My wife had to work today. I came home a bit early to relieve Grandma, and I got dinner started after she left, Violet watching comfortably from the carrier on my chest. Once the food was simmering, I brought her over to the couch and put her in her small highchair. It sits on the couch, and it’s a perfect spot for her to be while I read to her. She’ll sit in my lap for lift-the-flap books and one or two of her favorites, but if I want her to sit for other books, she has to be in her chair. I broke open a new bottle of puffs – strawberry and beet flavored! – and sprinkled a handful on the tray. As I read, she snacked, and at a certain point, she held one out to me. I lowered my head and opened my mouth slightly, and she clumsily, but gently, placed it in my mouth. She does this with my wife and me when we sit at the kitchen table with her. Violet will eat a puff, then hold one out to my wife, then one to me, then one for herself, and so on (She’s usually egalitarian in her distribution of the puffs, but I suspect she gives herself more than she hands out). Tonight, she went back and forth as I read Mouse’s First Halloween to her, alternating her attention between the book and her puffs, feeding herself and feeding me. Then, she held out a puff to the other side of her chair. The side where no one was sitting. The side across from me, where my wife would usually be. She held the puff out, waiting…waiting…
The screaming started today. High pitched and keening, sometimes long, other times lasting a brief moment. It left my wife and I looking at each other, our shared bewilderment mixed with a strange sort of pride. This wasn’t angry screaming or “I’ve hurt myself” screaming. It was the sound of an eleven-month old discovering her outside voice. Unlike the noisy toys that have already ‘disappeared’, this noisemaker is beyond our reach.
When I started this blog, I wanted to avoid writing about what other parents have written about so often (and so much better than I) before - no complaining about late night feedings or the size of what my baby left in the diaper, no paragraphs whose only purpose is to go on and on about my baby’s beauty or smarts. Well, if you’ve read more than a few posts here, you know how well I’ve stuck to that, so here’s another one… I wanted to take Violet out for her first cold-weather walk of the year, but I wanted to be sure she was warm enough. I put all her gear on the bed, and sat Violet down next to the pile. Then we began. I started with a base layer – a long-sleeved onsie, and I added some thick leggings with feet. Over the leggings I put fleece pants, and a thick sweater covered the onsie. I added another set of socks, a fleece jacket, a winter hat, and the mittens made their debut. The entire time, Violet was struggling. She wanted to crawl, to explore, to pet the cat, to do anything except help me get her dressed. Then, since we were going to Beaver Meadow for our hike, I had to get her into the car seat, but when I tried to slide her in, she no longer fit. The extra clothing had made her too big for the straps, so I had to take the seat apart and loosen those up. She fought me as I strapped her in, and I thought about bagging the whole trip. I didn’t want her to be miserable, but I knew that once we got going, she’d be fine. As I clicked the last buckle in place, my nose picked up a distinctive odor. The odor that I should’ve checked for before getting her dressed, a mistake I will never make again. I’d like to say that I didn’t consider heading out the door without changing her, but I can’t.
I’m teaching my second grade writers about Small Moments. I read them stories written by great authors, pointing out how the authors use their words to focus in on a small stretch of time. I show them how the authors describe the fine details of what they saw, felt, touched – everything that they sensed in the moment - so that the reader feels right there with them, and how the authors write about their thoughts and feelings so the reader thinks and feels those, too. My students and I talk about these things, and more, and then they write. And so do I. We share our stories at the end of writing time – hopefully to learn from each other, but to show off a little bit, too. I’ll share this with them on Monday:
I was changing Violet on the bathroom counter. I’ve changed her on that counter over 500 times, maybe over 1,000 times. Over the last 300 or so diaper changes, she has come to do certain things and I do, too. She tries to roll over. She tries to grab our bathroom cup. She kicks her feet (sometimes she hurts me but I don’t think she does it on purpose). She throws everything she can into the sink. And during all of that, I try to change her diaper. I try to give her toys to distract her. I try to be kind but firm. Sometimes I yell, and sometimes she cries. It’s like trying to put a diaper on a cat. But today, she stopped all of her squirming and looked at me. I leaned over and put my face near hers. I could hear the air coming and going through her tiny nostrils, being pushed and pulled by her tiny lungs, and I stared into her blue eyes while she stared into mine. She smiled her six-tooth smile (four up top, two below), and put her hand on my cheek. Her hand was cool. It felt good. And we just stayed like that. Maybe it was only ten seconds, but I’ll remember it forever.
