Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Of sea turtles and monsters

Cora can now sit up on her own long enough for me to get a picture of her before she either slumps to one side or folds herself in half. This past weekend we had dinner with some friends and they got out this big sea turtle puppet for Cora to play with. Well, she loved it so much, and amused us all so much - she would get the flipper tip in her mouth, then bite it while doing her arms-out harp seal impersonation - that they sent it home with us. The turtle continues to be a very big hit.

As far as we can tell, she really enjoys her nanny-time with Sue - the second day was the only time she cried when Sue arrived, and even today when I waved bye-bye before heading upstairs for the morning, she just kept smiling and bouncing. I wonder if she’ll notice next week when Sue doesn’t come back. Probably not, as she will be distracted by GRANDPARENTS!! I think I will miss Sue most of all - it has been really, really nice to get things done and to be able to run errands by myself.

So, given that I have this five-hour block of time each weekday morning this week, I must now be half-way through the grading, right? Ha! I haven’t even looked sideways at that stack of papers. Instead I have been running errands, wrapping presents, signing Christmas cards, making Christmas presents, and daydreaming about all the cookies I won’t be baking this year.

Though yesterday I did spend the morning at my office, getting reading for the January term class - Monsters: Literature & Theory. I finalized my syllabus, the reading calendar, the assignment sheets for the two papers, the supplemental readings, and made all my photocopies for the first day. Whew. That copy machine was smoking by the time I got through with it. But I have a nice looking stack of copies to show for it.

On my list of things to do today is to listen to the CDs of Seamus Heaney reading his translation of Beowulf, which is the first book we’re reading. And then to find two selections from that reading and the corresponding ones from the Anglo-Saxon CD to play the first day. Beowulf is our representative of the creature-monster, or the "naturally-occurring monster" - a category that I would say includes, for us modern people, aliens. In four short weeks we’ll look at three types of monsters: creature, humanmade, and undead. There’s an awful lot of reading for four weeks...but at least it is all (I hope) interesting! (Perhaps by January 25th when they turn their last paper in, they will have decided that Prof. K. is the real monster.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On Earth as it is in Ikea

This past weekend Cora had her first trip to Ikea, Swedish wonderland. One of the first things we saw when we walked in (at the start of the Ikea maze - their store layout is so brilliant in a totally evil kind of way) was a vat of small stuffed ocean animals for about 25 cents each. Even as Chris pulled out a red and white striped fish I could hear my mother in the background advising me not to get her used to getting a toy or treat every time we go shopping. Oops!

But she does love her little fish, though she tends to tuck it under her armpit - luckily (?) Ikea items have so many and such long tags, she can still suck on a tag. Perhaps this is an early sign that her instrument will be the bagpipes?

As we walked through the store we encountered many more very cute stuffed animals, and we showed them to her, then put them back in their bins and waved goodbye to them. Chris and I did a similar thing with the couches. We really need a new couch one day - the one we bought when we moved into the house has developed terrible sags. So, we sat on many different Ikea couches and looked at the upholstery options, and then waved bye-bye. We did get a rug for the living room, though - our Christmas present to the house - a round one with a labyrinth pattern. Much softer landing for people who can’t quite sit up for long.

This is the first week of our temporary part-time nanny, who is helping us burn through a flex plan account so that the money will go to a real person and not a corporation. By the time we do finally get into daycare (and we’ve been on the waiting list over a year!) It will be next March or April, just when we will probably no longer need, want, or be able to afford it!

So for two weeks we have Sue from 9am until 1 or 2pm. The second day, yesterday, when Sue arrived, Cora took one look at her and started crying. Today she smiled when she saw her, though I have heard her crying off and on, but also laughing off and on, so really a pretty normal day. Still...I miss my mornings with the baby!

In the meantime, I’m getting grading done in a more timely manner, along with other chores like that. I finally got my corner mostly worked out, so that I have a tiny "office" space on the landing, across from Cora’s room. There’s still a lot of stuff I don’t really have a place for, but it will work well enough. And I’ve got my computer up here now. My hope is that in the future Cora can be persuaded to take her naps up here in the crib and I can work. Or, she can play on the floor in her room and I can work. Basically, I just want to feel more productive than I think I have been this semester.

