Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thisbe Do It

Well, it's Sunday, November 13th and Dada and I are ready to throw you out the window.

Why? Well, because currently everything is a battle. Everything. No, that's not true. As long as we let you do whatever you want to do AND pay attention to you while you do it, you are happy as a clam. After your bath, for instance, you scampered naked over to the space heater in your room and crouched in front of it, the warm air slightly ruffling the pages of "Millions of Cats" as you read it aloud. I brought over the lotion and put a little on your belly so you could rub it in yourself. "No," you said, "attempting to grab the whole jar from me, "mine." "No," I said, "mine." You also wanted to do the sticky tabs on your diaper by yourself, zip your pajamas yourself, and brush your teeth by yourself.

In the mornings, we often bring you into bed for a few minutes so that Mama and Dada have a little chance to truly wake up before the lights and barking and whining begin in earnest. you like to sit on top on me, stroke my hair a little, look deep into my eyes, and say "MY Mama." If you weren't two, we'd think we were in the beginning of a stalker film.

You want control over everything and, since you don't really have control over much, you're now trying to manipulate your bodily fluids (your only real arsenal) in support of your will. To wit: last Saturday, during a two minute time out in your crib, you took off your clothes and your diaper and urinated all over the crib and floor. "Mama, come here. Mama, pee-pee," you said. This morning I wasn't feeling well and so, in what I assumed was a move of genius, I instructed Dada to take you to church. (When I'm well, church is all about God. When I'm sick, church is all about free child care.) You were having none of it. You were pissed. Dada wrangled you into diaper, clothing, and even into your car seat. But you were crying so hard that you puked. And that ended the trip to church and Mama's sleep in time. This evening, Mama wanted to use the bathroom without your presence. This resulted in another screaming fit, followed by a time out, followed by puking in your bed.

Now it's starting to sound like we're terrible parents. We're making our beloved child get hysterical to the point of puking. And maybe we ARE bad parents. Suddenly it feels like a war and the clouds of dust and debris are so thick that I can't remember if I'm supposed to be patient or firm or ignore you or show you that I am angry or laugh or re-direct or threaten or have another glass of wine.

The toughest part is that when you are getting your way and we are paying attention to are awesome. Articulate and sweet, full of "thank yous" and "love you toos." When we asked you what animal you wanted to see at the zoo last week, you said "tapir." Your favorite game to play is "Going bye-bye. Look sad, Mama. Back now. Look happy, Mama." I call this the Prodigal Son game. Except when you "go bye-bye," I don't think you're off buying whores.

It's been forever since I've written so of course there is much more to say. The title of the post really says it all though. I know it's typical for a toddler to want to do everything independently, I get it. But it is getting hard to know when saying "yes" is an offer of patience and abundant love, and when saying "yes" is supporting the bad habits of a spoiled despot. And trying to know the difference all the time--well. It's hard. I think I'll have that second glass of wine. But I'll raise it to you, dear darling one. Because you are asleep and so it is easy to say "yes, yes, yes."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Oh Look! It's October!

Today is October 5th. October 5th and a high of 89 degrees. October 5th and the slide too hot to use, October 5th and I'll consider using sunscreen before I take you to the park. September was crazy. But now suddenly it feels like summer again and my body wants to lounge and my spirit feels incredibly lackadaisical.

Busy how, you say? Well, Dada has been busy applying for ordination (writing essays and taking psych tests and shopping for albs), prepping for his classes, applying for teaching jobs, and writing articles about Kierkegaard and Lady Gaga. Mama has been busy editing a book about vocation and attending Mentor Series events.

And you? You've been busiest by far. You're stringing words together into sentences now. Things like "Thisbe. Eat. Sit. Here. Nana." and "Book. Read. Couch. Now. Babar." and, my personal favorite "Drive. Fast. Police. Car. Come. Pay. Money." This weekend you used the word "the" for the first time and yesterday you said "him" in reference to Dada. Now we're waiting for the little words--the prepositions and pronouns and articles--that can connect your thoughts together. You've mastered so many nouns and verbs, now you're beginning to explicate the relationships between things. Not just meaning but clarity and coherence too.

Your energy is still through the roof. The other night before bed you literally ran over twenty laps around the couch. In a row. For fifteen minutes. Without stopping. Really. Jumping is another favorite pass time (couch to ottoman, ottoman to floor, stairs to floor, etc) but one that Mama is not such a fan of. Also of interest is categorizing people based on their possession of a "penis" or "vagina." As in, "Mama. 'Gina." "Dada. Penis." When we ask you what Luxy has, you say, "butt."

