Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Beautiful Mystery

It's been awhile since I've been compelled to post.  These days, our life with the kids is pretty well-chronicled on facebook.  But tonight this happened:

Stella got her first two-wheel bike.  When I picked her up from school and told her we'd be picking up her bike at Tyler's office, she was possibly the most excited I'd ever seen her.  She told everyone we saw, literally jumped up and down with joy, and squealed.

And it feels like a moment.  I remember getting bikes when I was growing up.  The feeling of independence, freedom, the wind in my hair.  The feeling of my muscles working and propelling myself with speed and happiness.  It might have gotten me even more than preschool graduation:

To be fair, I had always viewed preschool graduation with a bit of skepticism before this year. 

But somehow these two events and my wonderful interactions with Stella on a regular basis now that she is five and half somehow just made me realize how much of a wonderful mystery Stella is to me.

She's driven, artistic, focused, and emotionally mature in ways that shock me.

I don't think Stella really understands what a scientist is, but--hey--it's a good ambition!

Standing by her self-initiated art project during our trip to Walla Walla, in which she created graphics around morning and evening routines (top row (morning):  wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed brush teeth;  (evening):  put on PJs, brush teeth, read a book, sing songs)

Under the "umbrella tree" she found 



With her mosaic she made, with intense focus, over two hours, on a special "date" as a reward for lots of good behavior. 

With the table she decided to set so we could have a "fancy" dinner 

The note from Stella's teacher describing her focused work for a week on a definition book.  This one on orcas was the first of three she has made since. 

Hiking, with her backpacking backpack, at the Big Four Ice Caves a few weeks ago.   She is always driven to do the whole thing herself, and is always asking when she can climb a real mountain, not just be at the base or on the side of it.

 At the big gallery room in the Frye Art Museum on another Mommy-Stella date.

I really don't share this to brag.  Partially I don't want to lose these memories, these moments we've had over the last few months.  But it's also because they are such an illustration of her as a person.  She doesn't have attitude and artifice.  This is who she is.  She's the kid during the before-mentioned preschool graduation who follows all the rules, stands still, and tries to get everyone around her to also be focused on the task at hand:

(untouched photo)

I see myself and Tyler reflect in her in many ways, but she's not either of us.  She's not some combination or reflection of us.  She's Stella.  And, sure, we are reasonably involved parents, we pay lots of money to send her to a good preschool, and she's got a lot of advantage.  The wind is at her back in a lot of ways, but so much of this she does because of her own drive, focus, and desires rather than because of some agenda Tyler and I have (which frankly is mostly about trying to just stay on top of day-to-day life these days).


Now, lest I come across as though I have a perfect child--she can be selfish and self-involved and impatient with others.  She can be stubborn and childish.  She is, really, a child still.  And I know her so well--we had the most intimate relationship that maybe I think you can have with another human being--but she is also a separate person whom I can only know so well.  Which is wonderful, and strange, and necessary (and probably a good way to bring me even closer to the parents in my life).

Here's to you, kid.  Can't wait to see what the next year or so brings to light.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Boring and Self-indulgent

I awoke, early this morning, from a dream that left such an emotional thumb print that I was unable to fall back to sleep. And now, here I sit, a little after 5am, sipping coffee and typing a blog entry. So, while there is nothing more self-indulgent and boring than relating a dream to someone else, bear with me, because that is what I am going to do.

In this dream, my dad and I were exploring an antic space above my parents' house. While their house has an actual attic space, it is nothing like the one I envisioned in my head: A large, slightly maze-like series of partially finished rooms, cast in a pale blue light with small drifts of fine white insulation piled in the corners. As we made our way to the back corner, we came across a peculiar and touching site: Some of my brother and mine's toys, arrayed out on the floor. The way they were positioned indicated that -at one point- my brother and I had been up in the attic playing with them, only to be called away mid-game; leaving the toys forgotten for twenty to thirty years. Looking down at them, and seeing a childhood event frozen in amber, such as they seemed to be, struck me with an immense sense of nostalgia and melancholy. The immediacy of it. A snapshot of a childhood event, seemingly forgotten. Looking at it, I was filled with a sense of connection to my younger self, but also with a sense of sadness as I contemplated how many countless events from my life have been lost from my own memory. Distanced by the years that lie between them and the present.

As I type this, I am 38 years old, and I feel the distant rumblings of a mid-life crisis rolling in. There is dull sense that at some point -likely in the not-so-distant future- my list of "things that I have done and experienced" will begin to exceed my list of "things I will do and experience." Heck, maybe that point has even already passed. 76 years would still be a solid run. And, that inkling has lent a certain uneasiness to the way I have approached things recently. A certain frustration with the day-to-day hassles that I have experienced dozens of times, and know I will spend solid chunks of my future dealing with again; a nagging discontentment with another evening spent watching TV. It manifests itself in surprising ways, both predictable and not. Both as a sudden, inexplicable interest in cars and professional sports, but also in a desire to re-embrace things I enjoyed in my youth, like role-playing games; and beneath all that, the expected existential ponders of the meaning of it all. What does it all mean? What happens after you die?

I am not a particularly religious person, but I do sometimes wonder if we build our own afterlife. If, after our physical bodies are gone, we are just left with our memories and an infinite access to them. That by revisiting our past events, and our reactions to them, we construct our own heavens. Heavens built from the recalled embrace of our parents or our children, days spent playing with siblings and friends, falling in love with your partner again and again, experiencing the thrill of experiencing something for the first time, or the joy of creation. And that even the bad memories have value; that the pain, fear and loss somehow casts the good memories in higher contrast.

But, all that said, I also have to admit that there is something decadent about the idea of a mid-life crisis. I imagine that people who scramble to get by day-to-day aren't allowed the luxury of taking stock of their life so far, and musing "what does it all mean?" So, with that in mind, perhaps I should just appreciate it, maybe even lean into it a little. Because, like the toys in my dream, these moments too will someday be the past. Forgotten and preserved only in my mind.

OK. Hitting "post" now. Stella and Otto are awake, and I have new memories to make.