Despite all this yearning for being productive - getting grading done quickly, reading for classes, getting some writing done, being more prepared for class - I also have a yearning for spending time just sitting with Cora reading books, or practicing sitting (on the nice new rug!), or listening to new music (this week’s big hit: North African compilation CD from the library), or making silly faces and noises.

All this comes as a big surprise to me. I really thought I would be one of those "love the baby but can’t wait to get back to work" mothers who doesn’t mind spending lots of time away from the baby. But I also thought I would hate being pregnant, and I really didn’t. I guess I assumed these things because I never really felt those "maternal urges" - the burning desire to have a baby that I hear other women talk about. Even with Cora, the decision to get pregnant seemed more logistical, more a kind of gift to Chris and my family, than an irresistible impulse. Maybe that is why she is so irresistible to me now.

And I think about all those stories people tell about babies and their souls and babies picking their families (though, really, a night watching the news should put that story to the test) and babies biding their time to be with the right family. And I think about how when Cora was conceived, I did think to myself that we must have just made a baby. And two months later dreaming her name, and dreaming about holding a sleeping girl in an airport, waiting. Was that dream a metaphor after all? In the dream, I literally saw her name in lights, and I had never considered Cora as a name for the baby, though now it is clearly perfect for her.

So which is it? Is Cora like a fish we pulled out of the genetic Ikea bin? Are we like the couch she picked after sitting in a bunch of others? Did we have the best upholstery choices? Is she like the nanny that the agency picked for us after we submitted our application and information about our family? Is she the gift the universe sends me to turn my expectations upside down and make me rethink my "productivity priorities"? Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer. I think I get to pick the answer I like best. And like the Japanese businessmen in Life of Pi, like Pi Patel himself, I prefer the story with the tiger. I like to think, I like to believe, that Cora thought it would be fun to surprise me, fun to join this family of music and words and delicious food, fun to grow up in this little house.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

So many new things!

Lately, there have been a lot of new things going on in Coraland. She has discovered a fabulous new game: when she is in the saucer in the kitchen and someone walks near to her she can grab their legs! It is so cool to have long arms! Chris often wanders around saying, "Well, I can’t remember what I need out of this cupboard but I sure home the baby doesn’t get me!" And then gasping in surprise when she gets him. She likes playing this game with the gnome pajamas because there is enough fabric in the knees that she can grab it and actually pull it all the way to her mouth. Delicious gnomes!

She is also lucky enough to be the recipient of hand-me-down toys from several sources. One of my colleagues at school passed on to us this terrific dog-piano-xylophone on wheels. Now that Cora is trying mightily to sit, I dug it out of the toy box (a converted Pampers box) and plinked a few keys for her. She gave me a look that clearly said, "With marvels like this in the world, who the heck needs crack?" It’s her first rolling toy, and she finds that pretty engrossing. She plinks it, rolls it, looks up at me, and I say, "Cause and effect, baby, cause and effect."

The universe was extraordinarily kind to us this week. Last week as we were leaving church, a woman from choir stopped us and asked if we’d like a Christmas tree. She had been given one, but her family is going to Vietnam for the holidays, and she thought we might like to have it! On the drive over that morning we had just been discussing how to navigate that delicate balance between the weeks between paydays when all the trees are still fresh and the weeks with paydays when all the trees are dry and dropping needles as fast as they can.

To make room for the tree in the only space in the whole house where it can work we had to move the pack-n-play into the music room. We did this while Cora was sleeping (elsewhere!) and when she woke up and saw it was gone she was a little upset. We showed her it was still in the house - perhaps she thought that if it disappeared that would be the end of having her diaper changed? Later that night, Ann brought the tree over, a beautiful little balsam, almost as tall as me, a perfect shape, it smells heavenly and....oh boy! Much waving of hands and feet and noises of mystified delight. I can’t wait to see how she reacts once it is finally lit up and decorated!
It's nice to have someone around to remind you how many amazing things happen everyday, and how wonderful life can be if you just give it a taste. As long as you have somewhere to go to get a new diaper, someone to give you a pound of hot milk whenever you want it, toys that are new to you, and all the bananas and sweet potatoes you can eat in a sitting...what is there to complain about?

