Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the category “Verbatim”

A Gift Moment

Owlet has been sick. A fever that hit 105.2 at one point yesterday, to be precise. She’s doing a bit better today… Better enough to be grumpy with her little brother for running into their bedroom to see if she wanted to play outside.

“Go away!” She shouted peevishly. “I’m trying to sleep!”

Thor and I had just asked Platypup not to pull on the curtains while playing “I’m a jertain in the curtain,” jump on the bed where baby Cria was lolling about, or use the windowsill to climb the wall above the bed. His sister yelling at him was the last straw, and he thumped sadly down the hall away from his family, giving what Owlet last year affectionately dubbed his “choo-choo train” sob.

Thor tried to go comfort him but Platypup yelled at him to go away so after a few tries he and I switched places; he flopped down next to a chipper, chubby, rolling baby and tried to keep her from the edges while I followed the howls toward a tear-stained face peeking out from a tightly wadded blanket.

He let me share his blanket and sobbed into my armpit. As we snuggled, I said all the right things for once, about how hard it must be not to be able to play with Owlet and how he must miss her and be worried about her, and that gave him words to then articulate those things back and cry it from his system.

The tears soon tapered off. We sat up and had moved on to an animated discussion on the dietary habits of walruses (as googled for him by Daddy at daybreak) when Owlet came in and joined us in our blanket nest.

After a companionable lull, Platypup mumbled, “I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“That’s ok,” she said with that odd mixture of frustration, chagrin, and deeply abiding love known to parents everywhere. “I wasn’t asleep. I was just trying to fall asleep.”

“I wanted you to come play with me. I miss you,” he added quietly.

She grinned at him. “Want to play now?”

He instantly lit up, and off they scampered.

That is far from the way most of their arguments go, of course. They are four and six, after all. But I was able to just sit there, doing nothing at all, and watch them make up with as much grace and honesty, if not more, than I have ever done.

This is a gift moment, I thought as I sat there, stunned, a glimpse of their future selves. This is one of the most useful skills a person can have, and they have already managed it once. The day will come when they or someone they love has really messed up badly, and this is how they will show up.


The Red Light Green Light Experiment

Owlet and Platypup are over the moon about their baby sister. Truly. Platypup even says she’s the one he loves most in the world. (The rest of us try not to feel like chopped liver about it.)


But that doesn’t mean this is a seamless transition from four to five for our family.

Cria is an easy baby thus far: she nurses, she sleeps, we change her diaper and take her to the loo, she nurses again, she sleeps again. There are moments of minor fussiness that quickly resolve. Usually the solution is burping… or spitting. And then more milk.


Even an “easy” baby is still a major upheaval for older siblings, though, especially those who are toddler/preschool age. Platypup may be the sweetest, gentlest big brother *with* Cria, but with the rest of us chickens he has become an irrational short fuse on a powerful set of lungs. To make matters worse, he is more sensitive to others yelling and screaming than the average kid… And Owlet’s typical response to any perceived slights against her is to — yup, you guessed it, yell and scream. (At least at home. Hardly anyone believes me because she’s a model citizen out in public.)

So they’ve both been doing their best to ensure Cria develops the ability to sleep through at least 120 decibels. Which will surely come in handy later, but Thor and I may go mad in the meantime if we can’t turn this train around and find the mild-mannered sweethearts we fear we have inadvertently swapped for banshees.

Enter red light, green light.

We are far from the first to apply traffic signals to parenting. But during the course of a surprisingly cordial family brainstorm session on restoring the peace, we came up with a promising take on it.

Instead of “no” or “stop,” both of which are apparently rubbish within the confines of our home even though they continue to work perfectly well outside of it, we are trying to adhere to the following:

Step one: say “red light.”
[Person stops. Hopefully. Otherwise skip steps two and three and go straight to cacophony.]
Step two: explain why.
Step three: when the issue is resolved, say “green light.”
[All is peace love and puppies.]

It’s worked for the hour between implementation and bedtime this evening. How long will it last?


I dunno. Wish us luck!

Oasis-Hopping in the Melodrama

This past month has been a deluge of preschooler melodrama. Platypup, maybe from the new autumn schedule with less time at home or by observing other kids’ behavior at school or just because it’s what three and a half year olds do, has been driving Thor and I slowly insane with his increased wining and aggression and rudeness. It may be settling down a bit these past couple days. Or I may just be leveling up to the new normal.

And yet, like koi in a murky pond, there are these moments, these irreplaceable delightful little gems that are more than making up for it:

The night of the eclipse, we left our house at bedtime to see if we could spot the return of the moon from beneath the earth’s shadow, which, according to Thor’s mildly malfunctioning but still fairly trustworthy constellation app, had definitely made it over the horizon enough to be visible above single story rooftops. In bare feet and pajamas the kids traipsed along the twilit block, followed not just by Thor and I but also by Pickle, the noisiest of our cats. After perhaps a half hour of fairly pleasant but fruitless loitering, we decided to head back home without seeing anything. We must have been quite a sight with our stereotypical 2.5 kids and operatic cat in tow. Once at home, we discovered the moon had risen enough for its rusty specter to peek over the backyard fence, conveniently and irresistibly visible from the hot tub. Plans for bedtime abandoned, we clambered in for our own private eclipse-viewing pool party.

