H is for Howdy, Universe

I worked out (hooray!)
And after I finished, I lay in savasana for a little while.

I tried to clear my head, as I always try, but I kept thinking about my list, my work, Maya’s new huge bonk on the head, alphabet blogging, etc.

So I decided to just strike up a conversation with the universe – at least that way I would be focused on one thing rather than juggling thought balls up and around my noggin.

“Hello, Universe. I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for the huge good fortune you have sent our way this week. We really needed it.”

“You knew that if you kept walking, if you just kept moving forward, the road, on which you stumbled, would rise to meet you again.” (Yes, in my mind, the universe speaks like a sage man on top of a high mountain.)

“I know. But still, thank you.”

“The trick is to say thank you even when things are most difficult.”

So, I am kind of joking around here with my *imaginary* conversation with the universe, but I do believe that if you are quiet, if you listen, you will hear answers.

This is literally, verbatim, the *conversation* that went on in my mind while I lay on my floor. I don’t know whether both voices are mine, or if I am picking up on cosmic signals, or what. But I do know that things are clearer when I am silent.

Maybe it’s just finding the time and space to root around in the cabinets of my mind for the right file, or maybe it’s aliens/angels/the muse speaking through my radio waves. Whatever, it works.

For the record, I also came up with two new ideas for my lessons next week (even though I was TRYING to NOT think about work).

Our conscious minds are so clogged up with multi-tasking that no one thing gets our best, full attention. Clearing out that clutter makes magic happen.

Now I have to add “meditate” to my ever-growing to-do list, sheesh! ūüôā

G is for Golden-Eyed Dog

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Each morning, there are tasks to be done. Usually, because I have a wonderful husband and I try to be a decent wife, these tasks are split in two. One of us gets the babe up, changed, soothed, milked, and dressed, and the other gets the dogs up, out, fed, watered and the coffee brewed.

front porch dogs

The dogs are familiar with this routine, and are, for the most part, patient. Pious in their faith that we will come each morning and take care of them.

I have had Anna Banana since she was just a 3 pound pup Рand that was almost 13 years ago. But she is a small dog Рa Jack Russell Terrier Рso she will live 18-20 years. Sometimes her proximity to her upper years makes me realize my own proximity to my upper years, as we have grown together.

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Holiday Anna
Holiday Anna

Sean rescued Nina from an abusive household when she was already a couple of years old. She is fiercely loving and loyal and grateful to him. Unfortunately, she is also wary of anyone else, nature (thunder, rain), technological advances (cars, cameras) and especially gun shots (occasional in our country neighborhood).

Nina and the blooming cherry tree
Nina and the blooming cherry tree

And Lola is a dog’s dog. She likes people okay, but she is all about chasing squirrels, running, and enjoying the outdoors. She’s also cool with stretching out on the living room rug. She has her flaws: a taste for neighbor’s chickens, a slight Alpha complex, but she is pretty much an all around good dog otherwise. She does not beg, does not get on the furniture, only barks if others do first. Lola was the runt of the litter (I think this is what caused her Alpha issues – a canine-Napoleon complex) and Sean rescued her before she was starved out by her siblings.

Nina, perpendicular to Lola
Nina, perpendicular to Lola
Lola getting a boost from Nina
Lola getting a boost from Nina

We were unsure of what it would be like to introduce a new little baby into this bustling household of doggies. Would she be part of their pack? Could she learn to out-Alpha Lola?

There were no problems when we brought little Maya Bell home – Anna and Lola became fairly indifferent, though Anna was initially peeved about losing her prime lap space, but Nina fell in love.

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Nina, once dubbed by a friend, “the mean one”, now lets a toddler pull her ears, push her face, ride her back, and yank her tail. She sometimes is a little over zealous with baby-face kisses.

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Our golden-eyed Nina is getting old. Because she was a rescue, we are not sure of her exact age, but she is somewhere around 13. And our best guess is that she is a Pit-Lab mix. So that’s 91 in large breed years. We are noticing her sharp edges waring away a bit and we fear her hours are winding down.

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I so hope that Maya remembers this wild beast that loves her so; this golden-eyed girl that found joy in her baby hands. And I will do my best to appreciate this love, this dog, these moments, and capture as many as I can for Maya to hold on to as she grows.

Maya on Nina

E is for Endings

My parents are selling their house. It goes on the market this week.

