How to Remember

More than anything else—more than intelligence, kindness, creativity, or even patience, I have wanted Clara to have an attention span. To that end, rather than buying a cheap $50 television that isn’t flat, we have used our tiny little laptop screen to watch two-week-old episodes on Hulu and to suffer through countless scratched DVDs from the one Blockbuster still in business, the one in Soldotna, AK, USA.  I think I’m so fond of the idea that a two-year-old might be able to sit still and concentrate because I believe everything else—smarts, empathy, imagination–falls into place if you know how to pay attention.

Perhaps paying attention is as simple as experiencing, rather than observing, your own life. I can’t get that to sound any less like a self-help book except to say that Clara shouts “corn” whenever she sees a picture of a goose. She says “corn” because that’s what she feeds the geese at Great-Papa’s house.  She learns what she experiences, and she experiences what she pays attention to.

One of my proudest motherly moments happened two days ago in the library. We go to the library story hour a couple times a week because it’s at the top of our “free stuff to do” list. They sing songs and dance and pass out stickers in addition to reading children’s books about naughty balloons and what the children in South Africa eat for breakfast.  After the story hour, Clara and I usually hang out in the kids’ reading room for awhile. On Thursday, there were five other kids—all in a gaggle around one mom. They were coloring at a table, and Clara pulls up a chair to join them while I nurse William in a rocking chair.  She is enthralled by their drawings and points to the one drawn by a girl whose paper has the name “Angelique” written at the top. The girl is suspicious of Clara, perhaps because all two-year-olds can be a bit unpredictable, but Clara intently watches the girl draw without interfering. As she points to the girl’s name, the girl says her name out loud and Clara smiles, nods, and says, “I know.” The girl gives Clara an orange crayon. Clara makes a small line on the girl’s paper. The girl gives Clara a red crayon. Clara makes another small mark. They get to know each other, one crayon and crooked line at a time.

In that moment, I saw Clara try to figure out another person by paying attention to them. I saw that the girl liked the slow, unobtrusive attention, too, and that that is how a friendship begins.

For my Florida book club, I just finished reading The Giver for the first time. This Lois Lowry Newberry Award winner for Junior Fiction makes one major assertion: it is our memories that allow us to learn and feel. Without memories, there is no feeling. In my experience, memories are a collection of the moments when, by choice or not, we paid the most attention.  It is when the force of our focus intensified an experience so that it would remain a part of us. So, my hope for my little girl and my baby boy (Who is so strong! He holds his head up now when I’m holding him on my hip) is that they will know how to see and hear the world around them so that their lives will be rich with experiences that turn into memories and memories that turn into feelings and understanding.

For now, some more pictures.

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Clara and William watch each other from their favorite seats in the house. Clara has taken to telling me in her most concerned voice, “Mama! Baby crying!” whenever he makes a peep.

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I just think he is the most handsome baby I’ve ever seen even if he is covered in baby acne and cradle cap.

August 2012 006

Aaron and Clara have a jam session. First on the lineup: “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Second: Dinky Dink, a.k.a., “Skinnamarinky Dinky Dink, I Love You.”

August 2012 014

While Dad plays the guitar, Mom tries to stretch out some muscles that haven’t been stretched since the second trimester of pregnancy. Clara likes to do “goga,” too. Here she is, sporting her Downward Facing Dog.

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And, here’s her Upward Facing Dog.

I also hope that Clara always loves her baby brother as much as she does now. He’s her world now. She wakes up in the morning and asks, almost franticly, “Where is baby?” if I happen to be in a different room than the sleeping-soundly William. He was also the first thing she said she loved: she was coddling his head and said, “I love baby” and now routinely says, “I love brother.” Finally, she eeked out an “I love Dada” and “I love Mama,” too.

A friend came to visit on Wednesday and we were discussing whether or not she would have a fourth child. She said she heard that if you can’t say “no” to another kid, then that means the answer is “yes.” I feel lucky that the cut-off has been clear cut for us. Although I’m soaking up William’s baby months in a way I was emotionally unprepared to do with Clara, I feel a lot of warmth and certainty  about the fact that our family is complete.  Clara started what William has finished and already those two roles seem so well-suited for who they are. Clara is my busy, independent, sensitive girl and William is turning out to be his sister’s easy-going, patient complement. Even at such early ages, they have each other for what will likely be the longest relationship of their lives. I love watching it unfold.  They are already my best memories.

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