Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Christmas Trike

We got Caleb a tricycle for Christmas. When we bought it at the toy store last weekend, my eyes had welled up with tears in the checkout line just thinking about the simple beauty of that trike under the tree and the uncomplicated joy of the boy who would come downstairs to find it waiting for him.

I scurried downstairs ahead of Caleb Christmas morning so I could have the video camera ready to capture his reaction. He made a beeline for the trike, saying, “Bike, bike, bike…?” as he climbed into the seat, the twinkling Christmas tree behind him, the day’s first sun smiling into the room.

Our morning was so delightfully leisurely. Caleb would open a present and then he’d have to play with it before moving on to the next present. Jay and I drank it in, slowly sipping our coffee, knowing we wouldn’t have another Christmas morning that relaxing for, oh, probably the next fifteen years. Caleb tinkered with his new toys, talking to them, and announcing his discoveries to us: “Truck, truck, truck…?” and was content to ride the trike back and forth, back and forth from the living room to the kitchen. It wasn’t until early evening that we got a chance to take the trike for a ride outside.

By that time Jay was exhausted, so I decided to strap the baby to me in the carrier and take Caleb out for the maiden voyage. The baby has just enough head control to be placed in the carrier facing out for the first time, so I decided to give it a try and boy was I glad I did. The child laughed for the first five minutes of our walk—those first, breathy, quiet, little baby laughs. And Caleb…I could tell just by looking at the back of his head and the way he was holding his body and gripping the handle bars that he was having the time of his life. I couldn’t stop smiling.

For those of you who know where I live, let me put your mind at ease about our little bike riding expedition in the heart of the city. The trike has an attachment that allows one to essentially push the thing like a stroller and—this is important—help the child steer. So there was no risk of him careening off some curb into traffic, hitting a tree, or any number of tricycle mishaps that could turn a perfectly good Christmas day sour.

No doubt the inventor of this genius adaptation was one of the 40 gajillion parents who have thrown their backs out trying to master the elegant dance of trotting beside a trike while bent 90 degrees at the waist, one hand on their child’s back and the other on a handlebar. I could just see me, all bent over, running (more like lumbering) alongside the trike trying to push and steer at the same time, the baby getting all jostled around and me tripping on some uneven concrete and falling on Caleb or something…uh, no thank you. I don’t want to try to explain those bruises at the grocery store.

The weather was so un-Christmas-like. I had been pining for a white Christmas for weeks, but found myself soaking in the unseasonably warm evening—the kind of evening you have when the temperature’s been perfect and serene all day and the darkening blue ushers in a delightful, gentle chill. And it was so quiet—hardly anybody on the road and only a handful out walking, everyone else tucked snugly in their houses. I’ve never heard my neighborhood sound like that. It was like the neighborhood was taking in a nice, long breath and letting it out ever so slowly.

We rode up to a strip of stores with a parking lot out front that is usually packed. In fact, as we turned the corner I was shocked to see the parking lot perfectly empty. I don’t think I have ever seen it empty, ever. All the shops and restaurants were closed, holiday lights blinking happily in the windows. “Look, Buddy! The whole parking lot just for you to ride and ride and ride!” I said. And he did. He. was. so. happy.

At one point he stopped pedaling. “Stars?” he asked, his soft, round face lifted to the sky. “No, buddy there aren’t any st—“I started to say, but then I saw one—just one—in the newly dark sky. “There is a star!” I exclaimed. He pointed to it with a plump hand, beaming. We rode slowly around the parking lot singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” together. It was the first time I’d ever heard him sing it, his tiny, shy voice dancing with the quiet, lighted night.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

every good thing

“This is my life. It is my one time to be me. I want to experience every good thing.”

~Maya Angelou

Friday, December 19, 2008

And the Parent of the Year Award goes to…

So this morning Caleb was trying to get in the baby swing. Again. If I’ve told that child once, I’ve told him a hundred times, “Don’t get in the baby swing, Honey; you’re too big and you’ll break it…”

Well, you guessed it. He broke it.

I have two boys; I should probably get used to it. The other day he somehow managed to not exactly break my kitchen trashcan, but it is definitely permanently altered. Now when you depress the pedal with your foot, the lid goes up with an ear-piercing metal-on-metal squeal, gets stuck, and then you have to manually close it, when emits yet another calming melody. Five hundred times a day.

So anyway, the baby swing. I’m in the kitchen and I hear the tray of the baby swing, with its rattle toys, hit the floor. I go in the living room and there’s Caleb with the cutest two year-old look of guilt on his face. He looks at me with those big, dark eyes with their long lashes—it’s a look of equal parts fear and “Oh hiiiii, Mommy! Look how cute I am!”