 – – – –

Lying in bed last week, Thor’s hand curved around my ballooning abdomen, patience is finally rewarded with tiny thwumps while Owlet and Platypup riot on the other half of the bed, apparently pretending to be wrestling kittens. Quintessential third baby moment.

– – – –

After a month’s lapse from structured musical activities (for pregnancy-sanity reasons this school year I am taking a break from teaching my little kid music class and elementary-school-aged beginner orchestra class) Owlet and Platypup resumed music play, first with renewed interest in the piano separately from both and then with an epic show for an enthusiastic audience of one (who also doubled as the announcer). After I hawked her upcoming appearance, Owlet would play the first song in her violin Suzuki book, I would applaud, and then I would herald Platypup as “the dragon who is going to jump and roar for us!” Repeat with each Suzuki song in order, punctuated by three roaring dragon jumps each time. Eventually there was improvised, dancing violin to accompany the dragon. After a month off from playing violin at all, and a few months at least since the last time several of the more advanced songs were played, I was astounded by Owlet’s rock-solid memory and tendency to sing the tune to find the fingering in trickier spots as well as Platypup’s ability to take turns with enthusiasm.

– – – –

Owlet was arguing with Platypup about pronunciation (I no longer remember the word) and so I listed a few examples of words with multiple pronunciations and then pulled out Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” They both snuggled in next to me, listened attentively to every word, and laughed uproariously at some of the goofier parts.

– – – –

Owlet straddles her bike with pregnant me hunched beside her gripping the back of the seat. She shoves off with her feet while I push, tries to find the pedals fast enough to gain momentum as I lumber along, and then I let go and jog beside her while she zooms a few pedal-strides before making friends with a neighbor’s shrub. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

– – – –

Platypup this morning, with an entire story completely out of the blue: “Once upon a time there lived a family of carrots. They went into a pirate ship and one said, ‘we are pirates!’ And one said, ‘we are fired!’ And one said, ‘yes, yes, we are fired!’ And then they were dead. And then they looked confused.”

Finding My Nice Magic

Today I saw a friend I had originally met at Meeting. She asked what I am doing these days to nurture my spiritual side, and I said I had spent awhile at UU, and then recently had sort of fallen out of the habit, at least for now.

“I guess I’m just getting better at finding it myself, you know?” I said. She nodded; she totally knew.

There is nothing wrong with a structured spiritual community. And I would not be surprised if the desire to seek it out returns at some point down the line. But I’m just not feeling the need right now. More than that, I am feeling strongly lured by simpler, less formal things. Hiking in Annadel or visiting the creek. Risking waking the kids by sawing my strings late at night. Basking in the joy of my favorite people. Writing music, writing words. Becoming ensnared in my daughter’s lively hazel eyes. Feeling my son’s heavy, sleepy head against my heart, his heartbeat pulsing against my sternum in just exactly the place where all of this delightful opening up is happening.

I often tell my students not to pin their hopes on perfection. Something is bound to go wrong in any performance. Instead, focus is better spent learning to recover as seamlessly as possible from any mistake. I also try to warn them that holding back out of fear only strangles their tone.

Things are still as challenging as ever around here, really. I still lose my temper too often. I still make mistakes, occasionally colossal ones. But I am more graceful in my recovery, more earnest in my approach. I hold back a little less each day, I am sure of that. My tone, like that of my students, is improving.

One day I shall be the sort of mother-wife-teacher-friend I was born to be. And then some. I have potential coiled tightly within me. I am learning to twist the locks.

I am finding it.

2014-06-07 07.52.11

(They were squabbling despite attempted interventions, I told them if they were not going to follow my suggestions I was going to leave the room and they could find their own solution. This is what transpired when I peeked back in at them a few moments later.)

Owlet: Mommy, I got back into my nice magic.

Me: Your nice magic?

Owlet: Yeah. Because I have a switch in me, and it goes, and then I slowly get back to my nice magic.

Letters to Granny

Dear Granny,

We miss you. I want you to come back soon! We love you, and we would like to come visit you sometime. We love you.

I liked playing catch the ball in the cup! That was a fun thing. And also we liked pretending the sand toys were plates that we had food on.

Thank you for my birthday presents. The flower dress — I liked it to dance in because it twirled a lot. I like these goggles [binoculars]!

I want to see you again because I love you and you have to brush your hair when you go to the airport (’cause she is flying now, I bet).

One important thing: when I come to your house, every night I want you to read Peter Rabbit because I like that book.

I love you! I want to see you again at your house.




I like to see her! Today I don’t see her on Friday. I want to see her today.

I have a lot of fun with Granny. Runaway Bunny in the bed! Runaway bunny, I’m not a runaway bunny, I’m Anna! [from Frozen.]

I’m sad because I want to go on bus with her. Love Granny!






