Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sestina Attempt #1

My exploration of poetic forms continues with the sestina. The same six words are used to end the lines of the six line stanzas. The order of the words changes according to a patterm that I struggled to understand until I recalled the "inverted sock" of Brown's commencement tradition, where all grads and alums walk past one another. I'd explain better, but Miguel is about to wake up from his nap. Anyhoo, I chalk this effort up to "good for the brain" and recording a memory rather than literary aspirations!

About bug bites, winter and typical parental fear and hope. . . .

More than others in our party, I itch.
We didn’t know it would be such a risk
Taking the plunge from our Andean home
Close to la selva, down two thousand feet.
Legs bare, guard down, we swam and took a walk:
Invisible swarms attacked us with ease.

Our constellations of welts scream for ease.
John and I were the first to howl “We itch!”
Children and spouses seemed spared by the walk
Then their bites reddened and revealed the risk
Of a night spent clawing raw legs and feet.
Still, we are glad to be here instead of home.

Miguel likes to say “Home away from home.”
His joy and exploring has been our ease
Where there’s no snow in cold inches or feet
Or my sigh when he gets that itch
To breathe and kick the drifts, stir up some risk--
And piling ten layers hinders the walk.

To be fair, we thrive on brisk winter walks,
Or at least take pride in the seasons of home
Where blizzards and black ice offer some risk.
Can you build character in a climate of ease?
Creo que si cuando bugs make you itch.
I think I’ll stay above five thousand feet.

For now, at least until my restless feet
Crave the harsh chill of a toe wiggling walk
I will accept an inconvenient itch.
Where we can soften and slow, will be a home.
Miguel needs to see us open, at ease.
Where slips and bruised lips are benign risks.

He has our heart, our hope, now that’s a risk.
Too soon he’ll control the fate of his feet.
Do we wish him a life of quiet ease
Or brambles and bites, a strenuous walk?
Or just that he will always call us home.
And know how to handle an itch.

Where there is an itch, there will be a risk.
Where there is a home, there will be restless feet.
May we walk long, and return without too much ease.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Villanelle Attempt #1:

To get out of a thinking rut, I am going to experiment with making poems according to various forms. Lisa P made me promise to write while in Ecuador, so here is a villanelle, in response to Miguel’s habit of 1) sleeping perpendicular to his crib (and here, in his little tent) and 2) waking up before dawn and being unable to go back to sleep unless he can “snuggle” with us, which for him is a contact sport.

Villanelle Attempt #1:

Once again you are perpendicular.
The thrashing has finally eased.
You have hurt nothing in particular.

The days have become slow and circular.
The nights leave us reeling and squeezed.
Once again you are perpendicular.

You are squirmy, compact and muscular.
When the rooster calls, we are kneed.
You have hurt nothing in particular.

But our frustration stirs the vascular.
“It’s still night-night!” we shift and plead.
Once again you are perpendicular.

You pop up and grin—it’s spectacular.
We groan and forgive. You are pleased.
You have hurt nothing in particular.

Through another night you have traveled far
Flopping and kicking sheets with speed.
Once again you are perpendicular.
You have hurt nothing in particular.
Here are some first stanzas of villanelles from poets who really knew what they were doing! Follow the links for the entire poems.

Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two Year Letter

(excerpt from a letter to Miguel's birth parents)

In early November, we had a wild dance party to celebrate Miguel’s second birthday and the near completion of the rehab of our “new home” on the first floor. The little ones spun and hopped below a disco ball illuminated with a bike light as the amused adults swapped stories about the joys and challenges of parenting. Taking advantage of the last balmy evening of the year, we spilled into the back yard for more dancing and a chocolate cake that Miguel had helped Gin bake earlier in the day. It was decorated with an airplane and “toenail” moon, two of Miguel’s favorite things to spy in the sky.

