Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why I Love Saturdays

Weekends with nothing on the calendar used to mean waking up without an alarm, reading all of the interesting sections of the newspaper–everything minus Sports and Business– and staying in my PJ’s until I couldn’t stand another second of being cooped up inside, then getting dressed and going for a walk. Ever since pregnancy and baby happened, however, weekends have begun pretty much the same as every other day–wake up at 5:30 and wait (meaning visit the bathroom, nurse baby G, entertain him, pretend to sleep if he’s happy batting at his crunchy ladybug mobile, etc) until Michael’s alarm goes off at 6:30. Thankfully, I don’t mind the early Saturday wake-up. Michael and I have a plan to go to Mass at 8:30 a.m. and then head over to our local farmer’s market for our weekly purchase of fruit, eggs, meat, and milk. (We get our veggies each week as part of a Community Supported Agriculture deal with Potomac Vegetable Farms, so we don’t buy veggies at the market.) We’ve been going to the same farmer’s market every week since June–I even worked there briefly–and every week I love walking through the stalls and looking at all the colorful fresh flowers and veggies. Even though they’re pretty much the same stalls, every week the produce changes just a bit to reflect the change in the growing season. We’ve made friends with a couple of the vendors–the Wheatland Vegetable Farms owner, Susan Planck, and I have had conversations about midwifery and babywearing spurred on first by my pregnancy and then later by my sling. Michael has inquired from the fellow who sells goat yogurt about raising the critters and if he can find goat milk anywhere around here to purchase. Other interesting and fun characters include a young couple from PA who are about our age, starting up a small organic farm on land that’s been in their family for generations, the Hispanic family from the Northern Neck with the sweet little girl I made friends with while I worked there, and the friendly West Virginian Berkeley Springs Creamery grass-fed milk people. During the summer we stopped from time to time at Michael’s garden on the way home, and I would wander around looking at all of the plots in the community garden, checking out what people had done with their little squares of earth. By far my favorite was the guy who built a trellis-type structure that by the end of August was covered in climbing vines that grew mottled, bumpy gourds that looked like gigantic light green pickles handing straight down from the trellis roof! In any case, I don’t mind waking up early to spend Saturday mornings in the company of my husband and son and doing things that make me almost forget that we’re living here in commuter-crazy, status-driven NoVA.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The big wide world

Yesterday Gabriel’s cousin Dominic made his long-awaited entry into the outside world, and seems to be healthy and content! Praise God! We visited his happy mom and dad at the hospital and met the new little one, the fourth grandchild on Michael’s side. There are three little boys now...I’m having visions of even more rambunctious family gatherings in the not-to-distant future...!

Seeing Dominic made me realize how much Gabriel has grown in only 9 weeks. I don’t think I knew how new and scary the outside world must be for a newborn until I saw the contrast between the two of them. Dominic preferred to stay peacefully swaddled in his mother’s arms, peeking his eyes open only a couple times, and woke up only once with some big cries–it turned out to fill his diaper for one of the first times! Gabriel, on the other hand, has in the past two weeks all of a sudden begun to discover–and be truly delighted by– a lot of the outside world. He smiles constantly when new people talk especially to him, and has discovered many of the dangly toys we have on mobiles above his chair and changing table. He spend a whole 40 minutes the other day staring at, and grabbing, a purple butterfly toy while I made dinner! Usually I have to carry him the whole time which makes chopping stuff a rather complicated ordeal. When I do carry him in the sling, he now loves to “face out” towards the world– smelling what I’m cooking, watching us eat when he sits on our laps at the table, feeling how warm the laundry is as I fold it, watching Daddy play the piano, etc. The photo I included is of his first “facing out” ride in the sling.

Fr. Thomas Dubay, in his Prayer Primer, reflects that “if we are vibrantly alive to reality, we learn that there is no end to what can and should trigger awe, wonder, praise, thanksgiving, and love.” I began to learn a couple years ago in the midst of Wisconsin cornfields and expansive blue skies what it means to move from awe and wonder to praise, thanksgiving, and love. Sharing daily life with a baby who is awakening to the world around him reminds me that so much of what I experience should inspire wonder and lead me to thanksgiving and love–the citrusy-cilantro smell of the soup I made for dinner, the peace of the morning when Gabriel takes his first nap and I have time to pray and read, the forgiveness of my husband when I’ve been extra-difficult. More on wonder later, though, because it has been a growing theme in my life and my studies during the past couple years.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fall in the Old Dominion