“Oh, Buddy…” I say.

Then he drops his head, slumps his shoulders, and as his arms fall limp by his sides, he says, “Oh, f--- it.”

Niiiice. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I think I’ll go wash my mouth out with soap and watch about 4,000 episodes of Leave It to Beaver.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thank you, my fate


Great humility fills me,
great purity fills me,
I make love with my dear
as if I made love dying
as if I made love praying,
tears pour
over my arms and his arms.
I don't know whether this is joy
or sadness, I don't understand
what I feel, I'm crying,
I'm crying, it's humility
as if I were dead,
gratitute, thank you, my fate,
I'm unworthy, how beautiful
my life.

~Anna Swir

Saturday, December 13, 2008

La Pieta

I am thinking of Michelangelo’s La Pieta today, a marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding Christ in her lap after the Crucifixion. Yeah, you know, just thinking about some light, happy things.

I remember seeing this sculpture in person when I was about 26 years old—two years older than Michelangelo was when he completed the sculpture. I don’t know about you, but there is absolutely nothing I did in my 24th year of life on this planet that even begins to approach the greatness and genius of this piece of art. In fact, I don’t think there was anything great or genius about my life at 24; imagine The Three Stooges on psychedelic drugs and that should give you a picture of what my life looked like that year.

I wept when I first beheld La Pieta. Not very original, I know, but I think weeping ranks right up there as one of the very few appropriate responses to this piece. I cannot possibly describe the beauty of this hunk of sculpted marble; using words to describe the beauty that is La Pieta would be like lighting a fart to describe the sun. I remember standing in dim light before the sculpture, just aching as my eyes caressed the folds of Mary’s robes, Christ’s limp, thin feet, her smooth cheeks, his tousled hair, their hands. I remember how my eyes gave up their tears, how they fell from my face to my collarbones, wetting my shirt as I listened to the shuffle and echoes of a throng of tourists in the great belly of St. Peter’s.

Now. I am not Catholic or particularly religious at all, for that matter. I’m not even staunchly Christian; I don’t believe Christ was THE only son of God, though I do think he was a very cool dude and undoubtedly the real thing. And at the time, I wasn’t a mother, so I wasn’t exactly grooving on the whole Mary thing. And in terms of the art itself, I’m not at all knowledgeable about art, art history, or anything like that. My point is, I’m not exactly sure why I was crying (which is not really a point at all, I realize this). It’s just that the beauty of the whole thing shook something deep inside me.

Maybe it was the Great Mother archetype (that’s a big word I learned in college that’s kind of like “irony”: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.) Or the Hero archetype. You know, maybe something fundamentally human inside me recognized Mary and Jesus (and the Mary and Jesus in all of us), and wept for them. And wept for all of us.

Or maybe it was the moment that the sculpture captured that got to me. The it’s-darkest-just-before-dawn moment: Christ is dead, not yet risen, and his mother—his mother—is holding his dead body. How Mary didn’t just up and die of heartbreak right then and there is a mystery to me.

Speaking of Mary, here’s something interesting. There are many theories about why Mary appears so young in the sculpture—even younger than her son—and why she has such a calm, beatific expression. The theory I find most haunting is that Mary is actually holding her infant son, his destiny hidden from her, and it is only we who can see the destiny, the crucified Christ.

There are times I hold my sons in my arms and think of La Pieta’s Mary, wondering what destinies lay hidden from me as I gaze peacefully at my perfect, fat baby boys.

I know I cannot keep them from all harm, any more than I can take credit for the great things they may do in their lives. And this realization is reborn in me each day. Each day, I watch them go deeper and farther into world; I watch them become more and more of who they are. I love, and let go, and love, and let go. And it is beautiful. And at the same time, it makes me ache.

Ache, strangely, just like that day in St. Peter’s.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Crocodile Dundee apparently lives in my house

Please. Somebody. Explain to my two year-old in a language he can understand that when his mother is crouched low to the ground or on all-fours, say, picking up any number of hard plastic toys designed by some whack-job in Peoria or Taiwan who probably takes great pleasure in creating something on which parents in great numbers will inevitably—and no fewer than 14 times a day—impale their bare feet, or if wearing shoes, will twist their ankles OR trying to (unsuccessfully) coax a screaming two month-old in his bouncy seat into accepting a binkie for Christ’s sake so Mommy can please please please go take a crap, THAT Mommy is NOT to be pounced upon as if she were a huge, dangerous crocodile in need of capture. Thank you!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

you've got the cutest little baby face...

