Monday, October 27, 2014

Birthday No. 5: A little bit of Josie in my life

As you all know, September was, like, the worst month ever.  Except for the part about celebrating Josie's fifth birthday.  But I was so wrecked from everything else that I never got around to writing her a birthday blog, so here it is, a month late.

My dearest, sweetest, cutest, cuddliest little Josephine,

Five years ago, you came into our family and made it complete.  As difficult and frenetic as Zeke's birth was, yours was calm and mellow and lovely.

 And for the most part, you are calm and mellow and lovely.  Your older brother can be a bit of a steamroller, hogging both toys and time in the spotlight, and you are unquestionably the yin to his yang.  Not that you are a doormat in the slightest, but you have a greater ability than Zeke to self-soothe and, quite honestly, to suck it up when the going goes rough, so you tend to let him get his way in order to keep the peace.  Because I am disinclined to ever give an inch (Zeke gets it from me), my instincts are to tell you that you don't have to do that, and that he needs to learn how to calm down and share.  But your relationship with him as his sister, as part of the inseparable "ZekeandJosie" combo, probably gives you a greater intuitive understanding of how to handle him, and so you are gentle and forgiving with him, even when he is being an overbearing pain in the butt.

The payoff is in your connection with him, which is so lovely and amazing.  Though you're only two years apart and at an age when siblings tend to bicker, you and Zeke have this love affair that touches me immeasurably.  When I drop you off in the mornings at school, Zeke goes with you to your classroom to make sure you get there without incident, and you give each other a hug and a kiss before going your separate ways.  You seek each other out when you're sad, happy, excited, frustrated - it's a wonderful thing to behold.

You look to him for advice on how to do new things, and use his accomplishments as a yard-stick for your own.  And you are so fiercely determined to be able to do what he does that you don't quit until you achieve your goal.  When you saw that he could take himself hand-by-hand across the monkey bars at the playground, you pushed yourself until you could do it too.  Same with riding your bike or any other physical endeavor.  After Zeke learned to ski when he was five, you have decided that this will be the year you learn as well.

You're pretty much game for anything - hiking, camping, climbing, jumping off of things, zip-lining at Zeke's birthday party.  Your daddy and I have always maintained that between you and Zeke, you are the one most likely to participate in extreme sports.

If there are particular character traits or behaviors that tell the story of what you are like at this moment in your life, they would be love and sweetness on the one hand, and stubborn volatility on the other.  The love and sweetness is in your treatment of your friends, your brother, your relatives, me and Daddy - you've got hugs and kisses for everyone, kind words of encouragement, and snuggles.  I don't think I've ever seen my father more tickled than when he and Mimi were visiting a few weeks ago, and all you wanted to do was hold his hand and talk to him, or sit on his lap and rub his face while saying, "Papa's so cute!  I love you, Papa!"

The stubborn volatility is a newer thing - the tendency to proclaim things that are boring or annoying or difficult to be "STUPID!" and lashing out (including physically) in frustration.  Yesterday, when I arrived at the park for Zeke's football game, I saw you from the other side of the field - your bike was down on the ground, and you were stamping your feet and waving your arms around and little puffs of dirt were rising up because you were kicking at it.  Truth be told, it was kind of hilarious, because you're such a skinny little peanut that it presents a really funny picture.

But I know that it's a developmental 5-year-old thing, rather than necessarily a Josie thing.  You'll grow out of it as you become more mature.

In the meantime, you continue to be a delightful, sparkly ray of sunshine in our lives.  It's been a pleasure to hang out with you these past five years, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store for you.

I love you beyond the Milky Way and back,


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Magnificent Seven

Seven years ago today, I became a mama.

On one hand, it's hard to believe Zeke is 7 years old.  I keep telling him to stop growing, but he laughs and ignores me.

On the other, I have a difficult time remembering what life was like before I had children, other than I had a lot more time and money to waste, and could plan a trip that didn't involve spending at least $1200 on airfare.

In any event, I now have this seven-year-old boy.
He is this astounding social butterfly who knows everyone and everyone knows him and he feels entirely comfortable with the notion that of course everyone is going to like him and want to play with him.  Why on earth wouldn't they?  He walks into school, greeting and waving at everyone he sees.