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Choosing the gnomes

The cold weather continues here in Minnesota, and I am (not so) secretly happy for the chance to spend large portions of each day in my wonderful flannel gnome pjs, courtesy of Beth, who knows all about my love-hate relationship with the little guys. Of course, sometimes I forget I am wearing them and I wonder why the mailman or a floral delivery guy is looking at me like I am the craziest thing he has ever seen. And then I remember. Gnome legs.

This past weekend we got together with some of the moms (and one of the dads, too) and babies from our Mom and Baby class, here at our house. There was some intensive cleaning flurries in the days prior. No one used the bathroom, but let me tell you it was beautiful in there! The babies had a great time with each other, and I’m sure that later that day everyone did exactly what we did... about all the parenting choices other people are making that we would never make! Cora is the baby with the latest bedtime, but she also sleeps the most at night. One of the other babies goes to be at 6pm - and her mom doesn’t get home from work until 5:30! I couldn’t stand only spending thirty minutes an evening with Cora! Of course, I am also the bad mom who drinks coffee! Despite all the variety in parenting philosophies and practices, though, the babies all seem to be working out just fine.

Would Cora’s personality be different if I abandoned my daily cup of caffeinated beverage? If she went to bed at 6pm and only slept until 3am (yikes)? If she had to take a nap twice a day at the same times and we let her cry it out if she wasn’t sleepy?
I admit, I’m not interested in finding out. I’d rather try harder to remember that there are many paths to the same place, there are many right choices, and there are many good moms making the best decisions they can. And, come on, who's the one in the gnome pants?

Sunday, December 3, 2006

What makes the baby so happy?

Ah ha - we seem to have recovered our ability to post pictures. Sometimes people ask me, "How come Cora is always so happy in her photos?" Here you can clearly see the answer - she is stoned out of her gourd. ("Duuude, what was in those sweet potatoes?!")

But she also gets plenty of rest. And when she doesn't feel like posing or smiling, she has her ways of letting Mom know.

Friday, December 1, 2006

In my universe

In an alternate universe where I am wide awake and feeling clever, this would be a perfect time to start grading that stack of papers. Unfortunately, I am stuck in this universe, where it is 10:30pm, Chris is out at a concert, the baby has just recently fallen asleep (just as I fired up disc two of the Fellowship of the Ring...babies love orcs, right?), and although it would seem that all I have accomplished today is the dishes, I find myself feeling pretty dull indeed.

Okay, there are a few other things I did today. I finished the mystery I’ve been working on for a few nights (Ayelet Waldman’s Death Gets a Time-Out - I like her mommy detective). I downloaded yesterday’s pictures from the camera (see below). I made most of dinner (Chris made his signature potatoes to go with the pork chops and fennel). And, this morning I took Cora for her flu booster. Which, of course, led directly to a baby that pretty much wanted to be held most of the day.

Going out for the booster shot was no easy errand. The errand itself took less than 40 minutes, but there was quite a bit of prep time involved. Outside it was 20 degrees (with wind chill, about 14), which is the coldest weather Cora has ever had to go out in. So there was a lot of layering to do, and adjusting the car seat straps so she would actually be wedged and clipped in there, swaddled in fleece as she was.

Once we were out and on our way to the car I realized that after wrapping up the baby so well, I was still just wearing a t-shirt, jeans, a sweater, and clogs with no socks. And my first thought was that I would never let Cora go out in the cold dressed like I was dressed. Maybe it doesn’t take so long to turn into a mommy after all. Cora didn’t seem to mind or even notice the cold at all.

