Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Few Little Lines About a Really Big Girl

In honor of Jarrah's birthday, and because I hate to see my liberal arts education go to waste, I compose the following anaphora, drawing from today, December 28, 2006:

I Love You When You Ride The Doot-Doot

I love you when you sing "Eat, eat, eat!" along with the Wiggles
I love you when you are sporting sunglasses
I love you when you steal other children's toys
I love you when you cry because we missed the doot-doot
I love you in a sparkly BIRTHDAY GIRL t-shirt
I love you when you're digging in the sand with a coffee cup
I love you when you're waiting on top of the slide
I love you when you scream because you see your daddy getting out of his car
I love you when your eyes roll back in your head from your first sip of chocolate milk
I love you when you throw fistfuls of sand in a ditch for half an hour
I love you when you run into the street as fast as you can
I love you when you are covered in mud and chocolate and snot
I love you when your hair is full of knots
I love you when I see you yawn in the rear view mirror
I love you when you yell "Doot-doot!" because you recognize this parking lot
I love you when you peer through the fence at the train going around
I love you when you ride the doot-doot
I love you when you wave each time you pass
I love you when you say "Juice?" seventeen times because we see a Jamba Juice
I love you when you drop every crayon within three seconds of sitting down at lunch
I love you when you eat mac and cheese with a soup spoon
I love you when you drop noodles in your friend's cup
I love you when you descend the stairs with great concentration
I love you when I say "Nap?" and you say "No!" and then yawn
I love you when I cover you up and you grab my hand and wink
I love you when you fall asleep immediately
I love you when you're sleeping and I can't see you
I love you on your birthday
I love you all year long.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I Bow My Head

Well, I guess gloating gets you a humbling kick in the ass. Tonight we went to the Wild Animal Park Festival of Lights with Olivia and her parents, and let's just say Jarrah won't be gathering any more laurels for her sophisticated attention span. Riding a rhino on the carousel was fun, and stringing plastic beads on a pipe cleaner bracelet surprisingly absorbing. Running amok in the dinner line was par for the course, as was the terrifying diaper that preceded the meal. We were right on target for a typical evening in a crowded public amusement spot as we made our way to the piece de resistance: the doot doot. Now, strictly speaking, the Tramway is not a doot doot. There is no doot, for starters. No chug-chug sounds, and no "All aboard!" (an exclamation that Jarrah recently has begun shouting at surprising intervals.) But we figured that these deficiencies would be nicely corrected by the addition of actual wild animals frolicking to the right and left of the cars. Well, we thought wrong.

She was quite excited as the tram exited the station, and seemed to be waiting for it pick up speed. Instead, of course, it poked along at about 5 miles an hour, and stopped frequently so our laconic guide could point out rabbits (truly, it was a slow night for the African plains.) Since it was, as mentioned, NIGHT, there wasn't much to see, and what there was was sort of beige and difficult to differentiate from other less kinetic patches of beige around it. And most of the beigey beasts were snoozing anyway. Which is what our own more colorful beast would have been doing, had she been at home.

Within five minutes, she was over it, and began pacing the length of our car, ramming her way past our knees and those of our companions. Soon after, she added climbing onto the bench in any available crack between occupants, and either burying her hands in the hair of those in front of her, or staring impolitely at those behind her.

The real delight came when she fixated her affections on a slight, bald fellow behind her and considered him thoughtfully while murmuring "Ma-muh. Ma-muh. Ma-muh." in plaintive tones, while the poor guy tried not to notice, difficult since her face was about three inches from his and he had nowhere to go. At this point, David and I tried to contain her in some fashion, quietly suggesting she sit in our laps or admire some Chinese cows, but that was when she started whining, moving dangerously close to the tantrum zone. The histrionic sobbing, like a final pinch of paprika, was added when our companions quite brilliantly diverted her with a talking cat--unfortunately the cat was also the beloved companion of their daughter, so this arrangement could not continue peacefully. At this point I just leaned my head out in the cool night air and wished us back into the station.

Jarrah's birthday is Thursday, and we had planned to take her for a ride on the Coaster train to meet David for lunch. I figured she'd find this plan to be heaven on a stick. Now I'm reconsidering. ;)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cineaste: Take Two

Last night we took Jarrah to the movies for the second time. And I wanted to take a moment to gloat that it was an unqualified success. Ever since our flight to China, when I happened to see a trailer for it on the laptop where we were watching March of the Penguins, I've been itchin' to see Happy Feet. I love tap dancing, and I love Stevie Wonder, and throw in a cute baby penguin and it really was a trifecta of deliciousness. So we had this idea that maybe Jarrah might actually want to see it, too.

We've brought her to the movies once before to see Cars and it went okay. She demanded to wander a few times but between David and I we saw a whole movie. Now, of course, it's been several months and Jarrah has a whole lot of staring-at-screens practice under her belt. So we packed up her booster chair and a lot of snacks, and when we got to the mall, we bought her a great big colorful lollipop like you see children holding in cartoons. We knew she didn't know how to use a lollipop, but we figured, how hard could it be for the Copycat Queen?

The movie was incredibly loud, and for once I was glad. We also sat down in front, away from the serious moviegoers. So far, so good. I dashed out during the preview to get a drink for David and me, and bought Jarrah a White Cherry Icee on a whim. She likes slushees, and the lack of color was appealing in case it ended up all over her shirt.

When I returned, the movie was just starting and David whispered that Jarrah had been so enthused about the trailers that she shouted "Oh nooooo!" when they finished. I handed her the Icee, a bunch of singing penguins emerged onscreen, and we were off and running.

The movie was long for animation: 1 hour, 48 minutes. I want to brag that for at least an hour, Jarrah was a model viewer. She chewed her straw to a nub, kept her eyes on the screen, and occasionally shouted "Uh oh!" when our hero, Mumble, was faced with a particularly hairy challenge, but that didn't seem to bother anybody.

