Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Big Fish

Today I took Jarrah to Sea World for the first time. The suggestion came from our frequent companions Jessica and Olivia, and at first I was resistant. For one thing, I hate the idea of blowing a huge wad of cash on someone who finds hours of fun in a shoe box. For another, the last time I was at Sea World I was like a Victorian maiden in a too-tight corset, so faint was I from the crush of bodies and swelter of July.

But it's January now, and purchasing one eye-bulgingly expensive ticket makes it a "Fun Pass" good for the entire year. Sea World could become a frequent playdate location in the off-season. And I must confess that a teeny, tiny part of me was nostalgic for the Sea World days of my own childhood. Okay, a biggish part of me.

The first stop was Shamu's tank. One of my favorite things about Jarrah's current demographic is that whatever you suggest to her, she's excited about it. I kept saying, "Do you want to see Shamu?" and she'd nod eagerly and jog faster, though I might as well have been saying "Do you want to see a shrub by the side of the road in Bakersfield?" for all she knows about Shamu. And the big fish did not fail to impress. That's a great big ol' black and white fish the size of a truck. Hell, Shamu still takes MY breath away.

We arrived at the dolphins just a hair too late to feed them, but they did come yapping to the surface a few times and we could admire their velvety beauty. Jarrah wanted to hop right in there with them and I had to hold her back.

We did the Shark Encounter, but the only part that truly thrilled Jarrah was the moving sidewalk through the 360 degree tank. Sharks right over our heads? Who cares when the floor is moving? Woohoo!

The grand finale (why push it when you can come back any time you want?) was the Clyde and Seamore Sea Lion show. We've taken Jarrah to a live show only once before, when she was almost 14 months old, at the Wild Animal Park, featuring a freakishly cute newborn elephant. We made it through three minutes before her vigorous tush-kickings of the family in front of us made us beat a hasty retreat. What a difference a year makes!

From the moment she sat in my lap, Jarrah was riveted to the stage, even though it was really far away. Two sea lions and a very cute little otter performed various tricks of jumping, swimming, roaring and clapping, and at the end, a giant pink walrus named Admiral Biggenbottom was mysteriously rescued by something or other and trundled out to roll around. Jarrah clapped wildly when Admiral Biggenbottom was "saved," though I wasn't even sure how she could tell.

I'm not sure why, but during the show, my throat was hard and dry and I couldn't swallow, and tears kept blurring my view. Every time I clapped for one of the animals, or explained to Jarrah what was happening, it got worse. The only thing I could think of is I had come back to this place (let's face it--that sea lion show has been the same for 35 years) I went as a kid and had my own kid on my lap. Knowing that she was seeing it entirely new, in a way I can't anymore. Knowing that I am helping her do that. It really made me feel like an adult, and for once, I was kind of glad about it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dear Eye for the Mate Guy

Conversation over dinner a couple nights ago:

Sam: What are you wearing?

David: I don't know.

Sam: Are you wearing my cashmere sweater?

David: Maybe. Probably.

Sam: Where did you find it?

David: I don't know.

Sam: Was it on the floor?

David: I guess.

Sam: So basically, you got dressed in the dark, put on the first thing that felt like a shirt, and then left the house without looking at yourself.

David: Right.

Sam: Huh!

David: It fits okay.

My husband is a brilliant man--an inventive, creative man. Some might call him a genius. At least I do. And, like so many geniuses before him, he can't be bothered with the mundane aspects of quotidian existence, all those bothersome details like food and clothing and basic upkeep of the physical plant. Luckily, he now has a somewhat compulsive, controlling wife to cut his hair, buy him moisturizer and socks, and provide him with nutritious meals from time to time. Do I sound smug? Fair enough. Let's wait and see if he contradicts me. ;)

Here's another example of my favorite distracted genius incidents, this one from a few years ago:

Sam: Where did you get those pants?

David: From my closet--what do you mean?

Sam: I don't recognize them.

David: Why should you recognize them?

Sam: I live with you--I know what pants you have.

David: I doubt it.

A few weeks later:

Sam: (finding the pants on the floor) These can't be your pants.

David: Why not?

Sam: They're too big. And they're not Levi's.

David: I must have bought them big.

Sam: You don't even buy your pants. I do. Why would I have bought them big?

David: Who knows?

Sam: These aren't your pants.

David: Stop saying that. They're my pants. Who else's pants would they be?

Sam: That's what I'm trying to find out. Could you have gotten them mixed up with someone else's at work?

David: What? Why would I have taken my pants off at work?

Sam: I don't know. At the gym?

David: You know I don't go to the gym.