Yesterday I decided to have a sick day - I’m sure eventually the students got over the heartbreak of a cancelled class (and no doubt this has led them to believe they will get papers back next week). I needed a break, Chris needed to work in the morning. It was nice to get in an extra breakfast with Cora. Breakfast time is often one of her best times. After she eats she is still in a really good mood and will sit in her chair and play with the table toys and talk and watch me type for quite a while. Pictures to be added later - Blogger seems to be having technical difficulties.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The choices I have to make...

Now, which of these would you rather play with?

Writing it all down

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend, who could hear Cora babbling in the background and asked what she was doing. She was lying on her belly across my lap, singing to (apparently) my knee and bobbing her body up and down like a harp seal making for the ocean.

"You’re writing all this down, of course," my friend said.

"Of course," I said, mentally revising her words to You mean to write all this down, don’t you? And I do mean to, because while I know better than to trust my memory, I seldom actually get around to the writing part. I think a lot about the various ways Cora’s babyhood is being recorded, all of them faulty to one degree or another.

I have my memory - famously bad about things like dates and places, famously good about plots and characters. I have sharp mental pictures of Cora in her silly moods, the way she jack-knifes her body and laughs at the same time, overcome with the fun of whatever we are doing. Or her expression as, early last September, her Dad carried her around the shallow end of a hotel pool, Cora in her bright green swim diaper, the one I almost didn’t buy for the trip, and a little t-shirt, clearly thrilled to feel the pool water on her legs. A waterbaby despite her Taurus birthdate!

We have photos, conventional and digital. Often in these she is blurry, either because our cameras are not high-end or (and?) because she seems to be always in motion. Always bobbing with excitement. The digital photos feel strangely fragile to me - somehow half-imaginary, existing only in the camera, on the computer. Putting them in the blog actually makes them feel a little more permanent. The problem here is that we’d rather experience Cora’s babyhood rather than have complete documentary record. (Hence, no Thanksgiving pictures this year, except from goofing around with hats earlier in the day.)

And then there is the written record. I think there are about three different journals floating around the house, including one on the computer, where I’ve tried to put together accounts of my pregnancy, Cora’s birth, the days just after. I’ve had such small spaces of time to try to write things down, I tend to use whatever notebook is closest to hand, hoping that some day I can somehow collect them all and create a whole out of the pieces.

Clearly, it’s an imperfect system. I’d like to believe I will always remember how she looks, what she sounds like, the things she does; already sometimes I have to really work to remember how she felt in my arms when she was a newborn. But other times those same memories, the ones I thought were all but lost, flash on me with astounding clarity. Does this continue? One day, fifteen years from now will that harp seal moment wash back over me, perhaps as I listen to my daughter talking on the phone to one of her friends?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday reflections

Sometime around (scholars think) 1860, Emily Dickinson wrote this poem:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along!

I was thinking about this poem today because Cora and I stayed home while Chris went off to sing in the choir. Cora’s had a cold (I think I gave it to her) and some rocky bedtimes, so I wanted to let her sleep. Sleep she did - woke me up at 9:00, peering over the edge of the bassinet and smiling. She is very amused by the sight of me sleeping.

We didn’t really have a bobolink or an orchard. The weather has taken a post-Thanksgiving turn for the cold and there’s less birdsong in the air. But, we did have our cat Emily meowing several choruses of "please clean my litterbox please" and Cora kept up a cheerful babble while I put our breakfasts together. It’s a sunny morning and the window shades are all up to let the light in. I sang her a chorus or two or "This little light of mine" and I ate my egg burrito while feeding her apples with blueberries and peaches with oatmeal cereal mixed in. She nursed for awhile and now is sleeping again

I’ve long agreed with many of Dickinson’s opinions about many things, and especially her thorny relationship with the religion of her day. I like that she has her own opinions about what God might and might not care about. I don’t know if she would agree with me, but I found something sacred about the morning Cora and I shared. I think anytime I’m able to take time and notice things like the light and the present moment that it is a little piece of Sabbath. Dickinson says "the sermon is never long," but isn’t the sermon really going on all the time?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Barnyard Players' Debut a Success!

