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Eleven days ago, Milo turned 5. I had great intentions of writing a funny tribute on his actual birthday, but I found it impossible. I was sad.
Sad because 5 feels like the real end of his babyhood. The end of being wrapped like a burrito after a bath. The end of board books. The end of R’s that sound like W’s. The end of existential questions like “Is today tomorrow yet?” The end of him climbing onto my body trying to close every gap between us with a hug.
At 5, the gaps begin to open. And they’re supposed to, I realize. These openings are beginnings: writing his name, reading, dressing himself, being a boy (and he is becoming a great boy, indeed). For now I still want to mourn the baby.
Milo, in a rare burst of affection (perhaps brought on by the fact that his primary love object, Jason, is away), has me in his sights. And it is precious, indeed.
Milo: Mom, I love you more than cupcakes with sprinkles.
Me: Wow. I love YOU more than caramel.
Milo: I love you more than chocolate cake.
Me: I love you more than my books.
Milo: I love you more than hot dogs and macaroni.
Me: Wow. I love you more than the radio.
Milo: I love you more than potty words.
Me. You do love potty words. I love you more than chocolate chip cookies.
Milo: I love you more than Black Bunny.
Me: I love you more than all the books in the library.
Milo: I love you more than birthday cake.
Me: I love you more than my computer.
Milo: Really?!! I love you more than guys and toys AND Legos.
Me: Wow. You love me A LOT.
Milo: I love you a lot lot lot lot lot. Can I have another cookie?
One day last week, Milo’s lunchbox got left at school: a source of great angst. The next day, Jason sent him with lunch in a brown paper sack, on which he didn’t merely write Milo’s name, but drew this great smiling dinosaur. So every day since, despite the fact that the lunchbox has been located, Milo has insisted on a sack lunch, which Jason has illustrated in some new, fantastical way. Aliens. Ninja Turtles. BATLUNCH. Jason isn’t concerned that the now-located lunchbox sits unused, or that we waste paper sacks. He wants to delight Milo. The disaster of a lost lunchbox is now a daily dose of joy.
When Lucy was leaving for camp last week, she was deeply afraid of being homesick. While I was wringing my hands, coaching Lu through positive visualizations and affixing labels on shampoo bottles, Jason had the solution: talisman bracelets. He had Lu choose four matching beads — Jason and I would each wear one to represent her, and she’d wear two: like us on either side of her. And it worked: all she needed to manage was a little magic.
Delight? Magic? Who has time for that shit amid the schedules, the breakfasts, the dreaded car rides together, the daily injustice of who touched whose Legos?! [Please ask to see my treatment of a family drama loosely based on “The Wire.”]
Jason does. He instinctually says “yes." Every day.
Happy (belated) Father’s Day to the keeper of delight and joy in this joint.
Jason: Milo, every minute you spend asking to watch television is time you don't get to play before bed. You're wasting your time.
Milo: NO, DAD, YOU ARE WASTING MY TIME.
Milo: I miss Lucy so much. I don't care if she ever comes back.
Milo: This dinner is hot and I know it.
Kate: Milo, it's been sitting there for 10 minutes — it's not hot.
Milo: Well. It looks hot.
Kate: Then eat some watermelon.
Milo: Is it hot?
Kate: [stern look]: Eat. It.
Lucy lost one of her very last baby teeth tonight — a chunky rear molar that twisted sickeningly in her mouth for a few days before having the grace to finally fall out.
And maybe a little of her innocence went with it. After she and I had our semi-usual nighttime pillow talk, she called Jason into her room (Jason being the keeper of magic in this family).
Lu: Dad, is the Tooth Fairy real? Because Annie says he's not real.
Jason: What do you think?
Lu: I think the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny and Santa are all real, they just get help from parents. [Elaborates on the logistics of getting presents from Austin to El Paso and Waxahachie, etc.]
Jason: Do you believe in magic?
Jason: Well, there you go.
Under her pillow tonight, this diplomatic plea for proof:
Looks like having the Easter Bunny AND the Tooth Fairy come within a day of each other has stretched the frail fabric of her ten-year-old belief. But we're proud she's held onto the Easter Bunny a mere two teeth short of the whole baby set.
Milo, for his part, is an early cynic. Upon the news the Tooth Fairy would be visiting tonight, he asked Jason, "Does the Tooth Fairy check under every pillow when he comes?" Apparently Milo has a stash of guys under his pillow for nighttime excursions, and he feared discovery. Next time he asks, we're explaining the Tooth Fairy is an interim parole officer who fills in for Santa in the off season.
Clifford was named Tex when we first saw him at the SPCA. He had a red bandana around his neck — an unnecessary flourish for the most darling guy in the joint. It was love at first sight.
I am not sure what happened to Clifford in the three months of his life before he came to us, but he was a sweet, neurotic thing who was never fully convinced of our love for him unless we were actively petting or touching him (an interpersonal style we called “Nearer My Dog to Thee”). I’d wake up in the middle of the night to find his nose nudged under my hand. He was just checking.
He had major separation anxiety that manifested in a few ways. The first was daring, Houdini-like escapes, in which he would leave his confines and run…home. He’d move rocks with his mouth to escape. Chew boards. Dig under fences. All to run from the backyard to the front. Where he’d wait, panting and wagging, for us to come home and pet him again.
The second manifestation was the compulsive chewing and nesting. Sometimes when stressed, he’d dig and nest in a (very expensively) upholstered chair. I’d go into our closet and find he’d dug and rooted wildly (which is fair punishment for having a closet like a landfill). Clifford was certainly worth more than he ruined, but he did have his own upholstery budget. Thunderstorms were up-all-night affairs.
