Category Archives: Parenthood

A Tribute to my Father at his Memorial Service

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Over the last six weeks, I’ve given a lot of thought to what made my father so special.  Unique.  Speaking with friends and family who knew him well, I think I’m getting closer to defining it. 

It’s something like this:  he was self-assured in a way that made those around him feel better.  He had a quiet confidence that was the furthest thing from arrogance.  Daddy never bragged.  He tended not to speak at length about anything, least of all himself, and he had little patience with those who do.  One friend expressed it this way:  he said my father had a sort of grace.  And that’s it.  Daddy had an unassuming, infectious charisma.  An easygoing demeanor that told you, maybe even without a word: Hey, everything’s cool.  No need to worry.  His assurance reassured you, built you up and improved your outlook.  Even during that final week, after his stroke, while he was leaving this life little by little, Daddy’s presence was uplifting and reassuring. 

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Daddy with his mother and younger brother on vacation in Florida, 1953.

My father looked on the sunny side, and when you were with him, you basked in the sun, as well.  That, plus his incredible good looks, must have been what drew Mama toward him over sixty years ago.  My mother tends to see the shadows.  She’s a worrier.   She’s acquainted with melancholy.  Daddy was, in so many ways, her sunshine. 

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Daddy with his sister and younger brother, again in Florida, 1953.

One of my more vivid childhood memories is being at the Garden Hills pool with Daddy when I was little.  We’d go swimming sometimes on summer Saturdays, just he and I.  I hated getting into cold water.  Still do.  My daughter makes fun of me every year at Cape Cod as I stand wincing, dipping one toe into the bay.  As a little girl, I’d wrap myself around Daddy like a monkey, and he’d get in at the shallow end and gradually wade deeper and deeper.  At first I’d be shivering like crazy.  But his warmth and sense of calm would soon spread to me.  I’d take a deep breath and relax.  The shivers would disappear.  Daddy’s sunny grace would shine on me, and I could play in the water all day.

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Daddy, 1951.

I never had any doubt that with Daddy, the cold water would turn into something wonderful and fun.  And I’ve never had any doubt about Daddy’s love for me.  His most significant gift has been, and will always be, the absolute, unwavering certainty of his love.  No matter what, he was my champion, my loyal defender.  He was partial, of course.  But he was also generous with his love, not just to me but to all his family and friends.  If he loved you, he was in your corner.  Resolutely.  Enthusiastically.  And you knew it.  Never questioned it. 

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Daddy and me on my first birthday, 1962.

What a gift.  It’s a gift I’ll carry my whole life long, and, I expect, into eternity.  Thank you, Daddy. 

Another Last Day (of School)

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The official last day of school is finally here.  And it’s about time, since only one little week of June remains. 

My daughter’s dreaded junior year is behind her now.  As she used to say as a baby after finishing a meal in her high chair, “All done, Mama.  All done.”  Our  family breathes a collective sigh of relief. 

She’d expected the year to be tough, and in this respect it did not disappoint. It included challenging AP courses such as Chemistry and BC Calculus.  It required discerning ever so subtle differences in rhetorical devices in AP Lang.  There were decisions to be faced:  which comprehensive exams, SAT or ACT?  And if SAT, which version:  old or new?  And which subject tests?  Then there was the actual taking of the tests, one of which had to be rescheduled because it occurred during our winter blizzard.  On the lighter, but still stressful side, there were drama performances, including One Acts, Putnam the main stage musical, and various class productions. 

There were college visits to be worried over, planned and accomplished and then worried over some more.  We devoted spring break to touring the icy gray campuses of various northeastern schools from Rhode Island to Vermont.  From this trip we drew one conclusion: we were very cold. 

There was fun to be had, as well, with good friends, many of whom our daughter has known since elementary school and before.  Another Homecoming, another Sadie Hawkins Dance, another Prom, with all the prefatory to-do those events entail.  Those of you who are parents of high schoolers know that the actual dance takes a back seat to the lead-up of pictures, dinner and more pictures, and the follow-up of the after party.  There was our daughter’s greater freedom resulting from a driver’s license and an available vehicle.  (She has a car to drive, but, as my husband emphasizes, it is  NOT her car.) 

And now the summer is upon us, as is the pressure to enjoy it fully, yet use it wisely.  That’s a tall order. 

What will we do today?  We’re not sure.  The day is half over. 

Looks like we’re already behind in the game. 

