Who knew the first day of pre-school could make me sit on the edge of bawling for five days? Sheesh. I know she'll be fine... I've said to various people, choking back tear deluges of various magnitudes.

After my weepy four-hour insomnia thing Thursday night and after an unfortunate frog puppet incident which I won't get into, and after confirming that even A feels like throwing up when thinking of leaving her there all day long, we decided to make it a half-days for a while. Two days a week, half days. Financially this is sort of foolhardy. We are paying for two full days whether we use them or not. But we don't need the full days until I go back to work in January; we're just starting now because now's when the opening is available. And it just feels better to ease into it.

Ingrid woke up this morning excited about the much-hyped first day of school. She wore her striped pants. She'll be fine, the teacher said as I grappled with the doorknob and tried to make my hair hide from Ingrid the fact I was trying not to cry.

I came home and put away laundry and cooked sweet potatoes and nursed the baby and cleaned up the living room and read e-mail and nursed the baby and ate a cheese sandwich, all the while sort of feeling like time had been sucked into a weird little eddy. Then at 12:15 when it was time to get her everything started wheeling forward again.

She was fine, the teacher said. She didn't cry. She participated, and she made a project by herself. She played with the other kids outside. The project was the outline of a flower, colored in with water color paint. She's very mature, the director said. She did great.

I didn't sit in the circle, Ingrid said in the car. I was a little bit worried about you. That girl wanted to hold my hand. I ate rice. And milk. And fruit. Watermelon. I played on the slides. I didn't play with the beds. Will I sleep at school?

She does seem to be fine. She's napping. I do too, I guess. I think it is going to take me a while to get used to her days being such a mystery, though. I mean, watermelon and rice? Probably not absolutely accurate. Slides? Ok, but what about the other three and a half hours? And not crying but worried? She'll be fine, right?


Cold Feet

After writing about D leaving, I was all set to do an upbeat post (imagine!) about the day care center we chose and how exciting it is that Ingrid will start going there next week. Then we spent an hour there together yesterday and an hour this morning, and after thinking about it carefully pretty much every minute for the past couple of days, especially between the hours of 3 and 7 a.m. today, I really just have two things to say about it:

1. It is a wonderful day care center. It's a well-run, well-organized, bilingual, multicultural, exciting place where kids do fun projects, eat healthy food, learn, play outdoors, meet their neighbors, and get taken care of by grown ups who love kids.

2. Every time I think of leaving my little girl there all by herself I feel like bawling.

People keep telling me this will be much harder for me than for her. I sure hope they are right.



I went back to work part time when Ingrid was six months old, and I spent a good part of my maternity leave racking my soul about the question of child care. Who could I trust with her? How could I turn the divine work of caring for her into a commodity, something I could pay someone—a stranger—to do?

I thought an in-home day care would be the best option. Less commercial. More like a family. I must have made a hundred phone calls that summer. Part-time openings for infants, it turns out, are in very short supply here. The handful of providers I found with available spots seemed to have fatal flaws. Large screen TVs blaring in the living room, for example. Or a home saturated with not only the smell but also the gritty, dry feel of cigarette smoke. Or a voice that just seemed too loud.

And then we got lucky.

Through a connection with one of A's coworkers, we met D. She had a part-time nanny job and could come to our house two days each week. This coworker recommended her highly. And she wanted to charge us embarrassingly little. So little that we could actually afford to hire her.

We did, and she fell in love with Ingrid, and vice versa. I am smitten, she said to me after a couple of days of taking care of our little girl. Each time D came to the door, Ingrid made her joyful, half-choked squeal. It was like having a celebrity come to visit twice a week.

It's sort of been a dream come true. A relationship that I feared—paying someone to do what I felt only I could or should do—has turned out to be a big, beautiful bonus for all of us. A and I have been able to know our baby is getting some of the best love around, and Ingrid has another stable, energetic, adoring grown-up in her life. She's learned so much from D. I've learned from her.

I've been on maternity leave since Iris was born, and we've still been having D come two or three mornings per week to play with Ingrid. And in the midst of this time of two and a half year old new big sister turmoil, when she's whining and clinging and crying every hour she's with me, with D, she is her normal, relaxed, chatty, undramatic self. I have many reasons to be grateful for the extra pair of hands in the house; one is that it's a relief to know that the non-tantruming Ingrid still exists. While our family is stretched and changing and in disarray, D and Ingrid have a constant, special friendship.

