Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Dear Duckie

This week was the week you were due. This is also the beginning of a new year, and I am going to do my best to let you go. While the time passed between your loss and your erased due date, it felt a little like a haze was over my life -- like I was looking through a colored gel like they use in stage lighting. That's not to say I wasn't happy or that I dwelled, just that you were sort of there, too. And now, I think I'm going to let that go.

If you had grown up with me, you'd have known me to be a realistic optimist, a pragmatist, a skeptic. When you asked why the sky was blue, I would tell you about light. When Christmas rolled around, I would not try hard to deceive you about Santa.

We have been having long and serious talks with your older sister about God and Jesus and religion and heaven and hell and the devil lately. We talk about why people want to believe, what kind of good it does (and so far, we have largely avoided what kind of harm it does), and how it is hard to believe in a man sitting in the sky, but not too hard to believe that there is something we don't understand, because nature is so awe-inspiring and so amazing and that it's hard to think in geologic terms.

I remember once, as a teenager, sitting in a shallow river bed as cold mountain melt washed over me, little river rocks shifting under me and algae and pike minnows and abrasive sand, and the sky was as high and light and pale and far as it ever seemed, and the water made a communicative song, and I believed that there could have been magic, maybe.

I love Shakespeare, and for a 500-year-old dude, he managed to hit the nail on the head a lot. I've always liked the line in Hamlet that goes, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

And also, the line of poetry of Whitman's that goes, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes."

So perhaps you will understand that one of the reasons I will find it easier to let you go, I feel I have you to thank for. One week before your due date, I feel like you gave me a birthday present. Ridiculous. Impossible. But I feel it, nonetheless. So thank you. And happy birthday.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


This morning, you declared your hot cocoa to be preposterous. You didn't quite know what that meant, so we talked about it, and decided it might be "preposterously good."

Yesterday at lunch, we talked about how settlers in covered wagons might have gotten across a mountain range.

Last night we had friends over for dinner. You read them "Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo," and you read so fluently that one of the friends jokingly grabbed a book on pedagogy from my shelf and asked you to read that, too. You did.

This morning, you bent my fancy lamp out of shape (for the third time), woke us up early, and have been hooting and whistling most of the morning.

These days, I post a lot of the funny things you say and do on Facebook, and I don't update this blog very frequently, but I think someday all those little things will have vanished into the ether, and you will want to know what you were like as a child, what you did and said.

And there are a few things that are too private, or too much like bragging, or not pithy enough to share with all those goofballs I went to high school once, or worked with a decade and a half ago.

Here is one of the brags: The other night, we walked to Three Sisters for dinner. You wanted to bring your book, a collection of poems I bought you. One of your favorites is a Robert Frost, mainly because it's illustrated with a fairy on a rose. On the same page is a short excerpt of The Tempest. While we waited for our food, you read that one, and then on the next page, an Emily Dickinson. So yes… you're five, and voluntarily reading Shakespeare at the dinner table.

Here is one of the private things: you've now been on your ADHD medication for four months. It does a lot of good. I still sometimes confront the friends or articles that indicate that ADHD is over-diagnosed, over-medicated. All our kids need, these people say, is a chance to have some freedom, or to spend some time outdoors, or a less-structured or more-structured school environment, or a gluten-free diet. And I briefly, guiltily question our choice to medicate you. But the thing is, you are you, yourself, not some trend or statistic or study. And when you were not on medication, you got in trouble in school, got in trouble at home, got kicked out of karate, found that all but the most hyper of the other kids avoided you, and could not sit still long enough to do the things you now enjoy -- reading, dressing dolls, writing, drawing, knitting. And it's not as though you turned into some zombie drone child: you are still energetic, funny, playful, and sometimes pretty wild and loud. For you, it has improved your day-to-day experience. For you, it has kept you out of some trouble. For you, it has expanded your friend circle. For you, it has allowed you to learn some things. For you, we've made the right choice.