They have been in that house for 22 years.

Though I consider our craftsman house in Oakland, CA to be my “childhood home” – the one that pops up in recurring dreams and nostalgias, I have spent the greater lot¬†of my years living in or coming home to this house in Chapel Hill.

It is a suburban house Рthe kind to which I never thought my central urban family would concede Рbut despite my initial determination to judge, it has been a wonderful, warm, loving, bright and homey home.

Right now, I am high on the excitement of the preparation for the listing.  I am thrilled by the talk of design for the new home.  I am giddy as I visit the land my parents bought on the river in Saxapahaw. But I know that soon, the messy, sentimental, hard-loving part of myself will take over and mourn the closing of this chapter.  I will feel the crumpled discomfort of change and want to not let go.

Our time with this house is ending, but it is a good family house, and for some other, now-young family, it will welcome them in and keep them warm.

(I will include pictures when the house goes on the market in a few days – in case anyone is interested/curious)

Day 4: A to Z Challenge

D is for Decisions

This week, the beach has been pulling at the water in my body. ¬†It feels as though all of my being is drawn toward the shore and my head is screaming with “WHY DON’T WE LIVE AT THE OCEAN!?”

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People do it. They live in the most beautiful, exotic, tropical locations. ¬†Places where other people go on vacation. ¬†Why can’t we be those people?

And I don’t even need tropical. ¬†I just want to be close enough to get to the ocean the same way we go to the park or the playground now. ¬†I’m totally happy living in NC and driving 20 minutes to the beach. ¬†That is so do-able; why don’t we!? There are some very cool towns in Coastal NC – or even the Charleston area in SC (where I was this week).

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I have moments of “clarity” where it seems I have made up my mind. We are definitely moving to the beach. ¬†Just for a few years, while the kid(s) are young. ¬†Sean owns his own business – we can expand it to the coast! I would like to stay at home for a couple of years with babies – let’s do it! We can always come home¬†in a few years.

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But then I get back¬†and I realize the elements of home are so much more than a geographical location. ¬†Here, in Chapel Hill, we have grandparents on both sides and Maya sees one or both almost every day. ¬†We have my professional community, where, as much as I yearn to be a stay at home mom for a while, I am still very much a teacher and a part of this school district. We have our friends with whom we get together as much as possible (which is still not often enough!) Sean’s business is here. ¬†My family business is here (which, potentially, I may take over in a few years). We know these streets; we know these people. ¬†We are so overwhelmingly supported and loved here. ¬†And while I know we would carry that love, support, family and friend ties with us wherever we would go, why go now?

Mom, cousin, me, sister
Mom, cousin, me, sister

Sean promises me that we will live at the beach one day. ¬†Maybe not until we’re retired, but one day. ¬†And until then, the beach is only 2.5 hours away – an easy day trip if I’m jonesin’. ¬†And summer is just beginning…

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Day 2: A to Z Challenge

***I know what you’re thinking: I’ve lost before the race has even started! ¬†Only day 2 and no post. ¬†But unfortunately, the place where I was staying at the beach lost its internet connection! ¬†So I was disconnected for about 3 days. I know that some bloggers are super savvy with their phones, but I have not yet reached that level of tech-ability.

Though I respect the parameters of this challenge, including a post every day, for me, the daily writing practice is the goal, and to that, I have been faithful. So (and I apologize to everyone’s Twitter feed, Facebook walls and e-mail inboxes), I am going to be posting these in quick succession and playing a little catch up.***

 

B is for Beauty

When I was younger, a psychic told me that I was destined to create beauty in this world.

Well, now I have made Maya. ¬†Am I done fulfilling my destiny? ūüôā

I’m not sure how to feel about that.

But she does make this world a more beautiful place. I am so grateful for her every day.

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Beauty

Day 1: A to Z Challenge

A is for the Alligator that I saw this morning in front of our vacation abode.

April Fools!

For real, there is apparently an alligator living in the little pond across the way from this wonderful townhouse in coastal South Carolina, and while the kids and I have kept a keen lookout on this combined family vacation, there has been no sight of him/her yet.

 

I am notorious (in my own mind) for having little discipline for writing regularly, and that is one of my major goals for this blogging enterprise – to have a writing¬†practice. ¬†So I have joined this community of writers taking on this challenge of every day posts, going through the alphabet one day at a time, excepting Sundays, and simply putting “pen to paper” with a broad ABC prompt.

