Monday, May 22, 2006

plastic shoes

Just when I think I have rid our home of all the plastic, high- heel princess shoes, another pair, or two, shows up on our doorstep. They are delivered new by unwitting aunts or neighbors or used in tattered paper bags by not so unwitting mothers of grown pre-schoolers. New or used they are all the same. Evil.

Princess shoes haunt me. They are a curse. They are a menace. They are loathesome. They are my nightmare.

Esther loves them. They make that delightful, "I'm a horse," clippety- clop noise on our wooden floors. They can be worn Madonna style with just your underwear, Posh Spice style with jeans or, of course, with any of a variety of frilly, poofy princess dresses.
Harmless fun, maybe, yet there is a dark side. They're dangerous. She almost inevitably ends up on the floor in tears when she tries to do anything other than pose while wearing them.

And they encourage sloth. Sometimes she resists going outside to play because she knows it means she needs to ditch the fancy shoes. She asked me to buy some real high-heels-- yes they make them in her size-- in the second hand store one day. “Those shoes are silly, you can’t run in them,” I said. "That’s okay, I don’t want to run,” she replied.

Her most recent crash took place while running through the kitchen. I found her splayed out across the tiled floor- eerily reminiscent of those haute couture ads in which well-heeled women appear to have been assaulted- shrieking in pain and disgrace. After I established she had not broken any bones, I tried real hard to resist a lecture but my ire won out and out it came. “That must have been scary and I am glad you are okay,"I said. "but I need to tell you that I HATE those shoes because they hurt you and I don’t want to see you get hurt.” I might as well have told her I didn’t like the boyfriend she brought home from college and was planning to marry because she was crushed. She shut herself in the bathroom and sobbed dramatically for fifteen minutes.

God I hope Birkenstocks come around again once Esther gets to high school. We met a woman who owns a shoe buisness in London and she said, "Once a shoe girl, always a shoe girl. She'll love high-heels forever." This woman throws shoe-parties akin to Tupperware parties for stay-at-home moms, or "yummy mummys" as they're called in England. Her best selling high heels are what she refers to as "car to bar" shoes. They're not meant to be walked in but will take you from the car to the bar stool where they can be admired as you perch there precariously in hopes there isn't a fire, terrorist attack, ex- boyfriend sighting or some other such reason that might necessitate fleeing. Yikes.

Though it's all hers, I suppose I have nurtured my daughter's obsession with high heels. She raided her first closet, not mine mind you, when she was just a year old. She ran back and forth from the closet to the mirror wearing various colored pumps with two-inch heels. We laughed so hard we almost wet our pants. Little did I know this was the first of many catwalk sessions. Then there was the rainy winter day we ended up spending an hour and a half in the shoe department at T.J. Maxx. By the time we left, Esther had made friends with three different women and had helped them pick out the perfect pair.
"Those ones are too rocky," she said, referring to the three-inch platform wedge sandals.

It was cute back then, but now that she is older it brings up issues. I guess I have been a bit too confident that the obsession would pass. But what if it doesn't? I also guess that in some ways I envy her comfort with her feminine self. I still feel a bit like a man in drag when I try to wear high-heels. Perhaps Esther could teach me a thing or two about being a woman. Does it have to hurt?

Monday, May 15, 2006

giddy up

While listening to "Sound and Spirit" on NPR last night I heard this folk singer woman talking about the need for what she called "hostile rocking songs." Hostile rocking songs are songs that can be sung in a sweet voice with a sweet melody to a not so sweet, inconsolable baby. They sound like any other lullabies yet the lyrics offer something to the freaked out mother. A bit of help in a time when the unconditional love just isn't flowing.

These are the words of Rosalie Sorrel's hostile rocking song. "Today is the day we give babies away with a half a pound of tea. If you know any ladies who want any babies then send them around to me."

I have been singing this song ever since.

Esther has been suffering from frequent bouts of the giggles lately. Last night after dinner it came over her, as it does, without warning. Giggle-itis, you may vaguely recall, is manifested by an irrepressible urge to laugh for any or no reason at all.

One minute she will be calmly eating dinner, popping edamame beans into her mouth like they were M&M's and the next thing you know her voice starts to take on this slightly drunken quality and everything she says makes her laugh hysterically. It begins in spurts, where one minute she is fine then the next she is overcome. Then, as with labor, the contractions get closer and closer together until eventually she is no longer capable of speaking at all, or of sitting at the table, or even staying upright. She must retreat to the adjoining living room, sprawl out on the rug and just ride it out in a glorious sputtering heap of spontaneous joy.

