Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Head Case

I had to shampoo my toddler's head three times this afternoon, scrubbing her scalp vigorously and pinching her thin hair between my fingers to wash away the oily residue. I had covered her head in sunscreen, and now I was paying for the deed. 

My daughter has disliked anything on her head for most of her life. Born in March, she cried when we put hats on her even as a newborn. Unfortunately, living in Alaska demands that newborns (especially five bound bald ones) wear hats in the winter, which doesn't typically end until May. We dealt with the crying; it was par for the course for the first four months of her life. 

Some time around five months she quit resisting head coverings, and I was thrilled as I accessorized her outfits with colorful bows and matching beanies. Around ten months she remembered that she didn't actually care for anything touching her head, and now she had the coordination and dexterity to match it. Though it was the dead of winter, she whipped hats (and of course headbands) off her head as quickly as I could put them on. I crocheted a hat with straps to secure it, and though it was warped and mangled by her fierce pulling, it stayed on. Unfortunately, her sun hats straps have velcro, and she has discovered it is no match for her previously unknown strength. 

And the hats come off. Every time.

Thus I found myself in today's predicament: unwilling to stay inside when the sun was shining brightly and the thermometer declared it was above 70, and unwilling to risk a sunburn on her oh-so-exposed scalp beneath a ridiculously thin matting of hair. So I squirted a small puddle of the thick, white shield into my hand and reluctantly spread it on her head, trying to rub it in and around her face while she looked at me with an expression that was more shocked than concerned. When I finished, a young boy nearby asked me why my child's hair was white. I explained to him my decision, and he looked unconvinced that it was completely necessary. After all, it looked completely ridiculous.

A few hours after the smearing, after three thorough scrubbings, the hair was mostly back to normal. A patch on the crown of her head escaped a thorough mauling and remained crusty and tangled, but otherwise evidence of the dousing was gone.

Good to know, since I have a feeling we will be repeating this again tomorrow. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Story in the Sink

There is a wealth of information in a sink of dirty dishes: A cutting board covered with remnants of oranges and strawberries and tomatoes, each not leaving a big enough mess to warrant a cleaning before reuse. Multiple small containers, coated with a thin layer of sand and ash, alongside remnants of items stored for a lunchtime picnic at the beach. Four (or was it six?) bowls streaked with dried oatmeal from three days' breakfasts unattended. 

If the highchair tray came with multiple covers, they'd be stacked by the sink too.

The weather forecast has been favorable this month, with only a half inch rain and a delicious abundance of sun, a welcome contrast to the fifteen inches we received in January.

This island we live on is green, with weather that is notoriously harsh. A friend visiting in March commented on what a distinct look seaside towns have: houses with exterior paint gradually peeling or chipped, foliage with hearty root systems to survive the ever present wind, so many trees and fences and walkways leaning. Weathered. All of it.

And so when the sun comes out and the wind eases up, so do the people--with as much time as real life allows. I spent two hours after my daughter went to bed cleaning: laundry and dishes and bathrooms. I unpacked from last weekend's track meet and began to repack for this weekend's final meet. It seems that the evening, after the sun has dipped below my backyard spruce trees with glistening rays through my kitchen window, is the only prudent time to get such work done. 

Eventually these tasks demand attention, when the baby runs out of clean pajamas, and there isn't a clean spoon in the house. Until that breaking point, I exercise my freedom to ignore. There will always be housework; alas, there will not always be sun...especially in this town. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Nap Time Musings

     Morning sunrise, a bit earlier each day...

Last week, an hour after putting our toddling girl to bed, I could still hear her babbling away in her crib. Knowing this was unusual for her, I went in to check that something hadn't happened. Everything was as it should be, but the minute I entered the room she popped up and greeted me with an excited squeal, and I lifted her into my arms. With all the range of voice she could muster, she continued to talk and squeal, to play with my lips and drum her hands on my shoulder, pausing every now and then to bury her face in her blanket, which she had intentionally kept tightly within her grasp as I lifted her out.

After a couple moments I lay her down again, and she began to cry intently. This is not her typical response when she is put to bed, and being caught off guard I immediately picked her back up. At that point every parenting advice ever given to me flashed into my head: what habits was I teaching her in this moment? Cry and you'll get what you want? I rocked her as I stood next to her crib, breathing deeply her smell as she nuzzled against my neck, humming as I stood in the evening glow of her room. The sun still shone brightly outside of her western facing window, the rays breaking through the cracks left by the darkening shades. After several moments I lay her down again, and she settled with her left thumb in her mouth, her right arm cradling her pink blanket to her face, and both eyes wide and fixed on my own. 

I spent this last weekend on a four day trip with the track team, flying a few hundred miles away from my family to parade around town in a minivan filled with teenagers. The conversations ranged from overplayed radio hits, to loyalty in relationships, to favorite ice cream flavors. In the couple hundred miles I drove to and from three days worth of track meets, there were plenty of quiet moments where I was able to relish the gift it is to have a job I thoroughly enjoy. And in the quiet of the evening, as I fell asleep in my sleeping bag on a classroom floor listening to the whispering of teenage girls, there were many moments where I very much missed being home. 

