Friday, November 14, 2014

Twenty Months

Her hair smells of soy and ginger, with two antenas slicked up in random spots on her head, the product of juicy hands coming through her locks as she finished her ample bowl of stir fry at lunch.

Her mullet is impressive these days, with curls in the back that must be swept the side in order to button up her shirt, while the front is nowhere close to covering her ears, nor blocking her vision. Curtis would love to cut it, to even it out somehow. I wouldn't dream of it. As much as there is nothing I can do to make the front grow faster, there is no way I could force myself to snip off the subtle feminine curls in the back--a bit of my daughter that resembles me, even as her face and eyes remind many of her many other relatives. 

She runs with a quick turnover and a purposeful stride, one that has been noted by fellow friends and fellow running coaches alike. We are asked often about her future athletic pursuits, the result of living in a small town where her father's athletic victories of decades prior will undoubtedly hover in the back of minds when people size up my little girl. 

For now, at all of twenty months, her stamina is impressive for her age and her size. For now, we comment on her massive appetite every morning: 1 cup of full fat plain yogurt, 1 full banana, 1 cup of dry oatmeal, prepared with pureed pumpkin, chia seeds, a splash of maple syrup. I don't eat nearly that much for breakfast, and I'm learning that my days of sharing a large serving of lunch or dinner are gone as well. If I don't prepare two full servings for the two of us, I'm likely giving up my own. 

Yet, if my time as a parent has taught me anything so far, it's that (nearly) all will change in time. While her love for movement and determination are two traits that have held true since birth, sleep patterns and appetites and chosen activities waver as she develops. For now, I cherish this little person she has become, even as she grows and changes every day. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

An Ordinary Day

       A couple weeks ago: one of the last kayak outings of the season...

Today, my daughter brought me a cutting board, and asked for an "appy" (think "Happy", without the initial "h" sound, or as it might be spoken by one of the chorus members in "My Fair Lady"). Her vocabulary has exploded as of late, and now includes words in addition to "uh oh" "puppy" "da-da" and a rudimentary form of thank you. While those four words are functional in their own right, I must admit I was happy when she remembered how to say "ma ma" after nearly a year hiatus. It's also encouraging when my child sees a nine-foot stuffed brown bear (as are displayed prominently around town in everywhere from the local high school to the customer service section of Walmart), and no longer calls it a puppy. 

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Today, I played capture the flag with a couple dozen elementary students at a running camp with which I am assisting. So many personalities come out when you play this classic game of conquest. You have the kid that bolts out, caution to the wind, only to be captured quickly--his ego only temporarily deflated--and ready to bolt in the same fashion when he inevitably freed. You have the kid that dances back and forth across the line, doing the ten-year-old version of a touch down celebration, retreating quickly and safely to his side the moment he's threatened. You also have the character who shows little to no interest in the game--until she realizes that no one noticed when she ventured into enemy territory, precisely because she looks so incredibly disinterested. In the end, the most amusing moment to me was when the local high school track star--who is humble and unassuming, but also nationally ranked and heavily recruited by colleges nationwide--broke into a full sprint in the midst of making an escape. One of the fifth grade boys, glowing in his good luck of being on the same team as this super star, looked up at him as he crossed the line of safety and proclaimed, "You are really fast."

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Today, I watched the rain wash across the glass while sun caught the drops in flashes of light. I held my daughter up to the window and we watched the small movements of white rabbit on the edge of our yard for a while.

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Today, a friend lost her unborn child a few weeks shy of her anticipated due date. There was no warning, just the reality of a child that was no longer alive--a child that must still be delivered, and a body that will tell the tale of a child that lived for eight short months inside, for months after.

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At the end of the day, when the baby is tucked in and I have a few moments to sit in quiet, I can be overwhelmed with all the moments packed into an ordinary day: simple joy, unimaginable anguish, juvenile amusement, quiet appreciation. I have my plans; sometimes they succeed. I am grateful for the beautiful; I am thankful for grace present in the dark. And  some days I feel I have no choice but to rest in the hope that tomorrow there will be grace for each moment as well. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Twice

It started in my mind: a vision, a truth, a reality that seemed fleeting even as I read the markings on a Sunday evening.

