"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

December 30, 2009

Best Words of 2009

A friend suggested that since I'd posted a list of grimy words that I ought to make good and post some that don't leave us feeling so much like we have poison ivy on the insides. So, in the interest of warming up for 2010 (the daily bloggers' theme for January is best), here's the official Gebell household list of best verbiage of the past year (including some from the past decade, given where we've been and what we've done, and yes, some of these will be compound nouns and some won't be nouns or words at all, and some will be in different languages, again, given where we've been and what we've done). Perhaps a pattern will emerge that will say something about how I've lived the past ten years. I'd love to hear some of your favorite words of the decade, too.

Red Line
live music
Route 1
Green Mountains
White Mountains
Revere Beach
olive grove
sunflower fields
la dolce fa niente
sea kayaking
sun bathing
teaching method
method acting
The Fogg (on rainy days, especially)
Oaxacan chocolate
Puerto Escondido
apricot pastry
book club
Elephant Walk
Diesel Cafe
Open Mic at Lizard Lounge
walking Walden Pond
Concord, Lexington
New England autumn
West Coast summer
Redwood Forest
Olympic Mountains
O Beautiful
Grand Canyon
red rocks
The Rez
Springsteen (at Fenway!)
Prince (at Boston Garden)
Club Passim
Pushkar camels
Amber Palace (by motorcycle! on my birthday!)
pink sand
treehouse (one accomodation in Kerala)
cave-dwelling goddesses
spice farm
autumn in New York
Farmer's Market
garage (I'm especially thankful for this in January--the only garage I've ever had)
Weeping Cherry tree
botanist, hippie neighbors (no, not the nudist)
Park Ave.
killer whales
tree walking
Pike Place
Rainier cherries
Experience Music
receiving blankets
sink baths
rosebud lips
toothless smile
infant passport
Japanese grandmas
Maguro sushi
hot sake
green tea
Goodnight Moon
[Also, I love the word twice.]

December 28, 2009

Sestina for Rochester

Every year, when the snow comes, it's as if something's been holding back on us. Some people say they can smell the imminent snow; the more seasoned among us feel it in their joints.

I say winter really begins when Heath and I have to figure out which company can really handle early-morning driveway plowing (I like to leave for school around 7 a.m., though that rarely happens) and we start running up to the corner hardware store for Salt Melt. We'll make lists of all the cousins for whom we're going to get Chanukah presents, start figuring out what they'd like, and make our annual pilgrimage to Target and Toys-R-Us where Heath will delight in choosing exactly the right toys for each kid. Friends' holiday cards start coming in the mail, and better, witty holiday letters that detail the highlights of their years for better or worse.

One of our favorite rituals has become the most simple date: coffee (chai lattes at Spot Coffee) and a movie (at the Little Theater) on one of our mutual days off. This year, we managed two dates (even dinner and a movie!) thanks to Bubbe and Grandma and Zaide. Two dates in one week: ah, vacation. For some odd (really odd) reason I can't decipher, I appreciate the arctic chill so characteristic of our city in the winter. It makes us huddle closer while we're walking outside. It makes us snuggle closer in the not-warm-enough movie theater. That chill settles in our bones just so that I want to wear socks to bed, but know I won't need to.

One of the poems I shared with the Creative Writing class lately was this one: it's a really difficult form to manage, but Hecht does it beautifully. Yeah, this city's pretty bleak in the winter. Maybe AH didn't have someone to hold him close.

"Sestina d'Inverno" by Anthony Hecht:

Here in this bleak city of Rochester,
Where there are twenty-seven words for "snow,"
Not all of them polite, the wayward mind
Basks in some Yucatan of its own making,
Some coppery, sleek lagoon, or cinnamon island
Alive with lemon tints and burnished natives,

And O that we were there. But here the natives
Of this grey, sunless city of Rochester
Have sown whole mines of salt about their land
(Bare ruined Carthage that it is) while snow
Comes down as if The Flood were in the making.
Yet on that ocean Marvell called the mind

An ark sets forth which is itself the mind,
Bound for some pungent green, some shore whose natives
Blend coriander, cayenne, mint in making
Roasts that would gladden the Earl of Rochester
With sinfulness, and melt a polar snow.
It might be well to remember that an island

Was blessed heaven once, more than an island,
The grand, utopian dream of a noble mind.
In that kind climate the mere thought of snow
Was but a wedding cake; the youthful natives,
Unable to conceive of Rochester,
Made love, and were acrobatic in the making.

Dream as we may, there is far more to making
Do than some wistful reverie of an island,
Especially now when hope lies with the Rochester
Gas and Electric Co., which doesn't mind
Such profitable weather, while the natives
Sink, like Pompeians, under a world of snow.

The one thing indisputable here is snow,
The single verity of heaven's making,
Deeply indifferent to the dreams of the natives,
And the torn hoarding-posters of some island.
Under our igloo skies the frozen mind
Holds to one truth: it is grey, and called Rochester.

No island fantasy survives Rochester,
Where to the natives destiny is snow
That is neither to our mind nor of our making.

December 26, 2009

Late December Admission

I am too busy and too tired to post everyday (right now). The other night, it had occurred to me that I hadn't written a lick since last week, and then I thought about all the stuff going on, like

the last week of school before break
entailing college rec's that need to get out
and preparing the midterm stuff
and grading stuff that needs to get graded
paying bills from the fall show
rehearsing the geva show
drama club officer appointments
lesson prep
grading quizzes
and the home stuff
like playing with devi
making food for devi
making food for us
making cookies for other people
helping devi learn to walk
reading devi books
reading heath's face
reading papers
rereading Romeo and Juliet
more laundry
and holiday stuff
getting presents
wrapping presents
unwrapping presents
cleaning up from chanukah
cleaning out the fridge
cleaning around playing devi
date night with heath
writing devi's 1st birthday invitations
addressing same (thank you, online white pages)
xmas dinner at aunt karen's
making stuff to bring to aunt karen's
waking up late and enjoying lazy mornings with my family
37,000 readings of hungry caterpillar and peek-a-who

and the like. Hope everyone had a lovely holiday season! Perhaps I can try this daily blogging thing next time I'm home on maternity leave.... Anyway, here's a glimpse into Devi's new occupation, hugging and kissing her Daddy.

December 17, 2009

The Stage Door Project

Oh, you want another post, do you? Well, tough. I posted today on my OTHER (temporary) blog: http://www.gevatheatre.org/learn/blog/ .

In August, Skip Greer, the Artistic Director of Geva Theater and their Artist in Residence, asked me (and eight other area high school drama directors) to participate in this amazing (and humbling) undertaking. Each of us high school drama mamas are directing one scene from John Cariani's "Almost, Maine," which will appear on Geva's Mainstage in January--our high school collaboration, resulting in a different, more amateur but just as impassioned version, called The Stage Door Project, goes up on Geva's stage on FEBRUARY 1. Interested? Call me about tickets.

I'll write more about this project later, as we get closer to opening. It's so cool, though, and my actors, designer, and marketers are working their butts off! You can read more about "Almost, Maine" at http://gevatheatre.org/plays/almostmaine.html. You can also read more about the Project at http://gevatheatre.org/learn/stagedoor.html.

