Looking

I have been thinking lately about the act of looking, and specifically all the things we do that interfere with that gaze.  TV, the phone, even books – all the things we do that disrupt that looking and focus our attention elsewhere.  I confess, I have been reading and loving Woolf, and I can tell the impact her writing has had on me.

At any rate, today I took Julia out in the yard to enjoy the beautiful weather, and I took my camera, and I just watched her watching the cars, investigating the grass, following the sounds of birds and rustling leaves.  It was a lovely time; very little babies are refreshingly unaware of being watched, especially with a camera.

And then Hazel and Amos came home from preschool and work, respectively…

And that changed things quite a bit!

 

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This morning I was talking to Hazel about my coming to her preschool to read a Dr. Seuss book in honor of Dr. Seuss Week.  She knows I work at home, or really go to school at home, but that’s about all she knows.  So, I said to her, “Did you know I’m a writer too?  That’s what I do right now – I read and write, and later I’ll teach other people how to do that.”

“Really?  You just write?  I want to be a writer when I grow up, just like you.”

Thinking how sweet it was to hear that, I said, “I can’t wait to read your books.”

“Hmmm, what do you write?  What kinds of books?”

“I write things about other books; I read them, then I write about them for other people.”

Laughing, she replied, “What?!  Who would read THAT?”

She’s a perceptive little genius, she is.  This little exchange made my day.

 

Landslide

When you get pregnant, and you really want that baby, all you can think about is how much fun it’s going to be.  Everyone around you is joking about how much sleep you’ll lose and how babies never stop peeing, literally never stop even though you are in the middle of changing their diapers, but you keep thinking about little stripey onesies and pajamas with butt ruffles.  Then you’re humbled by the pain and the intense watching that birth brings, and after that intense glaring at you in your most raw, the light switches off you forever and onto your baby.  And there it stays, night after night, as the baby grows up and more independent and yet still more dependent.  While you’re rocking a wailing baby at 2, 3, 4 AM, you tell yourself that soon they’ll sleep all night.  Then, while you rub clove oil on their gums to alleviate teething pain and they just scream at your efforts, you tell yourself you can’t wait until they’ve cut all their teeth.  When you’re going through endless rounds of potty training, trying 400 strategies and having them all end in pee pee on the floor, you keep saying how amazing it will be when they can go to the bathroom by themselves.

But really, it isn’t.  It doesn’t really get easier when they sleep all night or can go to the potty alone, because that’s not the nature of parenting.  It gets harder.  Do you hear me, pregnant friends?  HARDER.  Because suddenly caring for them isn’t only holding them until they stop crying; it’s layered, it’s complicated, and it’s illogical.  I have been walking through this semester, trying my best to keep Hazel, Julia, the house, and my studies all pulled together, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Hazel, who clings to me all day and would crawl back into my uterus for keeps – Julia, who’s so sweet-tempered and so much less needy than any other 10-month-old alive – the house, with its piles of laundry at various spots throughout – our food, which I try so hard to make super healthy and fresh and YAY, but is slowly involving more meals of just hummus and carrot sticks.  I’m so exhausted, and maybe parenting isn’t this hard for everyone else.  I concede that I have some factors working against me:  I’m a control freak, a neat freak, a non-touchy/feely loner freak who gets mad as hell when I can’t find my exact right highlighter and who, in reality, would probably have said “f*ck” instead of “hell.”  I’ve got some daddy issues, which are 1. being furious and 2. being furious.  Whatever the cause, whatever the complications, parenting, for me, is the most difficult, consistently inconsistent position I’ve ever held, and I mostly feel like a failure of a mother.  I WANT to go to school, want it so badly that I’m staying up until 1 AM reading articles and working on papers, and sometimes I get mad at the universe when I have to push it all off for the tiny humans in the next room.  Because I’m not mad at them, or at Amos or even me, it’s hard being mad.