Ian and I then become two joyless spectators. When I say joyless I don't mean we don't take some joy in the sight of this ridiculously happy child in front of us, but we can't really feel it. We're not really sharing it. Why? Because we can't. Because somewhere along the way from breezy childhood to stuffy adulthood we have built up an immunity to giggleitis.

This is a thing that comes up again and again. Esther will be racing from swingset to jungle gym to slide as the sun sets over the empty playground and I will simply stand there, shivering and pleading with her to get in the car. "Esther we've got to get home and make dinner," I 'll say. "It's getting dark, it's getting cold, let's go." The fact is, I don't want to be standing on the playground anymore. I want to be in my warm house, drinking a glass of wine and contemplating the miles I have to go before I can sleep.

When did I become such a complete drag? Was I not once a fun person? Do I not like to play? Am I truly incapable of letting go of the minutia of life if even for an instant?

I used to consider myself a playful person. Even into my twenties, late nights out would often end up on the swing set behind the elementary school, pumping ourselves as high as we could --on the swingset that is-- to the tune of squealing metal chains.

There is no more late night swinging. And there is very little giggling. Of course I snicker and laugh at Esther's antics or Ian's dry Brit humor, but true giggling, that evervescent giddiness that bubbles up from the belly and actually hurts, just doesn't come over me that often.

So I am left to watch my delightfully giddy daughter crack herself up to the point of tears and wonder what on earth has me so firmly anchored to sobriety that I can't just surrender to the gods of silliness. And I must take solace in the fact that this little girl can feel so carefree, so completely untouched by all that is serious, and try not to envy her too much.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

sap run

Like most people, I’ve had the same mother my whole life. But the funny thing is I only just recently got to know her. Since I became a mother, my own mother suddenly went from being mom to being a woman. And a girl. And a daughter. And a friend.

Each visit I have with my mother reveals something new. Like the other day when I noticed she wore a silk scarf tied stylishly around her neck. “I like your scarf,” I said. “Is it new?” “No,” she said smiling. Then she lowered her voice and leaned closer to me and added. “Rudy gave it to me.”

“Oh really,” I said smiling back at her. Rudy was the Swiss ski instructor my mother dated before she was married. Just imagining my mother before she met my father is hard enough. But a ski instructor! Who gave her gifts!

Then there’s the story of her cross- country car trip with a friend. The only time she’ll confess to having smoked a cigarette, or two. The friend, as it turned out, went on to marry a Danish Count she had met on the subway back in New York.

An only child, my mother has kept all her childhood friends. She remembers the first movie she ever saw, “Skippy.” She also remembers roller skating across the Brooklyn Bridge. And the day she had to call her father from Manhattan because the high heels she was wearing were killing her and she couldn’t even make it to the subway.

My mother’s memories are like little treats for me. They are pieces of a splendid puzzle that has been sitting untouched in a box for most of my life and now that I have discovered it, I am wondering what took me so long.

I want to work on this puzzle every day until it’s finished and then keep it out of the box to admire and show off to everyone.

I’m especially interested in my mother’s memories of parenting. How she raised five children without ever once being unkind. Most days I can barely handle two.

My mother never imposed her wishes and dreams on us. The fact that I spent the first twelve summers of my life topless didn't faze her. It sure gave the neighbors something to talk about.

She called me the other day to tell me how disappointed she was in herself for not making it all the way up to the bowl at Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mt. Washington. She and dad had decided to hike up there for old time’s sake.
My mother will be 82 in June.

She came home with a pair of collapsible ski poles that a man named Steve from Montreal gave her on his way down. He told her he didn’t need them and he was sure she had done nice things for people before. As he watched my mother slowly make her way up the rocky trail What did he see? A nutty old lady someplace she didn't belong? Or an inspiration. I am willing to bet, according to his kind gesture, it was the latter

It seems Steve noticed in an instant, what it took me 40 years to see. He couldn’t have been more right.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

baby talk

One half of a year has passed since Isla was born and it's difficult to really remember where it went. It is equally hard to accept that the 10 pounds of extra skin around my waist, the stuff that crinkles up like tin foil, hasn't disappeared with the same urgency.

