Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fungus, Moss, Nest

 Wild child on the trail

February 23 was a warm day, perfect for a walk along a muddy trail. Beren pointed at and said "fungus", "moss", and "nest". He has never before said these words.

Three different types of moss growing on and near one piece of dead wood. Neat.

He has been called a "wild child" by our doctor, who is a child of the wild, too. She knew the name was a compliment, and each time Beren lives up to the name, I feel so proud.

I think that things that are difficult for parents and children are easy. Easy if they are easy for the whole family. We like being outside. There are entire books, lengthy books and tiresome articles about children spending too much time inside.

We like bugs, earth, plants, rocks... Even ticks and mosquitoes are accepted. That's what daily tick checks, tweezers, and healing salves are for. None of us (knock on wood) have ever gotten Lyme.

Muddy, wet clothes (the porch always has a pile of wet and soiled socks and pants) are ok. That's what boots and an extra set of gloves are for. We walk in the rain. We play with umbrellas. We open the windows on windy days, just to feel the day's power.

Poison ivy, we just avoid it. Roses, step on over them, if you can.

Rocks are tough teachers, they are hard to lift and hard to climb, but nothing beats finding a salamander beneath or reaching the top of a big boulder with a parent's help.

We "allow" Beren to get muddy, to explore. And you know what, he likes to be outside. We've found our limits and established them - "No boots, no puddles" is one guideline.

We check ourselves from saying "no" and "be careful" too many times. "That rock is slippery. Here's my hand," offers better guidance and the opportunity to make a choice. My son will typically choose to go for it as he grips my hand or Jared's.

Saying something like "That rock is slippery" rather than "No" to a potential danger also gives simple words like "too" a lot of power. "That rock is too slippery" stands out against just plain "slippery".  Beren's climbed many rocks, and he gets it. Some are slippery, some are too slippery.

I've heard many parents, ahem, myself included say unhelpful things to exuberant and stubborn children. "YOU'RE GOING TO FALL DOWN AND HURT YOURSELF" is a life lesson for a teeny, tiny and scary world.

"Here's my hand" says you might need a little help. When the world seems a bit too much, seek my hand, it will be there.

It's a simpler life when the world is full of fungus, moss, and nest. And an open hand.

Spring ephemerals are up. Toothwort.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Winding Thoughts After My Son Has Gone to Sleep

Sometimes when I put my son to sleep, I sit in the dark with him cradled in my lap. I think about the day, my to do list, work, and chores. I think about how my son has grown and how heavy he feels now. Memories appear.

"I remember that you fit in the palm of my hand," my father would say to me. He'd hold out his hand - a thick hand with thick fingers. I would have a hard time imagining that, but I enjoyed hearing his loving tone and seeing his smile.

I sit and feel my eyelids close. My head rolls to the side. I rest it on the wing of "The Big Blue Chair," an armchair that I trash picked a year ago.

It's our nursing chair. When I came home from work or even a short time away, my son's need for me was sometimes overwhelming. "Meet me in The Big Blue Chair," I'd say. He'd turn and run to the chair, giving me a moment to kick off muddy shoes and a bulky jacket. He'd climb up and wait for me to come and cuddle him, to nurse him.

The Big Blue Chair is where I sit as I sing "Green, Green Rocky Road" by Dave Van Ronk to my son every night at bedtime. I hope he loves the song as I do, as I love to sing it to him.

I like to sit there in the dark, a baby on my lap. When I'm ready to rise, I whistle low to my husband and put my son in his bed, a humble spread of old sleeping bags on the floor. I'll probably awake up on them in the morning because my son wakes in the night.

Getting up and letting go of my sleeping child means chore time. Laundry to the dryer, delicates to the drying rack. Wood and kindling to the wood rack. Dishes to wash. Toys to put away. My husband and I scurry through the house. Stoke the fire. Try to read a chapter of a book. Check email.

By then, it's 9:30 at night. Maybe we'll have a snack, even if we're not hungry. It's such a simple joy after a long day. Buttered toast. A cookie. Maybe we'll have a shot of St. Germaine, a little treat I bought for us to relax... though I considered returning it up until the moment we opened it. It was expensive. We'll shower. Talk. Read a little more, maybe.

"What do you want to talk about?" one of us might ask the other.

"What did Beren do today?" one of us will ask if no other topics come to mind.