But sometimes things unexpectedly clear, and, for a moment, it’s perfect.  Today I have had Julia home, still feverish, while a coughing but not feverish Hazel went back to preschool after several days home sick.  I’m super behind; I have to read Bleak House, which is like 900 pages of Dickens that I had never even heard of before, and having two sick girls has seriously affected my reading time.  So I have Julia in the sling, letting her doze on me whilst I read, and Hazel’s school calls with a suspected case of pink eye.  An hour later I settled a newly clean Julia, who pooped in the bathtub for the 3rd time this week (she has a bad diaper rash, so I put her in there to give her some non-diaper time) in her crib with relaxing nature sounds playing on my phone and a Hazel who’s half asleep and half irritated and just doesn’t know what to do with herself.  I put her beside me on my bed, hoping she would sleep.  She asked me to read to her, and because I’m so behind I started reading Bleak House to her.   What should have been a boring book for her was, for some reason, exotic.  That moment turned into Hazel stealing my glasses and book and reading the text to me.  That ordinary moment of maternal desperation turned into something so beautiful and refreshing, made extraordinary by the amazing little girl I have.  It gets harder as they get older, but the beautiful moments get exponentially more beautiful.

 

Right now I’m eating dinner, editing photos, watching the girls take a bath, and writing this post.  Busy isn’t even the right word; it carries no sense of imminent doom or driving impetus to finish work that more closely resembles the four horsemen of the apocalypse than it does motivation.  But look at this girl; I just had to share.

I watched Hazel walk around her new preschool classroom.  The lights were dimmed, Ella Fitzgerald crooned to the kids sleeping on their cots, and my sweet girl walked her fingers over the wooden toy kitchen, itching to play but understanding the need to be quiet.  I kept talking to her teacher, Miss Elisa, about the most mundane things.  “So she’s already had lunch (it’s 1:30, everyone’s had lunch), and she normally naps still, but she probably won’t here.  You can give her a book, though, and she’ll be quiet.  Or just tell her to sit down if she’s walking around too much.  And Amos will be here at 5:30 to pick her up.”  This is all information she knows already, that anyone with a kid could infer – of course she’s had lunch, of course she’s not going to nap in all the excitement, but I have to keep telling this woman about her because I’m leaving my daughter with her, and she’s going to take care of her all day.  Julia and I went home, where she promptly fell into an exhausted sleep, and I wondered around the house without turning on the lights, very very quiet in the semi-darkness from the rain.

I never planned to stay at home.  I barely planned to even have children; I married Amos, and suddenly I wanted a baby, and a month later my body started making one.  I never changed a diaper until I changed Hazel’s.  I had never wanted to hold a baby, smell a baby, watch a baby until I had her.  When I’m here all the time, in the solitude that only moving far away from everyone you know can bring to a stay-at-home parent, I inwardly scream.  I want a nanny, I want them to go somewhere else for at least part of the day, I tell Amos after their bedtime.  It’s not fair, I’m 28 and I have no job and I am taking 20 years to finish this degree, and I just want to go to the bathroom without an audience.  I want to change, alone.  I want to sit down and not speak to anyone for a minute.  I want to watch Grey’s Anatomy reruns without someone asking me about the boring doctor show.

I could have done all of that today, and I didn’t.  I ran copies of the articles I have to read for school this week, and then I tried to read them while making a special dinner for my big girl.  I roasted the chicken perfectly, overcooked the green beans and burned the sweet potato fries on one side, and the chocolate chip cookies I made are all flat and crispy from a too-hot oven.  But it didn’t matter, because she was thrilled to lick the mixing bowl.  She was happy to tell me about her school and hear me tell her about my school.  And she’s in there right now, playing with Julia and making her say “uh-oh,” and I have to trust that we are making the best decisions for her and for us.  So she’s in preschool, an affordable, private preschool, and I won’t see her learning about what it’s like to venture out on her own.

When I was thinking about writing this post, I couldn’t decide whether to look at our quick, homemade, cardboard (yes, as in paper) sled as super duper uber crafty or just joke fodder for all the kids who grew up with winters where it snowed, not where they celebrated Christmas wearing shorts and maybe a sweatshirt.  Side note:  you know that used to look cool.  Now it just looks really yuppie.

