Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Understanding the Baby

I am 6 months pregnant with my second child and what I find delightful is the way my 2-year old responds to my growing belly and his growing awareness that life in our household will soon change. “Where is the baby,” I ask him regularly. He rarely says “In mama’s belly,” or even points to my belly as I expect. He often points to my breasts, though sometimes he will run into the kitchen and point to the new baby’s ultra sound picture we have posted on the fridge. For him any sign of change in my body, it seems, signifies the baby. Though his awareness of the ultra-sound shows the way we presented it to him—“look it’s the baby” we said pointing to the strange baby-like shape in the grainy picture.

Today though he patted my belly and said “want to give the baby a hug.” And because we’ve been reading a book about a new baby he said “in a place called the womb” (a direct quote from the book).

While all of this is entertaining and sometimes down right hilarious—like the time he quickly lifted up my shirt as though searching right then for the baby—really I find my own awareness and understanding of the baby is similar. Right now the baby is this round ball of belly under my shirt. Sometimes though it is the shirt, and the pants. The baby is these strange stretchy clothes I wear now that have extra panels or fabric for my belly and how they hug my body but also allow me to move and bend and stretch much better than my non-pregnancy clothes. The baby is an oblong pill I take each morning and night—a compression of things good for me—that sometimes has a hard time going down. The baby is a chant on a prenatal yoga video “ong nama guru dev nama,” it’s the ache in my side when I lay down at night, or the amazing flexibility now present in my joints and muscles.

I laugh about my son and tell the stories of how he conceptualizes the baby in the concrete things we talk about or sigh and shake my head and admit that I don’t think he has any idea that in a few months another little person is going to live in our house. And yet my 33 year old mind, too, cannot understand that soon these clothes, these yoga moves, these aches, stretches, ultra sounds and check ups, will also soon be a complete human being.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Theme-Looking up


The lazy ‘s’ scallop, the meadow stream meander of the wing shape make it unmistakable. The white body and mottled brown wings of an osprey sails across the sky my 2-year old and I walk under. I point up and say “osprey. Look there an osprey.” The sun is bright and my son has not fully acquired a sky watchers skill of curving his spine and leaning back his head to look up so I’m not sure he sees it.

We’ve lived a year and a half now in central New Jersey—an urban space 30 miles or so from Manhattan. Our near daily walks show us nothing wilder, usually, than resident Canada Geese whose droppings cover every park lawn and bike path. I make a game of pointing out goose poop and stepping over it in exaggerated strides in hopes my son can keep his shoes clean-ish He likes the game and takes big steps too—though sometimes too big and into the next squishy pile.

The osprey is a gift. We see them but not everyday. Although I’m not sure my son sees the way the bird’s striking white-black pattern cuts across the fall sky’s intense blue, he hears the name. “Us pray,” he repeats, “us pray.”

Never before have I noticed that the 2nd syllable in this bird’s name is “pray.” Even though the osprey has been an important symbol in my life since I learned to identify it 15 years ago while living in rural northeastern Utah where it was nearly a daily sighting (in spring and summer) along with river otter, deer, elk and even moose (though not daily). And so often now thoughts of my semi-wild upbringing make me ache as my son and I walk along the Raritan river covered sometimes in a suspicious sludge and as I have to remind him again and again that—unlike the rivers and lakes at grandma’s—this river we don’t put our feet into.

But the Osprey reminds me that the Raritan still lives. “Us pray,” my son says and so we do. I, that I can find enough to love in this urban place wild with the human cultures of the world, but sick (sometimes dead) in non-human diversity. I pray the Raritan’s soul keeps fighting and mine too. My son prays in his way for endless cool sunny days when our outing to the park stretches out indefinitely and it seems that maybe we will never have to go back inside.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Theme: Music

Music Class

Each week I take my toddler to a kids’ music class where 11 other parents and I take directions from a smiling energetic sometimes almost manic woman. We sing, clap, dance, throw scarves, twirl, play tiny instruments, and even chant a little all the while hoping our children will following along or at least stay nearby to remind us why we subject ourselves to 45 minutes of mild humiliation. I’m pretty sure all the parents feel the same way that I do. I judge this assumption on facial expressions. At some point of course each parents smiles—during a favorite song maybe or when a child unexpectedly sings along or dances or bangs the drum. There is no doubt there are moments of sheer delight from all parents. But sooner or later each parent’s face wears an expression of mild suffering. One mother looks doubtful while we sway our hands during a song about falling leaves. Another grimaces when we have to get up and walk around in a circle acting like squirrels. When we have to chant “hey-y—ho-o-o” and alternatively clap our hands or bang our chests one father’s eyes completely glaze over in humiliated defeat as he waves his hands in at least the general pattern as the rest of us.
The kids all under the age of 3 seem to love it. A few sit happily near their parents and follow along by both singing and copying the extensive hand motions. Some excitedly spin circles in the middle of the group or scream wildly when scarves or instruments appear. And some appear not to participate at all but sit solidly on a parent’s lap looking both terrified and amazed—though this reaction is almost always short lived and sooner or later each kid shakes a tambourine, taps a foot, or at least turns a quick circle before running back to mom’s lap. The class length is perhaps too long to keep even the most avid music lover’s attention completely and usually a posse of kids ends up playing in the curtains or running circles around the blue tae-kwon-do kicking posts pushed to one side for the classroom’s other clients.
So the question is why are we here? Why do we pay $190 for 10 sessions of weekly eye rolling interspersed with moments of delight? What pushed any of us to strap our kids in the car or push our strollers though blustery November weather to trudge up two flights of stairs and make fools of ourselves in a hodgepodge multi-purpose room full of mirrors where we can’t even hide our silliness from ourselves?

