Saturday, May 24, 2014

What I think about when I think about Michael.

My friend Michael died a few days ago.

Space. Breath. Space.

I now see him everywhere, in places he never inhabited. In some ways, it's lovely to think about someone who always made me smile, but in other ways his memory is too raw, too sad.

I feel empty and full of him. And I can hear him talking in my head, astonished by the way he died. At 40, quietly. In his sleep.

Michael and I met at work soon after he started his job. He was sweet and smiley and told me in those early days that he couldn't believe I was 40, "you're so fresh-faced!" Michael's compliments were genuine, a bit anachronistic, and always heartfelt.

He was a contemplative guy, always learning and often exploring new ways of living, whether it was improving his grammar, learning about pickling, or joining a foodie club that took him on unbelievable adventures. He was adventurous at the curious level--not a risk taker, but a life-taker. I learned a lot from him, even though he was officially my mentee. And that was my pleasure: mentoring. Because our relationship was all about learning from each other. We'd tuck in to a conference room to eat lunch together and share difficulties we were experiencing and really, just listen. I pushed him and he pushed me back, always with pride in each others accomplishments.

I learned of his death through a coworker while I was at work. I sat down, my mouth drawn wide, and immediately had this electric feeling of connection to him, as if he could hear me. And I sent powerful thoughts to him of love, and I guess now that I think of it, of safety. I can't really describe how clear this pipeline was to him, and how sure I was that he was tethered to the other side, listening. I still believe it. And it brings me comfort knowing this was true.

Because Michael's work was centered around social media, it was Facebook that carried word of his death far and wide and quickly. This 21st century mode of sharing difficult news made me uncomfortable. I couldn't look at Facebook. Soon, however, his page became a thing of beauty. Michael's friends and family shared how much they loved him, what they loved about him, and how he came into their lives. Suddenly this navel-gazing platform rose up to exemplify what we all knew about Michael: kind, loving, super funny, ridiculously smart.

The last time I saw Michael I gave him a big hug, kissed him on his cheek, and told him I loved him. The last thing he told me in an instant message was, "thanks, doll!"

Both of these make me smile. Big.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

memory-testing the progeny

We used to rely on Death Cab for Cutie. Track two was a sacred tune, one that we promised--her panel, that is--we would never tire of, nor complain of its constant refrain. We were bound by that song; we knew it by heart and praised its very existence.

"I Will Possess Your Heart" was burned into our car's CD player. I expected some day the abuse would send us desperately to an online retailer to overnight a replacement. Enduring one full day without its powers was unthinkable. Plain bad parenting was what it was.

This track was the only sure fire way to coax--nay, force--our daughter to cease her incessant screaming during a car ride. When played, the brief glissando that begins the song lifted up a few notes and caught hold of her little mind. I'll never forget how her head would shake back and forth, as if a hypnotist were guiding her subconscious. Her eyes would relax for a beat and she'd focus forward in a dreamlike state, while the adult riders would take a deep breath--like I just did, remembering--and we'd continue forward for 8 minutes and 31 seconds. It was heaven when it worked. And it did enough that everyone swore by its powers.

While she grew inside my belly, Narrow Stairs, Death Cab for Cutie's 6th album was released. I soon became a fan, listening to it full blast in my car, often repeating track two again and again. After entering the outside world, she soon let us know that the confines of the carseat did not suit her. In desperation, my sleep-deprived brain happened on what would become our salvation: she remembered and was calmed by her in utero listening sessions. Gobsmacked, I was.

Now that she's older, a car ride is a matter of getting somewhere, not a caged-in scream hole where eardrums go to die. The song has not been played for years. On a lark, I decided to cue up the track during a recent playful dance party in our living room. The thrum of the first beats rung out, while the heartbeat of the bass cast us forward. My mind swept back in time. I smiled. Nothing will ever let me hate that song.

The kid didn't recognize it. I'd inquire, every so often, if she remembered it. She'd shake her head, asking, "when are the words going to come?" A little disappointed, I decided to believe that the tune must be deep in the recesses of her subconscious, like nursing, like learning new words, like being an infant, like just trying to survive each day and move forward.