But it finally snowed in New Jersey, like we blindly promised Hazel it would for Christmas (it didn’t), and she wanted to sled, dammit.  She has been asking for a sled, ice skates, and skis ever since we started reading the Berenstain Bears’ Christmas back in October, and she even started fussing about how Santa didn’t bring “anything on my list, not one little thing.”  I reminded her that nope, Santa didn’t bring giant dangerous snow equipment to a three-year-old, while Amos fashioned a sled out of some rope and a cardboard box.  The result, whether it’s a poor facsimile or super crafty, was totally popular with the preschool audience.

Paper sled! Not from a snake oil salesman!

For y'all voyeurs: that's our NJ house.

Speaking of preschool, Hazel’s first day of preschool is tomorrow!  Amos and I are SO excited for her; Hazel floats back and forth between excitement and flat out refusal to go.  All this emotional drama has led to crying jags that usually begin with something small, like “Why is the snow melting?” and end with “But the snow – sob – is my best -SOB- FRIIIIIIIIIEND and I don’t know why I am cryyyyyyyyyyinggggggg!”  I’m sure she will actually be fine, and one day she’ll join us in laughing about her dear attachment to the snow.

Moving Fast

Life moves so fast.  I remember being a kid, wishing away the boring hours in the Alabama country, taking very long, very slow walks and bike rides, meandering around. Even after I grew up and had Hazel, there were some afternoons when I could literally feel time stretched out long and thin like taffy.  Those days are past, friends.  I don’t know if it’s having Jules around too, or just me getting older, but I can never find enough time or sleep to do all the things I need to do, let alone all the things I want to do.  So, I’ve been sporadically updating, and that will probably continue for a while until we truly settle down in New Jersey.  Some of that is editing the 300 (I’m not kidding) photos I’ve taken since last summer.  I edit some, but most are just sitting there, leering at me.  One of these is below, a fun picture of Hazel I snapped at an art festival we went to in downtown Kansas City, when we thought we would get to live there forever.  A big part of that happens next week, when Hazel starts preschool.  She’s starting a real, awesome school, not daycare, and she couldn’t be more happy and reluctant to go.

Art Festival, September 2011

I’ve started school again, too.  After all this moving and putting my career goals on hold, I decided to begin again at Morehead State in their online master’s program.  I already had 15 hours there, and it looks like at least 3 of the 6 I took at UNA will transfer (maybe the other 3 too), and I just reached a critical mass with all this moving and stopping and changing and retaking, so I am going to plow through and be done by this time next year.  The online program has some drawbacks – missing professor interaction, classroom discussion, the spontaneous exchange of ideas with other people – and it’s a lot more work.  Yes, I said it – seriously, there are always more assignments, more papers, and more outside research and reading for these courses.  It’s so incredibly student-driven; you really have to be a serious student, committed to the work, to make it.  But luckily for me, I totally am.  So I’m taking two classes right now (The English Novel and Intro to Film Lit), will have a linguistics course in the summer (VERY EXCITING), and then I’ll write a big old thesis.  Seriously – THAT’S ALL I HAVE LEFT.  It feels awesome.  And scary.  But mostly awesome.

First Snow

In Kansas City, we promised Hazel every day that there would be snow in New Jersey.  We checked out books about snow from the library.  We read books about Christmas and Hannakuh Hanukkah (thanks Jenn!  😛 ) and pointed out the snow.  “See?  There’s snow on the ground at Christmas, just like there will be in New Jersey,” we exclaimed to her.  Soon she was in on it too, talking about the snow and how at Christmas we would see the snow falling and make a snowman after we opened presents.  Then, when Christmas actually came in on its 40 degree heels, she told us that it wasn’t really Christmas at all because it didn’t snow.  Sad face.  Nope, it didn’t snow at all here, even as Kansas City has seen snow several times since we’ve moved.  Yesterday, though, it snowed a little bit here, just a teaser snow that barely stuck to our clothes, but holy moly was that enough to fire old Hazel up!

“Run out here and catch the snowflakes with your mouth LIKE ME!!!”  My baby girl could not have been more excited.  Julia played it cooler, just pointing at a couple of flakes and proclaiming them, “bat!”  We all ran around, looking like fools from the South who are freaking out over 5 snowflakes falling from the sky – which, you know, we pretty much are.

Reasons for Future Therapy

I’m not into human experimentation when it involves drugs and stuff, okay?  Let’s just get that out into the open before you read this.

