I had a nightmare. Aria woke me up from it screaming.ย 

I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a bad dream. I was at my breaking point by the end of it and wanted to scream. 

Instead, I was torn away by the scream of my baby at the end of the hall. 

My heart was still pounding when I picked her up. She looked as upset as me. 

Did a bad dream pass through the house?? I guess I’ll have to write a letter to the BFG and ask if he knows. 

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Last Saturday Solo. It was wonderful. Today Aria sang to me.ย 

This deployment has had its ups and downs. Downs with health. Downs with massive transition at work. Downs with fatigue from being the one and only. 

But my time with Aria. It’s been such an up. On days like this, I realize what a relationship we’ve built together over these long months looking out for each other. 

After dinner and brushing teeth, Aria was eager to turn out the lights and to be put into her crib. 

She gazed at me with that smile of hers, not her charmer smile, or her big grin, or her laughing smile, or her smile of delighted relief I always get when I pick her up from someone else’s care. This was another smile. It was a happy smile. Simple. Full of real love. 

I realized I felt the same, that I was giving her the same smile. I felt sincerely happy. 

This always happens on days I let go, on days when I am just mom. When I’m not thinking about the novel I should be writing or the emails I should be sending or the books I should be reading. When I barely take out my phone except to quickly share a photo or two on Facebook. 

By the end of these days, I feel less tired, less angry, less frustrated. I just feel happy. It takes all day for it to fully settle in. It’s like that 8th day of my honeymoon in Tahiti. That was the first day of my entire like I felt what it truly means to be relaxed. It was transcendent. Really. 

That’s how I feel with Aria. When I’m just mom. In these moments, I feel totally and completely alive. It’s transcendent. It heals the soul. 

I asked my smiling daughter if she wanted me to sing. She nodded. I sang “My Little Aria,” as we held hands through the crib bars. 

My little Aria

Oh how I love you.

You are my daughter

I love you so. 
I will be with you

Here in the darkness, in life’s many dark moments, holding you closely

All night long. 

You may not see me. You may not be sure. 

But I will be with you

All night long. 
My little Aria

Oh how I love you.

You are my daughter

I love you so. 
It has a lot of other verses. I made them up as I went. Then I switched to “Tomorrow” as I often do and then a few hymns. 

We ended up taking three trips over to the changing table while I sang to her. She didn’t complain or protest. Just nodded when I asked her if she needed to be changed. 

On the third trip

Aria started to sing. 

I swear she was singing “Tomorrow.” Her smile widened to a broad grin. 

We sang together

Then I hoisted her up into my arms and hugged her tight. 

I asked her to tell me when she was ready. After a minute or two in each other’s arms, she shifted toward the crib. 

I kissed her good night and set her down. 

As I lifted away, she sang “Tomorrow! Tomorrow!” one more time. Then cried softly for a minute after I drifted away into the night. 

As I laid in bed, remembering what it felt to hear my daughter sing words to me for the first time, I realized this was it. Next week we go back to being three. 

It was a sweet and beautiful end to what felt at times like an impossibly difficult deployment. 

She waved to the ant

She sat there on the sidewalk, playing with her pepper shaker. 

Along came an ant. He made loops and circles between her legs. 


She pointed and poked. 

I half expected her to crush him in curiosity. 

Instead, she recognized life in that little, seemingly insignificant thing before her. 

Aria stood up. 

And waved. 

“Bye bye!”

My favorite things about Aria cerca 18 months

I really like Aria. I mean I totally love with super mother depth. But I really like her too. She’s interesting and funny and fun to be around. She’s intelligent and, in her own baby way, witty. She’s adventurous, loves to explore and figure things out, but loves a good cuddle and a kiss on the cheek. 

So in honor of her turning 18 months this week, here are a few of my favorite things. 

I love her chortle. 

It may be my favorite thing about her. It’s this slightly surprised, slightly expecting, but appreciative laugh she often makes. She sees the humor in something and laughs, rather than laughing in delight or laughing because something is silly. It’s “a laugh because she is amused or appreciative of something.” A chortle. I hope she always has it. I find it quite distictive and it always make me appreciate the humor in a situation too. 

I love how she communicates. 

I’ve an unfinished blogpost about communication and lots of hand waving. But Aria, she’s just so interesting about it. She gestures and moves her body and does this full on head nod when you get something right. It’s almost as if she’s the adult and your the child who just answered a question right. As if she understands I’m just slow and it’s an accomplishment when I figure things out. At the same time, this comes of as charming rather than condescending so you actually feel approved of in the same way if your manager tells you what a good job you’ve done and really means it. 
I love how Aria celebrates success. 