Around the hour mark, she started to fidget, so we pulled out the big gun: the lollypop. Readers, here's where we made our fatal error. First, she wanted to hold the lolly by the candy part. Then she wanted to rub the entire surface over her face, turning it blue. But the real delight came when she felt moved to "share" her lolly by reaching over and pointing it into my air space as I cowered away from the sticky, slimy surface the size of a butter plate, whispering, "No, thanks!" At one point, she accidently rubbed my retreating arm with the thing, and I gasped "Argh!" which she obviously thought was great fun, because then she wiped the lolly up and down my arm and side several times, just for the pleasure of watching me squirm and yelp. I was about to get furious but then the whole thing struck me as so absurd that I cracked up instead, so hard that I worried I was the one disturbing people.

Soon enough, we were able to divert her attention, hide the lolly, and replace it with an apple and some Cheerios, both acceptable substitutes evidently because we heard no more about it. Occasionally, she'd lean her head into one of our laps and gaze up at us, but mostly she concentrated on the screen, and that's what we all did until the last frame of the closing credits. Well, that's a slight exaggeration. Once the credits started, David and I watched them, and we let her out to dance in the aisles, much to the amusement of departing viewers.

We were really quite triumphant, I tell you. The movie was cute, rollicking good fun. David and I love going to the movies, and we're hoping that so much progress in just two visits means we are going to have a pliable convert on our hands. To make it a bit sweeter, we got in just a few days under the wire for free admission for children under two. Score!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Yellow Fever

When I first met Jarrah, she had already developed a prurient interest in stacking cups and rings, so I wrongly assumed that learning the bold, primary colors that differentiate these items would be her next task. In fact, I have known Jarrah more than 10 months, during which time she has memorized the names and sounds of every barnyard animal, mastered the moves to most of the Wiggles songs and learned the difference between Bosc, Bartlett and D'anjou pears, all without the slightest awareness that purple and green are different, or even that purple and green are states of being.

Until last week sometime. She pointed at a banana and said "yellow," plain as day. I was so thrilled I went into a paroxysm of clapping. Shortly thereafter, my glee was slightly dampened when she pointed to her high chair and said "yellow." It is, in fact, blue. Hmmm. "That's blue," I told her, hopefully in an encouraging way. She was undeterred. "Yellow," she said, pointing to her green crib toy. "Yellow," she said, indicating my blue car. "Yellow," she said, holding a red apple. Clearly, she was having a breakthrough in the sense that she understands that things have a color, but now that she's found one she likes, why muddy the waters with too many options?

So, for the time being, everything is yellow. We wake up each day to a monochromatic world, with a yellow sky and yellow trees, and we romp in yellow parks full of yellow dogs and yellow flowers. We all wear yellow and eat yellow food. We love our yellow world.

Don't Mention It

Jarrah has begun saying "thanks" whenever someone gives her a snack or helps her up or retrieves an out-of-reach toy. For a while, I didn't know she was saying it, because it comes out like "deetz." She would pause and make eye contact so meaningfully, though, I started paying more attention. What I find most adorable is I never knowingly taught her this word. Of course I meant to, when it seemed appropriate. But clearly she beat me to it. It gives me a little thrill when I hear her say it, because she hasn't started preschool yet and she spends most of her time with me, so I guess (slight pause here, suggestive of modesty, completely false) I can take credit for this small infusion of manners in an unruly toddler world. Do I get a gold star? Don't answer that.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hear Me Roar

I am brazen. Sometimes this a problem. I'll say a shockingly rude thing to someone because it seemed funny in the millisecond it took to travel from my brain to my mouth (why do other people get more time? Why, why, why?) Also, I ask the questions that everyone else is standing around not asking, wisely I might add.

Occasionally, my brazenness has helped me ask for something I want. When I wanted to teach writing but kept getting passed over at interviews without explanation, I showed up at the director's office one afternoon, loins girded and extensive list of qualifications at the ready. As soon as she said, "What can I do for you?," I opened my mouth and burst into tears instead. Shortly thereafter, I was offered a job. Hey, whatever works.

When I arrived at college, the Freshman Dean made a speech at opening convocation about wanting to know each and every one of us. The following day, I knocked on her door at College Hall. She was puzzled, and if I'm not mistaken, nervous. Was I homesick?, she asked. Hating my new roommate? Sitting alone in a dark dorm room slicing up my arm while everyone else was romping in fall leaves? Everything's fine. You said you wanted to meet me, so I stopped by. But there must be something you need, she pressed. Well....I said. I groped around in my untrammeled brain. I guess I was a little bummed that I auditioned for Advanced Acting and didn't even make the waiting list. After all, I am an actress, I told her. She didn't protest. The following day I was called out of lunch for a phone call from the Advanced Acting professor, who let me know that a spot had "just opened up" in the class. Gee, thanks!

In grad school, I felt certain I had a connection with the green-eyed boy who sat across the seminar table from me in my poetry workshop. Beyond this innate sense, I didn't know the first thing about him--we had never even exchanged a hello. But one afternoon I slipped a note into his mail cubby just the same. "You might think this is sort of brazen," I wrote, "But I was wondering if you would have coffee with me sometime?" The following day there was a note in my cubby: "I like coffee. And I like brazen." Yowza! That one didn't go well, but it probably had more to do with his live-in girlfriend than anything I did.

All this is a preamble to my current situation. I am no longer that dreamy co-ed, penning poetry by the bank of the Charles and fluttering my lashes at green-eyed men (well, there is one in particular, but we'd actually spoken before I asked him out.) Now I have very different, but just as pressing, concerns. These concerns are various, but most of them, necessarily, loop back to Jarrah. So when I spot a good thing, I don't want to risk it slipping away.

A couple months ago, Jarrah and I were at the park. It was empty. It was hot. We were both bored. Suddenly, a car rolled to a stop in front of us. Jarrah pointed. When the door opened, out stepped a lovely little girl. "Hello," she said to Jarrah, "My name is Olivia. What's yours?" I was extremely impressed by her self-possession. I could tell Jarrah was, too. Even better, Olivia's mommy was right behind her, smiling, and not acting the least bit put out that her daughter was talking to us. I know it might sound odd, but very often when Jarrah plays with another child at the park, the child's mom or dad pretends not to see me. They talk to their child and follow their child, and I follow their child because Jarrah is following their child, and it's just about the most cringe-inducing awkwardness you can imagine. I could tell this was not going to be one of those times. Within minutes, Jarrah and Olivia were holding hands and laughing, and Jessica and I were gabbing away, two fast-talkers in a slow stay-at-home world.

