Sweet Baby Visits The Neighborhood

The first four mornings of Sweet Baby and her dad’s visit (while her mom flew to her family in Thailand), she attended Kindergym camp at the high school. Gymnastics team members guided three, four and five-year olds as they walked the balance beam, swung on rings, bounced on a long walkway trampoline, somersaulted, and ran!

And each afternoon, Sweet Baby and the five-year old girl from next door played “let’s pretend,” speculated on some imaginative and giggle-worthy, if inappropriate, name-calling to elders, negotiated back and forth about who set the rules, but overall took pleasure in each other and their easy proximity.

In between times, Papa Jim switched from enacting (with infinite patience and imagination that the rest of us don’t possess) Dale or Bob, the farmers (or sometime adventure guys) with Lady B, to princess tales. In these, Sweet Baby dresses in an inherited ballet skirt worn as a headdress as she goes about her royal business.

On long summer evenings we discovered an almost sandy beach across from the ferry terminal, where Sweet Baby searched for tiny shells, and at our favorite beach, she swam in her pink wet suit with her dad. On Saturday, we picnicked at Point No Point Lighthouse beach, and drove on to Port Townsend – our first visit to the old haunts for nearly a year.

A visit highlight was Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Zoos can be hard, but this zoo attempts to provide realistic habitat and supports endangered species around the world. Most of the beautiful animals we saw (charismatic megafauna Mrs. Hughes would call them) live in large outdoor spaces with manufactured cliff faces, moats, trees and shrubs. In a magic moment, as the keepers shut gates across our path, the giraffes, including a baby born in May weighing 122 pounds, walked gracefully right in front of us headed for their barn. (Up close the patterns of their coats are all distinct.)

Reading wins out over most everything for Sweet Baby now. Twice we visited the library for the little chapter books with more text than pictures and read them repeatedly. The zoo day, on the ferry going and coming, we read a Judith Kerr book about a baby seal and a gentleman (now one of Sweet Baby’s favorite words). She’d spot our neighbor John and call out – “here comes that gentleman!”

Other book-learned words suddenly appear. When loading into the car, after fastening her car seat, she’d say: “OK, Daddy, clamber in! In the car we listened to “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” and every time we “clambered in,” she’d request, “put on the mouse song please!”

My painter friend always comments on Sweet Baby’s open and smiling face – and that’s her personality – quick to engage with new people, always observing other children and moving closer to invite inclusion – and sometimes finding it. She’s expressive and funny and can laugh at herself. She twirls with the gentleman’s wife (who loves to ask her about ballet moves) while wearing the headdress as a skirt. At a stumble she says, “oh my goodness, here I go!”

A late flight on departure day allowed an aquarium visit. Sweet Baby sat right up front by the tank to be close to Diver Kim – and chortled with glee to see the puffins swimming. The tank is transparent, so you realize puffin-swimming looks like flying underwater.

Sweet Baby said she was eager to see her mom, but sad to go. Leaving the airport, after a period of silence, I told Poppa Jim I was sad and asked about him. His reply: “It’s awful.”

Alaska And A Name Change?

For four days in May, while Mrs. Hughes celebrated her birthday with her sister and her best friend in New York City, we flew north to help Mr. Carson hold down the fort. (He doesn’t really need much help.) Chill from the north wind dampened the days of our visit, but didn’t dampen Alaska spring activities.

Pretty much nothing is cuter than a six-year old girl with braids and a ball cap playing her first baseball game (after just two practices). Standing by the dugout full of tiny teammates, I watched the swing and heard the satisfying smack when bat connected with ball pitched by her coach. Braids flying, she headed to first base, a little uncertainly at first, and then swiftly!

One day Lady B’s kindergarten teacher planned an excursion to the Municipal Greenhouse and nearby woods, and asked me to lead a little watercolor demonstration. She provided good materials (that can make all the difference with watercolor) – tiny palettes with six real watercolors, fine line pens and brushes with points. The students didn’t need much direction, and soon scattered around the greenhouse to draw – watercolor paper taped to clipboards – then came together in a circle to paint. The penline and watercolors produced amazed me by their careful observation of shape and color, each unique to its creator.

