Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gaudeamus Igitur

I had a life-forming ("life-changing" doesn't seem accurate when you're 17) experience at Smith College. Mind you, it's nuts that I even wound up there, coming as I did from Orange County, CA, with absolutely no ambition. I was at a college fair my senior year, rolling my eyes while my friend shmoozed someone at the Cornell booth, when a cool gal named Stephanie started chatting with me from the next booth. She had just graduated from Smith, and asked if she could send me an information packet. I wrote down my address, just to be polite. Next thing I knew, my dad was all excited about it (he went to Princeton, and dated Smith girls, as he calls them) and there was an application, an acceptance and a grand tour which lasted most of the day (my dad and brother dumped me off and I became an honorary Smithie for the day, lunching at the houses, sitting in classes, hanging in the hallways.) I still didn't think it was a good idea ("Why are there no men? Is it a religious thing?") but my parents exerted a certain pressure, and suddenly it was September and I was flying 3,000 miles to go live in an ivy-covered "house" (no dorms at Smith) with 83 other women. And so began one of the great adventures of my life.

Smith is small--about 2,700 students--and gorgeous (it's a National Arboretum.) The entire student population lives on campus. The dining staff leaves bowls of cookies and apples out between meals. There's a grand piano in the TV room. You go down to breakfast in your pajamas. Sometimes people ask me if it was like a sorority. I say that I don't know, having never been in a sorority, but I doubt it's a regular occurrence in sororities to be discussing Rabelais in the hallway over pizza at 2 a.m. Smith is filled with smart women--we like to say that "At Smith, if something's going to get done, a woman is going to do it." Being at Smith made me more confident, and independent. My Smith friends and I are still, after nearly 20 years, the ones who ask "What the hell?" when something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

So, twenty years, yeah. That's a long time. I've been back for every reunion, and it always feels like picking up right where we left off. One year, eight of us drove to Target to buy matching $5 white platform shoes so we could march in the alumnae parade with the correct color footwear. We go to Packards for beer and burgers and whoop it up like teenagers. We watch the alumnae parade (in which our gang is moving ever closer to the front of the line) and get a little misty-eyed. We drink and dance and talk and laugh and cry.

The last time I went to a reunion, I was a bit put-out by a new development. A lot of my classmates had brought--horrors!--their small, loud children. True, I had brought my husband for the first time, and that changes things. But the children...hogging the bathrooms, screeching at mealtimes, crying in the middle of the night through the thin 19th century walls. It was a drag. What was even more of a drag was that I was currently doped up on some fertility drug crapcake that made me moody and weepy and pissed. I was 36 years old and noticing I was not so much like these women after all. They were having families. I was having shots. I felt like I was standing on the other side of an ever-widening faultline, watching the people get tinier and less distinct. More than the weather was unseasonally gray and frosty.

It's been more than four years since that weekend, and a lot has changed, as my Faithful Readers well know. I've had my own kid for the last 18 months, and no longer wonder who the nurse is talking about when she says, "I have a mom here..." I no longer find it wondrously strange that a very short person can always been found directly on my heels, beseeching me for more snacks. It's my life now, too.

This past weekend I was reunited with two of my close pals from the halycon days of Smith. Re lives in Seattle, and Noriko in Los Angeles. The former has a 3-year-old daughter, the latter daughters of 6 and 2. Re set up a beach date and we got together for a picnic, sand castle-building, tide pool-trolling, big wave-shrieking-and-fleeing, and snack-filled circle time. In the brief interludes between these activities, we talked and laughed and caught up on each other's lives. It was wonderful. And along the way, I had the privilege of seeing my friends with their children, and our children together. Cadence taught me how to navigate the rocky tidepools. Maia gently guided Jarrah in and out of the waves. It was a veritable love fest. Everyone was holding hands. It couldn't have been an easier day, or a sweeter one.

I discovered that Noriko, who was able to pack up my sophomore dorm room into about five boxes while I watched in awe, and Re, who when I lived with her in Boston after college managed to eek out palatable dinners with nothing but tuna fish and Kraft dinner, now apply their myriad talents to toddler-wrangling--no surprise. My friends, who were smart, forthright, curious, and personable at 21, are now raising daughters who--also no surprise--take after them in many ways.

It was a healing experience to spend time with my Smith friends as the person I am now--and as a parent. It made me hopeful that I might have some qualities I would be proud to pass on to my daughter, who doesn't share my genes, but shares my house, my days, my life. I was deeply touched by how natural (and there's a word that's anathema in adoption, so often used to distinguish biological parenting) it felt to be a mom alongside other moms, especially ones whom I admire, with whom I have a history that far precedes motherhood. And how they welcomed me and my daughter into their space, as if I had never spent five years being someone else, a miserable, shriveled husk of a person who could think of nothing but what I didn't have, what I couldn't become.

