Mornings with Mateo: Body language reconsidered

As we shared our plans to move in across the hall from Kate and Marton and the kids, one of the frequent reactions went like this: Uh-oh, lots of baby-sitting in your future!

Fair enough. Mention grandparents living nearby and baby-sitting is a blessing or curse that comes naturally to mind.

But in the six months we’ve been living across the hall so far, I can count the instances of what I’d consider baby-sitting — supervising the kids while the parents head off for other pursuits — on a single hand.

Our alone time with the kids seems less like baby-sitting and more like hanging out. Mateo tends to hang out in the mornings, Leila after dinner.

Mornings work like this: As the early riser on our side of the hall, I decide when Apartment #4 is open for business with Apartment #3. When the time comes, I hang the OPEN side outside our door. If Mateo has also awakened early, Marton or Kate take occasional peeks across the hall to see if the sign is up.

If it is, Mateo makes his entrance. Coming up on ten months and 31 pounds, he’s a big guy whose mobility has not yet progressed to the stage of crawling that involves his belly leaving the floor.

He’s a contented kid, usually as comfortable playing with toys on a blanket in the middle of the living room as he is twirling around in his exersaucer. But we like to start the mornings in my lap.

Maybe like most people, I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to communicating with babies. Baby talk feels too cute; normal talk seems inappropriate in its own way.

With Mateo, I let him take the lead. His lack of words doesn’t appear to concern him one bit. He’s got his moves: gaze, grab and bite, all supplemented with his repertoire of grunts, squeals and raspberries.

My conversations with Mateo, such as they are, got me thinking about conversations I have with people closer to my age. We rely mostly on words, but body language certainly adds a layer of understanding. Continue reading

How many miles from Mom?

family by the tree 2

Clockwise from the white-haired guy: Matt, Lanie, Leila, Maleita, Carol, Marton, Matt, Mateo, Kate, Maddie, Mitch (Photo by Lauren)

The typical American lives within just 18 miles of his or her mom, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan, with 40 percent living within five miles.

That news hits home for us this week, with our kids (and their families and significant other) under one roof (if you include the roof across the hall) for several days between Christmas and New Year’s. This happens for us just once a year, and it’s a good occasion to reflect on the role of geography in the way we’ve lived our lives.

When Carol and I got married in 1970, we were pretty open about where we might live. We did rule out at least a couple of places: Florida and California. Funny how we ended up spending about a decade in each state.

We were each encouraged by our parents, especially our mothers, to seek our dreams wherever they took us. In Carol’s case, that meant living near home (Louisville, Ky.) for the last time at age 17, when she went off to college. Same with me, living in Groton, Ct. for the last time at age 18.

In retrospect, it’s clear I was never very intentional about the role of geography in my life. I’d never even visited Detroit when a Free Press alum in the New York Times Washington bureau (where I was an intern in 1971) set me up with my next job. Our next several moves were also the result of opportunities more presented than sought (in Washington, D.C., central Europe, Detroit (again), Silicon Valley and Florida).

We considered opportunities to live closer to my folks in Connecticut only a couple of times — Boston in 1975 and New York 20 years later — but neither job worked out and we ended up staying put in Michigan and California.

Ah, how the tables turn! This week we’re joined by our daughter and her family visiting from their home 700 miles away in Michigan and our son and his girlfriend visiting from — wait for it — 3,155 miles west in California. Continue reading

Trading addiction for habit

Just when I was feeling pretty good about how we’ve chosen to position ourselves in the world — across the hall! — I was pulled up short by how I choose to interact with the world.

It happened early Sunday morning. Opening The New York Times to the Sunday Review section, I was confronted with a jarring illustration above a headline that hit painfully close to home: Addicted to Distraction.

IMG_0711The essay by Tony Schwartz recounts his realization that he’d been looking in all the wrong places for the energy and inspiration he needs to fuel his life. With some work, he made progress reversing a lifestyle of too much diet soda, too many carbs, too often a second drink in the evening.

The tougher challenge? Clicking in and out of email, checking website stats, chasing mindless clickbait down rabbit holes too embarrassing to identify by name or url.

Me, too.

It seems so incongruous. Here I am living in an idyllic physical environment, surrounded by loved ones, and I’m still distracted by stuff that’s not only less important but less appealing as well.

Schwartz is right to put a tough label on it: Addiction, which he defines like this: “The relentless pull to a substance or activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life.”

Among the 266 comments attached to the article is this especially apt description of the Internet: “It ain’t called the net for nothing. The more we thrash around in it, the more tightly bound we become.”

Continue reading

What’s next: Life across the hall

Fifteen years ago, when we were moving from California to Florida, I said to Bill that I hoped this would be our last move. The move to Florida was our ninth major move (not counting from one place to another in the same city) in a then thirty year marriage. I longed for the stability of sinking deep roots in a place and never having to go through such a major change again.

Much to my surprise, I was the one who pushed for the move to Boston almost three years ago. It would not be a move to somewhere we could remain, but to a temporary setting — a term-limited time in Beacon Hill Friends House, an intentional community run by the Quakers (read about that adventure here).

Now we have moved on to another adventure – living across the hall from our youngest daughter, her husband and their two children. There are no guarantees this will be our last move.

six of us in the hallway for first post

In pondering all of this I came across a quote from Gail Godwin’s book, The Finishing School. In  it she describes the kind of death we should fear:  “It can happen at any time you’re going along, and then, at some point, you congeal. You know, like jelly. You’re not fluid any more. You solidify at a certain point and from then on your life is doomed to be a repetition of what you have done before. That’s the enemy.” Continue reading