They had just moved here, and we were some of the first people they met. I didn't know this when I thrust my business card (hush, NIA teachers are allowed to have business cards :)) at her as we were leaving and said something akin to: "Let's do this again. I actually mean that, by the way." It seemed like a brazen thing to do, but I couldn't see any way to avoid it if we ever wanted to see them again. We've had a few more playdates and it delights me that the girls get along just as well as their mommies do.

On Thursday, we went to the zoo together to celebrate Olivia's birthday. She was turning four. Yes, that makes her two years older than Jarrah, but somehow, the age gap doesn't get in their way. Olivia is a big talker, and Jarrah doesn't talk at all, so it's a beautiful arrangement if you think about it. You know what they have in common, though? They're both brazen. And they're making it work for them.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mama's Got a Brand New Bag

This holiday season has me feeling reflective because last year at this time we were officially "AJ" as opposed to "BJ." (After Jarrah vs. Before Jarrah.) Of course, last December I didn't know her yet, but she was present, filling up my thoughts on a minute-to-minute basis. Either I was collecting items for her care package, arranging her room, shopping for travel, or filling out more paperwork. All the while, I was staring at her picture in my wallet, at the cue ball shaved head and the slightly lolling tongue, and feverishly wondering what she'd look like in motion.

Because she was 11 months old when we got our referral, we had the opportunity to celebrate her birthday, even though she was half-way across the world at the time. I have attended many first birthday parties this year, and each time I've found myself studying the proud parents, imagining them thinking, "Wow, where has this year gone? My baby is growing up so fast." And each time I've done this, I've felt a little twinge of sadness that I never knew a Jarrah who weighed less than 27 pounds, or one that I could nestle in my arms while she drank a bottle.

It was wonderful to eat cake and sport tiaras with Mary in a dual celebration for our girls who had no idea who we were yet. I am grateful that I had that opportunity. But lately it feels weird when I talk about Jarrah's upcoming birthday and I realize she's turning two. It's like my time as a mother has spun into hyperdrive somehow. How could she be turning two? I've only known her a few months!

Her second birthday makes me reflective about the past year in other ways. Very soon, she will be starting preschool two days a week. In preparation, we've been "visiting" her classroom together, just for an hour or so, and I grow anxious when I see the other children, so well-trained at sitting for storytime, even speaking to me in full sentences. Granted, Jarrah is the youngest in her class, and she is coming to the party four months late, but I fret that she will be confused and frustrated, and (horrors) that not only won't she speak like the other children, she won't even understand what her teachers say. Everyone from the director of the school to her teachers to my friends have reassured me that she is going to do fine, thrive even, so I know this is one of those times when I really just need to work on me. But still!

Looking back over the year, I also have an indulgent smile for my early mom self, who was so tired and befuddled that I signed up for a music class a half-hour drive from our house because, well, we needed something to do. That same self tried every children's gym in the county as if we were touring colleges. Just this past week, Jarrah and I checked out a newly opened gym (Reader's Note: this gym shall remain nameless because, unbelievably, I have been flamed by representatives of said gym who have Googled me--who knew I was so important? :)) and as I watched Jarrah climbing up and down the vinyl blocks and scooting down the tiny slides, I was struck by the stunning notion: she is too old for this place. Wow. How did that happen? Then she was scared witless by the colorful clown who arrived to "dance" with the children. She leapt into my arms, making a moaning sound and pointing accusingly at the clown, who, I must admit, inspired a little terror in me, too. Jarrah, who flies up tall ladders, sails down steep slides, and marches up to huge dogs, was terrified of a stuffed clown. Good for you, Jarrah. :)

So, I don't think we'll be going to any more gym classes, or having our bellies stamped at Borders Babies. And while I'm a little nostalgic for the babyhood that lasted less than a year, I think it will be good for her and me to set our sights on new challenges. But that doesn't mean I won't be thinking about what once was, or never was, or what will be.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pavlov's Baby

Lately I've gotten the idea from other blogs that I read that "You Tube" is a fun little diversion, and Jarrah has been particularly partial to videos that feature other babies. Mostly, these babies are shown laughing or dancing, but she's not fussed on those. Yesterday afternoon, however, during "The Witching Hour" between afternoon snack and Husband's Arrival Home, I discovered a little clip (evidently from America's Funniest Home Videos?) that bewitched and enchanted her. So much, in fact, that we would still be watching it now if David hadn't finally come home (we were on Round 15 at that point.)

Anyone have any theories about the appeal of this one?

Friday, December 08, 2006

You Scream; I Scream

I'm having some mommy growing pains. Before I had a child, I swore I would never yell in that way I see parents do, in situations that are obviously futile. I wondered, contemptuously, what was wrong with these people--didn't they know that their 2-year-old wasn't rational? What good was yelling?

Readers, I've become one of those yellers, and it's no good. Not because it might scar Jarrah (but ack! what if it did?) or make her tell her friends "My mommy yells a lot for no reason" (though she probably will) but because it scars ME. First, there's that bit about not wanting to have to eat my hat (see above.) Then, there's the logical part about the recipient being totally irrational (again, see above.) But the real reason it scars me is I don't WANT to yell, and sometimes, apparently, I lose control. I say "lose control" because the outbursts often surprise me, and because they sound really maniacal and pointless and desperate in the air.

I feel especially guilty because Jarrah is generally an easy child. Everyone comments on her sweet, agreeable nature. She is enthusiastic and playful most of the time. I am frequently grateful for all these traits.

But I get really furious sometimes, about stupid things. In the big picture, these things don't matter, but sometimes in the moment, I am really, really angry that I can't get Jarrah to sit still for shoes and socks when I'm already late, or because I fall over her toys with the sharp edges while I'm trying to make dinner. I find myself yelling about that aforementioned big picture, in a way that is not comprehensible to Jarrah: "Don't you know we're going to miss circle time?" "The kitchen area is off-limits for toys!"

