Friday, October 9, 2015

There's a Monster in My House, and It Doesn't Live Under the Bed

Currently, my son is 8 months old, and my daughter is almost 3 years old ("on November 13th" she'll tell you). Before having kids, I expected that taking care of a baby would be difficult, but in my experience, having a toddler in my house is much much harder. 

If you have, have had, or have ever taken care of a toddler, then maybe you know how I feel. You're probably familiar with this scenario. I know that what we're experiencing is not out of the ordinary, that it is in fact, to be expected.

L is my daughter, M is me.
M: Sweetheart, how about you try sitting on the potty before we head out?
L: No!
M: I'd really like you to just give it a try, really quick.
L: Um, I'm sorry, I don't want to.
M: Why not?
L: Um, because I don't want to!
M: Okay, well, you need to try before we head out, so I'll ask you again in three minutes.
(some times goes by)
M: Alright sweetheart, I'd like for you to try sitting on the potty now.
L: Okay 
(starts walking to the bathroom, gets to the door, turns around, suddenly furious)
L: But I told you I don't want to go!
M: I need you to try, otherwise we can't go to the playground.
L: I don't want to go to the playground.
M: You don't?
L: I want to go to the playground!
M: Hon, if we're going to the playground, I need you to try sitting on the potty before we go.
L: No!
M: Okay, then I'm sorry, but we have to stay in.
L: (more furiousness, some crying, some screaming, some stomping, some throwing of objects, some hitting the air, some attempted swings at her brother, before going back into the playroom and reading a book) 
M: (starting to get ruffled, I don't even care about going to the playground, this was her idea to begin with, so whatever, let's just stay home, meanwhile Baby J is whining, he's been strapped to me this whole time, maybe getting a little warm)
L: (playing, standing near the bookshelf, pees, everywhere, all over her clothes, all over the rug on the floor, and stomps in it, flinging wet clothes on our new sofa, it's on the toys, it's on some books)

And this is when the monster comes out. It's quick, a flash, a hot feeling that creeps up behind my eyes, a gurgling in my throat, a hard and sharp pit in my stomach. I feel the monster spread to my hands, they shake, it's in my neck and head, they shake. And in this moment I understand how it is that some parents physically hurt their children. I understand how bruises develop on little bodies and how tiny bones are broken. I am so angry. As angry as I have ever been at anybody. 

Wow, that escalated quickly, Lynnette, you might think. Or, come on, Lynnette, aren't you exaggerating? But here's a bit of dark truth. If anything, I'm underplaying it. I've chosen a scenario that I think might draw some sympathy from you. In reality, there are many scenarios that are far more innocuous, more universally understandable, and that same monster shows up, just as quickly, just as angry, just as dangerous.

It's a monster I keep hidden well from the world. Even my closest friends, people who know me very well, over many years, have not met my monster. Maybe my husband has seen it; maybe a few times in our lives. Maybe. I reserve this terrible creature for my tiny, innocent daughter, who I love more than life itself. She's heard it in my voice; seen it in my eyes. 

Here's what I actually believe about my toddler. I believe she's developmentally in a stage where her job is to test her boundaries. I believe that her saying "no," and "I don't want to," are signs of strong and normal development. It means she is a bright kid, who is asserting her independence.
I don't believe a child this age is capable of being a jerk - she may be acting like one, yes, but she doesn't have malicious intent. I believe she's at a stage where she wants to try things on her own, but also needs badly to feel safe and protected. I don't believe she's a bad kid. I don't think she can be bad. I believe these moments of "rebellion" and "defiance" are her way of asking me, "am I safe here?" "will you have my back no matter what?" and "do you love me?" She needs me to endure the meltdowns, to make my expectations clear, but to find at the end that I am still here, not withholding love from her, and not punishing her for having completely age-appropriate feelings and impulses. Despite all these beliefs, and how much I want to say, "Yes! Yes, my darling, you are my treasure, and I love you, no matter what," I encounter this monster, over and over again.