I have brief flashbacks of spending hours on the couch with her at my breast. (You'd think I might be concave by now. ) I also remember arguing with Esther about why it's not a good idea to let the baby suck your lips, especially when you have a cold. There was also some arguing with Ian about why Isla was crying uncontrollably. Why is it by the way that the first thing a man thinks of when the baby is crying is to “fix it” by changing its diaper? It is something about man's need to believe that everything can be fixed. Meanwhile, mothers resign themselves more readily to the possibility that some things just can’t be fixed. Some things need to be cried out. Some things have no explanation at all.

She is not crying now. In fact she is smiling and babbling and doing that little Free Willy air blow out her nose accompanied by a grunt that is her laugh and basically enchanting us every day. Her developmental skills seem to be on fast forward like she is taking the fast track to adulthood. I’m not sure I like it. Just a few weeks back it was rolling over to her stomach, then it was “watch me eat almost a whole jar of sweet potatoes,” then last week it was “see me sit up unassisted for long periods of time before I bend over too far to check out that cool yellow dandelion and end up face down in the grass.” Being able to plop her down in the grass to watch the ants work their assembly line across the yard is soooo liberating. I can sit up in the patio chair and quietly observe for long stretches before she bothers to wonder where I have gone. Even then she will just look up at me, flash a little smile and maybe grunt out a little “oh there 's the lunch bar" then it is back to business counting blades of grass.

Esther enjoys this outdoor floor time too because it means she can flit by occasionally like a little lawn fairy to sprinkle crushed dandelion petals on Isla's head and “decorate her hair.”

The only consolation to all this rapid development is that she has left behind her most disturbing quirk: catnapping for only as long as it takes to boil some tea water or change into yoga clothes, and has retained her most endearing ones, my favorite being what I like to call the “Boho Dance” where she rocks and shimmies her bottom back and forth with her legs in a frog position. It looks like she is trying to wag her tail. I hope this one never goes, though it might not go over too well in high school.

It’s funny having a four-year-old and an infant in the house together. I sometimes forget who I am talking to and forget to adjust my speech patterns accordingly. With a baby, it's anything goes. The more exaggerated and repetitive the better. Isla just thrives on my happy face and high-pitched voice cheering on her every move. Esther, on the other hand, is understandably starting to find it obnoxious. Over the weekend we did a lot of bicycling and Esther rode her little purple Surfer Girl bike farther than she ever has. All the way up the long hill I egged her on and told her how strong she was and how proud I was of her while she just kept pumping away determinedly. Once she made it to the top, I reiterated, apparently one too many times, how amazed I was at her superior athleticism and cycling skills.

“Why don’t you just drop your happiness mom?” she said, eyes forward, still pedaling away. “What do you mean?” I asked, knowing full well what she meant but needing to hear it anyways. “Stop being so happy for me for going up the hill.” “You don’t like it when I am happy for you?” “It’s just too long.”

She was on to me. She has officially left behind that "first- talking, still trying to understand" stage and entered the “you already said that, or stop snowing I get your drift” stage. My excitement was not by any means unfounded or false. If you could have seen the hill. Yet, it was still too much, too long, too baby for her. Lesson learned. Let’s see, lesson number 6,892 or something like that?

Monday, May 08, 2006

being the tulip

In the car the other day Esther was feeling cranky because I had been rushing her. I tried to distract her by pointing out a bold bunch of multi-colored flowers on someone's yard. “Look at those beautiful tulips,” I said too enthusiastically. “I would like to have some tulips like that.” I saw her frown in the rear-view mirror. What had I said wrong this time? “All the time you say something is cute and pretty, I want to be that thing," she said. "I want to be a tulip.”

How very "mirror mirror on the wall." This got me thinking about love and attention and just how much we humans seem to need in order to feel secure. To think of the time I spend each day tending to Esther's every need. To think of the number of times I have told her I love her. To think of the countless hugs, cuddles, kisses, head stroking sessions and encouraging words. To think of the patience. And this child is worried I love a flower garden more than I love her? What am I doing wrong?

Is she going to learn on her own that life is filled with beautiful things and to feel threatened by each and every one of them is a complete waste of time and energy? And can I help to teach her this when, to some degree, I am still learning it myself? How often have I read or heard about successful people who have done or are doing great and interesting things and envied them to the point of wanting to be them? Okay, a lot.

