11 March 2010

This morning

4:00 AM Olivia has made her way into our bed yet again.  The bed is sheetless, because the sheets are hanging up in the bathroom, because we don't want to spend $1.75 to dry them.  It adds up.  (Thankfully Liz has the patience, skill and determination to make a laundry line in any space. She's actually what one might call a "Laundry Line McGyver.")  For some reason I'm using Olivia's pillow.  My pillow is nowhere to be seen.  Last night I didn't want to bother to look for it.  Too tired.  As Rhoda might say.  (Rhoda is the one in the wagon.)

Olivia is not at all a morning person.  I don't know if anybody really is.  But she really isn't.  And thankfully she's still little enough that her grumpiness is cute.  Not wanting to kick her out of our bed (where the other three members of her family all sleep) and banish her to her own (lonely) bed, I try to adjust my positioning so that we can both share her small pillow comfortably.  Morning logic, like morning hands, is almost unbelievably weak.  Whatever I was thinking, this was impossible.  And so in my attempt to be accommodating, albeit with little hope and heavily compromised motor functions, I inadvertently elbowed Olivia in the head.  At least once. I also nearly scooted her off the bed entirely.  To all of this, her grumpy reply was "Why are you pushing me?"  And then she promptly walked back to her bed.  I think mostly just to show her disgust.  I was relieved.  But she had taken her pillow back with her.  I reasoned that I would get better sleep with no pillow and more space than a with a child's pillow AND a child.  So I was content.  Until Olivia decided a few minutes later to assert her disgust in a more forceful way.  She returned to the bed and crawled over me so that she was positioned in the middle and I was the one on the end.  Then over the course of what could have been anywhere from 1 to 30 minutes (I was still in haze of tired) she gradually edged me off the bed.  Finally I stood up, thinking that I may as well spare some focused effort and reposition her--perhaps even find that big pillow I was too lazy to look for last night.  But when I stood up she said, almost cheerfully, "Daddy, you can go do your work now."

I realized then that there wasn't much point in me trying to get back to sleep.  I would need to wake up in a few minutes anyway to get breakfast ready since I am fasting.  So I let her have her victory.  This time.

Ten minutes later I heard the wailing of a banshee.  I knew that banshee was Elsie, so I ignored it.  It fell back asleep.  Elsie is a loud child.  I say that purely objectively.  I don't know why.  One theory may be that she has to fight harder for attention than Olivia did.  I think it's just her nature.  Some people are loud people.  Some people are quieter.  I am sure that when Elsie is a grown up she will also be loud.  She will sing loudly.  She will laugh loudly.  She will cry loudly.  And she will probably talk loudly.

I have noticed a few interesting things about Elsie's morning routine: She likes to wake up and nurse.  If she wakes up to find herself not nursing, she cries.  If she cries and that cry is not stopped by a breast full of milk, she screams like a banshee.  If she screams like a banshee and she is still not nursed, she either screams louder until it is almost unbearable, or falls back asleep.

This routine is altered slightly if I am in the bed and Liz is up.  In this scenario Elsie looks at me as if I have stolen something.  Then she says (in sort of a half cry) "Mama. Mama."  Then she points.  Then she cries.  Then I put her on the floor and she walks to Liz while crying.

But the part of her routine that I enjoy the most (and it may only last for a few days--who knows) is that once she is properly awake and properly nursed, she goes all by herself to the bookshelf and takes out her baby books (which Liz has placed right at her level) and she reads.  She goes through her books page by page and makes sounds.  Which is what people do when they read.  So I imagine this is what Elsie is attempting.  You can do it Banshee baby!  We love you!

09 March 2010

Who's Got the Power?

The power to dance, that is?

PBS has an animated show called "Super Why," in which four characters with watermelon-shaped heads explore phonetics and the "power to read."

The theme song is rather catchy, and we've molded it to our own desires, using it at times to encourage Olivia to get ready for the day or to make a rather mundane task seem more exciting.  The basic lyrics are as follows:

Who's got the power, the power to [insert task]?
Who answers the call of friends in need?
Super Olivia!  Super Olivia,
She's [insert some sort of exciting virtue associated with said task],
She's Super Olivia!