Aria is just fun. She likes to play and puzzle things out. She spent a half hour figuring out how to turn her wrist just so in order to get a teaspoon into a baking soda box. When she knows something is in reach (I had to prove it to her a couple of times so she wouldn’t give up) she goes at it with delightful determination. And when that teaspoon finally went in, she grinned with satisfied success. It’s not gloating. She seems pleased with accomplishing the task, rather than being the one who accomplished it. She even chortles after accomplishing something or figuring something out.

I love how Aria chooses her friends. 

She’s so friendly. Though a little overwhelmed by crowds and lots of unfamiliar faces, in small encounters Aria smiles and waves and talks in her baby talk way. She chooses her friends, even at this age, and the ones she chooses are the ones who make her laugh or are low key but equally engaged with life. In other words, so far at 18 months, Aria chooses friends who bring out the best in her. I hope she’s always so sage. She seems to gravitate to adults who, rather than loving on her, show her new and interesting things. Today my friend Cristina showed her butterflies and stacking baskets and a unique doll her daughter had made. She talked to her like I talk to her, as if they were having a conversation. Before I knew it, Aria was waking right over to her and asking to be held in her arms. That almost never happens. 

I love how Aria talks. 

I realized recently that I’m constantly taking to Aria. It wasn’t really a conscious thing. While I always forget to point out things and repeatedly give names, I tell Aria everything that is going on, get her input on things in a conversational way, and explain what’s happening. I also didn’t really consciously realize Aria was actively engaged in many of these conversations. “Gagle ga ha ba ba all done ga gi ga… Ba ha ma ma mo mi night night mi mil ba ba.” I noticed it when in real words started popping up in her sentences. “Oh. Yes. We’re really having a conversation!” 

Yesterday I was at my friend’s house and we laid a blanket down for Aria to curl up on. Cristina showed Aria a doll getting into the blanket, rubbing her eyes, and falling asleep. Aria mimicked the doll and curled up on the blanket. She then began talking and singing to herself and the doll for the next half hour. 

The other amazing thing in this communication front is about two months ago it became very clear Aria was understanding most of what I say. I realized it when I handed her that cleaned and said blow your nose and she did. I can ask her questions, give her directions and tell her all sorts of things. If she knows a related word, she’ll say it with a satisfied grin. “Walk.”

She’s just so eager to communicate. I have a feeling she is going to be a great conversationalist. 

I love how in charge Aria is of herself. 

Last week when Grandma was here, she and Aria were eating dinner together in the kitchen. She started looking tired and rubbing her eyes. She pointed to the ceiling. Surprised, Grandma carried her upstairs. Aria pointed to her crib. Stunned, Grandma set her inside. After a second or two of getting comfortable, she rolled over and went to sleep. 

She’s just very aware of herself. When she’s cold, she asks for a shirt. When she’s hungry, she drags me to the fridge and picks out s snack. Usually yogurt, a clementine, aged cheddar, or whole grain crackers. 

Yesterday she pointed to her diaper when she was working on something, said CaCa and led me to the bathroom. I sat her on the lid of the toilet and she sat there whole she finished. 

I just get the sense that she’s going to be very self-aware and instead of using that self-awareness to beat herself up, she’s going to use it to be a master of self and a leader of others. 

Or this may just mean she’s better at picking out clothes than me, like earlier this week when she realized the top and bottom she’d picked out did not match the way she was hoping. 

I love how chill Aria is, 95% of the time

None of us are chill all the time and Aria is definitely not chill when her teeth hurt, when she’s over tired, when she’s worried about someone taking her away from me, or when she feels she’s been treated really unfairly.

The rest of the time she is easy and fun and seems to easily get enjoyment out of everything life has to offer. And it’s this kind of savvy enjoyment. She seems to get the humor or life, even as young as she is. I think this is why I legitimately enjoy Aria’s company. It’s fun doing things with her. And I feel very confident it’s only going to get better The more she is capable of doing. And with the way she figures things out. There is a heck of a lot she is going to be capable of very soon.

So here’s to you! 

Happy 18 months. You are now twice the age you were when you were born. That is quite an accomplishment.

It’s kinda poetic. I’ve been working on this post for a week. Just as I’m uploading the last picture and preparing to publish, I hit shuffle on my music. 

 Shots by Imagine Dragons came on. It took me back to 20 minutes after Aria was born, when she crawled up my chest to nurse for the first time. 20 minutes old, fighting her way up those 8 inches to get what she needed. It’s just who she is. Gotta love her!

