Sunday, March 25, 2007

Living in a godless house ...

We live in a godless house.

That's not to say we don't have spirituality or values we want to impart to our children, just that they don't happen to include a supreme being.

We've always said that we will let Ittybit decide for herself what to believe about organized religion. It's a philosophy we understand parents of a certain age and upbringing to have harbored for at least a generation. We grew up with many kids whose spiritual search lead from Atheism to Zionism, and who eventually found something that best spoke to them.

Spirituality in our humble abode is more of a life tenet than dogma. Be good for goodness’ sake is our unspoken motto, and instead of church sermons our Sunday ritual has been sitting cross-legged or running around barefooted in a yoga studio with other moms and kid: a bendable play date.

It had occurred to me that Ittybit would learn things from other people that I don't agree with. I know my beliefs hold only so much weight and only for so long until I have to let them go and they evolve into her beliefs and her understandings -- beliefs that might be completely different from my own.

The last thing I wanted to do was raise a child who is intolerant of other people, and yet it seems that's just what I’m doing when I intervene on matters of fact when it comes to "faith."

I had envisioned explaining that we believe a certain "thing" and how that may differ from what others believe; diligently trying not to instill a prejudice that others' beliefs might be wrong. Of course I also envisioned these conversations taking place sometime in the not-foreseeable-future, say about the time she was trying to hit me up for the keys to the car or a raise in allowance.

But when a tired-of-being-cold preschooler, strapped into her car seat for our long Sunday drive, asked me to tell her "when God was going to bring spring" I had to pull the car over.

All of a sudden there seemed to be a definite right and a definite wrong.

"Honey, God doesn't bring spring. ... The seasons come based on the Earth's tilt and it’s rotation around the sun."

I didn't really expect her to understand, but I didn't expect big, fat, painful tears either.

"God does bring the spring … and the summer! He. Does. Bring. The. Seasons. So-and-so says he does."

And there it is -- a clash of faith.

"Well, honey, some people believe God is responsible for the creation of everything on Earth and in the universe, and that he sets things into motion, but we know that the seasons occur as a result of the Earth’s position in the solar system. It's nature.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

More tears and sobs -- so many in fact that I can barely make out the words that punctuate them.


How can I explain science to a preschooler? She neither understands nor cares how the universe works, but who's to say we can't start now? If God can personify faith, why can’t someone else personify science?

What we need, I think, is a woman. A strong woman who symbolizes all the wonders embodied in the natural world but who will recede in time, allowing science to stretch its wings and eventually leave the nest.

"Honey, let's just say, for now, that Mother Nature ushers in spring. She walks with spring around the globe to wherever it's going."

She was quiet for a time. She turned to look out the window and dried her tears.

The car was silent as I pulled back onto the road and drove a while longer.

When I checked the rearview mirror I saw the corners of her mouth turn up suddenly.

"Ittybit? How are you doing? Are you OK?"

"Yes, Mama. I'm fine. I'm just going to wait for Mother Nature to bring spring."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Good night, Maggie dog, sleep tight

Last summer, a friend of mine in the publishing bidness asked me to work on a photographic children's book with him. I would provide the photographs and he would write the text.

It would be all about my dogs — Madeline and Maggie.

His idea was simple:

"Take about 48 photographs of them playing together, spread them out on a table and we'll come up with a story about "Best Friends."

I stopped cold, realizing that with all the photographs I've taken over the years there are very few of the "Wonder Twins" together. Ok, they're not twins and we are actually a step-family. My husband came to the relationship with Maggie and I showed up with Madeline. And it was a rough start.

Maggie, two years older than Madeline (who, incidentally, we refer to as Jerk Monkey Hose Dog for her pranks and antics), would have nothing to do with the little pest for quite a while. She'd snap and growl and slink away to anywhere that would be puppy free. Maggie always seemed mature beyond her years ... for a Lab.

My friend's request also made me realize that even if I could get the girls to play together — my first babies, the furry loves of my life — are not as photogenic as they once were. They have bumps and skinny haunches, puffy bellies and graying fur. Though they are still beautiful to us, the industry might not agree. And too soon these creatures will be only a memory.

