Thursday, April 21, 2011

Frustration, Frustration

As he approaches that magical year-and-a-half mark, my sunny, happy-go-lucky, good-natured, easygoing child is suddenly developing a tendency to periodically throw himself on the ground in abject misery. Why is this, you may ask? The answer, I can tell you in one word: Frustration.

The most difficult part of being a toddler, in my humble opinion, is the fact that your brain is developing so much faster than your physical skills. My son’s curiosity continually drives him to try to figure things out, to manipulate them, to make them work. And he gets frustrated when he’s not tall enough, not strong enough, and not coordinated enough. He’s about half an inch too short to reach the hallway light switch, and after straining at it for a few seconds, he throws himself down in frustration. He knows he needs to turn the deadbolt to open the front door, but he’s not quite strong enough to turn it all the way, so he screams in frustration. He knows that he needs to stretch his sock out to get it on his foot, but he’s not quite coordinated enough to get his fingers and his toes to work together, so he sobs in frustration.

It’s a hard time of life to be in. The world is his oyster, but nobody gave him an oyster knife so he’s stuck licking around the edges, waiting for someone to lend him a hand. He wants to dress himself, but he still has to wait for Mom or Dad to help. He knows where the basketball hoop is outside, but he can’t go play unless someone opens the door for him and helps him down the steps. He really wants to eat that bowl of rice but it keeps jumping off the spoon before he gets it in his mouth. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he cries in frustration sometimes – in fact, it’s more surprising that he doesn’t cry in frustration ALL the time.

As a mom, it’s really hard for me to watch his frustration, especially when I’m the cause of it in some ways. It frustrates me when I can’t explain to him that we need to put on his socks and shoes before we can go outside and play ball. It frustrates me when I see him struggling to master a new skill and I have to force myself to let him struggle instead of simply doing it for him. It breaks my heart to see that little tear-stained face begging me to let (or help) him do something that just isn’t safe. But I’m discovering that sometimes being a good mom means being a tough mom. It means standing by and watching my baby struggle. It means letting my child learn that you can’t always do what you want to do. Sometimes, it even means taking away something fascinating (but dangerous) and hard-heartedly ignoring the tears of frustration and anger that follow.

But those moments when I do allow him to struggle and suddenly he masters a new skill, or does something without help for the very first time…those are the moments when seeing the pride and delight in his eyes makes it worth every tear we both shed in frustration a mere moment earlier.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Yesterday was our third wedding anniversary, and my wonderful husband spoiled me rotten by whisking me away to Newport for a whirlwind 24-hour trip. He made all the arrangements in secret and surprised me with a lovely, romantic, relaxing celebration.

We dropped off our son at my in-laws’ and headed down to Newport. When we arrived, our hotel room wasn’t quite ready, so we left our bags and took a stroll through downtown Newport, checking out some lovely boutiques and finding a quaint pub for lunch.

We found the glassworks shop where we had bought a lovely glass vase last year, and since the third anniversary is the glass anniversary (under the contemporary calendar, at least), we decided to find another knickknack as an anniversary present to ourselves. We chatted with the shop attendant and after considering a sculpted glass wave and a charming, curly-tentacled octopus, we settled on a lovely, deep amber glass vase similar to the one from last year. That wrapped up, we headed back to the hotel.

We had spa appointments, and since our room wasn’t ready, they took us in early; Herb for a massage and me for my first-ever facial. We disrobed and snuggled into the spa’s plush robes and comfy slippers and waited in the comfortable love seat of the lounge, listening to the soft trickle of a fountain and enjoying lemon-scented water until our attendants came to get us. The aesthetician settled me comfortably on a heated bed and examined my skin, which she pronounced “beautiful”, once she recovered from her horror over my admission that my skin care regimen consisted of soap and water plus an occasional dab of moisturizer. (If she knew I was lying about the latter she’d probably have fainted.) But she laid out an array of lotions and potions, told me to relax, and commenced the most thorough cleaning, exfoliating, massaging, steaming, masking, toning, and tightening that my skin has ever experienced. My pores have never been so clean and tight as they were when she finished with me, and my skin has never been as velvety smooth and glowing. I met Herb back in the lounge and he looked as relaxed as I felt. We dressed and went to check into our room.