I've seen this monster before. It's the same one that I glimpsed behind my dad's eyes when we were kids. It's the same monster that spanked me for reasons I can't remember. It whipped out my dad's belt and slammed it against the kitchen table. It banged a chair against the floor, a head against a wall. It lived in the raised red hand print shaped mark on my thigh; it lingered while I watched and waited for the mark to flatten and fade. It's the same monster that I heard in my grandpa's voice, yelling at my grandma, it seemed nightly, shaking the walls and floor beneath my sister's and my bedrooms, waking us up after we'd already gone to bed. And while this monster has not driven me to repeat history, I certainly recognize its growl, and the feeling of uncontrollable anger.

This is an incredibly "un-saving face" kind of blog post to write. Not the kind of thing a good Chinese daughter writes about her family, shining a light on unsavory family details, calling out a grandpa on his abuse, years after he's already left the earth. Why bring that up? Just take responsibility for your own monster, Lynnette, stop trying to blame it on your father, and your father's father.  
I think it's a common thing, to follow in your family's footsteps. It's why we have idioms about apples falling from trees. And so often we do the thing our family has done, in the name of respect, and honor. We default, as parents, to parenting the way our parents did. Sometimes we consciously choose to do what they did, saying, We turned out fine, didn't we?

I think this monster has been speaking to my family for many generations, and that the parents who have come before me have also heard what I'm hearing, a warning, "watch out, you've got to control this kid, make her listen to you, or else." Or else... or else you'll end up with a spoiled kid, or else she'll take advantage of you and others, or else she won't know wrong from right. We listen to this monster and do what it tells us, in an effort to protect, to teach. That's our job as parents isn't it? 

But I'm interested in saving a new face. The beautiful faces of my toddler daughter and my baby son. Lots of things get passed on through the generations of a family: the appearance of our hair and eyes, the tendency toward having bad vision, a talent for music, diabetes, alcoholism, and I also believe, monsters. I don't have much control over whether my kids end up receiving a lot of those things, but if there's anything I can do to stop this monster, I'd like to try. I'd like to save my children's faces from having to feel this monster creep up behind their eyes and ears. I'd like to save their faces from wearing any of this monster's scars.

So I think I'd like to swallow this monster. Better yet, I'd like to demolish it, drown it, burn it, make it small and powerless. I want to do to it, all the things it makes me want to do to my daughter when it appears. I'd like to wipe it off the face of this earth, end its relationship with me and my family, forget it completely. 

But I can't give my children a monster-less world. This world is full of monsters, and these feelings are real. Perhaps there's even a way to honor the old things passed onto me by my family, both the seemingly good, and the seemingly bad.

So I'd like to say thank you, dear monster, for your urgency, your passion, and your rage. I hope that I and my children will spring to action when we're needed, will find things worthy of our passion, and will know which things deserve our rage. I see you, dear monster, and I thank you for your warning, but you may go now, because I am not afraid of you or what you have to say.

I've been reading No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury. It's helping me keep the monster at bay.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

National Breastfeeding Awareness Month is Over.

All last month I read blogposts and articles about breastfeeding and have wanted to get in on the conversation. I have pages of handwritten thoughts on the matter. But the month has come and gone, and I've struggled to edit those thoughts.

I've been wanting to write about my boobs for quite some time. I wouldn't have guessed I would ever feel this way. Before having children, I'd have put my money on me being the kind of mom who would want to nurse privately, discreetly, out of sight, who would go to great lengths to make other people feel comfortable. But here I am, wanting to write about boobs. Breasts.

This is a conversation I have with my daughter. We have a book aimed at preparing older siblings for the arrival of a new baby. The book talks about how the younger baby sibling is going to be drinking milk from mom's breasts. And every time we get to that part, she asks me again, "Breasts?" "Breasts." "Breasts?" Like, "am I saying that right?" She laughs, "Okay, but I call them mama milks!" She'll be 3 years old in November, and she is familiar with breastfeeding because it is something she does everyday.

