Sunday, September 18, 2005

Yoga for speeding

When I got my first car I bustled myself off to the local insurance agent and plunked down half of my yearly salary — all $300 of it — to make it legal.

As I sat in his office the grandfatherly figure handed me all manner of pamphlets explaining just how dangerous drivers of my ilk were: young, inexperienced, not to mention that they let their boyfriends get behind the wheel. He didn’t even utter the word /alcohol; /he didn’t have/ /to, it was the elephant in the room with us sitting next to the Don’t Drink and Drive poster.

Instead, he peered over his spectacles at me and asked the BIG question?

“Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?”

“No,” I answered briskly, feigning surprise.

“Well, you’re lucky.”

Actually, I didn’t consider it luck. I considered it simple logic: “I don’t speed, so why would I get a ticket?”

Of course we think of speeders as those people of questionable intelligence who infuriate us as they pass on the highway in a thunderous blur complete with the sound effects of screeching tires and worn out mufflers. Speeders are not the folks who undoubtedly infuriate the people behind them by driving just a few ticks below the limit as a general rule.

And yet, it’s people in the later category who seem to make up the bulk of the documented speeding population. I count myself among them.

Yup, we are the ones who drive 40-miles-an hour regardless of where we are. Solitary country road where speed limit is 50, we drive 40 mph; highway in the rain, 40 mph; city, speed limit 30, oops … 40 mph.

Flashing lights, screaming siren and 40 heart attacks later I’ve pulled off to the shoulder and am fumbling through my bag for my license and registration. With my heart beating rapidly from somewhere in the center of my throat, my mind was a blur with decisions I couldn’t make. Should I turn the car off or leave it running? I should turn the stereo off. … I need to relax. Perhaps I should try yoga. … Wait. Where is that registration?

The first pass with just a “warning” is always a miraculous occasion. You analyze every aspect of the event and try to pinpoint what it was that got you off the hook. Once it happens a second and third time, you are left to wonder when luck will actually run out. I eventually began to anticipate the ticket the way others might unconsciously look forward to that first dent on a new car.

At 8 a.m. one Sunday morning during my eight-month of pregnancy I was offered another chance to even out the cosmic disparity — I was stopped driving 40 in a 30 mph area on my way to the yoga class that I vowed I’d take at that very first siren.

The officer poked his head into the car, took a look at me and immediately asked if there were any medical emergency that would warrent my going above the posted limit.

I just started laughing: “No, officer, I have no good reason at all for speeding.”

I didn’t let him in on the joke — I had been rushing to yoga so I could relax.

Oddly enough, despite my unusual display of mirth at the thought of finally getting the ticket I so deserved, he let me go without a sobriety test and with a just warning.

Perhaps yoga works for tickets, too.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Camera shy

Standing at the end of the slide from the backyard Bouncy-Bounce at a neighborhood party, I did the unthinkable. I slung my camera over my shoulder, balanced it on the small of my back and took a turn at playing catch.

Silly mommy.

Ittybit had been having the time of her life. At 17 months old, she was finally free. Inside the inflated room she defied gravity with wild abandon. Up until this point she had been happy to have her father’s arms at the ready. This time, though, only mommy would do.

It was a children’s party and I had been milling around taking pictures at kid-eye level; getting my lens as close as humanly possible to the water, and keeping my fingers crossed that the sand would stay on the beach.

It had been a success up to this point. As the family photographer, I had amassed a veritable treasure trove of colorful shots of children doing what they do best: engaging in joyful noise. I quietly observed and tried to translate those observations into images that could stand on their own.

I could only hear her constant giggle when I felt the clunky camera body slide off the flat of my back. Instantly I felt a weight in my stomach as it contracted into the realization that the weight of it would hit her squarely in the forehead.

Game over.

“She’s going to hate you for that one,” says my conscience.

