Monday, January 28, 2008

Ben is four today

Today my son is four. His day was crowded with celebration. Last night we baked forty-eight cupcakes to take to his school. He had one before bed and one this morning with breakfast.

I sang to him this morning when he woke up, smiling as he usually does. At school, they sang to him and he got to wear the birthday hat. Tonight, after home made pizza and cheers all around, we sang to him and more cupcakes followed.

Yesterday was Mozart's 250th birthday. We went to the symphony. The Ann Arbor Symphony presented a children's concert: Poulenc's Babar and a world premiere piece--a jazz composition setting the book Sweet Music of Harlem to music. I wasn't sure how Ben would do, and he loved it. Before the concert, the A2S presented a "petting zoo" of cello and violin for kids to try.

Although his form is better on the violin, it was the cello that made him smile. Yo Yo Ben.

When I was sitting all night in a chair in Huetzel Hospital with him in my arms four years ago, I never imagined that we'd be here, in Ann Arbor, able to experience all these wonderful advantages on the bus line. On any bus line. The twists and turns of life are simply amazing.

Happy Birthday my lovely son. The music you bring to life is celestial.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How do birds keep their feet warm?

Yesterday, after a long morning walk in the snow, my dad joined us for hot chocolate and pancakes. We were watching the birds at the feeder--we get a remarkable variety here. Two flashy pairs of cardinals, purple finches incognito, a red-bellied woodpecker, juncos (juncoes?), red-breasted nuthatches and white-breasted ones too, and our real joy, a carolina wren.

My dad asked Ben, hoping to stump him, "How do birds keep their feet warm?"

Ben opened with a joke, "Well, they don't wear boots," he said, with a smile. "They are very, very cold, getting seeds in the snow. Their feet have talons," he said, holding his hands up jaw-height and curling his fingers down like eagle talons.

My dad said, "Yes, but how do they keep their feet warm?"

Ben pondered the birds, darting down from the big spruce tree onto our patio feeder and back again to the deep green cover.

"They have boots in their nests, that's how."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Crunching snow

It's cold. Four degrees this morning, full moon shining at 6 a.m. When you go outside you can feel the cold seep through even your best, high tech winter jacket from LLBean. Ben doesn't seem to mind, in his two layer parka, hat, mittens, snow pants and penguin boots. He was talking about Arctic winds today: they are learning about Antarctica at school ("You take a boat from Chile, Momma.") His teacher learned that there are some penguins now in Northern Japan who were carried there by the wind. Sounds like a weird theory because penguins don't fly, but who am I to question Montessori wisdom.

Anyway, it's cold. The snow is very crunchy, and everyone in Michigan knows that snow only crunches when it's very cold. The lower the temp, the louder the crunch. It's loud tonight. Which just adds to the fun for Ben as I haul him along on Lily's nightly walk, sitting like a penguin prince on his little sled.

Four years ago I had already met his birth mother and his half brothers, and we all knew he was full term and would be joining us at any moment. I had sat on an orange plastic chair which had its own unique crunchy sound, and heard his feathery little thumping heart inside Vickie's womb. I had come to understand what it might be like to be poor and in need of prenatal care in Detroit by visiting the women's clinic at Huetzel Hospital during those last few weeks before his birth. I'm sure it hasn't gotten any better there in four years with billions being poured into death and private interests in Iraq, Michigan's unemployment rate the highest in the nation (you know it's bad when Republicans campaign here proposing federal bailouts for us) and hundreds losing their homes to foreclosures each month.

Tonight, after reading a book and before the last drink of water, Ben wanted me to sing. His favorite book lately is I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, a sweet book about a single mom adopting a baby from China. I think he's starting to understand what adoption might be. In the book, the mom "plays" a lullaby for her new baby, but I always say "sings" when I read it, because I have always sung to Ben.

The song he wanted tonight was the Welsh lullaby my mother sang to all four of her babies:

Sleep my child, and peace attend thee,
All through the night.
Guardian angels god will send thee,
All through the night.
While the ancient hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in shadow steeping,
I, my loving vigil keeping,
All through the night.

So we sang that first, Ben joining in on "all through the night". Then we moved on to "Me and My Shadow," and finally ended with that good old standard, "Fly Me to the Moon."

Baby it's cold outside, but it's really wonderful in here. May your crunching snow be lit by moonlight all the days of your life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sledding in Moon Sparkles

There's no mystery I haven't felt like writing. It seems like getting through the days takes all my energy--the job continues to be a huge challenge as I face some pretty serious issues on both sides of the counter. Everyday I am using my brain constantly. Then I come home and focus on Ben with all my energy, and by the time he goes to bed I am usually exhausted. There's a real sadness in me lately too: losses and aging and feeling like I just can't quite get it all done alone.