"That's even better," he said jovially. "We'll do a children's book about coping with the loss of a pet."

As I looked over at Ittybit as she splashed in the pool, it dawned on me that the past two years have really brought about an amazing transformation of our entire family, fuzzy members especially. They have gone from being standoffish and frightened of the pink little bundle that made all kinds of strange noises to being watchful and proud.

"Oooh, this is even better," says my friend. "I see morning show bookings in our future."

But we never got started. We never laid out those pictures on a table before we had to lay our dear Maggie to rest. A few weeks after the idea was hatched, a trip to the veterinarian revealed the old girl had a tumor filling one lung. He gave her eight weeks.

She lasted nearly eight months longer. For eight months she followed our girl around, slept in her room and seemed to perk up every time she heard her little voice call her name: Maggie dog ... Maggie.

I'd almost forgotten how sick she was; how little time was left. She still lumbered up and down the stairs, eating voraciously, and draging hers and all bowls of dinner-time giveaways away from her adopted sibling, who, incidentally, seemed to be gaining the weight poor Maggie was losing.

And just like that, Maggie just stopped eating. She stopped sleeping at Ittybit's bedside and spent more time outdoors, eerily staring in the direction of the place my husband had decided to lay her to rest.

Our regular vet doesn’t make house calls, so I pestered my husband to ask an imposition of a friend (and veterinarian) to make a long trip out of his way (and on his day off) to make sure her last sight on Earth was a view of home.

Ittybit and I went out for cake and bacon (kid cravings?) during Maggie's final treatment.

I worried how Ittybit would take the news. We'd been explaining what was happening all along, but I knew none of us would ever be prepared for the hole that such a large dog creates when they leave their families.

We talked about how Maggie would be gone when we got home.

It was a shock to see how much more prepared she was than I.

"Mama, don't cry. I'm not sad. Maggie's OK now."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Empty nesting

Nesting. How I hate that word.

For me it conjures up the image of some corybantic crow fruitlessly frittering around a nest, getting nowhere and next to nothing accomplished, as she waits for the egg to drop.

It's something quaint that only the female does; a force of nature that can be neither denied nor explained. We all just chalk it up to hormones and let it go at that.

Not me. The first time around I seemed to have missed that portion of the pregnancy.
When Ittybit was busy baking, we were renovating the house (or I should more accurately say my husband was busy ripping out walls and putting in floors) -- reconstructing our two-bedroom flat into a three-bedroom abode fit for a family.

Since I was that furibund creature flapping with nowhere to fly, I plunked myself down on the couch and watched back-to-back episodes of "Trading Spaces," "Design on a Dime" and "While You Were Out."

Nesting wasn't in my nature.

We had a hand-me-down cradle, some hand-me-down clothes and lots of gifts pouring in. I wasn't concerned with furnishings and other kiddy accoutrements because there wasn't a finished room to put them in anyway. The most involved I got in decorating the room that would be hers (11 months after her birth) was choosing the paint color and selecting a carpet. What more could I do?

I might have had a little of the urge to clean right before the contractions started clamping down on me, but then the husband and our dogs tracked in mud and snow, and threw their clothes on the floor, or dribbled water from the bowl, and all my efforts disappeared like magic.

I’ve heard people say that the first child changes your life, turns it upside down and inside out in a dramatic way, but that the second child just slips in during an intermission and quietly becomes part of the drama.

Often, they’ll say the frantic need to ready the nursery and gather supplies for the newbie gets lost in the chores of everyday life. The newness and need to do something — anything — while you wait just isn't there to the same degree since it was the first child who stole the show.

Yet for me, it's as if the process has been reversed. Since we found out Thing 2 is a boy, I seem to have a need to get ready. The room that he will call his own is little more than a closet with sliding doors and no windows. There is just enough room for a bed and a dresser and a few shelves.

The challenge of fitting as much as I can in a small space has filled my head with dread.

