Tending to Dolls

It was only a couple months ago that Aria showed interest in dolls. It was as if when each new chord of imagination connected in her brain, dolls leaped forward in prominence in her simple life. 

I didn’t get her any, though Grandma G got her a little doll with a magnetic binkey. They became the enticement to get her to stay in the gym daycare.

First she just wanted to hold as many as she could. It was about possession of a friendly face, rather than imaginary friendship. 

Then another thread looped in her mind and she was pushing the doll around in a stroller or cart. But she’d do this with a bowl of cereal with just as much attachment. No extended attachment.


Then another thread connected and launched quick glittering moments of imitation — giving the baby a bottle or putting her to bed. 

Another week or two passed and now on occasion baby was coming with us into the car, but tossed aside and forgotten soon after. 

At Christmas this year one more thread clicked. Concern. Empathy. Love. 

She got a doll and a velveteen rabbit for Christmas. If I tell Aria she needs a hat so her head will stay warm, then Baby needs a hat too. If Aria feels thirsty, then she’ll make sure baby gets a sip of milk too. As Grandpa C read her stories this evening, she made sure Rabbit and Baby could listen too, and patted a blanket atop them asking “Cold?” Wherever we go, whatever we do, she looks around, saying “Baby? Baby? Rabbit?”

I like seeing this motherly empathy developing in her. It’s tender. I wonder if it’s a first stage to really being able to read other people or think from their perspective. Empathy is the essence of goodness. 

And if I have two hopes for Aria’s life it is 1. that she will always be able to find happiness inside herself and 2. that deep down at her heart’s core will be empathy and love and the wisdom in how to express both. 



I lay here, holding Aria in my arms as she sleeps. Her breathing is steady and relaxed, her body heavy and draped across me. Daddy’s hand is cupped open beneath hers. 

I could’ve put her back in her crib and waited another fifteen minutes for her sobs and cries to turn to coughs and whimpers and the low drum of slumber. 

Then I could’ve grabbed my binder and opened up another chapter in the math curriculum, preparing to step in as a full blown math coach in my spare time at work come January. The numbers are in and they are harrowing in our middle school. Without concentrated action and support from our tiny, six person central office more than 80% of our middle schoolers will head to the next grade below grade level. Half far, far below. 

So it’s my job to step in. The principal is new and focused on culture. The pseudo AP is actually the special education director and has more than two dozen kids to worry about. My boss has the world on her shoulders and is still managing to carry it, seven months pregnant. So math is mine. There is no one else. 

But Aria is struggling with jet lag and I needed to hold her, to enjoy that renewing power of caring for the ones you love. 

So I read PARCC problems and the achieve the core focus guides and pondered about pacing on the geometry standards that will only get two questions on PARCC, but could make or break their SAT scores. But if the seventh graders don’t get expressions and equations they’ll fail out of Algebra and never graduate. Perhaps they will pick up the area of a circle later?

It would be easier if I had a paper and pen, but chewing on next steps is meditative. At least that’s what I tell myself. 

I made the decision a long time ago to never scrimp on time with Aria. She wants me to read to her at breakfast, so I do that instead of study for the PMP now. She wants to paint, I paint with her instead of bringing my computer down. I’m always tempted to stop interacting with her and sacrifice our time on the altar of my needy students. Occasionally I do make the trade. 

But it never feels right. 

My colleague SM is expert at this. She’s a mom too, but of a seven or eight year old. She is the High Priestess of Getting Stuff Done, but simultaneously the queen of “Not my job” and “No.”

That’s how she does both. She cuts past the fat and eats only the richest meat at home and at work. She always focuses on what matters most. It never feels like enough, but in a dozen years she won’t feel like she cheated our schools or her daughter. 

I’ve mapped out my work calendar more thoroughly than ever before. I’ve blocked off time for what matters most, especially this math intervention, followed by my foundational state of the union meetings, followed by managing our family engagement work, capped of with our leader development program. Everything else will fall away like the chaff from the wheat. The chaff, unfortunately, would still be good. It might even make bread. 

But Aria and DH. I won’t trade them for another loaf. Aria has a whole lifetime of good ahead. I intend to guide her there through a million moments and acts of love. 

I only get so much time with her– the weekend, the mornings, two hours at night. So the best I can do is make all my time rich. I’ll never get more of it. 

I just need to steal enough moments when DH and Aria are with the grandparents and I can study my math. Not too many to feel absent to those I love, but not too few to let those 80% fail. 

Does that sound right? I hope so. It’s so hard. So complicated. But getting this right, this balance in me and in my life,is perhaps the most important thing I will ever figure out. 

