I filled a glass syrup jug with water and whistled for Adela’s amusement, presenting it like a really neat trick. Then I said, “Wait! Let me show you what happens when I put MORE water in! What do you think’s gonna happen?”
Adela answered, gleefully: “The sound is gonna come out higher!”
Did she intuit that? Is she a musician? Am I too easily stupefied?
It’s not just Adela; I believe in the innate wisdom of children and see shreds of evidence that genius is endowed at birth, and fades, erodes, gets clouded over the more layers of culture are laid on top of it. Most important of the faculties we’re equipped with is INTUITION. We, in our new age movements, in our coaching circles and manifesting meetups and writing workshops, ply an ounce from the breast of our own INTUITION and celebrate our AHA! moments.
But imagine a steady stream! That’s the brilliant mind of a child. It runs clear and unpolluted, until…
Well, it looks like this family has a handle on cultivating intelligence—allowing it to flourish and fruit to its potential by leaving it undisturbed—call it Wild Intelligence.
Anatomy, biology, acoustics, entomology, medicine, structural engineering… We’re hypothesis-forming machines, and there’s an existential frustration that accompanies unanswered, or untested hypotheses. There’s a buildup of residue.
I’ve seen two recent posts on different Facebook parenting group pages by parents who ask, “HOW in the WORLD do I get my TODDLER to stop asking WHY?”
And I’m thinking, the question is, how do I get my toddler to NEVER stop?
The GOOD thing is, residue can be removed—either by returning to a familiar primal or precognitive state, through immersing in nature, dunking in the ocean, hugging your mom, swinging on a swing… or by leaving your comfort zone for a new sensation or sport that demands your full participation (a.k.a., flow psychology as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi).
I’m just buzzing with excitement over every one of our child’s discoveries or proofs; I’m staring into a mirror that reflects my own evolution, so it’s a self-study, as well, of how I got to be who I am; how the world shapes us; and maybe reminds me of some innate potential I’ve let become obscured by clouds.
Almost every parent is motivated to correct for mistakes that have been made in our own lives, and to filter information and chemicals that may reach our child—with my own body I filtered Adela’s intake for the first years of her life. And why not add intelligence-boosting “vitamins” to her “diet”?
In the most recent case, we’re inheriting a piano! I am absolutely thrilled, because David and I have been hoping for a miraculously priced, used upright piano to float into our sphere. We saw a flyer and phoned, but it had already been taken; we point wistfully to piano stores as we pass them, and wonder aloud whether they sell reconditioned pianos and how much one could possibly cost; we admire our friends with uprights in their living rooms… we’ve bided our time until our chance to play came. Sure enough, a fellow synagogue member is giving away a white upright piano, and we just need to get it moved THIS WEEK! (I need a Kickstarter campaign just for that. But anyway…)
There’s something magical about these soft chocolate cocoa cookies. When I made them Saturday, and my husband came home from covering an event, he ate six of them!
So, I made another batch.
When I gave one to our cleaning lady to try, her eyes widened and she clutched her chest. “These remind me of my grandmother’s cookies!” she said. She went on, “My heart is beating so fast! I’m going to cry. I haven’t tasted anything like this since I saw her. It’s exactly how she used to make them!”
“How long ago did you see her?” I asked, and the answer was fourteen years. Her “mamita” is 95 and on life support in Colombia. She called her cookies “negritas.” Clara closed her eyes and swayed, and savored every bite, moaning with pleasure. At the same time, tears glistened on her cheeks. Never has my cooking had such an effect on someone. I imagined a day in the far distant future when I would taste a combination of ingredients, textures, and aromas that evoke a memory of my dear mother and her fabulous cooking. Books and films such as “Like Water for Chocolate” have portrayed the transcendental power of cooking, but I’d never experienced it firsthand. (Though certain smells, like a particular laundry soap, can whisk me back to breezy mountaintops of Nicaragua where sheets line dry beside thatch-roofed huts…)
I packed the whole batch into a tub for Clara to take home, and will share the recipe with her. And I made another batch last night. They’re disappearing. When I described them to my sister in an email, she said they sounded “dangerous.” She’s right; they are dangerously delicious. And so easy to make! Total time including prep and baking is 25 minutes.
