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Category: children

A Wooden Bed on Which to Lay Your Head

My daughter lies on the floor of the hallway outside her bedroom door, an arm sprawled in front of her. The other is tucked in next to her side, her pale ruddy skin a contrast to the cheerful green of her dinosaur pajamas. She is soundly asleep and undoubtedly quite pleased at her independence.

I put her in bed properly a few hours earlier, of course. But Baba refuses to lie down in her bed, no matter how much you sweeten the deal. The very thought of it offends her, though she goes into it easily once she’s fallen asleep elsewhere. And so she has fallen asleep in protest on nearly every other surface of her room; the rocking chair, her personalized L.L. Bean couch and once, even on her changing table. For all of our sanity, I put a rug on the floor and it has become the favored location ever since.

Sure, kid.

But this night, when she managed to crawl halfway out of her room before giving in again to sleep, I turned on all of the lights and took a good picture. I put it as the wallpaper of my laptop, where it is displayed for all of my coworkers to see.

“What is she doing?” they ask.

“Being herself,” I say.

The most wonderful thing about young children is that they are so entirely themselves. Baba has no apparent self-consciousness. When she wants something, she’s willing to throw a fit over it, with no concern about the snotty mess that her face becomes or the unflattering way her skin goes splotchy. As soon as she has a thought, she tells you.  When the thought was hilarious, as it often is, and you laugh, she laughs with you. When she doesn’t know a word, she doesn’t hide it – she just describes what she wants over and over until someone supplies her the word.

It’s so wonderfully refreshing to be around. Even when I just, desperately, want her to put on her socks and go out the door and all she wants to do is stop and play with….whatever…she has suddenly fixated on, I can’t help but see the beauty of her nature. Perhaps this is motherhood, this effortless sense of understanding. Although I try hard to extend it to everyone in my life, to know that a person is more than just their behavior in the moment, it’s so much easier with someone so innocent.  And now that she is approaching three, I value these moments so much more, because I know that they can’t last all that much longer.

And how Baba makes me laugh, just by being her authentic self.

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The American Legacy

My daughter crinkles paper, blows
on the tree to make it live, festoons
herself with silver.
So far she has no use for gifts.

What can I give her,
what armor, invincible
sword or magic trick, when that year comes?

How can I teach her
some way of being human
that won’t destroy her?

I would like to tell her, Love
is enough. I would like to say,
Find shelter in another skin.

I would like to say, Dance
and be happy. Instead I will say
in my crone’s voice, Be
ruthless when you have to, tell
the truth when you can,
when you can see it.
Iron talismans, and ugly, but
more loyal than mirrors.

from “Solstice Poem”, Margaret Atwood

 

 


 

On the radio this morning, the hushed voices of NPR reporters break the news that the largest mass shooting the country has ever seen happened overnight. The details are still sparse, but I wait for the body count. In the back seat, Baba babbles about the birds she heard singing, while I wonder what new words she’ll pick up from the radio this time.

After the barest details turn into empty radio filler, I turn down the volume. There is time later to obsess about the increasingly competitive rampages of men with guns who want to die over and over again on the front page of every newspaper. And we fall into the trap, as we must, feting the murders on every radio station and in every newspaper in terse and gently probing tones. The President issues a speech that manages not to insult anyone. On social media, the cringey and meaningless posts about thoughts and prayers are echoed over and over.

We are helpless. We are hopeless. But yet, we want to be seen having compassion for people we would not know walking down the street, because the situation is so terrible that we must be observed to publicly mourn to protect our decency. And so we perform our grief, but it feels false. How can you have grief left to give to strangers, when we’ve done this show so many times?

This season, it doesn’t even have an intermission.  Hurricane, hurricane, horror, hurricane, slow response, mass shooting, horror.

Later in the day, Tom Petty dies, because how could such a well-loved American artist live out this terrible day? Although we know by now that it is simply not safe to go to work or ride a train or dance in a night club, music had been safe.  If you weren’t French.  Now, thanks to yet another white man with far more guns than anyone should ever own, that too has been defiled. Even Tom Petty’s death is ruined, because our thoughts and prayers are already taken.

Tomorrow, his record sales are sure to spike, because that is what happens every time. And we will do nothing else. Nothing and nothing and nothing.

 


 

About a month ago, I told Baba that it was time to leave to go to school.

She says, “No, Mama. I no go school. I have to murder my tiger.”

“You have to what?” I ask, as I walk into the living room, where I find her holding a long piece of plastic across the throat of a stuffed Disney-shaped lion that we have yet to identify.

“Ehm,” I say.

“Ehm,” I say a little louder.

Baba interrupts her sawing and looks up with curiosity on her sweet and feral face.

“You seem to be murdering,” I say, in what must the epitome of good parenting.

“Yes, Mama,” she says happily. “See, I murder my tiger! Like this!  You want murder my tiger too?”

“No, baby. Murder is not nice.”

“Murder is not nic-CEEEEEE?” she asks, cocking her head with an overdone smile that usually makes me laugh.

