07 May 2013

My diminutive spire

It is a glorious day outside--May has treated us well, weather-wise--but I am tucked in bed at noon on a Tuesday. First the Mister got sick, this weekend, when we had planned a grand excursion to Brussels that included a trip to see this Baby Animals exhibit at the Natural History museum. Gabriel was so excited. We didn't go, especially when I woke the next morning with stomach upset and cramping.

I thought I was feeling better, and managed to get through the day yesterday, albeit weak and dizzy, but threw in the towel and asked the Mister (who still isn't feeling great himself) to come home early, and then experienced the worst night of, um, intestinal distress I've ever had. The kind where I had to throw the baby back in his crib and listen to him scream at 3:30 am while I hunched in the bathroom. I had to yell to M (who has been sleeping in the guest room for a few nights so he doesn't wake the baby with snuffles and sneezing, or pass on whatever he has) for help. Oof. I've barely eaten for three days.

I'm praying, hard, that I recover, and that the kids don't get sick, because we fly to Boston on Friday for a couple of weeks. This trip was already planned (I'm scheduled to present a paper at a conference), but it's providential that we're headed to see my family now.

Because mom's cancer is back. Another tumor, another round of different treatments. We're still waiting to find out what's ahead, and absorbing this news. My birthday is tomorrow, Mother's Day is Sunday, and my mom's birthday is a week after that. Somehow all of this, and being sick myself, coalesces into a swirl of fever dreams and happy sadness. Sad happiness. Being sick inside on a perfect May day. I think about her in the walking moments and the still moments.

Friday I stopped in our beautiful Beguinage just to breathe a little, listen to birds chirp in silence, to soak up the delicate morning sunlight and gentle breeze. And I thought about mom, feeling worried and brave at the same time, scared and calm and trusting that she--we--will all just take this as it comes.

I came across this poem by e.e. cummings, one I hadn't known before, and somehow it's the right poem for right now, winter by spring. The right poem for sitting in the Beguinage, asking God to give me the patience of mountains. I lift my diminutive spire to merciful Him.

Poem 77, from 95 Poems
e.e. cummings

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
--i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
--i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

24 April 2013

Suiting up

After all my kvetching yesterday, the sun has come out in glorious force--it should get up to 70 today! Gabriel has a half day on Wednesdays, so it's perfect timing for us to have a picnic and some ice cream and wander around outside with just him and not the baby, who is happy as a clam at daycare (although I have an ongoing struggle to get them to offer bottle before food and not vice versa...I'm afraid Eloi's weaning and I don't want it to be because they aren't doing what I ask them to...).

Somehow, on Monday morning, Gabriel got fixated on the idea of going to the beach. The Mister kind of played along as they had breakfast, which must have turned a pretend scenario into what to him was a fact and concrete plan for the day. So when I started making his school lunch, he cried and said "We not going to school," and when I said very clearly that indeed we were, he burst into genuinely devastated sobs. "We goinna beeeeeach!" (The plan also somehow involved a truck, but I wasn't around for the development of that so not sure how it fits in.)

Poor kid. I wish we were going to the beach too. He has remained stuck on the idea, to the point where he is reluctant to enter his classroom in the morning (it's not the beach) and asks to go to the beach as soon as I pick him up from school. We've explained that when we fly to Boston and visit grandpa and grandma in a few weeks THEN we can go to the beach, but though he gets that idea and talks about going on the airplane to go to the beach, the amount of time he has to wait until then is hard to understand for a three year old.

The latest development in the ongoing saga occurred this morning, when I was dressing him for school. He balked at taking off his pajamas because he saw the clothes I had picked out, and said, "I want to wear a...a... suitcase." Confused, I thought maybe he was thinking about packing and told him we'd put his clothes in a suitcase when we fly to America, but he said no, WEAR the suitcase. To go to the beach.

AH, I said. A swimsuit?

Yeah! With turtles on it. (He is remembering his swim trunks from last summer, which he hasn't seen since last August.)

SUITcase, swimSUIT. Language is funny, kid.

(In unrelated language funnies, he has taken to asking for "cozy bread." Which means, NOT toast or dry bread, but soft. Which makes perfect sense--all the other things we describe as cozy, like his bathrobe, a blanket, his fleece pants, and snuggling on the couch, are soft and squishy too. So cozy bread it is.)

23 April 2013

Always fragrant, benign

Today is my favorite Catalan holiday, Sant Jordi. I love it because it has all the nice things: gifts for your loved ones, flowers and books, history and legend (Saint George and the dragon). 

The Mister left at 5 am for a quick overnight business trip, but when I made my way downstairs with the kids a red rose and a wrapped book were waiting for me on the table.

