Lucidité

Musings on language, images and life

You

You awaken with a start. Not your mother’s protracted stretching ritual. More like your father. Fast. Ready for it all. You’re sitting up, greeting me with wide eyes. In you, I see everyone you love most. Tonight, as you move from sleep-state to wakefulness, I see your great-grandmother’s smile. For a millisecond, she beams through you. You. Undeniably you. I hold you to my chest. You raise your face to mine. As you bite my nose, hard, familiar tears rush to my eyes. I exhale and thank everything for you.

Advertisements

Forever Young

Last weekend, we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday. Between the domestic work of hosting a party (a pleasure, but work nonetheless) and the parenting work of making sure the birthday girl was rested, fed, bathed, and clothed in a relatively saliva-free dress, somehow the actual event of her turning one had slipped through the proverbial cracks.

There had been emotion, yes. I reminisced about her birth—the moment I felt her leave my body, the first time I looked into those dark, curious eyes— the night before, while rocking her to sleep and planting kisses on her silky mess of auburn hair. My heart filled with gratitude for a healthy, beautiful child. While cleaning the bathroom on the morning of her birthday, I shed tears of sadness over the fact that her great-grandmother didn’t live long enough to see her turn one, and tears of joy that she was able to spend seven months watching her “doll baby” grow. However, I hadn’t allowed myself to feel the swell of pride, to experience the sheer profoundness of my child turning one. Not yet, at least.

When it came time to open gifts, I was somewhat surprised to see a present from my parents— they had delivered a scooter the night before, and I knew they planned on putting money into her college savings fund. As my husband helped the birthday girl rip into the package, my dad reached for his guitar. The wrapping paper was torn away to reveal a gorgeous hardcover copy of Forever Young, by Bob Dylan, with Paul Rogers’ vivid illustrations. My dad started softly strumming and singing “Forever Young” in his warm, resonant voice— the voice of my childhood.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you…

My joyful one-year-old teetered over to her grandpa and helped him strum. Across the room, my mom’s beaming face shed 32 years. As a family, we traveled back in time—as young, idealistic parents, they sang this song to me when I was one, and in the years to follow.

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

The birthday girl made her way around the coffee table, grinning widely at those who had come to celebrate her, and my heart opened. Completely. Her happiness became my happiness.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

As these lyrics—at once simple and profound—filled the room, I felt whole, confident in my parenting for the first time since she entered the world. This is what I want for my daughter. To be righteous. To be true. To be courageous. To be strong. We live in a world filled with benchmarks, titles, and external rewards. Yet, at the end of the day, none of this matters without a strong sense of self, a strong sense of justice and community.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Maria Montessori, a renowned Italian educator and humanitarian, writes in Childhood and Adolescence: “The human personality needs to be prepared for the unforeseen. The power of adapting is essential.” My hope for my daughter is that she will be able to adapt to the “shifting winds” just as her father and I have— just as her grandfather and grandmother have shown me how to do for many years.

As my dad finished the song, I realized the extent to which these lyrics shaped the way my parents raised me and how, in turn, they impact my own ideals for my child. My job is to help her develop this strong foundation, to help her become who she will be to the world. What an indescribable privilege it is to be entrusted with guiding and loving this luminous person.

Anyone looking in our window last Saturday would have seen a grandpa playing a guitar, a grandma smiling proudly, a one-year-old bouncing to the music, a papa singing along, and a mama with wet eyes. Gifts were being exchanged—the most important kind of gifts, those you feel with your whole heart and soul— music, legacies, promises and love, boundless love.

Finding Ballast

For my mother, as she honors the memory of her mother this Mother’s Day.

I am incredibly fortunate to have lived 33 years without losing one of my favorite people in the world. That means when it happened, I was woefully unprepared when it came to understanding how it all works— how to deal with the waves of emotions that become stingingly intense at their peak, before washing out into a state of calm, of acceptance.

My heart has always gone out to those who are grieving. I like to think that I’ve offered them support, remaining open and available when it came to what they needed and when. However, the grieving process itself was never something I understood. Not that I completely understand it now—given the intensely personal nature of grief, the topic as a whole remains elusive—but at least I feel capable of starting to write about my own experience. Perhaps it will resonate with you, too.

Processing the death of a loved one is a delicate balance between hurting, healing, and preserving the memory of that person. Sometimes these elements converge messily, and feelings well up without warning. Sometimes the emotional tasks involved with each stage are crystal clear, leaving us wondering why we couldn’t view them this way mere moments ago.