Have you heard of the “always happy” stage? A friend told me her pediatrician used the term to describe a baby’s fourth through ninth month. This was back in January when Violet was smiling her way past two-months old. “Always happy” was a good description. When I heard the phrase “always happy” and the supposed time frame, the neurotic in me immediately asked, “..but what comes after that?” And now I know. It’s the “not always happy” stage, a description most of us can lay claim to, whatever age we call our own. Violet is, as a friend of mine pointed out somewhat sarcastically, developing a mind of her own. She wants to crawl off the edge of the bed. She wants to throw any and everything off of her high chair tray and onto the floor and then she wants it back. No, not that toy! Something else. Something better. Never mind! She wants to eat my lampshade. To ignore her varied and rapidly changing whims brings displeasure, and she is no longer easily distracted. People who read this blog tell me that she still looks “always happy”, but I have to admit to some false advertising. The pictures I choose to post paint a slighty skewed portrait. She is still a really good baby and much of the time, happiness still lives in her eyes. It danced there tonight – just for me - when I topped the stairs and rounded the corner to see her in her jumperoo on the kitchen floor. Her smile might mean a little more now that “always” is not the adverb that accompanies “happy” when we discuss her mood. We have to work harder for it, but sometimes, she still gives it away for free. She’s getting more complicated, this little person, but more interesting, too.
I am not a sympathetic person. I want to be, but it’s like my desires to be the life of the party and to look good with my shirt off; I’m just not built that way. When someone in my vicinity experiences an emotional blow, I want to be that comforting voice who puts an arm around them and says the words that make everything all right, but whenever the situation has presented itself, I choke. I panic. Everything that comes to mind sounds patronizing, sarcastic, or pitifully unhelpful. I realized this shortcoming on an afternoon when I was fourteen and sitting with my friend Kyle on his back porch. I don’t remember what we were doing, probably trying to think of something to do, but that afternoon turned memorable when his neighbor, Tanya, came over. She was our age and she was cute, so she terrified me. I didn’t know her very well - I went to a different school and lived down the street - but Kyle knew her. They were friends. When she opened the screen door and came in, it was obvious that she was upset. Crying. Kyle asked her what was wrong, but she didn’t answer. She just sat down next to him, crossed her legs under her, and put her head on his shoulder. He put his arm around her. I was sitting on a chair on the other side of the porch, feeling like I was intruding on something private. I felt I should leave, but I was too confused about what was going on, too scared of saying or doing the wrong thing. I didn’t want to look scared or confused, so I just sat there. They sat on the couch for an uncomfortably long time – at least a minute. I remember telling myself that if I wasn’t going to leave, then I should say something to comfort this poor girl, but I had no idea what that might be. One of Tanya's sneakered feet rested against Kyle's leg, and he was absently rubbing it with his hand. After a long time, he broke the silence, saying, “This a soft leather sneaker.” And there was something in the way he said it – just the right amount of whatever it took to turn his words into the right ones at the right time. Tanya smiled, and then she started to laugh. Not just a chuckle or giggle, but that wonderful sort of laughter that you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to. Kyle was laughing, too, and when I realized I should, I joined in.
That event stayed with me, etched into my memory, not so much because I failed to say something to comfort Tanya – she didn’t come looking for sympathy from me – but because of how deftly Kyle turned her mood around. Maybe it was just a desperate move on his part; Maybe he felt as helpless as I did, but he came up with something. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that, but it has always seemed beyond my powers. Even with someone I really care about – someone like, Oh, I don’t know, my wife? – I find myself fumbling and sweaty when I’m called on to be comforting. I do okay, but I want to be better than okay. I wish I could whip out a comment like, “This is a soft leather sneaker.”
