what do.

Two young children wearing matching leggings sit at the base of a flagpole.

The past few days have been a whirlwind. I look back at this photo, taken at the turn of the year, and marvel at how quickly and completely things went off the rails. Here we are, out enjoying the sunshine and the return of warmer temperatures following an unheard-of winter storm that included snowfall. A friend of mine had come to visit and we’d taken her out, shown her around. Poppy was in the hospital when this was taken, still fighting for his life with every breath, on serious life support and all of us uncertain as to whether he’d pull through. And miraculously, he got better: incrementally, slowly, stubbornly, he got better, right up until he just – didn’t, and he’d gone.

It’s about object permanence, and impermanence, the things that happen when we aren’t looking. The family who flew into town to share stories at Poppy’s visitation, to pray a rosary whether or not we knew the words or believed, gone home now and continuing to live and grieve and move on in their own time and way. The cousins who’ve grown to adulthood when my back was turned, the children of mine who have somehow not been babies or even toddlers for a very long time, and it’s happening right under my nose. (Not for much longer; Libra is already 48″, a mere head shorter than I am.)

It’s about that very weird stage of grieving that is anger that the world dares to go on as though nothing has changed, which is both true and not, and it’s the truth of it that stings: not even that the sun still rises, for it will go on rising and setting long after it has set on the last of human eyes alive to witness it, but that I still have to wake Libra in the morning to shower before he can go to school, that I will eventually have to look at my budget and try to salvage it from having fed anywhere from ten to forty people for a week, that things will begin to settle down again, the same as they ever were except in the strange and sliding way that they are not. I am worrying about my youngest cousins, who lived with Poppy, who have seemed all right most of the weekend but who will be the hardest hit, returning to their routines without the steadfastness of his presence to make them bearable. I am worrying about my mother, whose entire month has been given over to caring for her father as he lay in that bed, nursing him back to health only to have him snatched away at the last possible moment, who returns to the other side of the country in two short days where she is bereft of the rest of us.

It’s about the hedgehog’s dilemma. Because I’m sure it’s said that there’s nothing like dying to make you think about living, but surrounded by the grief of family and friends who had lost someone so dear, I could only hope not to leave so many wounded in my own wake; I would rather no one mourn my loss, as it is, frankly, not a great one. My grandfather was worthy of that kind of love, because he loved openly, generously, and completely. I lie here wondering how to bring my family, flung so far and wide, closer together, that we might better rely on each other and care for one another in the way that he cared for all of us, but afraid of imposing so much. Surely there are reasons we are so widely flung, that only the death of a great man could put us all in each others’ path again.

Libra and Gemini both attended the funeral and internment, and were briefly present at the visitation that preceded both. It’s hard to tell how much it affects them, how much of their restlessness was the product of the boredom of any kind of religious service and the starched formalwear versus any hint of deeper emotional waters. Gemini did report being frightened, and I am at least still convinced that the better part of Libra’s anger is actually masking feelings of helplessness (why, hello there Pot, just call me Kettle). It hasn’t helped that all week they’ve been following nothing resembling their normal schedule, that they’ve been eating poorly and sleeping worse, that they’ve been inundated with cousins they’ve met perhaps once or twice and utterly enthralled with the lot of them. It’s been overstimulation central, I’m sure. Even with all that, though, I think they may have just not been close enough to him to really feel it the way that the others are; shamefully, we only visited in bursts a few times a year, usually coinciding with the times my mama was in town, so they didn’t know him as a constant presence the way we did. I wish they had.

I wish

My grandfather passed away at 2:09a this morning after a hard-fought three weeks of intensive care following a heart attack on Christmas. Although it was his heart that gave out, it’s clear to me that he went out on his own terms, having spent the day vibrant and grateful, shaking the hands of all his care team and spending time with his daughters, clear-eyed and unafraid, and eager to go home to Grandma LingLing and the party that’s surely awaiting him on the other side.

Rest in Power, Peace and Love, Poppy. We’ll miss you.

managing expectations

Wow do I ever neglect my blog like I’m paid to do it.

