Thursday, October 22, 2009

English Muffin Pizzas

When I was about 10 years old, my dad took a new job and my folks lived 1000 miles apart. It was a separation of necessity, mom stayed in Michigan to get the house in order and sold, and dad went to Missouri to take advantage of an excellent career opportunity. My folks sat my sister and I down and explained to us, matter-of-factly, what was going to happen: Daddy was moving, mom was going to stay here, eventually we would all be back together again. I don’t remember this being distressing in any way: we moved fairly frequently, and we had been without my dad for stretches before in similar circumstances. The thing that made this event memorable is that my parents presented me with a choice: I could go on ahead with dad or stay with my mom and sister. I was in 6th grade, on the cusp of adolescence. I was aware that Jr. High loomed in my future, and was always open to new adventures, so, after giving it some thought, I decided I would go with dad and try to make some friends in the “safe” elementary school environment before moving on to big, scary Jr. High school. It was not an agonizing decision for me to make, although in retrospect I wonder how my parents felt about it: was mom worried about dad and I being on our own? Was dad secretly annoyed to be burdened with a kid tagging along when he was starting a new job? If they had those feelings, they never let on to me. I went with my dad to Columbia and it was just me and dad for… weeks? months? Anyway, until mom sold the house, and mom and my sis joined us.

Lately I have been leaving the Sisters Lovely alone with Dearest here and there: while I go to a doctor’s appointment, or a meeting, or to run a quick errand. I will be the first to admit it: I can be a total control freak. I like routine, a rhythm and predictability to my day, and I have projected that on to my girls, convincing myself that THEY like a routine. Maybe they do. Does Dearest do everything exactly the way I do it? Surely not. Do I have to fight the urge to leave him a child care itinerary every time I go to take a shower for 20 minutes? Yes. Have I considered putting together a folder, like we keep in the classroom for substitute teachers, with a schedule, likes and dislikes, and alternate activities? Yup. But I won’t. First of all, Dearest doesn’t need it. He knows the girls so well, and is not only capable but excellent at seeing that their needs are met. Secondly, so what if he does something a little different from the way I do it? Is that really going to scar the kids? Just the opposite, I have to admit. It’s probably very good for them.

Did everything go perfectly during the time I lived with my dad? Certainly not. I spent time alone for really the first time in my life, was picked on and considered “weird” by the kids at my new elementary school (hmm… I was new, had no mom living in the house to be sure I brushed by hair and dressed nicely (I’m sure I didn’t), was picked up and dropped off by my dad’s secretary, occasionally came to school on crutches just because I felt like it, and lived in a retirement home. So… maybe they had a point.) But what an experience. If I had stayed behind, I would have missed out on so much bonding time with my dad during those months of bachelorhood: wading barefoot in the creek that ran though the grounds of the facility, staying up late enough to watch SNL for the first time, getting pet birds and letting them fly around our apartment without worrying too much about the mess, eating English Muffin pizzas pretty much every weekend. Was it how my mom would have done it? Almost certainly not. Did I turn out just fine? Well… I guess you could argue that one either way, but I doubt my oddities have too much to do with my time with dad.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Letter to a 6-Month-Old Singer of Songs

Dear Sophia (AKA The Soph, Peanut, Lil’ Bit),

We still can’t decide what color your eyes are. Today they are leaning towards hazel, yesterday, outside, they had a greenish tinge to them. Six months you have been on this earth, little one, half a year already and as much as I feel like I know everything there is to know about you, it’s clear that you still have more to reveal to me. You have been, for the whole of your life thus far, all about your hands. They are for you a source of amazement, comfort, and amusement. You had your thumb in your mouth before we even left the hospital. Even now, sometimes you will get so quiet, and I will peek to see what you are doing, only to find you studying your hands- opening them, closing them, pressing fingertips together and eternally studying any texture within reach. What will those little dimpled hands grow up to do?

