Baby Buddha in a Giraffe Costume
As an overly educated, slightly neurotic, woman who gave birth to my daughter while in my forties, I assumed that I’d be the one to teach my child the secrets of the universe; as opposed to the other way around.
When I was eight months pregnant a group of Tibetan monks performed at the charter school where my husband, Victor, taught. After the Yak Dance I was invited to eat lunch with the monks, who appeared genuinely delighted by my large belly. Even though I am not at all religious by nature, I found myself transfixed by their calm spiritual presence and constant smiles. Before they departed I asked if they would mind saying a prayer for my child-to-be. Immediately the lot of them stood in a circle around me, chanting indecipherable prayers, the deep bass of their voices reverberating over and through me. When at last they quieted, I thanked them with a bow and silently hoped that their seemingly magical benedictions had touched my baby; not that I actually believed in such things.
Our daughter, Loy, was born a few weeks later and when I first held her I called her my “Buddha baby,” causing the delivery room nurses to wonder if the long labor I’d just endured had left me in a fugue state.
When Loy was three, she desperately wanted to be a giraffe for Halloween, so putting aside any Martha Stewart-like craftiness that might have lurked in my genetic code, I bought her an off-the-rack giraffe costume at a K-Mart. Just as we were leaving the house to go trick-or- treating Loy slipped on the front porch steps and skidded across the concrete, the right side of face taking most of the impact.
We took her inside and cleaned up her tears and blood and slapped on a few bandages. She looked as if she’d been in a bar fight and lost. Of course I wanted to cancel the outing so that I could fret and worry as I cuddled her to my chest, but when Victor asked her if she wanted to skip trick-or-treating, she looked at him as if he’d just asked her to recite the first line from the Iliad. “No, Daddy,” she replied as she stood up and made for the front door. “I want the candy.”
As we wandered in and out of the downtown shops watching our toddler politely beg treats from the proprietors, more than a few adults gasped when they saw Loy’s face. “Oh my god, you are so scary-looking,” a woman holding the hand of a small princess said. “What a great costume.”
That this idiot actually believed we’d purposely dressed our child as a wounded giraffe so incensed me that I was about to call her a name I knew I’d regret, but before I could utter a sound Loy looked at her daughter and quietly said, “You are so pretty.”
When she was six years old we moved her to Bali so that Victor could help start Green School, an environmentally innovative K-8 school constructed almost entirely out of bamboo. During our first week there Loy broke out in a sand-papery rash that started on her cheeks then spread over her entire body. It was ghastly red and patchy dry. I compared her rash to no fewer than 122 online images of rashes, confirming that she probably didn’t have dengue fever, while also discovering that the only rash to be afraid of is the one that doesn’t blanch; meaning that when you press the rash it’s supposed to turn white; and when you take pressure off the skin, the redness returns. If the redness stays when the rash is compressed, it means you are bleeding under the skin and you are most likely dying. And you should immediately fly to a real hospital in Singapore because a non-blanching rash is a terrible thing.
Every morning when Loy woke up I’d scan her whole body, pressing, pushing, poking her ever-spreading rash with my thumb, knowing how messed up and emotionally-maiming it was to scare your six-year-old like that. I emailed her doctor in California, and asked if she thought maybe Loy could be reacting to one of the fifty-seven immunizations she got. I even made Victor take a photo of Loy’s rash-streaked belly and attach a jpeg.
The doctor wrote back saying the rash looked harmless. She suggested that we just relax and enjoy our time in Bali.
When I informed Loy that her rash was nothing to worry about, she simply gave her arm a quick scratch and casually replied, “I knew I was fine, Mommy. You should really stop freaking out about dumb things,” before going back to watching Tom and Jerry on my laptop.
By the time we moved into our bamboo hut on campus, some five weeks later, I’d all but forgotten the rash. But that was only because I now had the biting ants to contend with. Every night as soon as the sun set, an entire civilization’s worth of red ants would climb down the tree that grew up through the middle of our bamboo hut, and take over Loy’s room. The nightly ritual for Victor and me consisted of swatting and squishing ants until there was nothing but carcasses dotting the bamboo floor. It was enough to drive me insane and want to run back to California, but for Loy it was simply an interesting nuisance, akin to having to brush her teeth before bed. The only time she appeared put out by the arthropod invasion was the night she found a couple of stragglers stuck to her Cinderella dress. When I grabbed the gown from her and began plucking biting ants from the tangle of lovely white mesh that lined the midriff and wrists, she kindly asked me to please be careful not to pull off any of the silver sequins by mistake.
More outrageous and potentially-deadly events ensued, so just a few weeks after a small Javanese man with a machete shimmied up the tree and hacked the ant megatropolis into oblivion, we decided to escape Bali and move to Vermont.
At the beginning of summer break we took Loy on her first backpacking trip to Silver Lake above Lake Dunmore. Not twenty yards from the car Loy tripped and hit her head on a jagged rock, sending blood spurting, as head wounds are wont to do. As the three of us sat on the ground taking turns applying direct pressure to stem the flow, I panicked. I wanted to take her to the hospital. She might need stitches or worse; she could have a concussion. When Victor offered Loy the choice to opt out, she shoved the bloody bandana into his hand and pushed herself to standing. “You guys promised me smores tonight,” she said brushing the dirt off her knees. “Let’s go already.”
A bit further up the trail I stopped to tie my shoelace and when I stood up I watched the two of them trudging up the hill ahead of me, their backpacks bouncing on their hips. That was when I suddenly remembered the monks. I thought about the kind of person my daughter had become — a person filled with light and optimism; an empathetic soul who pulled friends to her with ease. A determined spirit who persevered beyond imagined boundaries. Someone who goes with the flow way more easily than I ever had. It was then that I realized that it was time for me to stop worrying so much about what could possibly go wrong and focus instead on the promise of what’s to come. It was time for me to listen to my Buddha Baby, take some notes, and catch up.