The last two months of 2014 flew by in a haze of “Oh, can I have that for Christmas?” before I even realized they were passing. Life’s like that, sometimes. I spent a good many days, particularly as that particular holiday approached, reminding the kids that it was all well and good to continue adding on to their Christmas lists, but that many of their gifts had already been purchased and they were less likely to get some of the things they added last-minute. I spent a lot of time coaching them, too.

Me: “What do you say when you’re given a gift?”
Kids: “Thank you.”
Me: “Do you sigh loudly?”
Kids: “No.”
Me: “Do you complain that it’s not what you wanted? Do you complain that you already have one?”
Kids: “No.”
Libra: “I get it, can we get back to playing now?”

And Christmas mostly went off without a hitch. We didn’t even realize anything was really wrong until the following Saturday, and come early Sunday morning my maternal grandfather was having open-heart surgery in a desperate attempt to save his life following a massive stuttering heart attack that had apparently been plaguing him since Christmas. He survived a quadruple bypass, survived through the New Year and the implantation of a balloon to inflate his arteries. He survives still, in fact, and as of this writing is lucid, speaking hoarsely, and due to be moved from specialized cardiovascular intensive care to a separate, more generalized intensive care unit in a different facility any day now.

We have been thankful – so, so thankful – for this gift of extra time with Poppy. We continue to be grateful as his health improves.

And yet now is the time of greatest uncertainty, as our family rearranges itself to provide the kind of care and attention Poppy will need as he heals. Between his team of doctors and nurses and his family, we must all learn to manage our expectations – what his care will require from us, what his care will require of him, and what it all means for his four daughters, only two of whom live locally enough to be in a position to provide that sort of care, and of the two, the one with whom he currently resides is in the midst of a divorce and the parent of two young girls, and she’d been making plans to move out before his hospitalization.

There’s talk of what will become of the house, which is the one my mom and her sisters grew up in, if she moves out and it turns out that Poppy can’t live independently; there are suggestions that my mom might fly Poppy back to her home several states away, in order to provide for his care, or else that she and her husband may uproot and move here, though whether that means she will retire or seek a new job or merely transfer is unclear; there is the vaguest possibility that I will be tapped to housesit and provide care for Poppy. I owe it to him; he provided care and housing for me and my dog when I was a lousy layabout in college, and while I could do it with love and attention and a will …  but, selfishly, I am afraid of the responsibility.

Even more selfishly, it would also put a complete kibosh on our interest in relocating to Alaska, although even if it does not come to pass that I become his primary caregiver, it may already have done: looking at him lying in his hospital bed, trying to wriggle out of his restraints and bruised all over from gods know what, voice raspy and throat phlegmy and needles and tubes everywhere and alive because and in spite of it all – I imagine my mom, my dad, in that position; I look at my mom now, who has extended her Christmas visit and is burning through vacation time and who knows how much of her own sanity trying to stay at his side, and Alaska seems so far away. Already I worry about how much more stressed she’ll be when she finally returns home later this week or next, after he’s moved to the somewhat-less-intensive care unit, when she’ll be an airplane ride away and unable to visit with him every day and look to his needs and ask his nurses so many questions that they begin to avoid her, and I can’t be there to provide whatever small amount of support my presence provides.

november gratitude, week 1

  • One-on-one breakfasts at Starbucks with my kiddos. It’s great to catch up with them, and I like to think we’re building something special. I can tell how much they love feeling like grown-ups with their own cups and scones, too.
  • The marvels of modern medicine. Did you know that instead of a flu shot, you can now opt for vaccine delivery by nasal mist? Which sounds equally unpleasant, to be honest, but let me keep my integrity as a parent who vaccinates my kids and as someone who told my six-year-old that no, today he would not need to get shots at his doctor’s visit.
  • The cooler weather – I am ready to bust out the sweaters and jackets again! And all of my favorite comfort food is made for cool autumn and winter evenings, from soups and stews to casseroles and lasagnas. (And chocolate chili-cinnamon pudding pie a la mode!)
  • We have finally paid off one of our loans entirely! Hooray less debt!
  • Beau has gotten a promotion at work! Which is great for him, because he deserves recognition for the hard work he puts in at the office, and it’s been marvelous for his self-esteem. It also puts us in a much more comfortable position with regards to our remaining mountain of debt, and the prospect of eventual homeownership.
  • The cats, who have gotten much more cuddly as the temperatures have dropped. I do so love having a lapful of cat.