Our Daughter, Far Better than a Mini-Me

 

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As our daughter learned to express herself, family life became far more harmonious.  H and I were learning to understand our baby.   She seemed to be starting to see us as fellow living creatures, not simply as a means to answering her needs.  Nearly every day with my baby brought a novel development: a new sound or expression, a new use of her little fingers, arms or legs, an interest in a previously ignored toy.  During those first years, when age is measured in weeks and months, things change mighty fast.  My husband envied the hours I spent with our daughter while he was at the office.  He hated knowing that he might miss some crucial milestone:  a first step, a first word.  I no longer felt lost and alone on the front lines of parenting during the day.  Instead, I considered it a pleasure and a privilege to be a so-called stay-at-home mother.  Had it been necessary for me to leave our daughter in the care of professionals, no matter the quality of their credentials, I would have felt bereft.  I was glad that despite many years of higher education, I had managed to avoid a career.  

One thing became clear as our new family was getting acquainted:  our daughter was no one’s clone.  She was her own person, with very particular likes and dislikes, intensely experienced, perhaps even more intensely expressed.  Her personality seemed to be already formed; she wasn’t a blank canvas awaiting artful parental manipulation. 

Maybe my ego is outsized, but it took me several years to grasp that my daughter wouldn’t eventually, gradually, take on most of my interests.  It wasn’t simply a matter of time; not all my passions would become her passions.  Those early visits to DC museums didn’t seem to ignite a love of art, but I hoped the embers were slow-burning.  Despite the pictures I encouraged her to draw for the near-constant stream of  homemade cards we sent to friends and family, she won’t be painting any murals with me.  She expressed mild interest in my doll house when it anchored the alcove in the upstairs room of my parents’ house.  But once we brought it to Virginia, it lost its allure.  Still, it remained in the back of my mind that one day we’d repaint the siding together, replace the yellowed wallpaper, make tiny fruit, vegetables and baked goods from bread dough clay for it.  As for the dolls from my childhood packed away at my parents’ house, what to do with them now?  They’re no longer in danger of being too enthusiastically handled by a younger version of a daughter that no longer exists.  And my answer to many of life’s problems, a brisk walk (with the dog, if possible), holds little appeal for her. 

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When visiting her grandparents, D showed occasional interest in some of my beloved old toys.

I guess I’ve slowly realized how little I care that my daughter doesn’t share all of my interests.  We have plenty in common.  I don’t mourn a second me that never was.  Thank goodness my husband supplied half her DNA.  Our daughter is thoughtful, funny, kind, and compassionate, and she continues to be the original she was created to be. 

She’s the ideal link between my husband and me.  The three of us are better together than any two of us.  We’re compatible.  Complementary.  Some of her most keenly felt interests she shares with my husband, such as their love of adventurous sports.  They’re ski buddies.  When they put on wet suits to ride the Cape Cod waves at dawn, I’m happy to stay in the cottage.  She may even yet become his windsurfing partner.  But she enjoys slowing down sometimes, and that’s when she and I are at our best together.  I love unhurried summer breakfasts on the screened porch, when we talk (just as my mother and I have always done) about anything and everything:  books, TV, movies, history, or life in general.  And we laugh a lot; we have similar sense of humor. 

Some of our daughter’s talents are uniquely her own.  In recent years she’s concentrated on her singing, and this spring she earned a lead role in her high school musical.  My husband and I were about as overcome with parental pride and emotion as it’s possible to be when we saw her up on stage killing it as Olive in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.  That her character has absentee parents made watching her performance all the more poignant.  During the I Love You Song, as she harmonizes beautifully with her imagined Mom and Dad, wishing they were really with her as she competes in the bee, H and I both wanted to yell out:  We’re here!  Right here on the front row!  And we do love you so much! Just as Olive’s mother says, We love everything about you, dear! 

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Onstage in Putnam, as Olive

We do.  And we’re so glad our daughter is her own strong young woman.  I often marvel at how grown up she looks.  Yet, when I try, I can always see in her the baby that confounded and amazed me, as well as the little girl just finding her own footing.  It’s a joy to love her and be her Mama during every stage of her life.  But it’s scary, too.  Before long her journey is likely to take her away from us. 

Our daughter never has to imagine, as Olive does, that her parents are present and devoted.  We’re here.  Cheering for her.  Right on the front row.  We hope she’ll let us stay there. 

From Alien to Mini-Me?

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This past weekend, with my daughter away on a trip with friends, my husband and I wandered the quiet house and marveled at the fact that our baby turns eighteen on her next birthday.  That ongoing refrain, “Where did the time go? ” must get tiresome to non-parents.  Still, we can’t help thinking it, can’t help saying it.  Because it does seem almost like yesterday that we gazed at her nightly with wonder as she slept in her crib, her chubby arms stretched out above her head in luxurious abandon.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that she was learning to talk.  Her first word was “ites.”  For lights.  What a relief it was, for all of us, as she began to learn to express herself.   