I've been stressing about what to write about breastfeeding, because I have felt some sort of pressure to "make a case." When I flip through those handwritten pages, I find defenses, apologies, explanations, and proof.

Last December, when I was quite pregnant with my son and my daughter had recently turned two, I found this article circulating in some of my circles about a woman who was nursing her six and a half year old daughter. Despite the article's many examples of positive results from her full-term nursing, her story garnered only a bit of support. It felt to me that the whole of the online public was appalled with her choice, calling her lots of things from "extreme" or "disgusting" to "completely insane" and "sexually abusive."

A few weeks later, an NPR piece came out called What's Right About a Six-year-old Who Breastfeeds. The story included scientific and anthropological evidence for why "extended breastfeeding" is beneficial and quite normal throughout much of the world. An anthropologist interviewed for this piece, who breastfed her own children until they were 3 and 5.5, acknowledges that the information can be hard for people to stomach in the moment, and thus encourages others like herself to “shout it from the rooftops once their children are grown.” After this article came out, I found silent solace in the fact that I could one day, decades from now, shout from the rooftops that I had nursed my child into toddlerhood (and beyond?).

But a couple decades is a long time to wait to talk about something that is such a big part of my current everyday.

I don't share my story in order to convince, or persuade. I am not interested in judging anyone's choices as a parent. I am honored, and incredibly fortunate, to have the opportunity and ability to do what we do. I'll put these thoughts on the page, relieving myself of the pressure to find the most important or compelling things to say. My story is not unique. I am joined by mothers in my local community, and by thousands of mothers in online communities who do what I do. My simple goals are to contribute to the conversation and to come out of the tandem nursing closet.

I've hardly been completely secretive about nursing both my kids simultaneously. But in those moments when I have shared it, I have felt myself apologizing for it. And I hate that tensing in my neck, and the way my voice gets high, like I'm embarrassed or ashamed. I hate hearing myself joke, "Ha-ha, I'm sorry! I guess, I've turned into one of those weirdo hippie moms!" I'd like to stop prefacing my story with "I'm sorry," because I am not sorry.

I used to joke with a dear friend about how the time to stop nursing was when your child could start asking for it in his own voice with his own words.  It seemed reasonable at the time, from where I stood, childless and very unaware of my breasts.

My daughter started to ask for "mama milk" a little past her first birthday. A few months later she started to say "other side milk." She was just learning to walk, and it felt like a bad time to stop. I think both she and I were excited that we could so clearly understand one another. Around that time, we found that we were expecting her younger sibling.

It's the case that many mothers lose their milk supply when they are pregnant, and that many babies self-wean because they lose interest due to the decrease in milk, or the changing taste. I thought it was likely that would happen to my daughter.

That was over a year and a half ago.  My son was born a couple months after she turned two. I'm sure there were changes in my milk, but they didn't affect my daughter's interest in nursing.
                                                                                                                                                                These days, there are certainly many times (i.e. in the middle of the night, when we're out in public) that feel inopportune to nurse. I ask her, more than a little exasperatedly, "Why do you need mama milk, right now?"

And I can see her gearing up to answer; thinking carefully about her words. She doesn't want to mess it up for herself. Her voice is steady and slow, but quickens a little, the way mine does when I'm nervous I won't get something I really really want.

"But mama!" her voice and face are bright. Then, "mama," low and calm. "Because I really really love mamamilk sooooooo much!"

"Why do you love it so much?"

"Because!" Brightly again and a little incredulous. "It makes me so so happy! It makes me feel very happy!"

Nursing my toddler daughter is taxing at times. When I'm full, nursing her feels like a wonderful and great relief: the world's gentlest and most effective breast pump. When I'm tired, or depleted, nursing her feels like an icky skin crawling chore. But then I ask myself how many times I have been able to identify so precisely and verbalize so clearly, that something I love brings me happiness. It doesn't feel right to me to respond to her pure and straightforward desire and request, with termination. It doesn't make sense to me to stop now either.