“No love, murder is not nice. Tell your tiger that you’re sorry, honey. Then we need to go.”

 


 

We have a madness that we cannot seem to shake off.   Already the old conversation about gun control has started. I think more about personal risk.  I don’t worry for myself, because I have walked through high-risk halls on my way to work so many years that I long ago accepted the chance that some violent man will take my life. After all, I ride trains. And, in 2017, we all know that bombs and trains go along very well.

Hopefully not my one, but you never know.

But no parent considers sending their child to school without also imagining the day when that decision became deadly. Because you never know.

And this is the world that I must explain to Baba. Now she is so young that her innocence about the world constantly surprises me.

One day she took down our Bernie Sanders card from the bathroom mirror and said, “Who dat?”

“That’s Bernie Sanders, love.  He reminds us to look out for one another.”

“Who Ernie Sandbars?”

I thought a while about how to explain it. “He’s a man who wants to make sure that everyone can go to the doctor if they get sick,” I said.

“Why you no can go doctor?” she asked.

“Well…” I said, at a loss for words.

What a world I have to give you, my Baba, my innocent and feral child. And that is my deepest grief. All I can arm you with are the words and poems of the fighters and the heroes and hope that you stay as courageous
as you were born.

And do better, child. Do better than me.

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The End of Summer

Somehow, Baba’s summer break snuck up on me.  Each year, her day care closes for the last full week of August, as the school prepares for a new year.  Since I have the more forgiving job when it comes to vacation time, I take it off each year to take care of her for a week of full-on motherhood.  This year I didn’t even realize summer break was here until Wednesday of the week before, so I had very little time to plan or prepare, either for my leave of absence from work or for activities to keep Baba busy, which is rather a requirement if I have any desire of keeping my house from utter destruction.

As it happens, I recently started sharing my car with my brother, who is working far enough from home for the first time that he needs reliable transportation.  That seemed like a great idea until I remembered my time off and that he’d have my car for each afternoon.  So…homebound for half the day with a two year old or limited to how far our feet could take us, which is a shorter distance than you might immediately suspect, since Baba still badly needs naps, but refuses to take them when she’s at home with me.  That added some challenges.

Every time I spend a week doing full-time parenting, I am bowled over by how hard it is.  This year, Baba has enough friends that we could fill most of the week with play dates, so it was less lonely than past years have been.  But now that she is so much more mobile, I could barely sit down all week.  (And there is that issue of no more breaks naps.)  My feet are throbbing, my back hurts and my calves ache enough that I have developed a potentially unhealthy loathing of stairs.  As much as I’ve loved the extra time with Baba, who has developed just enough logic and vocabulary to have become hilarious, I am very much looking forward to sitting at my desk for a blessed six hours in a row tomorrow.  Sitting on a train, sipping my morning coffee, writing another scene in another chapter on my novel — this feels like an unbelievably civilized way of living.

Seriously.  It is 7:30 p.m. and I am writing this from bed becuase the thought of having to hold my head up on my own is simply untenable.

Alice Munro frequently mentions that being at home with three children was why she got so good at writing short stories, as she never had the focus to work on anything longer.  I’ve always loved her work, but when I think about that and the last week, I can’t help but admire her more. This blog post is the first writing that I’ve done all week, because my days started when Baba climbed into my bed and only ended after the fight to get her to go to sleep.  By then, I was so exhausted that I could barely climb onto the couch and feed myself dessert, much less put together words in an order that could possibly make sense.

But tonight my frustration with my lack of progress this week finally manifested as enough energy to actually get some work done.  And, wouldn’t you know it, as I opened up my copy of Scrivener, I realized that the notebook that I’ve been writing in has gone off with my car to my brother’s job, which might as well be Timbuktu for as reachable as it is to me right now.  It will return to me in the morning, but doesn’t it just figure?

Virginia Woolf was so right about that room of your own.  If you’re not familiar with the essay, her point was that the men of her day were expected simply to work, while the women were expected to take care of their families and households, so if they were writers, it was that much harder, since they had no space to sit and think and no one working out their meals and laundry for them.  As a working mom, I feel this intensely, since every minute of my day is planned long before the day arrives, which is the only way to keep a job and a household running and still have some energy each day to spend actual quality time with Baba, much less my Beloved.  And I’ve certainly been frustrated with how much that slows down my writing, since I must write in 45 minute chunks of time, since my train commute is the only spare time I have all day.  But that hour and a half each day is a gift and I have missed it, even as my time with Baba has given me more experiences to write about.

In the morning, Baba will go to a new classroom, with the same children that she’s gone to school with since she was four months old. She’ll have a new teacher and spend her days with her friends, who she has missed while she’s been stuck at home with me.  And I will go back to work, both grateful to get back to my normal challenges and deeply regretful that I will have to wait for hours for Baba to throw her tiny arms around my neck in that clumsy strangehold that always takes my breath away.