Those aren't the serious times, though. The serious times are when I just sit there and scream "STOP IT! Stop it, stop it, stop it this instant! I can't stand another second of that noise!" At those times, I am really, really loud, and my face is all screwed up and hateful, and I pound on the table with my fists. Kind of like a two-year-old having a tantrum, now that I think about it.

David has seen me do this and is quietly shocked. It's not his personality to be hot-headed, first of all, and he's always been more rational than me. But also he hasn't been worked over for 10 hours already, or used up the patience reserve that was already low, the one that sometimes I can only replenish on odd-numbered days. I think in those moments, when Jarrah and I are both screaming, he wonders what he's gotten himself in to, sharing his home with two nutso women. But he is wise enough to keep it to himself, instead stepping in with soothing words for both of us.

Jarrah, at least for now, seems completely unaffected by my outbursts. By which I mean, not only doesn't she cry or look scared, she doesn't even seem to notice. She wavers not a whit in whatever she was doing that made me start screaming in the first place. Sometimes she even starts laughing. I dread the day that I frighten her or hurt her feelings with my loud voice. I don't want her to associate me with the bad parts of life.

Also, I wish I could stop yelling because it makes me feel small and petty and pathetic. I thought I was going to be tougher and wiser and more saintly, being a parent at my age. What happened? Readers, I don't know. I just know that by the time I realize I feel like yelling, I already have.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Say Please and Watch the Magic Happen

Today was the Families with Children from China annual Holiday Party. This year, it was celebrating their 10th anniversary in San Diego. But we were celebrating our first. December 9 is our anniversary of Match Day. On that day last year, David and I were waiting by the phone at 6 a.m. after a sleepless night for "the call," followed hard upon by "the photo." It sounds so hyperbolic to say this, but it was the day that changed our lives. By 9 a.m., we had become parents in our pajamas, and learned we'd soon be on our way to Chongqing to pick up a very round-headed baby with gigantic eyes.

We attended the FCC party last year just an hour after the Fed-Ex truck had brought us the full report on little Mei Ruo (e.g., "she gets annoyed when nanny feeds another baby, and moves closer to nanny after that," which, if you're wondering, is still the status quo), and two more pictures in which she wore a yellow dress and we could see her perfect bare feet. I remember we stuffed our photos into a plastic sheet protector, and that it was good we did because by the end of the afternoon they were covered in lo mein from the fingers of congratulatory folk who had passed them around.

This year's party had a different theme, but it was held at the same location, a place called "The Barn" in San Marcos. It was a long drive, but Jarrah was in a good mood. No sooner had we turned off the main road and glimpsed the group of red wooden buildings that include "The Barn," she began to speak urgently about "zhe doot-doot." (Lately, most of her exclamations are preceded by a vaguely French-sounding definite article, e.g. "zhe ball" and "zhe beach.") For the next few minutes, Jarrah narrated our arrival in a sort of Muppets-esque nonsense French, punctuated by occasional clear repetitions of "zhe doot-doot." After a while, I figured out that she was confusing this place with the similar-looking train yard in Poway we visited a few months ago. She couldn't wait to get out of the car seat, and couldn't even be distracted by a brief detour across the street to see "zhe naaaaay" (gorgeous race horses saying hello over the fence) so excited was she for a reprisal of "zhe doot-doot." David and I were pretty nervous that the whole day would just not deliver without said "doot-doot." I also remarked that already this was a thousand miles from last year's experience, when we simply pulled up and parked and, after showing our pics around, ate our plate of lo mein in the quiet courtyard, unperturbed by thoughts of doot-doots, real or imagined.

Because there was fruity cream cheese, Jarrah abandoned her pursuit of the doot-doot, and we caught up with friends who have returned even more recently than we have and had baby-babies to hold and show off. We would have liked to show off Jarrah, if we had been able to find her. She had a lot to see about, including covering herself in permanent marker that was intended for older kids decorating snow globes, and shoveling whole marshmallows into her mouth from the end of the buffet table.

The event culminated with Michael the Magician, and I really could not stop laughing when I saw that Jarrah had taken her place with the other children, all older, and that she was madly applauding on cue. Was it because she enjoyed the show so much? Quite the contrary, I could sense from her expression that she had no idea a) why that man was doing so much leaping around with scarves and, even more puzzling, b) why the kids were laughing and shrieking when he did. As her wonderment at this spectacle grew, her expression became more and more concentrated and brow-knit, but she didn't move. You know why? By gum, if the other kids thought this fellow was the bee's knees, she was going to dedicate herself to thinking so, too. Peer pressure is so tragic, at any age. ;)

I found myself noticing how serene the event seemed this year. Despite attendance by nearly 200 people, the time rolled along, with noshing and shmoozing and admiring rabbits in hats. Then I remembered that last year, The Barn was teeming with children, who, I had occasion to notice, are extremely unruly and prone to speaking louder than strictly necessary. They are grabby with food, and run when they could easily walk. They get overly excited by magicians and puppet shows, and laugh with too much enthusiasm. Last year, I remember that the reason David and I ate outside was that I couldn't hear myself think over the shrieking and laughing of 50 children--most of whom were once again present at this year's event.

Funny how these children seemed so restrained this year, with the most impeccable manners.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Three Bits of Bloggerel

Jarrah knows her name. It seems astounding to me, for some reason. But one day when I wasn't at home, David somehow got her to answer the question "What's your name?" with a triumphant "Jar-RUH!" She expects (and receives) applause for this response. But she won't give it often. In fact, at least 50 percent of the time she gives a vaguely annoyed, sideways glance before continuing about her business. It's as if to say, "I've already told you my name. Why can't you remember it?"


David and I have a saying about the way Jarrah eats: "Once it goes in, it's not coming out." Yes, yes, of course she has a digestive system, and it works fine. But we'd heard so much about babies and their streams of spit-up, and about how they can't wait to barf all over your house. Jarrah likes to be held upside-down, and swung to and fro, and sometimes people make a pained face and shout, "Be careful! She's going to barf!" But David and I just laugh complacently because we know better. She's not going to barf. She just doesn't barf.