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Seventeen years ago, our daughter was nearly five months old.  Our baby was, by and large, still a mystery to my husband and me.  We hadn’t yet discovered what made her cry, although it seemed to be most everything.  The motion of her baby swing generally made her happier, and sometimes it eased her to sleep.  This was good, because she tended to fight sleep with an all-consuming ferocity.  The sensation of wind in her face, produced by fanning her energetically with a book as she swung in her swing, was one of the few things that made her really laugh.  The sound of her giggles was magical, like the silvery jingling of tumbling shell fragments in a rain stick, like elf laughter.  What bliss it was to see and hear her giggle.  But in so many ways, she was an enigma.  A demanding alien presence in an exquisitely endearing little package, as I described her in an earlier post.  (See Thirteen Years Ago:  Home with our new Baby, January 2012.)   Our inability to comprehend most of her commands filled her with fury.  She was a Four-Star General in the body of a tiny non-verbal ET.  Despite our lack of understanding, we loved her absolutely.  But we were often fatigued and frustrated.  (See also New Motherhood: An Uphill Climb, January 2012)

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 I looked forward to the days when my daughter and I had come to understand one another.  My interests, I hoped and expected, would be her interests.  I pictured her delight in discovering my favorite childhood toys, which I’d saved in anticipation of rediscovering with my own child.  She’d love building with the colorful wooden blocks I got when I was two.  She’d appreciate the beautiful dolls I’d treated with such care: Susie Sunshine, Winkie, Baby Lynne, my Little Women Dolls, Alice in Wonderland, Scarlet O’Hara.  And of course she’d be a dollhouse and miniature enthusiast.  How could she not be? 

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For some reason, I expected this contrary, then unknowable creature to evolve into a smaller, younger version of myself.  A cheerier and improved mini-me, of course, unburdened by outsized anxieties.  No OCD please, no repetitive, exhausting worries. Wouldn’t my little clone and I have fun together one day, some day?  Isn’t that the hope of most new parents?  I probably wouldn’t have admitted it, but I know that seventeen years ago, it was among mine.   

Pursuing Petite Princess: The Royal Grand Piano (Time Travel Through Toys)

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With the old box of doll furniture rediscovered and my interest reignited, I went online.  I’m not sure what I thought I’d find.  I didn’t expect to discover that just about every piece of the collection was available from various sellers on ebay.  It amazed me.  I’d never met anyone who recalled the furniture from childhood.  I thought it was obscure stuff.  But as the internet repeatedly reminds us, any claims we might make to being unique are vastly overblown. 

So, wow.  There it all was.  Most were pieces I already had.  I found it reassuring to see traces of age on many items for sale, similar to those on my furniture.  The gold and white curved Salon Sofas were consistently missing a strip of fabric on each arm, just as mine did.  Some pieces reminded me of odds and ends I’d lost or broken.  There were the tiny horsehead bookends, the pink and white “bird” lamp reassembled, and the “oil” landscape paintings, rather in the style of Fragonard.  Years ago I glued an image from a Christmas card over my sole remaining painting. 

There were only a few items that I didn’t own, for one reason or another.  I remember not liking the look of the Fantasy Telephone set.  The big red rose embossed on the phone box struck me as an uncharacteristically heavy-handed touch.  The Salon Drum chair, upholstered in a choice of lamé colors, was not appealing.  But the Rolling Tea Cart, in brass–that was charming.  True to the Petite Princess lifestyle, it held a wine bottle and goblets.  Not a single tea pot or tea cup for this tea cart.  The short brass candelabra “for table or mantle use” could be a nice addition.  I own only the tall Fantasia Candelabra.  

But among the offerings, one stood out:  the Royal Grand Piano, a tiny assemblage of fabulousness.  I don’t know why the piano wasn’t in my collection.  Was it not available at Allen’s 5 & Dime?  Was it too expensive?  It’s white, of course, with gold accents.  The undulating sides and back, as well as the underside of the lid, are decorated with gold-framed panels.  Again evoking the frothy style of Fragonard, they show 18th-century aristocratic types frolicking in lush landscapes.  There are 88 three-dimensional keys and three foot pedals.  The delicate white bench is upholstered in red velvet.  Sheet music and a metronome are included. 