The Wishing Star

Tuesday we got a Berenstain Bears book called “The Wishing Star” from the library. In it is a familiar old rhyme:

Star light, star bright
First star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight

Owlet brought that poem up yesterday while I was cooking dinner, a mildly fussy Platypup at my feet. I mentioned that I used to say that when I was a little girl, and that my mom, Grandma Jackie, had taught it to me.

I saw the wheels turning in her thoughtful little head. An unusual silence reigned.

And then she asked, in the sweetest little conversational tone, “Do you see her very often?”

Ah, no, girl child. I would not be holding her back from you!

“Grandma Jackie?” I confirmed. She nodded. “No, honey,” I said, crouching down to her level, “she’s dead. Grandma Jackie died a long time ago, before you were born.”

I have been waiting for this question. I cannot express how happy I am that her immediate thought was not full of the fear that I would similarly leave her. I’m sure it helps that 13 seems as old as 30 to a 3 year old; likely she does not realize I was still a child.

Lately Owlet has been asking a lot about our friends’ son, Caemon, who died of leukemia in February and should have turned four two weeks ago. In step with her clown’s-scarf collection of never-ending “Why?”s, she has been very eager to master the difficult subject of life and death. Last week Caemon’s parents lent us a children’s book called Lifetimes: the beautiful way to explain death to children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen that did exactly what it should — demystify and familiarize, answer the primary questions and create openings for many more, and all with poignant illustrations and a soothing rhythm.

Amongst Platypup’s grousing I told my keen-eyed Owlet how much Grandma Jackie would have loved her, just like Granny (Thor’s mom) does. I said that I missed her very much still and wished that they had gotten to meet. She asked if Grandma Jackie had been very old, and I explained that, no, she had gotten very sick, like Caemon. And reiterated that most people live to be old, but some get hurt or sick when they are young.

She paused again, in a way that clearly meant the conversation would resume shortly. I started back on dinner.

“Who will be the next person to die?”

Now that is an unanswered question!

Of course I said there was no way of knowing, that no one could predict exactly when someone would die. And she was satisfied.


A typical shot of our kitchen. Platypup making a mess and trying hard to clean it up, Owlet drawing.

The Hardest Thing

The other day Owlet fell asleep in my arms while nursing. I held her until my arms grew numb, then gently woke her to preserve sacred bedtime.

“What is the hardest thing?” asked Owlet, drowsy and rosy-cheeked from the unexpected nap.

“Huh?” I asked, as sleep-blurry toddler speech can sometimes sound like one thing and mean another. “Did you say, ‘what is the hardest thing?'”

“Yes.” And she waited expectantly.

Death. Losing a child. Losing a parent, or a spouse. Violence. War. Illness and poverty. I am big on no-bullshit, age-appropriate honesty with kids, but it took a stumbling heartbeat for me to flip from mourner to mother.

I knelt, centering myself in her rich hazel eyes. “Not being with someone you love. That’s the hardest thing.”

And it really pretty much is.


One day recently, Owlet said “no,” when I said she was my little [insert her real nickname here]. So I said, “ok, you’re my little [insert her real name here].” “No, I’m not your little [real name].” “What are you, then?” I asked.

“I’m a dinosaur.”

I love toddler nonsequiturs. Really. They kind of make my heart sing dangerously for more children.

Since I laughed hysterically, she’s declared herself to be a dinosaur on numerous occasions since then. And a few nights ago, as we were snuggled together waiting for sleep to catch at least one of us, she asked if I were a dinosaur, too.

“Well, if you are a dinosaur, and I am your mother, than I must be a dinosaur, too.”

I’ve been telling this story around, laughing at our cuteness, but today it hits me more poignantly. If she is a dinosaur, and I am her mother, than I must be a dinosaur, too.

Don’t yet follow? Try this:

If she is easily frustrated, and I am her mother, I must be easily frustrated, too.

If she is ready to throw things when she gets too hungry, and I am her mother, I must be ready to throw things when I get too hungry, too.

I know we are all our own people. And I know people whose kids seem to be their photo negatives. (Does anyone even remember photo negatives anymore? I was trying to use them as an analogy for complimentary rhythm with an eight-year-old student not long ago, and found myself struggling to explain beyond her attention span, though her mom was, I believe, mildly amused.) But I can feel the truth threaded deep in this concept. What I am, she absorbs. Behaviors that irk me seem lifted from my impulses, as much as I am better able to control them in my semi-adult way.

Why is this so hard to see in the moment?

Take the food example, above. I mean, really. Pregnant women and nursing moms are the most hungry beings on the planet. Not even teenage boys come close. So how do I still sometimes fail to notice the roots of bad behavior in hunger?

There’s always a good explanation. My job is to find it and fix it, not to be “in charge” or “right all the time.” (Is that my husband laughing at me?)

And then there’s the glorious flip side:

If she is sensitive and shy and opens like a flower in a magician’s palm when given time and space to warm up, and I am her mother…

Tell you what, baby girl, let’s make a deal. I will help you (and me) master our faults, and you will help me (and you) honor our spirits.

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