Thursday, March 29, 2012

This is no place you ever knew me

Adrienne Rich, one of my favorite poets, died this week. I first read her poems in high school, and some of her essays were assigned reading in my courses at UCSC. She lived in Santa Cruz, and when I was in school there I attended several of her poetry readings; once I waited in line to have a collection of her poetry signed.

This is from her poem “An Atlas of the Difficult World.” Such a perfect description of a place I love.

Within two miles of the Pacific rounding
this long bay, sheening the light for miles
inland, floating its fog through redwood rifts and over
strawberry and artichoke fields, its bottomless mind
returning always to the same rocks, the same cliffs with
ever-changing words, always the same language
--this is where I live now. If you had known me
once, you’d still know me now though in a different
light and life. This is no place you ever knew me.
But it would not surprise you
to find me here, walking in the fog, the sweep of the great ocean
eluding me, even the curve of the bay, because as always
I fix on the land. I am stuck to earth. What I love here
is old ranches, leaning seaward, lowroofed spreads between rocks
small canyons running through pitched hillsides
liveoaks twisted on steepness, the eucalyptus avenue leading
to the wrecked homestead, the fogwreathed heavy-chested cattle
on their blond hills. I drive inland over roads
closed in wet weather, past shacks hunched in the canyons
roads that crawl down into the darkness and wind into light
where trucks have crashed and riders of horses tangled
to death with lowstruck boughs. These are not the roads
you knew me by. But the woman driving, walking, watching
for life and death, is the same.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gymnastics and personalities and anxieties, oh my

Or, a lot of words about a little event.

When Adriana was maybe eight or nine months old, I took her to a class at the Little Gym by our house. It went horribly. They would pass out instruments or toys, sing a little song, and then put the toy away and move onto the next thing. Every other baby in the class seemed to do fine with that, but the pace was too quick for Adriana, who didn’t understand why the bell or scarf she’d been handed was already being taken away. We had just moved to Mountain View, and I had thought it would be a good place to meet other moms, but it just seemed too obviously a bad fit, so we didn’t go back. When she was a little over a year old we began attending a toddler gymnastics class at the rec center in Palo Alto, which was a perfect fit for her personality: it was completely unstructured at that age--just free play on the gym equipment. For 45 minutes once a week, she tried all her crazy stuff in a padded room while I got to talk with the moms and nannies as I followed her around.

We stopped that class when Lyra was a few months old. Adriana was in nursery school and it just didn’t fit well with our schedule. But it’s become apparent lately, that Lyra could use a padded room for her monkey impressions, and Adriana has expressed interest in gymnastics. There are a few places we could try, but the schedule at the Little Gym worked for us and it’s close to home. I did Lyra’s trial class first. There is a huge difference in the girls’ personalities, and I knew she would like whatever class we chose, and going with just her would give me a chance to check it out and talk to them about how the older kids’ class would go.

And Lyra loved it. When we walked in and they asked if she was Lyra, she jumped up and down, and said “I am baby Lyra! I love watermelon and swings and penguins and my mama.” She did fine with the pace of the class, wandering off from the group occasionally, but always having fun. Toward the end of the class time, she managed to somersault off of one mat onto another seemed to make the instructor a little nervous but reinforced why we were there.

After class I talked to the woman working at the desk about Adriana, explaining that she can be slow to warm up to new people and places. She told me the names of the teachers for her class, and suggested that we arrive early to give us some time to check things out. She explained that parents would sit on the other side of the window to watch, but if she needed me close, I could go sit inside, although they would prefer I didn’t follow her around to the different things she would be doing.

During the week, I would occasionally mention the gymnastics class and tell Adriana everything that the people at the gym had told me. I described the place to her, and talked about what Lyra had done during her class. And I promised that if she didn’t like it, she didn’t have to go back. She was anxious, though. “I want you to stay right with me the whole time,” she kept insisting. I didn’t talk about how that wouldn’t work out logistically because of Lyra; we have enough sibling rivalry as it is. I promised her she would be able to see me through the window the whole time. “I get nervous about new places, too, but it usually turns out okay,” I told her.

We arrived early, just as another little girl and her mother were going into the building. The teachers at the desk greeted Adriana by name, and the one teaching her class came around to introduce himself to her. Lyra answered all his questions while Adriana remained silent and held my hand. He gave Adriana a quick tour, and then introduced her to the other little girl who was there and suggested they play together.

There’s this wonderful thing about little girls this age: if you introduce them to someone and describe them as a new friend, they can instantly play together. At the California Academy of Sciences I ran into someone I know through La Leche League. We’d never met one another’s older children, but when we introduced the girls to one another, they ran off to play immediately. The same thing happened when Adriana was introduced to a girl at the gym: the other little girl led Adriana over to where the toys were as the teacher had requested, and they sat down to build with blocks together. And then when it was time for class to start, Adriana and her new friend stuck close together as they followed the teacher onto the mat.

I hadn’t realized how nervous I was about her behavior until I watched for a few moments and began to relax. She joined in the activities, did what the teacher asked, and seemed totally comfortable. She looked over to the window and made eye contact with me any time they switched activities, but it was always to throw me a smile and a wave. And I love that smile so much. It was the grin she has when she is having fun and feeling grown up and proud of herself. As I saw the teacher demonstrate some of the exercise, I wondered if she would be able to do them, and some were obviously a bit complicated, but others she managed easily, and she was willing to try everything.

At the end of the class she came running out the door to me. “It was so fun. I did it! I’m going to come back tomorrow, okay?”

So I signed her up for next week.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Adriana’s Magic Bed

Every couple of weeks Adriana comes home from school with a special backpack that contains at least one book, and some suggested activities. The most recent one was The Magic Bed by John Burningham. Instead of a craft project, the suggestion was to have the child make up a similar story of their own. This is the story that Adriana dictated to me.

Once there was a girl named Adriana. She had a magic bed. It was pink with sparkles on it. When she got in it and said the magic words “abracadabra abracadee” it would take her wherever she wanted to go. One night she said “abracadabra abracadee” and it took her to the moon. There were treasures all over the moon. The treasures were stars that fell out of the sky. Adriana picked up the stars and threw them up as high as she could so they would be back in the sky and everyone could see them again. Then she got back in her bed and said “abracadabra abracadee” and went home again.