On being sentimental

I bought the book, “Mein Esel Benjamin” in an art museum in Germany my junior year of college. I chose this over others because 1: It was only 5.90 Euros; 2: It was about a donkey with the same name as my then-boyfriend, now-husband and the jokes seemed endless, and 3: That little girl’s face was adorable.

Riding back on the train from Cologne to Trier, I read the story and lingered over the pictures. I realized then I had actually bought the book for a possible, future child. So, on July 9, 2006, I dated the inside cover and wrote the location of the purchase. I was sentimental already and hadn’t even become a mother.

Linnea and I read this in its entirety for the first time on Monday night before bed.  The passing of time hit as soon as I skimmed that inscription, looked at those chubby cheeks, and read on…

I was waiting for my three-and-a-half-year-old to stop me, “Speak Ennnnnglish, Mama” just like she started to do recently whenever I spoke German to her. Instead, she listened and helped me turn the pages.

There is a part in the story when the little girl, Susi, follows her pet donkey out of her house, down the street, and to the beach. They play with rocks, look at the water, and then decide to go back home. Only, Susi doesn’t know how to get home and she becomes sad. The sadness only lasts one page, however, and the donkey (way to go, Benjamin!) leads her safely home into the loving arms of her “mama und papa”.

As soon as the page was turned and Linnea saw that the little girl and her pet would be safe, she let out an audible gasp and sat up higher on my lap. She started to giggle, letting out all the breath she had, noticeably, held in.

This wasn’t the first time my daughter showed signs of sadness during a story. Even at 18 months, Linnea would tear up at the exact same part of a book about a dog named “Biscuit” who had to say good bye to his ducky friend. She would sit in silence, letting the story soak in before tears cascaded down her plump cheeks.  And her sadness would dissipate only after explaining the happy pictures at the end.

This sensitivity shines through life outside books too. She gets sad when others are sad–regardless of whether or not they exist. Once L.E. offered a leaf and a pat on the back to a little girl who fell down at her preschool.

cousinsAnd if she is anything more than sensitive, it would be sentimental. When we had to say good bye to her cousins after a visit during Christmas time, she would walk to the door slowly, turn around and rush right back up the stairs to give more kisses. My sister was laughing each time she did this (it lasted for a while…) because she would say, “Oh my God, She is SO your daughter.” Let’s face it–I was rushing up those same stairs to give more hugs too. It seemed we both could not let go of the moment; we held on with our affection.

Play_photoAnd when we took her to see the children’s play, “Charlotte’s Web” in February as a Valentine’s gift, she cried. Only, she didn’t cry because of dear, old Charlotte; she cried because the play was over. She wailed, over a steady applause, “I don’t want it be over. I want them to come baaaack.”

Because of all of these experiences with our tender-hearted gal, you would think Ben and I would learn to soften the news of upcoming changes. Instead on a recent Sunday morning, we told our calendar-lovin’ daughter that it was a new month. “February is behind us and March is here. It will be springtime soon,” we exclaimed with gusto. We were met with a furrowed brow, a hesitant voice, and yep–even a few tears…over it being March. (oops, on our part.)

I wonder how parents do this well, this balance between living in the present and appreciating changes as they arise. How to fully embrace a child’s nature to be ___[fill in the blank]_____ while also encouraging them to go with the flow, as needed.

Maybe there is no such balance.

And in which case, we will carry on as usual, while remembering to simply laugh when we need to let the breath back in.

Advertisements

Letters to Jesus and Other Topics

I turned to my daughter last night in the kitchen, her hands tearing bread to make the topping to a casserole, and asked, “What do you think Dada would like for Christmas?” Her wide eyes met mine as she said, “But Mama, I already got him something. I got him cut-up paper.”

And she had. Two weeks ago, we were working on crafts at her wooden school desk, when she decided to make him a present. She got so excited about the idea that she nearly tripped while getting an envelope, and then again as she walked down the stairs to put it under the tree. I smiled when I heard her say in a warning tone, “Dada, you can’t open this until Christmas. Ok? It is cut-up paper.”

Being present can feel like a lofty goal at times. How to stay present when the grading pile is huge and the to-do list for home runs the length of a paper? Well, to my daughter, it is simple; that is the world she lives in all the time.

I cuddled her while watching one episode of “Daniel Tiger” on PBS. Her neck nestled mine as she sat on my lap, cups of tea nearby. Fifteen minutes left. It was already dinnertime. I knew she would be hungry as soon as the show was over. I debated getting up and making our meal so it would be ready, and then I continued to sit. I sat with her on my lap for the next fifteen minutes and realized how much better of a decision that was when we were “cooking” together side by side [she taste-tested and I chopped].

