lessons i’m learning in my toddler’s dance class, and a Claire Bear update


In this room full of toddlers in tutus, absolutely no one is worried about their rounded belly under purple spandex. No one has given a thought to her chubby thighs in pink tights. Not a one has looked in envy upon the body of her classmates. Instead, as a boombox plays an instrumental of “Beauty and the Beast,” they giggle and grin. They grab hands and twirl. They hug and spin. They are grace in action, even as they regularly fall down.

Even as I feel my own infrequently-exercised thighs burning as we march with high knees and pointed toes around the room, I’m learning powerful lessons too. And they have nothing to do with poise or pointe, and everything to do with grace. Grace for myself and my perfectly imperfect body. Grace and love for the women around me, that I may see them as hands to hold and partners to dance with, not competition or something to compare myself to. Grace, even, for my toddler when she refuses to participate with the rest of the class on a particularly bad morning.

Six weeks of dance classes with Etta Jane are drawing to a close, and I am happy to sign us up for the next six. My happiness is doubled because this time, I get to sign Claire Bear up too. After a year and a half in developmental preschool, Claire has made a lot of amazing progress. Enough, in fact, that we feel ready to back off on some of her therapies. She’s going to be staying home with Etta Jane and me, and we’ll be seeing her PT on an outpatient basis. I am thrilled to get more time with my girl before she has to start real preschool all too soon, and I know she’s going to love dance class as much as Etta Jane and I do. I talked to the teacher and made sure that it would be ok if she had to wear braces and sneakers instead of ballet shoes, and was assured that she is more than welcome to join the class. Grace abounds. There was a point where I didn’t think our girl would walk, and now she’s ready to DANCE.

naming and claiming…yourself

 

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Me in my original Ernie Bufflo days.

 

My name is Sarah. Except it wasn’t always.

I was born Sara. For a while, as a young kid, I insisted my name was Ernie Bufflo, which is why this blog has such a funny name, and why encounters with people who previously only knew me online are always a little awkward, as people are obviously hesitant to ask a total stranger, “Are you Ernie Bufflo?” in case they’re actually wrong and the other person has no idea what they’re talking about. Then, sometime in Sunday School, I became aware that the Sarah in the Bible story actually has an “h,” and I became convinced my parents spelled my name “wrong.” I felt about Sara the way Anne Shirley felt about Ann:

“Oh, I’m not ashamed of it,” explained Anne, “only I like Cordelia better. I’ve always imagined that my name was Cordelia—at least, I always have of late years. When I was young I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like Cordelia better now. But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E.”

“What difference does it make how it’s spelled?” asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.

“Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can’t you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you’ll only call me Anne spelled with an E, I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia.

For years, I managed to pass as a Sarah-with-an-h. I possibly even lied a little in order for my drivers’ license to say “Sarah.” My diplomas all said “Sarah.” I was Sarah, not Sara. I figured I’d make it officially official when I got married, but then I discovered that the Social Security office only changes last and middle names, not first names. I thought I’d have to go through the courts, but then I discovered that for a simple spelling change, all I needed to do was request an amended birth certificate from the Department of Vital Records and pay a $15 filing fee. I got myself a new birth certificate, and while I now probably have an identity document trail too sketchy to run for president, I’m officially Sarah Sweatt Orsborn.

Needless to say, I think it’s important and powerful to be able to name and claim yourself and your identity.

Fast forward several years, and now my little Etta has started making it clear that she wants to be known by both her first and middle names. While my non-Southerner husband wasn’t too keen on the idea of a double name, it seems our girl has other ideas. We’ve always called her Etta, but she proudly introduces herself “NAME ETTA JANE!” Claire calls her Etta Jane, too. As far as I can tell, she figured Claire Bear has two names, so Etta Jane should as well. And who am I to deny my girl the naming rights I so proudly claimed for myself? If she wants to be known as Etta Jane, then I’m going to have to train myself to call her that.

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Name Etta Jane.