It struck me that the days of Lady Baby are behind us. That little girl in the orange t-shirt, worn over a red, long-sleeved thermal shirt with Tyrannosaurus rex on the front, seems far from anything with baby in the title. The girl formerly known as Lady Baby has school life and social relationships of her own now – two best friends, a girl with a mop of blonde curly hair, and a boy with dark curly hair and big glasses. Maybe now I call her Lady B, a more grown up title, because Baby Brother (who rapidly outgrows that moniker) calls her Bopal.

We spent great days with Baby Brother while Lady B was at school. Playgrounds please, but nothing is as popular as “owside” – the back yard with swing and slide and balls to kick – or a slow amble down the sidewalk out front.

He loves books – specially ones with pictures of “boom boom crash” providers, particularly enormous bulldozers and crane trucks. Lady B reads to him, revisiting all the favorites (dinosaurs). He laughs with the same joy and relief at the resolution in “Knufflebunny” that I remember from her.

When we first arrived I marveled at his mom’s understanding of his language, but as the days passed I began to get it better. He repeats everything said to him – so the structure and intonation becomes more clear, and you realize how much he can communicate, if only his listener understands. He says all the family names, but somewhat curiously, Lord Cromwell became “Bacram.”

It sounds odd to say of someone so young (he’ll be two in early September), but he seems contemplative as he thoughtfully considers things. I say: “Look, chickadees – chick-a-dee-dee-de.” And he listens and looks, head tilted to one side, before repeating the call. It’s easy to be totally silly with him and make up nonsense, eliciting great grins and chuckles.

I loved watching Lady B and Baby Brother greet their mother when she came back. Both brave while she was away – and overjoyed at her return!

*Image used by permission of the artist

“Marguerite’s Christmas” and New Year Thoughts

India Desjardin’s picture book, “Marguerite’s Christmas,” illustrated by Pascal Blanchet and translated from the French by Carolyn Grifel, is the story of Marguerite Godin who lives alone and has come to realize she would be happy to never step outside her house again. (Thanks to Julie Danielson for introducing me to this book on her blog, and Julie includes spreads from the book: http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=3948)

Anxious and afraid of much in the world, of what might befall her, Marguerite turns down invitations from children and grandchildren and plans a quiet Christmas Eve, heating a frozen meal and watching television specials. But events provide a complicating encounter with strangers.

I love everything about this elegant book, from the diagonal candy-cane striped endpapers and luminous, angular illustrations of cozy houses and falling snow to the story – not at all usual for a children’s book. (I am eager to read it to Lady Baby and hear her take).

What follows here isn’t a tidy tie-together, maybe just intersecting thoughts, but Marguerite’s story played in my mind all through the holiday. I recognize that pull to stay put, to narrow down to comforts and familiar habits – how different from engaging, from making an effort.

At night we see the glittering lights of Victoria, British Columbia, across the Strait from our house. Sweet Baby’s parents had never been, so New Year’s Eve we had planned a quick trip.

After a week of dark, cold rain, the weather turned clear on New Year’s Eve eve, and Sweet Baby, who proved to be as flexible a traveler as her parents, slept on the ferry. She woke as we approached the decorated buildings around Victoria’s quiet inner harbor.

The next morning Sweet Baby, zipped into her dad’s down jacket, slept as we walked through beautiful Beacon Hill Park to see our bluff from the other side. In the afternoon she rode in Lady Baby’s little pink London stroller while we explored the Royal British Columbia Museum.

We ate great restaurant meals, Sweet Baby sitting in a high chair to dine on “tubes” of various contents and O’s – little puffs she carefully picks up one at a time. She looks at us when we eat noisy food like chips. (I think she knows something more could be on offer. Something to complicate life.)

For dinner on New Year’s Eve, we arranged to meet the woman I met by chance in December when we boarded the plane home from Anchorage. A scientist, she’d been in the Arctic interviewing people about their experiences with recent weather. Although she lives in Victoria, as we exchanged the usual seatmate greetings, we realized that we planned to visit Victoria for New Year’s, and she planned to come to Port Townsend with her daughter. Their plans changed, so we invited them to join us for dinner.

My new friend and her daughter certainly weren’t in a snow bank like Marguerite’s people – but were a serendipitous encounter acted upon.

I’m going to remember “Marguerite’s Christmas” this year. We did have a really good time at that dinner – but even if we hadn’t, we’d have had a new experience. And that’s of value, great value.

Olivia and Laura 1