Hanging Out with D (#2)

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            This past weekend’s adventure with my foster grandson D: Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory.  D. and I actually did this same outing a number of months ago, which consisted mostly of him sleeping soundly in his stroller in front of numerous outdoor animals’ cages as well as in the fecund, heavy-aired, lush Conservatory.  It proved an invigorating walk for me against a backdrop of gorgeous park flora and exotic (if caged) fauna.  As for D, well, it reminded of the comedian who once quipped about the opera: “I love it.  You just can’t sleep like that at home.”

            Last weekend was a horse of a different color for D, who will mark the milestone of his first full year on Earth in just three weeks.  D is easygoing as babies come, but the wheels are turning all the time.  He is at the very beginning of understanding what developmental theorists call a “concept of mind,” meaning that he has a rudimentary understanding of himself as a being, a “self” with all kinds of thoughts and feelings and such.  What’s more, he also understands that those around him, those of us who talk and dress and feed and rock and sing and tickle and hold and love him – well, we, too, have minds.  

            It is a critical moment in infant development when they begin to point to stuff, for it is in this way that they demonstrate their desire to share minds – they point our attention to whatever it is that they’re focusing on, in order that we share the same focus, that we align our two minds in the same direction, and feel the deeply satisfying sense of sharing an experience.  Interestingly, the only other mammals who demonstrate an understanding of pointing are elephants (which was established pretty recently) and dogs, simply due to so many years of close proximity to humans and their inherent desire to communicate and please us.

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            Anyway. High falutin’ language aside,  D could not get enough of pointing to every single animal.  We would stroll over to a cage, I would say the name of the animal, and he would point.  He particularly loved scanning through the chimpanzees’ and apes’ habitats to seek out and point to each and every one he could find lolling in a high-up hammock, or swinging on a rope, or hiding in a dark, out-of-the-way corner.

            Babies learn by categorizing.  If you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that a very young child can recognize that a Great Dane and a Chihuahua are both dogs!  D isn’t quite there yet, but we have been working on animal sounds.  When I start to moo, or oink, or woof-woof, he gives me a special sidelong glance that says, “You’re weird; but I like it!”  D has known for weeks now what a quack-quack is.  When I say quack-quack, Dawson will crawl through all four rooms of my first floor until he finds the hideously gaudy stuffed animal that’s meant to resemble a duck.  Everything else, for the time being, is a woof-woof. 

            Really, a joyous little boy who’s scanning every inch of an animal habitat until he finds the giant, panting, pent-up, blazing-eyed jaguar so he can shoot up his arm, point his index finger right towards the big cat’s face and from deep in his belly grunt out a “WOOF WOOF!” makes for a wondrous day.

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Hanging out with D: My Life According to Me

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            I have a foster grandson.  The unexpected, chaotic, shape-shifting circumstances that led to this little boy’s emergence into this wide world have served as the inspiration for my third novel.

            But back in the “real” world, the one in which my son and daughter-in-law are forever forging their unexpected lives day to day, hour to hour, exhausted and improvising; well, there is only today. 

            My son worries that my taking care of the now 11-month-old baby one or (infrequently) two days a week is an unfair thing to ask, a burden to me, a toll on my body as I continue to recover from a  back injury.   I, in turn, worry about him, nearly every minute, as is my right. 

            The baby boy, in the meantime, thrives, blossoms, works to figure out the world little piece by little piece, babbles, bangs things together, tests gravity continually to see if it will really always make objects fall – every! time! – touches, pats, dances, sings.  Nothing can match the thrill of eliciting a full-on belly laugh from him.  You just never know what will strike him as simply hilarious.

            This past weekend I took him to Chicago’s wonderful National Museum of Mexican Art for their annual Day of the Dead exhibit.  I try to make it down every year for this; it’s a highlight of the city’s cultural year.  I had forgotten to pack the stroller for our outing, and so had to carry baby D in my arms through the museum. 

            D took it all in, as he always does.  The entire time, his expression was what I call “The D Amazed Face” – mouth slightly open in sheer awe, eyes drinking it all in.  When he took particular notice of something, the tip of his index finger would wander into his mouth, much as it might with a thoughtful adult.

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            It turned out to be quite fortuitous that the stroller had been forgotten, as D kept both of his little hands gripped tightly to my clothing – one on my sleeve, the other clutching a bunched up handful of sweater from around my neck.  He eagerly took in the whirl of weird shapes, wild colors, scads of flowers, platefuls of play food – but only if he could maintain the abiding sense of being safe, and secure, and loved.  Every so often, for a little extra reassurance, he would burrow his face deep into the pit of my arm, just for a second or two, then resume his amazed examination of this brand new world.

            The chance to share in his amazement at this wide world is a privilege, indeed.  The chance to offer him whatever measure of safe harbor I can is an honor.  In some ways, there is nothing that allows life to make as much sense as the simple act of holding a baby.

“Pushing the River,” NEW chapter excerpt

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            Sierra is lounging around on the couch, her belly getting so swelled up it don’t look like it could possibly belong to the rest of her body any more.  She’s wearing a raggedy old pair of sweatpants that she borrowed off of my Lady and a T-shirt she borrowed off of her sister, and a giant sweatshirt she took right off the Boy’s pile of laundry while it was still sitting on top of the dryer.  That girl sure does love to wear everybody else’s clothes.