Maybe it was his desperate craziness that made him so sweet. He was a love machine. He loved me and Jason fiercely, yet he resigned himself to an even lower rung on the totem pole when the kids came (lower than the one he already occupied with Ramona running the show). He adored them. From the beginning of their lives, he could be found asleep in their bedrooms, keeping watch. As his eyesight failed, we’d still hear him clacking on the toys in Milo’s room as he made his nightly guard rounds.
In the beginning, they said he was a lab mix. In the end, they labeled him a border collie (ha!). We know for sure he was part Shar-Pei. Lean, hound body; small pointer head; little, tacked-on ears; close-together, dark eyes; beagle markings: he was a rummage sale of dog characteristics. This muttness was part of his appeal. A Rorschach of a dog. Onto which we projected love (and got back even more).
This Sunday night, during a gathering of old friends (who have known Clifford his whole life), the gate and the back door were open constantly and happily as everyone came and went. And Clifford wandered off — this dog who had never run away from us. We did get him back from Austin Animal Center Monday, but it became clear during the 12 hours he was gone that he was…gone. When we finally recovered him, we knew we had to let him go. So we did today.
Thanks, Clifford for being a sweetheart and a sentry and a goofball. Your love for us was evident every moment. We loved you too. So much.
What Clifford Ate, the Highlights:
- A goose-down throw pillow. Which made a 2-inch layer of snow in the living room.
- The better part of a bag of uncooked quinoa. Which made for unspeakable gas.
- A giant family Bible with a picture of Pope John Paul II.
- The cushion of the green chair.
- So many crayons. Which made for colorful piles in the backyard.
- The bottom one-eighths of three interior doors.
- The cushion of the green chair.
- The bottom of the boards on the fence.
- A six-inch hole in an industrial crate. Which was enough to fit his 50-pound self through.
- A yellow cake fresh from the oven (he burned off part of his nose on the hot pan).
- Very large rocks (not eaten, but moved with his mouth).
- Popcorn (I once found him at home with a bag of it stuck on his head).
- Countless loaves of bread.
What Clifford (Would Have) Said:
- My head is too small for my body. My brain is too small for my head.
- Why stand when you can sit? Why sit when you can lie down? (orig. Eleanor Roosevelt, but Clifford would have said this.)
- Are you gonna eat that?
- Do you love me now? How about now? Wait…now?
Lucy is an exuberant creature: artistic, passionate, sensitive, wild. BIG in all her emotions and sounds. She has no inside voice.
This makes me immeasurably proud...but also really, really uncomfortable. Maybe because I was raised in the "children are to be seen and not heard" tradition of good manners and supplication? A few dozen other good reasons? So there are so many moments when I tell her to be quiet and polite, but I am trying hard — as a mother, feminist and recovering pleaser — to resist. My current parenting motto: Don't rain on her parade. Can't you see why?
I know my last post was about how long it had been since I last wrote. And instead of a litany of excuses for my continued inattention to the only record of my children's existence, I offer simply a photo and brief overview of our end-of-summer trip to Northern California.
We made it up to Sonoma to see the fair-haired Ferris-Wayne clan and had a splendid time doing quaint things like picking pears, jumping on the trampoline next to the orchard and getting beaten at board games by the three-year-old Maud. Something about Sonoma...the very air up there is purer and prettier than you, but in a welcoming way. Sonoma feels bad you can't live there all the time, too. What made it especially sweet was the Ferris-Wayne family, beloved friends who live too far away.
We were pretty exhausted and off schedule by the time we headed back down to Muir Woods. To say we didn't enjoy it was an understatement. None of the people within a 50-foot vicinity of our tantruming foursome enjoyed it either. Good thing all those bosky layers of ferns and needles have great sound-dampening powers.
When we got to the hotel in SF, we rested, played in a nearby park, then tried to venture out for dinner only to surrender and have (very good, very hip) Chinese takeout. The rest of the trip went along those lines: insistence that we have a good time dammit, then disappointment and frustration on being reminded that the kids' differences in age, interest and stamina level would make it hard to keep them both happy.
Lest I complain too much, we did have many fun moments: the new Exploratorium, a visit with sweet Kelly, Henry and Valletta, a long walk and dinner with Susan, cozy nights with the boys in one bed, girls in another. We had finally settled into a regular SF routine — and gotten the kids on West Coast time — by the time we had to come back to Austin to start school.
Hello, gentle readers.
Sorry it's been almost all summer.
We're good over here in LucyandMiloLand. I will write some full posts soon. Until then, I leave you with a some slices of summer life.
Lucy has been gone for five of the eight weeks of summer, which was both great and hard for all of us.
She can knit (well).
She can surf (somewhat).
She has a vocabulary for describing the complexity of her emotions that I can only think of as writerly.
She got her first real sunburn on her nose (which I find quaint, given that I spent my young summers with a full-on sunburned scab on mine).
Milo has been enjoying only childhood.
He talks constantly (airtime, at last).
He has a very loose relationship with the truth, describing his misdeeds variously as the work of a giraffe, Flash (his imaginary friend, who is five and has his own car), the Green Goblin, or the Green Goblin's baby brother.
The adults don't know what happened.
The past eight weeks have been a blur. We sent a kid to camp(s). I spent a month as a state and local political activist. We married off a beloved cousin. Jason and I turned 40. We went to El Paso (where a grandfather turned 91). And the beach. We should have been doing more laundry and organizing and eating of vegetables in between some of those activities. Instead we had as much fun as we could (and worked when we weren't having fun). We'll be shaking the sand out of these past eight weeks for a while...