 

 

turn that frown upside down

Most mornings, after we drop Claire off at school, Etta and I meet up with our friends (my mom friends and their kids, her toddler bffs) to do something fun– zoo, story time, science class for preschoolers at the museum. We’re so used to this that any deviation from the fun-with-friends theme kind of feels like a letdown for both of us. Sometimes, though, a mama has to go to Target, and then one can only hope for the best.

The best is not what we got this morning. I thought she was on board with my “first we go to Target, then we go to the park” plan, but her whole body stiffened as we approached the red cart, and I knew I was about to have a fight on my hands. I attempted to fold Cardboard Etta into the seat and strapped her in. That’s when she deployed her favorite protest method: the high-pitched dental drill whine. I was determined not to bail– I had stuff to get so I could make Valentines for Claire’s classmates, teachers, and therapists, and we had also depleted our Goldfish stocks. (I needed to pick up my prescriptions, too, but I’m just now realizing I forgot those.) I gritted my teeth and planned to Just Get Through This.

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She continued to whine like a dental drill as I pushed her through the store. I pretended it wasn’t happening. At one point, a mama pushing a cart with a toddler and a baby caught my eye and we both just laughed and exchanged a “what can ya do?” look. SOLIDARITY, MAMAS. Somewhere in our rounds through the store, Etta decided to stop whining and enjoy tossing things into the cart for me. There is nothing she loves more than being a Big Helper, so if I hand her stuff and then let her put it in the basket, she feels like she’s helping. By the time we got to the always-ridiculously-understaffed checkouts, she was happy to put things on the conveyer belt for me and chat with the cashier. “Hi,” she said, “name Etta Jane.” She always makes me think of Tarzan with the stilted way she introduces herself to others.

Of course, right as my kid’s tantrum ended, an adult woman decided to throw one herself. Just behind us, I began to hear yelling and expletives. I have no idea what happened, but this lady was pissed, and she was yelling at one of the nicest cashiers at our Target, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume she was being a giant jerk for no reason. She had a toddler with her, and he was crying in fear as his mother screamed invectives at the nice people in red. “Baby sad,” Etta said. “That lady MAD.” I had to wheel past her yelling obscenities as we left the store. “That lady is throwing a tantrum, Etta. She’s being really rude. Even grownups throw fits in public sometimes, but it’s still not OK,” I said. I kind of hope the lady heard me. She jerked her crying kid by the hand and said they were “getting the f*** outta here.” I wish I could have scooped up her kid and taken him to the park with us. I felt my jaw clenched at her outburst as we drove away.

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It was sunny and 50 degrees at the park. We had the whole place to ourselves. My girl’s hair shone in the winter sunlight, and I watched her little curls flying as I pushed her on the swings. “Swing higher, Mommy!” We didn’t talk much; we just soaked up the sun together. I love that she chose a “baby swing” for herself, just like when I ask her if she’s big or little, she tells me she’s a “widdle gurl.” Darling, you can stay my little girl forever. She played in the sand and made me a “castle.” She braved the big slide, the one with two humps. Then we did some more swinging and came home for lunch. I let her watch some Elmo to wind down before nap, and she snuggled in my lap while I breathed in her coconut-scented hair and kissed her sweet cheeks.

Sometimes, when my teeth are gritted and I’m pushing that cart through Target with the squealing kid everyone is staring at, it’s hard to see beyond that moment. And when I feel trapped in such a moment, sometimes I wish I could throw a tantrum too. But this whole parenting thing has been like a nonstop class on both the zen of being in the moment when the moments are lovely and the zen of knowing that even the crappy moments are just a moment too, and they will pass.

As I scooped her up and carried her down the hall for her nap, she asked, “happy, Mommy?” Indeed, little one. So very happy. So happy I’m willing to forget all about that dental drill sound you sometimes like to make because most of my time with you is oh so sweet and oh so fleeting, something to soak up like a rare warm day in February, something to bask in like winter sun, something to breathe deep like sweet coconut-scented baby curls, so I will breathe it in until bursting.

