Breath Held

I wrote this earlier today: “Eerie: the sound of 900,000 people holding their breath.”

The tsunami warning ended up amounting to nothing at all, thankfully, but that was a hell of a way to wake up. I had roughly 20 voicemails/texts awaiting me when I awoke at 6am; I thought the baby was up because she was hungry but now I think she woke up with the town’s emergency sirens. Those rang out every hour until the late morning. The live-cam on Waikiki showed that the water had retreated out past the sand bar and reef and we got really worried.

A lot of our friends on the coast were evacuated and given doomsday information; one wrote that their house was dead in the path of the inundation area and would have been completely wrecked had there been flooding. Everyone we know who was evacuated was evacuated sometime between 4am and 6am; they got back home mid-afternoon.

It was creepy, how still the town was. Everything was so quiet and all the reports from the road were dead. Everything had been cleared and evacuated. There were people tailgating in our town’s center waiting to go home and picnicking on the side of parking lots, waiting to know if we were going to be Southeast Asia or an overreaction. Counting the other islands, it was a million people holding their breath, the sound of a silence as heavy as a lead apron.

My main concern was the airport. Would Tom get back from New Zealand? (He emailed moments ago, when he discovered the free internet at Sydney but I had no way whatsoever to contact him.) If he was delayed in Sydney, would I still be able to fly out to DC on Monday? Making a decision that should surprise no one who knows me, I decided come hell or literal high water, I was going to get Maggie and me back to the mainland and I didn’t care how or what I had to do, but I was going to get us on a plane to DC. And furthermore, I was going to finish my pre-packing to-do list and I would create a washboard out of my wooden IKEA wine rack and hand-wash my underthings in the tub if I had to. Mother-fuck the tsunami; a tidal wave wasn’t going to keep me from fresh socks.

You totally want to be in a natural disaster with me. Anticipating major power outages (which didn’t occur), I busted out as much laundry as I could, filled all our water bottles and a few jugs of water and filled the tub in case we needed extra cooking/flushing/wash water. I also prepared several days worth of ready-to-go meals for Maggie and popped them in the fridge. This took all of an hour, then I put on coffee for any houseguests coming up to the central plateau for a tsunami evac party. The only problem was that I fell asleep before the first warnings were issued last night, then the baby was napping and I had so much laundry to do that I had no time to get beer for guests. But it all worked out okay.

Thankfully it was just a fantastic fire drill and aside from Maui losing their water for a while, there was no damage or injuries. But man, it was scary for a while. Knowing I had no way to contact my husband, that I would need to pull this together on my own. Knowing my friends’ homes might be in very real danger. Hawaii’s my home, the only place I could love more is Maine, and I was scared it would be hurt.

But it’s okay, no waves and no harm, and I learned a lot about figuring things out on my own. One of the big overarching fears in my life as a (temporary, contingent upon economy) stay-at-home mom is “What happens if something happens to Tom?” Can my skills support my daughter? Will I be able to manage our finances well enough to give our daughter everything she deserves? Will I be able to see clearly enough in an emergency to see what needs to be done and do it in an efficient manner?

Today I realized I can do it. In a short-term crisis and over the long haul, I can find the will and the way to take care of this family on my own. And once I realized that, I finally could let out my breath.

Prep

Tom is in New Zealand, the lucky shit, and I’m holding down the homefront until Sunday. Since the lucky shit is such a good daddy, he and Maggie have long walks and cuddle time every night. Unfortunately that meant she wasn’t getting to bed until nine or later, and with Daddy living it up with the Kiwis I’ve reset Maggie’s bedtime routine to be in bed by 7:30. It’s like a BRAND NEW BABY. She’s delightful! Sleeping through the night without a 3am wakeup! It’s incredible, truly.

I would hate to compare myself to a real single parent, but can I just say that those guys are my heroes? This is HARD, and I had help until last night. A friend from DC came to stay with us and while I never asked him to feed her or change diapers, he was instrumental in supplying her with Cheerios while I folded things and took showers. Maggie and I were supposed to go with Tom, but the airfare was several grand and I’d still be alone most of the day while he conferred with his North Island bretheren. Not to mention he gets home Sunday and we turn around and fly east on Monday, and trying to organize everything for our months east in less than 24 weekend hours would have been simply ludicrous.