December 16, 2009

Ugly Words

Today, in Creative Writing class, I had my students brainstorm the most beautiful words and the most ugly words they could imagine. The point of the exercise was that words are most powerful when they're together. For instance, the words


should right now be giving you, the reader, a general feeling of overall ickiness. If you're feeling icky right now, well, good.

But the exercise also stirred some slightly traumatic episodes from last night's adventures in teething. FILL IN THE BLANKS! Let's just say that two handfuls of baby _________, probably resulting from her swallowing too much of her own __________, was proof enough that I can handle anything disgusting this lovely little baby girl has to dish out.

I wonder what kinds of ads will pop up to the left after this is posted...

December 15, 2009

This Fuels my Wanderlust

A colleague of mine showed me this today and I've been having the warm fuzzies all day. Please go to this site (click on the video), created by a self- proclaimed "deadbeat" who in his late 20's decided to gallavant around the planet. His friend recorded his bad dancing in Hanoi, and the rest is history.

There is no agenda here, no political message. What makes me happiest watching this, I think, are seeing the sheer joy on the faces of the people, but mainly the kids, who are dancing with Matt.

Devi's passport is newly broken in...I wonder where we'll all go next?

December 14, 2009

"Author, Author"

Heath and I are sitting on the couch with our laptops, and the New York movie starring Al Pacino is on. It's a movie about a struggling father of six who also happens to be a major playwright. It's also a great bit of movie history (remember when people smoked in airports?), a hilarious insight into theater writing and production, and maybe a sneaky love letter to the Manhattan I fell in love with as a kid--the one that when I visited with my parents would make me tick like crazy. Lights. The lower west side. The Brooklyn Bridge, the Theater District.

A New York before cell phones.
A New York before 9/11.
A New York before AIDS awareness.

When doormen used whistles to call cops.

In college, I won a campus-wide essay contest (truth be told, 3rd place), and my dad, who I am missing so badly today, sent me a bouquet of flowers with a note attached:

"Author, author," it said.

He must have loved this movie too.

December 06, 2009

The Coolest Moment of the Weekend

Heath, Devi, and I have now spent two afternoons--in a row--at Eastview Mall. It wasn't as crowded as I'd suspected, I think because we're still a few weeks out from Christmas and because Anthropolgie, the answer to my shopping prayers, my (and I'm sure thousands of other area women's) clothing Mecca, hasn't opened yet.

Yesterday was a designated shopping day: with 11 cousins to shop for, we felt like we were on a zany treasure hunt for just the right set of dinosaurs, princess stuff, books, toys, etc. The megalopolis we've come to know as Target helped us get a majority of the tasks accomplished. Also, we found some adorable bedroom accents for Devi (photos forthcoming!) to boot, and to our sheer delight, some vintage toys which we played with as children but are sure our parents sold at garage sales between 1977 and 1980. Weakened but not weary, we met some friends and their kids out for dinner, where we discovered Devi's fascination with balloons and where she had her first "real" kids' meal, chicken tenders and broccoli. Our wallet exhausted, we returned home triumphant and with several things to wrap before Friday, when Chanukah starts.

Today we ventured back to Eastview, this time to watch my sister-in-law, Rachel, perform with her music group from Hochstein Music School. Rachel's been a part of this amazing, dauntless, special-needs group for quite a while, and often asks us to make certain we attend the next concert, even if it's months away: the performances give her--and, doubtless, her peers--a visceral euphoria that nothing but music can give them. Witness Rachel sending up her arms in utter joy while singing today, the smile on her face sheer ecstacy, her eyes beaming. The typical holiday concert music ("Joy to the World"--not the Credence version) was peppered with some show-stoppers, like the duet "Do You Love Me?" from Fiddler on the Roof (thank you, Wade, for sparing us the comparatively meager dreidel song) and a Bollywood number during which the 30-odd performers danced simply and with alacrity, led by fabulous, genius Wade and the music therapy student interns. Awesome. (Pictured above is the group on their home turf, at Hochstein.)

But perhaps the most touching moment was watching Wade and one of the interns dance with Nomi, who is blind and wheelchair-bound; while the violins played, they whirled and gently spun the smiling Nomi, twirling her by the hands while Nomi seemed to glide through the space. It was like watching a ballet-a-trois, of sorts, that made one think of what a perfect world is supposed to be like.

Joy to the World, indeed. Thank you Wade M. Richards, for giving some very special people some incredible experiences, and for giving us the opportunity to share them.

December 05, 2009

It Makes a Great Teether, Too

[N.B. The closest we came today to any sort of Mitzvah-doing (see yesterday's first post) was sparing some change to the Salvation Army Volunteer who opened the door to JC Penney's today while ringing that seasonally-ubiquitous bell. Otherwise, I'm at a loss for today's NaBloPoMo post, so I'll offer the short one that follows here, and promise to write about more than Devi, though she is deserving of a post a day because she ROCKS. Just see for yourself here.]

Among Devi's many accomplishments this month, in addition to her asking for her plush, pink bear by name ("Beh...beh...", though her real name is Pinky Tuscabearo and we realize that's too difficult for a 10-month-old to say right now), and pulling herself to standing on nearly every surface parallel with the floor in our house, is her near-mastery of the sippy cup. Let's let the video speak for itself.

December 04, 2009

A Day at the Museum of Play

The NATIONAL Museum of Play, that is. Yes, right here in our (postage-stamp-sized) city backyard--literally, four minutes from our street--is the home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, the precious and sometimes eerie Strong Doll Collection, the exotic, breathtaking Butterfly Garden, and loads of hands-on stuff for kids to experience serious, and even educational, fun. At the moment, the two exhibits are about Superheroes (there's even a transformer-type machine to turn you into The Hulk) and the first arcade video games (I played Ms. Pac-Man for the first time in about 20 or so years). Heath and I had each taken Devi there, but not together, and we figured what better time than our joint day off for the Thanksgiving holiday.

At every turn, our little girl kicked her legs and rubbed her feet vigorously together in that way she does (her eyes get really wide and she starts making happy noises). We'd only just paid our entrance fees when she saw the gigantic aquarium and started her little freak-out/happy noises. So there we were for a good 15 minutes, just watching the fish go by, especially "Nemo" (there are two clownfish in one tank) and the big fish with the crazy nose, and the languid anemones wave with each fish's passing, like Hollywood starlets who can't be bothered to remove themselves from a divan.

A pit stop at Sesame Street, where Devi played with Elmo and we got nostalgic (remember Mr. Hooper?). This is a fun joint if you loved the vibe of Sesame Street, so ahead of its time for bilingual education, educational television programming, and messages of unity, tolerance, urban harmony, general peace, love, and happiness for all (including fuzzy monsters--because they have feelings too). A rumor was floating about that Cookie Monster can no longer be called so because of the childhood obesity epidemic. It was time to move on.

On to the incredible Butterfly Garden. It's like walking into something like Wonka's paradise, except there's no chocolate in sight so it can't truly be paradise. Yet just through the doors it's sensory overload: you've left the florescence of the museum for the natural light of this place, and that, coupled with the humidity and your being literally surrounded by tropical plants and hundreds of butterflies--beautiful, colorful, tranquil--transports you into this Seussical and yet sensuous place.
We've been making up the hand-sign for butterfly, crossing our wrists and fluttering our fingers as, I imagine, butterflies do--I don't know, maybe I was trying too hard to entertain Devi while she was in her highchair last week--but just a couple of nights ago, she put her food down and crossed her wrists, opening and closing her fists in imitation. I couldn't believe it. And when she did that for my mother, she made plans to take Devi right back to the Butterfly Garden. You'll have to pick up my jaw and hand it back to me if "butterfly" is Devi's first word, which it just might be.