Sam: Hmmmm.

A few weeks later:

David: (leaning over with a smile in a public place) Guess what? You were right. These aren't my pants.

Sam: I knew it! How did you figure it out?

David: I looked at the size. They're a 36 waist.

Sam: 36! You wear a 33.

David: I know. That's how I figured out they had to be someone else's.

Sam: But you're still wearing them.

David: Well, yeah. They were in my closet.

Sam: But whose are they?

David: I really have no idea.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy New Year

January is off and running like a fleet-footed gazelle, and I am panting after the herd trying to catch up. Thus, the dearth of recent bloggable moments. I know I've overlooked a doot-doot trip (or three) in there somewhere.

In the biggest news, we had Jarrah's official 2nd birthday party, and it was a gala event. I succumbed to last-minute "Harridan Syndrome" but with David and Mary's help, I pulled out of it in enough time to enjoy myself. See photos for proof that the guest of honor was quite the celebrant, too. We were lucky with the brisk, sunny day and nimble assistance of Suzie and Tiffany at the YMCA, who plied the birthday girl and her friends with balloons, bubbles and parachute time. I flatter myself that even the adults enjoyed themselves, since a crowd lingered right up to the end. For two weeks preceding I had been rueing my decision to host such a large affair, but success has thoroughly brain-washed me into believing we can pull it off every year.

In other news, Jarrah continues to adore preschool, and though she herself remains mum on the subject of her days, I get reports from her teachers, who are still enthusiastic about our girl but have modified their praise with even-handed comments like "Jarrah is certainly a strong-willed little girl" and "We're having some issues with sharing." But Jarrah meets me at the door each time with a huge smile and lots of art projects, so I feel absolutely confident we made the right choice. Hey, the uninterrupted cup of coffee in the deafeningly silent house on those mornings doesn't hurt, either.

In developmental news, Jarrah's 2nd birthday has coincided with what I believe is known as "language explosion," meaning she suddenly has a word for just about everything. Many of these new words, curiously, do not have endings, just beginnings. For instance, "yawn" is "yaw" and "please" is "pee." My favorite, just because it's cute, is when she wants you to open a package and commands what sounds like "OH-boo-duh." Almost like "open up," but that doesn't quite make sense in context.

And speaking of commands, our house is now command central. She greets us from the crib in the morning with "Up!" or "Out!" She goes to bed with "Book!" She indicates readiness to leave in the morning with "Buh-bye!" or "Dar!" (aka "car.") She points out the salient features of the world with "Look!" (more like "Luke!") She eschews the stroller with "Walk!" Of course, there's always been "More!" but now it's the word instead of the sign. That goes along with "Snack!" or "Drink!" And now that there's no guesswork, we're expected to look sharp, too.

Also, does anyone have any advice about a sprinter? Jarrah is wickedly spry, and often chooses the times when I'm laden with bags and packages to flee the premises at a roadrunner-like pace. All my "come backs!" and "it's not safe!" fall on deaf ears, and when I finally catch her, heart pounding, head raging, I can grab her arms, get down on her level, look into her eyes, and say in my scariest voice (by the way, I do not speak hypothetically--this is what I've been doing) "Don't EVER run away from Mommy--do you understand? It's not safe!" and this has no discernable effect whatsoever. She doesn't even acknowledge that I'm talking to her. Today I was hating myself after one of these incidents, which took place at the zoo, with an audience of hundreds. What should I be doing? I'll confess I want very much to smack her at these moments, out of both frustration and terror.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Getting Schooled

I don't remember much about starting school. I don't remember preschool at all--maybe I didn't go? If I did, it was in Oklahoma, and all I remember of that place is junebugs. I have this too-convenient memory of my first day of first grade (which was only across the street) in which my mom got me dressed without underpants (they were all in the dryer) and sent me on my way, and I stood outside the front door and burst into tears, thinking she was playing a joke on purpose.

Mostly I loved school. In first grade, I was in love with math and my teacher, Miss Manning (later Mrs. Brown.) Sometimes she'd pull my braids and tell my mother, "I love her! Can she come to live with me?" and the two of them would laugh while I'd be repeating "Pretty please, pretty please, pretty please?" over and over in my head. I never did get to go home with Miss Manning, not even once, and soon enough I'd had my love of math stripped away, too. But school in general...well, it probably tells you a thing or two that I attended with nary a break for 27 years. September is like a siren call to me, and I am inexorably called to be smashed against the rocks.

This week is Jarrah's first week of school, ever. She was only permitted to attend once she turned two, and she had a good five days of two-ness under her belt before she set off. She will be attending twice a week through June.