Until she did, that is. A few nights ago. She had bumped her head that morning, hard, and had a goose-egg that receded gradually as the day went on. But her behavior was otherwise normal, and this was nighttime and she'd already been asleep over two hours. We heard her cry on the monitor, and it sounded a little more urgent than usual. So much so, that when David went in to comfort her, he broke with policy and picked her up. She coughed a few times and then spewed chunks all over his pajamas. It happened so fast that I was still in the kitchen, and heard his gentle "Oh dear." over the monitor. I came running. "Is she poopy?" I asked, and as he turned towards me I could see the barf on his shoulder. "Oh nooooo!" The long run had ended. Amazingly, I felt completely calm. I murmured sweet nothings, mopped some vomit off of David as he held her, and wiped Jarrah's face and hair. Her pajamas seemed clean, but just in case, I stripped them off. Now she was trembling, which made me very sad since I'd never seen her do that before. I tried to speak in soothing tones as I quickly dressed her in something warm and gently washed her face. I instructed David to get us a bottle of Liquilytes. Weirdly, I wasn't thinking of rehydration, just of what I would have wanted: to get the gross taste out of my mouth. By now, Jarrah clung to me like a starfish, her head burrowed under my chin. She accepted the bottle, and I held her in the big chair and rocked her slowly, thinking to myself that I couldn't remember the last time we'd rocked in this chair that took us months to pick out: had we EVER done it? David smiled at us from the doorway: "I'll leave you two alone." When Jarrah had finished and seemed a bit more relaxed, I laid her gently in the crib and covered her with way too many blankets; something about covering her made me feel more proactive. She was already drifting back to sleep.

Normally, I hate to get up during the night when she cries, but that night she cried two or three times, and I was through the door within 10 seconds. She didn't want much, just--as Piglet would say--to be sure of us. To be reminded we were still there, and that it was okay to sleep, and that if she barfed again, we'd handle it, as many times as necessary. By the morning, she was fine, and ate a huge breakfast.

Something about this night made me feel like a mom. You might be thinking, are you daft? You felt like a mom because you have a BABY, and one that was barfing and crying to boot. But I don't think that's why. I think it's because I knew she needed me, and unlike other times when that's been apparent, I knew I could actually help. If I couldn't totally fix the problem, I could come close. And not only did that feel like a big responsibility, it felt, for once, like one I was ready for.


I have moments when I think Jarrah might be a genius. Yes, Readers, I know that all parents have these moments. But not everybody gets to brag about it in their blog. ;) A few days ago, our friend Lisa gave us a Teletubbies costume (Tinky Winky, to be precise) she'd inherited from another mom. Jarrah is partial to the 'Tubbies, though they couldn't take the Wiggles in a fight. She spotted the costume, lying with all the other junk in our house, in the front hall. "Would you like to try it on?" I asked. "Yeh." Since Halloween, she is no longer afraid of costumes, as she got such a positive response from being Tigger. I Velcro'd the ear headpiece under her chin, and slipped the purple mittens over her hands. "Go look at yourself in the mirror." She did, and was enchanted. She stood there whispering incoherently to herself (probably, "You like divine, simply divine") and patting the mirror with her furry purple hands. Then I said a single sentence. I did not say it slowly, or extra loudly. I just said it like I'd say it to you:

"Maybe next Halloween you can be a Teletubbie."

She looked at me, then turned and walked away. I didn't think much of that, since she is prone to whims, but she went around the corner and I heard her rummaging in her "toy area." (Depending on the day, the "toy area" can take up most of the living room.) I didn't think much of this, either, assuming we'd moved on to another activity. But then she emerged, and I couldn't believe what she was holding. Triumphantly, like the Statue of Liberty with her torch, she raised it towards me: her plastic pumpkin candy holder.

"YES!" I screamed. "THAT'S WHAT YOU USE FOR HALLOWEEN! VERY GOOD!" I was a kvelling maniac. She smiled at me, with patient indulgence: "I know that, Mommy. You can be very slow."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

This moment is probably more shocking to people who didn't meet their child as a toddler and have had longer than ten months to get used to this idea, baby is growing up. One indication is that strangers don't tell their children, "Be careful of the baby!" as much now. Usually they say, "Be careful of that little girl!" At least her recent willingness to wear a barrette has put the kibbosh on all the "cute little boy!" comments.

At the park two days ago, I was certain even before we got out of the car that the toddler on the slide was the same age as Jarrah. In fact, I was correct to within 10 days. When I remarked on this to her mom (who was polite but not chatty) she said, "Yes. But yours is so big, and so independent." I was actually thrown quite roughly into a full-blown panic by this comment, suddenly convinced that the CCAA makes a regular practice of doctoring the ages of abandoned children by as much as two or three years, and perhaps Jarrah is actually a mute five-year-old. After all, she is huge--not so much chubby anymore, but very tall and solid, much bigger in general than other kids her age, and not at all wobbly or hesitant. And yes, she is independent. She doesn't need or want my help to do much, and charges ahead in new situations whether I'm following or not. Later, when I told David about my theory, he said I needed to remember that Jarrah was a "cute blob" when we met her, with only eight teeth and unable to walk. Um yeah, I wasn't thinking about that. ;) David also said that he thought this mom was paying Jarrah a compliment. Ah. Can you see why I need to be married to this guy?

Anyway, a lot of things have gotten easier. Jarrah is very sturdy, flexible and has excellent balance, so I don't need to help her do as many things these days. That is a huge blessing for my lower back. She says about 40 words (I think), and her system of gestures and sound effects has gotten quite sophisticated, so I know what she means more often than not. She can also follow my "suggestions" (read: commands) no matter how many sentences they are. She is slightly less cooperative than she was when I met her, about getting into the car, or leaving the park, or not running away at the zoo, but I would still have to describe her as an agreeable, even reasonable child (for instance, she seems to truly respect the mighty power of cars and buses, and won't stray from the sidewalk if I make a point of reminding her. This might be less remarkable if my nickname for her wasn't "Magellan.")

Her hair has gotten long and shaggy, and we don't plan to cut it for a while, so tethering devices are necessary. Her tiny white teeth have become larger, and she has a lot of them (maybe most, except her two-year molars?) The only part of her that's still jiggly is her belly. She still loves to eat, and can pack in several pounds of fruit at any meal, but she's grown particular, and has a noted aversion to carbs (minus noodles and potatoes, which always get the thumbs up.) Bread in any form is anathema, as well as most proteins save deli turkey, but like the baby Moses she will sooner reach for a cherry than a chocolate cookie when presented with both.

