Happy baby, happy mama.

July 29th, 2008

The rusks are here. Life is good.

Slowly, slowly

July 28th, 2008

I unrolled my yoga mat this morning for the first time since before Little Boy C was born. He is eight months old now; that’s a long time between Downward Facing Dogs. I can’t even call what I did this morning yoga – I did what I used to consider a series of warm-ups before the real yoga positions.

It was a revelation, and not the good kind. I cannot bring my head to my knees – an entire person could fold her torso to her shins in the space left between my forehead and legs. I was dismayed at how shallow my Downward Dogs are, a slight bump on the horizon instead of the sharp precise angles I used to form. I couldn’t quite remember the sequence of the Sun Salutation and had to glance at my exercise book before I began. I moved through the positions slowly, gingerly. I remembered something Christina once wrote, and rather than berating myself for this sorry state of affairs simply apologized to my body for my months of benign neglect. It’s all I could do, besides finishing off the Sun Salutations.

But as I did the exercises I could feel my body remembering, making small adjustments, striving for perfect posture. I’m a beginnner again, no doubt about it, but the person who practiced yoga for years still lives inside my body. And when I finished saluting the sun I felt the familiar tingle of my blood flowing through my body. And when I took my shower my posture was a little better than yesterday.

Lego-man: five francs. Watching Little Boy A buy it: priceless.

July 24th, 2008

We stand in front of the shelf full of Lego toys. Little Boy A points to a firetruck set he wants. It is not in the section I’ve told him he can choose from, not in the section he can afford. But ever since we watched the City of Bern Fire Department put on a demonstration last October, complete with a practice-run of cutting the roof off of a car to free “injured” passengers, Little Boy A’s fantasy life has revolved around fire-trucks and ambulances; occasionally a police car makes an appearance, but the fire-truck is the true star of the show.

“Mama, can I have this?”

I look at the price. “Well, this costs ten francs. You have five. These ones here are the only ones you can afford. If you really want this firetruck then you have to save the five francs Grossmutti gave you and wait until you have five more francs.” I want him to pick this option, I want him to decide to save his five francs and come back later. I know he will not; delayed gratification is not his strong suit – though he’s perfectly content to wait until Christmas for this – but I want him to pick this option even as I know he won’t.

“Then can I have this?” Pointing to an ambluance.

“That’s ten francs, too. Look, sweetie, these boxes here are the only ones you can buy with five francs. If you want to, we can wait until you have ten francs and can come back then.” I don’t want to tell him what to do, but I want to tell him what to do.

“Hm.” He looks at the little boxes he can afford. He is very serious and very careful. “I like this.” He chooses a street-sweeper: a little Lego man with a little street-sweeper, a garbage can, a shovel, a broom, and three Lego pieces of garbage. It’s a pretty good deal, actually, for four francs ninety.

“I think that’s a good choice. Look, he’s got a street-sweeper and a garbage can and a broom and a shovel! Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. Are you sure this is the one you want?”

“Yes. Come, Mama, let’s go over here.” He leads me to the cash register.

Gruesseuch, mittenand (hello),” says the cashier. Mittenand – the word that is used to apply your greeting to more than one person. The man at the fish counter said it the other day when we bought salmon for dinner – Gruesseuch, mittenand, – including my young son in the transaction. The ladies at the bakery where we buy bread do it too. I have always loved how people make a point of saying hello to both of us when I go into a store with Little Boy A and now with Little Boy C.

Gruesseuch,” chirps Little Boy A – his voice is still so high, so child-like, so girl-like. How shocking it must be when a son’s voice changes. He hands up his box.

The man rings it up. “Vier neunzig (four ninety).”

Little Boy A dips into his pocket and pulls out his little wallet – it came with a pair of jeans, tucked into the back pocket and attached to a belt-loop with a chain. He unzips the coin-pocket and pulls out his five franc coin. (I love the five franc coin, heavy and solid, substantial in my hand.) A small golden five rappen piece – five cents – slips out with it.

“Whoops.” Little Boy A says. “Das passiert mängish (that happens sometimes).” He tucks the coin back into his wallet, hands the man his five francs. “Hier (here).” I am melting into a puddle on the floor next to him, the sight of him so carefully extracting his five francs from his miniature wallet, handing it up to the cashier.

Merci (thank you),” says the cashier.

Bitte (you’re welcome),” says Little Boy A.