Later, as we swept the crumbs from the floor (you know how toddlers aren’t the tidiest eaters!), we thought about how Miguel has simultaneously changed and deepened our relationships to each other, our friends, our values and our community. We’re still working on our home, riding our bicycles and taking trips, but we have slowed down—the parties end a lot earlier than they used to, and that’s just fine by us. The most significant “slow down” has been Gin leaving her full time job to spend more time with Miguel and to pursue other creative projects related to our building, the garden and writing. Everyday, we feel so grateful to be sharing our life journey with Miguel; he gives us so much joy, and helps us keep our priorities straght.

Miguel is also changing so much, while still retaining the qualities we’ve noticed since he was a newborn. Aside from the occasional squall associated with growing pains or asserting his independence, Miguel is still an incredibly good natured boy, jumping into each day with both feet and a laugh. He gets along well with other kids and loves meeting new people. After a play date, he will gleefully rattle off all the names of the children and adults he saw. Full of sweetness and enthusiasm, he went through a phase of literally hugging trees and saying, “I love you, tree!” When someone cries, a look of grave concern falls on his face and he will rush over with a hug or a kiss. . . and sometimes his special bunny (though he usually decides he doesn’t want to share Bunny afterall.)

Of course, he has his moments of frustration, when he kicks and flails and screams NOOOOOOOO so loudly that all the dogs on the street bark in sympathy, but these moments tend to pass quickly. We try to be firm, calm and loving, frequently using phrases such as, “We are sorry you are upset, but . . . “ and “Please use your manners to tell us what you want. . .”

He has a keen sense of humor. Since his birthday, whenever we ask him how old he is, he’ll say “One!” and then laugh before admitting he knows well that he is two years old. During bath time—which he loves—he likes to make a bubble beard, like his dad. Then he’ll ask about Mommy having a beard, and quickly reply to himself, “That’s silly!!” He loves to play around with his emerging understandings of how the world works and what is normal.

He continues to be quite verbal, and has an impressive vocabulary.
Lately, he’s been experimenting with pronouns. Often he’ll request that we “Carry you” when he means to say, “Carry me” because of course he hears us asking “Do you want me to carry you?” He’s also very polite, peppering his dialogue with ‘please,’ ‘thank you, ’ ‘excuse me,’ and ‘may I?’

His memory also dazzles us. He talks about events that happened weeks ago. He still repeats with perfect pitch the way Gin angrily reacted to a driver who got too close to them. “Mommy said, ‘Oh no, no, no, no, no! to the mean lady in the car!’ Thankfully, he also picks up on our friendlier interactions, “Mommy said, ‘Have a nice day.’

Miguel is an enthusiastic assistant chef. He pulls his ‘helping chair’ to the counter, and offers Gin assistance in tasks such as mixing and breaking eggs, with only occasional splatterings of batter on the walls. He also loves vacuuming, which is good, as our floors seem to need constant cleaning!

Music is one of Miguel’s greatest joys. He is fascinated by guitars and is captivated by a friend of ours whom he sees play frequently. Miguel also loves to pull out Michael's guitar and strum away on it with care. Michael has put together a couple of music mixes (with songs ranging from the Popeye theme song, to the Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine”, to Gnarles Barclay’s “Crazy”). Miguel will ask for songs by name, and knows many lyrics. When he gets really excited about a song, his eyes light up and he starts shuffling his feet. His dancing usually quickly devolves into lots of giggly spinning, interspersed with lopsided hopping.

Seeing new places and meeting people continue to thrill Miguel. This year’s big trips included travelling to Washington, DC for a wedding and Moscow, Idaho for a weeklong visit to college friends and their young children. We also took some weekend bike and camping adventures, and visited his grandparents in Maryland a few times. Miguel greeted each new experience with wide eyes and a mostly good mood. We have also learned to adjust our expectations about what we can accomplish—no more 10 mile hikes or lingering late night dinners!