As I browsed Petite Princess furniture on ebay, it seemed to me that the images on the small white packages, more so than the items they contain, summoned the acuteness of childhood longing.  The years fell away and I was a six year old in Allen’s, transfixed before the display.  Holding the box that encased, say, the Treasure Trove Cabinet, examining the photo, comparing it to the piece on display.  Imagining the absolute, if temporary happiness that would accompany the opening of the box, the unwrapping of the tissue paper.  Suddenly I knew how my daughter felt, at the same age, as we stood in a toy aisle at Target, her desire for something or other, the Polly Pocket limo or a certain Fairytopia Barbie, blazing fiercely in her big blue eyes.  Don’t you have enough Polly Pockets, enough Barbies, I’d ask, wearily?  Do you really need more stuff for me to move around, I’d think?  I’d judged her too harshly, with the gaze of jaded, self-righteous adult hypocrisy. 

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With some alarm it hit me that my interest in “Petite Princess” had morphed from one of nostalgic sentiment to a real yearning to possess.  I didn’t simply want that piano.  I needed that piano.  It spoke to me, repeatedly.  One ebay seller claimed to offer a large cache of virtually untouched “Petite Princess” furniture.  The boxes were unmarked by use or wear, the items within never roughly handled by small clumsy fingers and still wrapped with the original tissue paper.   The piano was among these treasures.  That did it.  Because it was the opening of the package, not the actual ownership of the item, that so pulled at me.  I wanted, no, I needed, to experience that childhood thrill again. 

That piano was my first-ever ebay purchase.  I remember worrying that I’d be outbid at the last second; my husband coached me on bidding techniques.  But I was successful.  I think it cost me $16. 

When the package arrived in the mail, my daughter and I eagerly opened it together.  Her excitement fed into mine, and the unwrapping, the unveiling, was indeed amazing.  I really did feel like a first-grader, her peer.  The box containing the piano was pristine.  So white.  Not yellowed with age.  There was that familiar tissue paper, clean, crisp, unwrinkled.  The piano itself was the delicate treasure I’d expected.  The paintings were so fresh and bright, the red upholstery of the bench immaculate.  The metronome, the sheet music, all there, all perfect.  My daughter’s admiration was real and exuberant; she wasn’t simply performing to humor me. 

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An added bonus was that included in the lot with the piano was another box containing the Occasional Table set and all its accessories.  I already owned the table, but the clear plastic ashtray and cigarette had disappeared decades ago.  Like the piano, this set arrived in mint condition in a box that looked brand new, not forty plus years old.  My daughter by my side, I saw the table, the brass Buddha, the lighter, ashtray and its cigarette (still encased in a plastic envelope), as though for the first time.

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Be forewarned, then:  totems for time travel may pop up unexpectedly in an old toy box.  For a truly extraordinary trip, take along a favorite child, and enjoy the ride.

Assessing the Storm

An unaccustomed sight appeared throughout Northern Virginia today:  school buses.   Due to the blizzard and what should have been an inconsequential “dusting” that preceded it, schools were closed for seven days.  During the final two weeks of January, with the snow, the MLK holiday and a teacher workday, school was in session for one day only.  During times such as this, I’m especially thankful that I like my daughter.  And while it makes me sound cold and unloving, I’m glad she’s not younger.  How pleasant it is that my constant accompaniment for her every snow venture is no longer required.   

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Our family’s winter storm experience was, all in all, quite enjoyable.  As blizzards go, it was a good one, at least for us.  I know there were others who weren’t nearly so lucky.  It was forecasted accurately and well in advance, allowing plenty of prep time.  The snow began right on schedule, at 1 PM on a Friday.  I was back home after a second shopping trip for those “just in case” provisions.  School had been canceled, allowing my daughter plenty of time to meet friends for an early lunch.  She was anticipating not seeing non-neighborhood buddies for a while.  Even my husband arrived home from the office well before the snow started to accumulate. 

The snow fell according to plan, persistently and without a break, until the following evening.  This wasn’t a showy storm.  The flakes were small but steady.  Saturday brought some wind, but no howling gales.  And most important:  our area never lost power.  We had heat, light, hot water and all those interior comforts that are especially cherished when the weather outside is icy. 

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My husband was ready with the snow blower he’d bought just after the Blizzard of 2010.  He was told he’d probably never need something that big down here in Virginia.  He wanted it anyway.  Growing up in Rochester, he dreamed of owning a powerful, sleek snow blower the way some kids dream of owning a Maserati. 

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In this case, it was a dream worth realizing.  The big blower came in very handy.

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H cleared our long driveway.  He opened up walkable paths between our house and those of our neighbors on each side.  (If you’ve ever tried body-plowing through twenty-eight inches of snow, you know it’s not easy.)   He then cleared our neighbors’ long driveways. 

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He opened up a path on a side street that was untouched by plows for several days.  He continued up and down that street until he’d cleared a lane wide enough for a car to pass through. This photo, taken by my daughter, shows how the sharply cut snow sections resemble two huge layers of angel food cake. 