I intend to keep these¬†posts short and hone my chops at making a succinct point , but I’m already not doing very well at this aim – cut me some slack, it’s only the first day!

A: American Dream

I am so fortunate to be on the coast of South Carolina for a few days away with some dear friends and our kids.  I thought this would be an opportune time to use the relaxed timber of the day to think alphabetically Рto get me off on the right foot.

Last night, the adults in the house stayed up way too late talking, and along the way, I agreed to be the typing fingers and editorial consultant for my friend’s memoir. ¬†Gus is from Uruguay and while I feel I know him quite well (our kids refer to each other as cousins), I am always mind-blown when the glasses are refilled and the stories are flowing. ¬†He has had a journey to his “American Dream” that is as heartbreaking as it is uplifting.

I am excited to help him tell the tale of how he changed his story.  I do not know yet how much of that will end up on this blog, but I think the telling and writing will do us both some good.

Gustavo, his kids, and Bell, seaside
Gustavo, his kids, and Bell, seaside

 

 

 

Cry it out, Baby

Lesson seven: Do what’s hard now to make it better in the long run

My cousin, Marie,¬†asked me today whether I had written a post on “cry it out”, the method of teaching babies to comfort themselves and *phew* sleep through the night. She has a friend who is fried and exhausted and willing to try anything.

Well, first, I was so tickled that someone actually thought of my blog as a¬†resource, even if I have known that person since the day she was born (so she is obligated to read it and like it). ūüôā

Marie and Rae, mid - 80's
Marie and Rae, mid – 80’s
Rae and Marie, 2010? 2011?
Rae and Marie, 2010? 2011?

Second, I was uncomfortable with the idea of recommending this method to another parent. There is much debate over this controversial issue and I am not an authority and have done very little research. (I did read the article linked above, though).  All I can do it talk about my own experience.  I am not going onto the web and promoting that this is right for every baby and every family.

When I was exhausted, sleepless, stressed and crying for no reason in the middle of my workday (I went back to teaching when Maya Bell was four months old), a dear friend and colleague told me of her experience and now, I am telling it to you.

I will say, that I think I remember that this method has no effect on babies younger than six months, though my pediatrician didn’t see a problem with “practicing” it when Bell was five months old-ish. This was also
about the time we were transitioning Maya from sleeping in our room to her very own crib in her very own room.

There are specific how-to guides out there, but here is what we did:

We went through the every-day bedtime routine:

  • bath time around 5:30pm
  • singing and rocking and nursing/bottle around 6pm
  • put her down, hit the “whale” option on the Sleep Sheep noise machine (Maya never seemed to like the ocean waves as much as I wanted her to), and started the mobile
  • Then she cried.
  • After about 3 minutes, one of us would go in there, pick her up, sing “You Are My Sunshine” (but without the sad part in the 2nd stanza and taking out the 4th stanza completely)
  • Put her back down, and she would cry again.
  • This time, wait 5 minutes. Go back in, another hug, some brief crooning (have I mentioned that it’s probably my singing that was making her cry in the first place?), put her back down.
  • Rinse and repeat, 7 minutes, 10 minutes, 15, 20 – upping the span of minutes until you go in again each time.
  • Around round 3 or 4, I had to stand on the back porch so I couldn’t hear her. Often crying myself.
  • If I remember correctly, the longest this went on was about an hour. ¬†Maybe an hour and a half.
  • When you are ready to give in, give it one more round – that’s usually when she finally would fall asleep

It was really difficult for about four days. Then, just like a snap, she slept.

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I would wake her again just before I would go to bed Рusually around 11pm or so Рand nurse/give a bottle one last time.  From there, she would sleep straight through til 6:30-7am.

We all changed for the better. ¬†A well rested mommy is a better mommy – there’s no debate about that one. The article linked above says that after a cry-it-out session, there are still stress hormones in the baby’s saliva. ¬†That may be true, but in my, ahem, professional scientific opinion (not), that is a short lived symptom, because – and again, I can only speak from our personal experience – Maya stopped crying for more than a couple of minutes at bedtime. ¬†She no longer created the stress hormones from the crying because she was no longer crying.

She was just sleeping. And like a champ!