1/2 cup butter or 1/2 cup margarine
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup cocoa (I used Ghirardelli’s unsweetened)
1 large egg
2/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
Some chocolate chips
1. Cream butter and brown sugar; add egg.
2. Sift dry ingredients and add to butter/sugar mixture alternately with milk.
3. Add vanilla.
4. Stir in chocolate chips.
5. Drop by spoonfuls on ungreased cookie sheet. (I treat with a fine mist of Spectrum Organic coconut oil spray.)
6. Bake 8-12 minutes at 400°F; do not overbake.
7. Ice with chocolate icing, if desired. I sprinkle vanilla sugar on top.
I had a breakthrough moment with our daughter that I’m eager to share.
At certain skills, I’m a perpetual beginner. Starting and starting again, back to square one, even though I’d like to build a skill, a discipline, a practice. I’ve been a beginner-level yogi since…oh… 2004. I first visited Kripalu yoga retreat in 2009 and did an excellent program called “Yoga and Kayaking.” We’d set off at 5am on the glassy waters of a lake in the Berkshires, kayak to the edge of the forest, park our kayaks, and practice yoga in the forest. This was an awesome experience.
I’m happy to say I’ve gotten back into yoga since a forced hiatus this summer/fall, when I tore both my ACL and meniscus in my knee.
I had the privilege of hearing Ina May Gaskin speak at the Museum of Motherhood this past March. Ina May is a midwife and activist who inspired a movement to make midwifery accessible to the American masses. Museum of Motherhood is a special space on the upper east side where women collaborate to form enlightened experiences surrounding all aspects of motherhood. Women, it is an amazing place and I highly recommend a visit. It was here that I found our two-year-old daughter her very own, pint-sized yoga mat. Actually, Adela had been exposed to yoga since she was an infant.
My latest discovery has been key to a daily practice. It’s a web site called YogaGlo. For $18/month you get unlimited classes over video ~ and they’re top quality. You can sort by level, style, teacher, and duration. This lets me squeeze a 20-minute yoga sequence in when I’m pressed for time, or attempt a 60-minute class when possible. Adela has been pretty good at following along with me on her yoga mat. But lately her attention and patience have been limited (she’s just shy of three years old). She’ll start out in standing poses with me, do a few downard facing dogs, then climb on me, then pull my hair, then get ornery and demanding. Lately I’ve been able to do about 10 minutes of yoga before the antics start and my practice is cut short.
One recent morning, she was discouraged by the difficulty of the class I’d chosen. “I can’t do it,” she said. “You’re doing great,” I said. “I’m not as good as you are,” she said sadly. And she said it twice.
I heard her. My heart heard her. My memory heard her. I was reminded of the time I tried to go running with my husband. He was just faster and it came easier to him and I felt inadequate and insecure and irritable. (I’d been jogging decently on my own, but our bodies and paces are mismatched and it’s nobody’s fault.) (I prefer to run solo; I have no desire or ability to carry on conversation while running ~ and that same nagging inferiority complex bubbles up.)
Instead of stubbornly putting my needs first, I remembered I’d been saving Yoga Kit for Kids in the closet for a rainy day. SHE LOVED IT! I fanned out the flash cards, each showing a child doing a yoga pose with a cute name assigned to it (Flower, Bug, Frog, Peacock, Waterfall, and more), and asked her to pick a random card. Then we’d perfect the pose together, on our individual mats. I thought we’d do 10 cards, but we ended up doing all 25! She held her concentration for half an hour. We both felt great when it was done. Our plan is to keep practicing and put on a yoga demonstration for daddy when we’re ready. Bug and Turtle poses are hard and will require more practice!