Ever since my second year in college, fall in Virginia has meant a trip out to the Graves Mountain Lodge Apple Harvest Festival in Syria, Virginia. After a short ramble down the tree-lined rural route 609, past a few old general stores and a family cabinet-making business, we spent a couple hours in the fall air eating apple butter and cornbread, listening to bluegrass, and watching local kids (and the occasional random adult) clogging. We hit the festival this year on a crisp-air, clear-sky fall day, and a couple hundred other people had the same idea. The traffic on the road leading into the parking lot was quite slow because of this, although when we got to the area where one of the employees of the Lodge was directing traffic, we discovered that really the traffic wasn’t so bad–this particular employee was just being rather casual about his traffic direction. He was half-smiling, half-shrugging as he pointed in a not-all-to-clear way which direction the cars should go to find parking, and seemed himself to be having a pretty laid back day considering the hundreds of cars and people he was theoretically responsible for directing. Michael commented that he really could have been much more efficient about the job he was doing, but then in the next breath commented that this is why it’s good for him to go to southern Virginia every once in a while–everything’s not always about efficiency, and sometimes we just need a little reminder. How true. We met up with some friends from college and meandered through the festival grounds, tossed the football, contemplated a rather large cow, and played with our babies in a grassy field beneath the red-and-gold foothills. Nothing “productive” got accomplished–and I think this is just what we always need towards the end of October, two months into the sometimes scattered craziness of a new school year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Our daily constitutional

This afternoon as Gabriel and I were bumping along on our walk towards the park and the library, we made a surprising new friend. It wasn’t another one of the elderly ladies from our condo building who love to fuss and coo over the baby–instead it was a fat, black caterpillar, scooting perilously along the concrete sidewalk from one patch of grass to the next! Our friend was about two inches long, the thickness of my finger, and was sporting fluorescent green stripes in triangular patterns. To top off his flashy costume he had a firey orange spike at his tail end and munching mouthparts to match. I tried to scoop the caterpillar up on a leaf to show it to Gabriel–sure, he’s only 2 months old, but it’s never too early to start appreciating the wonder of God’s creation, right?

Our walks to the park are refreshing moments of peace in the middle of each day. Gabriel seems to want to go outside–the moment we step into the fresh air he becomes instantly happy, whether we’re walking in the stroller or in the sling. So happy, in fact, that he falls asleep almost every time we’re outside! A happy, calm baby of course makes for a happy, calm Mommy. On a rainy day a few weeks ago I tried to walk in the mall thinking that perhaps the movement of the stroller and the new environment would soothe him. I was quite wrong. Gabriel’s a smart little guy. All that rampant commercialism and filtered air kept him wide awake, looking around suspiciously, as though I were trying to fool him into thinking we were Outside. I think I’m glad he doesn’t like the mall–it will keep me away from it and the eyes-glazed-over “I didn’t know I needed all this stuff” feeling that I get from being there too long. Avoid the mall, he says, in his own baby way, and so I do for the most part. It’s just another way Gabriel seems to be instinctively teaching me a healthy rhythm for the life of babies and grown-ups alike–eat, nap, venture out, look, laugh, study, play, and repeat as needed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

An Incentive

In about three hours or so my son will celebrate his two month birthday–which makes me officially a mother (in womb and out) for about 11 months or so. The little guy is lying on the bed next to me at the moment blissfully ignorant of his looming two-month-old check-up, where he will be stuck (after much deliberation on my part) with a variety of needles for his first round vaccinations. I’ll talk more about him later--my main point right now is introducing this blog.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a favorite theologian of mine, makes much of the mother’s smile. At birth an infant can see only about 6 to 8 inches, which happens to be the distance from the breast where he nurses to his mother’s face. All that encompasses the mother’s nurturing as well as the actual, physical smile itself are the child’s first indications that his existence, his very being, is good. To simplify much of Balthasar’s writings, essentially what this means is that a mother lays the first building blocks for the child’s realization that his existence is a good and great gift for which he cannot claim responsibility; a gift from others; a gift from an Other who is God. Only upon realizing this can the child properly respond with joyful gratitude, making a gift of himself to others and to God.

I must admit that when I learned this in my Master’s classes last year, this sounded really good in a romantic, oh-of-course-how-could-it-be-otherwise sort of way. But when I started really learning it–when my son was born–I realized what a hefty charge this is for mothers everywhere! To maintain a “smile”–not a superficial grin but a deeply ingrained sense of peace and joy–and to transmit this to my son can be difficult when one struggles through the challenges of every day, be they large or small. I’ve decided in pursuit of this mother’s smile I will record here those random moments that cause me to smile, to rejoice, or to give a quiet thanks to God, as writing them down will help me to remember them and perhaps provide a tiny source of amusement or joy for any of my readers! I admit many of these moments will probably have to do with my son considering that he’s the focus of most of my attention these days, but I will venture into other topics as they wander into my mind.