A good time was had by all, and our curious little monkey fell asleep on the way home. I wonder if there were visions of fish, butterflies, and (Berenstein) bears dancing in her head.

NaBloPoMo (G'bless You)

Here's a blogging phenomenon that's recently piqued my interest: blogging every day for an entire month. And according to NaBloPoMo's site, the theme for bloggers this month is MITZVAH (loosely translated from Yiddish/Hebrew, the act of doing good by others). Fitting that this is the theme for the month that nestles right up against the New Year.

It goes something like this: I'm supposed to try to blog every day for the month. Since I've already missed the first three days of December, I'll have to try to double-blog on those languid, lazy days I have oodles and oodles of hours to do nothing else, such as teach or read papers or grade papers or plan lessons or buy and cook and eat stuff or stare into my husband's beautiful eyes or write recommendation letters or oh yeah, RAISE A HUMAN BEING who has her father's beautiful eyes and who tries to eat recommendation letters instead of her squash.

Since this technically qualifies as my first entry for the month, I'll double blog tonight (go crazy, Monica) and take advantage of Devi's and Heath's having fallen asleep.

(Ok, who am I kidding? This is insane. There is no way I'll be able to post every day for a month. I feel a little like I'm about to go on one of those protein-only diets, where you know it's going to really suck for the first three weeks until you're so deliriously hungry you tell yourself it's not so bad, you love eating brazil nuts between meals and as meals, and there must be plenty of ways to make tofu taste good. Your vote of confidence will be in the form of suggestions for blog topics--so feel free to throw in your subject of choice.)

(Ok, but I teach Creative Writing, and I'm always going on about how writing is supposed to be a daily practice, even if it's brainstorming or freewriting, and how the more we write the better we write.)

So here goes. Day 1. Really, let's just call it Day 4, December 4. WRITE IT.

November 20, 2009

I Bet She Works a Mean Paper Snowflake

Devi's first art project is this here Mr. Gobblegobble: she did it in daycare, and man, oh man, are we proud. Now THAT is some fancy footwork.

Read My Tush.

Every morning when we peek in to the crib, Devi's blankets all askew as though they're the breadcrumb trail of her whereabouts during the night, we never know what we're going to see. Picutred here is this morning's peek-in, just before Devi woke up. Love it.

November 14, 2009

Seeing the Light

The only time I really only "colored" my hair was during a bum June in Boston, mere days after another school year had ended, I'd just broken up with a boyfriend, and was suffering the slings, literally, of having broken my collarbone in a motorcycle accident (a story for another time, but yes, readers, I know how stupid getting on a motorcycle is, and have vowed never to do it again). I was bored as hell, since I couldn't drive anywhere and it basically hurt to get dressed.

I spent most of those days on the balcony that adjoined my bedroom (oh, those old, New England houses) reading, sunning, and drinking Diet Coke. It occurred to me that perhaps all that time out in the sun was lightening my hair, and for some reason I decided to expedite it by using some Sun-In that I bought at our corner drug store.

There's a good reason they don't advertise that crap anymore. My hair got significantly yellower, not blonder, and by October, my seniors had a great time reminding me that my hair was greenish in spots. I vowed, then, that I'd never touch chemical to my hair again.

You know what's coming, because as my fabulously talented hairdresser Erika told me today, 90% of women have their hair color-treated in some way these days.

I've lived on the Dark Side, so to speak, for so long, that with the sprouting of gray hair sometime in the past few years, I vowed with every call to fabulous Erika that THIS WAS IT, COLOR ME, BABY. And then I'd chicken out.

Until today.

It wasn't the gray hair. It was the fact that I hadn't stepped foot in a salon in five months and my mane was as unkempt as a forgotten garden. Weedy. Stringy. Overgrown. Ridiculous.

When I called Erika at Gallery Salon, all I really knew is that I wanted a change. I scheduled a cut and color (highlights, really) and hoped that I'd figure out exactly how to explain to her what I wanted: something that didn't take forever to accomplish in the morning but that didn't look too much like a soccer mom and more like a rockstar, maybe a rockstar mom with a flair for drama. Something like a cross between Jessica Alba and... a rockstar. We found pictures, we discussed the difference between "piecey" and "shaggy" and "textured," we bartered length and style like two sheiks at market, hands a'flyin'. And when it was settled, Fabulous Erika got down to business.

There comes a chapter in the beautifying process when those who get their hair highlighted, as I did today, must perch elsewhere in the salon with several pieces of folded, aluminum paper resting atop and around her head. I was afraid to use my cell phone until I thought that maybe I'd get better reception. I felt utterly ridiculous until I saw two other women in the same predicament, so I relaxed and did some reading.

Truth be told, when it came to the crucial moment--that being the one where a portion of my straight, wet hair is being pinched between Erika's two fingers and facing a very shiny pair of shears. O.k.--ready? she asked. I shook my head no. In the grand scheme of decision-making, to get or not to get bangs is not wholly signficant, but most women really do care about this crap. Erika admonished me--did I really want change or not? And so I relented, and snip went the scissors, and before I knew it, I had bangs. It'll grow back, Erika reminded me. It grows out, I said, not down. To which Erika replied Monica, you have more hair than God. Right. I guess I do.

What I came out with looked like this:

See that? That's a happy wannabe-rockstar, English-drama-teacher, hot momma with highlights and less three inches of mangy split ends. My whole head feels lighter! And this momma feels better all around. Go see Erika. She knows.

November 10, 2009

Magic, Mickey, and Microorganisms

The weather, like Devi's temperature, lately, has peaked and dipped: during the first week of November, the outdoor temperature hit a record 70 degrees, and just days before, our baby hit her first fever over 101. Unseasonable heat and unfamiliar territory beyond the typical baby colds: it's an early flu season and this year, it's scary. As I type this, there have been two commercials to mention the H1N1 virus; Devi was lucky enough to get immunized last week when her ongoing cold abated for all of five days--consequently, it was during these five days when we traveled to Florida to join our niece Logan (and her parents--my brother and sister-in-law, and other, younger niece Nora), Logan's Noni and Papi, who graciously subsidized the trip save for the airfare, and my mom, who was all too happy to be traveling with her three granddaughters in tow.

I'm not a huge fan of The Mouse (why did he sound like a Lost Boy of the Castrati?). Never have been. But that doesn't mean the magic of Disney didn't find it's way into my childhood.

As a little girl, I'm sure I pinned all my romantic hopes on a Prince Charming thanks to the spin perpetuated by movies like Cinderella and Snow White; I can even remember the record album of Cinderella that I'd listened to at least 200 times a day (mainly for the 'bibbity-bobbity-boo' song). The 14 or so kids on my block, one summer in the early 1980's, performed our own version of "Peter Pan" in the Turner's backyard, probably because they were the only ones with a pool, a perfect respite after a long afternoon's rehearsal. I can't tell you what part I played, but the play entailed our swinging from the monkey bars on the Turner's swingset to simulate flying. I'm sure our performance inspired our parents toward a mean cocktail hour immediately following.