A few weeks later, the markings were confirmed as waves of sound created an image that flipped and turned, as beats were magnified into 140 notes a minute and a fleck of light ticked back and forth like a metronome on the black and white screen.

Already, unsteady emotions and uncomfortable symptoms confirmed that I had not made the whole idea up. My hair shedding, my face marked like an adolescent, my appetite non-existent, my body had once again become a brilliant machine without any instruction or direction from my own intelligence--building major organs, constructing functioning systems, and nourishing the new life with no thought to my own personal discomfort or cost. This new being is now the priority. This child.

Last week I cradled my daughter under my left arm while she finger painted the gel on my belly. She tasted it, wiped it on my clothing, and questioned me with her eyes while I willingly let a total stranger wash a wand back and forth across my stretched skin. As I strained to watch the child on the screen, my daughter quickly became disillusioned with the baby everyone was talking about. There was no child in the room besides her, not that she had found anyway.

In reaching the halfway point, I cannot help but soak up everything I love about life as we live it right now: a child that sleeps twelve uninterrupted hours at night, only one little person with needs to be met, a rhythm that carries us through weeks at a time without too much trouble. Yet even as I love the normal that has been established in life with our daughter, I cannot help but wonder about life with a second child. Even as this life only exists within me, he or she colors our plans for the future. Though I don't yet think about feeding and naps, I am constantly interrupted with kicks and movement that break my concentration and remind me of the impending upheaval waiting just a few months away.

Today, I rest in the peace and quiet that exists for now. Tonight, I fall asleep with the gentle nudges from an internal foot connected to a powerful frame that weighs less than a pound. It is no less miraculous the second time. And even as I remember the chaos that comes with a newborn--a body that comes from my own, created within me as I worked and slept and lived for the better part of a year--I cannot help but be thankful for the chance to experience it again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Reminder of Frailty

My daughter is proving to be a bit of a dare devil, shirking the warnings of many a well-meaning adult in order to determine danger for herself.

Age is relative. To the teenagers I coach I am old: I have a baby, a house, a couple degrees, and gray hair that centers around the part in my hair. I'm not keenly aware of what is "on point", don't use snapchat enough, and prefer to go to bed early. To many of the women at church I study with on a weekly basis, I am young. I have a baby and no children in school--let alone college. I attempt to be stylish, know how to use Siri on my iphone, and participate in workouts with the high school track team. 

At times I am not sure where I fit, but I think it is somewhere in the middle. I still feel like I have the options of youth, but I'm thankful much of the time that I don't have the endless transitions that loomed in my teens and twenties. For now, in the deceiving reality I live in, life is stable.

Then, I am reminded that my seeming stability is an illusion.

A friend learned last week that her heart is failing. She is my age, almost exactly. She has a newborn baby, a preschooler, an elementary student, and a child that passed away a few years back. She has a home, weekly activities, and plans lessons and crafts for our mom's group. She is a bright light in our weekly studies, a servant in seemingly every circle she exists within, and too young to have a heart that is failing--much too young.

In these moments, when a few tears over a brief conversation is all our babies will allow, I feel so powerless. Neither the energy of youth or the wisdom of age can do anything concrete in this situation, where the evidence of failure is the subtle shortness of breath and silent panic in the quiet of the night that everything is unraveling. And so we pray: for a miracle, for peace, for comfort, for life beyond the frailty of her broken body. 

In these moments, we are reminded--young and old, healthy and weak--life is fleeting. We are reminded to cling to the truths that are most important, those that remain beyond the conflicts and idols of youth, those that exceed the temptations of complacency and false stability as we age.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Nap Time Diversion, or the Perfect Fall Pie

Taken this summer, at a party celebrating 40 years of marriage between Curtis's parents.