In a few days, we leave for yet another series of journeys: for Thanksgiving, we travel to Seattle to see Michael’s family (4 aunts and uncles and various cousins for Miguel to play with) and we’ll be in Ecuador for most of December, staying mostly in the town of BaƱos at a country inn owned by two friends. After a very busy two years, we’re really looking forwards to an extended period of time where we are all three together without the (knock on wood) distractions of work and managing our building.

Miguel will be thrilled about taking a plane again, but his favorite way to get around remains the bus. While we're out for a walk, he excitedly announces each passing bus (he can usually distinguish the Armitage from the Kimball) and he's down right giddy when we actually ride one. He also seems to enjoy the bike seat (his major mode of transportation) and the occasional car ride when we're chauffeured somewhere by a friend. We want to make sure he gets enough exercise, so he’s also walking more, even though it often means slow going for us as he wants to open and close every gate on the block, or point to all the blue “M for Miguel’s” on the sidewalks, which are actually upside down W’s noting where the water pipes are.

After his busy days either at day care (he goes 3 days a week to have time to socialize with other children and give Gin time to work on projects) or home with us, we usually have “family dinner,” complete with a cheers to some part of the day, followed by a regular bedtime routine which begins with brushing his teeth. He's insistent about taking off the cap himself and slathering the paste on the brush. He’s getting better at doing the brushing himself, but we still help him with the teeth he misses.

Next, he patters off to his room to choose bedtime stories from his bookshelf —usually three books to be read with Gin and/or Michael. Good Night Moon, Only in Dreams, and Maisy’s Bedtime are frequent picks. He sometimes turns back the pages to linger on a favorite picture, such as three pigs taking a bath, a bumblebee or a banjo. As we read out loud, we pause to let him finish the sentences, which he does especially well when there is a rhyme pattern. Gin is so excited to tap into her knowledge of children’s literacy to help him learn to become an independent reader and writer. It thrills us to see him sitting in a pile of books, turning the pages, even when the books are upside down.

After reading and snuggling, we put him to bed and play a final, often elaborate, game of peek-a-boo. Sometimes he’ll stay up for awhile and prattle about his day. Most nights he’s fast asleep within minutes, with Bunny tucked in his arms.

It’s been an amazing year. Miguel’s hugs and smiles warm each of our days. We look forward to more adventures and continuing to discover the world through his eyes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

special delivery

At 5:35pm today, Miguel barrelled down our hallway with an envelope in each hand, yelling "special delivery!" Michael had picked him up from day care and, truth be told, had coached Miguel in this mail collecting and delivery exercise. Still, it was the most amazing burst of sunshine to hit our hall since we moved in.

After completing his job, Miguel looked plaintively at the upper cabinets on the west kitchen wall and said, "Pretzel please!" How could I resist? He then proceeded to try to feed me a pretzel I didn't really want, but, again, it's hard to resist, "Mommy's turn."

He learned about pretzels during our recent, wonderful, trip to visit Jess, Chris, Sasha and Acer in Moscow, ID. Jess assures me that pretzels are neutral foods. Chris tells me not to worry unless they are "salt licks." All I know is that Miguel has a new favorite snack. Whether it's the food or the act of fishing it out of the bag that delights him is not clear to me.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

raising a glass

Not a picture from the night in question, but it's recent.
If I start blabbing about why I haven't written in the last four months, I'll never get to spearing this moment I want to remember and share.

Last night, we sat down to a family dinner. We don't have this routine figured out yet; sometimes we can't get our act together fast enough for his appetite and so he eats dinner while we are cooking our own. Sometimes we give up and go out to dinner. But yesterday we did have our act together and so we all snugged to the table to share a simple meal of black bean and roasted red pepper quesadillas and a strawberry, avocado, pine nut salad, whose garnishes had been Miguel's appetizer.

"Chrs," proclaimed Miguel as we started to eat. We nodded pleasantly, but confused in his direction.

"Chrs!" he insisted, grabbing his Kermit water cup.