"Hi, Patrick!  Hey, Mr. Jones!  Good morning, Miss Becky!  Hi, Mrs. Snow!"  They all smile and wave and greet him in return.

There's a little girl named Beth* that he luuuuuurved when he was in kindergarten.  They had a thing. She told her mom that Zeke was "her love," and he pestered me non-stop about setting up play-dates with her.

Her family moved to Frisco (up in the mountains, about an hour away) at the end of kindergarten.  Zeke hasn't seen her since June, but still refers to her as his "girlfriend."  I've attempted without success to get in touch with Beth's mom to see if Beth could come to Zeke's birthday party, and Zeke doesn't understand why we can't drive up there and figure out where she lives and knock on her door because of course she still loves him and wants to see him.  Why wouldn't she?

This is a character trait that I cannot fathom, as I have gone through my life feeling weird and out of place and assuming that nobody really likes me all that much.  This feeling has abated as an adult, but as a seven-year-old?  No way.  It was an entrenched part of how I approached the world.

He is also smart and curious and inquisitive and funny.  He loves school and is good at it.  He is a terrific athlete, and one of the stars of his flag football team.  He can spend hours outside looking at ants or playing in a pile of dirt.  When we go to visit my parents in Virginia, there's a nature preserve near them that is a great place to walk and hike.  Zeke could easily spend three hours climbing on rocks and throwing things in the creek and then jumping into the creek and inspecting rotting logs and on and on.  He shares my appreciation for fart-related humor.  He's incredibly sweet to and protective of his little sister.

Don't get me wrong, he can also be a massive pain in the ass.

He has this extraordinary attention span and ability to focus, but often to the exclusion of whatever it is I'm trying to get him to do at a particular moment, like put on his goddamned shoes and get in the car so we can make it to school on time.

So we have a lot of exchanges like this:
Me:  Zeke, it's time to go.  Put your shoes on. ......*no response* ...... Zeke, come on we're going to be late....*no response* .......... Zeke, let's go!..............*no response* ........................ZEKE! COME ON!!
Zeke:  Mama, don't yell!
Me: *head explodes*
He has great powers of reasoning, but uses them to try to argue with me.  And he's not quite as good at it as I am, but I forget that he's only seven, so we get in these absurd arguments that have me questioning my own sanity and fitness to be a mother.

He continues to take after his uncle Sam in a remarkable way, with his sensitivity and creativity and unique way of looking at the world, but also with his penchant for whining when he doesn't get his way.**  As a young child, Sam was a repeated recipient of the Wally Whiner Award, and his nephew is on track to match that success.

And yes, he adores his sister and is very attentive, but sometimes to the point that he keeps getting in her face or poking her or climbing on her or otherwise annoying her when all she wants is to be left alone -- sort of like being pecked to death by a chicken.

But mostly, he's kind of awesome.  He asks wonderful questions about the universe and animals and space and time travel and zombies and tornadoes and what the biggest thing in the world is.  And he makes me think about the world, and my place in it, in new ways.  In trying to raise him to be a kind, adventurous, interesting person, he makes me think about the kind of person I am and the kind of person I want to be.  About how to be a good mother who is worthy of the task of raising him.

It's a wild and wonderful ride.

*not her real name
**to clarify, Sam is no longer whiny.  Love you, Sammy!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Just step outside yourself and look up at the stars above, go on downtown baby, find somebody to love

Dear Emma,

It's hard to fathom that it's been over a month since you died.  Time doesn't feel like it's moving like it used to.  Normally, my brain works like a calendar - I can sort of see the days and weeks and months, and what happened and what is coming up, with a fair amount of precision.  Now it's all muddled in my head.

The constants are images and audio clips.  I think I will go to my grave hearing my dad's voice on a continual loop in my head, telling me that you had been killed in a car accident. And seeing the image of you in the funeral home, cold and still.  And the picture of you making that amazing save in goal - the one that's on your memorial card.  It's taped to my desk at work - you're with me all day long.

But I don't only see and hear you in death, thank goodness.  You're all around me in life as well.

Did you know that I have more pictures of you displayed around my house, on the fireplace mantles and the walls and the tops of dressers, than I have of my own children?