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Dear me on diagnosis day:

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Over the past three years, there have been many times that I’ve thought about me on our Diagnosis Day, the day we found out that one of the babies then growing in my belly had spina bifida. It was my 27th birthday. We were excited to find out if our twins were boys or girls. We found out they were girls, and we also found out “Baby B,” the “one in the top bunk” had something wrong with her head and spine.  Continue reading

small milestone, big bag

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Something big has happened in my life. 2.5 years in as a mom, and I have graduated from the diaper bag. Not that I even had a “real” diaper bag, as my diaper bag was always the giant yellow Patagonia messenger bag I used first for a work commute bag, then for a graduate school backpack. It was sort of the big yellow school bus of diaper bags, and it allowed me to carry more gear than a Himalayan sherpa while expeditioning with two small people who might at any moment need diapers, wipes, toys, a complete outfit change, bibs, blankets, burp cloths, pacifiers, teethers, a bottle, a snack, a bandaid, or even a change of shirts for me (Claire barfed a lot).

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Toddlers, I’ve realized, don’t need nearly as much gear. I can actually leave the house without packing each of us a complete outfit change. In fact, I can generally throw a couple diapers, a catheter, a wipes clutch, and bibs into my bag and we could survive an outing. Even better, my toddlers even think carrying a backpack themselves is cool and grown up, so they got their own little backpacks for Christmas. Now, they can actually tote their own diapers, wipes, water bottle, snack, and toy, and they think it’s fun! Have fun, baby pack mules, knock yourselves out! I’ll just be over here twirling, wild, free, and unencumbered by all your stuff!

My current bag situation is a Fossil tote with birds all over it.

My current bag situation is a Fossil tote with birds all over it.

 

 

strange bedfellows?

Once upon a time, the gals could share a basinet!

Once upon a time, the gals could share a basinet!

Lately, I’ve noticed a new trend in the bufflogals’ sleeping arrangements. They sleep in toddler beds and can get in and out on their own, but up to this point have mostly slept in their own beds until morning. Usually, the girls get up and play together for 20 minutes or more before we have to retrieve them (just one lovely reason I love that they share a room– extra sleep for us!), so it probably took me longer to notice than I might have, but there were clues– Etta’s stuff would all seem to be in Claire’s bed. Her pillow, her blankey, her stuffed loveys, all in sister’s bed. I thought it was happening in the mornings during play time, but when I heard a crash and a cry the other night, I realized Etta was trying to sleep in Claire’s bed. I put her back in her own bed, but later heard stirring and went in again to find her curled up at Claire’s feet. After my heart exploded from adorableness, I tried to extract Etta back to her own bed, but she clearly did NOT want to be moved. I asked Claire if it was OK with her if Etta snuggled with her, and she sleepily agreed, as if she’d be willing to do anything if it meant her sister would let her catch some zzzz’s. This would have worked fine except two toddlers in one crib-sized mattress is cramped, and they woke each other up later in the night.  Continue reading

Santa, his reindeer…and a lion

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Can I admit to you all that I’ve got some ambivalence about the whole Santa thing? I grew up believing in Santa, so I have fond and happy memories of that tradition and don’t feel scarred in any way. But the way Santa is so wrapped up in want and consumerism and making Christmas all about Things, the way his story is centered not in Bethlehem, the locus of the Christmas story, but the North Pole, which has nothing to do with anything– it all seems to indicate to me that we’ve gotten a little off track about the whole Santa story.

So, I admit, I’ve kind of been deferring the decision of how Santa would figure in our family’s Christmas traditions. Last year, my kids basically had no idea it was Christmas, though they did enjoy opening presents, and the year before they were infant blobs. I haven’t had to really decide until now. Even this year felt kind of like another year in which I could wait to see how I felt about the whole thing. I figured we’d decorate the tree, make cookies, listen to Christmas music, go look at Christmas lights, play with our little Nativity, read Christmas stories, do our Advent calendar, and just generally live in a Santa-free bubble for one more year. And we’ve been doing all those things (minus the Advent calendar, which I still haven’t finished making).

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But it turns out, I can’t live in a Santa-free bubble anymore.. Continue reading