Saturday, April 11, 2015

Friends in the Forests

Illustration by Tze-Chiang Lim

In meadows, swamps, and flatwood spans,
In pastures, brush, and cyprus stands,
The Florida Tomtens live in peace,
Behind each pine and palm frond leaf.

Like little old men, they have long beards,
Worn red hats and pointy ears,
They stand just inches off the ground,
But move through woods without a sound.

By day, they hide in fallen logs,
In morning mists and wetland fogs,
They watch us with a wary eye,
They rarely speak, for they are shy.

But in the woods lies secret worlds,
Where Tomtens speak with birds and squirrels,
Upon swift snakes they dart and rush,
At lightening speed through thick and brush.

They whisk above upon fierce hawks,
Or with large gators, take long walks,
At night when things are still and cold,
They sleep in armadillo holes.

Though sometimes far and sometimes near,
We never need to live in fear,
Should you see a shadow, late at night,
Fear not, they aren't the harmful type.

They may just want to make a trade,
To take a doll, or garden spade,
If in its place, you see a pine cone,
You know a Tomten was in your home.

The Tomtens may take other things,
A thought, a key, a word, a dream,
Of mysteries, they may snatch clues,
They may take even people, too.

Those parents who are mean and mad,
Who make their children glum and sad,
May find their children whisked away,
To live with Tomtens, night and day.

But for those children, the Tomtens swap,
A special gift that they have caught, 
When bad parents check their children's beds,
They may find rattle snakes instead.

Look close at dawn toward the swamps,
For children's faces, wild and gaunt,
Pity them not, as they skip between trees,
A better life, they've found with new families.

But good parents never need to fear,
And all good children may take cheer,
The Tomtens help those gentle souls,
Who find themselves in places foul.

If ever lost in forests dense,
If ever wracked amid suspense,
You may get help along the way.
To help you keep your fears at bay. 

A cheerful chirp, a footpath worn,
A helpful shelter amid a storm,
Are all the things a Tomten makes,
To help their friends out of mistakes.

But even if they're on your roof,
You'll see them not, for they're recluse,
But there are signs that they exist,
Just turn your ears toward the mist.

Listen closely, at sunrise,
And you'll be in for a surprise, 
Far away, you'll hear violins,
A second before the first birds sing.

Open your window, breathe the air,
Sing back a song, and don't despair,
If kind and good, you've passed the test,
And earned some friends amid the forest.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hit the Ground Running

Dear Ellie,

I think now it's official: physical therapy is over.  They set numerous 6 month goals for you about a month ago: goals to pull yourself to stand, to stand alone, to take a step or two...  as of now, you've already met them all, including the final one: walking.

Last week after I fastened a little baby mirror to your (outsized) playpen, you were so intrigued by your own reflection that, without thinking, you turned around from where you stood and walked three or four steps right on over to the mirror.  I think we were both a bit shocked.  You, because you didn't even know you could walk without holding anything, and me, because babies are expected to walk somewhere between 11 months and 15 months developmentally.  Last week, when you took those first conspicuous steps, you were only 10 and a half months.  Since then, it's been game on.

You're mother bought little play "islands" in your playpen for you to walk to and from and every chance you get--- using every excuse you can think of--- you are walking back and forth between those little islands and the couch.  It doesn't always end "pretty."  Sometimes you end up on your face.  Sometimes you trip over an obstacle and your feet fly up in the air.  Regardless, nothing seems to discourage you, and in a few seconds, you're back up and back at it.

At first, I wondered why or how you'd learned to walk so quickly, but the more that I think about it, the more it seems obvious: you are a very active, very determined baby.  Just like the days after you were born, you're still that same wiggly kid.  In the NICU, you thrashed and flailed and everyone called you a "wiggle worm."  After you came home, even though you couldn't flip over, you'd "pseudo-crawl" the second we set you down.  Once you learned to flip, you'd flip from front to back, front to back, over and over and over with no apparent objective.  Upon mastering your crawling and climbing skills, you'd unfailingly look for the biggest obstacle as soon as someone put you down and set off to conquer it.  The couch, of course, is one of your favorites.  Just a few days ago, I watched you struggling to scale it for about 10 minutes.  You grunted and growled and bellowed in frustration until, at last, you succeeded.  But did you savor your victory?  Nope.  Instead, you immediately went about climbing the back of the couch.  On to the next challenge.

It seems almost as if you have zero regard for the pain or exertion required to achieve some new physical feat.  Even now, as you free stand from a sitting position then walk toward me, your face looks like that of a competitive weight-lifter: red, straining, grunting.  When you finally do make it to my arms or lap, you look me in the eye with a victorious grin, then start it all over again.  Its almost as if you are actively pursuing things that are difficult.  Set you down at the base of some stairs?  Thems look like climbin' stairs.  When I lay down on the ground next to you?  I'm suddenly a much more appealing obstacle than a daddy.

The thing that really strikes me, though, is that all through your progress, I've never stopped noticing those little preemie qualities that should be holding you back.  Your tight muscles.  Your stubby little body.  The pain of reflux whenever you weren't sitting upright.  Still, you've made up for those handicaps with a super dose of grit and resolve.  It's inspiring, in a way.  After all, it's one thing to be born with some talent or attribute.  It's quite another to achieve it through determination, resourcefulness and effort.  The former lets you thrive at one particular thing.  The latter lets you thrive at all things.

 So far, I've mostly failed at taking walking pictures,
usually because you do a healthy amount of 
flailing which throws off my camera focus.

And here you are celebrating with Mommy.