29 October 2011

Let's Pretend, Baby, Because the Revolution Outside Needs Our Magical Minds

"One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry"

I recite these words at least once a day, sometimes five or six. Bruce Degan's children's book "Jamberry" has been a longtime favorite. It was the first board book I bought the baby when he was just a few months old and already showed an unusually obsessive love for the books on the bookshelves throughout our house. It was a defining moment as a new mother, as a writer, and as a lover of books. It didn't matter that he wouldn't know the words until months later, I brought "Jamberry" home and read it through to the "berry" end while the baby shifted in my arms, still a newborn, still so far from words.

We just celebrated the first year with our son. And at this marker in his young life, I can say the babe's love of books has only grown into more of an obsession than I thought possible. We've blockaded the shelves for the first few feet up with end-tables, baby gates, and toy boxes so he cannot reach the treasured collection I've amassed over my lifetime. He points eagerly up at the volumes and tries to make the words that he now understands but cannot speak: "I want!" Once a day, at least, I pick him up, pull us close to the shelves and let him touch the bindings with an outstretched pointed finger. We're just close enough for him to touch, but not grab and pull. The tiny thing caresses the titles and lets out a little hiss of breath that simultaneously means "I made it" and "What magic!"

And I couldn't agree more, my son.

His desire for books, now that I can read board books and picture books to him and he understands the words, is insatiable. We read "Caps for Sale" "Good Night Moon" and "Hello Baby!" as frequently as we read "Jamberry" and sometimes it's all in one sitting, one after the other, after the other, and then repeat! Did I ever guess I might start to grow tired of reading? Not really, but these days, I am surprised to hear myself say, "let's do something else, let's not read books right now" and I am simultaneously so proud of this little child of mine, and so exhausted from reading the same lines over and over that he's grown to cherish.

What follows a new understanding of the words on the page? Imagination and pretend.

Within a week of turning one, this boy astounded me when he reached out to the page where a little boy and a bear tumble in a wonderfully imagined world of berries and dancing animals, and from the pictured bounty of blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, my smiling son plucked an imaginary juicy sample and brought it to his mouth and made a smacking-lipped tasting sound with his lips and tongue. I was shocked and brought to a few joyous tears at witnessing my son's first display of pretending!

I immediately followed suite and took my own berry or two and "mmmm" "yum!" tasted the sweetness of that moment and laughed as he repeated and copied my "mmmm" sound. I was a proud momma that day.

These days, I am wrapped up in my jobs teaching young adults how to navigate their lives and educate themselves, and helping a local cafe kitchen run smoothly. Between everything, I am trying to stay engaged and aware of a growing movement of change on our streets where my fellow citizens are pushing up against the walls of a system that has somehow lost it's imagination and ability to honor the integrity of a life that allows someone to feed more than just their bank accounts, their cars, or their greed. I am witnessing a newly imagined system of inclusion and speaking where the one, and then the many, are heard.

I am honored to witness this revolution.

Whatever one might think of this wave of protest and call for action, it cannot be denied there is a new united voice out there in the streets and it calls for justice on a most basic human level, without discrimination, without waiver, and without a motive of greed or partisanship.

For the first time in my lifetime, I can say I see a horizon of real change coming, and my son can one day know change is possible when people gather, use their voice and hold the shameless and corrupt corporations accountable by those they use, abuse and strive to silence.

My last thought here is of the ballot envelope that sits on my desk along with the Voter's Pamphlet.

People, the system may be flawed, may be unrepresentative of you, may be corrupt, may be disenchanting. It is darn near without imagination or innovation these days. Yet it is the system we have to work within right now, and until this changes, as it will, we must use it to our advantage and exercise our right to vote. While many rights are being challenged, and are at great risk in the streets and in the halls of justice as I write, I think the message of the occupiers remains a very loud: TAKE BACK YOUR RIGHTS and ENGAGE IN YOUR DEMOCRACY!!

So please, please take the few minutes it takes to educate yourselves on the issues on the ballot and vote, vote, vote. I know it's a bit cliche to bring this up, but it's anything but cliche for those who have lost their lives and loved ones: people outside of the U.S. are risking their lives to cast one vote, sometimes the first vote in their adult lifetime.

The baby stirs. Until next time, keep imagining, keep aware, seek out the truth, and be safe! ~AD.

06 October 2011

Facing Forward While Looking Back

What does a blogger do when she has blog-block? I'll start with a list and then offer two poems. The list is:

"A Week of Distractions, and Why I Cannot Start This Blog Post"

Baby taking first steps.
Baby teething, thus baby-holding ALL day long!
Baby with first fever ever, up all night taking temperature and assuring dad the baby is "fine" while excessively worrying, listening to breath after shallow sleeping breath with my finger on the doctor's number.
Keeping up with the patriotism of Occupy Wall Street!!
Working two day-jobs and getting to both on time!
Not-showering because of all of the above.
Making two cakes for two friends, one gluten-free and covered with strawberries, the other a tall chiffon.
Making fresh butter.
Planning a first birthday party for baby.