“Mommy, I need to go to the potty” – the birth of a first sentence¬†

I’m 90% certain that phrase came straight from Aria’s mouth last night as Aria was protesting bedtime. 

I stared at her in shock and it had nothing to do with potty training. 

I could never fathom what it might be like when parents say their child didn’t talk and then started in full sentences. 

A month ago I visited a friend whose similar aged son was saying things like “I’m so sophisticated” and “please hand me the tractor.” Aria was stuck on five or so words total. “Mommy,” “Daddy,” “Aria,” “Bye,” “Mine,” “More,” and “Milk.” Her most complex phrase was “Bye Dada” and she would get annoyed when I’d ask her to say words. 

Stupidly, I took her to the doctor, worried that the six months of ear infections may have hurt her language development. She referred us to an in-home assessment. 

But Aria made such complex sounding phrases and chatter. 

And I know kids develop at different paces. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The wires in the brain just one moment fuse together and suddenly your baby is laughing or pointing at dogs or using sign language or imagining as she reads or pretending to cook. One moment the play kitchen is just a bunch of doors to open. The next it’s a stove and sink and she’s getting water from a play faucet and pretending to drink from it. 

Aria is astonishing me daily like this. And I can tell language, sign and verbal, is starting to click. 

A couple days ago Aria showed me her water bottle. In an unexpected hand gesture, she illustrated turning and pulling off the lid, then eyed me eyed me expectantly. 

Then later that day she made a hand gesture like a slide to explain she wanted us to go down the stairs on our bottoms. 

It makes me appreciate the complexity and beauty of communication. Never really paid attention before. 

And yes, in the morning, Aria asked me again, albeit with a cringe and a point to her diaper and a call to my name. 

Only this time she was triumphant. 

What a remarkable week!

Childlike Wonder: Lurray Caverns and Circ De Soleil

My sister T told me once that her favorite thing about our mom was her unceasing childlike wonder at the world. It was something she never grew out of. After my mom died, T told me that then became her favorite thing about me. 

After Addison’s, I’ve felt my endless zeal and energy becoming much more tempered and focused. I almost think I’ve lost my childlike wonder sometimes. The adult in me even tries to message to my brain that I don’t need to know or wonder about things like trees or a feathered dinasaur tail captured in amber for the first time. 

But then there’s Aria. She makes it all matter all over again. 

Moreover, I’m so sillily surprised at how entranced she gets by new and marvelous things, even though she has no context or understanding of what they are. 

This fall when we visited Lurray Caverns, I was surprised by her excitement and awe at each new formation. She squealed with delight and clapped her hands. She pointed and wore a most enthusiastic smile.

She had no notion of a cave. 

It didn’t matter. 

It was amazing. She didn’t need me to tell her that. 

At 18 months, she could appreciate the wonder of it all by herself. 

Tonight we took Aria to Circ de Soleil in Quebec. DH had been opposed at first — “It’s like the least Canadian thing we can do!” Then our food tour guide yesterday introduced himself, “My name is Jacques and I am from Baie St Paul, a small city in North East Quebec and the birthplace of Circ de Soleil!” 

For once in my marriage, DH totally ate his words!


Aria was entranced. At first, as a gleaming building sized red egg shook and flashed in the middle of the stage amidst whirling music, Aria began to wail. 

And then out stepped a insect-like conductor with pied wings on his back, long curled toes, and bobbing antanae from a bald head. A swarm of other colored insects took the stage. Grasshoppers with angled green legs bending at the backs of the normal human legs. Playful red ants with tiny antanae and lovely grins. A curvy lady bug with bright polka dots and darling red wings. 

Aria was entranced. She laughed out loud at the costumed insects. 

She sat in my arms for a while. Then had to get closer. She moved down a row and hung against the railing, her head leaned against her folded arms and her eyes fixated on the stage. 

She by the second act, she was clapping after each performance with the crowd. 

It was like that for an hour. 

At intermission, I tried to get her to go to sleep, but she wanted to go back in. She wanted to see the end, though it was an hour past her bedtime. 

Again. She had no notion of a circus. But she loved it. It was new and colorful and fascinating. That’s all she needed to fall in love with the performance. 

I don’t know why this surprised me, how someone so little could enjoy so many different, but new experiences. 

I wish she could remember them. 

I wonder how experiences like these impact her long run. 

I just don’t know. 

But I do know that I love it, that there was no real thought of leaving Aria home as we went off and fled to Canada for Thanksgiving. We just like it better with her. 

She just makes everything so new. 

She restores the wonder within me.