So I launch into a lecture about how a tulip is just an object whose only value is its beauty, but she, she is a real live girl who brings 100 times more joy into my world than any silly flower could. A flower can't make me laugh or hold my hand or draw nice pictures or say kind things or make me proud. A flower just stands there and looks pretty for a while then droops and shrivels up and falls apart.

The intricacies of Esther’s personality are hard to keep up with. When she sits down at her little table with her grease crayons to draw pictures of fancy dresses reminiscent of high fashion sketches, I find myself beaming with self-congratulatory admiration. Then, in that same instant, she becomes overly frustrated about how the arms look. One of them is too long, and she wants some scissors to cut it off. And she wants them now. She is getting more and more agitated and will not take any consolation from me that her picture is just perfect. And she is melting before my eyes. Going from happy, creative girl to sad, frustrated, perfectionist girl who can’t seem to see the good in what she has done.

And I am envisioning not a hungry child spinning out of control but a future fashion designer. A tempermental artist that needs to be spoiled and coddled and catered to. A woman who gets away with childish behavior because her talent just blows everyone away. She eventually raises her picture up off the table and says, "This dress is fifty thousand five dollars expensive." My fantasy might not be too far off the mark after all.

And I will use it to help me deal with the yo yo girl that is my four-year-old daughter. Blissfully happy, profoundly sad. Giddily silly, wildly angry. Surpisingly polite and mature, astoundingly selfish and bossy. The cliché’d roller coaster of life seems to be set up in our living room and no one knows when that pleasant, slow climb upwards is going to meld into that wild, precipitous drop.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

dancing girl

I just found this picture of Esther in Ian's archives. It captures her so perfectly. She is wearing her favorite twirly dress that Granny made. The same dress that she wore every day for most of that spring and waited anxiously for each morning as it tumbled dry in the clothes dryer.

Ian took this picture a year ago as I lay upstairs debilitated by pregnancy. I was so sick --I had hyperemesis--I was the absent mother for close to 8 weeks. I was admitted into the hospital twice for dehydration and when I was home I was not really here at all. I was the ghost mother who dwelt in the upstairs bedroom and made intermittent moaning and wretching noises. Thus my little Esther retreated safely into her fantasy land of princesses and fairy queens.

When she needed a dose of something, anything feminine she would make Ian pretend he was me. This is one of my most vivid memories of that time, lying in bed with the windows open, hearing the spring peepers calling to each other from the swamp and Ian talking to Esther in a woman's voice. It was these times, listening to the conversation between my husband, sounding like something out of Monty Python, and my child that I managed to smile and feel that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't going to die after all.

I sometimes look at little baby Isla now, my blue-eyed Izzy Boo, and am utterly amazed at her happiness and healthiness. I hold her chubbiness up over my head and look up into her laughing face and tell her how worried I was about her. How sick she made me and how sorry I am about the scary pills I took in order to get myself off of the bathroom floor and back into the world. Each time I took one I felt weak and selfish but each time I tried to stop taking them the vomiting would return. It's all so far away now as I roam around the house stuffing my face with anything that can be eaten on the fly and struggle to keep Isla occupied until her next catnap comes on and I can get back to, um, whatever it is I do.

I am reading this new book, "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert and am finding it provides the perfect escape in short digestible chapters that can be read while nursing. The author basically did something I always dreamed of doing-- travelling for a year, not divorcing-- but never had the balls to follow through with. As testament to my current, surprising sense of satisfaction, I am reading it only with interest rather than with envy. Phew. That could change tomorrow.

Isla is really digging eating lately. She is so appreciative of anyone who will sit down with her and spend just ten minutes spooning strange and delightful new foods into her mouth. She's been grabbing my glass whenever I try to drink anything with her in my arms. I gave her some sips of fruit smoothie yesterday. She clung to the glass like a little tree frog and kept pulling it to her mouth. I only let her have a few tastes but it was enough for her to know she likes it very much. Much more than rice cereal and breast milk. So much for introducing peas before peaches. I read that human's affinity for sweet foods exists at birth so I'm not creating it, just cultivating it. Right? Sometimes this whole idea that we play god for our children, that everything we say and do goes towards shaping the adult person they will become, is just too much for me to believe. I like the concept of nature rather than nurture. It lets me off the hook.

I still remember the first time I let Esther have some carrot cake and she dove into it with such fervor I imagined she was wondering why we ever bothered to give her any other food. In fact, why did any other food exist when there was carrot cake. why indeed.