I’m justifying why it’s better to stay home because I am jealous as hell and have gone a vivid shade of hunter, and since we had the cable disconnected today in anticipation of our travels I have naught but the “Golden Girls” DVDs for adult company ($9 a season at Costco! Worth every penny!). Bear with me.

(The outfits are killing me. Damn, shoulder pads, you’re going to eat the camera.)

While the baby’s asleep I’ve been trying to pull the house and travel stuff together. A natural parenting store on the other side of the island had disposable inserts to use with cloth diaper covers, and I got a pack for the airplane. It seemed like a good compromise between cloth and full disposables. We sold the Accord since we’d have to this winter anyway and hey, by cancelling we really DID save 15% or more on our insurance, and I sold off some baby things we know we won’t use when it comes time for Baby2.0. I’m also anticipating our housesitter having friends over and putting everything delicate or sentimental out of the way. Fortunately our travel prep included drinking the last of the booze, so we aren’t responsible if any minors drink because there’s less alcohol here than in Carrie Nation’s house. I don’t think she’ll have raging parties here–hardly any living space, no guest parking, far away from her school/work towns, too impractical–but even three or four friends can get rowdy. So long as we get our security deposit back and none of our furniture/appliances are injured, I’ll be happy. If she decides to use our sheets I am totally buying new sheets in the fall, though–I don’t care per se if she has, how do I say, “a gentleman caller” but I’m not sleeping on the same bedding. (Note, move contents of nightstand to other room.)

It feels nice to write but crap, the baby is going to get up early, and during the 10am teething-related tantrum 7:30pm feels so far away. Send Snickers and Smirnoff Ice (since Tom isn’t here to mock me for liking it).

Consent

If I added everything correctly–and I am by no means sure that I did–I believe I will have a free Southwest flight available to use sometime in May. The British Columbia tourism board will be glad to note that their relentless celebrity advertising (hell-lo Ryan Reynolds, won’t you come sit by me?) during the Olympics attracted at least one wandering eye and open wallet, and if all goes to plan Maggie and I will be flying off to Seattle and then doing an overnight in Vancouver this June. My childhood friend Michelle is working on a PhD at UW in some brilliant field related to the biological sciences that I only vaguely understand, having gained most of my scientific education from “Beakman’s World,” but she’s agreed to tolerate us for a few days.

Because I am an insanely paranoid freak when it comes to paperwork, proper filing of (well, personal travel paperwork, at least; all of my former bosses just twitched and don’t know why), I went looking for rules regarding crossing the Canadian border. In a ruiniously expensive turn of events this summer, Tom’s passport expired, I had to get a new one with my married name, and Maggie needed her own passport. Tragically, Baby Fu is not her passport photo, but a passport issued to an infant is like, the cutest thing ever.

Fig. 1: Would YOU allow this person to cross international boundaries?

Anyway, the State Department and the passport photo guy at Costco got a ridiculous sum of our money and we’re all set there. What I was worried about was being alone with Maggie. There have been some high-profile custody cases in the news of late regarding parents snatching kids and dashing to some exotic land. America’s Hat may not be Argentina or Tokyo, but it IS a foreign country. So even more paranoid than my note from the pediatrician arguing the medical necessity of Maggie’s boobmilk is the letter we drafted the other night. It is a notice of travel consent in which Tom establishes his relationship to us, his understanding that we intend to travel extensively, and gives his consent for me to both travel internationally with Maggie in his absence and to determine the dates/times/locations at my discretion. A couple bucks and a notary seal later, and I think we’re good to go. Like I’d ever leave him and take the baby anyway; I am far too lazy to hack the single parent lifestyle because single parents are the hardest-working people in all of ParentLand, god love ya, and I’m no more likely to snatch the baby than I am to spontaneously run a marathon in clear stripper heels (there’s a visual).