The other morning, I caught an impromptu dance session with Olivia performing, accompanied by her father singing a rather interesting version of the Super Why song.  First, the performance:

Now, the lyrics:

Olivia Carmel, the power to spin,
Who can really move it and dance it around?
She has the ability to make cool spinny moves and spin around!
Ye-eah!  Olivia Carmel,
She can do it in all directions!
Go-go!  Olivia!
She's our dancing little girl.
Oh, yeah!  Olivia!
She's so big and has the ability to dance!

We also had another go at it, with even greater lyrics (if not as much spinning):

Olivia Carmel, the power to dance,
The power to spin, the power to mo-ve.
Olivia!  Olivia Carmel!
Many different tempos of beat.
Different levels: low and high
And spinning and not spinning.
All kinds of things Olivia can do:
She can move, and she dances great dancing [indistinct]
Yeah, yeah!  Olivia!
Go, Olivia Carmel, do the dance!

I love my husband - he is the master of impromptu fun.  I must, however, add a disclaimer - this one is particularly for Gramma, who has a very refined ear in terms of singing - Gramma, this is NOT Nathan's normal singing voice.  He is simply copying the style of the Super Why song.  Just so you don't worry about voice placement and tone.  Love you! : )

07 March 2010

Bird Songs

We love birds.  For the past two years, a noisy mourning dove has nested in the branches of the tree outside of our window.  Either that, on on the roof, but the tree image is so much more romantic, don't you think?  We hear our birds in the spring and summer, and sometimes in the fall, but they move away for the winter, and although we think sometimes about them, we are more interested in warm and cosy inside things.

That being said, I was tickled pink when I heard the mourning dove's familiar coo two mornings ago. 

Nathan and I have been getting up early for the Baha'i Fast, which started last Tuesday and ends in about two weeks, because we have to make breakfast and eat it all before the sun rises.  Here in Chicago, that's about 6:16 (at least this morning), and it gets about a minute sooner each day.  This morning, the sky is a beautiful palette of creamy orange fading into a greyish purple.  How orange can fade into purple, only the sky can tell you.  I'm staving off this morning's chores of dishes and sweeping and tidying by reflecting on the beauty of the mornings, but soon I will have to dive into the work - we have Baha'i children's classes at our house later this morning, and I will need some physical and mental space to prepare for the rush of pancake-eating, rough-and-tumble children.

Maybe we will talk about birds...

05 March 2010

Rice Cake Explosion

Elsie likes rice cakes.  
The other day she found a bag of them
unattended near the edge of the counter.  

This is the aftermath.




Being Poor

I'm posting this on both of my blogs, simply because I think it's important.  And cool.  And also because I like to take up space.

I am an anthropologist.  Not by trade, because no one really pays me to anthropologize, and only a little by training (as I still have yet to fulfill that last foreign language credit to earn my Bachelor's degree...),  but by action, as I am constantly studying the habits of people, primarily little people named Olivia and Elsie, and learning about people all over the world, in order to teach my children and (frankly) to eat tastier food.  I am not an English major, either, as that last was certainly a run-on sentence.

Nathan is an actor.  By trade, which right now is coming in fits and bursts, as auditions come and go, and by training - first at one university where he entered the program which closed the following year, and then another, where he had to start all over again in order to follow the program in sequence - but mostly by action.  He loves acting.  It moves him in ways I do not quite understand, but can recognise beneath his calm exterior.  He is happiest when he is creating, and he creates by acting.

On the surface, we are run-of-the-mill, 9-5 folks, who are maybe peculiar by religion (being members of the Baha'i Faith) or maybe eating habits (see my Sweetgrass blog for more about that).  Nathan holds a "regular" job at the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, can take down a pint of ice cream in 5 minutes, and has a love/hate relationship with the Chicago Bears that only a tried and true fan can survive.  I stay home with our two little ones, make shopping lists, and try to calm the beast that is housekeeping.  But scratch a little of the gold paint off, and we are complicated and weird.  Probably just like you are.