This is our challenge as the ones left behind: to get to a point where the memory outshines the grief—where we live in a state of cherishing instead of a state of sadness. For those of us who admit we don’t fully understand the afterlife, this project can be even more daunting. We trust that our memories—both the ones we have of those who have left us, and the ones we are in the process of making with those who remain—will get us there, one day at a time.

When milestones approach that leave us bobbing in the expanse between pain and the desire to honor our loved one, we find ballast in the form of a favorite saying, a familiar scent, or a luminous photo. We continue on our journey, living the lives our loved ones would want for us—in doing so, we honor them, and they are never far from our hearts.

Clutching

Clutching. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past month. Clutching to anything that reminds us of her. This is the reason I walked out of her apartment yesterday with a box of tchotchkes I never would have wanted a mere month ago, when she was still here, when I still had her in my life. But wanting to see, hear, smell and touch someone, yet knowing you can’t, produces unexpected reactions to “stuff” — the stuff she saw, heard, touched and smelled every day for many, many years. The stuff that reminds me of her.

“What the hell am I doing?” I laugh as I maneuver a wall hanging into my trunk. “You’re grieving,” my sister responds, grabbing one end of the frame. “You’re moving through it. This is all part of it.” She’s right. The wall hanging is big, it’s not especially attractive, the frame is broken, and pieces of metal are falling off of it. But it seeing it transports me to when I was a kid, when I would visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house, this idyllic place. I can’t bear to think of it getting dusty on a shelf at the local Goodwill. So I rescue it. For a brief moment, I have the illusion of control.

The last hand-written note Grandma gave me has been sitting on my buffet for a couple of months. I hand it to Mom. A tangible reminder. Something recent. Something to help her— maybe to help me, too. Her eyes well up as she reads it and hands it back to me. “Nice,” she murmurs. “So nice, Jenno.” I place it back on the buffet. After Mom leaves that night, I open it.

My dear Jenny —- Thank you for your time, talent, but most of all, love in writing my memories. The book is beautiful and proof positive I’ve been blessed abundantly!

The “stuff” will come and go. Some of the really meaningful things, the family heirlooms, will belong to my daughter someday. As Grandma always used to say, “You can’t take it with you.” But her words—these heartfelt and hopefully prophetic words—will remain with me forever.

I pray you continue to use your writing talent for the enjoyment of others…

With love and gratitude,

Grandma

Legacy

I was honored to give the eulogy at my dear grandmother’s funeral last month. Friends and family who were unable to make it to the funeral have requested to read it, so I’ve decided to share it here. I will never forget the cathartic, healing process of writing this in the days following her passing, and sharing these thoughts with those who loved her so deeply. I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity.

February 16, 2012

Since our beloved Pat passed away last Sunday, the concept of legacy has been on my mind. A legacy is something that is passed on from an ancestor or predecessor. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that Pat would quickly deny she set out to leave any sort of legacy. With genuine modesty, she would insist that “legacy” was too grand a word.

But I ask Grandma Pat and all of you to bear with me for a moment. After all, the longest lasting legacies aren’t always planned or premeditated; instead, they are built slowly and steadily… day by day, act by act.

Pat’s legacy is right here, in this room. It resides deep inside our hearts and souls. If you are here today, it is because Pat touched your life in some way. At last night’s memorial, we heard stories about Pat’s powerful presence as a person— a combination of Doris Day and Lucille Ball as my aunt so aptly put it— the way she walked into a room and just lit it up.  We recalled of some of her unforgettable sayings like “a cat from every alley” and “everything needs salt.”  We were reminded of how Pat’s competitive streak revealed itself during shuffleboard and croquet matches. We each have our own stories about Pat. Likewise, the impact she made on each of our lives is unique.

In talking with Pat’s family and friends over the past few days, a resounding theme emerged: love. Pat was such a loving person.  And she translated this love into action. Each time she made soup for a sick friend or family member, each time she offered her mass for someone special, each time she brought a bud vase with a beautiful flower to a friend, each time she tutored a young student, each time she stood up for what was right, she modeled how to live a life of love. For many, Pat was a refuge, a trusted confidant, known for her keen listening skills and her readiness to offer a pearl of insight when it was needed.