She has increased her affection for books, and I might even describe her as a voracious reader, or at least a voracious bossypants about making other people read to her. She carries stacks of books around the house, and has favorites. She is an excellent mimic and dancer; even precise, small movements are noted and copied. She has suddenly developed an interest in crayons, and even drew on the wall for the first time today--a rite of passage, yes?

She likes climbing up onto anything--the bed, dining room chairs, tall ladders, play structures meant for eight-year-olds--but won't sit to eat unless we strap her in. She gets manic in the evenings and tears around yellling, flinging balls at us; she's mellower in the morning, but at all times of day she is insistent on "help" with all her playing and projects.

I've noted with delight that she is a very social child, growing instantly bored of any park if it's empty, and happily following children of any age to see what they're up to, then copying them. A couple days ago, she followed a boy of seven and his 20-ish brother, and was undeterred by them assiduously ignoring her. She did everything they did--built their sand castle, threw her body in the path of a tickle fight, rolled down hills. I wasn't sure if, or how, to intervene. She is taken with spontaneous urges to hug children she's never seen before, flinging her arms around them and frequently bringing them to the ground with surprise. Often, both the hugger and huggee love this unexpected wrestling match, and laugh and laugh. Sometimes, the huggee is frightened, and runs for the protection of mommy's legs. I'm not sure what to do about all this hugging: I figure it beats pushing, hitting or biting, but I hope she doesn't hurt anyone.

Today Jarrah and I went to the zoo, just the two of us, and it was a lovely afternoon. Several times I was struck by the difference, just in a zoo day, in nine months. She walked next to me as I pushed the stroller, and sometimes listened when I said "Stay with mommy and hold my hand." When we ate lunch, we sat across from each other at a picnic bench, and she was reasonably good about staying in one place. She recognizes some of the animals, and calls them by name, occasionally intelligible. Most of all, she truly understands that the zoo is the place where you go to look at "ann-muls," and I think it's this wondrously evident sense of perspective she has that affects me so profoundly. She has had experiences, and has integrated them into her memory, her knowledge, her preferences. Having never spent time with children before, I have never watched these developments, and they amaze me.

On the way back to the car, she spotted the old-fashioned carousel at the edge of the park. She's been on carousels a few times recently, and adores them, and I have seen with a pang that she doesn't even need me to stand by her horse anymore, let alone support her from falling. She sits up with beautiful, proud posture, and holds the pole in front of her lightly with both hands. She doesn't need to hold the pole, but her mommy asked her to. She understands that we wait in line to get on, and that when the music stops, the ride is "All duh!" She laughs with delight when the horse rises the very first time, but after that, she is focused. She concentrates on waving to the people outside. At the same time, she is studying the carousel, and she shows me the different animals, the other people, and eventually, the inner mechanism of the ride itself, the places where gears go up and down, because from the very first second that we met her, she has been trying to figure things out.

Which is pretty amazing, really. What I mean is, do you know what I've noticed the most in nine months? That somehow, with no help from biology, geography, language or anything that makes any sense, she is--bizaarely, yet undeniably--David's and my daughter. She spins, and dances, and hugs. She flings out her fingers and widens her eyes whenever an occasion could benefit from a little flair. But she also concentrates, not on toys, but on stolen household items and gadgets that she intends to dismantle and reconstruct, tirelessly, with great precision. Tonight she understood instantly that to inflate her beachball she had to pull out the valve and blow into it, even though we hadn't shown her how.

Pretty uncanny, huh?

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Crush

Might as well write it on the bathroom wall or embroider it on a pillow: Jarrah loves Miss Theresa.

Miss Theresa is one of Jarrah's teachers at My Gym. On any given day, there are about five, all charming young women except for one vaguely troglydytic man of indeterminate age. Jarrah enjoys getting attention from all the teachers, and will grace anyone who engages her with a brilliant smile for their pains. But Miss Theresa...well, Miss Theresa is special.

I started noticing the preference a few weeks ago. Jarrah won't sit long during circle time, and once Miss Theresa started running after her, it was all over. Jarrah never sat down at all after that, not even for a second, because why would she want to do that when it was so much fun to have Miss Theresa chase her and pick her up?

It wasn't until a couple weeks ago that Jarrah started approaching Miss Theresa during free play, during time she could otherwise have been on the swings, the trampoline or (gasp) the Space Ride. She would gaze up at her coyly, and then emit a long stream of unintelligible babble that tonally resembled, "Miss Theresa? Do you like me as much as I like you? 'Cause if you do, would you go in the ball pit with me?" Miss Theresa would laugh, and spin Jarrah around, saying, "Jarrah, you are so funny!"

One time when this happened, I had to look away because my eyes filled with tears. I actually had some kind of junior high flashback in which I suddenly felt I wasn't cool enough to be Jarrah's mother, and that she was abandoning me like yesterday's onesie for a younger, hipper mom. First infertility and now this, I lamented inwardly. When will I be loved?

I tried to get over myself. After all, this is a 22-month-old we're talking about. She's completely id-driven. Probably Jarrah accepts me as her mom, but it's Miss Theresa she wants for her FRIEND. I'm sure that will be happening a lot in future so I might as well get used to it.

Last week, things really got a little kooky. First, Jarrah wandered over to the room where they keep all the toys (strictly off-limits to the kids) and spotted Miss Theresa in there, all the way in back, eating her lunch. She stood in the doorway and indicated with word and gesture that Miss Theresa was to come out and play, with Jarrah in particular, and was not to tarry in this objective. Her requests grew louder and increasingly strident. All the other staff members started giggling at Jarrah's insistence. Miss Theresa waved to her (she always handles it well) but of course she didn't come out. Jarrah had to be dragged away.

At the end of the class, Miss Theresa was working at the desk, signing people up for classes. Jarrah saw her from across the room, and took off at high speed. She flung her arms around Miss Theresa's legs and screamed, "Ma-MA! Ma-MA!" Now I really wanted to go and hide. What must other moms be thinking? What must Miss Theresa and the other teachers be thinking? That Jarrah is beaten and starved at home and kept chained to a wooden chair? Part of me could see the humor and part of me was mortified.