This is where I reflect on a useful concept called the zone of proximal development—the sweet spot where a task is neither so easy it bores the learner, nor so difficult that achievement is impossible. Yoga Kit for Kids, plus my willingness to tune in, pay attention, and spend quality time teaching and learning with my daughter, gave me the wonderful feeling of being in the sweet spot, in the zone.
It’s so rewarding when you put down the phone, computer, or other distraction and just connect with your kid over something they’re interested in. It’s an accomplishment to receive and act on their signals.
It’s hard to put a name to the combination of love and magic and responsibilities fulfilled when a good connection is felt by parent and child. But you know it when it happens and it’s worth sharing. I would love to hear about times when other parents felt synchronicity with their kids. What was the setting and were there any props or tools that facilitated learning on both your parts?
I thought last summer was the most amazing summer of my life, but looking back through the pictures from this summer, I’m convinced that this one may have been the best.
We visited Hart’s Brook Nature Preserve, where we tasted a dozen varieties of tomato grown by expert botanists, and we saw a snake eating a frog! That day we enjoyed apple cider donuts at Westchester Greenhouse, and had fun exploring the fields and tractors out back.
I participated in a political rally organized by ImprovingBirth.org. About a hundred women gathered in front of Beth Israel Hospital with signs and chants to promote women’s freedom of choice and better education around birth, for better outcomes.
I took an art class in Brooklyn and made a beautiful, living terrarium. This was rare, dedicated “me time” with a creative product as a memento, and a new skill I could use again and again. Here’s a collage of the class that shows my terrarium in the bottom left corner:
My parents came to visit. The whole family went to Stepping Stones Museum. That week I also visited the 9/11 Memorial, which was on my list of things to do for a long time. I hosted my parents’ friends from Australia for dinner and made my famous stuffed peppers.
We explored a cemetery near our house that I’d been curious about for two years. Some of the tombstones are more than 200 years old. There’s history in my neighborhood. Though Adela attended an unveiling with us once, this was her first exploration of a cemetery, and not for any sad reason. To her, it was just another environment to discover.
We went to Greenburgh Nature Center with almost all of the moms from Adela’s pre-pre-school class. It was the culmination of our self-determined cohesion that lasted after the program ended. Class had met every Monday, and we decided to continue meeting Mondays for most of the summer, at different playgrounds or people’s houses. In addition to outdoor enclosures for bald eagles and owls and hawks, the Nature Center has an indoor live animal collection, where the children were able to pet chinchillas, snakes, turtles, lizards, and hedgehogs. We also enjoyed a small butterfly enclosure with tons of monarchs landing on us. I had as much fun as the kids did–maybe more. Look at my face in this picture:
We visited our good friends upstate and went fishing as a family for the first time. My husband got a video of me trying to release a squirmy fish from the line. He took a still from the video that shows me sticking out my tongue in a horrible face that I’ll never be able to live down. Our daughter learned a lot of new language and skills that weekend. We even came home with a child’s fishing pole that I’d hoped to use again this season, but never got a chance to.
We went blueberry picking for the first time, in Massachusetts. We went swimming at a water hole, and I regret not diving in, but sometimes you’re just not in the mood to get your head wet.
We went to a Mets game as a family and met Eli Manning. It’s the beginning of daddy-daughter bonding over sports. We as parents both hope it lasts, because he’ll get to share his passion while I will probably claim some “me time” while they attend sporting events or watch on the big screen. I like meeting the athletes and sitting in box seats; I just don’t tolerate crowds and noise like I used to.