I am spending my Monday catching up from a long weekend away from home, finding myself enjoying the rhythm of day to day living: clean sheets, milk in sippe-cups, and the indecision of my daughter as she climbs on and off my lap a half dozen times. She wants to be near me, and though she doesn't have the words to say it, I can tell she noticed my absence. 

It's nice to be away. It's nice to be home. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Outside the Box

My daughter has learned a new skill this past week: the art of transportation. Now that she has mastered toddling around the house on her two dainty feet, she has her hands free. And what better activity than carrying items from one location to another? She is increasingly aware of where items belong—and where she can find them. Personal toiletries seem to be a favorite, and she loves that feminine products fit neatly in her fists, ready to be distributed throughout the kitchen in cupboards and drawers to be found at later dates.

At some point, operating in a world where items materialize in random locations around the house became expected. I’m not sure the day it happened, when the pitter patter of little feet and the sound of her shallow breathing as she concentrates on a specific task became noises that are so familiar, when the schedule of my day began to so effortlessly match the patterns of her naps, when grabbing hats and mittens for two people no longer required any more thought than gathering them just for myself. I don’t remember when I started emptying the dishwasher when she is out of the room, racing to place the contents on the counter before she has made her way over, because as soon as she hears the clinking of silverware and clangs of bowls being stacked she comes running.

Last week, I left her behind. I got on a plane with a couple dozen high school athletes and travelled to a track meet on the mainland, leaving her in capable loving hands—just not mine. The first 24 hours were glorious. I ate without breaking off small chunks to feed a pleading toddler; I fell asleep listening to sounds of sleeping bags rustling against sleeping pads, and awoke to the sound of an alarm clock instead of a cry. Yet after that initial break, where I remembered what it was to operate as an individual, I was ready to return. She has become such a bright spot in my day-to-day existence, and while she complicates the simplest of tasks she has edged her way into my expectations.

Friday, March 28, 2014


I remember the moment my daughter was handed to me, naked and caked with evidence of her dwelling inside me, with one eye wide open and the other stuck closed with the remains of my womb. I remember feeling the pulse of the umbilical cord, so aware of the short life that remained of this connection. In that moment I still nourished her completely; she was still completely reliant on my well-being. And then, in the haze of adrenaline and stitches and staring into her dark, attentive eyes, it was severed, and she became her own.

In the weeks and months that followed it was so difficult to envision her life apart from mine, because she didn't have one. On days we could coordinate schedules I would nurse her, drop her with Curtis at his office, and scurry quickly at the gym around the corner--mindful of the short window I had before she would need me again. At times she would settle into the carrier while he would work on notes of patients he had seen that day, and I would return to an infant wrapped against her daddy's chest, fast asleep. Other times I would return to find him circulating the office after hours, chatting with coworkers as he balancer her on his right arm, rocking her constantly, ever aware of her love of movement.

These glimpses of time I found beyond this nursing babe were fleeting at best, coming in spurts of an hour or so, requiring coordination and effort that felt at times so far beyond my exhausted self. It is hard to explain the contradictory feelings that come on so strongly in those early weeks and months: as suffocating as it felt to be on call for her needs all day and all night, as long as those days stretched into what felt like an endless abyss, the thought of being without her was equally as oppressive. The weight of parental responsibility coupled with the fierce attachment and bonding that happens invisibly and yet so strongly left me struggling to picture the time away that I craved.

Before I had a child I enjoyed my independence. I would happily spend free hours in the summer sunshine biking across the city in trails that wove under busy roads and along creek sides until reaching the ocean, or scaling one of the mountains hovering along the city's skyline with friends. I perused book stores, pieced quilts and experimented with new recipes. I made bread from scratch while listening to audio books. And all of these things seemed to fade into oblivion when the little one arrived, compromising everything from having a full night's rest to accomplish unnecessary tasks to having the hands free to accomplish them. She was attached, and I had to adapt, whether I wanted to or not.

Changes that felt so extreme initially predictably became normal. Outdoor adventures came with the consideration of whether a stroller or backpack could be accommodated. Babysitting that accommodated long outings was cherished, and glimpses of our former freedom allowed retrospection of how far we both had come. Our lives were changed.

And then one day this intense attachment seemed to shift. I am sure that it was gradual, just as it was with her stretches of sleep, just as it has been with the additions of food to her meals. Yet it is hard to see this shift when you are in the midst of the haze that is living-with-a-baby. All of the sudden, she is ready to stop nursing. She can stay with others for hours at a time with minimal preparation on my part. And for as happy as she is to see me when I walk through the door, she would have been okay if I'd stayed away even longer.

After a year of such an intense connection, it feels odd to have such an easy separation, one that came with so little ceremony when compared to her birth and the severance of that pulsing cord.