That night I went to book club and told my friends that Jarrah is shopping for a new mom. They laughed and said I should be glad that Jarrah feels such passion and shows her feelings so freely. That this could only be a good thing. Harumph. Okay.

Today I braced myself for The Wonder of Miss Theresa. Sure enough, when Jarrah spotted her, she pointed and told me repeatedly about her myriad attributes. She also played peek-a-boo behind her legs several times, and lit up like neon whenever Miss Theresa "found" her.

But I flatter myself that Jarrah's attentions do not go unreciprocated. Jarrah is kind of adorable at My Gym. Sure, sure, she won't sit down, but she never cries, or whines, or finks out on trying something scary or hard. I think she sort of delights people with her funny little smoker's laugh and the way she screams "Hip-Hip-Hooray!" during the songs. I think Miss Theresa has not been immune to her charms. And by the way, I am like chopped liver during their little tete-a-tetes. I stand by like a silent, menacing pimp. I try to smile non-threateningly and make jokes about Jarrah the stalker, but neither of them pay attention to me. I might as well be one of the slides.

Today Miss Theresa took time out of her hectic schedule to seek out Jarrah a few times. And each time, I watched for Jarrah's reaction, feigning indifference. Each time it was the same. Miss Theresa approached, and Jarrah beamed. And then Miss Theresa reached for her, and Jarrah ran away, not even looking back, on to her next amusement. There are so many, after all.

That saucy little flirt. Playing hard to get. And anyway, Jarrah's got good taste. Miss Theresa is my favorite, too.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Patron Saint of Hot Beverages

I am miserably sick. Like, can't enjoy anything sick. Since we've had Jarrah, I've had about four colds. In nine months. Readers, I averaged one cold a year in my old life. And this cold is the worst because I have a heaving, hacking cough. I haven't had a cough, I kid you not, in about five years. Despite cough syrup and tea, my jaw aches from clenching it in an effort to keep my skull from exploding or possibly being blown off my shoulders. I know I shouldn't complain, but it all feels particularly unfair coming as it does on the heels of my food poisoning week. I guess I should just be grateful that I felt good on my birthday, right? Right.

I did have a cute thing happen this afternoon. I was having my Nicole time, which I spent shopping (I know that makes it sound like I can't be that sick, but believe me, it was like torture, and the shopping was NECESSARY, it was important, life-altering shopping, you know, like WORK) and wanted to cap it off with a cup of tea and a magazine in some cozy establishment. Problem is, I somehow moved to a neighborhood that doesn't have such an establishment, not even one. I think it's because the median age is 80 and most of these folks don't think loitering in coffee shops seems like a good time. Most of these folks probably also don't have a toddler at home. Anyway, I don't normally patronize Starbucks (it's no sacrifice: I think their coffee tastes like sludge) but I finally noticed one in my neighborhood today and decided I'd have to settle. When I walked in, I was actually taken aback by its coziness: stuffed chairs and paint in warm fall tones, music I listened to in college while staring mistily into the middle distance, and signs advertising the one thing they make that I like, the Holiday Peppermint Mocha. I approached the counter and a perfectly adorable redheaded boy (I've always had a soft spot for orange kids) asked me what I would like.

"I'd like some hot tea," I said. "Do you have different kinds?"

"Yes," he replied, and with something more akin to rapture than apathy, he proceeded to describe the dozen or so teas they carry on a special little key ring. With each name, he detailed the flavor and bouquet like a wine steward, and I bobbed my chapped nose up and down and tried to focus my puffy, pink eyes on what he was showing me.

"Another thing you can do," he said meaningfully, "is mix two flavors. For instance, you could do a Calm (Chamomile) and a Fresh (Mint) together. This would be particularly soothing if, let's say, you had a cold with a sore throat and cough."

I was suddenly alert. "Yes, yes, let's do that, then."

He continued looking at me meaningfully. "I'm going to give you a Venti [their largest size] because it's the same price anyway, and then you'll have more. Here's some honey, which I recommend you use."

I smiled at him, almost in tears. "Thank you."

He added, "It's a good idea to drink a lot of liquids."

"Thanks," I said again, wanting to hug him. "I'm really glad I came in here so you could take care of me."

And you know what? I meant it.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I Turn 40 And It Is Good

It's been a week and I've only just touched down from Planet Birthday. I am a big believer in extending the day for as long as possible, but may I say that if my '40s are anything like my birthday has been, then bring 'em on!

First, let's give credit where credit is due. I don't know what I did to deserve such a husband, but whatever it was, someone should give me a medal. Not only did David go beyond what was listed in the "Make Birthdays Special" column of the marriage contract (what, you didn't have that column?) but I was genuinely surprised more than once.

The day began after a refreshing repose wherein Jarrah snoozed until nearly 8:00. Thanks, baby! When I finally got up and ambled sleepily towards the computer, David asked if I was ready for my first birthday surprise. Readers, I was. He told me to log on to "" and up popped a blog he'd created for friends from afar to offer birthday wishes and memories. Within seconds, I was totally bawling. Dear ones, I am going to thank you all personally as soon as I can, but may I say that your beautiful words and often hilarious photographs meant so much to me that the whole birthday could have wrapped up right there and I still would have been the luckiest girl in the world.

But, soft! There was more. David brought out some non-virtual gifts. There was a touching and hilarious trio of flipbooks, those old-fashioned collections of photos that appear to be moving when the pages are flipped from front to back. David had sent in a snippet of video from which the company used the still frames to re-create the piece of video as a flipbook. Does that make sense? My favorite is called "Snacks," featuring Jarrah just days after we met her, two-fisting it with a couple of rolls bigger than her head (also see "Elegant Ladies" and "Seasoned Traveler"). The second gift was a little more "ma'am-like" in the best way: a gorgeous necklace with three Tanzanite blue stones as the pendant. Then, when I walked in the kitchen, I saw a gift I've been coveting for some time: a video frame, which shows a photo for a few seconds and then slides to another, with room for thousands, so you never get bored of looking at the same picture.