But that’s the wonderful thing about being the parent of a very young child. Words of comfort are not necessary. It feels self-centered and a bit wrong to say it, but it’s a fantastic thing to have my mere presence be the supreme object of comfort for another human being. I pick her up. I hold her. I whisper that it will be all right. She nestles into my chest, consoled and content.
Have you seen the documentary Babies? It came out a year or two ago, and it chronicles the first year in the lives of four babies from the US, Japan, Mongolia, and Namibia. It's good stuff. My wife and I watched it while she was pregnant, and I remember watching one scene in which a father works on his computer while his baby plays on the floor behind him. At times, the baby would look to its father, expectantly, and then go back to playing. The man's eyes never leave the computer screen, and I recall watching this and feeling that old, familiar wave of disapproval that the childless person often experiences upon observing a parent and child. I hadn't thought about that scene for a long time, until this past weekend, when Linda was at work and I was watching Violet for the day. I was attempting to get a number of things accomplished, while trying not to ignore Violet. More than once that day, I was at the computer, doing schoolwork, working on this blog, answering email - all while Violet looked on from inside her corral. I'm positive she was wondering, "Why won't he play with me?" while I stared at the screen, oblivious. I've probably said this before in a post, but I mean it more every day: The longer I'm a parent, the more I understand and forgive other parents.
Except when I don't. Because sometimes, you have to wonder, "What are they thinking?" Is it just me?
Violet doesn't like the car ride home on Tuesday night. Swim class is on that night, and it might be the dark or it might be too close to her bedtime, but she spends most of the ride crying if we don't do something to keep the tears at bay. Tonight, my wife and I dueted our way through a set of Five Little Monkeys, We're Going On a Bear Hunt, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (my wife sang lead. I was mostly backup). Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about children's music, and how I wasn't sure if I could bear listening to whole albums worth of the stuff. Although we're not at the point where we own stacks of it, I have somehow become someone who knows all the words to "We're Going on a Bear Hunt". Tonight, there we were, belting 'em out like Raffi. Kids will push into places you never imagined.
Once upon a time at St. Francis High School, a teacher told a class full of apathetic Juniors that they should be reading the newspaper every night, that they should be watching the news. "You should," he said, "concern yourselves with the world beyond your own." Looking back, I appreciate his point, but at the time, I did not. The thought of reading the news section of the newspaper sounded spectacularly boring. I’ve come full circle since then. I don’t get the newspaper (It’s sad to say, but who has time to read the newspaper every day?), but I do try to listen to a run-down of the news every morning and afternoon. Usually it’s frustrating and depressing, once in a while it’s infuriating, and once in a great while, it gives me hope. I would like Violet to grow up with a sense of curiosity about the world beyond what she knows and a sense of responsibility about staying informed, but more than that, I want her to have a stronger sense of something I often forget about – perspective. I came across a quote from Ben Hecht, a screenwriter from the 1930s and 40s, that sums it up nicely:
Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand.
Most parents have more than one bottle in rotation, but Violet uses hers so infrequently that it’s always washed and ready when we need it. Today, however, my wife dug out the box of extra bottles and feeding accessories, hoping to find a replacement. Violet has relentlessly chewed the nipple of her bottle, enlarging the hole to the point where the nipple is now more of a straw. One of the bottles in storage took me by surprise. I hadn’t seen it since Violet was only a month or two old. It has a nipple within a nipple, a design intended to reduce the amount of air a baby takes in when feeding. We’d had some trouble with her taking her original bottle, and we’d bought the fancy one, hoping she would like it better. I can’t remember her reaction, but the fact that we relegated it to the storage bin probably means that she didn’t like it. But what struck me today was how unfamiliar it looked, as if I hadn’t seen it in years. Violet (and everything that goes along with her) still feels like a new addition to our lives, and although, in the grand scheme of things, she is just that, the fact remains that she’s nearly a year old. My wife and I have talked about it many times. We, along with family and friends, ooh and ahh and express disbelief over the fact; how fast the time has gone by, but it didn’t punch me in the ear until today. When I turned that bottle over in my hand, I remembered last winter, offering it to Violet in the middle of the night, swaying back and forth in the rocking chair. That was back when middle-of-the-night feedings were just part of the routine and back then, it felt like they always would be. Violet was a different baby. We were different people. It seems like so long ago.