The cashier hands him his change (“Merci,” says Little Boy A, slipping the coin back into his wallet and zipping up the pocket) and asks him if he wants a bag. “Nay, merci, isch guet so (no, thank you, it’s fine like this),” he replies and takes hold of his purchase and receipt. “Adieu, merci (goodbye, thank you),” we say together as we walk away.

I guess I’m supposed to  think about this socially or politically and be distressed that he’s such a perfect consumer, but I can’t. I see him moving through this script flawlesslly, this script that is so important socially in Switzerland. Say hello, always say hello, to cashiers and waiters and sales-people in stores even when you’re just browsing, always make greetings and return greetings; say please, say thank you; say goodbye and thank you again as you’re leaving, always say goodbye after you’ve made your purchase and you wouldn’t go wrong throwing in a have a good day as well – certainly if the cashier says “und schoene Tag noch (enjoy the rest of your day)” by all means you must return a “gleichfalls (and you the same).” These seems like such little things, these social code-words, but their omission is not just an absence, it is a rudeness in Swtzerland. I am thrilled and relieved that my son has absorbed this bit of Swiss culture. I am delighted that he knows this script, these social niceties.

And the gravity, the earnestness with which he opened his wallet and spent his five francs – these are the unexpected moments that make my heart bloom.

Taking stock

July 18th, 2008

Little Boy A is at the grandparents’ farm and Little Boy C is taking a nap. I make a cup of coffee and spread a sheaf of poems around me on the floor; the Tour de France runs in the background (in July a cyclist’s heart turns to France like a sunflower turning to the sun). I group the poems into two piles: “would be thoroughly horrified if I died and somebody found these and thought that was the sum total of my work” and “would not be horrified if I died and somebody found these and thought that was the sum total of my work.”* I move the cat, who is attracted to piles of paper laid deliberately on the floor as surely as if I had dipped them in tunafish, repeatedly. To my surprise, the “not horrified” pile outnumbers the “horrified” pile, but in all likelihood that is a function of my process: the truly horrifying poems have not been printed yet. They are still in the pen-and-paper stage.

I set aside the poems I’m not happy with (setting aside entirely the issue of whether I can ever be happy with a poem), concentrate on the ones I’m proud of. I sift them and sort them. I find common themes: poems inspired by old black-and-whites of my parents, my childhood, my fisherman father, infertility, motherhood, a pile that refuses classification. Several poems could fit in more than one pile. I have a pile of short poems like this and this that I’m pleased with. Of the poems I’m proud of my least favorite are my poems about motherhood – they fall so short of the true moment.

Why is that? The thing I want most to capture, the thing that pierces my heart, is the hardest to pin down.

* a distinction stolen, of course, from Anne Lamott

Teething in the age of globalization

July 17th, 2008

Some time ago, Australian Friend gave me a box of Heinz Teething Rusks. Her youngest didn’t need them anymore, but at the time Little Boy C wasn’t ready for them. He wasn’t teething yet, and then his first two teeth came in quite early and he didn’t quite have a handle on holding on to the rusk and getting it into his mouth. By the time the next four teeth came in – and yes, the poor guy did get four top teeth all at once – he had pretty good aim and we handed him a rusk now and then. And then and now. And now. And again.

They. are. incredible.

They are as hard as a rock. Seriously. As a rock. LBC can gnaw away on one of those things for twenty minutes without breaking off anything he could possibly choke on. When he’s done chewing, I can put it in a baggie and give it to him again the next day. I love them. I cannot live without them. How did I possibly get Little Boy A through a whole set of baby teeth without knowing about these? I must have them.

I must have them so badly that we just ordered half-a-dozen boxes from Australia because we have not been able to find them anywhere else, including in the US (R looked when he was there on his trip). The postage doubles the cost of the order and I don’t care. We must have rusks in the house before the next teeth start moving.

I love the internet.

Headwaters

July 10th, 2008

Little Boy A changes like mercury rolling around in a pan; the colors of his moods shift and flash like the scales of a fish in the sun.

At Gymboree today he gets into a grabbing and pushing match with another little boy over a ball. He pushes aside a girl who is reaching for the same sparkling fluttering soap bubble as he is. As long as he`s alone with me he is playful and having fun but he doesn`t want to play the organized games with the other kids; he wants to dance around in circles, dance and dance. I agree, even though we`re supposed to be playing at monkeys, hoping to burn off his energy and dance the contrary little demon he`s hosting today out of his system. He uses a small plastic ball to catch soap bubbles, calling out “Look, Mama!” when two delicate spheres land on his orange ball and hold there, quivering. He guards this ball fiercely against the other children, pushing away a girl`s hand.