I will bet a maple leaf flag and a Celine Dion CD that nobody in Maggie’s entire life will ask me for that letter. But it makes me feel happy to have it. Even though our travel plans aren’t firm, we’ve got husbandly legal consent to frolic about the northern hemisphere. It’s well worth the peace of mind if you’re paranoid and hell, when dealing with border crossings you probably should be. Break out the sippy cup of sparkling grape juice! (For me. Maggie still doesn’t use them. *sob*)

Now, for suggestions: having read the NY Times’ “36 Hours in Vancouver” and “36 Hours in Seattle” and finding them mostly helpful but geared toward someone youthful and trendy and without a mammalian cling-on, what should I do for food and fun? Parks are good, museums are too (Maggie is pretty good like that…usually). IF we do this, I’m not totally sure yet, Maggie will be about 14 months old, so kid-oriented stuff is always a good call.

ETA: OMG, YOU GUYS, MY HEART JUST WENT PLOOEY: This has NOTHING to do with the post AT ALL but I just got a notice in my email about “Daria: The Complete Animated Series” being available for pre-order. I squealed like a piglet and clapped my hands in glee. I can’t wait to buy it and relive the series that was partially responsible for me being such an obnoxious shit in junior high and high school (the other part being a cussedly stubborn and socially anxious nature and a tendency to wear black). Meeeeeeemoriiiieeeeeeeeees.

Walk It Out

Several friends and family have children who are younger than Maggie, ranging from six to nine months, and sometimes it seems like everyone’s ahead of her. Don’t get me wrong–this is fine with me. Come kindergarten, who will know or care who did what first? No, I must admit that I chuckle endlessly when I hear their stories of the babies crawling early, walking early, running headlong into toddlerhood with a nary a “See ya, suckers!” to be had. It makes me smile because I have given birth to a tree sloth.

Maggie, bless her snail-like heart, is a methodical little tot, and dislikes inconvenience and jolting. She can crawl now, after months of lead-up, and has been able to pull herself into a standing position for quite some time. But true to form, as she did with sitting up and crawling and feeding herself, I suspect she will not take a single step until she can balance perfectly and remain upright. The only reason I worry at all is because I am afraid she will take her first steps while Tom is away and I know that will break his heart.

It’s hilarious to watch her holding onto a chair or bar, because she won’t let go and plop to the ground if she sees something else interesting. She will ever so carefully bend her knees and extend her arm, going into a deep squat/bend with intense focus. Then, when her bottom is about one inch off the floor, she will let go of the bar and crawl off. The deliberate, controlled movements are just so Maggie–not an unconsidered motion nor an un-cautious leap to be had.

My sister and I were joking that we got each other’s child. I took steps at ten months and get wound up easily; Owen was standing up unassisted and walking by Maggie’s age and running full-tilt boogie, jacking child-locked cabinets and pounding off walls by the time he visited us at 15 months old. He is intense but good-natured and energetic.

My sister is absolutely unhurried; slow to anger and agitation and possessed of the same calm, considering control that I see in Maggie. She is good-natured too, but stoic and deliberate in her words and movements. Maggie is intense in her own way, but not with manic energy; she’s never been one to burst out in spontaneous belly laughs and can spend several minutes studying toys and objects that interest her without acknowledging anything else. But when Maggie is on the move, or lets loose with her stuttering and deep laugh, you know she means it. Maggie doesn’t waste energy.

Much as we joke, I really do think I got the right personality. Who better than a child to teach adults to slow down and appreciate the smaller things in life? And who better than a measured, focused observer to teach her fast-paced parents how to chill out? She moves the way she does because we need to learn just as much from her as she does from us. As I’ve said before, babyhood is so fleeting. I’m glad she’s allowing us a few more weeks to savor it before we have to lock down every piece of furniture below our waists.

Call the Police!

My hometown paper often publishes clips from the Rochester, NH police logs. To say that they take liberties with some of the log entries would be an understatement. Sometimes there is snark, other times poems, and occasionally bad puns. Here are my favorite clips from the last month and a half:

10:19 a.m. — At the station a man reports finding “very large foot prints” behind his home. Police investigate this Bigfoot sighting.