Last night, as I fed Violet her dinner, Linda made ours and the rain fell outside. A song played in the background, the words so appropriate, I had to put them down here as a snapshot of one fall evening. I know they weren’t composed with familial love in mind, but for one night and the memory of it, that’s how I choose to hear it:
The stream can't contain such the withering rain,
And from the pasture the fence it is leaning away
The clouds crack and growl
Like some great cat on the prowl
Crying out, "I am, I am" over and over again
The days grow short
As the nights grow long
The kettle sings it's tortured song
A many petalled kiss I place upon her brow,
Oh, my lady, lady I am loving you now
And though all these things will change,
The memories will remain
As green to gold, and gold to brown
The leaves will fall to feed the ground
And in their falling, make no sound
Oh my lady, lady I am loving you now
Sunday night was Violet's first trip to Beaver Meadow's annual Enchanted Forest. She liked my furry costume. Next year, I'm hoping to work her into the act. I just need to find a toddler-sized beaver costume.
There are places in the world we would never go if not for Violet. Not because we have anything against them, but because in some places, it’s odd to see adults without children. Family restrooms are one such place. Pumpkinville is another.
We hoped to sleep in this morning. Sometimes, Violet is willing to let us. It’s usually on the days we can’t sleep in, when work or some other obligation requires an early rising, but we appreciate her attempts to give us the opportunity. Today was not one of those days. At , Violet felt it was time to start the day. She stood in her crib, a few feet away from our bed, hands clutching the rail. She cried her “good morning” cry in our direction – the tenth month old version of a subtle hint. The moan that came from Linda’s side of the bed told me she shared my frustration. I hauled myself out of bed and plucked Violet from the crib, holding her close. By now Linda and I both know, no matter how disappointing it is to see our chance to sleep in evaporate with a single cry, the feeling of disappointment will dissipate just as quickly; as soon as Violet is close and smiles, excited to be with us. As I brought Violet into bed, Linda said, “It’s like everyday is Christmas morning. You have to get up early, but you don’t care because it’s Christmas.”
And now, I’ve arrived at the point of all this. When I went for that walk on Wednesday, and heard Herb’s voice in my head, wondering when Violet would be ready for The Sit, it left me thinking about what kind of person she’ll become. Up until recently, her personality has been more of a concept than a reality, something for us to project and predict. I often wondered in this blog if she would value the things that my wife and I do, if she would share our interests (at least until she was a teenager and goes insane), but deep down, doesn’t every parent assume that their children will do just that – share their interests, I mean? Doesn’t some part of us expect them to turn into newer versions of us, only better because we’ll help them avoid the things that messed us up? Maybe it’s just me, but regardless, Violet’s personality is now taking shape. She doesn’t like picture books, only books with flaps or shiny/furry things to feel. She likes apples but not bananas. When we went on her hike, I showed her the remains of a Queen Anne’s Lace flower. She has always been fascinated when I’ve shown her plants, but that day, she shoved it aside, more interested in my ring than the flower. “Oh my God,” I thought. “This can’t be! She not interested in wildflowers!” Silly, I know, but I calmed myself down. And then the question of The Sit came into my head, and I’m left wondering if she’ll be the kind of person who can see the value in just sitting somewhere for ten minutes, or twenty minutes, or longer. Will she be someone who can just sit and wait and see what might happen in her own head or in the space around her? I plan on working on it with her. I know it will take some time and that we’ll have to work our way up to ten minutes. We started today. I took her to Tulip Summit, and we sat on the ground in the fallen leaves. She was in the chest carrier, and she leaned back against my chest, looking up, all on her own, for a good thirty seconds, staring into the branches full of sunlit leaves, all yellow and orange. She pointed up to the trees, squinting, and I looked up, too. I don’t know what she was pointing at, maybe nothing, but before I could bring my gaze back down, she was arching her back, straining against the carrier’s straps and pushing against my legs with her feet. She wanted to move on. She had managed a minute. Not quite ten, but in that minute, something happened. Something I think I’ll remember. It’s a good start. Maybe we can add a minute every year.