Pat was gifted with the ability to cut through superficial boundaries and find common ground, to accept and to truly understand those around her. What’s even more impressive is that she regularly took the time to do this, while bringing communion to friends in nursing homes, chatting over coffee after daily mass with her dear friends, calling and visiting with family members, and serving her church community in numerous ways. Pat knew how to connect with people and how to connect people with one another, and she used this gift throughout her life, most recently at The Glenn, where she introduced long time friends to people who were new to the area, facilitating friendships and fostering a sense of community.

These seemingly simple day-to-day actions have engendered something so profound, so meaningful, that we were all compelled to gather here today to celebrate this admirable woman’s life.

The English term legacy finds its roots in the Latin legatus meaning “ambassador or envoy.” How fitting. While Pat was living her life and building her legacy, she was also creating ambassadors in each of us, calling us to live lives of love.

Over the past year, I had the privilege of helping Grandma Pat write her memoir. A vibrant woman who grew up in Wadena, Minnesota, moved to the Twin Cities to study nursing and then work as a nurse, married one of the first neurosurgeons in Minnesota, raised 5 wonderful children, traveled the world, and maintained many great and lasting friendships, Grandma had her fair share of fascinating tales.

As I recorded our interview sessions over the past year, I learned many things about Grandma Pat. It will come as no surprise that her memoir is completely focused on her wonderful relationships, the relationships she had with all of you. Toward the end of the project, I asked her to describe her life in a single paragraph. This is not an easy task, but Pat approached it with grace and honesty, just as she lived her life. I want to share with you what she said. As we celebrate the life of Patricia Breher Blake, I hope her own words bring you both peace and joy.

“I have truly enjoyed every phase of my life and I consider myself to be a happy person. As I look back on my life, I am grateful for many things. Raising my family, going on trips with Paul, spending time with my friends and enjoying our reciprocal love. I’ve enjoyed my volunteer work at all stages. I am enjoying retirement and my life now. I love spending time with my children, grandchildren and great-grandchild, watching them all progress so beautifully in their lives. My heart is filled with gratitude for life’s many blessings.”


Windows

I’ve begun to look at life as a series of windows. Windows of time, I mean. Temporal spaces we inhabit with unique roles to fill in each one. Exactly 13 months ago, I was riding shotgun in my dad’s car, five months pregnant, tearing up as I explained to him that I wasn’t reaching my professional goals. “I’m just not where I thought I would be by age 32,” I explained to him. “And here I am getting ready to have a baby, which means my career will most likely come to a screeching halt.” Dad took it all in, like he always does. We sat for a few moments in silence.

“Your job is just different now. It’s no less important, even though right now you may think it is. There is so much wonder ahead for you.” I believed him, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I should have published, or at least translated, a great novel by now. My company should be more successful (whatever that means). I should have traveled more. I should be more than I am. I continued to spiral, feeling like I hadn’t reached my apex yet, like I should have done more before deciding to have a child. I was resisting the window.

The weeks following Lyla’s birth, I started to understand what my dad had so simply, yet articulately, conveyed to me that day. As the months passed, I learned about the wonderfully all-consuming role that is motherhood. I learned what it feels like to go days without enough sleep, without a shower (much less time to think or write). I learned what it feels like to love unconditionally and fully, to feel more needed and more purposeful than I have ever felt before. This is the window in which I exist right now. When I fall into bed at the end of the day, I am overcome by a different kind of exhaustion than I have ever felt before, the kind of exhaustion that is the result of another human relying on you for each and every need. Exhausted from the intimacy, from the intensity of it all, yet unable to stop looking at this breathtaking little person sleeping so soundly. What a crazy beautiful window.

That said, it’s also a challenging window. It challenges me to examine who I am and what I want from life. There are many parents who are happy to swap their own dreams for the dreams of their children. I honor and respect them. For better or for worse, I am not one of them. There’s a fire in my gut that won’t quit. I need to write, to create, to do. I need to pour myself into projects that move me. I need to use my resources and make the time so that I can accomplish these things, for my own good, for the good of my family.

This window also challenges me to think about the long-term happiness of another very important person. I want, more than anything, to see Lyla discover her passions, to thrive in the moment, to feel a chill run down her spine when she hears a certain melody, when she sees the Matterhorn for the first time, when she reads (or creates) a theory that blows her mind. If I’ve learned one thing these past six months, it’s that she is a curious and open soul, someone who’s ready to take in (and take on) the world. This thrills me to no end.