Nursing my seven-month-old son is sometimes like offering a warm and soft coconut to a tiny, hungry, very soft, and squishy chipmunk. It's like curling up in the softest, coziest hammock, and letting the barely-there breeze swing you to sleep. And other times I am being sucked up by a baby beast, who yanks at my hair or tries to remove my lips from my face with his very strong tiny fists as he drinks. I remember hearing about how breastfeeding is a special way to "bond" with your baby. Yes, I think that is true. But never did a word feel so inadequate to describe the experience. Nursing, feels to me, like the closest I can get to my kids while still remaining a separate person.

When I was pregnant with my son, we talked about how "Baby Junior" (his in utero nickname) would come out someday and would want to have mama milk too. My daughter would cup my opposite breast while she was nursing, then take a break to tell me, "this one is for Baby Junior." My husband and I wondered how much she was understanding about my pregnancy. The idea that she'd be joined by a new tiny person, who would one day take her toys, and share her milk, seemed to us a very abstract idea for a two-year-old to grasp.

I'll never know how much she truly understood, but on the day she met her baby brother, she demonstrated that there was some part of what we'd been saying for the past nine months that stuck with her. When she heard him cry for the first time, she jumped up next to me and patted one of my breasts. "Maybe he wants mama milk," she said. She stood by my side as we urged a 36-hour-old Baby Junior to latch. She actually took hold of my boob and pressed it toward his mouth, offering it to him while he cried. When he had latched, she sat down on one half of my lap and joined us, nursing on the other side, like it was something she'd done a million times.

I don't nurse them at the same time everyday, it's something that happens from time to time. Often times my daughter wants to join, when she sees me nursing her brother. And lately, my son wants to join when he sees me nursing his sister, especially in the afternoons on the days she's at daycare. It's a way we get to all say to one another, "Hello, it's nice to see you again. I missed you today"

Nursing them at the same time is like being in on a sibling secret. They lock eyes, and from the very moment my son was home with us, the two of them have had this opportunity to communicate intimately. When he was days old, she would reach out and touch his head, or stroke his back. As he got older, he would eventually start to reach out and touch her face, or tug on her hair. She laughs at this, which makes him laugh, which in turn makes me laugh. There is no possible way to not laugh when you have two giggling children latched onto your breasts. They hold hands. It is not something I taught them to do. They reach for each other and laugh, and their little hands are saying "I'm here."

Breastfeeding awareness. I am so aware, so so aware of my breasts these days. They are so presently a part of my life, They have a big job to do.

I've been asked, "but aren't you looking forward to having your body back?"

And this is what I think. Nobody took my body from me. I never did lose it. I love this awesome body, that birthed two babies like a champ, with breasts that fill with milk and make my children feel so so happy, that have the power to make two screaming children cuddle, coo, and sometimes fall asleep within seconds. I love my breasts that never let me forget that my kids are here, even when I'm not with them. They tell me when my kids need me, or when I need them. Right now, this body can squelch loneliness, soothe "owies", calm tantrums, ease upset stomachs, silence monsters, and ward off sickness.   This magic body is mine, all mine.

National Breastfeeding Awareness Month may be over, but I don't see why we can't keep the Breastfeeding Awareness spirit alive, all year long.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Why December Makes Me Sad

Musing on why December makes me sad...

I wrote a blog post for this week, and I'd like to link to it here.  Perhaps, despite the melancholy tone of the piece, you'll feel hopeful like I do?

Hello, December. It’s that time of year here in America. A time for good tidings of comfort and joy. A time for happy family memories and meaningful traditions. But for me and my interfaith marriage, December now comes packaged with a new tradition–an annual holiday cry (or if I’m really being honest…cries. Plural.)
Now I know a lot of people cry during the holidays. The pressure of stressful travel plans and forced family gatherings is enough to make many people crack. But for the interfaith family, December is a particularly lonely time.
I go online to order holiday cards. (I am a little behind this year.) I skip over the red and green ones, the ones with Christmas trees or holly or Santa Claus, the ones that say “Merry Christmas,” the ones that say “Happy Hanukkah,” and I’m left to choose from lots of cards with “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” written generically on the front. After much much agonizing, I pick, “Peace, Joy, and Love.” Those are things that people from all faiths want, right?  Continue reading -->

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One (or Five Hundred Twenty Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes)

Musing on one year…  and a letter to my baby girl.

