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.