11:01 a.m. — A Riviera Motel resident reports that $70 was stolen from her. Last September.

4:29 p.m. — A Felker Street man got a watch as a gift, but now it’s gone missing, and boy, is he miffed.

9:28 a.m. — A man is checking out vehicles in an Industrial Way parking lot. It’s OK. He is an insurance adjuster.

5:13 p.m. — A man who had an Xbox and loaned it to a friend, has spotted it at Quick Cash. Is friendship at an end?

2:41 a.m. — On Myrtle Street another boyfriend is drunk. This one “will not shut up.”

9:38 p.m. — On Old Dover Road, a small dog that has been outside barking all day is told to “shut the hell up” by its owner. Yessuh!

6:28 p.m. — At the Shell on Farmington Road, a short, fat lady smashes a gentleman’s taillight with a hammer, while her male companion threatens him with a wrench — the third wrench in one police log.

10:46 a.m. — A teenager punches a kitchen door on Lafayette Street and bravely heads off without a jacket.

8:32 a.m. — On Pickering Road, like everywhere, the weather’s awful snappy. A dog tied to his dog house is thought to be unhappy. (The ACO heads down the line and says the pooch is doing fine.)

12:32 a.m. — There is a report of five men on North Main Street yelling “Niger.” This is more likely to be a racist incident obscured by a spelling error than people practicing for a geography bee.

Sick and Wrong

I actually can’t see the screen today since I am sick and my sinuses are swollen to the point where I think they’ve enveloped my good eye, so this will be brief. Last week or the week before (perhaps sometime last month? Who knows anymore?) I wrote about being imperfect and our use of canned goods. Specifically, I wrote “When we can afford better, we’ll buy better.” I’ve yet to see Food, Inc., though it is on my Netflix queue, but I’ve read a few blog entries on the subject of social class in nutrition and how $2.50/lb organic whatever is no match for $0.50/package ramen noodles. Here are some links:

If Only Poor People Understood Nutrition! (Tongue in cheek title, I assure you. Fascinating read.)

Food Money Matters

I don’t have anything close to answers, because I’m not a scientist, economist, sociologist, or a nutritionist and I’ve said before that a PhD in Google qualifies someone to speak on very little. But I like the first link because let’s not lie. It feels SO GOOD to be superior, to share our positive experiences and tell other people what to do; it is so easy to say “I can’t believe so-and-so feeds their kids X.” (Why else does everyone and their mother have a blog, if not to grump about the choices of others?) I know of a family who put actual Coca-Cola in her kids’ bottles before naptime, and those kids rotted out every tooth they ever had. My first reaction was “What the hell?!” They were poor and uneducated and young, the parents, and it was so easy to say “Well, she must not know any better, poor ignorant thing.” But you know what? Coca-Cola, at the time, was less than a dollar a bottle. Compare that to the price of formula*. What do you buy? Yeah. You don’t see Coca-Cola on lockdown in closed cabinets in inner-city supermarkets so people won’t shoplift it. And you don’t see people outside the store asking for money to buy their kids a soda, either.

(*Let’s just ignore entirely the “breastfeeding is free” argument, because situations and socioeconomic factors can affect the quality, content, and even ability to produce breastmilk. Also, having to work full-time at one or two or even three jobs on sometimes erratic schedules isn’t conducive to breastfeeding either. Exclusive breastfeeding in our culture is a luxury and I will not judge a mother who uses formula, because there are a lot of factors that people don’t take into consideration. “Well, if you just…” It doesn’t work that way. I don’t have the answers to fix that either, and most people who say they do are lying.)

Yeah, there are a lot of people who eat total crap, who fill their carts with junk–and know better. But there are an equal number of people who are just trying to fill their kids’ bellies with whatever they can afford. So I am making it my resolution to be way less judgmental of what I see people feeding their kids. How can I know their circumstances? And who am I to point a finger at them to say “You’re doing it wrong, and you don’t deserve to have children if you can’t feed Little Skippy the best.”