The night before, I was a sleepless wreck. What if she paced up and down and sobbed like she did in the old days when we left her somewhere? What if she couldn't understand any instructions and stared blankly and eventually cried? What if she was uncontrollable, and spent the whole time screaming, "No, no, no!" Meanwhile, she was across the hall, snoozing without complexity. In the morning, she devoured a bunch of eggs and a yogurt shake while I packed her lunchbox with tiny Tupperware containers and picked out her "Back to School" outfit with attention to effortless fashion and a dash of flair.

David and I decided to take her together, though ordinarily he will go alone. My heart pounded as we sailed along in the sunny morning, though we kicked ourselves for having forgotten the camera. Jarrah was not alarmed by our arrival. Why should she be? She's been going to this same campus every Friday with me for four months. At the gates, we said hello to a couple other moms and out of the corner of my eye I could see Jarrah explaining to a total stranger about her new lunch box.

When we reached her room, her teacher greeted us and we handed over her Earthquake Kit (the theme seemed to be dried fruit) and Ziploc of extra clothing (there was a small, disapproving silence when I admitted I hadn't Sharpie'd her initials on everything.) And where was Jarrah when these business-like niceties were taking place? Ensconced in a chair across the room from us, cutting stars out of Play Doh. Soon enough, it was time. David and I approached gingerly. She didn't look up. He leaned in for a kiss. "'Bye, Jarrah. I love you." I leaned in, "'Bye, Jarrah. I love you. I'll see you at one o'clock." The last bit got me one brief, quizzical glance. And that was all. We walked quickly towards the exit. The director poked her head around her door and murmured, "I'll call you if anything comes up. But nothing will."

I enjoyed my morning (it felt so strange to be without her in the morning!) but apprehension returned as our reunion grew nigh. I was waiting outside the locked gates at 12:45, along with another mom whose son had also started that morning. "I called--did you? I'm such a dork," she said, and I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me to call. Suddenly there was a stream of children and I raced around the corner, heart pounding. I saw Jarrah, inexplicably sitting in the lap of a man who looked like Santa Claus. (David later reminded me that he is one of the room parents; I had forgotten in my anxiety.) She turned towards me and I thought she'd never looked so beautiful, her cheeks pink and her eyes shiny. She smiled, and then she turned away! I approached: "Jarrah, it's mommy! Can I have a hug?" She hugged me, but immediately took my hand to show me some wooden toys. All around me, children couldn't leave fast enough, but Jarrah was gearing up for another round!

Her teacher was beaming. "Jarrah understands everything. She was very good. And not a single tear." The room parent added, "And she ate such a good lunch!" I was a little dazed. "Well, her grandmother says she's 'a good eat-uh,'" I said, and they laughed. "We kvell from the good eating!" Jarrah took my hand and we walked to the car. She was chattering about "buh-bye." I put her in the car seat and looked back at her in the rear view mirror. "More preschool Thursday?" "Peez!" she said. Oo-kay, then!

The last thing her teacher said as we were leaving is that the real waterworks often come the second day, since by then the kids have wised up and know what's in store--mommy and daddy leave. So I was bracing myself again this morning, even though I wasn't there. David called and said, "It went great! She was already playing when I left."

When I picked her up today, there was a tidal wave of sobbing inside the room. Three or four children were wailing and gnashing their teeth; I didn't see why--utter relief to see mommy again? Jarrah, once again, was smiling and busy, and took my hand to show me how she could wash out a pot in the pretend sink. Both her teachers (one was on vacation on Tuesday) came over, huge smiles on their face. One said, "Let me tell you about your daughter!" and a huge rush of tears filled my throat. Yes, I thought. Tell me about my daughter. My daughter. "We love her! She's adorable!" "So independent!" the second teacher added. "She got out her own lunch!"

The kvelling flowed fast and furious for the next few minutes while I got Jarrah ready to go. She hugged everyone goodbye and showed me her art project. A teacher from another class walked by and said to me, "We're all falling under Jarrah's spell." Holy cherubim, Readers, this was a lot for me to take in. I still hadn't said a thing in order to avoid crying; I just kept bobbing and smiling like an idiot.

So independent, they kept saying. They were really thrilled about this. Part of me was so proud of her I couldn't speak. Part of me felt that nagging "what if" of international adoption: does this mean she's not attached? Amazing how the best news can fill me with doubt.

In the mean time, though, I'm going to try to enjoy this moment. The moment when my daughter embraced the academy, following in her mama's footsteps. This could be the beginning of a beautiful 27 years.