Our bags were waiting when we arrived, and we took a few moments to check out the view before we began dressing for dinner. It was quite foggy by then, so there was little to see, but we could hear the haunting but lovely call of a horn buoy echoing through the mist. We found a television station that was showing clips of historic and beautiful sights around Newport, so as we relaxed, we enjoyed learning more about the fascinating city we were in. After that quick break, we got all dressed up for dinner – Herb in an impeccable white dinner jacket and onyx studs in his collar and cuffs, and I in a brilliant blue cocktail dress with the beautiful pearl necklace and bracelet Herb had given me for Valentine’s Day and my birthday. As we headed through the lobby, arm in arm, the concierge noted how elegant we looked and wished us a lovely evening. Herb brought the car around and the valet opened the door for me and gave me a smile and even a slight bow as I went through. Ever the gentleman, Herb opened my car door and made sure I was comfortably seated before closing me in.

Our dinner reservations were at the Castle Hill Inn, where we had eaten last year. After our meal last year, I pronounced it the finest meal – and in fact, the finest dining experience – I had ever had. I wondered if this year would be able to meet that standard. I never should have doubted. From the moment Herb dropped me off and went to park the car, I was treated like royalty. The hostess opened the door for me and escorted me to our table. We were the only diners in the room, which was a round, glassed-in section of the building that looked across a narrow lawn and out onto the ocean. The fog was so thick that the world seemed to vanish past the hedges with no glimpse of ocean in sight, but still the sound of a lonely foghorn echoing over the sea. A few wild bunnies were having their dinner at the edge of the hedges, adding a bit of country charm to the scene. And as the evening wore on, the gray fog took on a deep blue hue, eventually fading to a midnight blue-black, turning the windows to mirrors reflecting the glow of the candles on the tables and the sconces on the walls.

Our waiter remembered us from last year, as he had been our server then as well, and immediately brought us complimentary glasses of champagne. We toasted ourselves and then began to peruse the menu. Several dishes were familiar from last year, but several different items had been added to the menu. Herb recalled what a delightful way the waiter had of describing the various dishes, so we asked him to elaborate on several of the menu items. I was thinking of either the lobster or the duck, and was leaning towards the lobster, but after his vivid and mouth-watering description of the duck, I decided to go with his recommendation. He returned shortly with two freshly baked rolls still steaming from the oven, which he served by masterfully manipulating a pair of spoons like tongs. I enjoyed the bread while Herb studied the wine menu, eventually requesting a taste comparison of two different choices, again beautifully described by our waiter.

Shortly after the wine arrived (I didn’t have a glass, but I did thoroughly enjoy swirling and smelling Herb’s glass, and sampling a tiny sip), the waiter returned with an amuse bouche. This year’s tantalizing mouthful was a tiny slice of delicate veal served over a bed of chopped spring vegetables and garnished with a artistic swirl of veal jus. The meat melted in your mouth and the vegetables tasted like they had come from the garden less than five minutes ago. It was the perfect taste to stimulate the appetite and the senses.

Our first course arrived: Herb had scallops, served three in a row on a long narrow plate, with colorful and tasteful sauces and accompaniments adding both beauty and flavor, and I had a bowl of sunchoke soup. The soup was presented as a shallow bowl with a cake of lobster and other seafood topped with spring onions in it, and the waiter poured the rich broth over it with a graceful flourish. (Can you tell that the presentation of the food at this restaurant delights me as much as the food itself?) The soup was rich and flavorful, but somehow magically managed to not be filling, but instead to stimulate my appetite for the main course.