Meet Tavish and Lyra. Born eight days apart, these are my new favorite baby faces.

Tavish is my new son who makes the petals of my heart fall open more and more each day. He was born in water in our living room and when he took his first breath, gratitude rippled from the very center of me out into the far reaches of the Universe. He keeps me up nights and has a way of crying in the evenings that would make even the most sane person ask for a lobotomy. But he is more delightful every day and is coming into himself quite smilingly. I had no idea he was such a Good Time Charlie until I saw this picture. I am so happy to see him with new eyes.

If the Buddha and Aretha Franklin had a love child, she would look just like Lyra. She is equal parts soul and sass. She is mop-it-up-with-a-biscuit delicious and so beautiful you almost don't want to touch her. There are no pictures that can do this child justice because you just gotta see her in 3-D to know what I mean when I tell you she can look right into your soul with just one glance. She is powerful and soft and real and I fall more in love with her every time I see her.

Truth be told, we have a love affair goin' on in our house with Lyra and everyone in her family. Caleb can't stop talking about Lyra's brothers, Jack and Josiah (whom he calls, "Jo-hide-uh"), and I swear that Lyra's sparkly, saucy sister, Lucy, and I tore it up together in a past life. Not to mention the people who made these children. They have a love affair we should all aspire to and a way of being in the world that just gives a person hope. When you're around Patience and Jorge, you know for sure that goodness still exists in the world in abundance and that surely kindness and goodwill will win out over evil every time, no matter how you toss the dice.

I can't stop looking at pictures of Tavish and Lyra this rainy winter day. I gaze at their round and new faces the way one might admire a summer garden heavy with blooms and melons, bees happily lighting upon the blushing tomatoes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When a simple phone call restores your sanity...

Well, we’ve just completed our weekly class with the Stepford Children of Richmond at a kids’ gym/music/art facility in the West End. And all I have to say is, thank God for friends who have twice as many children as I.

Because upon hearing—and I swear this is true—that 10 two year-old boys sat quietly in their mothers’ laps for “music time,” Patience (that’s my friend’s name; I’m not speaking in allegory) passionately informed me that THAT is just NOT normal, she doesn’t care what anybody says.

I suddenly started to feel a little better about the way things had gone over in Stepford.

This is how the class started: All the docile (and apparently mute) children were sitting in a small room off the gym in a quaint, little circle with their grown-ups singing the “hello song" while my child would neither sit down nor stop yelling, “SLIDE!” and pointing out the window at the McDonald’s playland across the parking lot.

Then the McDonald’s thing escalated into a full-blown tantrum in the lobby, replete with floor writhing, kicking and, of course, screaming. So much screaming, in fact, that another mother came out to see if I needed help (Oh, did I tell you I embarrass easily? Yeah.). It was mid-way through all this screaming (which, I swear to you is highly uncharacteristic of him—really, it is) that I realized, “Oh. My. God. I forgot to feed him breakfast.” It was official: I felt like The Worst Mother in the Room.

“Isn’t it amazing how quickly we go there as mothers?" Patience had remarked when I told her of the McDonald’s Fiasco, "But it’s just not true, you being a bad mom, it really isn’t true…”

And when I told her about how all the other children sat obediently in the circle playing instruments and singing songs while Caleb swung on a trapeze bar screaming, “WEEEEEEE!” at the top of his lungs during (naturally) the portion of class dedicated to “night-night music” or “soft, quiet, shhhh time” or some such nonsense, she said, “Yeah, because that’s what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s two.” Me: “Oh. Oh, yeah…”

The longer we talked, the less I cared about the all the disbelieving stares I got from parents or the disapproving glances doled out by the teacher throughout the class, especially when Caleb decided to go the opposite way around the obstacle course during "gym time." Oh, I tried to “redirect” him, believe me, but it’s a little tricky when you’re dealing with a human who is the same size and is displaying the same temperament as a pig on amphetamines.

By the end of our conversation, this feeling I had at the end of the class—the one where I’m one of those cartoon characters who, upon having an anvil dropped upon them, has chirping birds flying around their head (only MY birds were paper cranes made of Ritalin prescriptions)—this feeling began to fade.

Now, if only adept counseling from a fellow mom-in-the-trenches were a cure for my post-childbirth hemmorhoids (ah, isn’t birth beautiful?), which, incidentally, were the size of small planets after spending the better part of an hour trying to keep up with Speedy Gonzales with his 14-pound brother strapped to my front in a sling, but hey…