We Went to the Park Today

It’s time to exercise more regularly again. A few weeks ago I fixed the wobble on the jogging stroller and this week I started taking Z on walk-jogs. A 2.5 mile route with a nice park on the way. Heading back home, we stopped by the park and I let her climb down from the stroller and she headed right for the playground. She knew what to do.

Sometimes she feels like crossing the high tunnel, sometimes she doesn’t.

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Last time we went to the park, she got pretty brave with the slides. Last time I forgot a camera. This time I remembered.

Then after about 30-45 minutes, Z decided she was done and walked to her stroller and climbed up to the seat. I strapped her in. A mom and her toddler approached the playground. The little girl looked a few months younger than Z and was wearing shoes that squeaked every time she took a step. As she and her mom passed us, I said, “There’s no sneaking up on me.” The mom laughed and joked that my eardrums might be breaking. I watched the baby get closer to the playground, and I remarked that the baby’s red ruffly shorts were super cute. The mom then said that those shorts made her water break. I must have had a strange look on my face when she said that, because she explained that she was at the store and seeing the shorts made her laugh. And when she laughed her water broke. And then she gave birth to the wearer of the shorts. I laughed while starting to push the stroller toward home; she said goodbye and wished us a good day.

I wonder, though, how they came to own the shorts. Did she buy them at the time her water broke, or did she go back to the store hoping to find the memento of her water breaking? If she went back, when? Was she hoping the shorts would still be there? If she bought them just before delivering her baby, that’s some real clearheadedness there. Or maybe she got someone to buy them for her.

I will think about this forever.

That mom was really friendly and I’m glad that her daughter’s shoes squeaked, because I got to be a smart aleck. I like meeting nice strangers. That’s a good reason to exercise more regularly.

Birthday Man

During your first birthday as a husband, we waited for Into the Woods to begin at Shakespeare in the Park at Central Park in New York City. We sat there while it poured rain until a couple behind us held their giant golf umbrella over us to provide a little relief. We sat for at least an hour and watched sheets of rain sparkle in the stage lights until they announced a rainout. We walked on Broadway in the 70-streets in our wet clothes until we found a place that served cake and hot chocolate. We ate cake and drank hot chocolate. We were two months into being married. You were helping me move my stuff out of storage to Utah. I was excited about sharing so many more birthdays with you.

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Today is your 3rd birthday as a husband, your first as a father.

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We began your birthday celebration last night at dinner. A little party, just the three of us. You and I talked while our daughter sat quietly and watched us until she started trying to stand, which turned into rolling over in her carrier. Then you held her while I ate. I watched you with her across the table from me and thought, man, how did I end up with this amazingness in my life?

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You have spent the last four months getting up in the middle of the night to rock our daughter. You’ve stayed home and fed her and changed diapers and sang to her and taught her to blow raspberries. I think she understands the time you spend with her more deeply than we know. You are totally killing it as a father, which not only inspires me but makes me ever so grateful that you’re my husband. And I know our daughter is grateful that you’re her dadda.

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Tonight, you have class, and that’s okay. I hope you have a wonderful and special day with lots of laughs and smiles and memories, and we look forward to more fun birthdays with you.

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Letter to Baby Girl: Week 36

Dear Baby Girl,

It’s getting close.

We are well into 36 weeks, and everybody says that you can come at any time now. Everyone asks if I’m excited, and of course I say that I am, but I really wonder how excited you are. You’re still moving a lot, stretching, testing the limits of my ribs. You’ll soon test my pain threshold, but all I know is that whatever pain I experience will be worth having you in my arms to finally hold and coo at and dote over.

This world is such an interesting and beautiful place. Your father and I can’t wait to explore it with you and see it through your eyes. Oh, to see regular and mundane things as brand new, to take nothing for granted.

Speaking of taking nothing for granted, I’m grateful for your father’s shirts. I have been wearing his running shirts and t-shirts for the past few weeks now. They cover my tummy well, and if I also wear your father’s hoodies, I have an even better idea what it’s like to be in his skin. As I type this, I think about how hard that man works: he goes to work to teach young minds about writing and critical thinking. I can imagine his frustration as he faces certain limits and attitudes of adolescence. It can be draining. And then he’s pursuing a Master’s degree at BYU. First of all I have to recognize his sacrifice for going to BYU. He got his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah, the great rival of BYU. And now that he’s immersed in the student culture in Provo he has to tolerate certain policies and mentalities that are just plain weird and often questionable. I’m not just talking from a spiritual/secular standpoint. There are arcane ideas and draconian practices and sometimes immovable one-sidedness that people seem oblivious to. Maybe if you decide to go to BYU you’ll see what I mean. Or maybe things will have changed for the better by then. I mean, they’re starting to make strides, and I can’t discount whatever progress has occurred, but there’s so much more room for improvement. Always remember that you can improve yourself as you work on your spirituality and decency as a human being.