It might be difficult, and it will definitely be messy at times, but I’ve decided we, the Bouchard three, can have it all. Three passionate souls, striving for our dreams, feeding each others’ interests and passions, truly sharing and rejoicing in not only who we are to one another, but in who we are to the world.

There will be times when my role is to help my husband and daughter become their best selves. There will be other times when I can focus on my passion projects. The windows will continue to shift, and perhaps overlap at times, but the essence of who we are will provide a sense of continuity, a through line.

I will continue to live in a state of gratitude: gratitude that I have not yet reached my apex by any stretch of the imagination, gratitude that my notions of success and happiness are constantly being challenged, gratitude that I have the opportunity to inhabit these incomparable and gratifying windows.

Rising to Fatherhood

Michael’s first “father moment” happened five years ago, even though he probably doesn’t realize this. We were at Bloomingdale’s, registering for wedding gifts. The saleswoman brought us a variety of wine glasses. As she touted the quality of the dazzling collection of lead crystal before us, Michael interrupted her suddenly, dare I say harshly. “Did you say lead crystal? NO. No way. Take these away.” My mom stared at him wide-eyed, still trying to figure out her son-in-law-to-be.

“You didn’t like any of those?” I ventured.

“Lead crystal? No. Drinking from those could screw with your reproductive system. Why chance it?”

I was dumbstruck. At that point, kids were a definite “maybe,” but here he was, concerned with the wellbeing of my reproductive organs (granted, his approach was a little rough around the edges, but the mark of a good father was clearly there).

Michael and I weren’t sure we wanted to be parents. We knew we had the resources (emotional, intellectual, material, etc.) to be good parents, we just didn’t know if we wanted to. When we remind each other of that now, our past ambivalence seems ludicrous. But that’s the place we were in— for years. Our decision to get pregnant was based on that nebulous concept of “readiness.” We both wanted it, but the nature of our desires and our thought processes were very different.

I called him at work on September 23rd, 2010, unable to wait until he got home to tell him I was pregnant.  “Congratulations!” he exclaimed. Congratulations? He came home that afternoon with a 9-month supply of prenatal vitamins, embraced me in the kitchen, buried his head in the crook of my neck and we swayed, just like we did the day Lyla came into the world.

It was a long ten months between our kitchen embrace and our labor room embrace. And our journeys during those ten months couldn’t have been more different. While I completely trusted my intuition and body’s innate knowledge (for the first time in my life), he downloaded any NPR report on pregnancy and childbirth he could get his hands on, intellectualizing everything. While I let tears roll down my cheeks at each ultrasound, falling more and more in love with my child with each flip and flicker, he stood inches away from the screen, sending a barrage of questions toward the ultrasound tech. Whereas I became a mother the moment I saw the coveted two lines on the pregnancy test, he spent ten months rising to fatherhood, one step at a time.

I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for a partner to watch his or her loved one’s belly swell, feeling that little force of nature rise to the surface and kick from time to time. Likewise, I have no idea what it must be like to watch the person you love most in the world enter into the “birthing zone,” grunting, squatting, pushing, refusing your help, bringing your child into the world.

A good friend of mine once said, “A real man is one who can watch his child come into this world.” As I delivered Lyla, Michael’s face was as close as it could possibly to her entryway. I remember feeling extremely proud of him in that moment. I remember falling even deeper in love with him the first time I saw him hold his daughter, seeing him completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of what had just happened.

A few days ago, Michael and Lyla were snuggling in the living room. When I came in to ask if she needed to be fed, he was cradling her head in his hands, singing “I’ve Got the Whole World in My Hands,” sotto voce. I watched them. I cried. My heart swelled. A real man rises to fatherhood. And he has.

Food Source

Written in conjunction with Blog Action Day 2011.

About 4 hours into a relatively short 8-hour natural labor with my daughter, I turned to my sister after moaning and swaying through a particularly arduous contraction and said, “I feel like that cow in the birthing barn at the State Fair.”

“Yeah,” she replied. “It’s a mammal thing.” She was right, and at that moment, I had no idea how intimately connected I would be to my mammalhood (mammalness? mammalitude?) during the coming months.

Before I became one, I didn’t really think about what it would be like to be a food source.  I just figured breastfeeding would be what it would be, end of story. As it turns out, I was right not to over think it. There was no way I could have ever comprehended what it means to be the sole provider of nourishment to a quickly growing human. Along the way, I’ve discovered many things about my place in the world as a food source.

As a food source, I have to trust my body.