Here is one of the not-pithy things: You went to your first karate tournament a couple weeks ago. Your interest in karate has ebbed and flowed, but it's been higher since the long break we took this summer. I asked if you wanted to do the tournament, and you did. We paid our registration fee, tied your hair back, put your freshly washed gi on, and drove to Auburn. There were only six kids in your age group (although this took a while to sort out -- they had initially combined the 4-5 year olds with the 6-7s, and then one very small boy kept insisting he was 6). You were the last to present, and you sat patiently while the other five went. This alone was a gratifying miracle. When it was your turn, you proudly, in loud, clear tones, introduced yourselves to the judges. You started off well, getting six steps in before you forgot what to do. You paused a long time, looked around… and I whispered, mainly to myself, "punch isa!" You heard the whisper, though, and, looking for help, turned to me. I said it again, but by then you were off your game. You finished, and thanked the judges, and sat down again.

You waited patiently then, got your scores (they were low, but not significantly lower than the other kids, leading me to believe that if you hadn't forgotten, you'd probably have earned a medal), and sat waiting. They did the math, then announced the winners of the gold, silver, and bronze medals. You were not among them. Then came the 6-7 year olds. I asked if you wanted to leave during the break, but you didn't. We watched their demonstrations, and then the judges came back to give a fourth-place ribbon to another child in your age group, but that left you as one of the only two who still didn't have anything. I asked if you wanted to leave, but you wanted to watch the flag game as well, and I think you were secretly hoping they would come back again with more ribbons. After flag game, we left. Though you had been patient and dignified in the dojo, you bawled your eyes out in the car. We talked about how next time you could practice more, and you agreed you would want to go to another tournament (although initially, you wanted to give up karate and try soccer, or ballet, or gymnastics).

Here is what I have to say about that. You choked -- it's true. And you hadn't practiced enough beforehand. That was a choice you made. But I'm still SO PROUD of you. You were patient, attentive, polite, respectful, dignified, and you even were reflective enough to understand that it was your own choices and actions (or inactions) that led to your loss. So you lost the tournament. You lost HARD. But I'm so glad for it all, because I saw you grow up a little, or perhaps you had already grown up and I hadn't noticed. One way or another, you behaved like a newer, bigger, wiser, and more patient kid than I was used to seeing, and I am so proud that you were a good loser. Next time, maybe you'll be a good winner instead, because this will push you to work harder. Not a bad lesson for $20 and a drive out to Auburn.

Anyway, I love you like crazy, and there's so much more I could say, but right now you're thumbing through one of my Japanese animation books waiting for me to be ready to go to yoga.

Love you always,

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Just after 3am, you'll have been living and breathing for five years. Well, breathing successfully took a bit longer. But that means that at this time five years ago, I was at 33rd street bistro having breakfast. My water had broken already, but I had been turned away from the hospital. You were already three days overdue, and I thought we would have you on Spring Break, but that week had come and gone. This was my first day of already-scheduled maternity leave, so I wasn't going to work. It was a quiet morning. All hell broke loose later, when I had a doctor's appointment and he insisted I go directly to the hospital and be induced.

It's amazing to think that so much time has elapsed. You have now been part of your father's and my lives for longer than you haven't (by which I mean, your dad and I had been together for just less than five years when we had you). In a few months, you'll be in kindergarten -- you're already enrolled -- and you'll be in the care of a teacher for 3 1/2 hours a day. It is shocking, and yet perfectly natural. You're my baby, and yet you are your own quite independent little person. Let me tell you a little bit about yourself right now.

You can read pretty well, although you're not much interested in reading stories to yourself. But as we drive along the street, you yell out "Shell!" "Pets!" "Tacos! Hey, can we stop there? They have tacos." Today you read several things in the program at the ballet. You play with language a lot, too, switching up sounds and things to make puns that are occasionally not bad.

You love camping, hiking, and the outdoors a lot. I offered to take you to Effie Yeaw nature center for a walk on your birthday, and you wouldn't even hear of other suggestions after that. Your artwork is getting much more recognizable. It's generally obvious now if you've made a flower or a tree or a bee. You still like to pretend, but it's not as constant an undertaking as it once was. Maybe six months ago, if I forgot for a second that I was Mary Ingalls and you were Laura, I would be soundly yelled at. Now, we pretend a few times a week.