What are you grateful for, right now?

they are evolving.

Libra’s had several sight words under his belt for the better part of a year, not including label/brand recognition, but today he drew a picture and, on his own, labeled it MULIFACENT. (Maleficent, the dark faerie from the recent film of the same name or various and sundry previous permutations. In case you were curious.)

Gemini is not very far behind him, either, having many more opportunities for reading and being far more interested in letters and words in general than Libra has ever been, although it will probably be a while yet before he can reliably do more than pick out words by sight.

We may be rapidly approaching that stage at which we can’t conceal topics under discussion by spelling them out. Or, at the very least, the stage in which we might get called out on changing details in books: they’re bound to notice sooner rather than later that I’ve been changing up the genders of the monkeys in Eight Silly Monkeys and substituting various family member titles for “Mama” in I Love You, Little One.

we have survived summer.

A lucky windfall enabled us to send Libra to day camp for the last three weeks of summer, which I will forever credit for our survival as a family. It isn’t Tuolomne Meadows, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that Libra does much, much better with more children to ringlead and more activity to occupy his body than to slouch about all day playing Minecraft. At least Minecraft is good for his brain, I tell myself, and it has the added bonus of keeping him out of his brother’s hair. A full year at transitional kinder meant that the pair of them have not spent so much time in one another’s company, and they’d apparently grown used to the daily ritual of separation; set together twenty-four hours a day and all they did was squabble and henpeck. Day camp fixed that, and now Libra is in kinder proper, with Gemini to follow next year.

Required photographs from the first day back at school:

a child standing proudly, arms crossed, overlit against a shady background of shrubbery a child standing casually, looking off-camera and grinning, overlit against a shady background of shrubbery

He is the biggest ham, my Libra.

The first week back has been a harry of hurrying and scurrying, but I’m hopeful that it will die down again once we’ve all got this new schedule down, and then hopefully we will begin to be able to add back in weekend activities and playdates. Libra’s already invited over half his class, apparently – much to his consternation, none of us parents have each others’ contact information yet, so nothing much has come of his invitations – but he has had a playdate with the same little girl with whom he’s been playing all summer, so that’s something. We’ve also tentatively signed him up for some circus lessons, because he has also been talking about learning to do aerial silks and Chinese pole all summer having seen some performances that make use of them, and school doesn’t provide enough opportunity for him to really move his body.

Gemini wants to learn to swim, finally, so we’re probably also going to be getting him into lessons. He hasn’t been able to go to them until very recently, due to many policies requiring the use of doubled-up swim diapers on children younger than four, and him having a steel bladder he hasn’t needed them in an age and flat-out refuses to wear them. (I do not understand how a child half my size who drinks twice or three times the amount of water in a day as I do nonetheless pees far fewer times; he can easily go only twice a day to my use of the necessaries what feels like twice in two hours.)

A photo of Gemini, to prove that I do take photos of him, featuring some rather blatant product placement because this child has grown very attached to these petite vanilla scones, and is very looking forward to the return of fall and of pumpkin scones:

A young child grinning happily over a plate of scones.

It’s the deal we make, see: he gets to be blatantly consumerist and overloyal to branding while he enjoys his scones and ice water, and I get to run errands without being griped at endlessly. Possibly that is more of a bribe than a deal, but since I often pick up a coffee and pastry myself, and he does help carry in groceries, I call it even. 

vacation

If I begin every post with an observation on how quickly time passes, I’m pretty sure it’ll either become a tired trope, a tired meme, or just plain boring. So I won’t necessarily remark on the fact that a month’s gone by since my last post, despite all my best intentions to post more regularly.