After a pause during which we were presented with two tiny bowls each containing a perfect scoop of strawberry-mango sorbet as a palate-cleansing intermezzo, our main courses arrived. Herb’s lamb was elegantly presented as two “lollipops” gracefully leaning against each other over a bed of vegetables and gnocchi. My duck breast arrived on a long, narrow plate, the tender, juicy slices leaning against each other like a splayed deck of cards, surrounded by swirls of salsify puree (no, I’m not sure exactly what that is either, but I can assure you it tasted magnificent) and laying over a cake of something marvelous involving potatoes. Neither of us spoke for several minutes as we took our first bites, both of us closing our eyes in ecstasy and making small, involuntary moans of pleasure as our taste buds were overcome by delicious sensations. We quickly exchanged bites, assuring each other than both meals were equally exquisite. I paused between bites, both to give myself time to thoroughly enjoy each succulent mouthful, and also to be sure to pace myself so I wouldn’t run out of room to finish the magnificent meal.

The crowning glory of any meal, in my opinion, is dessert, and I had no doubt by this point that the dessert could live up to the glorious dinner. Herb and I both selected the chocolate trio – and for once, we opted to each get our own instead of sharing. Our accompaniments of coffee (mine) and cognac (his) arrived just before the elegant desserts. On each plate, the words “Happy Anniversary” were spelled out in chocolate in an elegant script.

And they did not disappoint. From the rich chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream to the spicy sponge cake with whipped cream topping, to the rich smoothness of the pot au crème, the dessert was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

We arrived back at the hotel in time for a quick dip in the pool and soak in the whirlpool. The mist and rain had begun to cause my knees and hips to ache a bit, so I carefully perched myself on the edge of the whirlpool, soaking in the soothing heat of the water and letting the powerful jets massage my feet. I found a step that was the perfect height to stand on to get my hips in the water without immersing my belly, and dangled my hands in the water while I watched a pair of sisters frolicking in the swimming pool. Herb and I laughed and imagined Ryan and Rutabaga doing the same eight or ten years from now. Soothed and relaxed, we headed back to our room and were soon sound asleep in our soft, comfortable bed.

We woke up to a clear morning with only a few high grey clouds and a temperature at a very comfortable 60 degrees. We took another look at the view from our patio and could now see the harbor full of boats and the picturesque Newport shops. We shared the view with a pair of huddling seagulls.

We stopped at the concierge desk to ask for a breakfast recommendation and the question was hardly out of our mouths when the concierge told us firmly, “The Corner Café” and handed us a map, while wishing aloud that she could join us. The walk was just the right length to work up an appetite, which was a good thing, since the breakfast was both generous and delicious. There were a few other diners, several of whom seemed to be regulars who ordered without a menu and were handed their morning paper as if it had been delivered to the restaurant specifically for them. The waitress/proprietress had a charming Irish brogue and brought me a perfect mug of tea that immediately flashed me back to my days in Zimbabwe and my visit to England. Herb had a mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cocoa powder that he immediately pronounced delicious. My French toast was made from thick slices of homemade Portuguese sweet bread and served with maple pecan butter that melted into a rich glaze. I dipped each succulent bite into a puddle of real maple syrup and cooed in ecstasy, alternating the sweet gooey bites with crispy, smoky bacon. Herb’s pancakes were fluffy and light, and he managed to clean his plate. Sadly, I had to bid a sad farewell to the last half of my second giant slice of French toast, because I simply did not have enough room for all its rich goodness. We bid farewell to our charming hostess, promising to return next year, and headed off for another stroll to burn off our breakfasts.

