Musings on language, images and life

Month: September, 2011

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.


On Writing and Parenthood: Thèmes du Jour

I have something to confess. Each time I sit down to write a blog post on pregnancy (don’t worry, you won’t be seeing any of those for a while), birth, or motherhood in general, I feel a pang of dread. Dread that I’ll be labeled a “mommy blogger” (you know, the kind that reviews strollers or dedicates full blog posts to spit-up) or be viewed as a monothematic writer (let’s face it, I’ve been called worse). Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either of those labels, they’re just not what I aspire to be.

I’ve always written what I know (standard advice in the field), and this blog serves as a receptacle for all of those thoughts that are either too personal or too obscure for the venues in which I typically publish. The very personal lessons I’ve learned from my daughter are what have caught my attention the past three months. In the days I’ve spent with her, I’ve not only learned who she is, she’s also revealed to me various facets of humanity. She’s reminded me of beliefs I’ve always held that had become buried under years of quotidian concerns. Life has become a celebration, and my creativity has flourished thanks to her innocent revelations and reminders.

A dear friend of mine (who also happens to be a world-class writer and editor) recently introduced me to an organization called Pen Parentis. The members of this diverse group don’t necessarily write on parenthood (in fact, most of them don’t). Their commonality lies in the fact that they are all parents and writers— a powerful combination. Powerful because, in my experience, parenthood informs my writing (on a variety of topics) and the perspective required to be a writer helps me to better understand the world(s) of parenting, these intimate microcosms we build and exist in each day.

I’ve decided to cast off the yoke of dread I feel when I sit down to write about the creative fodder—gifts, really— sourced from this awe-inspiring journey called motherhood. I will forge ahead shamelessly, unabashedly, as a writer-mother/mother-writer, since I know that someday I will crave anything that reminds me of these intense, beautiful days. I’ll return to writing about some of my other favorite topics soon, but for now, I’ve decided to dedicate the slim spaces in my schedule to writing about what I am living, feeling and learning today. Art, feminism, literature, politics and education will have to wait for the time being. Or will they? As I’m learning, each of these realms informs the views I bring to parenting.

As I reflect on my first three months of being a mother to a babe outside the womb—the strange smells, new sleep schedule, lack of personal time and my painful, shifting postpartum body fade into a nebulous, low-level hum and a select set of crystalline moments remains in the foreground. These are thèmes du jour that captivate me and compel me to write. I will continue to put pen to paper (or fingers to laptop, as it were) and get them out into the world.