The main problem is that both of us would rather be doing something else, but in order to work in this world, we are doing what we need to do to feed and clothe and love our families.  Having little children is rough work - it's not some "hooray, let's play all day long!" jamboree, but a constant mirror of all of your little personal glitches and a gigantic balancing act of personal time and sacrifice.  And for an extremely creative person to be working from nine to five as a bookstore manager, when he'd rather be speaking to the souls of people through the performing arts... well, you can imagine.  There are certainly any number of alternate arrangements we could make (I could work part-time or even full-time, Nathan could take care of the girls, we could be nomads...), but this is where we are.

And the end result - we are poor.  I'd like to think "poor in all save God," but that sounds a bit too high brow for my taste, and I don't even know if I'm "rich in God."  Especially when I am trying with all my might not to lose my temper with a smarty-smart three year old who is right more often than I'd like to admit.

But, griping aside, there are some things that keep us going.  For Nathan, it is the dream of fulfilling his calling as an actor.  Recently, that dream has been run through the wringer, but he is tenaciously keeping a candle lit for it.  It is difficult to watch a spouse suffer in this way - to see his determination when going to an especially important audition - the preparation involved, the sleepless anticipation - and then watch as he waits for the call.  And waits.  And waits.  He is bravefaced about it, and doesn't let on to others, but I know better.  And my feeble attempts to cheer him - my wan jokes and paltry distractions - only serve to rub in the fact that we know... we know.

The Baha'i Fast is a time for reflection before the coming New Year on 21 March (Naw Ruz).  It is a time when adult Baha'is (except those who are ill, pregnant, and "giving suck"- yours truly) abstain from food and drink from sunup to sundown for nineteen days.  It is, as I see it, a time for suffering, albeit mildly - to draw the mind and heart of one closer to the sufferings that those dear Manifestations of God who came to earth to teach us about God's Love for us only to be shunned and chained and imprisoned and killed.  This small act of not eating demonstrates our love for and connection to these Blessed Souls.

It is also a time for the stripping away of veils - fasting in many cultures is a process of purification - a time for us to see more clearly our lives and roles for the coming year.  The clarification I learn during this fasting time is how I can better serve myself, my family, and humanity.  During these past few days, while we have held our breath with Nathan to hear about his audition, I have reflected on my role in the family and especially my role in supporting him.  And I've realized that the best way to support both my daughters and my husband is to be strong in who I am.

The dream that keeps me going is one of equity and justice, and it is mightily green.  My calling, vague as it is, involves feeding and teaching people about food - about where our food comes from and how it grows.  About reinvesting value into that precious nourishment we give our bodies.  Food and prayer nourish us in ways we don't even realize - one feeds our body, the other our soul - and they aren't that far apart.  I envision a farm - an urban farm, perhaps - where everyone is welcome to come and learn how to live in balance.  I suppose before I realize this dream, I've got to figure it out myself.

My goal, then, for this fast, is to develop my own balance.  To gracefully grow into my own confidence, and from there, to lovingly encourage those around me to do the same.  To develop a systematic way of being in the world that is simple yet profound - one that I can teach to my children with the utmost love and respect - and to move through this precious one life with a loving impact on those I encounter.  Not that I'm some amazing Zen nun - I've still got a temper the size of Niagara Falls - but at least I know it, and can channel that passion into other endeavors.  This of course does not mean that I'll not ever get off track, but at least I will have a touchstone.

So I suppose being poor has its advantages - primarily, I realise that my dreams will have to have no contingency upon income.  Which leaves me the realm of the spirit.  That is, of course, infinite.


04 March 2010

Elsie's Words

I suppose I should post these here, before I forget to post them anywhere!

Elsie has been talking a lot - often, she will pontificate on things we can't quite understand, but sometimes we get it.  Here's a list of her favorite words and phrases:

Who-datWho is that?  Not to be confused with "who-dey," of Cincinnati Bengals fame, this is her favorite phrase to date.  Whenever anyone calls on the phone or rings the doorbell, she immediately stares at me and asks "who-dat?"  Sometimes, when we hear noises that no one has apparently made, she asks "who-dat?"  Recently, she's been making it more of a game, and points at me, asking me, with a gleam in her eye, "who-dat?"  To which she promptly replies "Mama!"

MamaMama, mother.  Me.  This phrase is mostly used when someone is hungry.