Tonight, we took Lily out for her after dinner walk about 7:15. There's just enough new snow to pull Ben on the sled while we walk. We walked along the creek for a while when it occured to me that a moonlight sled might be just the ticket for us both. We put Lily in the apartment (you can't do serious sledding in the dark with a dog, what if she ran off?) and trudged over to the Leslie Science Center, a great sledding hill that's usually overpopulated on days when normal parents take their kids. By the time we got there, it was nearly 8:00 pm.

The full moon was high in the sky, shining through the January air with a palpable crispness that only a Michigan winter provides. Stars were everywhere, and from up there you can see the Ann Arbor city lights twinkling at your feet. We were both smiling broadly as we reached the summit.

I thought Ben might hesitate, in the dark, but he said "My turn first, Momma," hopped on the plastic sled and zoomed down the dark hill. The moon was so bright I had no trouble seeing him reach the end of his run. He jumped off to pull the sled back up.

When he got up to the top, I said, "Was it fun?" His enthusiastic yes was followed by instructions.

"I want to do it over here," he said, pointing to a bit steeper incline. Off again he went, even faster. A three year old, at night, on a deserted hill, having a great ride. When he came up next, he said, "You slide with me this time, Momma?"

I was unable to resist, and we streaked down the hill with my added poundage. He tightened his grip around my legs. We fell off at the bottom laughing. As we got up, I pointed out the moon, the stars, the city. "And the moon sparkles!" added Ben, pointing his snow-packed-wool -mittened- hand at the diamond flaked snow.

Moon sparkles.

The kid's a poet. One of his first five words was "moon," and he's always had a passion for her.

He begged for one more slide, "Please, please, please," his magnificent white smile looking up into my face. One more, then he was ready to head home for hot chocolate. As we trudged down to the corner, he looked up at the moon.

"Thank you, Moon, for watching us sledding."

All the damage of the day, all the difficult transitions, all the losses of age, all the aches of my feet, all the trying moments of truly single parenting, melt away again. How could I have lived without this experience? Thank you, Moon, indeed, for your sparkles, your watching, your light and for my son who will be four in less than a week.

Thank you, Ben, for Moon Sparkles.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Street pas de deux

The man standing on the corner
fixes me in his one eyed glare.
"Look ma'am," he begins,
ungloved palm up,
"I mean, Mom," he corrects himself,
"I am not a bum."

Who he sees makes
me look at him,
his one eye taped shut
with two wide strips
of clear packing tape,
the skin of his face
red from the cold.
"I need to get home," he says,
with pleading plie,
"and no one will help
because I am not a resident."

New to this town myself,
I hand him my only dollar.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy Perfect New Year

I realize I haven't posted in over two months. A lot has been happeninng, including adding Lily, a rescued 7 year old Labradoodle to our household. She's perfect. I don't know where the time has gone. Thank you to all of you who sent me words of encouragement during my silence. I bet you can guess what one of my resolutions is--I'm baaaacck!

We awakened to a thick blanket of snow at 7:30 this morning. By 9, Ben and I were outside, building a snow rabbit (Ben’s suggestion, as opposed to a snow man.) Lily the dog was loving every moment, digging her face in the deep snow, and coming up with a white beard making us laugh.

Our neighbors Tanya and Tasha came out, and Tanya said “Happy New Year, isn’t it perfect?” in her perfect Polish accent. Tanya and her husband Benjamin are post-doctoral students in math with teaching positions at the U. Tasha is their two year old, blond, blue-eyed joy. Tanya had her camera and kept taking pictures.

Tanya’s husband Benjamin came out and joined us, looking a little sleepy. The kids were getting restless, so we decided on a sledding adventure. We three adults took turns pulling the kids on the sled to the hill. Less than a half mile from our door is a golf course surrounded by the most wonderful steep hills—perfect topology for sledding and running dogs.

After much exertion and adding two resolutions to my short list (eat less, exercise more), we got to the base of the hill. The first run down was Ben and me on the sled, and it was slow, as the deep fluffy snow packed down beneath us. Then Benjamin and Tasha, then Ben and me, then Tanya and Tasha. After about six or seven runs we had a very respectable chute, and the speeds were increasing with each pass.

Ben decided he wanted to do it himself, and do it he did, with gusto and laughter, wiping out halfway down his first solo run. He simply climbed back on and finished. I was so proud of his courage and the fun he was having.

Our sledding party trudged back at a little after noon—having spent nearly three hours in outdoor fun. Lunch of noodles and oranges, and our homemade oatmeal cookies, then a long luxurious nap for both of us. Tonight we cleaned the apartment, played trains for about an hour, took a bath with all the new plastic animals we found under Ben’s bed, then read several books with hot cocoa and cookies.

Ben is sleeping now, and Lily is sleeping in the other bed in his room. As I write this, it is still snowing and lovely. I am filled with the renewed feeling that, in Tanya’s words, it is indeed a perfect New Year.