[And during the babysitting years (the truth, finally!), a romantic interest once surprised me while I was 'on duty' with a VHS tape of "Aladdin," which I think he hoped would inspire some action on some very trusting people's couch. It didn't, to his dismay--but the movie was fun, especially the raucous Robin Williams parts.]

Even as a young woman, I took issue with the Wonderful World of Mousedom when, walking down the aisle SOLO in my brother's wedding, already painfully and self-consciously processing as the older, single, sister, Staci had chosen "Someday, My Prince Will Come" to make the point. It may have been one of the lowest points in my life as a single woman, but, Heath reminds me, Your prince is right here, baby! Thank heavens.

But a trip to Disney World, as a parent, incited some panic in me I couldn't quite identify at first. Maybe it was the fleeting images of the faceless, massive crowds through which Heath and I would be weaving a mere nine-month-old in a stroller. Maybe it was the question of how a family of ten were going to manage through it all at once--two babies, only months apart, who'd need frequent breaks and diaper changes and snacks and hydration (Orland also, apparently, was experiencing record high temperatures). Or maybe--and most likely-- it was the threat of germs, germs, germs, in and around the Small World and Peter Pan rides, all over the life-size Pinocchio costume we'd doubtlessly be hugging (right?), The Surfaces of Everything at the park. Sneezy isn't sneezing in character, kids--that's the Swine Flu! Run! Run! Before the Evil H1N1 gets you too!

Welcome to my tendency towards worst-case scenarios. I'll admit that my germaphobic idiosyncracy (even though it's far less overt than some others' I know) is not a new topic on this blog and I'm sure it's getting old--witness that I did say somewhere here that if reincarnation really exists, I'll probably return as an airbag--and I'll admit that even en route to Japan, one of the cleanest countries in the world, I stocked up on the Handi-Wipes and made certain that each blind pocket of my diaper bag had some inside. Heath talked me out of seeking out a ventilated travel bubble for the baby (please, if you know of such an invention, get in touch).

But something funny happened on the way to Epcot Center. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was overstimulation. But The Happiest Place on Earth somehow made me forget about germs--not the entire time, mind you--hands were washed and wiped and surfaces were wiped and bottles were wiped and faces were wiped and wiped down--there was just so much to take in. Even Devi's mouth fell agape as we walked here and there.

The real magic of this place, I suppose, is that even an infant was stimulated to ecstacy: Devi squealed and kicked her happy feet throughout the Finding Nemo ride and aquarium and our stroll around the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot; she was just as titillated by the Bear Jamboree at the Magic Kingdom; she seemed impressed by the muppets at Hollywood Studios (that's three full days of hot hot sightseeing, and this amazing little Devi maintained her sense of wonder). Sure, she slept hard when she slept, but she slept, as she has done since her earliest days, anywhere and everywhere: stroller, our arms on rides, in her carseat in the ten-minute ride between the parks and our hotel.

One of our favorite moments of these few days in the parks was finding ourselves in front of a replica of a temple we'd visited in Japan--but here we were in "Japan," at Epcot, sampling the sushi, en route to Morocco to sample the lamb kebobs. Devi was totally unfazed by the irony of it--so we captured the moment in a photo of me behind Devi in her stroller--exactly the photo we'd taken just a few months ago, and I believe both Devi and I were wearing the same clothes. (I'm still looking for those pics, and both might be trapped in Heath's iPhone.) It's a Small World After All...la, la la...

We were so impressed with Devi's wide-eyed wonder at it all that we even vowed to bring her back someday. Me. The girl who distrusts The Mouse. I'm coming back. Not anytime soon, mind you, but when the kid--kids, we hope--are old enough to appreciate it. I'll recount what a mom of three told me while I waited with a sleeping Devi on my lap for Heath (who was riding Soarin', which is the grown-up version of flying simulation without the swingset): you might spend a small fortune at Disney World--maybe the equivalent of a quarter of your kid's college tuition for a semester if you spend a week here--but they'll never be able to say you never took them to Disney World, and so if they happen to go into therapy one day, there's a chance it may not be your fault.

Until that time, we're hoping Devi will be happy with a modest aquarium and some trips to Marine Land and Sea World. We did buy her a small souvenier, though--a plush, orangey Nemo that made her laugh in the gift shop--which hopefully no other germy kid sneezed on or licked. It's a small world, sure, but after all, we don't need to share microbes.

If only there were a magic wand for making the aches and exhaustion of baby colds go far, far away.

October 07, 2009

Elegy on The Luxury of Morning Loitering: or Green Means Go!

Our sweet and curious daughter has a new trick: waking up before my alarm clock rings.

In this respect, she has replaced it. The alarm is set for five o'clock a.m. and set to our local NPR station--this latter detail the result of years of experimentation for what will actually get me out of bed: and apparently, that includes waking to rather smug but intelligent voices that like to take their time around vowels.

But somewhere around 4:52, give or take a minute, Devi's own little internal alarm tells her it is time to begin talking to herself. And because it's my genetic disposition to do so, I startle myself awake in case what I'm hearing is not gentle cooing, but her "I'm about to launch myself out of the crib and you're not here to see it" noise, whatever that may be--and which I never, ever want to hear. (This means that Tina T., of Pittsburgh, PA, has won the "most forewarningest gift," as it was she who gave Devi a "Mommy's Wakeup Call" onesie early, early on.) From that moment on, it's go-time.

This isn't easy if you're the sort, like I am, who needs a fair amount of time to rouse. Two, maybe three taps of the snooze button, no more--but once I'm on my feet, and find my toothbrush, it's slow going to the shower. Lately, while I'm brushing, I go on a gray hair safari: and woe be to the gray hair, for I will wrestle it with my trusty tweezers until I've won (this can take anywhere from five seconds to ten minutes). And there's the scale: if I've stepped on it once, I stepped on it three times (take the average and subtract 1.5 lbs to accommodate last night's meal, give or take a half pound for the heft of the fabric of pajama I'm still wearing). And maybe I'll stretch a little, maybe spend a little time making sure the water temperature of the shower is just right-- not to be too wasteful with the water, but who wants to step into a lukewarm shower on a chilly morning? On a really languid morning, I'll even find my way downstairs for a glass of milk or juice and a long look at my backyard, the birds in the trees, a staredown with the neighbor's cat who enjoys perching in our grass. Really need to cut the grass, I'll ponder to myself. Flowers need watering. Too late for that. And then thoughts like How much do professional gardeners make? and Can my botanist neighbor figure out what to do with this yard? swim around until I realize time's a' tickin' and it's time to get clean and get going.

The luxury of morning loitering is no longer--even on weekends--because a baby doesn't know what weekends are, I guess.

So there we are, at the crack of dawn on any given Saturday and Sunday, before the sun has risen and in the den, playing on the floor and bouncing to Motown music on one of the t.v.'s several music stations. There's no rush on weekend mornings, no need to hurry the barely-awake baby into a new diaper and fresh clothes, to get her fed and me into clothes and fed and ready to go, go, go. On mornings like this, the whole day ahead of us and the anxiety of the workweek behind me, it's all I can do to try to slow time, to remember that she won't be this small forever, that I'll blink and be looking at a schoolgirl, a teenager, a young woman.