I realize this is only the beginning, that nearly thirteen months finds a baby still terribly dependent on someone to provide for the most basic of needs. Yet, in a way we have marked our first step of separation since birth, a separation that will continue as she grows and matures and learns how to exist in a world all on her own.

In the days and weeks that followed birth I daydreamed of being free again, of having time to myself to exist and explore and be as I was for the years before she came along. Now I know that that person doesn't exist in the same way. For no matter where I adventure, what projects and plans I pursue, I will always wonder where she is and what she is experiencing. Though we are destined to be separate, though she will inevitably be on her own, I cannot imagine ever being completely free of her. I doubt I ever will.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Settling in, Surveying the Terrain

Taken as the sun was setting, at around 3 in the afternoon, leaving the day's high temperature at about -6.

We have found a routine around here, with some stumbling and some intentional scrounging. It is a funny thing to have so much change at once, as I am sure I have mused about on here too many times these past 11 months. One of the side effects of that is that even though my baby is almost a year, I am just now determining some sort of structure to our day. Sure, we have had structure every now and then throughout the last year, but this structure was short lived and evolving as quickly as our living situation.

Now we have a home, a car, a laundry room, a treadmill, and I can't depend on anyone to have dinner on the table when Curtis is working if I don't do it myself (one of the best benefits of the four month communal living situation we had with Curtis's parents). We also have a child that sleeps ten hours in a row on a regular occasion, stacking a three hour nap on top of that after an early morning feed.

Yes, life is good on so many fronts. There truly was a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

With that said, as much as I love routine, too much of "the same" and I begin to go a bit crazy. Babies, after all, don't offer a lot of variety--certainly not as much as teenagers in the classroom do. Our days revolve around diapers and soft finger foods, outfit changes and naps, games of chase on our hands and knees, and quest to find the small ball that has inevitably ended up under the couch, again. I find myself looking for variety in my daily search for new recipes to assemble in the evenings, a sort of challenge in an otherwise pretty simple day. Baby girl and I make a trip to the grocery store, typically a welcome outing, where we check our PO box, inevitably run into one or more people we know, and stop on several occasions when a small expressive face catches the eye of even the most hardened looking fisherman. 

These days we look forward to the sunrise coming a bit early each day, to the month of February not breaking records with rainfall as January did, to Curtis taking a few days off this month, and to the new tricks that we observe with our daughter on a regular basis. We have so much to be thankful for. We have so much to look forward to. 

The rare occasion when she transitions from the crib at Grandma and Grandpa's house to my shoulder without waking up.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Snipits: Challenge and Gift

Asleep on my lap, a rare reality for our little one, as we moved into our new home.
{nov 5}

When I was pregnant with our baby girl, the movie Skyfall premiered in theaters. Radios played the soothing theme song for weeks, and the tune even made an appearance in my prenatal yoga class, the Thursday night relaxation delight that relaxed for a brief hour a body that was growing heavier by the week. 

After my daughter was born, I began to play that song in the car whenever she was losing her mind; crying and screaming uncontrollably, she would be soothed by the rhythmic lullaby while I was reminded of a time when life was a little more simple, a little less tense. And somehow, at the end of the song, she--we--would be a little better.

{nov 17}

After five months of living in a suitcase, I cautiously get excited for any change from the status quo. Part of me is thrilled that we are due to move into our own space in the next week--I love the idea of having my own space, my own kitchen, and the next size up of baby clothes--but part of me feels like an extended vacation is ending. Living in someone else's home, with few belongings allows for a simple existence, a gift as much as a frustration.

As we approach a closing date, I feel a bit of pressure to "finish" any project I can before the end. After all, productivity with a highly active baby is limited at best, and I know that unpacking and reorganizing our new residence will consume all my free time for the next several weeks.


She sleeps for now, silence ringing happily in my ears after what proved to be a trying evening. Exhaustion emanated from her eyes tonight even as she smeared bananas in her hair in between shoving pieces in her mouth. She is stubborn and darling and exhausting and precious and daring and persistent and delightfully interactive--all at the same time. 

We live in our new home, a precious space we feel blessed to call our own, and though unpacking goes much more smoothly when an active nine month old isn't attempting to ingest and tip over everything in sight, we make a little progress every day. More importantly, every day she is a bit more comfortable in our new space, with belongings she hasn't seen since she was three months old, a bit more willing to play independently--as she has been apt to do in the past--because the place is her own. 

I find myself trying to jot down moments to store them away in something a bit more concrete, because my memory has faded from it's pre-baby capacity, a reality I refused to admit for months but now cannot deny. I still play Skyfall when the agitation in the car builds to ridiculous levels; she still relaxes a bit when she hears it. The truth is she loves listening to music in general, babbling and kicking her legs as we sing together in church, giggling and laughing when I sing to the radio at home with her as my only audience. 

I love the moments I have to myself in the evening, to reflect on our day, plan for the week, and clean up the remnants of the latest chaos. And I love that it only takes minutes after she has gone to bed to miss her smile and ways her eyes brighten when she's excited. She is equal parts challenge and gift, neither piece quite as satisfying without the other.