I’m a big fan of this blog called Sociological Images.  All kinds of stuff is discussed on there, and since I have an obsession tendency with analyzing media, particularly that which is blared at girls/kids, I was drawn to this particular post about gift giving.  Basically, Jimmy Kimmel asked his viewers to give their children gifts they knew would not be well received (aka, that they would totally hate), and film the kids opening them.  The intent, I’m sure, was to see kids freaking out, maybe pitching a few fits, and to laugh at their crazy reactions.  The blog author focuses on what constitutes an inappropriate gift – it’s either something that I would consider trash (a black banana, half-eaten sandwich, or juice bottle that just has a little left) or “the gift is considered bad because the recipient is a boy and the gift is for a girl” (Wade).  This was particularly interesting, since the boys mostly showed disgust, cried, or otherwise made fun of the gift.  Mostly, the kids were at best very disappointed and at worst completely pitched a fit.

After reading this blog post and watching the video, I just kept thinking about why the kids were so upset.  I mean, I would definitely not be happy if someone gave me something that was clearly trash (who wouldn’t think they were being pranked?), but a lot of these kids were totally rude if the gift was something they just didn’t want, like a stapler.  A parent admitted it, saying, “Jimmy Kimmel told me to do it,” to which this 8-or 9-year-old boy said, “Well tell him to suck my balls.”  Seriously.  The kid said that, the parent still filmed & submitted the tape.  The issue switched over to materialism, the culture of deserving things, and parenting for me, so I just had to know – what would Hazel do if I did this to her?  After lots of thought, I decided her gift would be a package of dish sponges, clearly opened.  This isn’t trash, it’s not gender inappropriate (because there’s no such thing in our house), but it’s definitely not something she would identify as a toy.  Here’s the video:

I love my daughter.

So This is New Jersey

It’s been so long since I updated, so much has happened, that I am just not going to spend all that time recalling, in minute detail, all the stuff we’ve been doing.  I mean, most of it is common to anyone who’s been moving, anyway!  So here’s one of my preferred numbered lists:

  1. We packed, we lived in a hotel for a week (kind of fun, having a staff of sweet maids who tucked in Hazel’s Corduroy every time they made her bed), and then we moved into our apartment and started unpacking.
  2. I unpacked a bunch of stuff we didn’t have out in KC (picture frames, decor stuff, too-small clothes from pre-pregnancy), sorted it, and repacked some things into a smaller number of boxes that are currently lining our garage.
  3. I sorted Christmas, put up our tree, and wrapped stuff.
  4. I’m applying to approximately 100 of the 1500 schools in this densely populated area that offer a MA in English, so I’ve been doing a lot of transcript uploading and statement of purpose writing.
  5. I’m studying for the GRE subject test in literature, so I unpacked a lot of dusty books from my undergrad years and I’m currently sneezing my way through An Introduction to Literary Theory.
  6. We are researching preschools and daycares, which is only slightly less logistically difficult (with one car) than teaching yourself to hang glide with a broken arm.
  7. Amos goes to work, does secret Samsung stuff we can’t talk about, and comes home, shell-shocked from the intense traffic.
  8. Hazel and Julia run and army crawl through their super huge room.  We gave them the bigger bedroom because the smaller one has a bigger closet.

And so there you go.  I haven’t been doing a whole lot of photo-taking, but I do plan on taking some of our place/this cute little town so all you interested family can see.  It’s a curious mix; we live on a rather busy road, but if we walk east about two blocks on some dirty, small, cracked-up sidewalks, we go across a gorgeous river on an old wrought iron bridge and can walk through a couple of blocks of cute shops housed in historic buildings.  AND there is a yarn shop there, with a sort of cutely curmudgeonly proprietor who took away my coffee because “we’ve had spills before.”  One day I’m going to be like that surly old bird.

Overall, though, I think we all like it here.  Now that we’re getting settled, too, I plan to be back blogging like before.  To send you off here’s a hilarious video of Julia discovering one of the snaps on her diaper.  In the background you can hear the wonderful sounds of Hazel whining because she pitched a slapping fit and got sent to her room, by herself, until bath time (she was sitting on her bed, amidst all her toys and books, but was totally miserable because she was segregated from the rest of the fam…ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT).

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