This past weekend, while listening to one of those music stations, the three of us discovered a song called "Red Means Stop." It was barely 7 o'clock, and Heath, who before he was a daddy had not often seen that side of daytime, was on his feet, dancing with his little girl and singing the refrain. To our amazement, Devi bounced along with us to the song until the "red means stop": and she would stop moving, anticipating "green means go" with a huge smile on her face, ready to bounce again. (I'm sure Devi took her cues from us, who abruptly stopped our crazy-limbed dancing with the "red" and resumed them with the "green." If she already understands the difference between these words, and can audibly decipher their meanings, I need to curb buying organic produce and start saving for an Ivy League college.)

Seasoned parents remind us that Devi's morning habits will change the second we get used to them and into a routine; that may have happened today. Up at 5, again, I decided to do some weekend-like loitering with the baby in the den, both of us still in our p.j.'s, listening to some music and playing. Normally, she'll entertain herself while I shower and if she's not too hungry, even get dressed. But as I stepped out of the shower today, I overheard Dev humming/grunting to herself. THIS IS IT! I thought, and peeked around the corner to watch my daughter's first crawling. But no: no crawling. Instead, Devi was tummy-down on the blanket, sucking her thumb and looking up at me with pleading eyes that said, If you don't put me in touch with my blankie asap, I will emit a sound that will wake the kids nextdoor. I wrapped my wet hair into a towel, scooped up the babe, got her to a blankie, and in the crib--not less than an hour after her first waking of the day--she rolled over, thumb still in mouth, and quietly put herself back to sleep.

This was the first morning I've gotten dressed for work without rushing. Normally the outfit I've chosen the night before (to save myself time the following morning--ha!) turns out not to look quite right, and I'm sifting through drawers to find something that will look right enough to go to work. Today, somehow, the ensemble worked, I dried my hair without having one eye on the den, and there was time enough to manage a quiet breakfast while surveying the yard.

And it was too quiet.

Heath and I were contemplating waking the baby (at 6:30) when suddenly her familiar, morning coos resumed and a moment later, we were rubbing the belly of a happy baby who was ready to begin her day.

The morning routine--I use the word loosely--will surely change and change again, well into Devi's adolescence. Perhaps it's not the loitering I'll miss as much as the certainty of being on time, of the absence of variables like fevers and colds, spit-ups on outfits that need to be changed, accidents (heaven forbid), and eventually, all the things that make kids late for buses, for school, or out of school altogether. Long gone are the days of casual mornings with plenty of time to shampoo and shave my legs, to choose an outfit by whimsy rather than planning, to make my lunch on my way out the door.

Now it's go, go, go--we'll stop on the weekends--and I wouldn't have it any other way.

September 22, 2009

What Strikes Her Fancy

...is anyone's guess. But I rank this afternoon's laugh session (which lasted about 15 minutes, and the whole of which doesn't really belong on YouTube) right up there with the time I laughed so hard that the milk I'd been drinking actually came out of my nose (Julianne Marron-Wise can vouch for this 8th-grade mishap, because it went right on her dog Pepper). If you're not at least smiling by the end of these 45 seconds, you probably don't like babies. Or sunshine.

September 21, 2009

Standing Up for Hygiene

{It took me two days to press the "publish" button for this blog, so first, let's get this straight: I am totally mortified that I am blogging about this, but there is some technology out there that the Sistahs of the World need to know about. Mom, I'm sorry. This information may change lives, so it's really my responsibility to bring it to The People. Aren't you proud? But I am discussing hygiene here, and making women's lives--especially those of us who like to be On the Go--just a little bit easier. So let's all just take a collective breath and proceed.}

Okay. Now that I've clarified that this post is in everyone's best interest, let me introduce you to two contraptions that we all need. Ladies, meet the Go Girl. Had I had this contraption while I was in India, I would have saved a bunch of cash on toilet seat covers. If you've ever been in a wedding dress or a bridesmaid's dress, and that rather full feeling hits, and you know it will take a team of at least three to help you in a tiny stall, this little pink thing is your best friend (aside from the maids of honor, of course). Imagine going hiking when the urge sneaks up on you: no need to worry about soiling your own pants while squatting downhill in the brush with your pack just heavy enough to tip you into being wet for the remainder of your climb and descent--just aim and go, like the proverbial bear that does what she does where she does it. Wow. I was so moved by the ingenuity of this little handy device that I alacritously wrote to the company, and, because I am writing about it here, they are sending me one for FREE! Yay! I'll plan to use my Go Girl in almost every germy public restroom I step into, from the Far East to Eastview Mall. Maybe someday they'll make them for little girls, too, so I don't have to worry about Devi's precious, perfect, little heiny picking up something we don't want.

Before I go on, I'd just like to make it clear that I am not obsessed with all things automated commode. But traveling around Japan opened up whole new worlds for me, and some of those involve Zen Buddhism, and some of those involve automated commodes.

Therefore, next, a product that is well known in Japan: the Washlet S400. It's a cross between the Supercomputer in Wargames and a toilet seat. Please keep reading. Now, then. I won't need to say much if you click the link for this Toto product, because the two videos pretty much say it all themselves--but please note that the spokeswomen for this product ARE sitting on the commode as they pleasantly talk to you throughout the demonstration. (Yes, demonstration. It must be seen to be believed.) If you find yourself laughing while you watch this video, I just want you to consider all the little presents that pregnancy and childbirth deal the female body, and you'll want to begin petitioning for our local hospitals' natal units to install these in every single lavatory.

Nevermind that they had me at the words "heated seat." I'm ready to put one of these in each bathroom in my house. Now accepting guest reservations.

September 04, 2009

And For My Next Trick...

It's 3:15 p.m.: school has ended, and there is a void on my desk where shortly, over 100 papers will wait to be graded over the weekend. It's sunny, and my sneakers are waiting in my car next to the stroller, and I'm about ready to leap out of my seat to pick up Devi and take a much-needed walk by the canal.

We're still not quite on Eastern Standard Time. This doesn't matter much, but this morning, the second day of classes, I found myself at 6 a.m., staring at my sleeping baby--no: she wasn't just sleeping. She was dreaming, breathing deeply, engrossed in visions of toys, milk, and dancing sugarplums, her face intent on holding fast to those heavenly visions, her tiny hands clinging to her blankie as though to let go of it were to evaporate those lovely dreams. Her stillness, apart from that gorgeous, whistling breathing, was the picture of contentment. So when I disrupted it, stroking her rosy cheek and cooing my good morning to her, it was no wonder that the look on her face was probably exactly the same as what it will be when we explain how babies are made.

This, so far, is being a working mother: the day is doled out into these parts: getting ready for the day (getting dressed, out the door, etc.), our time at work, our time at home, and getting ready for the next day (preparing lunches and clothing, etc.). It necessitates a kind of organization to which I'm not accustomed--that kind of organization (some are born with it) where you've bought the birthday card weeks before the birthday and even sent it on time. I find I'm trying to figure out what I want to cook for dinner and eat for lunch a week ahead so that I can grocery shop without having to return to the store a few days later for that one more thing; I'm trying to plan classes way in advance in case a sub needs to step in for more than a day; I'm trying to plan rehearsals around Jewish holidays, Homecoming, faculty and department meetings, and book club. And in between all of this planning, I'm hoping to make food (both for us and said holidays), grade papers, attend rehearsals, and teach. And be a sane, great, loving, supportive wife. And a dynamic, great, fun teacher. And a sane, great, dynamic, supportive and fun mommy.