The first time I nursed Lyla, it was simultaneously the most natural and the most daunting thing I had ever done. After the postpartum high wore off, I remember thinking, “Wow. It’s all on me. I’m the one who needs to make sure she gets enough food.”

Lyla was a good two weeks overdue, so she came out waterlogged and full of meconium. As all of this passed out of her system, she lost weight quickly. I was pressured by the pediatrician to give her formula. I resisted, knowing this could compromise the success of our nursing relationship. Instead, I trusted that my body would do what it was made to do. Sure enough, it did. My daughter continues to thrive on what I alone can give her.

As a food source, I am envied.

“She loves you so much. She eats what you make. I wish I could give her food, too.” These words were uttered by a bleary-eyed papa as he watched me nursing the babe to sleep one night. Michael has always been in charge of the food in our house; he cooks, grocery shops, and researches food trends/practices/realities to keep us in good health and eating extremely tasty food. The fact that I’m the only one who can feed Lyla has been challenging for him, since feeding people is one of the primary ways in which he shows friends and family he cares about them.

As a food source, I am tired and sore.

There are times when exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding kicks my butt…hard. At the same time, I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is only a short period of time in which I can do this for my daughter, and I know these days will pass quickly.

As a food source, I am more aware of my choices.

It’s mind-blowing how many nutritional options are available to me every day. I realize how fortunate I am; I live in a place where I have access to the best quality food anyone could hope for and I have the means to acquire it. This is a privilege and also a responsibility. Being a food source to another person has made me think more about what I put in my own body, ultimately making me a healthier and more engaged person. It is my responsibility to help sustain those who are working to provide healthy, fresh food so that eventually these opportunities will become more prevalent and accessible to all. It is also my responsibility to help open up access to food choices to those who do not have the means to purchase nutritious food for themselves and their children. We’re all in this together.

As a food source, I am powerful.

Each time I look at my daughter, I am awed by how much she has grown. I am grateful to my body for providing what she needs to thrive. There is so much power in the female body. Not only can I nourish her physically, but also emotionally as I cradle her, sing to her and speak softly to her. The nursing relationship is so complete, so full.

As a food source, I am humbled.

I am humbled when I think of single mothers who nurse to exhaustion. I am humbled by mothers who nurse multiples and those who tandem nurse. I am humbled when I think of women who go without so that their children will have enough to eat. I am humbled by women who go to the hospital every day to nurse their sick infants. What strength, what perseverance, what love.

As a food source, I am connected.

Every day, I feel connected to the sisterhood of women who feed and nurture their children, not only at the breast, but in other ways as well. When I feed Lyla, I think of the women who have fed children in various ways over the centuries. What an amazing gift we have. What an awesome responsibility.

I am proud to be taking part in Blog Action Day OCT 16 2011 www.blogactionday.org

35 Years: Musings on the Power of Love

For Barb and Dan Westmoreland on their 35th wedding anniversary.

My parents are a power couple. No, not the kind with his and hers BMWs, inflated egos and power suits— the kind that lovingly changes lives, one person at a time. Tomorrow they will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. For those who know them well, this milestone of love and commitment comes as no surprise. After all, Barb and Dan’s marriage is a microcosm of how they live their lives— with gusto, compassion, and devotion.

A few weeks ago, I came across a photo of my parents on their second date (to the Renaissance Festival) in 1972. My second comment (after mocking whatever mismatched…er…”fashion-forward?” polyester apparel my dad was sporting—you know, obligatory daughter stuff) upon seeing it was “Wow. It’s amazing to think that you had a life before us.” I was only half-kidding. It blows my mind to think of my parents meeting, dating and falling in love. I can’t fathom the fact that, just like the rest of us who have made commitments to partners, they went through that heady period of truly getting know each other—the good comes first, of course, followed by the not so good—the exhilaration, the vulnerabilities, the anxieties, the desires, the setbacks, the personality flaws that you finally decide you can work with, the love that you can’t imagine living without. Even though I’ve seen the photos and heard the recording of my dad’s emotion-filled voice singing to his bride, it’s hard for me to imagine them taking this major step in their lives together— committing to be there for each other, to have and to hold, from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do they part.