Phases in Sleep

Tonight Aria needed company as she travelled from wake to sleep. I sang about tomorrow and eased her into her crib. Resting my hand on her back, I sang about finding peace in living a life worth living. 

If I lifted my palm, sad sobs slipped off her lips. 

Finally, I ended up beside her. She shifted close, until her whole body was resting against the bars. 

She reached out and stroked my knee for a time. I became quiet. We listened to each other for a time. 

She just stared out into the darkening eve. 

Minutes ticked by. 

We both stared into the dark. 

I was surprised she could remain so still and contemplative for so long. 

Perhaps it’s the change to cots at school. She was the first, bold and independent, switching alone to her cot more than two months early. But now, joined by friends in her naps, she longs to be near those she loves in sleep as well. 

It’s all phases. I stayed there until her eyes dropped and closed, until her breathing went deep and heavy, rivaling the breathing of the fan a few feet away. 

I savored the moment. I felt whole there with her. 

I’ve been going almost entirely tech down when I’m with her over the past several weeks. So instead of passing these long minutes with news reports of elections or of maneuving resources across a hexagonal game field, I simply lived and loved. 

It was the slowest and best half hour of my week. 

Thanks Aria. You make me such a better person. You’ve filled my life and made me whole. I love you. I love every moment with you. Thanks for being you ๐Ÿ˜‰

And that’s when I silenced ย the fire alarm with a light saber and a bleeding thumb…

I don’t know what anyone else did this evening, but the least exciting part of my evening was dashing through a torrential downpour, thunder clapping at my heels, toddler wailing, and new skirt dripping with water as my cheap umbrella shrinks to half its wingspan. 

I get inside and the handful of ants I’d noticed and crushed this morning in the entryway, which was a troubling development I intended to investigate when I got home, had now ballooned into an army of about two hundred ants. 

They were all over. Up and down the entryway, over the tiny side counter,  covering my pots and pans, skittering around in my cuisinart. 

I squish as many as I can, which had the effect of shifting Aria’s mood from annoyed at being dragged through the rain to being captivated by the battle beneath her.

I then begin vascilating between killing ants, scrubbing pots and pans and counters, feeding Aria, and then subsequently giving Aria things to entertain herself with. It’s at this point that she knocks a butternut squash from my friend’s garden onto the floor, accelerating the need to cook it…

Just as I’m about to get Aria to bed, I realize I’ve got beans soaking and have to cook them. I get the pot going, then head upstairs for several rounds of Minnie’s Boutique and Chica Chica Boom Boom. 

When I get downstairs, I immediately. return to the brutal battle front and slay another couple of platoons of ants. I wait out the army. 

Haha! There!

As the last of a couple dozen ants tumble into the trash can and the caulk on their escape route dries, I finish the next phase of the black beans and begin cutting up butternut squash fries. 

Before I know what’s happening, I’m on FaceTime showing my stepmom the blood streaming down my thumb. I stave off the bleeding and get the butternut squash in the oven, then run upstairs to wrap layer upon layer of gauze on my still bleeding lobbed off tip of my thumb with my free hand.

When I get downstairs, there’s a fire in the oven. 

I’m not joking. Dad and my step mom were still on FaceTime with me. 

The fire finally dies down. 

I feel a weird sensation. 

Oh man. Aunt Flow is back for another visit. 

I get off the phone and race back upstairs. 

While I’m in the middle of putting in a tampon, I hear a soothing British voice warning me there is smoke in the entryway. 

I stumble downstairs, clean underwear in one hand. 

The alarm sounds. 

I look around, desperate for something tall enough to reach it. “Don’t wake the baby!” I think frantically. 

And that’s when I see it, as if it had been calling for me all along. 

My light saber. 

Aria had been playing with it earlier in the evening. 

I heft it skyward and silence the alarm. 


I listen. 

No cries. 

But then the British woman speaks again.

“There’s smoke in the entryway.”

BEEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEEP!

I silence it again… And again…

The voice explains what is happening. The alarm can’t be silenced. There’s too much smoke. 

I never turned off the oven. I thought maybe I could finish my squash fries… I cut off my thumb trying to make them…

Aria starts to wail. I throw down my light saber, pull on my underwear, and run to turn off the oven. 

I sprint up to get Aria, then realize she’s in the least smoke filled room. So I just hold her. 

The alarm sounds over and over again. 

Over and over and over again. 

The woman speaks again in that comforting, I’m-so-much-better-than-you monotone. 