Wow, that was a long paragraph. I trust you’ll be able to follow it, because we intend to help you develop a good attention span. Baby Girl, be ready for all the stimuli. There is so much of it everywhere. I can be easily distracted, and sometimes talking with your father our conversations wander, where various subjects stretch like tendrils that dissipate into nothing. However, you should see us bear down to do homework. We can sit for hours at a time typing and taking moments to share ideas that are new and fun to us. We want to teach you to filter and focus. These behaviors will help you understand the importance of respect. It’s a very basic principle, one that I never fully understood until I was an adult. There’s a lot that goes into interacting with other human beings. Some of it seems plain common sense; some of it has to be learned over a long period of time. Your father and I will teach you the best we can, and then we hope you’ll decide what’s what and respect others as they respect you. And part of this respect is to remember not to judge people until you’ve considered their story. People have stuff going on in their lives that we don’t know about. Always be willing to wonder if they’ve had a bad day or haven’t eaten or feel sad, and see if there’s a way to help them, even if it’s to give them a hug and tell them it’s okay. Or to acknowledge their feelings and give them space.

I didn’t intend for so much of this letter to lecture you. We have another doctor’s appointment today, and I’ve been looking at birth plans and want to ask a bunch of questions to prepare for your real-time arrival. The weight of the reality of your being here strikes me more strongly each day, and as we preregistered at the hospital yesterday, your father asked some important questions that assured me of his desire to be prepared. We want to be good parents.

There’s undeniable proof in this world of good parents. The father of some good friends of mine passed away last week, and so many wonderful memories and expressions of love overflowed from everywhere for this man. He and I talked only a few times, and he helped one of his daughters move to New York City while I tagged along, but I’ll always know him as a very tender-hearted, generous man who loved his family and treated others with respect. He was a big man, but he had an even bigger heart. I want his example to teach us. And you.

Dear sweet child, your father will be home soon, and then we will go to the doctor who might tell us how big you are, how much you weigh, if your position has changed. We’ll listen to your heartbeat; that never gets old. These physical indicators of your readiness pale in comparison to our eagerness to have you here.

And are we ever eager.

We’ll see you soon.

Love, Mom

Letter to Baby Girl: 35 Weeks

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Dear Baby Girl,

Last week the doctor confirmed that your head is right down where it should be. You have swum your way down to the closest possible escape. Have you thought about this? Have you thought about the effort it will take to squeeze your body through a hole that seems impossibly unaccommodating?

You’re already teaching me: I’ve never turned down a reasonable challenge, but is this reasonable? You are five or so weeks away from defying reason. The doctor also said you’re growing fast, and I imagine your curled body inside my 4’10” body and my 25-pound weight gain as early indicators of your amazing defiance. I already consider myself pretty tough: Shots don’t really hurt. I’ve run a couple half-marathons, a few 10Ks, several 5Ks. I’ve done a sprint triathlon. I’ve wiped out on a mountain bike on a technical trail I had no right being on. But I have a feeling you’re going to show me what it’s like to be really tough.

This — your grand entrance — seems a completely different level of toughness. This is going to take some faith and determination that I probably haven’t tapped into. I mean, your dad has already decided he isn’t going to watch your birth from the doctor’s perspective, but he’ll hold my hand and encourage me. And that’s okay, because everyone has his threshold for gore and pain, even other people’s pain. And he’s already been incredibly supportive and committed to taking care of us. But do you know what I hope happens? I hope your dad cries. He’s only cried once in his life — not even at our wedding — and I don’t know if he’s missing tear ducts or if he’s dehydrated or whatever, but maybe your arrival will be a rare occasion that inspires tears. Maybe your toughness and cuteness and tiny body will unkink and restore the waterworks. Maybe your positioning is your way of telling us how ready you are to see your dad cry.

Yesterday after church, I took the following photo. Your dad actually handled the camera. Did you know that he and I like basketball? He knows all the teams and players and trades. I haven’t followed current teams, but I can recall players from the ’90s when I watched pro basketball all the time with my little brother.

Also, shooting hoops was one of our first dates. We went to the gym and played HORSE and practiced foul shots. You’ll soon see that your dad and I aren’t tall people, but your dad has a mad three-point shot. He can pretty much shoot from anywhere beyond the arc. When I’m warmed up, I have a solid short shot and can be pretty scrappy. Maybe you’ll share our affinity for basketball, but it’s okay if you don’t.

Anyway, you have grown to the point where my tummy looks like a basketball. I hope you’ll someday appreciate how much fun we’ve had with you these eight months.

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Little tough one, we look forward to having so much more fun and facing life’s challenges with you in the next few weeks.

Love, Mom

Keeping Warm this Wretched Winter

When I got out of work this evening, there were actual puddles on the relatively snow-free sidewalk, evidence of molecules moving, releasing heat. Wispy clouds veiled parts of a blue sky, and the air didn’t make my teeth hurt.

