Friday, June 22, 2007

Still Can't Write a Poem

"Are you going to write a poem about him?" asked one of the fifth grade students 8 months ago, when I suddenly became a mother. It was quite shocking for all of us. One week I was wacky, distracted Ms. Kilgore, the writing teacher with a soft spot for poetry. The next week, I was insanely distracted, confused Ms. Kilgore, the writing teacher and now Mom who replied, "Of course I will write a poem about him!"

With the exception of the "biku" on the main page of this blog I composed at a Bike Winter poetry reading back in March, I have not followed through on this promise.

I want to write a poem about Miguel. I want to write about him in a way that doesn't duplicate the baby books that disclaimingly tell you what to expect at certain times.

I had thought all our letters to Miguel's birth parents were incredibly rich and illuminating:

"News Flash!! This month, Miguel started tracking objects with his eyes." Never having spent any time with babies, every change was press release-worthy to me.

Looking back, I feel I could have just said, "Please consult page so and so of such and such book." Despite some problems with torticollis, he seems to be meandering through the developmental milestones like most babies.

So how do I capture Miguel instead of "8 month old?"

I want to write that poem, but I can't. Maybe it's because I can't even clean the kitchen, or finish a book, or water the sad basil hanging from our sun-baked 3rd floor porch.

Perhaps it's still too soon, the earth too moist. I learned the hard way that you are not supposed to dig in the soil after a hard spring rain. Maybe I just need to let it be, wait for the drying out period, before I can bloom the dearest parts of his personality on my words.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Have you seen a green purse?

I mugged Lisa on the bus yesterday. In fact, I held up the entire bus. I escaped with surprising speed, wresting two tens from her wallet with one hand while the other 180'ed the stroller down the rubbery, grooved aisle to the sighing doors.

Seconds before, the driver had waved us on as I requested a moment to dig out my fare card. Which was odd--my wallet is always in hand when the bus comes, because I fear that my clumsiness with boarding Miguel and his accouterments will cause a delay and contribute to dreaded bus bunchings down the line.

My wallet?? Where was my wallet? It should have been in my purse which was????

Somewhere on North Avenue beach, where we had spent the afternoon with our babies. My panicked eyes grabbed Lisa's. I needed to get off, retrace our steps, and I needed some cash for a phone call, for a cab ride, for food--as though I imagined that, purseless, Miguel and I would become hungry, urban wanderers, circling around, never quite able to make it home.

"Stop the bus!" I yelped. Passengers rolled their eyes as Miguel and I made our exit. Storm clouds crept from the west, the direction of home, which at this point felt very far away.

We retraced our steps. First, we swung by the restrooms--had I left my purse swinging on a stall hook? I stalked the stalls, waiting for people to leave each one. No luck. I rolled the stroller down the plastic boardwalk to our patch of sand. Barren. We slumped to the concession area where I had bought a berry smoothy. The young crew looked heartbroken for me. On to the life guard station. Same story.

The inky clouds inched closer, kicking up the wind. I desperately repeated the circuit, giving good Samaritans some time to turn my purse in to the life guards. We hit the beach again, my eyes straining for a lonesome green lump.

I wondered if Miguel knew I was freaking out. Stress sends me into silent frenzy. Did the halt to my normal chatter and the briskness of our movements alert him to the shift in mood? How old will he be when he can read me, just as I was reading the sky? Can he already? Is he learning how to react to situations by my example?? Was I setting a good example????

I crouched down and kissed him. "Mommy's having a rough afternoon. Thanks for being so calm. It really helps!"

After another kiss and a tickle, we were off again, back to the concession area. I bought a lemonade to break the 10 for bus fare. One of the smoothy vendors offered the use of his cell phone. I called Michael, embarrassed.

"I, uh, lost, er, my purse is missing, I don't know if I left it somewhere or someone took it, or both. It's just gone." I was nearly in tears. How could I be such an idiot? Who brings the unabridged version of their purse to the beach? In addition to the basics, I was carrying too much cash, my debit and credit cards, my teacher ID, the lime green iPod nano Michael had given me for Christmas in support of my jogging efforts and the good luck crystal we had found on last year's trip to Colorado.

It was just starting to rain as Miguel and I again boarded the North Avenue bus. I couldn't believe I was paying in cash. "I need to remember to call CTA to block access to my Chicago Card account," I sighed to myself, starting the epic to do list.