The smoke is clear. 

I put Aria back in her crib. 

I pack up the fries and beans. 

Then I fill up with a long, deep breath. 

Needless to say, I did not analyze state assessment data tonight like I was planning on. 

I took some Tylenol instead. 

Night everyone!

Shaping Life’s Experiences with a Blossoming Memory

I really dislike reading things about baby development — they take away the magic of it all. Here. Let me show you why. 

I’ve been watching awestruck over the past two weeks as a dramatic wave of change has taken hold of my daughter. 

Subtle and beautiful and unexpected. Was I really seeing this? 

Was it new or had I just not been paying attention?

Then, last night, Aria hands me a paper from daycare I had ignored. It spelled out every nitty gritty detail of the transformations from 12 to 18 months. Something to the effect of a very scientificy statement about the child exhibiting first signs of memory and imagination. 

๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I frowned. This is exactly why I stopped reading parenting guides and books about development probably at six months pregnant. Where’s the adventure in being told what is going on?

Here’s the magic I had been experiencing. 

I’d of course noticed months ago how Aria very clearly knew where all of her favorite foods were located. Cheese in the cheese drawer, crackers on top of the fridge, clementines in the crisper. 

Then I’d noticed how we could be playing at a vantage point and she noticed this big interesting rock. When we went down the stairs and around, it was like she knew exactly where it was. 

But the first time I really realized the extent of Aria’s change in memory, was when it became a memory about an experience, rather than a sight or food. 

One day a couple weeks ago we were hanging out in the kitchen at breakfast. Aria started squealing and waving her hands. Through the nonsensical stream of vocabulary I heard loud and clear

“Ga!!! Ga!!!”

Dog?

Sure enough. There was Buddy heading into his house down the road. 

[Just for context, Aria LOVES dogs and has since the moment she first met her cousin, Toc. They’re her favorite part about walks in the morning. Pretty much her favorite thing in the world. 


]

It had taken me too long to figure out, but Aria insisted that we go outside to pet Buddy as we often did in the mornings. She looked everywhere. I took her hand and led her down the sidewalk. We knocked on Buddy’s door. I explained what happened and, with a big grin, Trek led Buddy out. 

Aria exuded delight as the tiny dog kissed her face. It may have been one of the happiest, most surprising moments of her short little life. 

A week later Aria looks up at me in the kitchen and says “Ga!” This time there was definitely no dog outside. After some nonverbal discussion, she’s dragging me outside by the finger and leading me to the neighbor’s house. 

She remembered. And she wanted that miraculous experience again. 

What was so distinct about the was that it wasn’t some trigger, like seeing her stroller or the refrigerator. She was thinking about a memory she’d had and wanted to repeat it. 

I can see memory in her eyes more and more since then. She sends signals to do certain things, like dancing around the living room, or remembering things that make me laugh and doing them with that look in her eyes, waiting for me to giggle. It’s not me suggesting or her reacting to triggers, like I said, it’s her pulling from her experiences to shape and decide the new moments of her life. 

I find that extraordinary. 

And I don’t need some paper to point it out to me — Aria is the far more interesting teacher of what happens as a tiny little supermanning baby stands up, speaks out, and becomes a full blown child!

Solo Mom — Ornery Child? The impact of a 162 day long work week?

It may just be me, but I feel like if a mom flies solo for too long, there have to be ramifications on the child. DH has been gone for a third of Aria’s life now. The equivalent of a decade for him or me. 

When you fly solo, you are the whole army. There is no relief unit, no cavalry fresh and ready to swoop in and set things straight. There is only a tired, blood-soaked infantry. 

You operate in survival mode far too much of the time. What can I do or give my child so I can rest or gain relief from your cries? A habit of appeasement takes root and the child begins to reign. 

You give in to get a moment’s rest, but you never really do rest. 

162 days without sleeping in. 162 days of packing breakfasts and lunches, of providing walks or entertainment, of holding you when you cry. 162 days without the baby napping longer than an hour at home. By the time you wind down to follow suit, she calls your name. 

Never fresh. Never enough energy to really reset things. 

Go ahead. Take Poland. Have Crimea. 

A 162 day work week. 

I am in such a habit of appeasement, 75% of the time now I let her lead me to the fridge and show me what she wants to eat. My only saving grace is getting to put together an elaborate lunch box full of fruits and veggies and nutritious dishes for then ten and a half hours you are at daycare 5 days a week.

Occasionally I brave the storm and assert how I want things. 

I succeed with a lot of other things just by replacing and redirecting. Head on collision almost never works. 