We went to the Bronx Zoo as a family. This may be a common pastime for many, but we only went once, and it was special and memorable—especially since we’d made up a song with the following lyrics, and sang it all the time until we finally went:
Mommy, Daddy, and Adela
Mommy Daddy and Adela Ru
Together we go to the Bronx Zoo
So, when we finally went, it was the fulfillment of a prophecy and it was exhausting. Some of my friends have memberships to the zoo and go all the time. I’d like to go more often, but not that often. Adela was scared green by the carousel, and it will be nice to revisit and see her enjoy it next time (hopefully). I’ve never ridden the monorail, and I’d like to, in spite of or maybe because of the recent psycho stunt a guy pulled when he jumped off the monorail into the tiger enclosure and lived to tell the public, “I’m not crazy. I just wanted to be one with the tigers.”
I planted a garden. This is something I’d conceived of probably as early as 2008 when I started hunting for a place to live with private green space. I had the option of using Big Apple Edibles to “install” a garden from the bottom up. A friend had given us a generous invitation to use their services. As it turned out, the basic service varied greatly in price from the full service, which would include a necessary fence to keep out deer, since we are in the deer’s migratory path and our neighborhood is adjacent to a forest preserve. So, along with the huge project of cleaning up the property buffer at the rear of our property, I took it upon myself to establish an 8′ x 14′ garden where there previously had been lawn. I turned over the earth myself, scoured local nurseries for organic seedlings to plant, and built an elaborate fence around and tent covering the whole thing. My daughter was by my side every step of the process, and it was a fantastic fresh-air activity for us to do together. The pleasure of eating the vegetables that succeeded is immeasurable. We’re still enjoying tomatoes almost daily in October.
I tore my ACL and my meniscus and did about 9 weeks of physical therapy all summer. That sucked! I did quite a bit of hiking with my papoose in spite of the injury, but was not as ambitious or active as I’d hoped to be at the outset of summer.
Why would I replay the highlights of my summer for you? Because, details and destinations aside, what made it the most amazing summer was seeing all the sights through a two-year-old’s eyes…. and ears and nose and mouth and delicate fingers. I don’t know if every parent feels this way about their own kid, but ours is marvelously sensual. To watch her get to know her world through taste and touch and smell is just a wildly sensational trip for me!
When I started shooting with a macro lens a handful of years ago, I knew I’d found a good medium to express my vision; my child, as en extension of myself, is like another macro lens, that enables me to see the world up close and experience it in vivid detail—more than my own naked eyes could ever see unassisted.
I just want to feed her hunger for tactile stimulation by showing her bumpy gourds and furry caterpillars and ice cold ponds. I want to teach her the skill an amazing music teacher taught me: how to dissect the layers of the soundscape and be an active listener, able to parse out the individual instruments in a symphony—either a musical symphony or an impromptu symphony of environmental sounds. I have a strong agenda to impart a love of nature to her, and it seems to come easily, which delights me to no end. I want to grow her brain and multiply her synapses and thrill her and soothe her and endow her with a diverse and healthy palate.
I want another summer like this one. I want another child to do it all again with. To keep me young and experiencing things for the first time, making the mundane seem miraculous. I’ve always sported insatiable curiosity—if I see an intriguing door, I just have to open it, or an alluring ladder, I just have to climb it—and the suburbs, believe it or not, are an adequate playground for these exercises, with child in tow.
We haven’t even entered the memorial, and already I feel something. Memories of where I was when United Flight #175 struck the World Trade Center south tower come rushing back vividly. American Flight #11 had already crashed into the north tower at 8:46AM. I was staring at the fire and smoke coming out of the first tower when the second plane crashed at 9:03AM. I was joined by hundreds of people on Fifth Avenue at 29thStreet, where we could see straight downtown. Traffic had been halted. We were all standing in the streets. I watched the antennae on top of the building wobble, and suddenly the building buckled and came crashing down. The scale of the damage we’d just witnessed put us into shock. People arrived toting radios and it was clear: We were under attack. The fear didn’t compel us to take cover, however. We just stood in awe and watched. We were close to the Empire State Building and it was being evacuated. We were out there at least an hour and a half, long enough to watch both towers fall.
