Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

Life feels a little heavy this week. I'm not sure how else to describe it. The school year is coming swiftly to an end, which means tons of work and stress for both Carrie and me. Emotions are running high throughout the district due to budget cuts and pink slips, and I can't tell if I'm exhausted, frustrated, disenchanted, or just coming down with some late spring allergies. It all feels like an altered state of funkiness and I'm now just as guilty as my students of counting down the hours to June 18th.

I know - sounds more like the storm before the calm, and yet less than a month ago I was raving about how much I love my job because it's rewarding, unpredictable, and so fast-paced that I'm back at home with Amari in no time. Lately, however, counseling in the school setting has left me feeling both unappreciated and ineffective, like a band-aid on a cancer who gets concerned comments from both the doctors (teachers) or the cancer itself (parents) saying, "Umm, Jimmy still has that cancer thing going on in  class. Do you think you talk to him about it?" Turns out the cancer is totally contextual and is completely in remission in my office. Go figure.

I'm just venting. If there are any teacher/friends of mine reading this, please know that I'm speaking very specifically about someone very much in particular whom I know isn't reading this. Please know that I have an infinite amount of respect for the oncology work that you perform on our students. You guys are more like large guaze bandages. See what mean about an altered state of funkiness?

And now for something completely different...

Ahhhh, nothing like Monte Python quotes to change the tone from cynicism to utter futility. When I wrote the title of this entry, I was sitting on my couch - much like I am now - watching the post-game interviews after an exciting, game-winning shot by Ron Artest sent the Lakers-Suns series back to Phoenix with L.A. up 3-2. As  life-long Laker fan, I should have been elated, maybe even giddy. It was the type of shot every championship run has - that little bit of luck that favors the prepared (All-Star loaded) team. Instead I was distracted by the giant shelf of videos to the right of the television, the sharpened hatchet lazily resting by the burning hot wooden stove, the sewing kit full of needles and buttons and scissors, and the countless other lethal objects scattered around the living room. "Jesus," I thought, "This place is an infant death trap."

Last week, two things happened to inspire this thought. First, as Amari slipped into a light, post-feeding nap, I slipped her onto the couch and nestled her gently into the confining rim of the Boppy that had served to protect her in just such instances for over six months. I paused for a moment before leaving her, remembering the many cautions that there would come a day when Amari could not be left alone like this. "She's sleeping," I thought, "today won't be that day." Half way back from the kitchen, I heard Amari's instantaneous, escalating cries. There were no warning fusses of her waking and wriggling, no thud as she hit the floor below, there was just an empty Boppy where moments before my daughter had been resting peacefully in a safe, pain-free world. Lesson learned. No more unsupervised, elevated, naps.

The second thing was less frightening, but also less predictable. Although Amari is getting much more proficient at getting her knees beneath her and rocking back and forth in preparation for crawling, she still can't move forward. Instead, much to her chagrin, she continues to scoot backwards. There have been times, however, driven by sheer necessity towards a pacifier or a large, pink, musical bunny, that Amari has been able to swivel herself in a circle. Nonetheless, with her limited mobility, I felt comfortable leaving her in her favorite play area with a wall behind her and colorful, distracting incentives to her left and right. Moments after I turned my back, she pulled out a new move I now call "The Crab," and managed to move herself sideways towards new, unanticipated hazards. When I returned to the scene, Amari, firmly planted on three limbs, had grasped the lip of the trash can nearby and was seconds away from putting back on several used diapers.

Although I've seen friends' houses evolve as their children have grown, books climbing shelves, sockets being sealed, cupboards growing barren and locked, I hadn't accepted this reality as just around the corner. Carrie has been complaining since Amari's birth that time is going by too quickly, that she's growing up too fast, that she's always going to be moving farther way from us. "First she came out of me," she's said, "then she'll crawl way, walk away, go to some east coast college, become a travel writer in the farthest country away from us..." and so on. Although Carrie has a poetic flair for the dramatic at times, she's absolutely right this time. Meanwhile, I've been taking Amari's wonderful nature and even temperament for granted, assuming that once she can crawl, she'll probably still just want to just hang out in one place - play her keyboard, hang with Creepy Bear, watch sports, etc.

I love my comforting delusions.

Today, when I dropped Amari off at Susan's house, she took her first crawl forward. Propped in the classic lion yoga pose, rocking her body to and fro like a track star prepping for a race, she propelled a single hand forward, kept her balance, then rocked some more. That was it, a single move - subtle. If I'd blinked I would have missed it and I would have been sitting on my couch relishing the most recent step in yet another Laker's championship run. Instead, I'm mentally rearranging the entire house, cursing myself for not putting more energy into my dream of Nerf furniture.

Tonight - sleep. Tomorrow - "redecorating" our future.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Half a Year Later...