She will be 2 next month.  And she is still an awesome sleeper.  There has been some recent night waking, but that is a whole new phase of being-almost-two and is its own e-mail chain in my baby/mommy circle.  Maybe that will be another post.  But for the last year and a half, Maya has slept about 12 hours a night. Hallelujah.

A well rested kiddo
A well rested kiddo

And now, our bedtime routine looks an awful lot like the one from back then, only much shorter:

  • 5:30 dinner time
  • 6:00 bath time
  • 6:30 read books, have some warm milk (we are currently switching from bottle to sippy cup here. Next step, move milk to dinner time and try the routine without the step, but we’re not quite there yet – that and potty training are on the docket for summertime, when Mommy (or Bob, as Maya calls me, short for Baba – she doesn’t say ‘M’s) isn’t teaching teenagers all day)
  • Brush teeth
  • In bed by 7. ¬†Still listening to the whales.
  • 95% of the time, she sleeps on through until 7:30 0r 8am. ¬†There is not even a peep or whimper out of her when we put her down now. ¬†Not at all.

Again, I am just telling our own story here – no advocating or promoting of any particular school of thought – but this is was happened with us, and it’s been very nice.

The first time Auntie Marie met Maya
The first time Auntie Marie met Maya

Now if anyone has any tips on how to get her to say Mama, I’d love to hear it!

Lessons and Themes

Lesson Six: Find yourself through the stories

I think in themes. ¬†It’s a hazard (benefit?) of my literary analysis training and day to day routine with students. ¬†I cannot hear, read, watch or see anything without finding the theme of the incident, story, piece, etc.

When we are in elementary school, we are taught that the theme is the moral of the story. ¬†This is not incorrect, and when students are stuck, I direct them to start again at this basic step. ¬†But now, in my advanced literature classes (sounds fancy, right? Well, remember, it’s still only high school!), we talk about theme in terms of the universal human truth. The thing about the story that relates to being human. ¬†The underlying current of understanding and connection. It leads to discussions about archetype and culture and basic humanity. ¬†Theme is the language of my every day work life.

Teacher Rae
Teacher Rae

And I tend to apply it to the “real” world as well. ¬†I have a narrative mind that turns each and every situation into a fictional story – which means that it must have been built with all of the nuts, bolts, stylistic choices and literary tools and devices authors use. I do not give enough credit to random coincidence or purposeless happenings. ¬†Some might call it a faith in a higher power – some puppet master/story writer of our fates – that everything happens for a reason, but it really could just be my English teacher default 11th-grade-lit-analysis brain setting.

Whatever it is, I like it. ¬†I feel better thinking that there is a lesson or purpose behind everything and that my life has some significant meaning. ¬†(Students of mine will be very familiar with this vernacular of mine: significant moments, meaning, universal human truth…)

I recently read that a “successful blog” should have a theme. ¬†And I have struggled with this – I do not want to have a separate blogs each ¬†for my education musings, ¬†my mommy blogging, and yet another for ¬†my writing practice. Maybe those are genres, categories, not themes, but still – what is my theme here?

I started off my posts with “Lessons” and I kind of trailed off from that because it seemed a little kitschy, but it is the truth of my perspective and how my brain works. ¬†I am writing this blog to make my own life lessons apparent to myself.

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To teach myself how to look, notice, appreciate, be grateful.

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To teach myself to write regularly.

So whether my readership is just me or if there are countless of you out there, that is my purpose here.  You may notice motifs arise and threads of themes begin to weave from post to post, whether they are tagged parenting or teaching, and my aim is to make that more purposeful.

Truth be told, this is a challenging time for me. ¬†I am grabbing my story by the reigns and making purposeful notes to change it. ¬†Don’t get me wrong: I have everything I need to be happy – the most wonderful family, ¬†a good job, great friends, a sturdy home – and I¬†am¬†happy, but I am also unsettled and uncomfortable. I am at a crossroads (is it my age? The mid-30s?) and I am going to write until this path is clear.

Who is Rae?
Who is Rae?

Thank you for all of your support and guidance, friends, readers, universe, story writer in the sky. I am looking closely at the beautiful things in my life and I am listening and I am writing.

So, theme?  Universal human truth?

How about self-discovery?

Identity.

Voice.

One must know oneself to be happy. This is my bildungsroman* (just started a little later in life than Scout Finch or Holden Caulfield).

*German, a novel about the main character’s moral, psychological, or spiritual growth.