Some babies work for world domination, but mine would be happy just to have a saucer/jumper of some sort in every room. She’s pretty close, with the exersaucer in the kitchen, the Bumbo in the music room, and the Hop-n-Pop in the living room. The first time we put her in the Hop-n-Pop, just after we brought it home from some friends’ house, she was too small and afraid of the whole thing. Now she loves it, loves to make the little balls pop around and work all the other toys on it.

But the big hit this weekend has been the new table toys, introduced the morning after Thanksgiving. Cora loves holidays that involve lots of people and hanging out at our friends’ home and watching the older kids run around. So the morning after, while Chris and I were still a little bleary, she was bright eyed and ready to play.

So, we broke out the finger puppets Chris’s students gave him last spring, plus two others that were in a hand-me-down bag of toys. There’s one other, a frog, who lives in the diaper bag, but may make the move to the dining room table soon.

The Barnyard Players put on their first production for Cora, which she thoroughly enjoyed. As you can see, she also enjoyed meeting one of the Players, Clyde the Horse, backstage after breakfast was over.

So here I am on Saturday night, just over halfway through my weekend, still facing a pile of papers and a chunk of reading to accomplish, along with many other miscellaneous chores. It seems that most of the time, getting through the dishes, grocery shopping, and general babycare activities is about all that I can really get done. Plus one or two other items. Like baking a pumpkin pie. Roasting a turkey. Finishing a Kathy Reichs mystery. Oops. I may have discovered part of the problem...I’ve been reading for my own enjoyment instead of just for classes!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tuesday before Turkeyday

Monday night Chris took the baby upstairs for stories, guitar songs, and other fun things and I wrapped up all the miscellaneous paperwork for classes. Then I settled into the couch to read through the assignment we would be discussing in class this morning. We’re onto Frankenstein now, the last book of the semester, and for today the students were supposed to read volume one (the first 68 pages).

I’ve read Frankenstein about five times now, but this was actually the time I most enjoyed it. For the first time I really saw how likeable Victor is supposed to be. Before he’s always seemed kind of a whiny self-important meglomaniac. Well, he is still whiny and I still have trouble with him thinking he suffers more than Justine, who though innocent of a young boy’s murder will be executed anyway because Victor won’t reveal the real murderer. But otherwise I felt much more like sinking into the story.

68 pages seemed a rather modest assignment for freshmen at a private liberal arts college. And with my renewed appreciation for the novel I was looking forward to our discussions. Alas. In the first class I overheard a couple students filling in others on the basic plot or reviewing the analysis from Sparknotes. In the second class I asked at the beginning of class how many students had done the reading. Five. Sigh.

Sometimes it is a relief to come home to the baby, who has no trouble fulfilling basic expectations! She eats! She cries! She poops! She laughs at the cats as they skitter away from her! This was also one of those afternoons where everything seemed to work out. I was able to make and eat my lunch while she played in her exersaucer, then she took a nap. She woke up a little crabby, but a clean diaper solved that problem. More playing in the saucer while I made dinner. She ate her dinner while my dinner continued cooking. Sure, the green beans made her gag and cough up some mixed vegetables, but that’s okay!

Now she sits in her snap-on chair at the table watching me type, chewing on her mutton (the little crinkly stuffed sheep that is her post-meal table toy), and pretty happy. In three minutes the rice and cornbread will be done. The red beans and andouille are simmering on the stovetop, and look, there’s more than enough red wine for me and even some leftover for Chris when he gets home.

Today, baby trumps work.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Starting on Sunday

I was just thinking this evening that I don't have enough to do, with Cora now halfway through her sixth month, the semester nearing its end, a seemingly magic pile of dishes (do as many as you can...there's always more!), and so why not start a blog?!

But, seriously, it is a good way to keep friends and family posted on how Cora is doing, and it is a way to be sure I do get some writing of some kind done from time to time. To get us started, here is Cora in her Halloween costume, with her Daddy. She is very excited to be a caterpillar, and, yes, she is VERY HUNGRY!