Or maybe I'm projecting.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the First Day

one of the last things my dear auntie lee said to me was, "oh sarah. you've always been such a crier."

she was right. it doesn't take much to get me misty. my college roommate pattie could always tell when i was even the tiniest bit sad or on the brink of crying. an antique childhood scar on my face  blazes pink when my eyes tear up or my emotions run high.

as i expected, it was great fun to see the lil' whip play with the trucks, with her to-be friends, and with three painting easels all lined up. "am i an artist?" she asked, enthusiastically. of course she is. as she continued selecting her paints, she declared she was "artisting."

i've been thinking about this day for some time, preparing those school parts that can be purchased, made, and scheduled.  i didn't spend much time preparing my soul for the emotional parts, instead glossing over this transition with vague word choices, like "fun," or "challenging," or even more blase: "something to get through." considering my lack of soul-searching, i didn't sleep the preceding night. i struggled with first day jitters that cluttered my brain with horror stories ranking high with showing up to class naked. none of it was important, and all of it kept me from resting.

so i wasn't my best that first morning. lucky for me, my daughter was shining so brightly she didn't notice the tears streaming down my face as her teachers sang the "goodbye song," marking our cue to hug and depart. she barely noticed as i hurried out the door, distraught, surprised, and a little embarrassed by my unhinged emotions. when we returned home, i splashed cool water on my face, and recognized that age-old mark that has measured my emotions since i was only a couple years older than my daughter, reminding me that even a closeted emotion is not so opaque.

Monday, September 17, 2012

on training

we're in the throes of what is commonly called "potty training." like our challenges with sleep training, it boggles the mind how something so simple, so fundamental to operating in our first world can be so mystifying, so needy of training.

like others, this training episode stretches my patience, my reserves, and my ability to problem solve. i'm lucky to be a pretty patient person, as the amount of screaming and general grouchiness in our house has definitely skipped way past the bell curve. and in my moments of stretch, where i grasp for that nugget that might ease the tension and limit the howls, i've dreamed up some pretty fun stories.

"baba wore diapers, too!" (or, "what did baba look like when she was your age?")

"nene used the potty, too" (or, "did she flush?")

"paul was small once" (or, "was he born with really long hair in a braid?")

in the whip's world, both baba and paul were "teeny tiny" (that is, about the size of her fist). and in the case of nene's prowess on the potty, i'm hoping to use that one again and again. who knew i'd unearth that time in my life some 15 years ago to help our daughter do it too? totally great. nene would be so pissed. (ha!)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

dear s, on your first day of school

when i imagine what it might be like for you on your first day of school, i smile. you're ready for the adventure, for the new friends, and for the challenges that lay before you. i think i am, too.

on that first visit to your school, you entered your new classroom and walked straight to a toy that interested you. you wanted to explore it all by yourself. your teacher, sarah, kneeled down, and introduced herself to you. it was at that point that i got misty. i was so proud of you. so independent, so strong, so curious. here was this new person in your orbit, and you talked to her, asked questions, and expressed yourself. i loved seeing you hold your own that night, and i'm certain these skills you inhabit will serve you well tomorrow, and into the future.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

window into her future

i often say that she's more self aware than i am. somehow this statement doesn't slip into the category of playground boast or preschool parent banter. instead, i marvel at it. i admire her. she has such a keen sense of how she feels at any moment, and she searches for just the right words to articulate her feelings. before turning two, she'd often say, "i'm not happy about that book;" a concise, explicit admission of her strong feelings regarding a book that doesn't please her. later, she'd cry out dramatically as only a toddler can, screaming that she's crying because...

"...i'm sad about not going on an adventure!"
...i'm sad because i want to listen to 'Jasmine' [sic Summer Breeze] again!" (during her Seals & Crofts phase)

i remember mindful parenting classes where the instructor drilled into our heads that as soon as we begin to rehash the past or rehearse the future our baby will yank us back into the moment, whether we wanted to be there or not. a powerful image, this yanking. one that i never forgot. and it's true: mostly, the kid is in the current, the here and now, The Moment. but this was different.

today she experienced two very similar moments where adults weren't treating her fairly. she noted it. brilliantly.