"Oh, cheers!" we finally comprehended. We hoisted our cups in his direction, laughing and looking at each other in amazement. We had clinked classes with him once before, a few days earlier. While he's surely witnessed this ritual so many times, it was still surprising to see him remember, and to notice our lapse in adhering to it.

As with most of his cherished activities, he responded with, "Again! Again!" and we obliged once more, but then had to explain that it's really just a beginning of the meal kind of thing unless you are at a wedding or retirement party.

Cheers to you, Miguel. I am so thrilled to watch and hear your mind grow. Whether you are grasping the concept of "another" ("Another bus! Two buses!!!" you exclaim with the joy, perhaps, of someone who spent his first summer waiting for the #82 with a twitchy, bike-dependent mother) or learning your letters, (ABCDEFGZZZZZZZZZZ), you deepen my curiosity about and appreciation for language and learning.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

breaking the language barrier

Miguel’s vocabulary has exploded (apple! toofu! cup pease! uh-oh!). I understand that, as a 16 month old, breaking the language barrier is his job, but, still, it’s amazing to witness. He loves saying people’s names: Ben (day care playmate), Sheer-a (his Godmother), Char-y (easier to say than Nana), Gra-pa. He has even started to say Mama (Finally. He’s been saying Dada forever. Of course, now that M is in reach, he has started up with Mii-kle.)

He’ll try to repeat nearly any noun you say. After we got a wedding invitation in the mail, he walked around with his “tation.” Last week he was on his tip toes lunging at the counter saying “Fow-er! Fow-er!!!” It took me a few minutes to realize he wanted the pink carnations I had bought from my school fundraiser on Valentine’s Day. Who knew this lowly flower would be so appealing to a toddler?

This afternoon, he was rattling the gate asking for “tar, tar, TAR!” Befuddled, I opened the gate and he led me down the hall to the master bedroom. Lo! On the bed was Michael’s guitar. How did Miguel remember that his dad had left it there this morning?

“Gasses! Gasses!” He’s pointing at the sunglasses Nana/Char-y gave him. “Music! Muuuu-sic!” He’s pounding at the door to the study, demanding to hear Farmer Jason or Springsting’s take on Pete Seeger. “Dance, dance, dance” he smiles as he spins or stomps his feet, once the muuu-sic is on.

He’s not just talking, he’s communicating. His hyper verbal mama couldn’t be more tickled. I just want to trail him with a tape recorder (without hovering, of course).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

messy times and 47 stairs

This picture has little to do with this posting but it is recent and symbolic of messiness, which IS somewhat the subject of my get off yer arse and do some writing post for tonight.

We are better at maintaining our sidewalk than our inner commons. During this top 10 Chicago winter, we (mostly Michael) have diligently scraped away each blizzard and dusting from our 25 foot ribbon of walkway. One weekend, I shoveled all the way to the intersection, knowing that the Head Start next door only plows on weekdays. This was early in the season, when I was delighted to finally have a proper winter. Three feet of the white stuff later, and there's less pep in our snow relocation efforts. We clear to the property line and no more.

Our entryway and stairs are another matter. Out front, we are concerned about safety, so we swing into action at the first flake. Inside, we're waiting until spring to bust out a mop. Between the never ending snow, our first floor rehab and our utter exhaustion, the depression-era white, gray and black tiles in the foyer and oak stairs are suffering.

Miguel's bike trailer is stored in the front entry. The tiles under his parking space are covered in dark gray sludge from commute drippings.* The second entry has a thin layer of silt from when we blew insulation into the ceiling. The stairs are daily abraded by salt, plaster, and neglect. We and our guests have to traverse a 3 story moat of grime to get to our apartment, which is one reason we have been horrible about inviting people over lately.