April has been sluggish and cold: the sun shines, but without warmth. A gusty wind blows that requires me to don my hat and scarf and gloves. However, I've stubbornly broken out my spring clothes, deceived by a few warm days during which we (and everyone else here) practically fell over ourselves to have picnics in the park and eat ice cream. So I'm usually too cold as I schlep the kids around, gritting my teeth into the wind.

Gabriel went easter egg hunting in the snow (oh, our little trip to the Ardennes was a big success! but then we all got sick again the following week). I keep thinking it HAS to get better. It will.

In the meantime, a poem for Sant Jordi's day by Salvador Espriu, the great Catalan poet. Soon the suffering dragon, the boredom, the cold rain will be locked away...

Les Roses Recordades

Salvador Espriu

Recordes com ens duien

aquelles mans les roses
de Sant Jordi, la vella
claror d'abril? Plovia
a poc a poc. Nosaltres,
amb gran tedi, darrera
la finestra, miràvem,
potser malalts, la vida
del carrer. Aleshores
ella venia, sempre
olorosa, benigna,
amb les flors, i tancava
fora, lluny, la sofrença
del pobre drac, i deia
molt suament els nostre
spetits noms, i ens somreia.

Remembered Roses
Salvador Espriu

Do you remember how those hands

brought us the roses of Sant Jordi,
the old April light? It rained
slowly. Us, bored and maybe ill
behind the window, watching
the street life go by. Then
she came, always fragrant, 
benign, with flowers, 
and she locked the suffering
of the poor dragon away, far away,
and she ever so softly said
our dear names, and smiled at us.

27 March 2013

Attempting to click "publish"

I don't fully appreciate Eloi's general laid-back personality until he loses it. Yesterday and today, he's got one of those baby-misery colds with low-grade fever, constant snot, possibly an ear infection. Continually tired but only sleeps for twenty minutes at a time, compared to his usual solid 1-2 hour naps twice a day. Kvetchy and cranky and only wants to be, whimpery, in my arms. So I hold him, or he cries for a few minutes while I run to do something, then pick him up again. Sad little dude. But boy, it makes me realize how nice it is that, as long as it's not eating or sleeping time, he's usually a seriously content kid, happy to bat his toys in his play pen, scootch around the floor in search of lint to nibble on, or flap his arms in happiness while he hangs out in his high chair.

It's not great timing for him to be sick, because we're leaving on Friday for our first little family getaway, one that doesn't involve flying to a different country to visit others. Instead we are renting a Citroën Berlingo, holing up in a stone farmhouse, and spending a few internet-free days in the cold damp of Belgian spring. We're hoping to explore the Ardennes a bit, but if we have sick kids, we might just stay in and read lots of books. It might be a disaster of not sleeping and whiny cooped-up children, or it might be a relaxing break from our regular routine. We shall see.

Ever since we exhausted ourselves with airplane trips and jet lag this Christmas, we resolved to stay put for at least a few months, so we made M's family visit us for February break instead of vice versa, and we're not taking a trip during the two-week Easter break, except for this four-day getaway, and again M's parents will come to us during the school break. We do have a trip planned to the US in May, but at least we will have managed to made it five months without getting on a plane. (Maybe the longest I've gone without doing so in...gosh, more than ten years? Maybe we also went about that long the spring Gabriel was born.)

And I have to say, this resolution to stay put has been SO GOOD. Whether it's the not-traveling, or the developmental step of turning three, Gabriel (dare I even say it?) has been SLEEPING. Predictably. All night. As in, we tuck him in at 7:30 and he pores over a book or two on his own then puts his books away, crawls back into bed, then falls asleep. And stays asleep ALL NIGHT, possibly waking himself to run to the bathroom (on his own) and running back to his warm bed (on his own). And then he sleeps until 7:30 or so, and wakes up happy and rested. This is... huge. We've struggled for three years over sleep issues with this little guy, and it feels really really good that he's somehow figured it out. The sleeping, and the staying asleep. I'm curious to see how he'll do in a different bed in a different house, if the good sleep habits will transfer... With our track record, probably not, but hopefully it won't be hard to get back in a rhythm after just a couple of days.

I've been managing to keep up with my five-year diary (although I abandoned it last fall for a few months, I've gotten back to it), and it's been amazing to compare what life was like just one year ago. Gabriel at just two was just so much younger--until going through this stage I wouldn't have realized what a difference 2, then 2 and a half, then 3 makes. At 2, Gabriel was still baby-ish in many ways, and we were still, again, going through a big rough patch of sleeping.

We'll see how things develop with Eloi, but although he is still feeding frequently during the night, he goes to bed at 6:30 like clockwork, and I can lay him down in his crib drowsy but awake, and he'll fall asleep. Likewise, after the feedings, I lay him back in his bed and he drifts off without protest. (In fact, if we bring him to our bed during the night, he has difficulty falling asleep, instead excitedly grabbing our faces and flopping around.) Gabriel was the complete opposite, and was never able to fall asleep quietly in his crib on his own, even after many strategies and routines and attempts, so I have high hopes that we won't have to go through quite so much drama with this child over sleeping issues. Of course, Gabriel potty-trained himself without so much as an accident, and to make up for it Eloi will probably be the opposite. Or whatever. I'll take it!