Why all the pushing, suddenly, he has always been such a gentle boy, I do not know what to do with this pusher, this grabber. Where is my gentle son, when did he slip away from me like a clever fish, and will he come back?

Class is ending, we are singing the last songs and a little girl, J, starts crying wildly, I do not know why, I did not see what happened but she is sitting there on the colorful mats sobbing. Little Boy A stands up, picks up his precious ball and walks over to J, holding the ball carefully to preserve the soap bubbles that quiver there like the tears on J`s cheeks, and sets it down in front of her like an offering. J, in a fine temper, pushes it away; Little Boy A fetches it and returns it to her, then comes to sit at my side.

He does not look up at me hoping for praise, nor did I prompt these gestures in any way. It is the mercury. The pan has suddenly tipped and the scatter-shot pieces of my son have rolled back together again, silver and flashing. I pull him into me, kiss his hair, nuzzle his neck and whisper “That was such a kind thing to do. Thank you, that was so kind.”

“Why was that kind, Mama?” he asks.

“That was your very special ball,” I say, “and you gave it to J because she was crying. You thought of somebody else more than yourself. That`s kindness.”

“Okay, yeah. That was really kind of me, wasn`t it?” he says, fishing now for the praise he had not thought of in his moment of genuine childish kindness. I rise to the bait, why not, let me be an easy river today and send the fine mountain trout of praise to nibble at the outsized fly he has dropped so obviously in mid-stream.

“Yes, Little Boy A. That was very kind.”

The pan will tilt again, probably before bedtime, so I hold this gentle silver boy, this slippery fish, closer to press the memory of this into my mother-flesh. This moment, this boy, this place to which, when the storms of being three years old with a younger brother taking away my attention, we`ll return. I mark it on the map of my heart. This here, this place: this is our headwaters.

Confused

July 9th, 2008

See, this is why I need a writing group and a mentor: after several iterations of a poem, I`ve just revised myself back to the original draft. Now I`m just thoroughly confused.

Wimbledon then and now

July 6th, 2008

So twenty-seven years ago I was sitting on the couch watching Wimbledon, watching a new generation take down the five-time champion. It’s right there in my journal, in my child’s hand. And here I sit on the couch tonight watching the fifth set of Wimbldon as Nadal tries to snap Federer’s five-match winning streak.

I can see my child-self waking up early – six time zones away from London, that match was in the Chicago morning – going downstairs alone, having “breakfast with Wimbledon” in the living room. I probably had a waffle and a glass of orange juice; since my parents would have still been asleep, at least in the beginning of the match, I probably snuck my breakfast into the living room and ate sitting at the low coffee-table and cleared my dishes during a break between games. I probably had a school-girl crush on Borg; I probably didn’t appreciate the quality of the tennis in the least. I did know enough to know something historic had happened – I can’t imagine another tennis match that would have made it into my journal.

Here I am watching Wimbledon again. All these years later I still hold on to my childish faith in the magic of sport. All these years later I still believe in the power of sport to lead us to our best selves. I still believe that winning with humility, losing with grace, and pushing ourselves beyond our limits along the way are among the finest of human traits, and I still think athletic endeavor can teach us those lessons like nothing else.

All these years later, I still think that at 2 sets apiece, 5 games all, 40-40 a person finds out who she really is.

More delicious words

July 3rd, 2008

Here’s another one from Chabon: “There is a small, decisive clink, a bit hollow, like false teeth clapping together.”

It’s not just the startling combination of words that make these images so great but the way they fit perfectly into the style and tone of the work. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a crime novel, gritty, dark, full of noir characters: in the scene from which the line above is taken, the room is full of down-and-outers who probably have – or need – false teeth. And here’s another: “A Disney shtetl, bright and clean as a freshly forged birth certificate.” This to describe a neighborhood that’s home to organized crime on the eve of “the Reversion” when a good many people might be wanting forged birth certificates. Even the image from my earlier post: as the novel progresses Landsman, a police detective, and his partner are indeed comrades in a probably doomed adventure.

At some point I stopped dog-earing my pages to mark such perfect lines because I was turning back every other corner.

Protected: Just fence me in

July 1st, 2008

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