Often, when I raise my camera, a collective groan trickles through the room. My family loves me, and they complement my abilities, but they don’t always want to indulge my passion for collecting all their moments for posterity. I worry that my friends chatter in my absence that they would rather I take a walk and aim my lens at the proverbial tree falling in the forrest. Sometimes I can hear them whispering to each other:

“Does she HAVE to do this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Doesn’t she have enough pictures yet?”

“One would think so ...”

I have become so sensitive to the perceived criticism that I have politely asked family members if they would mind being photographed, almost as if they were strangers.

I muddle on with my obsession none-the-less. I use only the light available in the room to minimize my impact on the event, and I force myself to be satisfied with what I have when the gazes coming back into my viewfinder turn icy.

I know there will be only one good image for every 100 mediocre ones. I can wait for another opportunity. Magic, after all, only lasts for a moment.

I suppose having my own child become a casualty of this obsession put it in perspective. For three days the camera never left my bag, and I used that time to reconnect with the person I was trying to lock away in a photo album minute by minute.

When I picked up the camera again, it came with a new sensitivity. A new idea of what it was I was trying to capture: A life that I was shaping. Not just physically but psychologically as well. Yes, I wanted to watch her discover things, but I also wanted to be there. I wanted to be in the moment, too.

We try to balance work and family, but how do we balance parenthood and building a photographic record of that history?

Like every obsessed parent, I was showing rafts of personal images to a friend, and as he marveled at the sheer amount of photographs I had amassed of my growing girl, I voiced my concern about the intrusiveness of having every moment documented and preserved

He stopped me.

“I was the youngest of nine,” he said a little mournfully. “I think she will feel lucky. ... My folks have exactly one picture of me under the age of 10. I wish I had something to look back on to show I’d once been small.”

Perhaps that’s the way I shall have to look at it. Something to look back on to show we were here, we were happy and we were loved.

And, of course, it wouldn’t hurt to keep a small supply of Band-Aids handy, either.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The interpreter

When children start acquiring language, a whole new world opens up to parents, too.

Each morning, as we drive to the sitter’s house, my little kumquat bombards me with questions and commands that I can only humbly (and barely) translate. When the occasional passenger looks on they act amazed as I juggle CDs, popping them into the player as an answer to the mono-syllabic requests that have come from the backseat.

“Moo.” She wants the CD with the picture of the moon on it. (This is, of course, mildly different than the sound a cow makes, which would be Mooooooo); “Bey, Bey, Bey?” Oh, she wants the “Bed, Bed, Bed” song — not the version on the yellow CD but the one on the blue disc; “Kikki?” Finally, an easy one — the Long-haired Hippy Kitty song.

What I’ve ended up with on this long road of listening trial and error is a personal dictionary that few outsiders would be able to interpret without the help of a Rossetta stone.

The question is invariably, “How did you know that’s what she wanted?”

Simple. I just happened to be there when the light went on.

But of course, it’s not that simple. Not for any of us.

We sometimes forget that every time we speak to another human being we are trying to decipher some weird set of hieroglyphs that are colored by everything from place of origin to era of upbringing, and any number of little ticks and foibles that just crop up out of the blue.

During every family vacation, I inevitably confuse my mother-in-law by speaking in movie — a foreign language to all those people who live in the world of intelligencia instead of its shadow world, insomnia.

As she and her children converse in French with a Parisian house guest, I and my similarly afflicted brother-in-law breakout into “Nemo” while setting up the dominos.

HIM: “What’d he open with?”

ME: “Gator Gliben drill.”

HIM: “He’s been favoring that one lately.”

Looking across the table at my mom-in-law’s doe-eyes staring back at me, I immediately feel guilty.

“Do you understand what they’re saying?” she searchingly asks her French friend.

Of course, the ackwardness of speaking about sensitive subjects can make perfectly good words go silent.

Our babysitter has her own lexicon for all items personal: She uses no clinical nor colloquial terms for intimate body parts or their corresponding items of clothing, just throat-clearing noun substitutes — “a-hems” — and spellings.

Of course, the topic is unavoidable as my itty-bit jams her hand down my shirt as she chomps down on her bottle.

“You really should think about getting a better B-R-A.”