When I had a rare couple hours to myself in a quiet house, I found myself walking in circles. Put this there. Find this. Forgot something, go back. What was I doing again? After a text to a friend admitting my insanity, I made a cup of tea and sat. By the window and Howard by my side. I fought the urge to multitask and instead opted to soak in the silence. I felt the frenzy float away.

Even though I aim for a simple, stress-free holiday season (don’t we all?), I found myself getting caught up in a to-do list. I asked Linnea if she would help me with the Christmas cards when they came. She glanced up and taught me yet another lesson about living simply and utterly in the moment…

“Let’s make one for baby Jesus instead.” And with that, she chose a yellow piece of construction paper (his favorite color, don’t you know), and grabbed a marker.

I did too.

Environments of Education

We noticed the green mugs first. The handle was the perfect size for a preschooler’s hand, and adorned on each one was a name. Jack. Grace. Ezra. Colby…

Linnea’s preschool felt instantly inviting and cozy on the tour we took over the summer. Plants were on the window shelves, convenient for young hands to water. Pictures were hung closer to the floor than in most homes. There were nooks and crannies scattered throughout the space encouraging youngs ones to explore.

image

I want to go to that school, I told Ben and Linnea in the car as we left. More than myself, I was also thinking of my high school students. The ones who have been in school now for over a decade of their life. Do they feel invited, cozy, welcome in the classrooms and hallways?

The first writing assignment of the school year in my high school English classroom was a literacy autobiography…tell me about your history with reading and writing, I asked. And as I read their memories, I kept thinking of my preschool-aged daughter. I thought of her because most of their memories with school began at her current age. Whoa. I had the epiphany. The epiphany that my little girl will one day in high school.

The high schools I have worked at have white walls, fluorescent lights, and curtainless windows. Not that these are necessarily bad, per se, they just don’t conjure up the same kind of feeling one finds when walking into most preschools. And I believe that students–regardless of their age–want to enjoy  and feel at home in the space in which they are learning.

There have been some positives to the high school learning environments in which I have worked:

-My teaching buddy, Mary, decorates her classroom complete with a Christmas tree, tinsel, and lights for her seniors every year.

-Artwork by students have adorned the walls of both schools’ hallways

-I try to make my classroom bright and inspiring…posters, artwork, student artwork, and pictures and books that matter to me so that student share what matter most to them.  (Although, right now it is in a state of end-of-semester messiness…Christmas break, are you here yet?)

-Following Thanskgiving break this year, students and staff were welcomed with  Christmas, warm, white lights twinkling in all the major hallways, overhead lights turned off.

image

-And one of my students likes to surprise her classmates with costumes such as this… (I mean, who doesn’t love unicorns?)

image

Ultimately, I hope my daughter will feel at home and happy in every school she attends just as she feels now in her Montessori preschool of only 24 students. Because as a parent and a teacher, I can’t shake the notion that environment matters…perhaps even, most of all.

Being Three

I have decided I want to be three again. Being this age enables one to…

  • Say exactly what is on his/her mind in each moment
  • Hug someone immediately and closely whenever desired
  • Not care what you look like, ever
  • Sleep whenever you are tired and as often as you need
  • Be excited about the small things in life (i.e. balloons, a sunset, chocolate), or the big things, whatever your perspective
  • Not worry
  • Spend your days coloring, being read to, playing
  • Explore playgrounds and parks while the adults look bored on benches
  • Dance often
  • Snuggle with stuffed animals and cuddle with family
  • Live in the moment

Linnea officially turned three at 3:12 p.m. on Sunday, October 12. We had the morning to ourselves at home to make waffles, read, play, and open gifts. (And watch “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”, her favorite.)

BenandLinnea

When I asked L.E. what she wanted to do for her birthday, she immediately replied, “Go in a hot air balloon”. After explaining how high up in the air they go, she changed her mind to “play with friends”. We settled on a small children’s museum just down the road. With cupcakes, party hats, and dear friends & close family, we celebrated.