There's the rub. A friend, who happens to be my colleague, told me prior to my beginning maternity leave last year, that "something will give: your job as a teacher or a mother--but one has to be compromised, and you'll make a choice."

This may sound juvenile, but I'm not ready to compromise my role as a mother (nor wife) nor my role as a teacher. I think of something I heard on a momversation not long ago: that the word "balance" is misleading. To paraphrase, and I'll try to remember who said it, "balance" has connotations of one teetering on a tightrope, trying, with every able fiber, not to lose focus and slip.

My next door neighbor, Dawn, is an incredible acrobat in this respect. She has three boys, ages 7, 4, and almost 2. Two of the three attend school in the same place, which is literally around the corner from us. Her husband works from home but is occasionally asked to travel; she works at an elementary school and so must leave the house early each morning--in fact, our garages open around the same time, 6:45. And somehow, I've noticed, it seems that dinner is being made around the time I get home with Devi (around 5 pm), and the kids get to play until 7, and then are in bed sometime thereafter. Their house has not blown up. She has not run screaming from it, either, tearing out her hair. There is no sign on the lawn of mayhem or chaos. So it begs the question: HOW THE HELL DO THEY DO IT? I'm going to ask her--but on a weekend, when these questions can be discussed at greater length and over much wine.

I knocked into a desk on my way out of a classroom today. There is a plum-colored bruise on my upper thigh. (Standard job hazard, those bruises.) I was rushing from room 339 to 345, because I do not have my own classroom, and so teach in four different ones: not an issue, except when students want to tell you about their summer AND want to recommend books you should read that they read over the summer AND want to ask you questions about tomorrow's auditions ALL during the passing time, theirs and mine, and so all of us are about to be late to our next classes. So after furiously scribbling out some passes, I dismissed them and started running (yes, in heels) to my next spot, then BAM! The desk corner. Ow. And on my very late way to room 345, I remembered the standard job hazards of new mommyhood: wearing baby vomit and maybe the occassional poop stain, unknowingly, to the grocery store. Sore body parts that accompany midnight feedings; a nasty tendonitis that is common to new mothers which makes inserting and removing a baby in a carseat (nevermind carrying that carseat) excruciating. These are the cons of a job I love, though, and I'm the better for it.

I'm always comparing these jobs. Teacher, mother. Roles that involve children, surprises, teaching, improvising, humor, and bruises. Mistakes made in these tenures can have devastating effects; successful days are weighed and measured in connections made through glances, language, smiles, and sometimes, yes, touch. I mother my students sometimes (if you even THINK about drinking or texting and getting in a car, your idiocy trumps my current opinion of you), and I'm always teaching Devi something (This leaf is green. It's waxy and green, it's a waxy, green leaf). They're demanding posts that require vigilance and humor, an ability to go-with-the-flow, they require more of you when you're already exhausted. And I love them (almost) equally. Am I allowed to admit that?

Now that I'm teaching a Creative Writing course to upperclassmen, my raison-d'etre as a teacher is more clear than ever. I get to instruct, learn, and develop as both teacher and writer all at once. Joy! Fulfillment! And for my next trick, I'm going to try doing this for the next 20 weeks--40 weeks--30 years--without complaining that life as a working mom is very hard. Because that's obvious to all of you who do it, and who've found the balance. I'd just like some advice here and there about how you really make it work.

Even tightropes come with nets that cradle and cushion your fall. And I know that fall is going to happen once in a while. Feel free to post your comment about how you get back up there.

September 03, 2009

Final Night: The Delicacies of Japan

By the week's end, it was definitely time to come home. Devi's cold had me admittedly worried, and her sleep habits had changed significantly enough that I had visions of sleeplessness (as I did when she was brand new) forever. We'd been up almost every night with sniffly, and sometimes, coughing Devi, running a hot shower to steam out the cold at 3 or 4 a.m., and that, plus all the running around during the days, had us pretty wiped. [At some point, I'll blog about The Truth of Traveling Abroad with a Baby, but that's for another time. Let's see how long it takes her to recover from her jet lag first.]

There was one meal left to enjoy: our last dinner in Japan, with Yagi-San. We wound up not far from our hotel in a quaint but trendy sushi joint that overlooked the Osaka skyline. It was a perfect moment for Heath and I to reflect upon our time on the island-country (though we'd have 18 or so more hours in transit to do the same), and as we supped, Yagi continued to introduce us to delicacies we might not see again until our return. Red Miso. Unidentifiable fish. A kind of saki we wouldn't find in the States. As I like to do when I travel, I had eaten my way through Japan and loved every bite (except for nato, which made me wretch). I suppose it's hard to savor a culture without literally tasting it.

Our chef quickly prepared our meal--not for our sake, but because it was his training:

And how he made all of that sushi just perfectly, well, was in itself an art.

Beyond the food, though, I'll miss many things about Japan. There are just so many cultural idiosyncrasies that let you know where you are, and it's unmistakably Japan, but that are so hard to define outright. (It's lost in translation, again.) I've said to friends that this is a culture that values beauty and the aesthetic--even of its food--to such an extent that sometimes, roadsigns are a pleasure to look at. Delicate, rice paper windows on real, wooden doors; lanterns that hang from small, roadside shops; the occasional woman donning a kimono--perhaps a maiko, perhaps just a traditional woman, in and among the modern-dressed commuters in a subway train; the practice of washing your hands with a hot washcloth prior to eating; the fresh smell of the sea when you pass a small restaurant, its door open just enough to entice you to enter; the friendly smiles of the people who, though they cannot speak English and you cannot speak Japanese, are only too glad to help you find your way with nothing more than a map and a guidebook. I'll miss the quiet of the shrines and temples, and the bustle of funky Tokyo; doffing the shoes at the precipice of a home so as not to bring in the grime of the street; and maybe most, just enjoying the beauty and calm of a garden with my favorite little girl, whose bluest eyes took it all in with me.

Our last night in Japan....Or was it? By our calculation, we left Narita Airport at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday--and left Chicago bound for Rochester at... 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Somewhere, over the Pacific, we gained a day or night. And somewhere, over the Pacific, many miles up, up in the air, we all slept soundly, our little family unit all snuggled together between armrests and among airplane pillows and blankets, all tangled around each other, our wanderlust satiated for the time being. (I think Uncle Walt would be proud.) Here's to returning someday to Japan. Kampai!

August 30, 2009

I No Naka No Kawazu Taikai O Shirazu

{Translation: A frog who stays in a well doesn't know about the great sea. Meaning: Get out and explore!}

Heath was off for his second and final presentation to the Daymon/Mondai team in Osaka, and once again, for the last time in Japan, Devi and I had the day to ourselves. We'd both slept poorly but the runny nose and wet cough had subsided enough that I thought a few hours in the mugginess of the day might do her sinuses some good. The hotel concierge had given me a map of Osaka with a highlighted route to see many small temples on the way to "the big temple." She warned that it was a 30-minute walk there, and advised that I took the shorter, less circuitous, less scenic route (10 minutes); but what adventure would there be without a circuitous route? Off we went, stroller, diaper bag, map, yen, iPhone.