Life is a trip, and being a new father often compels me to revisit - by association more often than choice -  distant memories triggered predictably by songs and photographs or unexpectedly by the smell of Eucalyptus trees and ocean.

Although like many my childhood was a bumpy ride, the wonderfully protective filters of reminiscence help me feel okay with the way things unfolded, grateful that my parents loved me enough to become a good person, a caring husband, and an adoring father. With all of life's challenges came a certain depth of understanding that has allowed me to join the common thread of humanity, a balance I desperately needed with my genetically transmitted ambivalence.

Amari turned six months old on Cinqo de Mayo, and once again I let the day pass by without mention. She continues to grow in both size and spirit, and every day she does something that takes my breath away. Usually it's a stare and a smile, or new animated expression, but there's something so genuinely sweet and contagious in her enthusiasm that it feels novel every time. It doesn't matter how much time has passed, she greets me with the same joy. I can go to the bathroom or the kitchen or duck behind the couch for two seconds and when I return she smiles as though I've been gone for days. Now I duck behind the couch a lot just for that look.

These days Amari spends most of her time on her tummy, pushing her little butt into the air in an attempt to propel forward towards a toy or a pacifier or our cat. Much to her dismay, her arms are much stronger than her legs are coordinated and she invariably pushes herself farther away from her goal. I sometimes think about getting two of everything, so I can put one in front of her and one behind her. That way if she scoots back far enough she'll reach her goal. Instead, I sometimes take my foot or my hand and give her legs a little help.

Amari's communication skills are growing louder and cuter, albeit less predictable. Sometimes she'll wake up at two in the morning and be ready to talk. This drives me nuts, but a useful parental defense mechanism known as sleep-deprived psychosis has me hearing things like "Dada" or "Mama" or "Go Giants" that keep me interested enough not to stay too grumpy.

Other than that, Amari is also eating solid foods now. Mostly corn chips and whole cherries, but sometimes we go with the old fashioned blended stuff. Actually, Carrie did a lot of reading about introducing foods, so we've gone from the extremely bland and uninteresting rice cereal to the tastier blended fruits and veggies. So far she seems to enjoy everything. The challenging part now is eating grown-up food in front of her and trying to make it look like its no fun at all.

                                     "Mmmmmmm...mushy stuff."

So that's about it as far as Amari's recent developmental milestones. She continues to progress much like any child her age. Oh yeah - except that she recently started playing guitar.

         "Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be 
               the top number and make that a little louder?"

And doing a little bit of keyboarding.

                       "Ugh. This Red sounds like it's Green Flat"

Plus she has taken up amateur cat taming - mostly just as a hobby.

                                           Amari with Wild House Cat

Other than that, however, totally normal kid.

Lastly, I discovered the joys of the video this week. It was a rainy Monday morning in our coastal hamlet when I was struck with the inspiration that can only come with too much time alone with six month old muse.



Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mom's Day

Since my mother passed away a few years ago, I've jokingly scoffed at friends scampering about for last minute Mother's Day gifts. "Yup," I'll say, "Don't have celebrate that one anymore." I've been saying the same thing about Grandfather's Day since I was five and First Puppy Run Over by a Dog Day since before kindergarten, so I'm pretty used to it. Generally, my dark humor is met with an envy-filled uncomfortable silence. This year, however, no sooner had the words left my lips, than I realized the uncomfortable silence was not with regards to my dead mother, but rather the very much alive daughter in my arms and the furrowed brow of the woman who mothers her daily.

Oh yeah. Never mind. I love Mother's Day.

I actually did put together a little collage for Carrie last year with pictures of our cats, Penny and Odie, along with the twenty week sonogram picture of Amari. On the top of the page it said "First Annual Future Mother of the Year Award." Yes - the occasional romantic gesture still manages to surface from beneath my suffocating, eye-rolling cynicism at Hallmark holidays. Fortunately, Carrie's on the same page. In fact, had it not been for Mexican take out and an extra episode of Mad Men, today would have passed much like any other.

Nonetheless, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge this day because Carrie is a new mother. Not only that, but she is a first year teacher, a fourth year wife, a ninth year committed partner, and a thirty-one year-old superstar. She was recently walking with a friend who was admiring her ability to balance these various parts of her life, and when she came home she confessed to me that she didn't feel like she was being a very good wife.

I hadn't once felt that way. I've never once compartmentalized her roles and kept score. She is an exceptional partner in my life - historically a girlfriend, a fiancee, a wife, but now a mother, and a damn good one. I'm pretty sure she's much better at this than she thought she would be, that her fears have turned out to be completely soluble in moment-to-moment demands of parenting.

Carrie, you deserve to be acknowledged every day. I probably won't do that, but please know that I love and appreciate you all the time. Happy Mom's Day.

On a side note, two things happened recently which, although entirely independent in time, may actually combine to make this blog much more interesting.

