Spaces

Since Lena began walking, I’ve wanted to write about watching her explore her environment. Over and over, I hesitated because the writing seemed either too bombastic or too precious. But as spring has sprung and we’re basically living outside on the warm  sunny days, it’s constantly on my mind and I finally decided, to hell with it. I need to pull together these bits and pieces.

I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last decade thinking about spaces. Public spaces, private spaces, and those in-between. How people create, furnish, and occupy them. This started when I was a graduate student researching and writing about urban spaces and gentrifying neighborhoods. As an archivist, I’m regularly concerned with the widespread issue of too little space and how to get creative with the room we have.

Two years ago we bought a house and I quickly became obsessed with how I wanted my home to feel and how it could best function for our family. This reached a fever pitch last year when I took a part-time job in a lovely mid-century modern consignment shop. I could spend all day fantasizing about outfitting my house with beautiful vintage furnishings and what life among those things would look like.

In an oddly tidy fashion, I’m now back in the world of archives working with collections that focus on architectural and landscape design, so my internal conversation about space continues as I learn about designers, planners, and the process of space making.

But what’s really launched this fascinating theory forward is observing my toddler as she interacts with her environment. She has a compulsion to physically interact with a space, just like any active kid. She observes details like a hole in a tree trunk or the decorative metal element on an old door. When I was a kid, I remember noticing these things, too–how the pine trees behind my neighbors house grew denser the farther we walked; how the light in my room crept in differently depending on the time of day. It’s like every experience stood out as a unique thing, before the synapses connected together to create a familiar script that didn’t require any further exploration. As I’ve grown older I’ve stopped observing things. For instance, I never noticed how kids walking along 34th Street, a place I spend a great deal of time, always hop up on the cobblestone incline between the sidewalk and the bit of grass that rests on slightly higher plane. Someone else pointed it out to me, and now that I know it’s there, I can’t help but smile as I watch them, unable to control the urge to learn how their body feels walking at that angle.

Why does any of this matter? I’m not sure I can articulate it precisely. On one hand it’s a spiritual lesson. I’m learning to slow down, to notice, to appreciate. Lena is teaching me. I still have to fight the urge to say, “No, don’t climb that, you might get hurt.” Instead, I take a small step back, spotting her from a reasonable distance. She’s experimenting and learning to trust her body. I can either get in the way and block that experience or I can allow her the space to try and to grow.

It feels like an artistic endeavor, too. In my 9-5 job I’m learning about the process of designing spaces; at home I’m observing the product of that creative expression. And there’s something very satisfying about allowing those worlds to enrich and inform one another.

I’m sure I’ll have much more to add to these ramblings in the years to come. I have a pretty smart tour guide who also happens to look pretty good in a tutu.

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A letter to my daughter on her second birthday

Dear Lena,

Tomorrow you will turn two years old. It’s more than a little cliché to remark on how quickly the time flies.

But, it does.

I’m not the first mother to gaze into her growing child’s eyes and wonder, “Who is this tiny person and when did she learn to do that?”

But, I do.

Loving you, watching you learn and grow, even helping you through big, tough emotions has brought me more joy than I ever could have imagined. I see you. I really see you, and I am in awe.

When you’re older you won’t remember this time in your life so let me (very inadequately and inarticulately) tell you my impressions of you at almost two years old.

 

You are empathetic and kind. Often you ask me, softly and inquisitively, “Mommy, can I hold my baby doll? Can I kiss her?” When you hear another child cry at the playground, you look around and then say to me, “He sad and miss his mommy.” Last week when you saw one of the characters on Daniel Tiger was upset you said, “She scared. I scared sometimes, too.”

You are curious. “What is that noise?” What’s her name?” “What is this song?” “What is thaaat?” All day long Daddy and I field your questions as you encounter the world. I love to ask you back, “What do you think about it?” These little conversations are without a doubt, the best part of my day. Laughing with you and hearing about how you see things is beautiful. (Ask me one day about our conversation about vulvas!…)

You have strong opinions. Since day one, you’ve known what you wanted. You cried and wailed as a baby until we learned to tune into what you were saying. As you grow, we communicate more easily and get a glimpse into what you’re thinking and feeling. Sometimes it’s overwhelming for us, as I’m sure it is for you, but it’s also astounding to see just how much you’re observing and processing about your world.

You are joyful. Going for a walk, snuggling with mommy, or finding a new rock regularly elicits the exclamation, “This is ah-mazin’!!” I think you already understand it’s often the small parts of the day that bring the most happiness, something I’m not sure most adults realize. I hope you never, ever lose that spark.

I don’t expect you to understand the way that your parents see you until or unless you have children yourself. I know I didn’t. We love you unconditionally, you know that. But I want to tell you that the most important thing is how you see yourself. And baby girl, you are perfect.

I don’t mean that you do everything perfectly, or that perfection is even desirable or obtainable. What I mean is that you are a whole, complete, stunning, complex person, just as you are.

There is no missing piece out there waiting to fulfill you. You are not the career you choose or the mistakes you make. You are not a partially formed person waiting to grow up to become full. Your life will be shaped by your experiences but you are more than them. You already ARE you and always will be.

Happy, happy birthday, Lena. I can’t wait to start on our next adventure. I know it will be ah-mazin’.

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–Mommy

 

 

 

It was the best of times, it was the toddlerest of times

This has been a week, my friends.

It started so well. On Sunday night, Lena surprised us by finally reaching a long overdue milestone—she slept in her own room, in her own bed, alone, all night from 8pm to 7am with NO wake ups. Not one. She’s 17 months old and this is a first. Please, spare me the stories of your kid who has slept through the night since they were 4 months old because SCREW YOU. Just kidding. (But not really).

We figured this was a one time deal so we had low expectations for the following night. Amazingly, the kidlet snoozed from 8:15pm to 5:40am again in her own bed, alone. No wake ups.

Well, last night was a different story.

She fought sleep and finally drifted off at 8:30, only to wake up three hours later, at which time I decided to crawl in bed with her. She wanted to nurse all night, of course. When I wouldn’t let her, she screamed and flailed. When I relented, she dozed but insisted on lying DIRECTLY ON TOP of me and twitching until 6:30 in the morning when she unceremoniously opened her eyes and literally walked out of bed. Thanks, kid.

So after a crap night I had the great idea to wrangle the child, a stroller, and a bag that weighed roughly the same as a small pony, onto the train and into Center City so we could play at the splash pad. There were highs—Lena’s smiling, eager face as she saw the train approach; watching her joyfully collect water in her cup and dump it out. Then there were the lows—the screaming, smacking, and throwing herself on the dirty ground when I attempted to remove her from a dangerous situation; the running off half naked down the Ben Franklin Parkway as I attempted to change her diaper. Oh, and the 15 minutes of crying on the train ride home because she was tired and over it.

Wawa!!!
Wawa!!!
OVER. IT.
OVER. IT.

My point of telling this boring, tedious story is that joy is often wrapped up in a brown paper bag filled with a steaming pile of dog shit. This dichotomy is not only healthy, but so universal and ordinary, that it’s a wonder why we act so surprised when cruddy things happen alongside wonderful things. Let’s not let the toddlerest of moments ruin our day, our week, our lives.

Cherish the good. Remember that the bad is almost always a phase. And drink copious amounts of coffee and gin.

–Heather