The rain started just as the bus pulled away from the beach. For the final 5 block walk home, I draped a blanket over the stroller. Miguel conked out quickly. We got home before Michael did, so I crouched in front of our door, letting the warm rain collect in the brim of my sunhat.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Pass the Hose

Mealtime used to be a predictable, pleasant, bonding affair. How could we lose? Baby is hungry, we feed baby, all is right with the world. Even the introduction to "solids" went exceptionally well. Miguel, always eager for new experiences, has attacked each spoonful with gusto--regardless of the glop going into his mouth: pale rice cereal, bright green avocado, orange (his favorite color) carrot, mauve apple/plum emulsion, and even stark white tofu.

But since figuring out how to hold his bottle high enough and with enough precision to actually feed himself (as opposed to sucking on air or poking his eyes with the nipple), he is starting to assert himself around other food. No longer is he content to be spoon fed at our pace. Yesterday, when I brandished his beloved oatmeal in front of his face, he responded with a defiant scowl and insistent, reaching hands.

I settled in for a long messy meal, gave him his spoon, and let him go at it. He didn't at all mind that I had to load it for him between bites. He just wanted to be in more control, to shove it into his nose, his chin and eventually his mouth. I was surprised by how much actually made it in. As a final treat, I gave him the empty bowl to chew on, and serenely waited for its spectacular flipping fall from the chair.

He napped long and deeply in the morning, and then again in the afternoon (after splashing off the leftovers in the bathtub.) Which left me plenty of time to wipe down the base boards.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Cooler by the Swimmin' Hole

When I think beach, I think Lake Michigan. Back in the growing up days, I was never more than a brisk 20 minute walk to Chicago’s calming eastern edge. Now I live 34 blocks west, in a neighborhood where cooler by the lake means nothing—which is great in April. But now the temps are pushing 90, and my feet ache for sand and cool water.

Since leaving Hyde Park, I rarely make it to the beach, even though it’s only 30 minutes of biking away. In theory, that’s just 10 minutes farther than what I grew up with. Maybe it’s the return trip I dread, all relaxation evaporating as I pedal home into the sizzling asphalt sunset.

Still, the beach calls. This week, I tried to organize an outing with some other families, but the plan almost collapsed as we tried to work around non-synchronous nap-times. (You have to budget a good 40-50 minutes of bus time there and back.)

Then Julie suggested a sandy retreat that requires no buses, that, in fact, is a brisk 20 minute walk from my house: Humboldt Park Beach. It’s tucked into the jewel of a park just south of Logan Square. So what if it’s so small and shallow that a sudden cold snap would shrink it to a skating pond in minutes. So what if there’s no skyline view (hey—there’s no annoying hum of Lake Shore Drive either!) So what if one of our friends refers to it as “Diaper Beach,” because it seems to be favored by people with small children, like, er, now, me. The hovering lifeguard and jaunty rowboat lent an air of authenticity; he even assured us that it does get deep in the middle.

Zoe, who is two and some, seemed perfectly content to splash around in the freezing water. Miguel and Violet, each 7 ½ months, seemed content to rake the sand and yammer at each other. The adults seemed content to just be in the sun, nibbling on manzanas and dulces. And the slow 25 minute walk home felt just right.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Running Home to the Babysitter

Miguel received his great-grandfather Kilgore's watch for Christmas. Will he be more on-time than his mother?

Tonight, belly and bladder full, I sprinted the final 4 blocks home to avoid returning late to the babysitter. On Tuesdays, Jessica watches Miguel 10:30am-8:30pm. It is the day that I do errands, wash my hair and have a date with my husband. Since she started in January, she has been late (ever so slightly) only twice. One of those times a huge snow storm was clogging up the entire city. The other was due to an emergency family situation. Usually she is early or right on time.

When I complimented her about her timeliness, she explained that she learned in high school that 15 minutes early is on time, and on time is late. Wow. I tend to live my life by the premise that if you haven't missed an airplane at least once, you're probably wasting time by getting to the airport early.

Usually, despite stellar intentions, I tend to run a little late. I do not mean to disregard the people who might be waiting for me. It's just that, like a toddler, I struggle with transitions. Whatever I am doing at any given moment fully engrosses and cements me--whether it's reading the vapid parts of the newspaper in the morning (making me late for work), or over-embellishing a grant application at the end of the work day (making me late for my family.)

I recall a conference I was organizing with a co-worker, someone who was slightly below me in terms of the "org chart" (and age), but years ahead of me in terms of professionalism. We had to be somewhere very early for set-up. I was late. Not wickedly late, maybe 15 minutes. But, when everything is tight, that's a long time, especially considering that I had vowed to be on time--and that it was my event. When I rolled in, I felt her frost. Later, after all was successfully, though stressfully, executed, we debriefed. She let me have it--in a professional way. At that moment, I realized I was the kind of person you could rely on--to be a little late. Ever since, I have worked to change this habit with little success and ever greater feelings of guilt.