It’s crept up on me - our daughter’s first birthday.  And alongside the anniversary of the day of her birth comes my official realization of exactly how fast one year of life can pass.  It’s nearly daily, as we watch her play, that my husband tells me with a tinge of dread in his voice, she’s going to college soon.  And as seasoned parents tell me, he’s right.

Seeing the world from a new point of view
This year has been filled with beautiful memories: endless amounts of shameless gushing over everything she does, of the secretly held belief in our biased hearts that even as she embarks on the same milestones as every other single baby in the world throughout time, she’s the best baby that ever lived.  But even as I fill with pride and joy, I am also growing ever more familiar with the haunting feeling that we are going to mess it all up.  Gazing into my baby’s happy, soulful eyes, I know that not everyday ahead will be blissful and full of light. 

There’s something I used to do when I was pregnant.  Those haunting feelings were familiar back then.  I’d often lay awake at night worrying about whether the baby growing inside me was getting everything she needed, and hoping she was healthy, strong, comfortable, and well.  And so whenever I encountered that paralyzing worry, I'd get up and out of bed, and would pull out a notebook and write her a letter.  I made the decision not only to “journal,” but to actually write words directly to my baby.  I wanted to get a head start on what I hope will be a lifetime of open and direct communication - of not sacrificing what’s really going on for the sake of appearing like we’ve got everything together, or saving face.

Today is a perfect day for another letter.

Dear Baby Girl,

You are one year old today!  It’s been one year since you and I worked together, along with Dada and Kate, to bring you from inside my uterus out into the world.  You came into the world with your eyes wide open.  From the very first moments, you were already looking around, alert and awake. 

You are strong.  Just minutes after you were born, we placed you on top of me, belly to belly, and you inched and wiggled, all by yourself, up to my chest.  Once you were up there, you picked up your head, threw it over to one side, and began nursing for the very first time, all on your own.  I was there to make sure you didn’t fall, and to offer a bit of support and guidance.  But you knew what to do already.  Every time you come across a new challenge in life, or a big task, look inside yourself first, you might already have an idea as to how to begin.  But also don’t be afraid to look for help; we are here to support you.

You are small.  Yes, you are smaller than most other babies your age.  You have tiny hands and tiny feet.  But we are all small.  In comparison to this big, big world around us, we are just a very small piece.  Always look around you with wonder and remember that you are part of something bigger than yourself. But also know that our physical size doesn’t have anything to do with our capacity to love, give, and make a big difference.  You can do big, big things, no matter how small you are.

The world is both good and bad.  People will try to tell you that it's all one or all the other, but I don’t believe it.  When I look around, I see and experience that both are true.  In this past year of your life, there has been unspeakable badness and sadness.  A month after you were born, there was a horrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, and then a few months later there was a bombing at the Boston Marathon, and just this week a typhoon hit the central Philippines, the country my family is from.  Someday you might ask me why these bad things happen, and I will tell you honestly that I don’t know.  I will tell you that I still ask that same question.  Don’t ever stop asking that question.  Trying to find the answer can lead you toward a deeper understanding of people, give you a greater sense of empathy, and inspire you to fight for what you believe in. 

To find the good in this past year, I don’t have to look too far.  I only have to see you smile, which is something you do freely and frequently.  I only have to feel your Dada squeeze my hand as we watch you play, and discover, and learn.  I only have to watch the way complete strangers light up when they meet you.  You are already, even at your very young age, spreading good cheer everywhere we go.