DadaDaddy, father.  Nathan.  The best presentation of this is when Nathan gets home, unannounced, and Elsie hears his voice.  She runs top speed (which is rather fast for someone so short in stature) to him and grabs his leg, repeating with glee "Dada!  Dada!"

Hi!Hi, hello.  The best game ever when in the grocery store is to try to get people to say hello to you, especially if you are an outgoing baby named Elsie.  She will enthusiastically say "HI!" as loud as possible until the unaware passerby figures out that it is she who is being spoken to and returns the greeting.  This word is also used whenever Elsie commandeers a phone, which she tucks under her ear, and says "hi!"

Byee!'Bye, goodbye.  This is used when people are leaving, and sometimes, recently, when Elsie thinks that it's time for people to leave.

Bye-Bye, Baa:  'Bye-bye, bath.  A variation of "byee," this is the song we song when leaving the bath, and Elsie sometimes uses this when she longs for a sudsy rinse, but knows that it's not the time.

EyeEye.  Sometimes this comes out as "hi," but make no mistake, the fact that Elsie is poking you squarely and firmly in the eye while repeating this word makes it clear she is not saying hello.  Her Uncle Emeric taught this to her a few days ago and she has been vibrantly repeating it over and over, along with the aforementioned face jab.

GogoTotoro, as in "My Neighbor, Totoro."  This is Miss Elsie's favorite (and only) video to watch.  On especially cold days, or days when I want to clean uninterrupted, we will turn this on.

Uh-ohUh-oh, whoops!  This is usually coupled with an experiment to test the current working of gravity, i.e. whatever it was in her hand is now on the floor.  Yup, gravity is still working.

Mo'More.  I would normally count this as a sound rather than a word, except that it is accompanied by a hand sign, the American Sign Language sign for "more."  Hooray!

(Just as a side note, both spoken language and signed language are governed by the same area of the brain.  The reason that baby sign is so popular is because that part of the brain works quite well, but
long before all of the muscles are coordinated for spoken word.  Sign language is more easily expressed for babies than spoken language, at least for a while.  It is also a great way to understand your baby, and for her to feel less frustrated because she can communicate with you.)

Olivia demonstrates the sign for "More"

Olivia shows us Elsie's version of "more"

Gen'goGentle.  This is also accompanied by a sign, although it's not any official ASL sign - a "gentle" (sometimes not) stroking of the face, which evolved out of our demonstrations to her on how to gently interact with others.

Day'dooThank you.  Admittedly my proudest moment yet was when Elsie said "thank you" as she took a snack from my outstretched hand.    Hooray!

P.S.  Hi, Damina!! :)

01 March 2010

Light upon light...

...Sort of.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith has written:

"A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved—even though he be ignorant—is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all the sciences and arts. The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned."

I will be the first to praise my children, but probably also the first to criticise - I suppose that is the difficulty of the mother, who spends all of her time herding little ones.  When we agreed to watch our little friend, Ma'ani, my difficulty became compounded, as here was a soul to whom I was not the mother, nor could I set the guidelines for his upbringing outside of the walls of our home.

That is not to say that his parents aren't doing a wonderful job!  But it is always difficult to mesh two cultures, and each family has a different style of parenting (just as each parent does).

With the struggles come the victories, and a third friend has helped to put a little schedule in our day, which would have otherwise been rather vague.  Also, it has brought yet another mirror to my parenting styles, and pointed out several issues that I have been addressing, little by little.

One of the things we have been working on as a little group is table manners.  I love them, and I know how to use them, but I must admit I've let mine slip a bit since I left my mother's house (don't tell her).  And when Olivia started mimicking my poor habits, I knew it was time to break out the old ones.  We started simple:  sit while you are eating, don't eat with your hands, keep your fingers out of your mouth, etc.  And we've been layering other ones.  The most recent (and difficult, now that we have another conversationalist in the house) has been "don't talk with food in your mouth."

Here are my three little chicks to show you the ropes:

1.  Put food in.  That's easy enough to do.

2.  Close your mouth and chew.

3.  Here's the tricky bit:  keep your mouth closed while you are chewing.

4.  Once that food has been thoroughly chewed with your mouth closed, swallow it up.

5.  Is there any food left in your mouth?

6.  No?  Good - now you can celebrate!!

" If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light."  -'Abdu'l-Bahá