in the first instance, my sister and her friend were visiting our house and chatting away with the whip. when she refused to put her shoes back on after being asked, the friend chided her, joking that she might take her shoes because they'd probably just fit her small feet. the whip loves these new and apparently perfect shoes. she's said as much. she also didn't understand how this adult-sized human could fit into her perfect and small shoes, and she most certainly did not want her shoes to disappear. the whip was noticeably uncomfortable, which the friend acknowledged by ceasing her game.

soon after, we entered a neighborhood store we've visited since she was a baby. the shop keeper recognized her and immediately set out to start a conversation. she scurried away, offering her typical admission, "i'm shy." but this time she didn't break out of her shyness, and the shop keeper continued to engage with her, clearly stepping over a line i didn't know how to cross back into safety. i could tell she was uncomfortable, but the woman was sweet and has a young son, so i didn't interfere. i thought her teasing was harmless.

the whip told me later that it was not.

during our bedtime snuggle, she wanted to know why both her auntie's friend and the woman at the store wanted to take her things. both had teased about her belongings--her treasured shoes and constant furry companion. she couldn't wrap her sweet little mind around adults' seemingly harmless teasing and the very real fear that they might take her tangible possessions.

i apologized. i felt so bad that she felt bad. and i racked my brain for an explanation that would provide clarity without damning these two sweet adults whose intent was fun, not harm. i started by using the word "tease" which she immediately connected to her favorite book series about Yoko, a sweet kitty who has been teased by schoolmates. "teased like the Franks?" she asked. yes, only the Franks were being mean, and these women were playing a game with you that you didn't think was fun. we spent a lot of time talking about both experiences.  each time i thought we were done, she'd refrain, "can we talk about what happened today and why those women wanted to take Racoony and my shoes?"

i'd start again, until finally i turned a corner on to a possible solution, or at least a scrap of one.  when faced with a similar situation in the future, i encouraged her to say out loud that she doesn't like what is happening. i promised i would help if she could tell me. this tact made her nervous (it would do the same to me, but sometimes little kids are uncommonly brave), so i changed my route and made it into a game of sorts. "the next time you feel uncomfortable or scared or bad, we'll have a secret sign for each other. look at me right in the eyes and blink blink blink blink blink many times, like this, and i'll help you. i'll know." she smiled then looked at me knowingly and said, "ok. but i'll just blink once." and she did it, proving that really, she's still in charge.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

books n' reading (repeat)

i read a lot.

not so much for myself these days, but when we visit the pediatrician and the nurse asks how many minutes we spend reading to our daughter, we chuckle. "uhhh, not minutes, hours" is our answer.

we supplement our book collection with frequent visits to neighboring libraries. selecting a book for a toddler is not as easy as it might sound. unless we all go as a family, one watchful eye is on her and the other is scanning the book quickly for content, illustrations, non-offensive gender stereotypes, a topic that might be relevant to her world, and the oh-so-important characteristic: repeat readability. few books are read once in our world, in fact, as i type, i can count no books under our roof that were read just once. repeat. that's our motto. or from her, "uh-gan!"

a friend mentioned the other day how hard it is to find decent books for her almost-3 year old. i concurred, sharing that i've been planning to blog about the goodies in our world, both for our own benefit--i hope to notice patterns and be reminded of good authors--and for anyone else who might stumble upon or be directed to my blog.

and so it happened that what spurred my first post on this topic was not a book, but a magazine. i don't subscribe to any magazines right now, but i picked up a Saveur at the grocery store a few months back that continues to move around the rooms in our home as someone reads another article. (the subtext to my first sentence being that our reading habits include slowed pace and a hunt-and-peck quality.)

our daughter is a talented narrator of her world, and when she sees this magazine, she points to the cover and yelps, "sandwich! sandwich!" the image of a gigantic bread-laden sandwich delights her in its relevance to her own eating habits, and it was this knowledge that coaxed me to sprawl on my bed with her and page through the varied sandwich concoctions. we talked about the ingredients she recognized and about those she didn't (sprouts, for one), about the different types of bread, and about elvis, who was pictured eating his favorite sammie: creamy peanut butter, banana, and honey, a combination she could happily imagine.

this activity brought me back to our visits to the pediatrician and the concept of minutes. reading isn't just a 16-page story between 2 boards. it's ascribing words and letters to meaning. it's taking moments--hours, even--to imagine a world outside our own. it's fun. and lovely to share.