1. When I recently asked Carrie if I could post certain pictures she said, "Whatever," which I translated as somewhere between "Go ahead" and "I'm tired of arguing about this."

2. While Carrie was catching up on this blog recently she said, "Uhg. There's a lot of text," which I interpreted as somewhere between "I've been so selfish for not reading your thoughts about parenting religiously" and "I wish there were more pictures...or even VIDEOS."

I'm a pretty good translator of subtext - mostly because of the huge amount of text I apparently write about raising our child, so I'm going to err on the side of more photos...or even VIDEOS. I hope this works. This was a one minute clip of what a loving relationship Carrie has formed with our daughter.

Enjoy. More pictures soon.


Happy Mother's Day everyone.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spring Break Part III: Homeward Bound

Could I drag this out any longer? Have I mentioned that it's nearly impossible to finish things now that I'm a parent? It's 9:30 on a Sunday night, I'm exhausted, and yet I'm determined finish this Lonesome Dove-like saga lest it end up on "The Pile" with everything else I've started in the past six months.

When I was a kid, I remember a certain box of Tuna Helper sitting in my dad's kitchen cupboard for three relationships and more than seven years. It became a running joke with my friends and until this moment I always thought it was an indication of my dad's domestic indolence. Now I'm convinced that the Tuna Helper was around since my birth, that my dad fully intended to dispose of it, but eventually resigned to including it in the price when he sold his house.

Onward and upward and downward and homeward...bound.

A few weeks ago, as I was driving around with Amari and listening to the soothing sounds of Simon and Garfunkle, I was swept into that dichotomous feeling of nostalgia - heavy and heart-wrenching yet wonderfully warm and safe.

"Tonight I'll sing my songs again,
I'll play the game and pretend.
But all my words come back to me,
in shades of mediocrity,
like emptiness in harmony,
I need someone to comfort me."

Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs_YQ6JuNpA&feature=related

I wondered why I was having such a strong reaction to these words. I remember loving that song during my college days, leaving the album in my CD changer along with Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks,"for weeks, but it felt like more than that. I remember my mother playing another S & G song "Sound of Silence"  on her guitar and I wondered if she played this one, too - before the childhood amnesia wiped it from my memory. I couldn't explain it, nor did I need to, but it got me thinking about the songs I've been playing for Amari on our drives, the curious impact they may have on her years from now as she's making sense of her world - perhaps driving with her own child.

One song in particular - "Lucky" by Jason Mraz and Colby Caillat - has become an excellent sedative for Amari on car rides. While I was learning to play it on the guitar, Amari got more than her share of both the song and of me trying to sing. Eventually, she seemed to enjoy the recognition, the vocal connection to the dad/driver she couldn't see. On one drive over the hill, she started fussing every time the song ended, but as soon as I played it again, she was quiet. I ended up listening to it about fifteen times before reaching my destination. Fortunately, it's a really good song. And yes, I  do the girl's parts, too. Only when Carrie's not in the car.


When I shared this with Carrie on the way back from Tahoe, she said "Lucky" was one of the songs she played while Amari was in utero and during the birth. Good thing I was paying attention. She then pulled out the birthing CD and we tried playing the songs that Carrie listened to most often while she was pregnant with Amari. The results were both positive and consistent - more than just lucky, wink, wink - and we made it from South Shore to Davis without having to sit in the back.

Our stop in Davis was much too brief. We visited a friend of mine with whom I share many of my college memories. Although she began as a friend of a friend, Diana ended up feeling like family, and the visit felt no different. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen her - maybe five or six years agoe - but she welcomed us into her home, entertained us with animated stories of the times in between, introduced us to her beautiful family, and sent us packing with a car full of toys and clothes for Amari. Thank you, Diana. Let's keep the stories animated but the times in between much shorter. Here's the Berti family sans daddy Lorenzo who was in San Francisco for a conference.

                                          Diana, Dylan, and Daphne

Unfortunately, when we woke up in Tahoe Thursday morning our car looked like this

which meant that we had to delay our departure until the roads cleared. Ultimately, this meant a shorter visit with Diana, while Matt of "Almost Perfect" fame had to be cut out of the itinerary all together. On the plus side, it meant that once I got over not seeing Matt again, I had time for a quick photo shoot with Amari. Turns out she's a freakin' rock star, but without the alcohol, drugs, vomiting, and incarceration. Well, sometimes the vomiting.

                    Looks like your run-of-the-mill guitar case...

                                           but on the inside...

 a future album cover

                                                   See ya later, Babaji

In the spirit of pictures being worth way more words than I feel like writing, I would like to add that, even though we didn't stop to see Matt, when we drove by his exit in Fairfield I was able to capture a "mind picture" of just how much fun Amari would have had with him.

Matt is very happy if not a little creepy in my mind pictures

It's good to be home...