I sent my thesis to an old friend today. It's the first time the manuscript has really seen any quality attention since I graduated this past July. I was prompted to skim through the poems and learned once again, when in any kind of block, writing or otherwise, it helps to take a look back before going forward. I've been looking back a lot these days because my son's first birthday is close and I cannot believe a year has passed or what changes have occurred in him, and come to think of it, in myself as well. Last October, I was still in graduate school and typing out poems in the early hours of morning and into the night.

The following poems were written for my thesis, a collection of poems about family, death, pregnancy, and motherhood as I've experienced them thus far. "Crescendo" is a poem written after seeing the first ultrasound image of my son. "Motherhood I" was written in those first few days after his birth. Both poems are serving me now as I plan to write a letter to my new one-year-old over the next week. Not sure how to start such a letter, yet, I do know the act of looking back at his start is where to begin; those first impressions, those first fears and joys. It is my hope that the letter will be a way he can "remember", through my words, his first year of life. Chiffon batter, teething tears, revolutions, and all!!

The blue image of your spine on the ultrasound is translucent
yet appears solid as cast fossil imprints.
Your father, brought to tears, reaches for my hand in the warm room.
The monitor hums while the nurse coos at the clarity of your image.
We see you

yet I am not weeping, as I thought. I am in school-girl awe,
as when we first opened our Earth Science textbook
and learned of magma, river deltas and our collective core.
I can’t stop looking because your back is riveted, vertebrae
like ridges on a dry creek bed in August. How I smoothed my seven
year old fingers over the crusted work of rain, remembered, the sound
even, of Spring’s flushing clean

and my sense of the world-spin in tall grass and goldenrod.
I am looking at your movement, you are so much more than “tadpole,”
than “hummingbird” heart we see clear as the night sky
over desert or sea.
I am as a pre-teen crushed by first love,
breathless butterfly crush, kissed from the inside out,
the day moves forward slow, life suddenly refracted

and I know I am done for when I’ve looked at your moving
image we copied, first still-life portrait,
ten times in an hour. Like I’ve received your first
Valentine and I am blushing head to toe
with each new reading of your signature.
We see you

and it feels we’ve discovered
a new generation of species, like we are kid-
scientists alone in the wild and knowing we’ve found
evidence of something magic beyond our little
minds, unable to wait to tell anyone, everyone!
hysterically excited as we run and run and run.
We see you. 

Motherhood I

On the fifth day or so, I begin to realize
                                    this knot in my gut, in my throat,
            love and terror
at your dependence and perfection
            of fingernail and elbow,
will remain with me
until my last day. I can no longer walk away from my life.
            Beautiful baby: you’ve consumed my core
and for the first, I feel absolute.
            In an instant, knowing I would spend the rest of my life
building a ladder to the moon if it made you smile,
I begin to see what I’ve signed on for: something as involuntary
            as my need for water and air.

This is
             night upon night whispering in the dark
to the feathery hair on the back of your neck
                        how I love you more than the world
and it is truer than I could have imagined
            because I cannot remember life before you—
                        my memories somehow have you hovered there.

This is
            waking and fearing
the dream has distracted me from your tiny breathing chest.

This is
            walking from the kitchen door, through
the backyard carrying the garbage, because I need
the walk, after birth,
and the fresh air, and suddenly
it is the longest and the farthest I’ve gone from you
since you were conceived.

The appreciation for sunlight
            on my skin
                        is overwhelming as I panic
at the thought of our tether
being stretched this taut. 


23 September 2011

Crossing Over

First day of Autumn. The day when the sun crosses over the equator to the other side. Crossing over is happening in my house a lot lately. The baby is crossing over thresholds of growth each day. And this week it is the threshold of being a crawler to a walker. He hasn't yet taken a real independent step, though we expect it at any moment as he's "walking" with a hand held, and standing any chance he gets. Proud smile while standing as if he's about to take off running.
I can see it all calculating and making sense to him day-by-day.

All this physical and seasonal change brings to mind what I was doing this time last year. I was hugely pregnant and nesting for the babe to arrive. I was cooking large batches of soup and apple sauce. I was a day-dreamer and about to be flung into a new life, another side of the world.

Cooking is my passion. Cooking with ease and clarity, organized and neat, this is how I like to exist in my kitchen. My body felt highjacked last September, but I was able to cook at my pace, to imagine this little person soon to come, and take my time. These days, my kitchen feels highjacked.

Cooking, that which is usually and now rarely, my escape, comes in spurts with a babe at my ankles, clawing at my pant leg, squealing from a high chair he hates to be confined in, or in my arm while I try to do anything I can with the other arm. Anyone who looked on would experience a mix of disturbed awe, and impressed anxiety, just how it feels to cook these days.

Faced with a few bananas that went far too long on the counter, I decided to make banana bread last night. Oh, but let's experiment and make banana gingerbread instead. Now how to execute this with a cranky eleven month old who wants his little paws in everything I do.