Despite the sub-par conditions, today I let Miguel climb all 47 dirty stairs to get home. He had his snow suit and gloves on (actually, Mommy's wool socks were on his hands, up to his elbows, since he can't keep his gloves on), so I figured, why not? For now, Miguel's stair-climbing tools are his shoes, knees and sock-gloved hands. As long as he didn't lick the stairs (or Mommy's sock-gloves), what did it matter that the stairs were dirty?

I wonder what Miguel was thinking as he finally completed the long journey that he only knows from my or Michael's arms. For 15 plus months--his whole life--he has been swept upstairs. Was he tired? thrilled? unencumbered by analysis? as he crested the last landing? We don't know. I *can* say that I was proud. "Maybe we shouldn't move to the first floor after all," Michael mulled.

*I nearly got stopped by the police yesterday during yet another 5:30pm snow. As I hauled Miguel south on Kimball, I was slowly passed by a squad car, windows rolled down. I looked at them, they looked at me. I sensed. . . .something, a judging maybe, and I didn't like it. I had half a mind to speed up to them at the next light to see what the problem was ("What?? Ya got a problem with me???"), but as I was carrying my son, I instead opted to keep my careful slow and steady course. I needn't have raced anyway, as they stopped for me to catch up to them.

"Is that baby cov. . . " Before he could complete the sentence, he saw that Miguel's trailer DOES have a cover, so no officer, I was not feeding my son a salt and motor oil smoothie for dinner! Somewhat indignantly I explained, "Yes, it's just like a covered stroller, except that the STREETS ARE CLEARER THAN THE SIDEWALKS so it is easier to get home.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Free Ride

A bus trip back in August (10 months)--before Miguel caught the waving bug. . . .

Today’s Guest Blogger is Michael, Miguel’s dad.

Gin has blogged about CTA troubles she has endured with Miguel—who really needed to get the pool before it closed, anyways? (see previous post.)

While most of my day-to-day travels with Miguel involve towing his bike trailer to and from daycare, I do find myself on the bus once or twice a week, usually running the odd errand with an agreeable travelling companion.

Since I’ve had a number of good bus experiences with Miguel, and since CTA has successfully averted ‘doomsday’, I thought I would extol some virtues of busing with baby.

There’s nothing like a free ride to stoke customer satisfaction. Although there’s been a lot of hype around CTA’s new seniors ride free policy, kids under six have always gotten a free pass at the farebox (when accompanied by a fare paying adult).

There may even be a way for Daddy to avoid the fare, too. My friend Josh --a parent, cyclist, and CTA rider--has hypothesized you could put your toddler on the bus, hop on your bike and meet your son or daughter at your destination bus stop. He reasons that the bike will always beat the bus, so there’s little danger of your toddler having to wait for you to catch up at your destination.

Though I generally prefer biking to the cramped confines of a city bus, Miguel’s latest developmental advance has made riding the bus loads of fun.

Miguel is going through a gregarious stage where he indiscriminately approaches any stranger with an enthusiastic wave and a hearty “Hiyee!” He is down-right gleeful to have a captive yet ever-changing audience to try out his newly-learned salutations.

Few riders can resist Miguel’s charms. After waving and smiling back to him, bus passengers are often very generous in offering me free parenting advice. Yesterday, an older Eastern European woman told me how once Miguel becomes a teenager, he will constantly beg me to buy him expensive designer clothes.

“Pierre Cardin, Tommy Hilfiger . . . he’ll want you to spend $200 on his pants and you’ll just have to tell him no,” she prognosticated. An older African Amercian gentleman a few rows back chimed in, “And don’t forget the Michael Jordan shoes--$150!”

I was tempted to inform all passengers within earshot that no, I wouldn’t have to worry about commodity fetishism in Miguel’s teen years. He doesn’t watch TV and he’s seldom seen the interior of a car. Miguel will be attending socialist summer camp, we read to him every evening from Das Kapital and we’ve been careful to only use red diapers.

Instead, I nodded my head and deferred to the wisdom of my fellow passengers. Wisdom I would have missed were I waiting with my bike at the next bus stop for Miguel to catch up.