Trying to pick your nose? Here’s a Kleenex. 

Headed for the trash? I tell you it’s “Caca” and make a gross face. You step back. 

Trying to walk hands free in the street? I force my hand on you or pull you up screaming. 

Don’t want to get in the car seat? Here’s a cracker. Or when I don’t have one, I just muscle you in ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I let you take your time walking out the door and almost always take you on a walk when you ask. Sometimes it makes me late for work or a meeting. Shrug. 

162 days into my workweek. Five sick days, two real trips to urgent care for an emergency injection of my Addison’s medicine. Five times hired a babysitter, four to get done projects for work, once to sleep. 

I can be late for a meeting to make our morning smooth and pleasant together. 
I do wonder if I’m bending too much to your wants and directions. 

I’m sorry at home your diet has devolved to milk, yogurt, fruit, cereal, cheese, and blue corn chips. 


You seem so happy and vibrant, though you have your moments. It seems wrong to elaborate on those moments for an audience. Ms. Terry knows what I’m talking about ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway. I hope I’ve done okay by you, even if I’m stumbling more and more the longer this workweek drags on. 

Your grandma just flew in to help. 

The cavalry is here! 

She’s going to cook and spend time with you. Maybe I’ll get to sleep in, or sleep through a 2am meal! 

Tomorrow I have work to do. I won’t have time to rest, though I’m going to try and keep it short. I’m so tired. 

I mentioned how a month after DH left, my charter network slips into three regions and laid off two dozen people, leaving me trying to sort out and keep constant the support previously coming from six people, right? I have no idea how I’ve survived this deployment. I’ve cried at work a couple times. I’d promised myself I’d never do that at this job. 

I just hope I’ve done right by you through it all. I think I’ve done my best. I’ve given you all the boundaries I’ve had strength to put up. 

Daddy’s coming home soon. I’m lucky in that. Maybe he can make right anything I’ve messed up.

Maybe between him and grandma, we can have family meals at the table again. 

But who knows, maybe all this will set you up as CEO material!

Who knows? 

Really. 

One thing I do know. 

162 day work week. I need a weekend!

Me time is baby time.ย 

I had an epiphany last week talking to my sister. She was lamenting how this lady had, like many times before, dumped her kids off to go be with friends, using some pretense for my sister to care for them. She was especially annoyed because the woman had been gone all week at a conference and she didn’t get it. The lady had wanted kids so bad. Why was she always trying to unload them?

I’m a “middle-aged” new mom, if you exclude random 60 year old pregnancies. It means I spent all my formative and defining college years, and five more years of good health and bold years after that as a woman. I developed hobbies, pleasures, and pastimes as an individual and then as a wife. I wrote an okay novel, half of a better one, and the first two chapters of two even better ones. I served a mission. After I met DH, I quickly learned to love eating at nice restaurants, having long conversations, exploring new places, seeing movies, and giving each other the time and space and verbal support to excel in our careers. I still took extra classes and found time on the train to write. 


 As fairytale-esc as being DINC (after we made it through the two poor years of grad school and my massive dental bills from getting a spinning hook kick to the face, ninja-style), we both wanted children. Two of them. We wanted to be a family, a clan. 

I had a vague sense of what I was trading. It led us to go out twice a week for a month before we gave birth, each time toasting to what we thought could be the last time we ever ate out together. 

When DH deployed, the trade-off was palpable. Any real heavy weeks of really going the extra mile for work (working late nights or crazy early mornings multiple days in a row) and I literally ended up at urgent care getting an emergency injection of corticosteroids for my Addison’s condition. None of my single, grad school, or DINC (dual-income no children) pastimes, not even heroic service at work, were anymore possible. 

And that’s when this conversation with my sister struck me. I chose Aria as a new way to spend my time and heart. Not a hobby, but a way of life. 

Instead of novels, a blog about mother and daughter. 

Instead of fine dining, an adventure through the grocery store, capped with a meal from the hot bar. 


Instead of a Saturday developing a system for setting up response to intervention in my elementary schools, a Saturday at the park and nature center and mall playground. 


Instead of a long novel or book about Ed policy, the news. Short and sweet and easily digestible. 

Instead of walks alone or with my husband, family walks with a detour to the playground. 

Instead of extra classes in project management or business analytics, life became a class in humility. 

Instead of binging through shows like Battlestar Galactica in a month, we binge on watching Aria transform and grow. 



When I watch Aria at play, that is me time. It’s the time I’ve chosen for myself in this adventure called motherhood.