We could endlessly talk about our son. Endlessly. Until our eyes droop, until it's too late to share the pleasures of being husband and wife. We'll laugh about his new words or a clever trick he played. We'll cringe over a stumble and scrape. We'll note what clothes need replacing.

One December afternoon, I stepped through a veil. I became a mother. So powerful was the transformation, so defining and definite. 

Me, the early morning before my son was born. I don't know her anymore.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Valentine's Day 2013

On Valentine's Day we went to Ya Ya Noodles, a Chinese restaurant at the Montgomery Shopping Center in Skillman. It's spacious, affordable, nicely lit, kid-friendly, decorated with interesting stuff - five foot tall vases, lions, dragons, firecrackers. And, the big portions mean leftovers for the following day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


My son has been using the word, "ahnuhdah" frequently. He can't yet make "l" or "r" sounds. His vowels are sometimes a little off. It's similar to the newspaper's funnies page puzzles - switch some letters around, insert an "r" here or there. Hmmm. Still can't figure that one out.

When I can't understand his words, I do one of the following:

"Show me a "ahnuhdah." Can you point to "ahnuhdah?"

Sometimes I get lucky, and he shows me exactly what he means.

Other times, he points to me. "I'm "ahnuhdah?" No, he nods. I sigh.

Then again, he might smile and nod, yes. "I'm "ahnuhdah?" He smiles again. I sigh, no closer to deciphering the verbal cuneiform.

Yet another outcome is that he might point to a picture or an object. I query, "A car is "anuhdah"?" No. "A truck?" No. "A vehicle?" No. I sigh. "OK."

Or, I might raise my eyebrow, nod, and smile emphatically as though I were conversing with a kindly person in a foreign country, like my husband's Hungarian grandmother.

Today, Beren and I walked through the Spring Street Garage on the way to the Princeton Public Library.

"Boo," he said pointing at a blue car.

"Yup, a little blue car," I replied stupidly.

"Yed," he pointed at a neighboring red car.

 "A little red car," I said.

"Yed," pointing at another red car.

"Yes, that's red, too," I said.

"Ahnuddah," he said pointing to a third red car.

My mind slowed by two nights of crappy sleep - my son has yet ahnuhdah cold featuring a cough and sniffles. I mean another...wait. Ahnuhdah?

"Yes, that's another red car," I said and kissed his temple.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Green and orange in exile

Green and orange in exile

In my son's right hand is an orange crayon. In his left is a bright green crayon. He hands them to me. Doesn't want 'em.

The green and orange dinosaur silhouettes from a puzzle acquired at Christmas have a similar fate. Outta here. Purple Tyrannosaurus rex is ok. The blue one with the long neck, no problem. The yellow, ah, well, ask Papa what that yellow one is called. He's ok, too.

The set of oversized cardboard blocks - red, blue, green, and orange - guess who gets to play with the green and orange ones?

My mother hates orange, too. She spends two days a week with Beren. One of those days she spends at our house. She plays with orange blocks while Beren covets the blue and red.


Sometimes when Jared and I are looking for something to talk about, something other than our new business or our son, Jared will ask, "What's your favorite color?"

"Umm, purple," I usually respond. We agree that there are a couple ugly colors - hunter green, that teal color that some manufacturer in the 90's painted compact cars.


When my grandparents' house in Rahway was emptied, I looked in a closet I never knew existed. What's that, I asked. No one had opened the seafoam green cabinet that once had been in my grandmother's kitchen. An old medical cabinet, trash-picked, I assume, outfitted with shelves and painted. It contained all of their photos.

For years it contained all of my prints, negatives, and film. Before my son was born, we crushed the cabinet and sent it to the dump, worrying it might be painted with lead paint.

My prints, negatives, and increasingly outdated film is now kept in the pine dresser I used as a girl.


I couldn't tell you what Jared's favorite color is. It changes.

For while it was seafoam green. He'd search Ebay using the terms "seafoam green". Once he found a beautiful Depression era glass ceiling light cover. Twenty bucks. I felt guilty. The seller didn't mention anything a collector might search for. If he had, we'd have easily been out-bid.

My mother tells me regretfully about a yard sale my grandparents or great grandparents had during which they sold all their Depression era glass to one woman. A woman who knew what they were. It's hard not to consider her a bit of a vampire.


Somewhere in the midst of my very long and very varied Curriculum Vitae, I worked at a used bookstore. I seriously undervalued a very valuable book. Twenty bucks I marked it, probably worth $500. Someone bought it. Boy, I felt stupid.