I noticed the color immediately, flashing in and out of view as the fox moved through the trees. It was several hundred yards away, coming toward me from the direction of the beaver pond, and it moved with purpose. It was too early in the year for it to have kits, so I knew it wasn’t headed for a den, but it trotted in a nearly straight line, fluidly moving around any trees in its path. I was sure it would spot me, the bright red parka I wore was a dead giveaway, but the fox’s head stayed down, its eyes apparently focused on the ground immediately in front of it.
It reached the base of my hill and turned right, skirting the foot of the slope, and then it stopped, pausing like someone noticing cash on the sidewalk. I could see the black whiskers on its muzzle and powdery snow on its back and tail. It cocked its head to the side, and I figured that it had heard me or caught my scent. In a moment, it would bolt away. I would have a good story for Herb and a good memory for me.
Instead, the fox leaped into the air and curled its body, arching its back into a downward, lopsided “U”. Its forefeet came down hard where it had been sitting a second earlier. Paws deep in the snow, the fox shoved its muzzle in after them. It had something, and a split second later, the fox extracted its nose and I could see a dark, furred body between its jaws - a jumping mouse or possibly a vole. The fox flicked its head once and then again. Maybe it was adjusting its catch or trying to shake the snow from its face. Either way, that’s when it saw me. It spun and took off, continuing in the direction it had been headed before hearing its prey underfoot. Within five seconds, it was out of sight.
But that isn’t what happened. No fox showed up. That’s what I hoped would happen. That, or maybe a deer walking by or a coyote loping along. The way Herb said those words – something will happen – it left me with the expectation of something big, something momentous and memorable. But nothing did. I sat there, listening and watching and thinking, my fingers and toes getting colder, the woods get brighter around me. Then, when the ten minutes were up, I got up off the bench and continued my hike.
I don’t recall what Herb said when I told him about my first Sit. I don’t even know if I did tell him about it. If I did, he probably didn’t say much – he might have joked that I’d done it wrong or that I must not have showered and that’s what kept the animals away. He had a gift for finding and encountering wildlife, so I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that when he sat for ten minutes, animals paraded by. Maybe that’s what he meant by “something will happen.” But maybe not.
We never talked about it much. I did The Sit many other times – still do – and what I eventually discovered is that the “something” that happens, at least for me, isn’t necessarily something big or even something external. Take, for example, the memory I just related to you. If I had not done The Sit that morning, the hike would’ve just been one of dozens of enjoyable but unextraordinary hikes I’d taken at Beaver Meadow during my time there, hikes I’ve forgotten. That one, I remember. The Sit created an experience, a memory that’s stayed with me. Something did happen. On subsequent Sits, I’ve come up with great ideas for helping struggling or difficult students, mentally worked out problems with my wife and friends, thought up the idea for this blog, and yes, wildlife has made appearances. Up close and personal appearances, too.
The act of just sitting has made me realize how rare it is for me to just sit and do nothing except to watch, listen, and think. It’s safe to say that this is true for most people, and what makes me sure is that most times when I bring it up, the idea is deemed strange, a waste of time, or just plain stupid. Some take offense at the idea. Some are intrigued by it, but not enough to act on it. I can’t hold it against anybody. Even now, the first few minutes of any Sit feel strange. I feel uncomfortably self-aware, as if people were making fun of me. Once, I started my Sit along a trail and when someone happened to come hiking along a minute or two later, I hastily stood up, pretending that I had just been resting. What is that about? It’s silly for me to feel embarrassed or guilty for just sitting there, but it’s been ingrained. Obviously, if I’m just sitting there, then I’m not being productive, and that’s just wrong, isn’t it?
