The cold has officially arrived. I caught Thisbe trying to lick the frost off the side of the Saab this morning and on the way to school ("off like a herd of princesses!") she exclaimed gleefully that there was snow growing beside the car window. The radiators tick their way into life every morning and I bundle you in blankets inside a snuggle sack, socks over your hands for mittens, when we go out walking. It's been a busy week. I gave a reading at St. Olaf on Monday, participated in a craft talk on Tuesday, and will hear Salman Rushdie talk at Carleton tonight. Meanwhile, your father taught confirmation on Wednesday night and plugs away at his book manuscript every night, three ring binder open beside him on the couch, computer on lap, baseball game muted on the TV in front of him.
Your smiles are coming easier and you have discovered how to squeal. You like to talk best on your changing table; your tongue lifts and draws back in your mouth so you can utter siren-like lifts of tone. When you want to engage you do so thoroughly. Little tremors fill your body and you kick your legs and stiffen your arms in your effort to communicate. The rest of the time you are an entirely stoic observer: saucer eyes, chin doubling down to other chin with the intensity of your gaze. Last night you slept from 7:00 to 7:00, only waking once, at 4:15--hallelujah! You're also starting to take naps in your bassinet. We swaddle you and bounce you on the exercise ball and sometimes plug your whimpering with the green pacifier before creeping, ninja-like, from your room.
At Baby Talk last week I was shocked to find you'd only gained two ounces in the previous week. You'd gained eleven ounces the week prior. When I looked startled the nurse (doing the weighing) turned to me and said, Well, they can't go on like that forever. You wouldn't want them to. It's a plateau. That's OK.
And it does feel like a plateau, this space we're in right now. The insane, do-what-you-can-to-survive period of early infancy has passed (somewhat) and we're edging nearer to routine--to a predictable number of naps, to longer stretches of sleep, to a more adept balancing of two different bedtime routines. Midterms have passed and though Halloween is frothing all around us, we're in the stretch of late fall/early winter before the stress of the holidays and finals arrives. There seems to be coasting room and breathing space available here on the plateau.
But (and you must be realizing this is kind of a theme), I kind of suck at thriving on the plateau. Not that I'm any better in the mountains and valleys of crazy-time, but I find the plateaus of parenting hard too. When Thisbe was little, every time we hit one of these plateaus, I'd finally think YES! I have figured it out! I am master of the nap routine (or teaching self-soothing techniques or administering cry-it-out or offering teething comforts or nursing in awkward places or whatever) And then, literally a week later, everything would be different. Whatever rule I'd figured out would be broken. She'd move from three naps to two or need to be put in a sleeper instead of swaddled. I learned that at the end of every plateau is a sharp cliff off which one often falls with no warning because one was coasting along so happily on the plateau with the wind on one's face and ABBA on the radio and a little glass of wine in the mug holder and then--whoops! Free fall into the churning sea!
So with you, Mr. Matteus, I distrust any moment of calm, any startling revelation about baby care. I am bracing for the free fall. This means, for instance, that last night I lay in bed at 11:15, blinking like a goldfish, listening for your mewls of hunger. It means that during your naps I'm always circling the lower floor of our house like a dysfunctional shark, doing small tasks (putting away a dirty sock, washing three or four dishes, smoothing a new tablecloth, hanging up a few of Thisbe's coats, etc.) because I know that at any minute you might wake up and I know (from previous experience) that if I'm deeply engaged in a project I care about, I will resent your waking. So I try to remain always is a state of preparedness for the shit storm.
This is part of my nature. To be prepared. Maybe I was a boy scout in a former life. Specifically, I feel that if I imagine every possible awful scenario and acknowledge the possibility of each, that this will somehow keep these events from occurring. It's kind of a professional level of worry. I think of the Biblical story of Mary and Martha and Jesus. The one where Jesus comes over to hang out and Martha is buzzing around getting everything prepared while Mary just sits there and talks to Jesus. Martha gets pissed (as I would) because she is doing all the work of being a hostess while Mary just sits there, drinking a beer (you can imagine who plays which role when we enact this scene at our house). When Martha complains to Jesus that her sister is being lazy, Jesus tells her she's too worried and distracted and "there is need of only one thing." While the feminist in me has always kind of hated this story (because I feel like it gives, like, 50 million men the leeway to sit on their asses), the girl scout in me realizes that Martha and I are definitely soul sisters.
And I'm sure there's a whole lot of interpretation about what Jesus means by "one thing"--that it's him or God or salvation or grace. But today I am thinking that maybe partly what it means is there is need for only one thing--that the message is not about the object, what the thing represents, but the singularity of the thing. Not ten things, not five things, not even two things. One thing. And it is true that in this age of continually multiplying images and messages and screens, I have a deep craving for just one thing.
I know this is a cliche. Seize the day. Be present. Breathe deeply. Blah blah blah. I realize you find this same concept printed on the inside of tea boxes. But as I look out over this lovely plateau, it is a relief to think I am not responsible for enjoying this moment more than any other. I am only responsible for seeing it. For sitting still and not turning away.
Just one thing.