Not long ago you started to recognize your own reflection in the mirror. You greet your image with a great gummy grin, and I wonder, as I look at the two of us looking back at ourselves, if you know me too. I think you must, because there are moments, when strangers approach, that you look at them, your lower lip juts out and starts to quiver, and then you look back to me for reassurance and comfort. Of course, my dear, I don’t want you to be fearful, but I have to admit I secretly love that you are aware of our “us-ness” and their “them-ness.”

I love watching you react to music. Ever since you were first born you have been comforted by singing (yes, even MY singing) and not too long ago you started to sing along when I croon “Rubber Duckie” to you in the bathtub or “Eleanor Rigby” when we are cruising around in the van. Maybe you only know one note so far, but your singing is music to my ears. You are a contented little creature, sometimes a little on the sensitive side, but a million miles away from the newborn who screamed endlessly for reasons that were mysterious to your loving folks. I admit, there were moments when I wondered if you would EVER be happy, and after I stopped drinking milk and your screaming ceased, I can not describe to you the relief. You were OK. Now that toothless smile makes my heart sing.

Every night, after I place your sister in her crib, I pause at yours to breathe you in. Your Dad puts you to bed, rocks you and gives you a warm bottle and marvels at your sweetness. This is a routine established when I wasn’t sure that you were gaining weight fast enough, this bottle of pumped milk, and your Dad loved tucking you in so much that it stuck. You lie there serenely, head turned to the left, thumb in your mouth. I silently study your long eyelashes, that little Kem chin, and I watch your chest rise and fall. Even at the end of an exhausting day I pause to remind myself: they won’t be little forever. Soon I will be gazing at a sleeping toddler, then preschooler, and before you know it a young lady. It’s hard to imagine now, that your peach-fuzz will turn into actual hair, your little babbles will turn into actual words, and your eyes will finally settle on a color.

Happy 6 months, Sweet Pea. Looking forward to watching you grow.


Letter to a 6-Month-Old Mover and Shaker

Dear Olivia (AKA Livi, Tootsie, Meatball, Chunka-Munka),

The ultrasounds were deceiving. You were supposed to be the quiet one, the mellow baby. You kept up the ruse the first couple of weeks of your life. While Sophia screamed, you quietly observed, taking it all in. Only now do I realize that you were conserving your energy, saving it and plotting for the day that you were mobile. One day, around 3 months old, you realized that you could stand up on our laps. At this moment in your short life, you decided that you were no longer a baby. Gone were the days of cuddling you sweetly. You wanted to stand up! And jump jump jump! In the blink of an eye you were focused solely on locomotion, rolling around the house, crawling backwards, wreaking havoc as you went.

You now come with a warning, when someone scoops you up because you are grinning that irresistible gummy grin of yours, or when they place their baby down near you. I am obliged to give them the heads up “Be careful. She pinches.” And you DO, little one. You pinch with gleeful abandon: the happier you are the harder you pinch- me, your sis, Grandma Jo, none of us can escape your enthusiastic talons. The only thing I think you like to do more than pinch is eat. As soon as someone in the vicinity picks up a spoon, you start with your demands of “Ummmmmmm. UMMMMMMM!” Although you have soundly rejected green beans and were pretty luke warm on avocado, you devour your oatmeal, peaches, sweet potatoes, squash, and pears with voracity. It’s no wonder that you are positively off the charts growth-wise, and something about your chubbiness makes me so proud.

At 6 months, I am still nursing you to sleep at night. I can’t tell you how much I treasure these moments of stillness, how, when you are not a blur streaking past me I take the time to really marvel at you. I stroke your hair, feel your breath, listen to those contented baby murmurs, and swell with love for you. After a chaotic day of trying to save you from yourself, I relish the time spent in rocking chair in your dim nursery. These moments, too, seem finite. More and more often I put you in the crib awake and you fall asleep all by yourself. But the rush, the absolute joy of hearing you coo and squeal through the monitor and going in to get you out of the crib after a nap, to be greeted by the most enthusiastic of grins when you catch sight of your adoring mama, is beyond compare.

Happy 6 months, my busy girl. I love your intensity. Don’t ever lose it.