Today during nap time, I cooked a pie. I had a pile of pears, a couple of hours, and the urge to wrestle a pie crust. The recipe I found called for garam masala, a spice I have cooked with a few times before, and I had a small jar sitting among my well-used spices waiting for such an occasion. And a lovely occasion it was, where the chopping of pears didn't wake the little one, where the pie crust rolled and folded as it was ordered, where the spices simmered in the hot oven and the crust came out with a perfect golden luster.

My daughter awoke as I assembled the lattice cover (a first for me, but with the luck I was having in construction, I figured it was a good day to try my hand at it), and I fed her uncooked pie crust chunks as she circled the kitchen, flipping through cookbooks and climbing on and off of the dining room chairs.

While the pie cooked under the watchful eye of a toddler, I attacked the mess that was my kitchen: breakfast, lunch, and pie construction. I filled the dishwasher (while she removed spatulas to lick and make sure they had been stripped of all goodness), and dried the knives, and wiped the counters.

And with all the evidence of the nap time activity gone (save the pie, to be consumed tomorrow), we resumed our normal activities: change a diaper, put on coats and shoes, drive to practice, run a while with the jogger, dinner, bath, bed. In the midst of scheduled activities were many somewhat predictable activities as well: the fit that was thrown when I wouldn't let her have the car keys, the escapist move she pulled when she wriggled her arms out from her car seat straps, the endless dogs and airplanes that were identified as we ran the streets in the sunshine, and several kisses at bath time.

The days with just me and my daughter blend together after a while. Routine and structure seem to be necessities for my sanity, but occasionally the sprinkle of garam masala is the perfect Wednesday addition--something out of the ordinary that's been sitting on the shelf for a while, not the do-it-yourself project or bill paying task I originally had on my mind to accomplish. It was nothing ground breaking, but it didn't need to be. It was my little bit of autonomy at a time when my little appendage is with me everywhere I go.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My People

A glorious evening full of sunshine this summer, in what now feels like ages ago.

One of the hardest parts of moving is leaving people behind. Call it what you want: a village, a safety net--it is the community of people who help when there’s a schedule conflict, who make you dinner when you’d otherwise be home alone, who call to check on you when they haven’t heard from you in a while.

And I have them, again.

The last two moves have been easier than most because we were moving back: back to family, back to old friends, back to a church community from the past and a handful of relationships maintained well over time. The difference was that last time I moved back to my old hometown, and this time we moved to his. I had plenty of contacts, and knew plenty of first names, but this turned out to be surface fa├žade that held all sorts of potential and absolutely no depth. Relationships take time and effort and the sharing of burdens and joys. Mostly, time.

This morning sixteen women and a dozen children showed up at my house while I wiped my daughter clean of her morning yogurt mask. They show up every Wednesday, and we study together and share bits of our stories: the good, the bad, the real. Some of the kids play downstairs; some of them crawl over legs, flip through board books and Bibles left unattended, and rock in the small rocking chair I refinished this summer. Most of the women I see every Sunday, though a few of the others I know through play groups, or were invited from churches across town. All of them find value in our shared time, or they wouldn’t bother—cutting out time from a busy schedule, getting parked-in on my isolated driveway by late arrivals, sitting on stools when we run out of chairs, and shielding their eyes when the sun shines brightly through my coverless windows.

Later this afternoon a friend called and offered to take my daughter during cross country practice so I could run without a jogger—the same friend who had invited me over for dinner this evening, knowing Curtis was working all night.

I basked in blue skies and sunshine, running through trails up the side of a mountain with the team I coach—trails impassible by a jogging stroller—for one glorious hour. I watched for roots and avoided mud bogs. I listened and shared in a conversation winding as often as the trail. When we hit the pavement at the end of the run, covering the short mile that takes us from the wilderness to the high school, I couldn’t help but be struck by how things have changed.


The season of loneliness that comes with relocating can be disheartening, but it can also be very good. In choosing people, in choosing activities, you have to consider again what is most important. And when your community comes together again, it is even more precious than before.

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.