Speaking of sleep, the baby has stayed asleep long enough for me to write this entire post! Poor thing, I hope he keeps sleeping, because he needs it. I'm going to download a few photos of egg decorating from yesterday and do a little menu planning for our weekend away (sticking to the basics, just in case the house is outfitted with, like, one frying pan and one pot).

25 March 2013

The secret blog

I have to confess something: there is an entire, second blog's worth of draft posts waiting to be published on this web page. But I don't publish them, and I'm trying to figure out why.

In part, because they are unfinished and raw and I write them fast then never find time to go back and polish. In part, because when I post so erratically I don't want the one entry on my blog in a month to be me complaining, for example, about the physical toll of parenting. In part, because this blog has an identity crisis: I wish I could write mainly about words and poetry and books and languages and living abroad, but I really write mainly about babies and kids and being a mom.

But also, and I'm starting to think this is the main reason, who I'm really writing for is myself. I get nervous when I think about people reading my little thoughts or stories of our family, but those are the things I want to set down, so I will remember them, a long time from now. I don't want or care much about links or pins or tweets or reader counts--although I do like the thought of loved ones being able to keep up with our lives, a little bit. But Facebook more or less fills that function, doesn't it?

I'm not sure what to do with this realization. I doubt I will go back and publish those other posts--they're linked to a moment in time that was a week ago, a month ago, a lifetime ago (literally a lifetime, when it's Eloi's life). But that's exactly why I am anxious to record, and anxious to keep writing. I love looking back at old blog posts, before kids, or when Gabriel was a baby (even though there aren't many of those). My own words capture and trigger my memory better than Facebook status updates or even photographs can. In addition, despite my qualms about audience, the at least quasi-public nature of a blog is what motivates me to continue to write.

So. We shall see. I will keep writing, and maybe or maybe not clicking "publish." And, because this is exactly the kind of thing I want to remember forever, in all of its messiness, a little portrait of our morning:

7 am. I am laying dozily in the warm bed, next to a baby who has decided that it is morning and life is grand! Squeal! Clap! Screech! Log roll! Scoot to the edge of the bed and attempt nosedive until mom grabs a leg! I should be getting him dressed, because the Mister is dropping him off at daycare this morning, exceptionally, due to all the ice on the ground and due to the fact that I have a work meeting. But Gabriel has, in the meantime, also come into the bed from his room, and is curled up so cozily in the hollow of my arms.

So the Mister, who has just dressed himself, starts dressing the baby next to us, and Gabriel touches his forehead to mine and whispers "hi! g'morning!" with a grin. The Mister is late, so he is getting frustrated, and then Gabriel starts flailing his feet and maybe-on-purpose-maybe-not almost kicking the baby's face. So I grab his feet to me, and sternly tell him that his feet should not be anywhere near the baby's face. We have a little talk and I try to convince him that we should get dressed too, but he earnestly tells me, eyebrows raised, gesturing at the clock he can't read, that we should stay in bed "a foo moh minutes."

The baby is now lotioned, diapered, and dressed. The Mister sets him in the bed and says that he'll go down to eat breakfast, and I suggest that he take the baby with him so they can leave more quickly. But he doesn't like that idea, because he's thinking he'll have to manage the baby while running around--as he does every morning--to find the last-minute items before departure. But I tell him to stick the baby in the high chair, since that's what I do every morning while I prepare the kids' breakfast/school lunch/daycare bottles. I try to say this neutrally. But the running late and possibly the fact that he had to dress the baby when I should have done it make him tense and we are both a bit snippy.

But here's the kicker, and the reason I am telling this story. While the Mister and I are having this interaction, the boys are sitting on the bed, facing each other. I have half an eye on M. and half an eye on them, a hand on Eloi's back to make sure there's no pushing or kicking or the baby doesn't dive off the bed. Instead, Gabriel leans forward and puts his arms gently around Eloi, and says softly, so I almost don't hear it as I listen to the Mister, "Good morning. I love you, baby brother."And then he gives him a kiss on the forehead.

This, in all of its messiness, is life with small children. It's kicking and kisses, snuggling but also running late, shrieks over clothing changes and then two seconds later swagger over a "cool" shirt, a gurgling clapping baby then an enraged hungry baby, and you never know what's coming next. It might be a bit of magic, even in the midst of crabby sleep-deprived conversations.

I want to remember this particular bit of magic, so I'm recording it here. A picture is impossible, a Facebook status doesn't cut it, my memory won't hold it given that I'm operating on months of no more than three consecutive hours of sleep. Given that it's just an ordinary morning, a morning out of thousands like it. But now it's here, in this repository.