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Here he is, returning from a full day of snow blowing, the afternoon sun’s rays falling on him like a benediction.  You could say that all this work could have been accomplished by shoveling.  That might be theoretically true, but it would have required far more helping hands and strong backs than were available.  Plus many, many additional hours.  His work was all the more valuable because it would be several more days before the streets into our neighborhood would be approached by snow plows. 

With every gathering storm, I’ve always been grateful that I can ride it out with a snow management and removal expert by my side.  This was certainly true during the Blizzard of 2016.  A good boy from Rochester is indeed a good thing. 

Once Again, Truly Big Snow

 

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The last snowflakes of the Blizzard of 2016 (aka Winter Storm Jonas) fell five days ago, on Saturday evening.  According to careful measurements by my husband and daughter, we got about twenty-eight inches.  Most of the snow remains very much with us, in far less attractive configurations than the graceful, pristine drifts in which it fell. 

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Last winter brought frequent snows to Northern Virginia, as my ten snow day posts of 2015 attest.  (See here and here.)  But we haven’t had a truly stupendous snow event  in five years.  In December 2009 and February 2010 we were treated to nearly back-to-back blizzards.   My daughter has been wishing for a similarly substantial storm ever since.  She likes her snow measured in feet.  She delights in tossing out the expected routines of daily life for all-consuming, all-day snow play and management.  To her credit, she pitches in with the digging out.  And the inconveniences that massive snows may bring: they’re simply part of the adventure.  What she recalls most distinctly about our loss of electricity during the 2010 storm was using the grill to melt butter for birthday cake icing. 

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Here she is, barely visible atop a snow mountain at the Reston Town Center after the February 2010 storm. 

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And, after the more recent storm, atop a snow pile in the parking lot of a local shopping center.  I guess she’ll always love to climb snow piles.   

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On a snow mound at our house during the Blizzard of 2010.

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And two days ago, with Kiko on a similar mound in the same place, after the latest storm.  Big Snow, happy kid. 

Extreme Gift Wrapping, Christmas 2015

It’s well past Christmas, I realize, but I’m running behind in this new year, just as I was in the old year.  It’s consistent, then, that my last Christmas post, an annual update on extreme gift wrapping, appears two weeks into January. 

Thanks to my husband and daughter, it’s hard to predict what might appear around the tree in the days leading up to Christmas:  a family of enormous cylinders, a tall skinny pyramid, a child-sized obelisk, a gift tower ten feet high.  Not all packages appear under the tree; some have been suspended from the ceiling.  Certainly one of the most original and unexpected presentations was the pentagon and five pyramids that came together to form a star on Christmas morning.  My husband, searching for ideas for this year’s wrapping scheme, found that when he Googled “Extreme Gift Wrapping,” the first image that popped up was that very star he’d made in 2012.  He and my daughter have set the bar high. We’re prepared to be wowed.  (For previous years, see  here, here, and here.)

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Getting to “wow” becomes all the more unlikely when one expects it.  Subtler strategies must evolve.  When the first gift from my husband to my daughter appeared a few days before Christmas, it was an ordinary square box, wrapped in plaid paper.  On one side there was a wedge-shaped section of silver paper.  Simple.  Not showy.  If you didn’t know better you might think he’d run out of paper. 

My daughter countered with a more emphatic gesture:  she transformed a gift to her father into a gold and white-patterned Droid.  Her Star Wars tribute, she called it. 

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My husband was impressed and intrigued.  (Kiko, not so much.  He showed mild interest when H made it move.) 

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Eight more gifts for our daughter appeared during the next several days.  Each one was wrapped in the same size square box.  Most, but not all, had an apparently random section of shiny silver paper on one side.  On Christmas Eve, the gifts were piled seemingly haphazardly around the tree. 

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On Christmas morning, the square packages for our daughter were stacked, as if by Santa, so that the silver paper formed the letter J, her first initial.  (When I refer to her as “D,” it stands for “daughter.”)

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The “J Wall” as I think of it, lacks the visual impact of the star.  Indeed, that star is hard to surpass.  But it’s clever.  If you think about it philosophically, you could say it reshuffles chaos into order, into meaning.  Sort of the way the divine magic of Christmas can inject order and meaning into our lives, if we let it. 

And  if you simply consider how the J Wall looks, you’d probably say it serves as a very pleasing complement to the Droid, a charming creation on its own. 

Hats off, again, to H & D for keeping the ball in play during their ongoing volley of extreme gift wrapping!  What, I wonder, will they do next year?  (Glad I’m only a spectator in the game.)