This was a weird walk. It took about twenty minutes just to get to the right street with the temples, but these were interspersed with car and moped dealers, auto parts shops, and minimarts. So it was temple, Hondas, temple temple Mitsubishi, temple, auto repair shop, minimart, temple, and so on for about a mile. And I took pictures at each temple; every time I thought that this one couldn't be very different than the last ten or so I'd seen, there was just something surprising or beautiful past the gate, like a pomegranate tree, or a huge lantern hanging from the eaves of a small shrine, or a small buddha with an apron or bib on (maybe there was a festival we missed?). I rounded the corner, finally, that was to lead to The Big Temple, when I noticed an incredible, gold pagoda behind an enormous stone wall. I almost passed it--it was getting really hot and I just wanted to reach our destination and call it a day. But the thought of missing something cool got the best of me--and I thought it nothing more than a good place to change and feed Devi. At least I could rest my feet for a few minutes and then we'd be off.

So I was ecstatic, upon reaching the front gate, to find this: Wow. And these, the doors to the gate:

Upon entering, we found a couple of small, glass-walled houses with vending machines and small tables for picnickers, an information center, a huge koi fish pond, a welcoming haiku, and then the central temples. I washed my hands in the purification water, and doused Devi's blankie, cooled off her legs and arms and forehead, and, taking her out of the stroller, met an entourage of grandmas just foaming at the mouth to take her off my hands while I took off my shoes to enter the temple. So of course, I let them.

And then, in the temple, it hit me: this is not a tourist site. This is Temple. Like, We need to go to Temple today, I've got to pray for my neighbor with the goiter. I sat down on one in a row of tiny chairs at the back wall, where a number of women were waiting to be called up by the monks for their turn. I didn't want to overstep my tourist bounds, and I did ask before taking this video, but couldn't really understand what anyone was saying--so it looked something like this: And of course, one of the grandmas waiting her turn asked to hold Devi, so naturally...

I'd folded my hands at other temples, not in prayer to any deity, but to say silent thanks for getting my family to Japan in one piece and staving off disasters, and to say prayers for our family. After all, the prayers that count most in Judaism are silent and meditative, and really, it doesn't matter where one does them. But here, I felt uncomfortable praying; maybe because there was a prescribed way to do it. So I carried my gratitude and prayers around with me as I toted Devi over to the smoky incense, where there was another, smaller shrine where people congrated to give alms and pray. There were no other Westerners, no other babies, not much talking. It was a truly tranquil spot. I decided to take Ms. Devi over to the little refreshment hut to have her lunch, and here, the grandmas caught up with us.

And what happened next defies language, but I'm going to recount what happened, and hopefully the words will come.

Devi, content in her stroller, my one hand on the bottle in her tiny mouth and my other hand mixing her oatmeal and squash, three diminutive, elderly women perched at the next table. The woman who'd held Devi in the temple bowed her head to me, a sign of greeting, and I bowed my head back. She opened a small basket and doled out her lunch to the other two women seated, and they talked--I wish I knew about what. It was an animated discussion, and before I knew it, Grandma was coming toward me with a small, plastic cup of a gelatinous, greyish stuff with what looked like bean paste in the middle, and a small wooden knife atop it. I nodded again, smiling, trying to say 'no, it's alright, you don't have to do that,' as best I could. She nodded and nodded back, backing towards her chair and sitting, and so went back to her lunch. But before I had a moment to inspect the cup, there she was again, now cutting up the gelatin, and spearing a piece of it with the little knife, stuck a piece in my mouth. RIGHT IN MY MOUTH, people. I was pleasantly stunned. Mama! She said. Mama, mama! I think she was trying to tell me that mamas need to eat too, and honestly, I had planned on finding a nice noodle shop on our way home that afternoon, but this Grandma had decided it was Mama's lunchtime now, and she wasn't taking no for an answer. In went another piece, then another. Then she left me for a few minutes to eat her own lunch. Devi had a funny, bewildered sort of look on her face, like, Um, who's supposed to be feeding who here? Her bottle done, it was on to the oatmeal and squash.

Back Grandma came, this time, with a sweet bun/sweet bean paste, right into my mouth. Oh, thank you! I said, my mouth full, bowing my head emphatically. Grandma nodded and laughed, her friends laughed. Laughed, and then went right back to eating and talking, maybe about the weather or about their plans for the week, or their neighbors. Devi's lunch finished, it was time to find a place to change her, so with many more bows, I was off to find a shady spot. I went to the Grandma to tap her hand, but wound up hugging her instead. And she hugged me back.

But there was really nowhere to go--even the quiet, contemplative, shady spots were not private enough, and rather than defiling a spot I wasn't sure was sacred or not, asked the woman at the information desk where I might go to change the baby. I made the international signs for baby--cradling my arms--and pointed to Devi--and then put my fingers over my nose, stinks!. She nodded and got on the phone. Putting the receiver down, she smiled at me, and then got up, left her perch, and took the stroller from me. It's okay! I implored, I can push it! But she insisted, and strolled Devi all the way over to a private house that must have been where the monks live, because it was way off the beaten path. She opened the thick wooden door and pointed to a row of slippers; I took off my shoes again, put on a pair, and she led Devi and I over to a private contemplation room, maybe it was a chanting room--a sliding rice paper door, three paper walls around us, tatami mats on the floor and a single pillow. With a nod and a low bow, she slid the rice paper door closed, and there we were: just Dev and I, a quiet, cool room. Devi was more interested in eating the slippers than having her diaper changed, and really, laying down on the tatami was very inviting. But not wanting to overstay our welcome, we were all changed and ready to move on.

Back at the information station, I asked, restrooms? (Is there a proper international sign for this?) And the same information lady led us over to the public restroom--and then waved me inside while--no joke--she stayed with Devi in the stroller, making funny faces at each other. In love with humanity, we were off to the Big Temple.

Which, to be honest, was okay. At that point, nothing could have compared to our most recent experience. It was now midday, the heat of the day oppressive, Devi had fallen asleep in her stroller, and I thought it best to just walk through the temple grounds and follow the map back to the hotel.

I did find a great little noodle shop, for the record. Turns out that one has to get a little ticket before directly ordering, so you pay a machine rather than a person. But once I figured that out, I got my little bowl of soba and watched Devi snooze away, audibly snoring, clinging to her soggy blanket. We spent the rest of the afternoon, cooling off and resting and getting clean, ready to join Heath and Yagi-san for dinner, our last in Japan.