20 February 2013

Where we are now

Hi. I have been here all along, although the blog languishes in silence. The longer I wait to post, the less likely I am to post, because I want to catch up on everything, five months' worth of everything.

So this is a warm-up, a little post meant to get my toes wet. I want to make myself just dump out a few thoughts and not worry if they don't cohere or if I leave things out.

Eloi is eight months and a half. He's gigantic, wearing the clothes that Gabriel wore when he was a year plus and walking around (and I thought Gabriel was a big baby!). Eloi doesn't even crawl yet, a fact for which I am grateful, because I know as soon as he does it will be insanity around here. For now he rolls around quite efficiently and has started to scoot. He is only *meh* about solid foods and has only just acquiesced to drinking from a bottle (of pumped milk) at daycare (after months of trying; he started in December). He has the widest toothy smile (seven teeth! he got his first two at four months) and when not hungry or tired is consistently a happy-go-lucky baby, content to hang out wherever I plop him down. I was thinking about Eloi's birth yesterday as I walked past the hospital, and realized I never wrote it down. As each month slides by, it will be harder to remember, so I want to do that soon.

And Gabriel turned THREE last weekend, which is mind-blowing in itself. He is cheerful and funny, and likes building elaborate castles and animals with his blocks or legos. "Look mom, it's a giraffe!" His toast is a crocodile, his blanket is a cape, the pillow is a hat, a tree, a mushroom. "I a tiger," he says, but he pronounces it "tijher," I guess because of Dutch. He often says, "I too!"--he wants to be sure he's included. He got close to tears the other day because he was asking for a vitamin and I thought he was asking for a "fireman," and couldn't figure it out. Those are the hard tears, the frustrated ones, the "I'm trying to tell you something but you don't understand me or I can't explain it" tears. He is starting to notice the difference between "boys and grills" (which reminded us of our nephew calling them "girdles"). He likes to cook with me and pretend cook with his toys, and asks to watch "recipes" and "toff chef" on the internet. I could go on and on. He's his own little person, this astounding three-year-old, this sweet kid of ours.

January was frigid and yucky, sleety and damp, and we were sick with endless maladies of the kind that one gets in January when one child attends daycare and the other preschool. But so far, we've had a more mild February, and the sun has even peeked out in the last few days. We had M's family in town to celebrate Gabriel's birthday, and M and I actually got to go out for two meals AND a movie on our own during that time.

I am more active with the university now, and find myself a coordinator for an upcoming conference. After Christmas I attended the big disciplinary conference in Boston, which was awesome not least because I got to see good friends. I had a job interview in January, which did not result in a job, but which was an exciting development nonetheless. (The less exciting part was when our internet went completely dead the DAY before the skype interview and would not come back on. I scrambled to set up at a friend's house and the internet came back with only hours to spare.)

My mom was completely cleared after her long journey of cancer treatments, as they found no evidence of the tumor just before Thanksgiving. But after a truly wonderful Christmas celebration all together in Maine, she got the flu, then pneumonia, then a scary loss of weight/strength and then cognition that landed her in the hospital for a week in January. The docs still don't know exactly why that happened, but it was probably the weakness combined with the previous brain radiation. SO, so scary. We were the ones who brought the flu with us at Christmas, I think--Eloi was sick, then me, then Gabriel with a VERY high fever that lingered for a week and required an ER visit, the first time we'd ever had to bring him.

(This account skips entirely the whole month we spent in Maine back in late September and October, stays in Boston and a trip to Madison, the birth of a new baby niece--the first girl cousin!--and then a trip to Barcelona for the last week of October. You can understand why we opted to not take a scheduled trip to Barcelona last week...after a crazy fall and holiday season we just couldn't handle another round of travel and jet lag and whacked schedules.)

At this particular moment in time, we are all healthy, the sun is out, the baby wants milk, and I have work to do. But there! I have wetted my toes.

13 September 2012

The lively air

It's been a while since I've posted any poetry. An old favorite of mine by Theodore Roethke has been ringing in my ears lately, especially as I feed Eloi. Its rhythm, its meanings easily adapt to feeding a tiny baby:

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

~Theodore Roethke

The poem captures those blurred lines between thought and emotion, between knowledge and physical motion, between fear and joy--all of it grasped better in the twilight deliciousness between sleeping and waking. I think babies must experience all of this in an instinctual mesh of sensory input, and that Roethke's rhythms reach toward a lullaby to that end. So what I hear as I think of these lines from my baby's perspective goes something like this:

The Feeding

I wake to nurse, and take my waking slow.
I feel my way to feeding and I have no fear.
I grow by nuzzling in these arms I know.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I grin a milky grin from ear to ear.
I wake to nurse, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
My mama! I see her and smile softly there,
and grow by nuzzling in these arms I know...