Sunday, November 3, 2013

A matter of life and death

Ok, so not really dead. Just a little tired. Especially after last night's clock shift. Whomever schemed up that evil plan did not have children in the household under five. Because you know what? Their awake time is invariant. Regardless of when you put them to bed. So remind me next year not to try to put them down an hour later to bed hoping that will shift them. All it does is get them one hour less sleep, and in the case of my son, who's usual 5:30 am wake time was now shifted to 4:30 am, this was just brutal. For everyone. OK, 'nuf grumblin'.

Speaking of the dead... this week marked Cally's first Halloween. Taran wanted to go as a white rabbit and seeing that we happened to have a hand-me-down pink bunny coat for Cally girl, we just made a whole theme out of it.

Even more importantly, we have arrived at Cally girl's 6 month mark (!!) - the duration of which I had braced myself for, having gone through it once with Taran. And yes, we certainly have had our rough moment or two (or five), but I'm also amazed at how much more smoothly it went then I anticipated. Maybe as second parents we just know to take things more in stride, that the phrase, "this too shall pass" is so apt when it comes to the lows (and the highs) of those first few months, when a baby's brain and body seem to be exploding in every direction like a touch-me-not seed pod.

With that six month mark has come rolling over from back to belly in either direction,

but no rolling from belly to back. This means we have become human pancake flippers around here, as she is super enthusiastic about rolling to her tummy but significantly less enthusiastic about consequently getting stuck there. And for weeks before this skill was mastered, in fact before we ever saw any outward sign that it was being worked on at all, her sleep went absolutely to hell. But now that she can at least roll one way, and has also learned to sleep in that position, things are starting to settle and a few long naps are creeping back in.

She's also sitting up. For at least a minute or two on her own until something distracts her, or her unaccustomed muscles peter out. And then she lists towards the floor in any manner of unpredictable ways and directions. We just try to keep the path clear of hard objects along the perimeter and usually have our legs around her in a protective cage.

Most excitingly, eating has begun! Not surprisingly, she is an enthusiastic eater of everything - pumpkin, carrots, beets, oats, apples, vanilla bean pears. Well almost everything. Cinnamon sweet potatoes were intermittently spit out but I'm suspecting the lumpy texture was the culprit. As a family that relishes good food, it's gratifying to be able to share this slowly with her, even in the tiny increments that we have been able to thus far. This has been especially true when I found her swooning over the carrot-beet puree made from veggies which I grew myself in our own backyard.

As my father said when he saw a recent picture of her giving one of her patent earnest stares at my camera lens, "She's IN the world". That she is. Joe and I were talking about her budding personality the other day and we're still figuring it all out, but one thing we know for sure, being next to her is like soaking in the warmth and comfort of a slow-burning fire.

Taran has been no less rapid in growing and learning in his own way. There are the awesome things that just fill me up with pride and amusement - his imagination that pours forth in the stories that trickle over his lips in a semi-sensical babbling stream;

 his continuing consuming passion of music (he goes absolutely nuts for Glenn Gould's Goldberg variations);

his unrestrained physical expression of joy in movement when he hears that or any other music or when the song is some silent reverie in his own head;

 his increasing competence in the strength of his own body and what he can accomplish with focus and determination...

And then there are the more emotionally nuanced developmental leaps. Now that he is 3, and in preschool three morning a week, the making and maintaining of friendships has taken center stage, and all the parental heartbreak that goes with that territory. On one of the first days of school, while nesting under a blanket surrounded by his animal buddies he asked me

Taran: Mama, who are my friends
Me: Well, K Bear and Belinda, B Dog and Laohu.... [you get the picture]
Taran: No Mama, who are my REAL friends

Gulp. I think I need to be making more effort for play dates. This is hard when, as an extreme introvert verging on anti-social, reaching out to others on any sort of regular basis is not my style. Don't get my wrong, there are many people I love and am over-joyed to see. Once in a while. But most of the time, I'd rather not talk if I don't have to. This can pose incredible difficulties when you have a chatty three year old. By the time I get to his bedtime, I feel like I have spent every last ounce of social energy I have during the day being as engaged with him as possible. When Joe sits down next to me when we are finally alone, to chat about our day, it's all I can do not to give him the stink eye. Seriously, how do marriages ever survive the first five years of having children?!

Here's another snippet of conversation that kind of slayed me:
Me: How was school today
Taran: Fine
Me: Did you enjoy playing with anyone today?
Taran: I played with Andrew for a little bit but then he needed his spaces.

Taran is enormously warm, loving, friendly, enthusiastic.... and a bit of a personal space invader.

So THIS is what happens when I cross through the personal space bubble
So we've spent a lot of time talking about personal space bubbles - who is in the nearest bubble (family and very close friends), how to recognize when you are in someone else's bubble (if you reach out an arm can you touch them)? and how to kindly ask someone to give you space ("ok Cally girl, now you can stop touching my hair").

There is one developmental milestone that I've been fearing having to confront, his realization that I will someday die. And so will he. We've been circling this one for a while, like a plane waiting to land at the Philly airport. Some of his exposure to death has been in small instances that create only the tiniest of ripples in his emotional tide pool (the tomato plants didn't survive the hard frost, but we'll have more next year). Other moments, as in the recent and unexpected death of Joe's uncle, have left him with questions much harder to answer and answers much harder for him to comprehend. In this instance, he needed to ask again and again, what happened to Yu-sheng? Where is he? Why did he die? I'd like to say I had ready and reassuring answers to these questions. I did not. It's been a long time since I myself could find any welcome alleviation from fear of death through the belief in heaven or reincarnation. But as in all major life questions that Taran faces, I'd like to give him room to find his own answers without imposing my beliefs, or lack thereof. But I think it only leads to confusion to let a child know that "some people believe in heaven and some people believe that the soul comes back in another way and some people believe that the energy that is in your body returns to the earth to help other things to grow". Too many answers, none of them definitive and therefor satisfying to him. When he asked (again and again) why Yu-sheng had died, I said, "because nothing lasts for ever, darling".

And then a couple weeks later, it came. The question that I think I dread above all others. When he asked, it was like you could see the dark realization of it slowly seeping across his body, wrapping him in the thick, sticky, awfulness of it all.... "Mama.... will you die?" And because I had known that the concentric circles leading to this defining moment had been growing smaller and smaller, I could say with calm clarity, "Yes darlin', I will die. But I hope not for a long time." Then several days later he asked again. This time at bath time with Joe present. When Joe heard the question, I could almost feel his intake of breath. This time it was followed with, "Mama, will I die too someday?". Slowly. "Yes sweetie, you will die too someday. Nothing lasts for ever." I looked up at Joe, the sick pooling in the back of my throat, and saw the tears well up in his eyes. I have often been amazed by the willingness of humans to love what they will inevitably lose, but never have I been so incredibly filled with the enormous insanity of it all as I was in this moment. And so deeply, deeply in love.

You are so in a rush little one - to be older, to grow faster. Every day you exclaim, "today I'm 4", "today I'm 7". But your Papa and I, we are clinging to these moments fiercely. Because we know that life if fleeting and this crazy, intimate, entwined-every-moment-of-the-day time with you is all too brief.

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