But now D is moving on to other things. Understandable—she's got an artistic career to get moving on and a lot to offer the world beyond ring around the rosy and the itsy bitsy spider. But it drags us out of paradise a little bit. For all the family-like affection we all have for each other, we're now having to do something that family members don't, except in the worst of cases, do: say goodbye. We'll see her again. But she's been a regular, rhythmic part of Ingrid's life since she was six months old, and that won't ever be the same.

Today is D's last day—last regular, ordinary day—with our family. The past few times I've seen her we've briefly brought up the upcoming ending and then shrunk away from really talking about it. I know she is as sad as I am. I don't know how I can ever really tell her how grateful I am, or how much we'll all miss her.



The Words of the Prophets

Scrawled in black permanent marker on the side of the slide at our neighborhood park, I discovered yesterday: You are strong!!! And on the flat surface of the slide: You can climb!!! And, at the top of the slide, at the entrance to a small tunnel, next to a round, noseless smiling face: You are good!

I can just picture some high, overencouraging mamas deciding one raucous night to use the playground equipment as a canvas. Either that or my personal guardian angel wields a Sharpie.


Dear Disequilibrium,
I trust you. Now go away.
Love, caro

Sleep is one thing. One very good thing. But then there is what happens when we are awake: There is whining and crying and screaming, or there is clinging and whimpering and cowering. Ingrid is a wreck so much of the time. It's hard to describe, hard to sort out what it all comes from. I feel like I used to get what was going on with her, even when she was being irrational and loud, and now I just don't. A lot of the time it makes no sense. This lack of resilience. This extreme shyness: grabbing my hand and pressing it against the side of her face as we walk together anywhere public. I don't want to say hi to anyone. These strange demands: Some different clothes. Another snack. And, for God's sake, even if it's cold out, No coat. No coat. NO COAT!

The early childhood class that we take has turned on a few lightbulbs. A list of behaviors common to two-year-olds: Have trouble choosing between two options. Are dictatorial and want to be in control. Live in the moment and have trouble imagining other times and places.

And, on a list of principles for parents to live by: Learn to trust struggle and disequilibrium.

I know a lot of problems come with this age, but some days it is really hard to believe I'm not causing this. Am I giving in to her tantrums? Am I making her insecure by not meeting some emotional need? Is it horrible that I'm not using time outs? There are certain things I expect of her, and consequences when they're not met, but often enough? Consistently enough? Or am I expecting too much? I don't know. I don't know. Some days things seem a little better: I feel more creative, better able to get through the thousand sticky wickets of each hour and really look her in the eye. Other days are like today.


Questions, Questions

The smart and prolific Eva sent me these super interview questions. If by some chance you have dodged this interview meme thing so far and you want me to interview you, I'd be honored. Send me an e-mail or comment and I'll ask you some things. Here we go:

If you could "unknow" one thing you know, what would it be?

This question deserves a more profound answer, but what I'd like to stop knowing is how to fix the copier in my office. What bliss to be able to honestly plead ignorance when the fourth person that day wanders in to ask for help clearing a paper jam.

What characteristics about yourself do you want to pass on to your daughters, if you can?

I want them to love to learn. I hope they end up being better talkers than I am, but I want them to be able to let there be some silence. I want them to know how to listen. I want them to think deeply about the big questions—why we are here, what we should do—and find answers that can power their lives.

More selfishly, I hope they grow up to love doing some of the same things I do: reading, running, spending time in the mountains and near the ocean. That'd be icing on the cake.

What's the most recent surprising thing your husband did or said, and why?

Yesterday he told me that for our anniversary he'd like to give me some new clothes, and that he would gladly come with me and take care of both kids suitably far away from me while I shopped to my heart's content, and would bring Iris to me when she needed to nurse.

Our anniversary was Thursday, but is to be officially observed on some yet unscheduled future date. And I need new clothes. Badly. Am still wearing gross, awful maternity clothes and, occasionally, the largest of my "regular" clothes, which show some (newly weirdly textured) tummy if I lift my arms. Yeah. I need clothes two sizes bigger than "regular."

Anyway, this was surprising to me. Both in the sense of, "Why darling, what a thoughtful anniversary gift!" (really) and also, at the same time, "Huh. You just offered to get me fat clothes for our anniversary. I'm not sure how I feel about that."