Oddly, my craving for television design shows hasn’t returned. Instead the urge to declutter my own closets and organize Ittybit’s has reared its ugly head. In addition to disappearing neglected toys and outgrown or threadbare clothes, I've delivered trunk loads of items to Goodwill, purchased new hangers, shelves and chests of drawers, and even devised elaborate plans for storing off-season attire in a more organized way.

Everything on table and countertops either finds of permanent home or finds itself at the bottom of the trash, hidden under orange peels and coffee grounds so that it's demise will remain unnoticed.

With each toss, I remind myself: less is more. But somehow it still just feels as if I'm merely flapping.

I imagine its all just preparation for when I'm ready to tackle decorating the baby's new closet ... er ... room.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

We interrupt the weekday peace and quiet with this unexpected announcement ...

i obsess has bestowed on this here "blog" and it's weekly offerings a Thinking Blogger Award. It's some happy "share the love" token thought up by some brainiac over at The Thinking Blog

I'm terribly honored that the designation came from her, a blogger whose writing I drool over.

And so, as is the custom of this particular bloggy meme, and without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my nods to bloggers who always make me think:

The Mad Momma
Little Bald Doctors
Mean Girl to the Rescue
Half of the Sky

Go pick up your awards, peeps. You deserve them.

Via con heuvos then ... until Sunday.

UPDATE: Unbeknownst to either of us, Gingajoy and I were nominating each other at the same time. How's that for great minds thinking alike?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Zen and the art of prenatal maintenance

Circling the block for the seventh time, waiting for the gods of parking to smile down on my green trash-strewn sedan, it hits me: My mind is finally blank, the zen I've been dreaming of.

But I can hardly remember why I'm here let alone obsessing over the lack accessible spaces. With each turn of the wheel, each pass of the same neighborhood, my reasons for being in this very place eludes me.

At this point I'm just circling. If a car came careening out of a space right in front of me, I'd probably take no notice and continue my laps.

Yoga and meditation couldn't accomplish in a dozen years what a growing level of human chorionic gonadotropin -- that's hCG to you medical types -- could pull off in a matter of days: What the Zen Buddhists call 'No mind.'

But this isn't what I would call enlightenment.

I imagine that the 'No Mind' enlightenment promises has very little to do with a mind unencumbered by facts and figures; a mind that can't remember any more telephone numbers or its own wedding anniversary. The enlightened mind, I believe, has more to do with a being able to witness without judging and let go; a mind that is aware but unconcerned.

Pregnancy mind is just blank. And not a good blank, either. It's the kind of blank that the FCC has been vigilantly leveling heavy fines against: The blankity-blank-blank blank!

Pregnancy mind wakes you up at 2:30 a.m. to warn you that "very bad things" are going to happen and then goes cackling away while you obsess for the next several months. Pregnancy mind forgets everything you struggle to remember, save for doctors' appointments and Skor bars hidden in the kitchen last October. It keeps you from sleeping or (depending on the model) from staying awake. Pregnancy mind wanders about unleashed.

It's as if my real mind has taken a vacation without me. I imagine it's lolling on some island off the Pacific Rim, slurping Mai Thais through a straw; eating unpasteurized cheeses and reading Dostoyevskii, while its pregnant equivalent is on a diet of saltines and decaffeinated tea and can't even focus on reading the return address labels on incoming mail.

My vacationing mind, I imagine, is thumbing its proverbial nose in my pregnant mind's direction; asking its cabana boy to deliver a fresh cocktail as I try to remember where I put my keys.

It's all too much really. The pressure of remembering to send Ittybit out into the world each morning complete with shoes and socks is weighing on me.

On good days we arrive at the sitter's house without lunches, sneakers and sippy cups. These days I'm lucky if I remember to bring Ittybit.

The stress of it doesn't help. It's similar to finding an all-day parking spot downtown on a weekday; because waits at the doctors’ office, unfortunately, require such a time commitment.

I'm trying to let it go. I'm trying to realize as I drive around in search of a blank slot in which to dock my car, willing one into existence is futile. The more I want it, the less likely it is to appear. It's like the pregnancy itself: the more I wanted it the more it seemed impossible. When I had just about given up hope, there it was.

Now if I can just remember where I parked the car.