Wednesday, March 30, 2011

expect the unexpected

Dora started a new school at the beginning of February. It was bittersweet for us - seeing her leave behind friends and teachers we had all grown to love, leaving the security of the only place that she had ever gone, where she was known for her bottle refusals and strong personality. We are happy about the new school - especially because she ended up going there with a friend - but it's been an adjustment.

Dora has been telling me stories of other kids being unkind in various kid ways. We've talked to the teachers, who assure us that Dora holds her own very well. We've talked to Dora about how to deal with kids when they aren't being nice. And, I realize that some of her stories may be embellished in her own three-year-old way. Still, I had not expected to be dealing with this so soon. I'm responding to it as best I can - trying to be reassuring without being unrealistic, and without making a huge deal out of it so she worries more. I'm not sure I'm handling it exactly right, but I guess I thought I'd have more time to prepare. 

I think I was fairly notorious in my elementary school for being the girl whose mom wouldn't let her have Barbies. My mother didn't like the image of beauty that Barbie portrayed. I think it bothered her to think of little girls playing with big-breasted, super skinny, sexualized dolls. I was allowed to have Skipper - Barbie's undeveloped little sister who came with a horse. I haven't really thought about this in years, until the other night when Dora asked if we could play with Barbies. Again - I did not think I was going to be answering this question yet. I told her that, no, we are not going to play with Barbies, and that we're not going to get any Barbies either. I told her how, if Barbie were a real person, she would not be able to stand up because her body proportions are physically impossible. I'm sure this really meant a lot to my 3-year-old. We moved on to reading Personal Penguin. 

In a way, I should not be surprised by any of this, for the theme of parenthood really is "expect the unexpected". I can't even count the number of times I've been surprised, sometimes pleasantly and sometimes not, by being a mother. I'm surprised by myself - how great I can be sometimes and how sometimes I can be really impatient, really unfair, really not the mom I want to be. I'm surprised by my daughter - how smart and beautiful and funny she is, and how she can frustrate me so much so easily. I'm surprised by my fears and my hopes and by all the thoughts this experience brings up for me. It makes you see parts of yourself, your partner, your world you never even knew existed. 

Tonight during yoga our teacher told us it was our last class - a surprise and disappointment to all of us, including our teacher. I realized in class tonight for the first time the power of controlling your breathing as you do in yoga, of forcing yourself to slow down and get quiet. I felt the power of the poses, of breathing through them with purpose. I looked down at my hands in Downward Facing Dog, at my turquoise ring that belonged to my mother, and my hands looked just like hers. I don't remember ever seeing that so vividly as tonight. 

As I snuggled Dora into bed tonight, stroking her hair and her cheek and her perfect little ear, I thought about how I had touched her face this way on our first night together. Awash with the power of labor and the overwhelming new love I was experiencing for the first time, I learned my first lessons of motherhood, of how it opens up the depths of your heart as never before. I look back on it now and think how much more I might have loved her then if I had known what she would become, if I had known how completely central and essential she would become in my life. There is really not much I would change about her birth, but I do wish I could go back there knowing what I know now, so I could really soak in those first moments of her life, really look at her then while knowing what she would become. This is not to say that I didn't love her perfectly then, because I did - it's just that my love for her has grown so much, I wish I could whisper in the ear of myself as a new mother, "you think you love her now? Just wait. It's going to get bigger and stronger every single day, even if you think that's impossible."

Perhaps there will be some sense of this our second time around. Perhaps we'll be able to soak in the weight and depth and breadth of our new baby in his or her first moments. Or maybe to do is physically impossible, like Barbie in real life. I'm excited to find out, and certain that whatever the experience is like, it will also be unexpected. 

To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. 

--Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

help us to show our love

Yesterday at dinner, Dora and I said grace before we ate. It seemed like a day that needed that - a moment of silence or simple words to thank God for our blessings, and to pray for others. I confess that we don't normally say grace unless on a special occasion - something I picked up from my own childhood. But last night, it was just the two of us, and an edamame, cabbage, chicken, and noodle stir-fry on a regular old Monday night. Nothing special. 

I was somewhat surprised to find myself reciting a prayer we said as children, one I hadn't heard or thought of in many years. We've taught Dora the short child's prayer, "God is great", etc., and on special occasions I recite the Runser family traditional prayer, based on Psalm 145, and referred to in our family simply as "the Eyes". But this prayer - I can't even think of the last time I said it: 

Lord, thank you for this food, 
and all the blessings of today, 
help us to show our love, 
by being kind and good, we pray. 

After this, we prayed for the people of Japan. As with any disaster of epic proportions, I am overwhelmed and saddened for all of those who are suffering from this tragedy. As news reports come in of tens of thousands of lives lost, villages destroyed, displaced people going hungry, and possible nuclear crisis, I am reminded of how small and helpless each of us are. It feels like even those of us who want to help can hardly do so, as what does a small donation really mean in the face of such loss. 

I look at my safe, warm, beautiful little girl, my loving husband, our sweet little life, our new baby on the way, and I know I should be saying grace at every meal. I should be thanking God at every turn for all of the grace afforded to me in so many ways, the abundance given to me that is embarassing in comparison to the needs of others. It simply doesn't make sense, how some can have so little while others so much, how some of us are in peril while others are us are warm, safe, fed, and dry. 

I know only one person in all of Japan, my friend Hiroshi. I heard from him yesterday and I know that he, and his immediate family, are safe. He is traveling around the country, trying to document through his photographs what has happened, and hopefully keeping himself safe in the process. In a short message to me he explained that he and his family are safe, and not directly impacted by the earthquake. But, he added, "this is not a matter of where they live and where we live". He went on to say that everyone in his nation must unite to face this crisis. 

This is true for all of us: it is not a matter of where they live and where we live. All of us need to unite with our brothers and sisters in Japan, as we have done for others in the past, to face this crisis, to help one another, to lend a hand, even if we feel small and helpless and like our tiny contribution won't make a difference. 

Help us to show our love, by being kind and good, we pray. 

For a list of ways you can help the people of Japan, click here.