            The television set is on, just like it pretty much always is, but she ain’t really looking at it, cept every once in a long while.  I swear the child likes mostly to push on little buttons, cause every so often she pushes on some buttons to make the sound go up or down, or pushes on some buttons to switch to a different picture altogether, and then goes right back to pushing the little buttons on her little telephone that don’t need wires.

            Then she holds the little phone right up to her ear and says, “Daddy?  Hi.  Hey, what do you think I should have for lunch?”

            Of course I can only hear but one side of this whole conversation, but it goes something like this:

            “Cereal.  I had a big bowl of cereal for breakfast.”

            —

            “No.  I only like creamy peanut butter, and right now all we got is the crunchy kind.  I hate that stuff.  Plus I only really like peanut butter with marshmallow fluff, and pretty sure we don’t have any of that either.  What else?”

            —

            “No, I’ve had bagels every day cause Marie always brings them home.  Plus that’s what you said yesterday.  What else?”

            —

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            My Lady comes in with a big basket of laundry and sets down at the far end of the sofa to fold it.  Sierra puts her teeny little feet in my Lady’s lap and goes on with her phone talk for a bit.

When she pushes on the little button that makes the call come to an end, she says, “That was my dad.  I was asking him what I should have for lunch.”

            “Your dad?”

            “Uh-huh.”

            “Your father?”

            “Uh-huh.”

            “You were asking your father what you should have for lunch.”

            Sierra can see that it ain’t a question, so she don’t answer.

            “Your father, as in, the guy who put you on an airplane the minute he found out you were pregnant?  Who said that you were dead to him?  That father?”

            “Uh-huh.  He wasn’t a very big help.  MadMad, what do you think I should have for lunch?”

            “Oh, no.  No, no.  I’m not playing that game again.”

            This advertisement comes on the television just then.  There’s all these people setting around a table, completely frozen in time.  One of them is caught right in the middle of spilling a whole pitcher of water.  The first drop is just about to hit.  Another is hanging in mid-air, kicking up his heels, his hair standing straight up in all directions.  He is at the highest point, held in the split second before he starts on down.  Yet another is tipping his chair so far back you know he’s about to tumble over backwards; but he’s caught right at the tipping point, held right there in the balance.  There’s one more person.  The only one who can move.  He gets to walk all around this whole frozen scene, check it from every angle, ponder on exactly what’s going to happen next.  He can take all the time in the world to figure it.

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“Pushing the River,” new excerpt (continued)

My brother, Roy Mills Monier, would have been 60 years old on October 9.  He died outside of Quito, Ecuador on December 6, 2001.

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And I don’t just mean with them family members, and their kin and friends and pets that was constantly coming and going; and I don’t mean with all the things they gathered and put in different rooms that marked their lives neither.  I mean that it was full up in the only way that can make a house into a home.

            It was a good long spell that everything seemed to get bigger and bigger.  Not just them little ones, but life itself.

            But the tide, it surely did turn, and thence came the long stretch when everything started going the other way.  One by one, they started packing up and leaving; the Husband, then the Boy.  It was just the Little One left in the house with my Lady when she got the phone call that the very last of her kin had dropped down dead in some far off country.  She was standing right beside me, holding the phone in her hand, when I heared her gasp real loud, and her voice went all shaky.  With that phone call she had no more kinfolk, no more of the people who raised her up or stood along side her while she was doing her own growing, no more people to hold on to her stories.

            I think that might have been the moment, right then with that phone call, that my Lady began trying to push the river.

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“Pushing the River,” new excerpt

Sheesh.  I have been flattened for more than a week with some nasty virus!  These are the first words that have entered my head in all that time.  It’s a mere beginning, but I couldn’t wait to post SOMETHING and get back at it.

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They was just a couple of wide-eyed kids with a little baby they took turns holding in they lanky arms when they moved into this here house.  They scrubbed at the floors and painted  the walls and dug dirt in the gardens and tickled and rocked and sang to the Boy while he gazed at the world around him like he could stare a hole right through everything and see into its very center, sort of like he was just pretending to be a baby the whole time and trying to humor the nice folks who had brung him into this world.   After a time the Little One came along, all blonde and golden and fitting right into the world like it was easy peasy and every single thing was just a pure delight. 

            The house was full up. 

            And I don’t just mean with them family members, and their kin and friends and pets that was constantly coming and going; and I don’t mean with all the things they gathered and put in different rooms that marked their lives neither.  I mean that it was full up in the only way that can make a house into a home.

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“Asher’s Fault,” by Elizabeth Wheeler

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Last Thursday night, I had the pleasure of hearing an exceptional first-time author read from her debut novel.  Elizabeth Wheeler has a true gift for natural dialogue and pacing; and she has managed to handle a sensitive and difficult time of life — mid-adolescence and sexual identity — with great sensitivity.

But enough of my words — please support this writer and check out “Asher’s Fault” yourself.

http://www.elizabethwheeler1.com/ashers-fault.html