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Easter Passes Me Over

I have been off of work for the last week, as Baba’s day care has been closed for the Passover and Easter holidays.  Not being a Christian nor a Jew means that this mostly turns into another one of of those holidays where everyone seems to need to be somewhere, but I’m not entirely certain where that is.

Apparently people get together for Easter?  And they eat food?  Also, sort of the same thing for Passover?

I’m not so culturally tone-deaf as to not understand that there are some significantly different religious underpinnings there, but my understanding is pretty vague.  Jesus rose from the dead; a miracle is celebrated.  The Jews were spared from the plagues that God visited on the Egyptians and were liberated from slavery — another miracle.  These are fabulous and powerful stories, even if you don’t share the faith behind them.

And I must admit that I rather like the idea of miracles these days.

These shoes were made for walkin’…on mulch.

Our celebrations were more pagan.  Baba was sent a chocolate rabbit and some bunny ears, which led to a full day of listening to Baba declaring her newfound love of chocolate. I spent the afternoon digging in the dirt in the garden and trying out my new garden shoes. (Sloggers!  Recommend!)  The house that we bought was uninhabited for four years before we moved in and the yard is showing the neglect.  I don’t know a great deal about gardening, as you could spit across the entire yard of our last house without really even trying, but I’ve taken on fixing this yard as a personal vendetta project.  I’ve been learning a lot about eradicating crabgrass and annihilating dandelions, which is very much the dark side of gardening.

Still, there are worse ways to celebrate a fertility festival than by making room for new things to grow.  Tonight, I sleep the sleep of the just, even if we still haven’t figured out how to make our mysteriously 9-zone sprinkler system work.

It has been really relaxing to be away from my normal routine for so long.  My grandparents were visiting for the week, which made my time with Baba very pleasant.  She has very much become a 2 year old, with the attendant fits and dramas that limited language and a whole lot of will power entail, and the extra adult hands around were greatly appreciated.  Our entertainments were pretty mellow, with many trips to the park and the grocery store and the back yard.  The weather finally turned for the season and, for the first time since we bought the house,  I’ve actually been spending time just sitting in the back yard, enjoying our tiny private patch of outdoor space.  I bought Baba some chalk and we’ve been working on decorating all of the bricks in the patio, which is just the sort of life goal that I’ve needed for some time.

Perhaps the lessons of Easter and Passover aren’t for my family, but all of the time together with Baba and my grandparents has felt very sacred, all the same.

 

Nap refusal is never pretty.
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Human Moments, No 9

By Michael Rivera - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44979295

The children are a mix of ages, from four to seven, but their thin limbs sprawl equally across the newly painted merry-go-round.  Merry-go-rounds are now an artifact of time, an icon of the American landscape that has been sacrificed to this new world of safety and caution, and Baba has never seen one before.  Despite all of my efforts to distract her to slides and swings in the toddler-sized playground, she goes running towards it, arms outstretched like a tiny fun-loving zombie.

Spiiiiins…..spiiiiiins….spiiiiiins….

When they see her, the children on the merry-go-round drag their feet in the dirt to bring it to a screechy halt.  “Wait,” says a little girl with brown hair that is desperately escaping from her fat braid.  “There’s a baby.”  She pulls on the metal bars, dangling her tiny bottom over the edge, her hips moving back and forth with all the energy of someone who hasn’t yet figured out how to sit still.

“Baba, no-no,” I say desperately trying to distract Baba. “No-no, Baba!”  There are no harnesses on the merry-go-round and she’s certainly not stable enough to cling to the bars.  Everything in the New Parent Handbook says that this is a very, very bad idea.

“No-no!” Baba says, cheerily.

“It’s okay,” a young boy says, his words slurred by his missing lower front tooth.  “We can push her.”

“We’ll go slow,” the girl promises.  “Since she’s a baby.”

“Alright,” I say, then help Baba scramble up onto the merry-go-round.  The other children part, making room for her tiny body in that amorphous way that groups of children move when they are en masse.  Baba stands in the middle, smiling and babbling in her joy of being part of the group.  “Sit down!” I tell her, thinking that at least if she sits, she shouldn’t smack too many body parts when the merry-go-round begins to move.  I climb on with her and sit cross-legged on the cold metal, secretly pleased at my flexibility.

And let’s be honest, it’s not just pleased.  I’m delighted to have an excuse to sit on a merry-go-round again.  It was my favorite playground equipment and Baba has given a fabulous excuse to pretend I’m a child.

Spiiiiins…..spiiiiiins….spiiiiiins….

“Is she ready?” the brown-haired girl asks.  “Because my dad has taught us the right speeds.”

“That’s right,” the boy says.  “For babies, you have to go really slow.”  He hops down and begins gently pushing us around, at a speed that would make the teacup ride at Disneyland yawn in boredom.  “And for older babies, you can go less slow.  And for a little older than that, you can go walk speed.  And then, when it’s only older kids, you can go fast.  And then, when you’re five, you can go super fast.”

“And when you’re six,” the girl interrupts, “you can go super-mega-awesome-fast.”

 

 

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