We stopped by a few more quirky boutiques and admired the local architecture, stopping for a few more souvenirs before heading back to the hotel to reclaim our bags and head for home. As we were driving out of town, Herb spied a formalwear shop and decided to make a quick side trip, since he’s been looking for a new black bow tie. As he chatted with the owner about how difficult it is to find a tie-it-yourself bow tie and they commiserated about what a shame it is that no-one wears white pique shirts any more, I browsed the selection of cufflinks and shirt studs, and found a beautiful set of Masonic links and studs. I had been looking for something similar as a gift for Herb for several years now, so I was delighted to stumble across this treasure. But there was yet another treasure to be stumbled across in this shop: there was a photograph behind the counter that seemed to be of a man dressed as Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof”. When we asked him about it, the owner admitted it was him and immediately began quoting lines from the show in a marvelously rich, sonorous voice. He was delighted to hear that we were also musical theater performers, and we exchanged stories about the groups we worked with. He pulled out another photo of himself in character, this time as Jud Fry from “Oklahoma!”, and broke into one of Jud’s songs in a rich, resounding baritone voice. Of course, we took his contact information and invited him to check out the Reagle Music Theatre of Boston – especially since the shows Reagle has on the schedule for this summer just happen to be “Fidder” and “Oklahoma!”. He was so delighted with our chat and with the fact that Herb was a Mason that he gave us a generous discount on our purchases, and we left feeling that we had made a delightful new friend.
We arrived at Herb’s folks’ just before Ryan finished his nap and were able to fill them in on all our adventures and hear the report that Ryan had behaved himself admirably and had thoroughly enjoyed his own adventures before he woke up. It was wonderful to get away, but it was just as wonderful to be back home. It was such a lovely anniversary that I think we’ll have another one next year at the very same time.


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Saturday, April 9, 2011

I Remember Mama

My mom was a very humble woman, in the nicest possible sense of the word. She always thought of herself as ordinary, average, even dumb. She wasn’t ordinary, she wasn’t average, and she most certainly wasn’t dumb. Although I will admit, she couldn’t spell a lick. I used to tease her because on her grocery shopping list, she always spelled “hamberger” with an e instead of a u. And she usually wrote “spag” and “broc” because she knew she’d never get “spaghetti” or “broccoli” right. And any time Sue or I needed help with math or science homework, she’d send us straight to Dad.

She may not have been especially academic, but she was very, very wise. When I was in middle school, she had the wisdom to keep her thoughts to herself when I announced that I was considering dyeing a big magenta streak in my hair. When I was a junior in high school and I came home early from school in tears because a friend had just been killed in a car accident, she had the wisdom to not say anything, but to just hold me in her arms and stroke my hair and let me cry. When I was a sophomore in college and I called her to say that I wanted to live in Africa for the summer, she had the wisdom to keep her fears to herself and let me stretch my wings. She had the kind of wisdom you can’t learn from books and classes.

But even better than wisdom, Mom had faith. Not just a Sunday morning kind of faith, but a deep-rooted, always learning, heart and soul kind of faith. The kind of faith that is apparent in every word and every action, in every fiber of a person’s being. And it was her faith that carried her through this illness. Most patients in her situation would snap at the nurses, complain constantly (and with good reason), and be angry and bitter. But not Mom. She was unfailingly gracious and polite to the medical staff, always cheerful and optimistic, and although she fought her illness every step of the way, she had a serenity about her fate that can only come from a deep-rooted faith in God. And those around her saw it. Her nurses and doctors often commented on it. They all said what a joy she was to work with, what a loving and kind person she was, and what a sunny and hopeful attitude she always had. And if they ever mentioned it to her, she told them in no uncertain terms that her faith in God was what gave her the strength to endure her illness the way she did.

It was absolutely typical of Mom that the day we met with her doctor and were told that her cancer wasn’t responding to treatment and that hospice care was the next step, as we were waiting for the ambulance to take her back to rehab, Mom said to me, “After I’m gone, I want you to give my Bible to Dr. Natarajan. I know she’s searching, and I think she’d really read it.” And, also very typical of Mom, she paused and then asked me, “Do you think that would be weird?” With tears in my eyes, I told her that no, that wouldn’t be weird at all. And I strongly suspect that that Bible is the most meaningful gift that doctor has ever received from a patient.

But the most meaningful gift that I ever received from my mother was simply a lifetime of watching a woman of great wisdom and great faith live out that wisdom and faith every day of her life. She may have seen herself as ordinary, average, and dumb, but to me, she will always be extraordinary, far above average, and pretty darn smart, to boot. And I pray that I will be able to honor and carry on her legacy of wisdom and faith by being an example of wisdom and faith to my own children. In fact, I might even start spelling hamburger with an E.

Martha Metcalf, 1939-2011

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Thank You, Baby Monitor

One of the beauties of modern technology for parents is the ability to watch our children unobserved. A video baby monitor comes in very handy for this.