As I get older, I sometimes find myself in the middle of a moment that I can tell is important in some way, a moment that throws the rest of life into relief. These are the moments when I can observe that change has taken place, and remarkably, that the change is okay, even good. At the same time, I can appreciate, with a pinpricking poignancy, that something else has now receded, become fully a memory, a part of my past that is truly behind me. What makes that memory--now a complete, whole thing just out of my reach--so important is viewing it from the place I am now. A place I am glad to be standing, where it is not at all hard to find myself grateful.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Summer Collage

Despite my kvetching about her zest and enthusiasm for all she does, Jarrah does seem so grown up to me these days.

I was just reviewing my posts from last August, and reports were much the same: trips to the beach, the FCC Summer Picnic, preparing to start school. And then there was my visit to the pediatrician to discuss Jarrah's language delay...HA! Now she never stops talking.

And those reports were about a baby. Sure, an active baby, a dexterous baby, but a baby nonetheless. This weekend we went to the FCC Summer Picnic, and Jarrah marched in the parade once again, but this time she held the "Chongqing" sign with the other girls from her province, and exulted about the thrill of the "prade." Seeing the grin on her face as she marched along gave me a little lump in my throat. This summer, Jarrah knows the names of her other friends from China, and they are "bess frenz."

The biggest difference I notice between last summer and this one is that Jarrah and I understand each other now. Not just in the sense that she understands English and can speak to me and hear what I'm saying, but in the sense of becoming a human being, which is something that apparently happens even to toddlers. ;) While I wouldn't describe her as reasonable or empathetic yet, there's a way in which she is beginning to understand consequences, and feelings, and the order of days. She wants our attention, but she wants to give affection, too. Just in the last month, she's begun spontaneously hugging and kissing me for more than a millisecond at a time. That's something I hadn't previously experienced at all, since I met her as a squirmy, busy toddler. Just this week we were dancing in the living room to Free to Be, You and Me, and we had a spontaneous Hug-In that lasted for a good ten minutes. It was a very odd feeling, and a very nice one. I am not used to snuggling with my child and I hope there's going to be a lot more of it.

Occasionally I despair of her ever using the potty on a regular basis, or losing her craving for a certain suckable object. Then I remind myself that I also despaired of her ever speaking, and even (for a brief time) of her walking. I was getting concerned about her inability to pedal a tricycle, and then last week I watched her wheel by me at Play Town like she'd been doing it all her life. So I guess the moral of the story is, she will learn to swim and do everything else whether I worry about it or not, so I might as well not.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Force of Nature

So, this probably has no answer but...why is Jarrah like a shark, meaning it seems that if she stopped thrashing about for even one second, she couldn't live?

Sometimes at the mall, I observe the well-dressed, smooth-coifed ladies who are lingering thoughtfully in front of a display of capri pants, or serenely ordering a latte with lots of "no" this and "extra" that. And in front of them is a stroller, very much like mine, containing a small child, very much like mine, but with a crucial difference: the child is lolling gently forward or back, slightly glazed of eye and drooling of lip, sometimes holding a soggy snack but just as often holding nothing but his or her space in the cosmos, and most important of all...making NOT THE SLIGHTEST SOUND.

I wonder, did these ladies engage special tutors for their dear charges, or perhaps send them to a secret toddler finishing school where screaming and flailing were extracted through means stopping just short of inhumane? Is there some kind of "Mother's Little Helper" in their sippy cups and I didn't get the memo? Or (and here's where I get really mystified) were these children actually BORN this way, content to lounge adorably in their traveling chairs, gazing wide-eyed at all the wondrous, wondrous details of Mummy's world?

At home, do they perch in the corner on a velvet tuffet, gently thumbing the pages of a treasured volume, a sweet smile twitching the corners of their ruby lips? Do they respond "Yes, Mummy" when asked to put away their toys, immediately cease ramming their shopping carts into bare heels, refrain from digging their little digits deeply into Mummy's eye shadow? Perhaps these children don't inflict bodily or retail damage at all, EVER???

Because my child, lovely and diverting though she may be, NEVER STOPS MOVING. Scratch that: when she is passed out like a college student after an all-night kegger, she is still. Which is not to say I don't LIKE her moving about--she's an avid dancer, and makes some really priceless gestures when she's explaining something or telling a story. But she seems practically manic to me a lot of the time. In her stroller, she twists and slides, hurls things off her tray, cranes around to flip the shade open, or if I hold it closed, high fives me repeatedly through the plastic moon roof. If I stop to look at something, or even just to find my phone, she contrives to wiggle to standing position, or hunches on all fours like a frog.