Here, have a selfie of me and a goat:

author selfie with a horned and goatee'd billy goatish

And a photo of Libra and Gemini feeding baby goats at a petting zoo with their Lala:
Two young children and their grandmother feeding baby goats at a petting zoo.

We’ve been visiting with her, you see, four hours away by two planes in northwest Arkansas, for the past couple of weeks. It was a bit of a magical time, the plane rides notwithstanding – on the return trip, I opted not to take anti-nausea pills, and paid the humiliating price of having my head in an airsick bag for twenty minutes while my entirely unsympathetic children laughed at me and pretended to duck out of the way – and we had a great time playing tourist in a very beautiful part of the country.

We visited a local cave, which is the first real cave either Libra or Gemini had visited. I’ve been to Merrimac Caverns a little further north, and this was quite a different experience, much more hemmed-in and small, although this cave system has the untried benefit of offering spelunking tours for private groups. They didn’t take photos until after they’d shut off and then restored the lights, to give folks an idea of true darkness, which explains the unhappy faces on both my little ones.

A family of very odd-looking individuals lit horribly by the flash against a backdrop of cave wall, not that you would be able to tell without this alt text.

We visited downtown Betonville, home of the very first store Sam Walton opened, a statue and fountain dedicated to the fallen Confederate soldiers of the Civil War, and a restaurant called Table Table (okay, Table Mesa, but really now), and also a really great pop-up crepe shop run out of what we assume are the owners’ backyard/driveway. Libra’s happily digging into his dark chocolate and salted caramel crepe:

Libra's first crepe is chocolate and salted caramel and this is the face of a kid in love.

While Gemini opts for a deliciously seasonal strawberry and Nutella crepe, possibly also with salted caramel and whipped cream:

Gemini with his first crepe, Nutella with fresh, in-season strawberries and salted caramel and whipped cream. He's also very happy with his selection.

Poppy – my grandfather, the kids’ great-grandfather – opted for barbecue instead. I don’t blame him. My partner double-dipped and got a crepe and bbq and that shit is bananas.

Poppy opted for bbq while the rest of us had crepes, so this is an image of an older Filipino man with a plateful of bbq sammich in front of him.

The real highlight, of course, was buying fireworks, which have probably been outlawed in California since forever. Even sparklers. So the kids have never had any experience with them directly, save for watching them break over the bay during the Fourth of July. They were super-excited. Hell, I was super-excited; even as a kid growing up, we were never allowed anything more exciting than sparklers, and where we were visiting there were no restrictions on sale or use of anything. For nearly two thousand dollars we could have bought a “professional-grade” fireworks display that included explosives that soared up half a mile and shot out sparks over 200 feet, and then set them off from our back porch!

Libra, Gemini, and their Lala shopping for fireworks; a very pink-tinged image because of the red-and-white striped tent in which we're shopping for explosives.

They were even more excited to set them off, naturally, which we did in the street in front of their Lala’s house. Mostly we stuck to hand-held sparklers, little smoke bombs, little cars and tanks and pyramids that shot sparks in one direction or another – nothing truly spectacular or dangerous after all, despite all the kids we witnessed in the local park actually firing small bottle rockets at each other. EXCEPT for a three-pack of ladybugs, which I bought because for some reason I thought the packaging explained that they’d spin three to six feet into the air, emit sparks and a report, and then be done.

We were accordingly shocked and awed and not a little bit terrified when we lit the damn thing and it squealed like a stuck pig and exploded upward some sixty feet, eventually landing in a neighbor’s front lawn.

We also ate lots of dessert. LOTS. Dessert for breakfast, dessert after lunch, dessert after dinner: cookies, cobblers, ice cream, milkshakes, pie, flan. It was exhausting. And delicious.

Libra, Gemini, Poppy and their daddy sitting pretty at the counter, eating bowls of ice cream.

We found wildlife in some very unexpected places. That little brown spot on the wall? It’s a bat, which Gemini discovered by virtue of being exactly the right height to spot it clinging onto this wall beneath a half-stair and porch as we walked to the Fayetteville farmers’ market.