I have flashbacks while waiting in line to see the memorial for the first time. I’m with my parents who are visiting from out of town with friends from Australia.
My mom remembers me calling her, reporting what I was seeing.
I’ll never forget when someone told me, “Turn around.” When I turned around to look uptown, I faced a sea of onlookers whose expressions revealed sheer terror. Strangers clung to one another and people shrieked in grief and horror. We thought we were seeing people jump from the buildings, but we did not want to believe what we were seeing falling from the buildings were actually people. We said things like, “Those can’t be people. Are people jumping? That must be debris.”
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I love novelty. I love exploring the world through the eyes of my daughter, who’s experiencing everything for the first time. Her awe and wonder is contagious—and also, I realize, I’m experiencing many things for the first time, as well, which totally satisfies my constant craving for novelty. It’s safe to say I haven’t lost the childlike tendency to experiment and be surprised with the results.
Sometimes I write about family activities and trips, like our unforgettable adventure in El Salvador. Other times I document life with a papoose. And then I revel in my solo adventures. The thread throughout is, “If I can do it, so can you.” I’m all about conquering fears, getting out of one’s comfort zone, keeping stimulated, and finding beauty in ordinary encounters.
The following photo essay may make some people uncomfortable. I posted one pic on Facebook and heard “Why are you taking her there?” THAT tells me I’m doing something right. Just like I have pregnancy pics of myself on a ladder hammering nails when I was ready to pop, these photos juxtapose elements you wouldn’t normally see together: the child and the tombstone. (I think this essay was inspired more than two years ago, when I set Adela’s car seat beside her namesake’s tombstone and snapped a pic. That was admittedly eerie.)
A child in a cemetery for the first time doesn’t know what she’s looking at. To her, it’s an exploration of obelisks; a nature path through a grove of flat stones; a new place with new shapes and textures. Noticing the age of the stones was, of course, sublime for me. Many were so worn that the dates weren’t visible, but, as you can see below, they’re almost 200 years old. There were many children’s tombstones, which counted the age of the child to the day. This cemetery is by our house. Is there any scene near your home that you’ve passed numerous times and been curious to explore? This is me saying, “Go ahead and take a look around. Satisfy your curiosity.”
Spending 11 hours a day most days of the week with a toddler, while enjoyable, can be mentally dulling. I find it increasingly important for my sanity and creativity to attend the occasional lecture, film, or, in this case, art class. (Special thanks to my hubby and his mom for enabling me to get away for the day.)
On Sunday I attended a 3-hour workshop on urban terrarium art, in a really cool neighborhood called Gowanus, Brooklyn. We all brought in bric-a-brac to include in our art, and the amazing instructor, Kim Holleman, provided unique glass vessels, live plants, and more treasures to design with. It’s a shame I didn’t bring my good camera. The following photo essay was shot on my iPhone.
Something I didn’t know going in: Photos, paper, coins, and other materials won’t do well in the terrarium. You really want to display items that won’t decay, while the plant grows in the biosphere.
Watching it evolve will be totally cool. It has a living plant in it, that I guess I’ll have to water.
Arranging the minutiae into a balanced ecosystem challenged, frustrated, and satisfied my perfectionist tendency. Having seen one or two students scrap their projects and start over, I was afraid to make the next move sometimes. Then there were these moments of surrender where I just had to drop the next element into my very vertical vessel, and sighs of relief when I didn’t fuck the whole thing up.
I’ve always dug miniature and microscopic worlds. I was really into macro photography for a while.
Having a new skill—and a finished product—at the end is rewarding. I hope you like what I made! I’m now on the lookout for another unique glass vessel so I can try my hand at terrarium building again.
Traveling to a new neighborhood is always stimulating.
Do you get updates about lectures, classes, continuing education, or side trips that you’ve wanted to try? Go ahead and do a one-day seminar! It’s low commitment and the ROI is high.