I love you.  Unconditionally.  There's nothing you need to do or not do to earn my love.  People often warn me that someday you'll do things that will make it difficult for me to love you.  That as a teenager you'll roll your eyes at me and want nothing to do with me.  And I know we may hurt each other, sometimes unintentionally, and other times on purpose.  But I’m holding out hope that even through tough times, we'll keep talking.  I’m hoping that ours will be a home where we talk about how we feel and what we're afraid of, where we say we're sorry and take responsibility for our mistakes.  That ours will be a home where you hear and feel how much we love you, everyday.

Happy Birthday, my darling.  Thank you for this amazing year. 
I am so incredibly honored to be your mama. 

Love always,


One - is the finale from A Chorus Line.  When I listen to this song, I swear they are singing about my baby.  :)
Seasons of Love - sometimes unofficially called "Five Hundred Twenty Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes."  I've listened to this song from Rent since I was in high school, this year it has completely refreshed meaning to me.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Autumn Leaves

Musing on Autumn…

It’s getting colder outside.  And it’s happening much faster than I anticipated.  I knew that this day would come.  But having just moved from Los Angeles, I know that I was incredibly and hopelessly spoiled by mild daily weather.  I’d forgotten what a year with aggressive, churning seasons feels like. 

Hello, Autumn.

It’s been a while.  Seven years to be exact.  Hello again, season of nostalgia, season of change.  Season of warmer clothing, marching band, and high school musical rehearsals.  Season of pumpkin heads, pumpkin beer, and pumpkin lattes.  Season of apple picking, apple cider, and cider donuts.  Season of crunching leaves, seeing your breath, rosy noses and cheeks, of orange, yellow, brown, and red.  Season of growing older, and going to sleep.  Season of letting go.
First Cider Donut Ever

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I used to say the thing I missed most about the Midwest was autumn.  After a few years of living, I would continue to say it, but to be honest, I think I forgot what I was missing.

Most everything about autumn this year is familiar… the way the air smells and feels.  There’s a little bite in the air that comes from the kind of damp cold you find here in the Midwest.  I can immediately recall those days when as kids, my siblings and I would play in piles of fallen leaves.  The bits of leaves would get trapped in our hair, catching in the cracks around our sleeves and collars, and stuck to the bottoms of our shoes.  I’m struggling to find a perfect way to describe the smell of autumn leaves, actually, I can’t even find a mediocre way, but if you have smelled them, they are stamped in your olfactory memory forever.  It was cold outside, but that’s not the kind of thing you make note of as a child.  You only realized it was cold out there when you came inside and the ends of your fingers and toes turned red hot as they start to warm up.

During autumn, the leaves of trees turn into some of the most vibrant colors you can find in nature.  You breathe in this beauty, hear the loud silences between the crunching beneath your feet… forgetting for one moment, or never even realizing to begin with, that what you’re witnessing is death.  Breathtaking, perfect, fragrant, crisp, clear death.  As life drains from the leaves, they show us jewel-bright colors, they reflect the glow of the sun with radiant warmth.

Imagine we could see human life in the same way.  Imagine if we made a special trip to visit the dying, not in the tentative, fearful and sad way we do, but with anticipation, wonder, and awe.  Imagine we embraced our own “leaving” the way we embrace the leaves of autumn.

People have been asking me whether I’m ready for winter this year.  And my answer is “no, not yet.”  I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit how hard I’m taking this autumn chill.  But as I wrote a couple weeks ago, I’m really trying to live here right now, so instead of worrying about the inevitable frozen days ahead, I’m trying to let my favorite season hang around while keeping my eyes wide open.
Autumn Leaves is a popular oft-recorded standard which was originally a 1945 French song "Les feuilles mortes" (literally "The Dead Leaves"). 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why My Marriage Isn't Trendy

Musing on why my marriage isn't trendy...

I missed writing a post this week, but in its place I had the opportunity to blog for, a website devoted to "parenting with a Jewish twist."  I have the honor of bringing an interfaith perspective to the conversation. 