Let's just say, it's a bit of a mad scrambling of mixing, dashing from the pantry to the kitchen (which are divided by a baby gate one must hop over) for ingredients with baby at my heels, picking him up because he's cried too long while I've cracked in the eggs and melted butter on the stove, because adding dry to wet can be done one handed and all the while singing everything I do, in real time, so he learns the words, so he is distracted by this crazy mother he's been assigned to and so he might just be entertained by the sing-song of my voice long enough for me to get the damn batter into the pan and into the oven before he scrambles over to it as the hot hot door opens and closes before him! Whew! And that's the short short version. Never mind skipping over the boat in the middle of the floor, then actually tripping over the potato masher I thought was a good "toy" during this experiment.

None of this will sound unfamiliar or strange to any mom out there who cooks. Yet it's times like these that remind me, every day I am a new mom, to appreciate my time and value those moments I am able to engage in the passions of life without chaos at my feet. Because they are seldom. And one day, the baby will not be eagerly awaiting my every move, wanting in, wanting part of, wanting inclusion. One day, soon, he will be walking, and from that moment on he will continue to step over thresholds as life gets ever larger for him. And I will, on the inside, beg for the days when he is this wrapped around my life.

Here's the adapted recipe. And a picture to show how my kitchen life has changed from neat and orderly to a confused mess of life on the counter top, locked cupboards, and whirring past us at break-neck speed.

Banana Gingerbread (adapted from the Cook's Illustrated "The New Best Recipe")

In a mixer on medium speed, combine:
3/4 cup molasses, one stick melted butter, 3/4 cup sugar, one egg. Add 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup milk.

In a separate bowl, combine:

2 cups flour, one teaspoon baking soda, one teaspoon salt, two teaspoons ground ginger, one teaspoon cinnamon, one teaspoon ground cloves, one teaspoon nutmeg, one teaspoon allspice.

Mash two over-ripe bananas and add to the wet mix in mixer.

Gradually add dry to wet while mixing. Scrape the bowl if necessary, don't over mix.

Pour batter in a greased 7"x10"pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 min. or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Enjoy warm with whipped cream.

Happy Autumn to all! May you cook in peace and enjoy every moment and every bite even more!
With love ~AD.

16 September 2011

Polar Bear Momma

It is 9:21pm on a Friday night and I have managed to take all of my vitamins, brush my teeth, wash my face, with soap! apply toner!! and still have some juice in me before the baby stirs and realizes I am not next to him at which point I will head to bed, catch up on Facebook via an iPhone app, and maybe add a play to my Words with Friends game I've had running for a couple days now, all while nursing the sleepy child back to dreaming, before drifting to sleep myself. This blog post is my last attempt at something "productive" today in a moment of quiet and stillness that feels stolen and fleeting these days.

I am thinking tonight about the type of mother I have chosen to become. Specifically about sleep and choosing to co-sleep with my baby. It's a damn lazy choice, though not without its costs and challenges. I say lazy, because the nature of co-sleeping allows for a baby's needs to be met immediately and with as little movement on the mother's part. He is eleven months old this week and he and I have somehow evolved together into a bundled mass where he is able to find the nipple in his sleep and I am able to sleep through his rooting and feeding, barely noticing the shifting and prodding.

This is how most nights of the week drift blissfully by.

Then there are the nights that look like this: Momma waking with baby's leg flung across her abdomen,  his torso stretched up over her breast, his little neck and head deadweight from sleep and across her face, cheek to neck! He's pushed his way so close there is no space for breathing.

I slowly attempt to remove the body from my body without waking him and his reaction is to flail and squirm in such a way that it flings his body back up over and on top of mine in an equally contorted and inconceivable position before I have time to shift my own limbs or protest. And he does all this without waking.

I am reminded of the mother polar bear I saw on a nature show. Her cubs are rolling, tumbling, grabbing, biting, and clambering over her and she is a stoic lump, only moving once in a while to casually slough them off her, or catch one as he rolls a little too far over the ice. I can only dream to be so nonchalant at 3am and wanting only to sleep, uninterrupted and without a human growth glued to my face. But then again, I am as that polar momma. I let the baby be the baby. I let him sleep the way he sleeps best, even if it's curled into my neck, or face stretched up into my armpit and hands clasping my thumb and hair, so entwined and locked together.

This was my choice. I chose the path of least resistance in parenting. And I've read all the books. I am a very well-informed decision-maker when it comes to parenting thus far. There isn't one choice I've made without consulting every expert, mother, grandmother, and website out there for the best possible option for my child. I am sound in my co-sleeping arrangement. I do not always sleep soundly, however. But then, what mother truly does. Sacrifice is the name of this game.

On this rare night where the baby has fallen asleep before I am ready and willing to crash with him, I am savoring the opportunity to wash my face like I once did, when I cared what my face looked like the next day. I care more now for the magical moment when dreaming begins after a day of chasing my almost-walker from one "no" to the next "no!" (the decision to use "no" is another joy of parenting, if one can call it a decision of parenting. Again, I chose the lazy route here, knowing I am incapable of the dedication it takes to conduct a household where "no" is used sparingly and all other avenues of communicating are utilized first. I bow to any mother who takes that on.)

To sleep to dream. To sleep to sleep to sleep. To sleep in...

Goodnight all, that's all I have in me to say, on that. ~AD.