320 days old
I know I said I would have this wrapped up by tonight, but it's taking me longer to work it out than I thought. Tomorrow - the point!
At Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in North Java, NY, there’s a the trail through the woods that meanders past an old cabin and up a small hill to a shelter. The hill and the structure are collectively known as Tulip Summit. Seven Tulip trees used to crown the tiny hilltop, but only five remain. A crooked bench greets hikers, and it was on that bench, early one January morning thirteen years ago, that I remembered my friend Herb’s words about The Sit: “If you sit somewhere for at least 10 minutes, if you can be quiet and still and wait that long, something will happen."
I was on a dawn snowshoe hike, headed for the section of the preserve known as The Old Woods, a place with old growth trees and a good chance to see raccoons snoozing in lofty hollows or big pileated woodpeckers excavating trunks for their breakfasts. Tulip Summit stands in a younger section of woods, and I normally wouldn’t have lingered there.Chances to see wildlife were slimmer, and the plant life wasn’t as diverse as in other areas. But the snow was deep, and I was tired. So, I decided to give Herb’s idea a try. If something happened, I would enjoy telling him about it, and if not, I would give him some affable ribbing about his theory being a bust. I wiped the snow off the bench and planted myself down, ignoring how cold I felt. I checked my watch and settled in.
The first thing I realized was how unnatural it felt just to sit still, with no other purpose in mind beyond the sitting. I’d sat still to watch wildlife before, for long stretches of time even, but at those times I’d had a purpose, a focus. Now, I had only the hope that something would happen. It felt wrong, as if I was wasting time, but I had nowhere to be, no one waiting for me. If I got up and moved on, I had only my own impatience to blame. In the first five minutes, I glanced at my watch no less than ten times. Despite telling myself not to, I would look without realizing what I was doing.
But after the first five minutes, I started to relax. I heard the dead leaves quaking in the nearby beech tree, tinkling like chimes. I noticed the tufts of windblown snow that had collected in the rough patches on the trees the night before, the blue tint of the morning light. There were mouse tracks running from one of the bench’s legs to a nearby limb sticking out of the snow. It was from one of the tulip trees, and I could see a few clusters of tulip seeds protruding from the snow’s surface. The mouse must have been using them to pad his winter larder.
From the bench, I had a good view of the surrounding woods. The “summit” was only a small bump in the landscape, but the sloping sides and the bare winter branches in every direction allowed me to see a good ways off. And that was why I could see the fox.
I'll tell you the rest (and what this has to do with Violet) tomorrow!
Remember my friend Herb? I wrote about him in a post back in July, describing a yearly camping trip I take in his honor. He taught me most of what I know about the outdoors, and that’s where he comes to mind most often. I thought of him today, during a early evening hike with Violet. She’s still at the stage where she loves to touch anything and everything within reach; leaves, bark, flowers, berries – her fingers strain and stretch to reach them all. Some I pause to let her fondle and explore, her mouth slightly open, her eyes wide – a picture of concentration. I try to point out animals to her – a chipmunk scuttling through the trailside leaves or a chickadee perched close and eyeing us up, but they’re usually too small and too fast for her to zero in on. I know she’ll be able to soon enough, and when that thought went through my head, it was immediately followed by Herb's voice, asking the question, “When will she be able to do ‘The Sit’?” Once, on a hike together in some wild place, he told me, “If you sit somewhere for at least 10 minutes, if you can be quiet and still and wait that long, something will happen.” The idea intrigued me and I still remember the first time I tried it – I’ll tell you about it tomorrow…
My calendar hangs on the wall over my desk, and recently, I flipped it to October. My eyes happened on the small rectangle in the upper corner, the one giving me a miniature version of next month’s rows and columns of dates. There was November 20th. Second Sunday from the bottom. Until that moment, thinking about that date – Violet’s first birthday, the end of this blog – left me wondering how I’d fill up all the remaining posts, but seeing it there on the calendar, so close that it stares back at me every time I sit down to type a post, I feel a mildly surprising surge of panic. When I started this blog, it was for me. My wife’s pregnancy was flying past, and I wanted some way to hold onto it and to everything we would go through once Violet arrived. But over the past four hundred and some odd posts, the purpose has changed. This is now more for Violet. She is potential personified, and everything I type here feels like some sort of insurance against the future, whatever may come. With so many people I know, there are things I want to say to them but never do. I might forget, or wait for the right time that never comes, or I never find the courage to speak, but it’s easy to write to an idea, especially when that idea is the only daughter I’ll probably ever have. With that much on the line, it’s easier to get down the important, the goofy, the sentimental things I want to say to her. Maybe I won’t get them all down, but I’m starting to feel desperate, knowing that soon this window will close. I know I could continue collecting thoughts here after November 20th. No one’s holding me to that date, but the idea of following through on what I said in that first post – one post a day until my kid turns one – and giving this chapter of her life and mine a definite start and stop feels right. Come November 20, I’ll print it all up into a book and put it somewhere safe. Maybe I’ll wait to give it to her until she’s older. Maybe not. But it will be there, no matter what happens to me - death, or stroke, or just the possible crankiness and inevitable forgetfulness of old age. She’ll be able to read all the things I wanted to say, all the things I wanted her to know, and she’ll be able to read them whenever she wants, long after I’m gone.