That’s because, when it comes to the Barb and Dan I’ve known my entire life, this sense of love and commitment has always been a given. Their relationship is not perfect; I’ve never seen one that is. However, the bedrock is solid. I’ve seen them withstand some intense challenges over the years— dying parents, struggling friends, and I know there have been periods when Annie or I stressed them to the max. They’ve always rolled up their sleeves, dug right in, and dealt with the problem at its root. As I look back on those times, the thing that strikes me most is their partnership. Whatever challenge Mom was facing became Dad’s challenge, too, and vice versa.

It’s been wonderful to watch my parents grow as individuals (taking on new projects, becoming interested in new things, refining their skills) and as partners, especially over the past few years. Their relationship has never stopped evolving. I am inspired by their ability to pour themselves into their work, passion projects, friendships and families. I am even more inspired by the way they support each other, making it possible for each of them to achieve greatness in so many ways.

Not a day goes by that I don’t recognize how fortunate I am to have grown up with such loving, engaged parents. I know that 99% of why I am happy and fulfilled today has to do with my parents’ influence. I also realize that this process started the moment I was born, and I was reminded of this fact a few months ago.

Several weeks after I gave birth to Lyla, we were over at Mom and Dad’s. I gave Lyla to Dad while I went to use the restroom. When I came back out to the living room, Dad and Lyla were nowhere to be found. As I was looking for them, I heard muffled giggling coming from Mom and Dad’s bedroom. I opened the door slowly and saw that Dad had snuggled Lyla up next to Mom as she was waking up from her nap. Mom was sleepily playing with Lyla’s little toes and cooing loving words in her ear. Dad was lying on the other side of Lyla, stroking her head. When he saw me at the door, he jokingly said “Go away! This is our baby!” and turned back to his granddaughter. I disobeyed his “order,” and as I watched them with her, it dawned on me that this is what my first days on earth must have looked like. It was like staring into a time capsule. My eyes filled as I thought of my parents sharing all of the love they had as a couple with their first child, then a second child, and friends, and family and eventually the communities they both serve.

Indeed, something powerful was happening in that photo from 1972. Perhaps unbeknownst to them at the time, my parents were laying the foundation for a beautiful life. Not just for themselves, but for so many others.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Seeing People

Lyla doesn’t just look at people. She sees people. As I watch her meet someone new, I am struck by how she studies his or her face, mentally cataloguing each eyelash, wrinkle and freckle.

Her expression is stone serious at first, and then begins to soften as she senses the humanity behind the physical exterior. The corners of her mouth twitch and gradually expand into a big, toothless, drooly smile. She takes in each sound and facial movement with the utmost curiosity, striving to understand the fascinating being in front of her.

Last weekend, we took her to the Mill City Farmers market. As I was perusing produce, I felt Lyla’s head turn and her gaze landed on a little girl sitting in a stroller next to us. The little girl responded in kind, staring intently at Lyla. Since Lyla was wrapped onto me in the Moby, I bent down to facilitate their interaction. They cooed, drooled and smiled at each other— smiles so big that the edges of their mouths quivered in joy. My swift crouching movement caught the eye of the little girl’s mother, who began watching this precious interaction, just as captivated as I was by their wordless communication.

The little girl’s mother and I let them continue their smile-fest for several minutes before going about our farmers market business. We passed the little girl and her mother several more times that morning. Each time, without fail, the girls would greet each other with a smile of recognition— like long lost friends.

I find all baby communication to be touching, but this particular interaction resonated with me on a different, deeper level. Lyla’s farmers market friend had Down syndrome. As I reflect on their interaction, a hot flush of shame rushes to my cheeks. I had seen this little girl at the crêpe stand, about ten minutes before Lyla’s eyes met hers at the produce stall. Upon noticing her, my second thought (after “what a beautiful little girl”) was “what a challenge it must be to raise a child with Down syndrome.”

Why? Because, for better or for worse, the lens through which I view the world is covered by various filters, and tinted by my life experience– what I’ve heard, seen, and think I know. Lyla’s lens is crystal clear, and its focus is razor-sharp. When she looks, she immediately sees the good stuff. The important stuff. The human stuff. Where I saw a mother’s challenge, she saw an intriguing person.

If only I took the time to truly see and try to understand those with whom I interact on a daily basis. Imagine what a better, more compassionate, more sentient person I would be. Imagine the accuracy and depth with which I would be able to write about the human condition; to share my observations with others.

As I watch Lyla meet new friends, I feel as though I’ve been missing out. I don’t know when we “lose” this pure curiosity, this ability to suspend judgment and truly see. I think it’s still in me. If I keep watching my daughter, I know I’ll find it again.