So I decided to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start), and blog about my relationship with my husband.  I think some people might feel saddened to read this, while others may relate, and yet others will not understand why it its a difficult story for me to share.  Regardless of which kind of reader you are, I hope that what I have to say creates opportunities for empathetic conversation.

Here is my post...

I'm a Chinese American Married to a Jew, But Our Marriage Isn't Trendy

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Here Right Now

Musing on making each moment count...

I found out this week that a good friend is sick... very sick.  The bewildering, "shaking my fist at God" kind of sick that no one should be, ever.  And especially not when you're in your mid-thirties.  I admit, I feel like I have no business writing about anything this week.  I've been wading through life these past few days feeling like most of my thoughts are petty, and searching for deep meaning in every moment.  I found myself looking at my beautiful 10-month-old little girl in this too short, too fast life, and thinking, How do I make each moment count?

But after a few days of asking myself that cliche question, and becoming frustrated with the cliche answers, I went back to the drawing board.  And I came up with a new question... How do I live right now?

We Americans live in an overwhelmingly performance-based culture.  And the Chinese culture my family comes from might be even more performance-based.  So it's no surprise that I began by focusing on the "make" and the "count" in my original question.  Growing up, we are asked, What are you going to be?  What are you going to do?  Are you working really hard now so that you can be this really great thing later on in life?  Are you going to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer?  Did you practice the piano, so that you'll play well in the recital?  Did you study so you'll achieve good grades?

We do the same thing with our babies.  We ask, What can your baby do now?  Is he rolling over?  Is she pulling up?  Is she crawling yet?  Can he walk?  Can he say Mama?  Can she wave?  Is she sleeping through the night?  I think I have asked and been on the receiving end of every single one of these questions of other parents.  They are the questions we think we're supposed to ask, they have become almost second nature conversation starters when we run into a parent with a baby.  And because these are the questions we absentmindedly ask, we also absentmindedly live to answer them.

When I'm playing with my baby, I keep finding myself working toward making "yes" the answer to all those questions.  I try to teach her how to wave... try to make her crawl toward the toy with which I'd be particularly tickled to see her play... try to capture her standing on camera.  The first time I tried to do this, she was not completely ready to stand on her own yet.  I propped her up next to an ottoman, then stood fumbling with my camera phone, while her big beautiful head hit the ground. 

It's difficult to stop this habit of always aiming for the next thing, of planning for the next moment, of looking for the next milestone.  But yesterday I made an attempt to squelch every instinct I had to "shape" and "teach" my daughter, and instead I followed her cues throughout the day.  Instead of trying to make her sit and read a whole book through with me, I put the book down and followed her when she started to crawl away.  I watched the wide-eyed delight on her face as she laughed at the shadow the cat's tail was making on the wall.  I loved seeing the way her lips jut forward, and listening to how her breath gets heavy as she tries stacking bowls inside one another.  When a siren began howling outside, I watched her head perk up, her eyes bright and searching for the origin of the sound.

Hello, World
I realize that for me, there is no better inspiration of how to live right now, than to watch my baby, closely, avoiding all my impulses to "make meaning" out of her play.  She lets herself cry when she's sad, or scared, or hurt.  She laughs freely when something is new, and delightful.  She's not self conscious about whether she's good enough at something to do it, she just does it.  She looks at the world with a wonderment I've long forgotten.

I suppose we have to keep thinking about the future.  I know that it's responsible to plan ahead, and to work toward goals.  I know that we will continue to be evaluated based on our achievements and performance.  I know that's how our world works.

But as I think about my friend today, I'd like to propose that we make a shift in how we think about living our lives.  Maybe the way to "make each moment count," is to stop doing so much counting, measuring, and evaluating.  Maybe we need to stop deciding what's worthwhile based on how much money we'll make, how much time we'll save, how far ahead we'll get, what rewards we'll receive.  Maybe we need to take a cue from the babies we once were, and try living here right now.  I'm starting right now.