It happened. I knew it would. I’ve said so in previous posts. I sat next to Violet as she played on the floor, and, as so many guilt-ridden parents have said before, I turned away for just a second. She made a slight movement toward me, and she was off balance, falling mouth-first into my knee. I felt it and heard it, a hard hit. There was no need to wait for a reaction, her eyes immediately pinched shut, a crimson flush flooded her face, and her mouth opened with the most horrible of all children’s cries, the silent, wide-mouthed howl. I picked her up and held her until she started breathing and her cries were audible. I pulled back to look, and saw, for the first time (and I’m sure it won’t be the last), Violet’s blood. Just a slight trickle on the center of her lower lip, but enough to make me want to call Child Protection on myself.
She’s fine, of course. Her smile was back in less than a minute, and the blood stopped soon after. No big deal, right? Just one of the many bumps and scrapes inevitable at this age. But what made my guilt linger was the small part of me that thought, "Hey, now I have a post for tonight!" and regretted not taking a picture. Maybe it’s good that this blog’s almost complete.
“If it works for the family, then it’s a good solution.” My friend (and fellow teacher) took that stance during a brief debate we had before school on Thursday. One of our students has some challenging sleep habits, and I don’t agree with the family’s solution. Out of respect for their privacy, I won’t go into details here, but to my mind, their solution only works around the problem. It doesn’t solve the underlying issue. “If it was me,” I countered, “I would ask myself, ‘What does this solution teach my child? Is it helping solve the problem for the long run or is it a temporary fix?’” My friend reiterated his earlier statement, going on to say that being a parent has greatly increased his definition of acceptable parenting moves; that the problem will likely work itself out no matter what the family chooses to do. I wasn’t convinced that it would be for the best.
That night, Violet woke up crying at 11:30 PM, 2 AM, and 3:30 AM. One of those times, the memory of which one is too blurry to be certain, I stood at the side of her crib, trying to soothe her. I rubbed her back. I spoke to her softly, reassuringly. The words of our pediatrician and in so many of the books I’ve read ran in bold letters across my brain. Do..not..pick..her..up.. Do..not..pick.. her..up. Picking her up reinforces the behavior. It does not encourage independence.
But I was so tired. I pictured myself standing there for another ten minutes as she continued to cry, then going back to bed, staring at the ceiling, awake and listening to more crying. It might go on for twenty or thirty minutes, maybe more. Or I could just pick her up. She would calm right down, rewarding me with that most wonderful of gifts, a sleepy smile in the dark. I would lie back on my pillows with her on my chest and she would drift off in just a few minutes, and I could place her gently back in the crib and return to bed, both of us happy. And that’s what I did.
That night, both of us learned something about me.
314 days old
To all those who have left comments over the past week or so, forgive me for not commenting back until tonight. There was a glitch on the blog that would not allow me to leave comments. I believe it is now fixed.