You've finished The Hobbit and the first two Lord of the Rings books. You're nearing the end of the third. In the meantime, we've also read some longer chapter books, like The Wizard of Dark Street. We just started The Cats of Tanglewood Forest.

You're still not a good sleeper. I have done everything I can think of -- blackout curtains, a white noise machine, no TV right before bedtime, a bedtime routine -- and although the melatonin we've started helps you get to sleep at bedtime, you still often wake in the night. I have to chalk it up to an essential part of your nature. You're just energetic, kinetic, and wiggly.

You like TV, but not so much that I'm worried about you turning into a Roald Dahl character. We limit it to about an hour and ten minutes per day (including iPad time, although sometimes we push it a little), and there are times when you really wish time wasn't up. But then there are also days when you never ask to watch and we don't remind you, so you don't watch any at all.

A few people were commenting on how much you loved your dresses and high heels. You were indeed VERY excited to get high heeled shoes for your birthday (I have said no, but your grandma asked if she could buy you some, and I said it was fine). It's true that you like those things, but I appreciate that you're not a super-girly-girl, either. You like science a lot, and bugs, and roughhousing. I think you're a pretty well-balanced kid.

Sometimes you're a challenge. Like, seriously. You believe anything can be argued, and you argue semantics constantly. "We've told you a hundred times not to throw things in the house!" "But I didn't throw it. I tossed it." You also have no idea that you don't have the authority and standing to make your own rules, or that your parents can totally tell you what to do. If you had been raised by other people in another era, you'd have been smacked in the mouth on thousands of occasions. Every time we ask you, in serious voice, to do or not do something, you continue to do your own thing while reasoning it out, "Well, actually..."

As far as day to day stuff goes, you wear lots of different kinds of clothes, many dresses, jeans, leggings... Your favorite dress is probably your plaid Christmas dress, so I just let you wear it whenever. It'll be too small my next year, so I don't care if you destroy it by wearing it to the park. You will eat almost anything as long as there is no hint whatsoever of spiciness. You are terrified of spicy! Even mint gum is a little much for you. Other than that, though, you'll eat Mexican, Indian, Vietnamese... your favorite is still noodles, though. You initially requested the Old Spaghetti Factory as your birthday dinner, but then realized you could request Roxy, so you had a steak for your birthday.

Your best friend is Damien. He lives across the street from McKinley Park, and you've been in pre-school with him for two years. You both say you want to marry each other, and when you see each other after a few days apart, you usually run to each other, arms out, yelling each other's names. When parting, you frequently yell, "I love you." Both of you do. It's sweet as hell, and just a little terrifying. Next year, you won't go to the same school. I'm hoping we can still find time to meet his family for playdates, but I'm sure you'll drift apart and find new friends, too.

You're in karate, and sometimes you try really hard and show an aptitude for it. I also sometimes hear you thinking things out a a very positive, martial-arts way. We talk a lot about "emptying your cup," which is how your teacher, Mr. Oliver, describes letting things in your mind go. Other times, you declare that you hate karate and want to quit. I think you're bummed out that you haven't progressed at getting the belts as quickly as some of your friends, but it has to do with the wiggly silliness that's a pretty much constant presence in your life. You don't get a stripe on your belt if you don't behave in class, and it's a real effort for you to behave all the way through class. But I think it's good for you overall, and I'm going to press you to stay in it for a while.

Well, I've written this in fits and spurts all day, and it's now almost 7pm. Five years ago today, we had arrived at the hospital and I think I was having my last bite of food before they induced labor. I do lots of things in the few quiet moments between when you need me and need me again. I don't mind it, because the day will come when you don't really need me at all, and that will be the proudest and saddest day of my life. And there probably won't even be a candle to blow out. It will happen gradually, and neither of us may even ever notice. You'll probably think you'll always need me. But we've been talking a lot about the difference between wants and needs, and if I do my job, you'll just want me sometimes. I hope.