, my parents’ divorce detonated like a bomb. My mom dropped the bomb; my dad waged a decades-long war. Everything – inside me and all around me – became reconfigured. I staggered around in the smoke and fire for the longest time, unable to get my bearings or grasp who I was. As I grew into adulthood, my memories only went as far back as age thirteen. To think about an earlier time felt like a lie, something that didn’t exist anymore, pieces of me that were no longer mine. I picture a paper accordion doll stretched out to thirty nine with the first twelve snipped off, scattered on the floor. Then I realize, maybe that’s the lie – maybe those first twelve versions of me are still here, bunched up and hiding. I feel too much of a kinship with them for it to be otherwise. The brain distorts, but the body remembers.

I’ll pause here to say, I have no idea where the hell this is going – the whole thing, I mean. I feel like I’m working on a giant Chuck Close mural I never saw the plan for and I’m standing a few inches from the canvas painting bright, messy circles. I want to step back and see what it looks like, but it’s too soon to tell.

Often what I listen for… is a sense that the writer is a little lost, not deliberately withholding information or turning on the heavy mystery machines, but honestly confounded (by the world? isn’t it so?) and letting others listen in on that figuring.

-Amanda Nadelberg