Osaka: the Big Schlep

On our way from Tokyo to Osaka via Shinkansen (bullet train) on Thursday, Devi shocked us by quickly sucking down and then immediately throwing up an entire bottle of milk--luckily, all of it went on me, and none of it on the baby, Heath, or his quiet but friendly colleague Yagi-san, who was to accompany us through the remainder of the trip. More fortuitously, we'd opted to ship our large pieces of luggage from Tokyo to our hotel in Osaka. Heath must have taken the above photo with my iPhone while I was cleaning off baby vomit in the bathroom (p.s., these snacks are amazing--if you see them in the States, buy them). I cannot imagine the rest of this leg of the trip if we hadn't; for once we were off the shinkansen, Devi clung to me in the Ergo while I schlepped my backpack, Heath schlepped his briefcase/backpack and big green bag on the stroller, and poor Yagi-san offered to sacrifice his manhood and carry our diaper bag (plus his own luggage). I think we must have changed subway trains four or five times. Up escalators, down escalators, up elevators, stairs, escalators, platform to platform. Somewhere between trains, on one of the escalators, the stroller tipped, and one of our bags fell on Yagi. Had Heath and I let ourselves laugh aloud, we would have totally stripped Yagi of any remaining pride he had, so we tried our best not to and saved it for the hotel. Oh, we were totally wiped out by the time we got there--but true to Yagi's schedule, within an hour we were bound for dinner with more colleagues. The meal turned out to be one of those "what am I eating now?" affairs, where the men who we'd met for dinner just kept ordering to find the boundaries of our culinary comfort zone. They kept ordering sake and beer, too, so by the time we all got home, too tired to unpack again, we all went right to sleep.

But Devi's sniffles were unrelenting again. She woke up around 3:30 a.m. (again, as she had each night), and we were up until about 5. Dizzy with sleeplessness, muscles sore and tired, and still needing to make Devi's food for the day, I contemplated that these were the moments we'd all anticipated would be the hardest traveling with a baby: schelpping and sleeplessness. But we had one more full day of sightseeing ahead, and the weather was promising. I forced myself back to sleep for another hour.

August 29, 2009


devandmoteahouse Wednesday, Devi's and my second day solo in Japan, was one of those days where, in twenty or so years, I'll turn to our daughter and tell her what we did when she was seven months old, and she'll have no recollection of how absolutely downright freaking cool it was. Devi slept late again, and since her nose has started leaking a little, I thought it best to just let her snooze. When she finally roused, it was past lunchtime and I was starving. Here's the menu at the Korean BBQ: It all looks pretty much like the same ingredients in different forms, so with a little help from my server, I went with the "#2 most famous in all Makuhari!"--which turned out to look like this:. It was spicy, filling, totally delicious, and I slurped and people-watched as Devi gnawed on her new favorite food, Japanese baby rice crackers that Naoko had nudged us to try a few days earlier. Our lunch over, we sauntered over to the Japanese garden, as I'd promised Devi the day before. And as we entered, this time, we saw a small entourage of people following these newleyweds, having their wedding portraits done here. What timing! Devi's feet went nuts--her "happy feet" dance--and the bridge and groom took a moment from their portraiture to gawk at the little gaijin. And on we trotted, taking in the grasses and stone paths, the bridges and ponds and koi, the meticulously-manicured spaces, around to the public tea house. Perfect! Although this day wasn't nearly as hot as it had been, I was parched and ready for a respite from the sun (Devi had been shielded by the stroller, but felt a little warm too). I opened the rice paper door to find... no one. Until two women--one in Western clothing and the other in a traditional kimono--greeted us, accomodated the stroller, and seated me at one of the very narrow benches. Peace...tranquility...the Japanese garden outside to look upon, some air conditioning to relish, and my sweet little girl at my side. What more could I hope for? And the rice paper door opened once again. In walked about 20 folks from New Delhi. No joke. What's a tea ceremony without a little company? It took all of ten seconds before one of the young women on the tour saw Ms. Devi, immediately rushed over, and started asking me questions about her. How old? First time abroad? First child? And what's your sweet daughter's name? I told her. Devi? DEVI? A roar of delight among the Hindustanis, having no idea that our intention was to shorten the name Devorah (coincedentally, Devi, in Hindi, means 'goddess'). Well, that's all she wrote. Tea, shmee, these tourists were all over Devi like dragonflies on...I don't know what dragonflies like. Lots of photos and questions later, Kimono lady got a little bothered, so everyone took their seats.
(You can hear Devi munching on and loving up her rice cracker here.) Mine was a cold cup of green tea, and so refreshing. I tried to make it last as long as I could without rudely sucking on the ice cube. So with the lees of the tea left hovering around the ice cube, it was time to head back to the hotel to give Devi her lunch and a proper nap. Neither of us had any idea what the rest of the day had in store... A long line of impatient women with cameras lined the walkway to the door of Hotel New Otani, so naturally, my curiosity was piqued. I wasn't about to hang around to find out, so proceeded inside when I heard the shrieks of delight behind me.
The Fukuakowa Softbank Hawks were apparently our superstar coinhabitants. There's not a hunky Johnny Damon among them, but I could see why a fan might get a little hot and bothered (so can you--watch the video, above). On our way through the lobby, I asked Guest Services about tickets to the night's game (the stadium a mere ten minute walk away) and oh-- are there any sentos around I might visit? Heath had told me about sentos, public bathhouses for relaxation, that are gender-separated and very traditional. Naturally I wanted to visit one, and the concierge was all too happy to print out oodles of information about the two that exist in Chiba prefecture. I wanted the more authentic experience (which was a little cheaper, too), so took the literature on the smaller sento upstairs and read it while Devi took her short afternoon nap. Before long, Dev and Mo were on their way to a sento by way of taxi. Now: two important things about the sento. First, if you're shy when you're naked, don't go. And second, if you don't like women gawking at you because why the hell would a white girl and her baby show up at this very local sento, stay home. I had no idea what I was doing. And next to no one spoke English. It works like this: you take off your clothes, put them in a locker, shower off in a little area where there are plastic tubs to sit on and make sure you're scrupulously clean before heading to the bath. But this is where it gets interesting, because holding a (clothed) baby while trying to squat on a plastic tub and lathering up with one hand is a real challenge, nevermind while you're getting funny looks from the locals. I have no pictures to contribute here, because a.) I had no pockets and b.) do I really need a picture of this? Dev rested on one hip then the other while I washed each side of my body, and then through the glass doors to the outdoor sento.

OK: this is cool, and worth the trip. First stop was the stone beds, where you rest your neck over this curved thing and hot water comes out and runs down under and around your body. I was able to find a safe spot for Devi next to me (she sat on my towel), but the water was only just warmish, so I let her splash her toes around a little. Now I started to make friends. Kawaii, kawaii! The women whispered. The wind felt cool around me and the trickling water, the sound of the small waterfalls from the other pools, was nothing short of exhilarating. I tried out the second pool, but holding Devi over it was too taxing--there was a third, hotter, mineral pool, and a rather large platform where Devi happily napped on my towel while I soaked. A couple of older women tried to make polite conversation, but when it became obvious that I had no idea what they were saying (I think one tried to convince me to bring the baby in the water), they gave up and just let me sit in quiet. I couldn't close my eyes--I wanted to keep an eye on the babe--but it was relaxing just the same.

Back in the locker room, the woman who spoke broken English asked if she could hold Devi. I took this video because I didn't think Heath would believe that I'd made it to a sento by myself, and made a friend to boot: . This kind woman, who spoke broken English, offered to hold and rock Devi while I changed into my clothes. She also took about 400 pictures of Devi with her phone, because I think she was so shocked that this little blonde girl turned up at the sento.

Heath called while we were in the taxi on our way back--there was extra room at dinner with the working guys, and would we like to join them? Sashimi and Kirin and sake and various unidentifiable foods, good company, a long day. Japan rocks. And for the record, I have eaten octopus. Twice.