Yet I looked at the forecast earlier in the day, and Saturday’s weather promises “areas of frozen fog.”

Weather, what the HELL is that? I chatted with a friend today, and she said frozen fog sounded dementoresque. She said I should catch a dementor. So that’s what I’m going to do on Saturday. I’m going to tame it and give it a clever name.

The air has been frigid these past couple of weeks. Near zero degrees. Sometimes it rises all the way up to the 20s, sometimes a warm winter front comes through and dumps two easy feet of snow, dragging a hawkish train of more bitter coldness.

I do not get along with this weather. I fight it, stand up for myself. Here’s how:

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  1. Thermals under my pants. My coat isn’t quite long enough to cover all of my legs, so these help.
  2. Two pairs of socks, because there’s nothing I hate more than cold feet. I can’t sleep or work properly when my toes are frozen. I get mad at Frontrunner more easily when my toes are frozen.
  3. A wool layer is good for shielding the cold and trapping heat. I’ll wear this over a shirt, which I’ll usually wear over thermal tops. When I say I like being warm, I don’t mess around.
  4. TWO scarves. I unfold one and wear it like a cape over my shoulders. I’ll wrap the other one around my neck then over my head so that it covers my ears. I also hate when the cold pierces the insides of my ears.
  5. Another layer, usually waterproof and looser-fitting, over my pants. It helps to shield the wind that tries to wrap around my legs. In your face, winter weather!
  6. High, insulated, waterproof boots. These come just below my knees, and I pull my snowpants over them. This combination prevents my feet from getting wet. I’ve had to plow my way through foot-high snow on the sidewalk next to my work building.
  7. The coat is the final layer. I zip everything up and seal everything in. I’m ready to wait for the bus and/or the train. This picture looks like there’s an alien creature pushing through my stomach, but no, it’s other layers that keep me nice and warm.

Not pictured:

  • Gloves: Having cold hands is almost as bad as having cold feet.
  • Earmuffs: Again with the ears, but they ache if they’re cold. And then I cry.
  • Aliens keeping me warm from the inside.

The ultimate goal is to layer up so that I’m like Randy from A Christmas Story and I have to say, “I can’t put my arms down!”  and Reilly will say, “Well, put your arms down when you get to work.”

So far this system of layering has worked this winter. I haven’t yet gotten sick, and it seems that my fist just now shot out in some sort of reflexive action to find the closest wood-like surface to knock on. Bring it, January. I’m ready. Dementor, I’m coming for you.

I hope everyone else is keeping warm.

Assessment

Earlier this week I finished Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird. The author offers useful advice about the writing process, and I especially like what she has to say about paying attention and workshopping. The book has brought me to ask myself not only how I should write, but what I should be writing.

Lamott says that “there is ecstasy in paying attention…. Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty of pain of the natural world, of the human mind and heart, and can try to capture just that – the details, the nuance, what is.” Annie Dillard’s writing demonstrates this kind of surprise and delight. I have been reading and rereading Dillard’s nonfiction since I was 16, and if someone decided to destroy all the poems in the world, I would still find solace and joy in Annie Dillard. I appreciate the intuition that goes beyond reason, all meanings manifest in a single word. What Hopkins did with inscape in his poetry, Dillard does in her prose. I don’t know if I could ever write like Dillard, but she always reminds me how much I like writing, because I really like paying attention.

Lamott also describes the value of getting people to read your stuff and providing honest, constructive feedback. I always get nervous whenever I have asked friends and reliable readers to critique my writing, but it’s ultimately beneficial to get another perspective. (I’m actually waiting on some feedback right now.) And people’s comments often emphasize that being a good writer also means being a good reader, and I need to revise my work with that in mind.

I’ve had the opportunity to give feedback on several projects friends have been working on. I can’t help feeling that these readings are little nudges to get back on the horse. A friend asked me to look over her blog post, six solid and enjoyable pages of funny anecdotes and observations of a roadtrip. For the past three years, I’ve been looking over a friend’s phases of a book he’s working on, at least 80,000 words. And I recently read the 30-page outline for another friend’s really fun-sounding book. I can’t get over how brilliant these friends are. They do so many incredible things with words, and I always feel self-conscious in my comments on their work. I always feel humbled that they would ask me to read their writing.

Whenever Reilly and I walk by the YA section of a bookstore, Reilly tells me that we could easily write a book better than most of those on the shelves. So what about my own writing? Writers use SO MANY different sources. Do I write about my limited, but really cool travels? Do I try to fictionalize intense personal experiences? Do I draw from mythology or a specific point in a culture’s history? Do I try to show up 98% of the YA writers in the world? I haven’t been participating in NaNoWriMo, but should I do it at least once? The short and not very definitive answer to these questions is: Yes. At least it has been affirmed that:

I have a pretty good sense of how to arrange words into sentences sometimes
I can write a blog/online journal post
I can write an outline for a novel/memoir

It’s time to saddle up.