Gemini with Lala in the foreground, and A BAT in the background on the wall.

And yes, these are a lot of photos, but this isn’t even half of our trip, really. There are plenty more moments I didn’t capture, including the tantrums and swollen chigger bites I hope to forget quite soon, but not limited to that. The visit to the nature center of the local preserve, the beautiful sunrise over the lake. Driving through a safari park that lets you take your own car through several hundred acres of free-roaming antelope, bison, camels, emu, water buffalo, and barking deer; we had to stop twice for animals that would simply not move off the road. Visiting with my dad and his family, who drove down to spend time with us from their home five hours’ drive away, and losing spectacularly to him at go-karts because I had to lie to get Gemini in and then he spent the whole ride clinging to me and white as a sheet. And also I couldn’t reach the accelerator. Which, yes, is probably just a chickenshit way to avoid admitting I was too afraid to floor it all the way and never once let up, which is how Gramps nearly lapped us.

The photos also don’t capture what I’ve heard referred to several times but have never before actually experienced: Southern hospitality. I’ve never had half so many small, intimate conversations with strangers in ten years living here on the coast as I did in ten days in small-town Arkansas! It’s completely different from anything I’ve known. Even having grown up in a small Midwestern town, I didn’t experience the same level of general good-neighborliness. I think we met and chatted to nearly every family in the subdivision, and I couldn’t buy anything from anywhere without stopping to make small talk with the cashier or proprietor.

And aside from that awkward tribute statue, I didn’t experience near the level of racism I’d feared. I did get some staring from a little white girl in the a restroom, but that could have been a number of factors, I suppose, but otherwise the kids and I practically blended in! The area is surprisingly ethnically diverse, so after a few days of counting and continuing to run out of fingers each time, I was able to relax.

I’m not sure the rest of the summer will measure up, now, but we’re gonna try. Hoping to get some camping and hiking in over the next few weekends, and eventually I’ll get around to updating my sad start to a regular gaming feature.