Wow! Already my birthday cup runneth over. But now we were off to a new pancake restaurant downtown called Richard Walkers, where we had the best apple souffle pancake of all time and a glorious sunny-crisp fall morning on the side. Though the excursion ended with an extremely smelly diaper in our midst, that was only a reminder of how lucky we were to be eating pancakes--finally--as a family.

The morning continued with a stop at DSW shoe warehouse, where birthday karma struck me hard and I discovered a single pair of size 8 Kenneth Coles with a wedge heel and the comfort quotient of slippers on the clearance rack. The clearance rack, Readers. Do you see that teeny, tiny tear on my cheek?

A brief stop home for a grilled cheese cooked by my darling husband (Vegemite for him, plain for Jarrah and me) and I was off again to a spa "mini-day," including a mini-facial, a mini-massage, and a maxi-blowout to de-frizz my 40-year-old hair with the new blonde highlights. They even let me apply my party face at a makeup station with perfect lighting, so I headed back to my car with lipstick and a sassy bubble flip, needing only to slip into my dress and slide into my new shoes before the festivities continued.

Everyone at the salon kept asking what I was doing that night, and I answered truthfully that I didn't know, but there would be people involved and that I had to look smashing. When I got home, my sister Lindsey was there with her boyfriend and her dog to greet me, and between fielding birthday calls and opening parcels I was quite busy until Nicole the Wonder Babysitter arrived (with a card for me, the angel!) quickly followed by Mary and Paul to pick us up in their spanking new car!

I wasn't that surprised when we pulled up at Baja Betty's (after all, I'd said to David months earlier "One place that might be good for my birthday is Baja Betty's") but you could have knocked me over with a tortilla chip when we walked into the bar and I spotted Lindsey talking to a gal who looked uncannily like my friend Liz, who lives in Switzerland. Hold the phone--it WAS Liz! She and David had plotted to surprise me, and not only was she here for the party, but the next morning we were off to The Oaks at Ojai for a glorious spa trip. I was jumping up and down and screaming, and had to sedate myself with a tall, frosty margarita. There were lots of local friends at the bash, too, and Mary had prepared a Leaning Tower of Cupcakes that was pretty bitchin', not to mention perfectly yum. I was smiling so hard all night that my face hurt. Things got a bit fuzzy after a couple margaritas but I'm afraid I was not hallucinating the man in the assless chaps, who was only one in a slew of scantily clad revelers. Like every year, I got confused: "Why does everyone dress up in costume for my birthday?" Then someone explains that it's also Halloween, and I'm sorted out for another year.

David had arranged an opportunity for me to belt out some show tunes in honor of the occasion (he knows me so well) but since most of us have babies and others of us were jet-lagged, we skipped the karaoke bar and packed it in on the early side. I didn't have any let-down, though, since I knew the next day would bring another adventure, and three of our guests were staying at our house.

The next day there was a grand group for bagels at our place, and some feverish packing for a noon train. The only bleak part of the whole weekend occurred on that train, since it was almost as crowded as one I'd taken years earlier in Europe, where I had to sleep curled around an 80-year-old nun in a sort of cargo hold. We had seats (riding backwards on the non-ocean side), but many others didn't, and the whole train was fetid and stinky you couldn't get into the cafe car. It was also delayed, and by the time we got to Ventura, it was dark and we were starving. I tried calling the only local cab company, but they were dismissive and we ended up standing on the platform in the dark with a homeless guy yelling "Nice butt," wondering if we'd ever see our spa dinner. When the cab finally came, a little old lady we'd befriended was going to be left alone, so we insisted that she come in our cab and we took a 20-minute detour to her house. Shortly after that, our driver, who was built like a bodyguard, announced he was stopping for gas, pulled into a little station, and vanished. Completely. "I think he wants to make us into a stew," Liz whispered, and I wish she hadn't because then I was convinced that my payback for a great birthday was going to be visiting a wood chipper instead of the spa. Much later, he emerged, and we saw him go shopping at the convenience store. After what seemed like hours, he returned, and I clenched my teeth as we wended up a one-lane highway through the dark woods, only relaxing when the lights of Ojai finally appeared.

Luckily, the Oaks is the friendliest place on earth, and when they saw our travel-worn state, they welcomed us right into dinner without having to check in first. Soon after, I found myself lying in the dark for a "bedtime yoga" class. And so began a blissful couple of days characterized by fabulous fruits and veggies that I didn't have to cut up myself, tribal dance, losing my bathing suit bottoms during aqua aerobics, sunrise walks through the foliage and foothills, lots of yoga, and a hot rock massage. There may have been a "spa girls on the lam" night on the town involving ice cream, but what happens in Ojai, stays in Ojai. There were also lots and lots of dishy chatfests between two friends of 13 years, but, again, see above. ;)

David had arranged our return trip to enable our first annual trick-or-treating with Jarrah, and an hour after arriving home we were off to Synthia and Scot's for pizza and x-treme fun for Jarrah, who got to boss around three-year-old Hannah and four-year-old Leigh, both of whom had the charm and good manners to accommodate her. Jarrah loved walking from house to house, but only because she was excited by the decorations and the opportunity to shove her way into other people's homes. She had never seen candy before (I know what you're thinking, and I'm not an idiot: I figure I've got six months, maybe a year, before the jig is up) and wasn't sure why she was being required to carry stuff, but she found the general glee contagious and only occasionally overwhelming.

And even then the birthday celebration was not over, because I had Liz to myself for another whole day. On Wednesday she got to experience the mayhem of Border's Babies, and we both got a lot of shopping done. We also watched Jarrah wrestling with three children whom she literally stumbled upon at the park, and who were more than game to let her hug them to the ground. To salute our American heritage on Liz's last night away from Swiss-German food, we went to Outback Steakhouse (yes, yes, I see the irony, but trust me; I'm married to an Australian, and their food bears no relation.)

Thursday was a bit cold and sad, with Liz departing at the crack of dawn and back to business as usual with Jarrah at My Gym. Still, even though I was worn out from celebrating, I retained a rosy glow from the festivities, and just enough energy to bake my dear husband an apple pie for his pains. No doubt the delights of the past week have me looking younger already.