This morning, I woke up a bit before Ryan’s usual get-up time, so I went downstairs to catch up on e-mails before he woke up, and I watched him on the monitor. Since our bedroom is just down the hall from his, I am very used to hearing him sing and coo and run through his entire vocabulary (“Ball! Up! Bye-bye! K! K! K! Ba-dup-uh-dup! Uh-oh!”) to himself for a while before he yells to get up. But this was my first chance to actually watch him as he wakes up. I loved seeing him go from barely stirring to sitting straight up and deliberately ejecting every item from his crib within a few seconds. I laughed at his (nearly successful) attempts to throw his leg over the top of the crib rail and escape. I laughed even harder as he sat in the middle of his crib looking around as if wondering, “Well, what next?” And I smiled as I watched him playing with his own toes, rolling back and forth just because he could, and even bouncing up and down and rattling the crib bars for effect.

This afternoon, I am watching him go down somewhat reluctantly for a nap. He played with his toys for a bit, then threw himself down on his tiger pillow and began making gargling noises. I’m not sure if he was trying to fake me out with fake snoring, or if he was just amusing himself, but I was certainly amused either way. And he’s currently making motorboat noises while shoving his blanket through the crib bars and then fishing it back in again.

I consider myself very fortunate that he is so good at entertaining himself. It gives me a huge amount of freedom to do chores around the house, to get dinner on the table safely without a small, curious child underfoot, and occasionally to just lay on the couch and catch a quick (and often much-needed) catnap while he is safely in his playpen. But to be honest, I’d much rather just sit and watch him while he plays. I love to see his curiosity, his fascination with his own body and abilities as well as the world around him, and his eager exploration of everything within reach. And I appreciate all the modern conveniences that allow me to take a secret peek into his world.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Like Mother, Like Daughter

This past Sunday night, my mother passed away after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Not surprisingly, family and friends have surrounded me and our whole family with love and good wishes. There have been too many heart-warming comments to mention them all, but I will admit that there is one category of comments that has made me especially humble and proud: the comments that compare me to my mother.

I’ve always been compared to my mom, both in looks and in temperament. My favorite “You look just like your mom” story is from way back when I was in 6th or 7th grade. My mom and I were shopping together and a woman my mom’s age stopped me and said, “You MUST be Martha Riesen’s daughter.” I said I was and pointed out my mom, who had just walked past the woman. She introduced herself and it turned out they had gone to elementary school together. She had seen Mom without recognizing her, but since I was about the age Mom was when they knew each other, she recognized ME, whom she’d never even met.

Another favorite comparison was kind of through a third party. When my mother went to college, she cut off her nearly waist-length dark, curly hair into a very short, close-cut ‘do, and immediately became a dead ringer for Leslie Caron. When I was in my early 30s, I had a similar haircut and one day a dear friend remarked to me, “I was watching An American in Paris the other day and realized that you remind me a lot of Leslie Caron!” Yet another reminder that I bear an uncanny resemblance to my mom at my age.

But the comments I’ve been getting lately are not so much about my resemblance in looks, but my resemblance in character and spirit, and to me, that is the highest compliment. My mom had such a sweet, gentle spirit. She rarely thought badly of anyone, always gave people the benefit of the doubt, and did everything she could to make the world a happier place. Her deep-rooted faith in God gave her an optimistic outlook that shone through even during her final months, when she was suffering so terribly. Despite that suffering, she was unfailingly pleasant and undemanding with the medical staff, never complaining, always sweet and gracious and thankful. Her doctors and nurses all commented on what an unusual patient she was. She had every reason and every right to be angry, to be picky about how she was treated, to demand quick attention to her needs. But she chose to be patient and kind.

So whenever anyone says that I share her sunny disposition, I take that as a point of pride. I am honored to carry any small piece of my mother’s spirit. I learned that patience, that kindness, and that optimism from my mother’s demonstrating that character throughout my life. And I hope that my children will learn that same character from me. It’s the least I can do to pass on my mother’s great legacy of faith and hope.

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