I am having trouble, maybe because I am brain dead from already writing three hours today, at being able to articulate exactly what has changed in you this last month. Mostly, the change feels more intuitive--you suddenly seem like a little girl instead of an androgynous, Godzilla-like toddler. Maybe it's the fact that you insisted on playing "pay for things with fake credit card" for twenty minutes yesterday afternoon. Maybe it's that you ask for "hugkiss" before Dada or I leave the house or maybe it's your longer hair pulled into pigtails or barrettes.

Maybe it was seeing you at the park a few days ago with a four year old girl who clearly wanted to befriend you. "Hi," said the girl, "my name is Olivia. What's your name?" "Iz," you said, pointing to your chest. "Friend," you said, pointing to her. Then you took her hand (and she, thank you Jesus, complied) and you walked off toward the swings together. It's one thing to watch you talk to us--it's another to see you using words to build a relationship with another person. Without prompting or staging, without me hovering nearby. And though my joy was tinged a little with the melancholy of "oh great tomorrow she'll asking her therapist about how to draw more firm boundaries with her mother," I was mostly just really, really proud of the person you're becoming.

[Note: photo is of you and Agnes and Karu from a month ago but I've been lazy about uploading and downloading and reloading and deloading photos.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hugging, Sneezing, Going Boompey

Three things I don't want to forget:

1. You now ask for hugs and kisses all the time. When I leave the house and when I return. "Kiss?" you say. Today you were in your highchair, covered with milk and cereal, as I left. "Hug?" you said. "I'll give you a hug from behind," I said. I did so and began to walk away. "Front. Hug?" you said. At bedtime it's even cuter. Dada and I draw magic circles on your belly and say good-night. You scramble to an upright position as quickly as you can and reach out your arms for both of us. I love that we end the day with a group hug.

2. Whenever you sneeze you say "bless you." Whenever anyone else sneezes you say "ah-choo."

3. Your current favorite story is David and Goliath. You request it a few times every day except that you refer to it as "Dave and Ga-ith." At the end of the story you nod seriously and say "boompey, go boompey" to describe the defeat of Goliath and thus the Philistine army.

On my watch, you've been sleeping in until 7:45, playing sweetly, and proffering truckloads of affection. On Dada's watch, you've been waking at 6:45, throwing numerous tantrums, and pooping on the floor. Maybe I shouldn't be smiling as I write this, but I am.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


On Saturday you will turn two or, as you put it when asked, "three." Sometimes, "four." Honestly, I feel like you've been two for months and months already so saying the age aloud doesn't make me automatically press my hand to my heart with a nostalgic sigh. This time of year, however, does always make me think not so much of the day of your birth (which, honestly, is a bit of a blur) but of the first few days and weeks afterward. The corn green and high, the crickets chirping, doors and windows open to let in the last few days of summer heat. I think of the hours and hours we spent on the couch, arranging you in your Boppy, trying to get you to latch, gazing at you while you slept. "Great Hyms of Faith," sung by the St. Olaf choir, worked like magic on your psyche and we played the CD over and over again, especially when you wouldn't relax enough to breastfeed. Now, when I hear the hymns I still sometimes feel like my milk is going to let down. I think also about the first few walks I took with Grandma Ricki (you curled and wrinkled in the stroller) down to the Ole Cafe, my netherparts tender and my stomach soft and bloated beneath my T-shirt. We would buy mochas and scones and then walk back slowly. And the season somehow fit my internal landscape perfectly--a warm haze over everything, nothing quite in focus, sleeplessness causing every moment to feel like a liminal one.

As you shrieked this morning, refusing to let Daddy touch you, hyperventilating until he brought you to the bed where you promptly laid on top of me, you head in my hair and your neck cutting off my larynx, I thought of what a different creature you are now, two years later. You've gone from 5 to 25 pounds, from brunette to blond, from screamer to speaker, from perfect shriveled nut to perfect full-fleshed little girl. And then there are the things that haven't changed: your strong will, your intensity, your mildly bizarre instinct for religious things. I remember being so hungry to know, in those early hours and days and weeks, who you were going to become. And it is blessing to see your personhood emerge, this human being I am so deeply proud to know--but also blessing to see that you have been you all along, that your self was there right from the start, it was we who didn't know the difference between what a baby does and what a Thisbe baby does. Because for us, you were both the first baby we had really known and the first Thisbe we had ever known.

You are still, I must admit, not an easy child. You compose frequent tantrums, instigate repeated battles of the will, demand almost constant interaction from the adults around you. Some of this is toddler behavior, but we are now wise enough as parents to know that some of it is also pure Thiz behavior. You're a stinker. But you're also wonderful. Now, after smacking Luxy in the face with a cup, you'll say (with ample sincerity), "sorry" afterward. You tell the other children at the playground "no" when they climb on the equipment but you're also quick to hug and kiss them if I ask you to say "hi." You know to whom each pair of shoes in the house belongs and you relish bringing them to us when asked. You also love to wear adult shoes around the house; strutting in my flip-flops is one of your favorite activities.