the days are long

But the years, as they say, are short. So short. Gemini has celebrated his fourth birthday with a great deal more pomp and circumstance than I’d have guessed him to want. He had his first birthday party, even. It was a very low-key party, with only one family of three invited able to make it, but since they are very good friends of ours the intimacy that might have otherwise been uncomfortable was instead appreciated, and the lot of us were able to get down on the floor, play with Legos, and shore up our relationships with real talk about our lives. In fact we all had such a great time that, when it came time for the others to leave, the kids begged to stay together to play, and so we took their little girl in for the evening and the three of them had a sleepover – which makes for the second weekend in as many that they’ve had sleepovers, to their great and unending delight. At this rate I’m fairly certain they’ll think that summers were made for spending all day with friends, eating nothing but pancakes and ice cream, and nesting on the floor in a kid-shaped puppy pile and giggling themselves to sleep. They wouldn’t be half wrong, at that, but I think I’m going to strategically begin to run out of pancake mix.
A light-skinned child with light brown hair sticking his tongue out for the camera.It amazes me to look at Gemini, now, to realize that my baby is now all-kid – oh he’s still got some of his chubby little baby features, in his cheeks mostly, and the way his tummy is still rounded like a toddler’s, but the confident way he moves, the kinds of jokes he tells, even the shape of him when he stands proudly next to Libra. He’s just so clearly grown, and if I thought it was bad with Libra it’s somehow even worse with Gemini. My little ones, growing up right in front of me! Getting so big and strong and independent, yet still very willing to throw himself into my lap for a cuddle. It’s enough to bring tears to my eyes.Libra is finished with his first year of formal schooling, to boot, and not a moment too soon. He’d been suffering through an insufferable growth spurt these last several weeks that had made him churlish and irritable, much more prone to sulks and spats than he usually is, and all of us were struggling mightily to wait it out. “He’s teething,” we told ourselves solemnly, holding him close and tight and softly singing “you are my sunshine” while he flailed and cried and clawed to get loose, utterly out of his depth and sinking fast. It must be terrible, or I imagine it is, to suddenly have your body filled with strange aches and phantom pains, to have it move differently and make you far clumsier than what you’re used to, to have your brain making these wild cognitive leaps into greater awareness and connectivity, overloading you with all kinds of new information and processes. I really felt for him. And yet, I’m so very glad to see that phase past, and to have my adorable, grinning kiddo back to me for the seemingly endless summer that lies ahead of us. We’re already looking ahead to all the things we might be able to spend our days doing – Libra, with his bottomless energy, wants to do all of them, naturally. I may end up trading Gemini to a friend for the day so that Libra and I can go do the more adventurous things that Gemini, for all his natural curiosity, still lacks the stamina to do.A young child with tan skin and brown hair in a dark shirt leans against a rock with his eyes closed; in the background is a railing and beyond that, open air, with a forest floor far below.We made it to the top of semi-local Stonewall Peak together a bit ago. I’d like to see if we could do it again – and to see whether he’ll be happier about having summitted this time, now that he’s done it the once. (He wasn’t very happy up there that first time, mind. Too high, and too windy. He did brag the whole way down about having done it, though, and we were correct in guessing that he’d be the only one in his kinder class to have made it.) And if not there, then some other trail in the relative wildness that’s just outside the city. Maybe even back to Tuolomne Meadows, although we’d bring Gemini for that, just like we did last year, and I’d love to bring them to the desert some night to go star-gazing. And of course there are always the museums, parks in every community, playdates with friends (now including school friends!), the beach. The county fair is in town until the Fourth of July and there always seems to be something going on, locally; friends of ours have recently turned us on to family events the libraries apparently host. There’s bonfires to light and fireworks to watch.And of course there’s all the stories to discover. I’m really looking forward to introducing them to Sailor Moon Crystal (July 5th!) and, as far as print media goes, we’ve begun reading aloud to them from chapter books, a chapter each night and, if they’re in the right sort of mood, a chapter before naptime – “quiet resting time” – right now we’re working our way through A Natural History of Dragons and so far, so good! We might even take up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone next. (I’d wanted to start there, but they’ve already seen the first three films, so we thought it more important to teach them how to listen to a story without pictures before reading them something with more familiar material.)As I wrap this up, though, the first day of summer break’s already come and gone. Here’s to hoping the rest of them will go as smoothly!

language

Beau put the kids to bed tonight and came back with a report of a very curious incident.

Apparently during story time, Libra had picked up Yeh-Shen, which is a Chinese Cinderella sort of story; it was one of my favorites growing up, and one I was happy to find again to pass along to my own children. Beau says that Libra asked him whether the book was Chinese, and Beau confirmed that it was, at which point Libra returned it to the shelf with a comment about not liking books from other languages.

I wasn’t in the room, and Beau doesn’t remember exactly what Libra’s wording was, so it’s difficult to know if he maybe thought that the book was written in Mandarin or Cantonese, which he wouldn’t be able to read – or if, as Beau interpreted it, he meant that he doesn’t like stories from “other” cultures. The conversation they had from that point forward assumed the latter, with Beau picking up loads of different stories and pointing out that their origins were from around the world. It sounds like he handled it pretty well and he says that the rest of story time went swimmingly, so I’m not inclined to pester him further.

Still, my heart aches a little.

I wish I knew what he meant, if he’s already learning to accept whiteness and Western culture as normative and default, to view everything else with suspicion and mistrust – or if he’s just expressing frustration with the process of learning to read, and the idea that he might have to learn a whole new language in which to read stories is overwhelming to him, or if he’s feeling some sort of inadequacy in his class because he doesn’t speak a second language (is he expected to because everyone else with skin his color does? does he think he should? do the other kids tease him or exclude him?)?

And it does start this young. I have memories from kindergarten onward of being asked to “speak Asian” performatively for peers and teachers alike. But those memories are from a place much less diverse than where we live now, where only about a third of his classmates are white, and the rest are shades of brown like him. It was what I wanted for him, to be able to blend in, to never have to experience that strange sensation of knowing but not knowing his own ethnic heritage.

I think I’ll do story time tomorrow night.