Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Trip To The Library

A dear friend used to say that we all have our bag of rocks to carry. Then she realized that the bag is not full of rocks -- it's full of books.

Life does seem to teach us the same lessons over and over again. I don't know about anyone else, but I always seem to need the refresher course.

My big lesson this week was gratitude. On the morning of Gabby's birthday, I was playing with her in the house in Santa Fe that we were sharing with Atomic's family. I went to hike her up on my shoulder, and all of a sudden I was grasping at air. Then came the sickening thud as she flopped face first onto the floor. She screamed and screamed, unable to be comforted by either of us in any way. I held her and rocked her, and then she started to get sleepy. I got even more worried and called the doctor. While I was on hold, she screamed some more and then threw up. We rushed to the emergency room, in a snowstorm. We were terrified.

By the time we got to the hospital, she was fine. She'd taken a nap, and was cheerfully waving at the nurses and doctors in the ER. The doctor advised us against a CT scan and told us to watch her carefully over the course of the day. She developed a heck of a shiner on her left eye, but that was about it.

Even now, a week later, I lose my breath and get a horrible knot in my stomach when I think about it. And then I am flooded with enormous gratitude and humility. The universe has seen fit to entrust us with this precious child. We'd better not fuck it up.

Now, as for the other books in my bag this week, well, it's not exactly the New York Times best seller list. Some, ahem, highlights:

Flights of Fancy: How To Lower Your Expectations When Traveling Coach

The Homicide-Free Family Vacation

Simple Holiday Meals For Fourteen Picky Eaters

Strange Rashes

How To Survive Your Inlaws (yes, this one is real, and it actually looks kinda good)

The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter

As I said, not exactly beach reading, but all worthy lessons which I am certain to forget by the next time I need them.

Here's wishing all of you love, peace, happiness, prosperity, and gentleness in 2009.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It has a name, Gabby!

I've always gotten a little weepy watching the much-parodied final scene of The Miracle Worker. The concept that everything has a name is so basic, yet so counterintuitive, it's a wonder we ever invented language at all.

Once you give something a name, you can talk about it even when it's not right in front of you. You can tell stories about it; you can theorize, conceptualize. You can engage in abstract thinking. I think that scene always moved me because being able to name things seems like a prerequisite for personhood.

Well, our Gabby had a Helen Keller moment today. For the last several weeks, she has definitely worked a few words into her babbling, mainly "mama," "dada," "cat," and the all-purpose "dat" (that). "Cat" was a big step toward getting the whole things-have-names concept, but it wasn't until last night and today that I think she really got it.

Last night, she was in my lap, staring up at the gorgeous mobile Atomic made using some painted wooden fish from Mazatlan. She looked up, pointed at the mobile, and said "dat!"

I said, "Those are fish, honey."







"Fffffffffffrthl. Dat!"



"Yes! Fish!" Big kiss.

She went back to nursing, obviously quite pleased with herself. Twice more, she interrupted her meal to point and say something that sounded rather like "fish."

Now, she's gotten that far before, especially with the cats. But tonight, we were in her room getting ready for bed, and I asked, "Gabby, where are the fish?"

She looked at me quizzically for a moment, and then I saw it. That flash of understanding. I repeated the question.

"Gabby, where are the fish?"

She looked up, smiled hugely, and pointed at the fish.


She then valiantly fought sleep for another half hour so that she could point triumphantly toward the ceiling every few moments and shout, "Fish!" with a tone and a grin that said, "I am SO all over this language thing."

Update: Gabby woke up this morning, gave me a big, sweet smile and said, "Fish!" So, yeah, I think the abstract thinking is probably still a few weeks off.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

That Circle of Life Thing Again

Getting back to the intensely personal here.

Gabby is growing and thriving. She had a bit of trouble putting on weight for a little while there, but once I figured out that she would still love me even if I supplemented my breastmilk output with a bit of formula, things turned around. She's not walking yet, but she will be soon. And her babbling is sounding more and more like actual words. Either that or she IS saying real words but she speaks only Uzbek. Or she mumbles a lot.

Gabby's new best friend (my best friend's daughter) was born yesterday.

Another friend just got some good news in a bad situation -- her daughter's brain tumor has remained stable for another six months, and she's managing to grow up and learn and love and laugh despite it all. Good thing no one told her she's not supposed to be able to do all of that.

Another friend and colleague, someone I've known for nearly 15 years and worked with in three different jobs, just got sworn in as our city's newest council member.

And another old friend, a teacher and mentor, is dying.

And so it goes. Round and round and round.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Who You Callin' Colorblind?

I can't believe it's been a whole month since the election. For the past month, I've been so incredibly proud to be an American. (And a bit less proud to be a Californian, but don't get me started on that right now. I'm feeling fairly joyous and a tad philosophical, and working up a head of steam about self-righteous and intolerant out-of-state religious freaks would really harsh my mellow.)

So, where was I? Oh, right. President-elect Obama. Has a nice ring to it, dontcha think? He seems to be hitting the ground running, egged on by still-President Bush, who is so eager to hand off the steaming pile of turds that he has made of our national economy and international reputation is likely to leave skid marks on the White House lawn.

Of course I'm interested in what President Obama will do, but I'm also curious about what we Americans will do now that he is our leader. Will it change the way we think about race? For me, it already has.

We all hate to admit how much we've internalized the racism we grew up with, how much our sneaky little subconscious still recoils when a Scary Brown Person heads toward us on the sidewalk, but it's there. Recently, however, my subconscious is much more apt to look at said Scary Brown Person and wonder if he has kids. Or if he owns a house on my street and if so, whether he worries about his property values as he waters the hydrangeas in his garden. My rotten, racist subconscious has quite suddenly and disconcertingly decided that the Formerly Scary Brown People are actually Folks Like Me.

It's bizarre to realize I've had a mental shift like that, because it forces me to acknowledge that I had all those awful racist thoughts to begin with. And then of course I wonder if the person walking in the other direction is thinking, "Great. Another slack-jawed fool giving me the lovey googy eyes because she's suddenly figured out that we share a common humanity. Hoo-friggin-ray." It is, quite frankly, rather embarrassing.

But I'm hoping it's an experience that a lot of my fellow white folks are having. And I'm hoping that maybe the googy eyes will give way to actual conversations, and, you know, community and stuff, and then maybe we can all stop segregating ourselves and each other into little enclaves and fighting over schools and jobs and start realizing that we've got common goals -- and common enemies -- and oh geez I'm about to burst into that song from the Coke commercial so I'll just leave it at that.