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Good Bones
BY MAGGIE SMITH

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Maggie Smith, “Good Bones” from Waxwing. Copyright © 2016 by Maggie Smith.

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“It seems we cannot spontaneously feel important enough to ourselves, sufficiently worthy of carrying our absurd figure through the tangles of life,  unless at some point … we were privileged enough to derive a sense of mattering limitlessly and inordinately to another person.”

—Alain de Botton, on the role of a parent’s unconditional love

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I’m re-reading Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, which I first picked up while pregnant with Annie and was among the inspirations for my baby record-keeping/this blog. This bit rang true:

“Sam is learning to drink from a cup, but it is not going very well. Mostly he plunges his hand into glasses of water or juice, as if he has just had a sudden bout of Infant Hot Hand, as if steam will rise. He sloshes his hand around in the cup until the pain passes, and then ever so often takes a tiny sip before plunging his hand back in. Then he hands the cup to you, and you are expected to take a sip, and it is clear by the look in his eyes that it will be a major emotional setback for him if you don’t.”
— Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions

Right at this moment, one of Annie’s favorite mealtime games is to hand you a piece of food (“DANT-oo!” when you take it), and then have you hold it in your palm while she eats it out of your hand.

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If life began at conception, Annie would have been 1 year old on Wednesday. Even though I don’t buy that from a public policy standpoint, it’s kind of cool to think about the day her genetic destiny was determined. I liked this paragraph from a neat article on twins:

“At the moment that a sperm penetrates an egg, that single-­cell zygote is what is known as totipotent: It is pure potential. It has in it the makings of an eyebrow’s curve, a heart’s thick muscle, a neuron’s electrochemical power; it has in it the finicky instructional manual that will direct the building of the body’s every fiber and the regulation of those fibers. But that one cell splits into two, and instantly, lights begin to go out, potential dims. In order for that one cell to become a tiny bit of flesh in a heart, and not the hair of an eyebrow, one or more of its genetic signaling pathways must shut down. The result is differentiation, a steady process of elimination that allows complex biological universes to be built. Every time a group of cells divides, each one becomes more like one thing, less like another.”

— “The Mixed-Up Brothers of Bogota,” The New York Times Magazine, July 9, 2015

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“Just as we start constructing our offspring before birth, so we apply our overactive imaginations to infant behavior long before it is logically sound to do so. If Athena makes a random gurgling sound, which I think sounds like a classic baby coo, then I respond to it with all the emotional dials turned up all the way. I fill it with meaning, and turn that meaning back to her. The emotional stakes are raised: suddenly this matters, to both of us. As soon as she can begin to connect my response with the action of hers that triggered it, she can start to close the circle of her own emotions: how feelings lead to responses, and back to feelings, world without end. Infants’ social behavior comes to have meaning because we take it as having meaning. We create our babies’ smiles before they do.”

—Charles Fernyhough, A Thousand Days of Wonder

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“One day you will find that you have stopped regarding your baby as an unpredictable and therefore rather alarming novelty, and have begun instead to think of her as a person with tastes, preferences and characteristics of her own. When that happens you will know that she has moved on from being a “newborn” and has got herself settled into life.

The settled baby is a manageable proposition. Above all, you can tell when she is happy, however seldom that may be, and when she is miserable, even if that is almost always.”

—Penelope Leach, Your Baby and Child

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“At four weeks, she was really still a beached fetus, vainly practicing her underwater moves while waiting for the tide to come back in.”

—Charles Fernyhough, A Thousand Days of Wonder

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“The end of this week may find you holding your little baby in your arms, or still holding it within your body.  You are doing all you need to be doing.  Be here now.”

–weekly email from The Midwifery Center in Berkeley (advice I’m striving to take)