When I try to take her to the mall, like I did this week, she begins screaming "Gee-out! Gee-out!" the second we hit better sportswear. She will then promise solemnly not to run away, but run away she will, and I'll end up chasing her (while she laughs maniacally) the length of a football field. On the rare occasions that she doesn't run away, she spends her time whacking all the clothes off the racks, then ordering me to put them back, or flings herself between piles of garments shouting "I can see you!" I end up perusing racks with 50 percent of my attention, and pretending to play games with the other 50, and I must be a bit slow because apparently I need 100 percent to locate even one item that I actually want to try on.

In the dressing room, she yells "Me! I try it! Me, me, me!" while stuffing her head into pants, jackets, anything she can find on the floor or near it, rattling the door and trying to figure out the lock, riffling through the diaper bag for snacks, removing all the items and repeating "Whas that? Whas that?" when she knows perfectly well she's holding my sunglasses.

If I actually pause to buy something, she thrashes and yells in the stroller, or if she's not in it, attempts to push it away or over my foot, or stands directly between me and the salesperson shouting "Fruit leath-uh! Want fruit leath-uh!" Or, she'll point to other people in the line and say "Whas that? They SILLY!" When all else fails or I am unable or unwilling to produce another fruit leather, she resorts to wailing in a studied way, producing a fountain of tears in the first sob, occasioning not a few conversations between shopping mothers and daughters in which the daughter will say "Did I used to act like that?" and the mother responds quietly (perhaps still a little shell-shocked?) "Yes, honey. That's how babies act."

Sigh. In the grocery store, she will not ride in the cart, unless it's one of those kiddie police cars, in which case she rides for a minute, then suddenly dives out one of the windows when I'm going around a corner or trying desperately not to buy the wrong relish again. If you see us shopping, I'm the one bracing myself behind a vehicle the size of a semi and almost decapitating my child, who has decided to stick her head out just as I narrowly pass an aisle display of tuna cans. In between short intervals of "driving," Jarrah yells "Snack! Want that one! Open!" until my head hurts.

At home, Jarrah follows me from room to room, asking "Wha doing?" even if I'm putting on socks. She insists on copying everything I do, going so far as to pretend to have knots in her hair if I'm combing out mine, or requesting the color shirt I'm wearing. If I am standing or sitting, she's not satisfied until she's draped over me like a fluffy skirt, so that if I move a fraction of an inch, she goes crashing to the ground like a creature with no vertabrae.

So, I guess what I'm really wondering is, is it me? Am I crazed fidgeter myself, and she's just picking up on my vibe? Is all that fruit leather overtaxing her neurons? Has she grown so accustomed to a daily schedule designed around her delight and delectation that she just can't bear any activity that isn't? Or maybe I'm just not paying enough attention to her?

Or I suppose it's just that she's two. Or, as she likes to tell me these days, "Mommy, I two half." I'm not worried she's going to need any drugs or anything, but I might.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Girlfriend's Guide to Telling Stories to Toddlers...NOT

Last night in the car after a long day out, Jarrah was tired and crabby. Lately, I can quiet her down if I offer to tell a story. I asked her if she'd like to hear one, and she said yes. I asked what kind, and she said "Jarrah and Joy story," natch.

Sam: Okay, once upon a time, two little girls named Jarrah and Joy were playing at a park when they suddenly found a big tunnel in the playground! They crawled inside, and they kept going, and going, and going...

David: ...and then they realized they should never climb into tunnels!

Sam: (nervously) ...and at the end of the tunnel, what did they see? It was The Land of Kittens! There were orange ones, and black ones, and white ones, and stripey ones, and polka-dot ones...and they were having a party! And there were cupcakes! With frosting! And sprinkles! And Jarrah and Joy ate up their cupcakes, and the kittens asked them to come live with them! But Jarrah and Joy said, 'We love you, kittens, but we miss our mommies and daddies and need to go home.' So they crawled back through the tunnel...

David: ...and you never want to go in tunnels!

Sam: ...and they heard their mommies and daddies calling to them! And they had missed each other so much. After they hugged, the mommies and daddies said to Jarrah and Joy, 'Where did you go?' but Jarrah and Joy looked at each other and decided to keep The Land of Kittens a secret just between themselves...

David: ...and you NEVER want to keep secrets from your mommy and daddy!

Sam: (more nervously) ...and then they hugged again and Jarrah and Joy were so glad they were home. The End! Do you want another story?

Jarrah: I tell you story.

Sam: Great idea!

Jarrah: Unce a time...two girls...Jarrah and Joy...went in tunnel...saw kitties...kept secret. Went in tunnel...saw choo-choo train. Went in tunnel...kept secret. Came home. Missed you. Went in tunnel...kept secret. The End!

Sam & David: (applause)

Sam: Well! You've got some really impressive recall there!