This country has enough SanctiMommies. I’m not going to join their ranks.

Perfect Ten

A month later, I think about Gavin every day.

One of the few times I’ve ever left Maggie with a daytime sitter was for Gavin’s memorial service. It was a stunningly perfect day in La’ie, which I think is one of the North Shore’s most lovely communities. Even for Hawaii, this was a vibrant, beautiful day, an exceptional day. A pure day.

I thought I was heartbroken for his family until I saw them in person. Then I found my heart shattering into even tinier pieces as I watched them stand, radiating both strength and devastation, to say goodbye to their tiny son. As I said before, Natalie and I aren’t close, but I went because if it were me I’d want as many loving faces in the crowd as possible. And there was that–so much love in the room, so many hearts joined with the Norton family. His parents spoke of Gavin’s missionary work–how at only 8 weeks old, he brought prayer to people who haven’t ever prayed; judging by comments and emails and on and on, he brought thousands to God. Gavin touched more people with his life than some do in decades. This is absolutely true for me; his story has changed how I approach every single day with my daughter.

My heartache for the Nortons is irrevocably intertwined with my feelings for Maggie. My aunt told me that even though the baby stage may sometimes feel like it seems forever, “Babies are only ours on loan.” How right she was, even though I think of it in a darker way than she intended. Babyhood goes so fast anyway…and there is no guarantee that you’ll be permitted to advance to the next stage.

Morbid? Maybe. But it helps me to keep that in the back of my mind, actually. The rough afternoons of screaming, the twisting and flailing on the diaper table, the pinching and biting of little fingers and teeth that don’t know any better? A breeze to get through when I consider the alternative. The moments when she discovers how to wave “hello” or the sun hits her hair just right? Heaven–and appreciated as such. Every beautiful moment is held, cherished, and let go instead of taken for granted.

Today, Maggie is ten months old. Ten months on the tenth; my perfect ten. And she is recognized for the beautiful gift that she is.

(Photo by Loblee Photography)

Avoidance

There are only 19 more days until we leave for the East Coast for four months. I started making checklists and then realized how long I’m going to be spending in a plane between now and August. Specifically, how many flights up and down between DC, Florida and Maine I will be taking with the baby. By myself.

Befittingly, I have taken to my couch and am fanning my face in a wan sort of way. I don’t really want to think about the logistics of packing up. We can buy anything we forget, I suppose, but that seems really wasteful. Thus, the checklists, which fly in the face of my normal state.

To give you an idea of how organized I am on a normal day, I should tell you about our lemur. Someone gave Maggie a plastic lemur from the movie “Madagascar” that plays “I Like To Move It (Move it!)” when you hit it hard enough. (I don’t get it either.) It’s lost in my car, so every time I go over a bump–and this is Oahu, so there are many–my car sings “I like to move it move it, I like to move it move it, you like to–MOVE IT!” The lemur serenede is sort of quirkily charming, I suppose, but I am the sort of person who keeps a car in which singing lemurs can become lost.

I know I *can* get organized enough for a four-month trip, but it’s really a matter of will triumphing over nature. We’ll be staying with my parents in the Tampa suburbs, so it’s not like we’re being exiled to Siberia; I just hate the idea of inefficiency and wasting money, so we’ll have to carefully plan and balance as to maximize resources and minimize weight while also minimizing the need for excessive purchases in Florida.

You can see why I’ve taken to the couch in the fetal position watching daytime HGTV, something I never usually do. (Has anyone else seen “Holmes on Homes”? It’s horrifying; I think of these people who lose their shirts thanks to incompetent contractors and I want to cry and rent for the rest of my life.) How do military spouses do the logistics for moves and deployments for months and sometimes years at a time? It takes a special person, I tell you. I’m just too whiny for that kind of thing.

On the upside, I think I may have enough credits built up on Southwest by the end of our trip to go somewhere for free with the baby. The peanut gallery: “All that whining and she wants to add a trip?!” Shut it, peanuts. What can I say? I love to travel, and I’m hoping that Maggie will love it too. Otherwise she’s in for a long childhood.