Your vocab is growing in leaps and bounds. "Peace car" you say when you see a law enforcement vehicle (which is either charming or deeply ironic depending on your view of police officers). When we read "If you Give a Moose a Muffin" you say the word at the end of every sentence. When asked to say your ABCs you say "A, B. A, B" When asked to count to ten you say, "three, four, six, eight, nine, ten!" or some such mildly random combination. After one occasion at the Northfield pool when we were made to get out of the water as a result of a distant rumble of thunder, you have become obsessed with the sound and you discuss it often.

At a recent play date picnic, Emily started to call you the "bolter" because, as the other kiddos played happily near the adults on the lawn, you repeatedly ran as fast as you could for the perimeters of the park. I'd turn away for two seconds and look up to see you in the parking lot or the tall wild grass or up to your thighs in the lake. When Gak takes you to Lake Harriet, you "swim" on your belly up and down the shoreline in the shallow water. In the bathtub, you find it hilarious to dump cups of water on your own head. Though sometimes around unfamiliar men you act "fake shy" for three or four minutes (probably a good thing), you're generally not afraid of much in this world. A blessing and a curse.

So, my dear darling one, two years ago today you were preparing for your grand entrance to the world. I have a video from that day that shows only the naked side of my belly and from time to time, you, rumbling like thunder underneath my skin.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Naming Genitalia

Argh! I've been terrible about updating lately with no real excuse other than general summer malaise. Much has happened. Judy's 90th birthday in Wisconsin, a mini Schwehn-camp weekend in the Dells, forays to the wading pool with Gak and Ampa, etc., etc. You have been quite the trooper, I have to say, and I've been enormously proud of the way you've embraced so many different family members. It was especially fun to watch you and Kaarn hang out together in Judy's yard. You followed your Auntie everywhere, overwhelmed with adoration after she showed you how to pick (and eat) the tart green apples from the apple tree and how to swing on the big girl swing hung from the maple on the other side of the lawn. You were thrilled to receive your first manicure and still occasionally point to your toes and say: "Red. Kaarn."

Your main development continues to be language. At least one new word every day, it seems, and old words lined up side by side to express real, live thoughts. Our favorite combo so far occurred while you and Dada were on a walk through the grasslands. You discovered a dead reptile in the weeds and thoughtfully remarked, "Snake. Bad. Bible." We choose to interpret this word string as the thoughts of an individual attempting to make ethical judgments about daily life (Daddy) or attempting to connect the an individual narrative with a mythic narrative (me). That it could also be the sign of a budding evangelical preacher is not a consideration upon which we love to dwell.

Along with all the delights of language come the challenges of language. I have been thinking a lot about Adam lately, about the challenges he must have faced in naming all those creatures, trying to find the sound or sounds to convey fur or feather, bulk or bone, cuddly or carnivore. And so Dada and I find ourselves faced with the trickiest of all naming ceremonies: child genitalia.

Really, vagina sucks. Vagina sounds like a spice rub for pork. Penis is no better, really, it sounds like a word you'd hear in passing at a lacrosse tournament. Actually, I'm sure it generally is. Anyway, parenting books are big these days on how VERY important it is for parents to create a shame-free environment for children to come to understand and embrace their own sexuality. This is why I nod encouragingly but avert my eyes when you caress yourself during diaper changes and say thing like "is the dolphin exploring?" when you let its bottle nose do some special sniffing around during bath time. As a writer, then, I feel this particular stress about finding a term for your netherparts that will convey a sense of intimacy without sounding like the name of a clown or a poodle. This is more difficult than it sounds.

Hoo-Ha? Va-jay-jay? Poo-tang?

Pee-pee? Wee-nee? Ding-dong?

I've thought about more abstract terminology like "special place" or "private parts" but I don't like using phrases that could also be used to describe secluded gazebos or Superfund sites. I also feel weird calling your vagina by a different name like "Samantha" or "Cristina."

But far worse than all these is the fact that right now when you reach down to pat your vagina during diaper changes, you simply call it your "butt." Your vagina is not your butt, Thisbe, and the only time later in life that you may confuse the two is when you're trying to give birth. At that moment, it might feel that you are pushing a head through your ass. Until, then, I want to give you a word or a phrase that is intimate but also conveys at least a sliver of self respect. I want you to love and respect your own body and I want to give you the confidence to expect others to do the same.

(So, um, for the first time in this blog's history, I would like to ask for help from the peanut gallery. Anyone found phrases or words that seem to fit these bizarre criteria? Help and sarcasm would both be appreciated. Comments, please!!!)

