Monday, December 20, 2010

And the Winner is...

In college I received an extremely eclectic education, which is a fancy way of saying I was both lazy and indecisive. What ultimately grabbed and held my attention was the field of psychology and my insatiable curiosity about human behavior - specifically my own. During my time at UC Davis, the Center for Neuroscience was completed and opened for business (research), so I applied for and earned an internship under a professor who was studying blood flow in the brain during short-term memory. The specific study I was involved in had me reading a list of words to subjects that included a sub-theme, a few words such as sleep, pillow, and sheets mixed into a larger list. When asked to recall whether they'd heard certain words on the list, subjects often claimed they'd heard a related word such as bed or dream even though they were not on the original list.

Outside the lab, I started to wonder about my own memories. How had time, association, or my own personal world view shaped my memories. How were they shaping my current experiences. There had been countless times I'd said to myself, "I'm never going to forget this," but only a handful of times that I actually remembered. What made some memories fade while others endured? Some research I read at the time suggested trauma preserved memory, but who the hell wanted those ones. Other studies indicated that glucose levels in the brain influenced the longevity of memories, but did that mean I should eat a candy bar every time I say, "I'm never going to forget this?" Chances are I'd just develop a powerful sense of nostalgia every time I smelled a Baby Ruth.

Did I ever find a satisfactory answer to my questions? If I did, I must not have been on a sugar high at the time because I can't remember jack.

The reason I mention this is two-fold. First of all, I feel as though I've been having random memories pop into my head lately - memories that I can't trace to their origins through the thoughts or feelings I'd been having prior to their emergence. Secondly, I've been wondering if the novelty of my early experiences as a parent gives them an edge in becoming long-term memories? Not to mention all the writing, pictures, and videos. I know childhood amnesia will wipe away many of Amari's memories, but I have no doubt that the sense of love and safety in the world she is developing will influence her future experiences.

In the past couple of weeks there have been many highlights, but in the interest of time and my aging brain's limited memory capacity I will include the top three.

Story Time

Amari loves her books. She loves to turn the pages, look at the pages, kiss the occasional character, and most recently actually listen to and interact with the story. When we read a sequel to "Harold and the Purple Crayon," Amari says a loud, "Mmmmmm" when they eat pie in the park, then imitates a monkey when they go to the zoo, and finally makes a bouncing bunny with two fingers when they run into Little Bunny Foo Foo. At bedtime the other night, I decided to tell her the story without the book and she made the same sound effects at exactly the right time. It was very sweet and it never gets old. In fact, that is now one of my favorite books.

Theatrical Debut

On the last day of school before the winter break, the high schoolers put on a Winter Workshop for the local elementary school. Carrie and I were recruited to sing Christmas carols and put on a small production of "The Shoemaker and the Elves." During one of the six performances Friday morning I decided to film the short play, and was rewarded with what I will now dub a Baby Ruth moment. If Amari ever goes into acting, this video will definitely be a part of her resume.

I also made another video which awards Amari B the Best Actress of 2010 for various Hollywood roles

Toddler Therapy

Just prior to the Winter Workshop, I took Amari over to the elementary school to wonder up and down their halls. Amari loves people - especially other kids. She waddled her way through the increasingly busy corridors, smiling and blathering "Hella's" and other incomprehensible noises. I was filming her up until she stopped and stared at a little girl sitting by the wall and crying. I turned off the camera and watched as Amari peered in at the girl, tilted her head to the side, peered in again, then toddled over and gave her a giant, heart-melting hug. The girl couldn't help but smile and hug her back.

"What a beautiful thing to be uninhibited by the world of social construct," I thought, "I'm never ever going to forget this." ;) 

Friday, December 10, 2010

From the Mouths of Babes...

Dear Amari,

I've started this blog about a half a dozen times in the past two weeks, but can't seem to get past the first paragraph. Some days I've complained about the weather, the cabin fever that comes with combination of winter and stay-at-home parenting. Other times I try to capture your latest development or accomplishment or just the way you bite into a piece of cheese and let out an exaggerated, heart-melting, "Mmmmmm." Trust me, Amari, it's not for lack of inspiration - just a serious lack of time.