I think what we hope for are kids unafraid to dance, to sing aloud, to whirl about at the slightest whim. I think that some of us know that the most ridiculous thing in the room is our own unease. There are moments when one parent loses her discomfort sings louder, or twirls fast while holding tight to a toddler’s hands. Moments where she lets her chanting voice drown out the little toy drums or wildly throws the colored scarves higher in the air. And we don’t look at this parent and roll our eyes or think that maybe she needs to get out of the house more. Quite the opposite. I look at my own son and hope he’s watching.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Almost Halloween

The strange faces of carved pumpkins greet me at doorsteps. Wide toothy grins, or grimaces, o’s of surprise or intimidation. Faces carved into these front porch orange moon fruits. Lights flickering inside to welcome in good spirits or scare away bad ones. The ones carved last week have already begun to wilt—their mouths sunken and toothless, their eyes melting at strange angles like parts of a Salvador Dali painting.

All my life I’ve loved pumpkins—for their color, their heft, and for their association with the holiday of disguises, mystery, and free candy. I love the way that heavy orb so easily gives to hollowing. The seeds easy to scoop out, the cavern inside growing with each pass of a scoop. And all this work to make way for a face and a flickering candle. A few strokes of the knife are all we need to form a connection with this beautiful squash—to feel somehow that we now understand the jack-o-lantern in a way we did not when it was simply the blank orange pumpkin. We remove the vegetable string and seeds of the thing and then carve it into our own image—finally putting a light in the head in hopes perhaps of imparting a good idea along with that new and strangely grinning face. Or like Dr. Frankenstein perhaps we hope to impart a little life to our new creation.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


The Birds

Yesterday I saw a large flock of seagulls swirling in the dark sky. It was both beautiful and eerie—like a scene from The Birds. The gull is a surprisingly big bird and recently while viewing them up close on the beach I imagined what would happen if all the ones just there on the beach—around 20—decided to attack. I knew they could definitely do some damage to me, and if they worked together, they could probably have carried off my two year old son. I guess thoughts of this nature are what inspired Daphne du Maurier’s short story which inspired the screenplay for Hitchcock’s famous film. But as I watched that large flock yesterday cartwheeling together though a darkening sky, I of course imagined the scenes from the movie where the birds swirl in and attach school children or the outrageously forward Melanie. And I thought of being surrounded by that gaggle of seagulls, before the first peck of the beak or rip of the talons there would be a moment where all you could hear would be wingbeats and all you could see would be wingbeats and the moment before you were torn apart would be a wild tornado of beauty.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Pain and Being.

My migraine headaches begin with surreal peripheral vision. The corners of my visual perception begin to dance and go snowy as though my TV antennae suddenly tipped over or my cable company is slowly pulling the plug. Often there is no pain for a long while, just this snowstorm that thickens but never blots out my vision entirely.

The waiting is dreadful. I’ve had enough migraines to know that pain and nausea are coming—enough to send me to bed and perhaps enough to dissolve me to tears for hours. So I sit with my dancing vision and the dread begins to fill up the spaces in my body.

Last night’s migraine was subtler than most and I’d like to think my reaction had something to do with that. Migraines happen with I’ve been doing 100 things and still feel that I have more to do. Yesterday I stuffed every centimeter of my day with doing. It wasn’t a bad day—just busy. I woke up and got my son breakfast and dressed, rushed off to the grocery story, stopped by the Mac store to pick up my computer, watched my son play with the trains at Barnes and Noble, drove home, got him milk, worked on the computer while my partner put my son to sleep, drove out to pick up some fresh bread, arrived home and ate, picked up clutter, swept, got my son out of bed, played outside in the dirt, came inside, gave my son and I a bath, cooked dinner, burned dinner, cooked dinner again, chased my son around the house begging him to eat, ate, sat down to read my son a book. And this is when the snow started.

It was a pleasant day—fun but busy. But nowhere in that day did I slowly sip a cup of tea, or stare blankly out the window, or listen to a favorite song. Nowhere did I rest. These are the days that produce migraines.

Yesterday, instead of continuing to work until the pain became unbearable like I have a time or two in the past, I lay down in a dark room before the pain even started. I breathed deeply and kept myself as still as possible. Years ago I read a Joan Didian essay where she writes about her own migraines and about how she believes they are her body’s need to be still. When she becomes still the pain lessens. So I too became still.

Then there in the dark breathing deeply, keeping still I had a perfect moment. My body settled right into the present moment. I noticed each breath because I found that if I slightly closed the back of my throat so that I could hear my breathing, my body reverberated slightly and the pain now building in my head did not increase. It did not exactly disappear either, but as I settled more into myself the pain seemed to stay in the same place making it feel further away from me. And because each breath kept that state possible, each breath became the only thought I could have and the moments stretched out to the length of an inhale and then an exhale. And the length of the headache then (or the time before I fell asleep) became an exercise in breathing and stillness. And though I was aware of the pain I mostly just felt like moon light dissipating softly across a dark pool.

Physical pain is such an integral part of human existence. And yet now it is quite common to be prescribed an entire bottle of Percocet for a bump on the head. I understand that there are some kinds of prolonged pain that people just need a relief from. Yet there is an experience that comes from pain—and managing (or even experiencing) that pain that brings about an understanding (and even a blossoming) of our own potential.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WEEK 10-- surprises

Folding up the Fall

Autumn has dumped out its basket of bright scarves. Sheets of red and yellow have descended onto all the leafed trees in the park and on the ridges and on the roadsides. And we all hope just one of those scarves misses its mark and falls onto the ground where we can fold it up into our pockets and selfishly have all that brightness to ourselves in the warmth of our own homes. If I find one I’ll wrap it up in a package and leave it on the porch of my neighbors who just lost their son. Won’t they be surprised after all their days indoors to open that box and watch the brightest colors of the world spill out over all their sadness.