Friday, July 22, 2011


Daddy is camping with his graduate school friends in 95 degree heat. Meanwhile, Thiz, you and I have been attempting to have some quality time. Except we went to Minneapolis and Gak and Ampa took over and then I didn't really see you for 48 hours but did manage to read the first 100 pages of Lolita and write 2,000 words. So that was good.

Last night, when it was time to go to bed, I walked into the sunroom to whisk you up the stairs. You were sitting on the couch next to Gak. The following is a word-for-word transcription of our conversation:
Me (brightly): Hey sweetie, it's time to go to bed now.
You (pointedly): Book.
Me: You already read a book with grandma.
You (emphatically): BOOK.
Me (resignedly): OK, we can read one more book.
[You proffer "Bambi." I sit down on the couch beside you and open "Bambi."
You (archly): No. Gak.
Me (apathetically): OK. Gak can read the book.
You: Go. Away. Mama.

Yep, that's right. Your second sentence EVER consisted of telling me to fuck off. It was the sentence equivalent of "Bup." So I sulked off dejectedly to the computer room.

30 seconds later you came dashing in. "Hug!" you said. "Really?" I said. "Hug!" you said again in a tone that sounded like you were asking for fifty push-ups in glaring Arizona sunshine. "OK," I said, lifting you onto my lap. You hugged. You kissed. "Did Gak make you do that?" I asked. "Yes," you said, "Buh-bye!" And you were gone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

There and Back Again

We are in the midst of a heat wave. The kind that makes one's glasses fog up when one steps outside. The kind that leaves a sheen of sweat across every inch of one's skin after walking for 2.5 blocks. The kind the makes one stretch lazily on one's bed watching re-runs of cooking shows while the fan whirs and whirs overhead.

When we left Seattle yesterday it was 62 degrees. The current temperature is 90, but with the humidity it feels like 105. It's the kind of weather extreme that makes be both extremely grateful for modern temperature control but also extremely uneasy. I realize that, just as when the temps turn arctic, much of my ability to DO anything comes from the fact that I'm not spending all my time figuring out how to stay warm--or in this case, cool. Daddy is going camping with his friends tomorrow. I am feeling alternately amused and terrified that he will bake into some sort of gruesome human Hot Pocket in the tent.

We spent the last two weeks at Holden. The time was not relaxing but WAS exceptionally renewing. At least for Mama and Dada. I'm not so sure you felt renewed being at Holden. I think you felt renewed when you returned home. You were exceptionally happy today, delighted to chase Luxy around the living room, to buckle your familiar high chair straps, to lug the unwieldy children's Bible up onto the couch. You loved Holden but I think it was also overwhelming for you: the dining hall filled with hoards of unfamiliar people at every meal, the non-uniform surfaces (rocky roads, rooted trails, crooked cobblestone paths) slowing your full-throttle running pace, the loving Narnia volunteers prying your hands from my shirt every morning to engage you in play. These things, I think, exhausted you. And although we were staying in a chalet, we were all crammed into one room, a sheet separating your Pack and Play from our bed, our clothes and books and (clean) cloth diaper inserts scattered on all available surfaces. You ended up in our bed every night (sometimes at 10pm, sometimes at 1:30 or 5:30am) and I think we all grew weary from not sleeping quite fully or restfully.

But then there was the loveliness: hikes to waterfalls, baby deer napping outside our window, eternal washing in Gak's sink, bubble-blowing with Dot, squealing contests with Holden, adventures to the Hobbit House and labyrinth, chipmunks available for chasing at every turn, etc., etc., etc.

And richness for your father and I: teaching people who wanted to be taught, engaging in discussions on suffering and health care, socialism, wilderness ethics, Augustine's confessions, and the nature of hope. There was laughter yoga and dishteam and staying up until the wee hours drinking boxed wine with new friends. Your father preached an amazing mini-sermon on the nature of freedom and I talked with Toni about how to weave together a memoir about the last days of Bethany's life. We didn't relax. But for a few days we got to be parents and friends and lovers and teachers and workers and worshipers and hikers and learners in a place that didn't ask us to separate these aspects of ourselves into separate categories. I sang hymns beside the people who came to my classes, I did dish team with the woman who cared for you in Narnia. In a society that often asks us to divide into a version of ourselves for different occasions, it is a relief to return to a place where the whole self is welcomed, is sufficient at every turn. So we're not relaxed. But we are renewed. I hope, at some level, that you are too, although your main reflection on the trip consists of: "Dada. Pee-pee. Hike." Because while we were hiking, Dada peed while you were in the backpack. And you thought this was worth a sentence.

Holden isn't perfect, by any means, but as people I think we live more fully and completely there, not versions of ourselves, but our whole selves, troubled and imperfect and filled with abundant grace. Or, as you would say, "Dada. Pee-pee. Hike."