Pictures of you as a flower girl in the various family weddings.  A shot of you from Thanksgiving when you were about 3, playing on a playground near my parents' house.  Surfing pictures from our annual beach trips.  A picture of you and me sitting in the hammock on my parents' deck, giggling and snuggling.  In my office I have the family shot taken in the State Department on the day my mother was sworn in as an ambassador - I was holding you during the ceremony, and then when Mom finished her speech, you jumped out of my arms and ran to her, and everybody in the room smiled and laughed at how cute it all was.

It's been hard since you've been gone.

The whole family has been drifting in a bit of a fog.  We go about our daily lives, but there's this miasma of sadness and heavy-heartedness that has settled over us.  I'll have days when I'm constantly either crying or on the verge of tears, and then days when I manage to function pretty well, but even on the days when I feel somewhat OK, there's always this tightness in my chest and my gut.

I've been trying to honor you by remembering you at your best (which isn't hard to do), and by doing what I can to live well and in the moment.   That feeling I had, in the days after you died, to walk and walk and walk has not left me.  I do a lot of walking.  After I got back from New Hampshire, I started walking to work, at first part of the way (taking the bus the rest), but now I walk the whole way (it's about 2 1/4 miles).  Then I started walking home as well.

It's become one of my favorite parts of the day.  In addition to the physical exertion, it's time to think and listen to music and see my community.  The pace allows me to appreciate the architecture of the old houses and buildings here.  I walk down Colfax Avenue, passing thrift shops and tattoo parlors and dive bars and yuppie restaurants and organic grocery stores and bodegas and music venues and cathedrals and homeless shelters.  I smile and say "good morning" to the delivery guys and mechanics and office workers and waitresses taking a cigarette break.

I love those walks.  They make me feel more connected to the world.  And to you.  I think about you and look up at the sky.

This has been a stressful year, and even before you died, I wasn't taking very good care of myself, physically.  I wasn't exercising regularly and I was eating horribly, and then after September 10, it got worse.  I gained weight and felt sluggish.  But then I thought about you, and how hard you worked to get strong and fit again after your accident, and I decided I needed to #belikeemma and get off my ass.  I'm exercising again and eating properly and I feel like I owe some of it to you.

I'm going to take that picture of you playing lacrosse, kicking ass in goal, and blow it up to poster-size and put it in my workout room.  I'm going to paint my room the color that your room is (that awesome bright turqoise-y blue) and think of you whenever I look around and smile at how beautiful and cheerful that color is.

Thanksgiving is coming up.  The family is getting together at my parents' house, as we usually do.  We're going to do the same fun run we always do on Thanksgiving morning, and probably go to a hockey game, as we usually do.  And hang out and take the kids to the park and go to the movies and see Ali and Joe for Day After Thanksgiving Pie, as we always do.

But without you there, it's going to be hard.  And weird.

I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that you're really gone.  I love you and miss you so much.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

College is awesome, dude. And best part - no zombies!

Some of my most interesting and random conversations with Zeke are right before he falls asleep. Now that I have an entire king-size bed to myself, I sometimes let him come and snuggle with me.


"Yes, honey?"

"I don't want to go to college."

This is totally out of the blue.  I don't remember ever talking to him about college in any meaningful way.

"Why not?"

"I just don't."

"Hmm.  I think you'll want to go to college when you're ready.  You'd like college."

"But I don't want to go."

"Well, it's not something we need to worry about right now.  Let's go to sleep."

I shmush up my pillow and get comfy.

"Why not?"

"Why don't you need to worry about it?"


"Because it's a long way off.  If you go to college, it would be twelve years from now.  You might change your mind."

He thinks about this for a couple of seconds.

"Mama, how long is middle school?"

"I think here it's three years.  Sixth, seventh and eighth grades."

"And how long is high school?  Three years?"

"No, high school is four years.  Honey, I'm tired.  Let's go to sleep."

"High school is four years?  I thought I heard someone tell me it's only three years."

"No, it's ninth through twelfth grades.  Four years."

"And college comes after that?"

"Yes.  And you know, college is a lot of fun.  It's where you get to decide what you want to learn about.  You can study the things you're interested in.  And have fun with your friends.  Now close your eyes and go to sleep."

He's quiet for a little while.


*sigh*  "Yes, sweetie?"

"Are zombies real?"