Monday, February 4, 2013


American hazelnut

The words keep coming. My son adds several words each day. For a year, we heard, "MMmm, mmm." Rarely, we heard, "This." Probably because he heard his parents inquire, "This? This? You want this?" each time he said, "MMmm, mmm."

It was not easy. Beren had complex thoughts but was articulating at his own pace.

"He understands everything," Jared and I would hear from my parents, my in-laws. Implied was, "So why doesn't he say anything?"

At 2 years and a month, he's a late talker. Our doctor wasn't worried, so I wasn't worried, except when I worried. "He's a Calc carb," she'd say in homeopathic lingo. "He's stubborn. You can't push him, but when a Calc carb does something, he'll do it perfectly."Or, "Remember, the first step of language acquisition is listening."

Perhaps this sounds odd to those who don't use homeopathy. Your child is a what? A Calc carb? Calcarea carbonica? Calcarate of lime? Well, yes. While I wouldn't put my son's character in an inflexible box, I use this to help me understand him.

Better yet, I can tell a short story that perfectly describe his personality:

When Beren was an infant, he woke when we put him down. Others suggested using a pacifier. We balked. We hesitated. I nursed and nursed. I was game, mostly, but we were exhausted and were finally receptive to the suggestion. Soon, we could not be without the pacifier at nap time. I worried (no doubt, if I were to do an analysis of my writings about mothering, "I worried" would be the most commonly paired words - ten to one).

One afternoon Beren laid in his crib. "Pah." He expelled the pacifier like a pea shooter and never took it again.

"Good for you, Beren," my husband said. "I never liked that thing either."


My mother worried that Beren wasn't talking. She related advice from her friend who ran a daycare at her home, "Once he's around other children, he'll begin talking."

Conveniently my husband found a story hour at a local library. Both Beren and Jared enjoyed it. Did Beren begin to talk? No.

My mother-in-law inquired, "Have you considered a play group?" or "Have you considered a parent and child group?" each time I saw her. I tried getting a play group going, but they fell apart repeatedly. I won't bother getting into a discourse on the modern condition, but it's not easy starting a play group. People are busy. People have schedules, appointments, cars, cell phones, and social media.

Bluntly she asked during one visit, "When will he talk?" I felt like a guillotine sliced me in half diagonally.

"I don't know... soon? He says some words. Momma. Moon. Bear. Balloon he said a couple times," I said.

"Words that he repeats after you say them?" my father-in-law asked. Guillotine slice number two. I was in four parts on the floor.

The idea of a parent and child group did not appeal to me. We already attended story times, sing-alongs, dropped in at the library, or visited with friends with children. As keeper of the checking account and payer of the bills, this appealed to me even less.

"Would you really prioritize money and your personal lack of interest in more toddler-oriented activities over the well-being of your child?" my nettlesome conscience asked.

"Autism?" my adrenalin-led Reader's Digest human interest story reading conscience asked.

"Hearing loss? What about a hearing test? No health insurance? So you really would prioritize money over the well-being of your child. Disappointing."

OK! Fine!

I tried once or twice more to put together a play group. I failed.

I conducted a day-long poor man's hearing test. Whenever my son turned away from me, I whispered his name from increasingly farther distances. He looked at me nearly every time, except he must have begun to think I was going crazy. He stopped glancing back at me.

In fact, I was going crazy. I confessed to my husband that night. He sighed, "You know, Rachel, I really think he's fine."

"OK, you're right."

I avoided delving into developmental issues simply because my son seemed, well, fine. While reading books, he pointed to the correct colors, animals, and objects when prompted. He pointed to the right body parts and foods on his plate when prompted. He stroked the face of a crying child in a book. He grabbed toys from other children and occasionally offered some up. He disliked sing-alongs.

He just wasn't talking. But, he wasn't talking. And so on went my internal and mostly unspoken monologue.

One afternoon a couple weeks ago, I asked him to hand me a spool of thread.

"White," he said, handing me a spool of white thread.

Since then, the words have spilled from my son's mouth - Up high, gloves, hat, sun, milk, flower, salve, toadstool, hide, edge, bag, ice, clunk, ant, bed... on and on.


Beren laid on the floor of my parent's living room. We had just finished our regular Thursday night dinner at their house. Beren was tired but cheerful. I put his diaper and pajamas on. My mother leaned against the couch nearby and my husband sat back on his knees.

Making a bet with myself, I asked Beren, "What do squirrels like to eat?"

"NUTS!" he shouted.