So we spent the afternoon at the giant semi-suburban thrift store of my choice, and I found some good stuff. It was nice to have the peaceful shopping time, and I'm glad to expand the wardrobe a bit. But I can't quite shake the (both pleasant and unpleasant) oddness of A's involvement in it.

What do you love about where you live? What do you dislike?

Are you asking this just to find out where I live? That's ok. I live about a half mile from the Mississippi River, in the largest city in the state in which that river originates. Got that?

I love that this city is so green: there are tons of parks and patches of nature, right in the middle of the jumble and stress that is urban life.

The things I don't like about this place have to do with it not being my home. I grew up in the Pacific northwest (and points north), and I miss the ocean and the mountains. The thing that bothers me the most is cultural rather than geographical: lack of frankness. There is, among natives of this place, a hesitation to express opinions, and this is a problem for me: I am a little socially dense, and I like to have things spelled out (if I offer you coffee and you decline, I don't want to wonder if I should ask again on the assumption you're just being polite). And I like to know where people stand on issues larger than a cup of coffee, as well. Keeping quiet about what you think makes for lousy conversation, at best.

How does raising a second child differ from raising a firstborn for you?

So far, it differs in that while Ingrid never slept for more than two hours at a stretch for at least a year, Iris, at the ripe old age of two months, is ALREADY SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT! WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!


Really. About half the time, the sleeps for a stretch of six or more hours at the beginning of the night. Each time this happens, I wake up with her at 4:30 (or whatever) so thrilled and blissed out by having slept that long that I can't get back to sleep. I cannot, absolutely cannot overstate the impact that having solid, uninterrupted sleep has on my mind, body, soul, spirit, general health, happiness, etc. etc. I even find myself, during those early morning feedings, thinking how sad it is that these quiet, sweet nighttime moments of just me and my baby will not go on forever. The very sentiment that, a year ago, caused me to throw The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding across the room.

So, yeah. Sleep is important. And of course there are a lot of other differences, some rooted in being better rested this time, and some not. I am much, much calmer this time. Less obsessive. Better able to see what she needs. More stretched, trying to meet both of their needs. But more confident.


Ingrid's pronunciation is usually eerily clear, but there is the occasional terrific stumble. For posterity:

cuspension cord: suspension bridge

fablious: fabulous

flift store: thrift store

sonic vinegar (also, Masonic vinegar): balsamic vinegar

She also calls her heels and ankle bones her goofballs. I have no idea why.

What've you got?



We drove four hours each way for a five-day stay at the coast and both girls were totally peaceful for pretty much the entire car trip.

We spent three big chunks of mornings on the beach with Iris strapped to me like a good little hunter-gatherer baby and Ingrid running wild in the sand. This was the best part: seeing her take off across the open, open space, just her and the sand and the sky, like I remember it feeling as a kid, so free. We stood at the edge of the water together and ran from the waves. We collected rocks and razor clam shells and gull feathers. We threw rocks in the creek.

We went for two long walks (at least a couple of miles), and Ingrid wowed us by walking the whole way (and then some, as she did a lot of shuttling, at a run, from the front to the back of our big family) with her own strong little legs. Up and down big hills and across the sand, begging for huckleberries and blackberries from whoever could reach them.

There were rough spots, and by spots I mean days, and by rough I mean full of reasonless screaminess and one disconnected interaction after another between Ingrid and me. But I learned a lot by spending time with my mom and A, seeing how they handle things with her, ways it can be better. I'm starting to see that I've been pretty clueless about what it's like to be two, and I'm starting to understand some things that can make it better.

And it was just exhausting to be away for so long.

We walked in the door yesterday to find a truly filthy house: crumbs on the counters, an empty yogurt container on the coffee table, cobwebs everywhere, laundry—clean but not folded— in three baskets on the living room floor. Had a slovenly criminal taken up residence in our absence? No! We had left the house this way, counting ourselves lucky just to get out the door with clothing and diapers and snacks for everyone.

And still, I'm so happy to be back here. So much depends, these days, on routine, or what passes for it: knowing there will (probably) be some quiet alone time at nap time, having dinner early so everyone can get to bed on time, going places we all are familiar with so it is already clear what can and can't be touched and messed with. It's good to be back to the place where all that unfolds: the unkempt, disorganized, overgrown, unweeded place where are lives are really happening.