Tonight, Michael and I pushed it by ordering dessert. We asked for the check with the tiramisu, but it didn't come. I kept looking at my watch. Michael, who is reliably on-time, and not nearly as fretful about all things, suggested we just call to say we might be a few minutes late. But we did that a few weeks ago. I don't want to keep being the type of person who can be relied on to be late. And so we power walked home along the bus lines. We weren't lucky--catching a mere 3 block lift on our final leg west.

So I broke all the rules about exercising after a meal and ran down Kimball in a desperate attempt to be home by 8:30 for for the wonderful woman who is always on time and who provides such loving, attentive care for our son.

I failed. The clock said 8:34. She was forgiving, Miguel was sleeping, and all I can do is try to be better next week.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


A new baby just arrived in our circle of friends (welcome Hazel Bee!), causing me to ponder this difference between winter babies and summer babies: layers.

I'm remembering the not so distant days of piling on the clothes for even the shortest trips: onsie, footed one piece (what do you call those??), jacket, gloves, hat, snowsuit. . . Ah, how quickly I forget Chicago winters, which is probably for the best. Now it's June, and Hazel Bee doesn't need Miguel's bear outfits from when he was a wintry infant. Just the thought of putting a tender wee one in anything furry or fleecy right now makes ME break into prickly heat.

During his first three months, Miguel also spent plenty of time in a swaddle. (In the picture, I am literally following the step by step instructions from The Happiest Baby on the Block--Miguel was 3 days old.) When he cried or needed to be soothed to sleep, we yanked a blanket around him with vigor, recreating a snug, presumably womby environment. It always seemed to work like a charm. But what would I do with a flailing wisp of a person now? When it's warm outside, it's toasty in our top floor apartment; when it's toasty outside, it's broiling here. Swaddling a newborn in our home during the summer would verge on child abuse.

Perhaps this is why my mom was always bemused by our obsessive bundling of Miguel. I was a June baby born in Virginia--apparently I spent my first few months nearly nekid (prickly heat and all). No womb reenactments for me!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Squeaky Floors

Miguel has outgrown (in interest and size) his small, jungle-themed activity mat. We keep it in his room as an emergency floor holding area.

So far, his room serves four purposes: sleeping, bedtime book reading, changing clothes and changing diapers. It is not a place for playtime and exploration. . . except when things don't go so well on the diaper table.

Today was one of those days. I had to plunk Miguel down on the undersized mat so I could regroup, slap myself in the face and run to the bathroom to soak his crevice befouled diaper cover.

As I walked back to his room, I heard a strange squeaking noise. "A new vocal achievement?" I wondered. His placid face revealed nothing. Then I looked at his legs. He had turned himself halfway off the mat and was kick-sliding his sweaty feet against the wood floor. Squeak, squeak, squeak. . . big smile. Squeak, squeak, squeak. . . big smile. I kicked off one of my clogs. "Squeak, squeak, squeak," I replied, with a questioning smile. He answered. "Squeak, squeak, squeak," big smile, eyes on me. Back and forth we went, 5 minutes? 10 minutes? an hour? I don't know.

What was he learning? Curious raw sensations? How to take turns in a conversation? That I can watch him for 5 minutes? 10 minutes? an hour? without getting bored and that that's a form of love? I don't know.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Protective Stance

It was a hot, muggy, stir-crazy day. The yard and window boxes called for tending. Instead of staying in to overponder the "master garden plan," or bemoaning my inability to hop on my bike and do a big trailer haul, I loaded up Miguel's diaper bag and searched the phone-book for a garden center that would require no more than one bus transfer: Farmer's Market Garden Center near Irving Park and Elston.

We took the Kimball bus 20 blocks north to Bell Plaine and walked 6 short blocks west until we saw a micropolis of greenery shimmering across Elston. I assumed my protective stance (body between oncoming traffic and stroller, arms stretched to keep the stroller going straight--why I think this helps, I don't know. I just hate pushing my child into distracted car traffic in front of me), and picked my way across the busy street.

I crammed his stroller with herbs and flowers for our window boxes and arranged to have a huge load of soil, mulch and compost delivered. It was a flat (and not inconsequential) fee, so I kept upping my order to get my purchase amount to delivery fee ratio in harmony. It's all stuff we need for the "master plan" anyway. I think.

Miguel was in a fine, but sleepy mood, for which I was very grateful. After waiting 30 minutes in the midday sun for the bus, I gave up, realizing the last place I wanted to be was on a very crowded bus (which it would be once it rolled around) with a stroller bulging with sleeping baby and plants. So I walked the final 20 blocks home, assuming another protective stance: trying to keep the stroller angled so the sun wouldn't bake his little legs. He napped the whole way.