FirstWord/LastWord

Christmas Clairewww.keriecleveland.com

On Saturday morning, Claire awoke in a happy mood, babbling in her crib for a good long while before demanding to be taken out and given milk.  When she finally did “call” for us, Andrew and I were still feeling lazy, so we pulled her into bed  for what we hoped would be some nice baby snuggle time.

But our unmade bed is to Claire a fascinating obstacle course.  She crawls over stray pillows and random coverlet lumps as though she is an all-terrain vehicle, plowing through the rumpled sheets while making sounds akin to a sputtering engine.  In dim light, she finds our faces with her little hands and grabs hard at our noses, or slaps our cheeks.  Occasionally, Claire will face plant into a pillow and suck her fingers for a hopeful moment, but this is just a way to buy some time while hatching a plan for her next adventure. Always, she heads towards the nearest edge of the bed, which is 32 inches high – a number we know because we had to measure it after Claire, at six months, rolled off.

All of this makes for a less than restful snuggle. But it’s fun, and it delays the beginning of our inevitable morning routine.

At some point during Claire’s Saturday morning theatrics, Ivy sensed a good time and bounded onto the bed with us.  The baby, who was delighted, and completely unphased by Ivy’s tail,  giggled and squealed “EyeBee!” All other babbling we have been able to write off as just that, but the “EyeBee” we heard from Claire on Saturday was an intentional first.  She’d put two and two together.  Today, she did it again.  At lunch, I caught her passing  pieces of chicken and cheese to her new best friend, the vehicle for her first intellectual milestone: EyeBee.

Just as Claire ends 2008 with her first word, I end this year closing out “Joyful Things”.  Certainly, as I’ve continued to grow as a writer, this site has become a surprising tool in helping me suss out fake narrative voice – too many of my friends read this for me to go around putting on airs – and, it’s served as a constant reminder that writers are never truly out of ideas.

In closing, I hope this little blog has captured the wonder of the every day, that it has rung true, and that it has pointed to the power of paying attention.  In writing, I think that’s what we’re all after – or at least I am.  I’ll keep doing it, in a somewhat more structured way of Wandering at www.proximitymag.org, beginning January 1.

Proximity is a collaborative project with two of my writer friends, Carrie Kilman and Maggie Messitt, narrative journalists in Madison, Wisconsin and rural South Africa, respectively.  Each week, we plan to spend an hour at a chosen location in each of our cities (coffee shop, bus stop, restaurant, etc.) and write around that theme.  Later, we’ll ask readers to contribute their own posts in what we hope will become a global portrait of common ground.

I hope I’ll see you there.  In the mean time, Happy Holidays!

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A Bump in the Road

On Sunday afternoon, my beloved father-in-law, Peter, suffered a major stroke. I have neither the poetics nor the mental capacity to write about this right now, but if I did, I would begin by using his dog, Charlotte, as an example – she is holding steady by the door, waiting for his return – and end with a word or two about who Pete is (an artist, a philosopher, a storyteller whose wit knows no equal) and why it is essential that he get better.

Peter is one of the most consistently faithful people I know. If you are the praying sort, please shout a word or two to God for him. My 8 year old cousin, Hardin, asked God to “fix him real good.” In other words, we seek complete restoration, will power, peace, progress, and a good night’s sleep for his loved ones.

For more information on Peter’s condition, go to www.caringbridge.org/visit/peterkintz

Thank you.

Not Forgotten

In the weeks following Claire’s birth, I felt a little overwhelmed. This was to be expected, of course – I’ve never had a baby before – but it’s worth mentioning on the blog that one of the major contributing factors to my responsibility overload (and serious guilt-feelings) was – and is – our golden retriever, Ivy.

Andrew and I got Ivy when she was eight weeks old. At a gas station on the Georgia/Alabama line, we met her breeder, Zegie, a woman with a strong country accent and a sweet disposition, and traded cash for lop-eared puppy. Ivy rode in my lap, trembling, all the way home. She was the softest, sweetest thing, all pounding heart and over-sized paws.

Ivy’s grandmother was a seeing-eye dog and her mother had the sleek, muscular build of an American Golden – more akin to an Irish Setter’s bodacious bod than that of the bulkier British Retriever’s. But it was Ivy, not her good looks or family line, with whom we fell in love. The puppy was all heart; she was feisty and mischievous; irresistibly snuggly; nearly human.

As Ivy grew (and grew … and grew) her heart grew even bigger than her paws, her loyalty stronger than the thump of her ever-swinging, golden-flocked tail. In the worst of times, she has catered to us with a sort of divine sensitivity: when I found out my father had died, Ivy leapt to my side, warming the shock out of my system, nuzzling me, as if expressing some sort of shared grief and deep understanding.

In the best of times, she has only added to our joy.

We talk to Ivy as if she is a human. She has only seen the inside of a kennel once in her life. For a dog, she has an astounding vocabulary, including (but not limited to) “Be patient!”, “Find your collar,” and six to ten names of friends and family members. Ivy knows to expect presents (and a chunk or two of real meat) on her birthday, February 1. In short, we have coddled her into human-hood.

Had Andrew and I decided never to have children, this human-treatment of pet would, though odd, pose little problem. But Claire’s arrival has complicated things. Friends, after congratulating us on Claire’s birth, would often ask – with serious gravity – “How’s Ivy doing?”. And the truth is, she’s done just fine, but we have had our hands full.

To feel loved, Ivy needs two walks a day. If we miss one, she gives us dirty looks. Every now and then, when I am in rapt “conversation” with Claire, I will glance over to see Ivy looking seriously despondent. This breaks my heart. When the baby cries, Ivy will often look away from her and sigh, and I worry about canine depression.

In reality, I know she’s just transitioning to a more sustainable place in the family pack, but the transition is hard. Ivy feels superior to Claire, and in many ways, she certainly is better domesticated, less wild, more considerate. I do like to remind her that she was much less trouble than Claire when she was a puppy, but this does little to placate her.

Going forward, Andrew and I are hopeful that Claire and Ivy will become good friends, eager playmates, sharers of little secrets. If our girl is anything like us, she’ll fall easily in love with Ivy, and Ivy, sensing that deep affection, will love her back. My only fear is that I will be the jealous one then, forced to cede the warm, lovey lump at the end of my side of the bed to Claire – a younger, more fun, less distracted version of myself.