Your growth as a little human being is accelerating now. Every day you do something new that makes me think, "Wow, she's really starting to get things." Everywhere we go people marvel at how much you've grown, how much you look like your mother, and how doll-like and adorable you are. Tonight, as we walked through the Botanical Gardens, lit up like Disneyland for the holidays, an chorus of "Awww, she's so cute," echoed in your wake. It's true - you are awwww-fully cute, but more importantly your kind, loving personality is beginning to shine through. Are you a little bit clingy and whiny sometimes? Absolutely. But you more than make up for it with smiles, and laughs, and hugs, and kisses. 

As we shared lunch the other day, I was silently cursing myself for not writing more. I feel like you've turned a corner in the last month - jumped from infant to toddler, baby to little girl, and student to teacher. Pasta was on the menu, and you took each noodle with your hand and felt it carefully with your fingers before you slowly raised it to your mouth. For the rest of the day, I made mental notes of the things you remind me to do in my life. In no particular order, here are a few of your teachings.


Seven Lessons From Amari

1. Eat slowly and with your hands. Amari a grazer. She does better with an assorted plate of snacks on the living room table than with solid meal time in her high chair. She'll grab a cracker or a grape, traipse off on some errand, then return later for some apple or a yogurt melt. Growing up in India we at with our hands all the time, and I think it slowed me down a little because I wasn't very good at it. It's also pretty fun. 

2. Hug and kiss people with reckless abandon. Now that Amari seems to appreciate the hug and kiss, she surprises me with sneak attacks when we're walking to the car or lying on the floor reading a book. I'll be talking to the lady at the bank or the coffee shop, and I'll hear a warning smack of the lips before I turn into an unabashed and spontaneous kiss. More recently, she has mastered the first part of blowing a kiss. Raising her hand to her mouth and kissing it is her latest form of good-bye. 

3. To set appropriate boundaries. When Hunter hit Amari, it was called abuse. Now that she's retaliating, I call it boundary-setting. Granted, she will sometimes do a preemptive violent waving of her hands as he approaches, she generally reserves her aggression for when Hunter takes things, hugs too hard, or tries to sit on her lap - which is interestingly one of his favorite moves. Jim was telling me about a kid who was hitting Hunter at the park when the mom came over and asked Jim if little Billy was being too "assertive." Semantics are a wonderful thing when your a parent. 

4. To always go after what you want. Although Amari's vocabulary hasn't evolved past the words "Hell-a," "More," and "Dis," the latter is used with her pointer finger to obtain almost anything she wants. It's often an exercise in frustration for Carrie and me, but Amari will continue to exploit her very useful demonstrative adjective until we figure out what she's after.

5. To greet every day, everyone, and everything every chance you get. More often than not, when Amari wakes me up in the morning it's with a "Hell-a." I'm not always as joyous as she is to greet the day, but as the morning goes on and the caffeine goes down, her enthusiasm becomes contagious. Once we're down in the living room, she begins saying hello to the cats, then to Granny C across the way, then Moonshadow and Peanut, the dogs, and so on.

6. To re-read books you like. This can either be right away, daily, weekly, and anywhere between twice and about six zillion times. This has prompted me to come up with the idea I call the "I Fucking Hate This Book" exchange program for parents. We've already swapped one set with the Calverts and I look forward to finding another family to unload/share those gems with. When I was eleven I read the book "Tex" by S.E. Hinton. Jamie, the female lead, was my first literary crush. When I finished the book, I was so smitten by her character, that I turned back to the beginning and read through the night so I could stay close to her. Perhaps she has a little crush on Harold...or the Purple Crayon.

7. To laugh and cry a little each day. Sometimes Amari will do both of these things within moments of each other. Her laugh is infectious and her tears come fast and full. When she's tired, they come even faster. When she's well rested, she's absolutely delightful.

Once again, it's getting late and I'm getting tired. Tonight at the Botanical Gardens, Amari discovered the joys of walking down hill, letting her weight and momentum carry one foot in front of the other. Sometimes it takes her a little while to warm up to new situations, but once she does she's off to the races.

This is so much fun...

Dad Gets Artsy with the lights at The Botanical Gardens

Amari walking up a storm at The Gardens

Box cars at the Calverts

Awwww, she really is sooooo cute.