Not surprising, Linnea crashed as soon as we got home at 2:30 until about 4:30/5. After an exciting afternoon playing and a long nap, I asked her what she would like me to make for her special birthday dinner at home. Mostly expecting “Mac & Cheese” as a response, I was caught off guard when she replied, “Beer bread [looooong pause], homemade potato soup”. That ata girl, I thought. So, I cooked while Ben and Linnea played in her new dollhouse (a sweet hand-me-down from our friend, BB).

dollhouse

While getting ready for bed, we reflected on her day. I was reminded of what her Auntie Mary observed at her party: Linnea hurriedly coming around the corner following some of her friends saying mostly to herself, “I am having SO much fun!”

And, now a few pictures of the three year old who reminds me often, “Mama, I am a big girl now.” So true.

A few from her birthday (she requested chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles):

cupcakes       LE9

(Not the best pictures–capturing toddlers is difficult!–but here is L.E. with each of her buddies who came to play with her…)

LE8     LE11

And below are some pictures from a recent preschool field trip to a farm in Niwot; Ben and I were able to chaperone. In the car on the way there, we drove Linnea and two of her classmates (one is her buddy in one of the pics below). L.E. ended up tickling both of them most of the way.

Each child played in the hay bale maze, chose a pumpkin and fed an animal. We chuckled during snack time because the kids took upon themselves to raise their hand randomly and say things like, “Raise your hand if you like ________”. Every student asked about type of food. Linnea got brave and raised her hand stating, “Raise your hand if you like giraffes.”

     LE6     LE5

LE7  LE12

And a few recent favorites, a girl on a mission:

LE1   LE4

And life is good…

LE2      LE3   The end.

In Linnea’s Words

Linnea, almost three, has been telling stories nonstop lately. In an effort to remember some of those, I wanted to post a few of them here. Some, and I apologize in advance, are a little gross for my liking. But, I have to admit, her lack of filter is sometimes refreshing, and funny after a long day. She tells most of her stories after her bedtime story and the lights are out. I lie down next to her and it sometimes feel like we are at a slumber party; she thinks of random things to say, and we giggle together. Other times, she shares her feelings about things that happened during the day (mostly at school).

From Linnea:

Do you know why I eat boogers out of my nose? Because they make ladybugs.

My friend went to a farm and her name is Halflaff. And she cries at the farm if her mama and dada are away.

My friend says there’s a poo poo stain in the mountains, but it’s far away from our house. And the guy who owns it, gives people tickets.

When you are three, you get to play a lot, be old, and do EVERYTHING.

Mama, the teachers don’t ask me what day of the week it is. I want to say what day of the week it is. That makes me sad.

Did you play with your mama when you were a baby?

(And her favorite…) Mama, tell me about when I was a baby.

Will it stop winding? (As in the wind)

Last today, we…. (meaning yesterday)

I am a vegetarian AND a meat eater.

Mama, you make me happy when I am with you. (heart melter!)

(And my favorite…while kissing my palm) Mama, I love you wherever you may go.

(She has also been saying “Seriously” at the end of sentences now. As is in, “Baby is really hungry. Seriously. [insert fake laugh from her]” And she still says, “Ska-petti” for spaghetti…)

I am sure there will be more stories and sayings to come…

Running with a toddler

For three days a week during the spring of 2012, Ben drove Linnea to school with him. Her sitter, our family friend, would meet them at Ben’s office in the morning and again in the afternoon to return home by 4:00. Because of an earlier dismissal at the school in which I taught, I would be home by 3:15 each day. Those forty-five extra minutes–sometimes an hour if traffic was heavy–could seem like an eternity when waiting for the chance to once again cradle and kiss my infant daughter.

So, I ran.   

I ran before I could talk myself out of it. I would bypass a basket of laundry and a messy room to get to my running shoes, yoga pants, and leash for Howard. Texted Ben, “Going running, look for us”. Locked the door. And into the fresh air. Out of the too-quiet house that would only make me long for my family to just be home already.

I would run in the grassy boulevard between two one-way streets that ultimately granted me the ideal view for seeing them driving my way. I ran until I saw them, their kisses my reward. I would wonder when I jumped in the car–me in the backseat and Howard in the front–what she thought in those moments. She said nothing, of course, maybe gave me a smile, and let me smother her cheeks with smooches and her little body with snuggles.

Fast forward to this afternoon: Ben and Linnea would be a little later than normal because they were at a soccer game for his school. After a visit with a neighbor and a change of clothes, I made the decision to go for a run rationalizing fifteen minutes would be better than nothing; laundry be damned.

I ran the same path as I took when this was my ritual. Eyes directed toward traffic scanning the cars for the black Honda civic with a carseat in back. They saw me before Howard or I did. My pace quickened when I realized it was them and Linnea gave me a smile that spanned the length of her face while her feet kicked wildly. And for a moment, I saw my daughter as an infant again, happy to see her mama in both the ages of 6 months and 2 and a half. Moments such as this seem to get better with her ability to more freely express her love.

I opened the door ready to rest my non-trained legs on the short car ride home. “Mama, I run with you,” Linnea asserted with a grin. For a moment, I thought how much easier it would be to just drive on and to be home with all of us there: Change her diaper, make dinner, get settled. I also considered how that 10 minute run could take upwards of 30 minutes with a toddler. Then, I looked at her face with her raised eyebrows and expectant smile and knew there was only one possible answer. So, I unbuckled her seatbelts, and said, “Of course.”

Linnea and I held hands and ran along the trail until she got distracted, “Oh Mama, a big leaf. Look!” We crouched to inspect it until she crumbled it with her fingers and giggled. We continued with our run. “Mama, let’s play hide and seek!” After a couple hiding spots behind trees, we ran further. “Mama, look at the big stick!” After explaining the difference between a branch and bark, she wanted me to hold her and reached her arms up as evidence. I looked down and with one swoop, did just that. We walked until we saw Ben pushing a stroller, Howard at his side, still a ways from home.

I realized then that Linnea was not the distracted one. Her comments on leaves, sticks and wanting to play were anything but distraction. I was the distracted one. I get lost in my head while I run not paying enough attention to the simplest pieces of nature that so easily catch her attention. And as a wise friend once told me, It’s not really about the run…or the endpoint…or how long it took me…it is about the view and journey. 

And I am grateful that Linnea continues to remind me of this time and time again. 

Growing up too fast

I remember the onslaught of advice as clearly as I remember the feeling of labor pains. Well-wishers encouraged me to “take lots of pictures”, “savor every moment”, and of course, “watch out; they grow up too fast”. And now, I have found myself thinking and, sometimes even saying, these cliched comments as I hold my neighbor’s beautiful, blue-eyed baby or talk to my sister about the ups and downs of her pregnancy. Because what I did not fully realize back then in the blur of newborn days is that, whether I want to accept it or not, those statements are painstakingly true.

As we were walking up our steep 1939-built basement stairs, I reached for Linnea’s hand, “No Mama, Nea do it by herself. By herself, Mama”. Her repeated comment stung the most, as if she had to clarify her self-reliance. She might as well have declared she just got a tattoo or a boyfriend because in that instance, I was sure my surprise and sadness would have been the same. The baby I birthed, nursed and wore in a backpack was fully merging into an independent little girl, and I was not sure I liked it…

Linnea’s age is exerting its influence in ways other than her confidence to take on tasks. A few months ago she declared dinosaurs “scary” after seeing a coloring book with their images. Picture my surprise then when that same little girl expresses sheer excitement about the opportunity to go with her daddy to see their skeletons. L.E. went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for the first time on March 6. Photo after photo filled my phone’s memory as I gazed over each one during my lunch break. It was in some of those pictures that it hit me just how far she has come in just over two years. This realization–that I am sure hits every parent at some point–had its proof in one particular text from my husband: Leaning on a sign with long-legs and a tired stare, I saw no baby.Image

Just this weekend, she decided she no longer wanted to be rocked before her afternoon nap. I looked at her with a tinge of disbelief, and asked if she was sure. She was. I, on the other hand, was not.

When I listen to one of her stories and respond with “Ohhhh”, she insists, “Mama, don’t say ‘Ohhhh’ [insert mocking tone her]. Say ‘Yes’.” Say yes? I began wondering when my toddler daughter began correcting me. I don’t remember there being a chapter in any of my parenting books about how to deal with this milestone.

As much as I want to go back  to the days of endless snuggling in the rocking chair, I know there is a lot of of sweet mixed in with the bitter pieces of these memories:

Even though, Linnea did not want my help going up the stairs, she wanted me to play with her as soon as we got to her room. Even though, she looked like such big stuff in those pictures at the museum, Ben said she held his hand firmly the whole time they were there. Even though, she did not want to be rocked, we cuddled in her little bed as she moved the hair out of my eyes and gave me an unsolicited kiss. And even though she corrects me, we get some pretty big belly laughs when we make a joke out of it now.

Image

The truth is, like her newborn days, these days are numbered too. And I will hold onto the sweet as long as I can knowing just how quickly these moments may fade.

Note: This post was inspired by the writing of a good friend, Meg. She recently posted a post entitled, “The Hardest Phase“, which got me thinking about how quickly everything changes.