Duncan

As Duncan has grown older, one of my biggest concerns has been that he and I don’t have enough one on one “things” together. When Evangeline was the same age, I took her almost everywhere with me – to the pool, out to lunch, to brunch at a friend’s house – much of this we did with Sam but often we went off on our own adventures. Part of this stemmed from Evangeline’s extreme attachment to me between the ages of one and a half and three – for eighteen months, she screamed proverbial bloody murder if I so much as left her sight line. The other part, of course, was my own desire – I greatly enjoy having my children with me and rarely feel I need a break from them (I’m sure this is because I work full-time -if I were home with them all day I bet I’d feel differently!).

feet.1

When Duncan arrived, one of my most immediate concerns after he left the NICU and my breast milk supply had been established was spending time with Evangeline. For three years we had been practically inseparable and while I knew that had to change, it was important to me that she realize she was still a priority of mine – a top priority. Between polar vortexes a rush of warm days shot through early March and probably before I was physically ready, I took her to the park. Together, with Duncan in his bouncy chair or strapped to me in the Ergo, we baked cakes and brownies – we watched princess movies, played with play dough and colored. These were the things I was able to do with her and together we revised our mother-daughter relationship to reflect our new reality, our now Duncan-filled reality. (As I write this, it sounds like Sam wasn’t in the picture, which isn’t he case at all – he was our Behind the Scenes, the one who for a few months needed me the least, He Who grocery shopped and went to work so we could pay our bills. His role was unsung, but it was mighty).

feet.2

Over the last year and a half, Duncan and I have developed a few key things we do together. Reading through stacks of animal books is one thing – I’m not sure in the history of children if any other baby has been as delighted by what feels like the entirety of the animal kingdom as Duncan is! He is also my grocery shopping companion, and while occasionally his company can result in some frustration (his constant grabbing and tearing up of my grocery list, or the time he got his hands on a glass jar of cherries and delightedly threw it to the ground), for the most part he is a calm and enjoyable companion in the grocery store, babbling away in his limited baby talk way, every third or fourth word recognizable, often leaning toward me for a hug or a kiss as we go about our business. When we go to Whole Foods for the five things I insist on purchasing from there (tonic water, apple spice oatmeal, milk, gouda and lamb kebobs), we share a fruit crumble bar from the bakery while sitting in the cafe before I load our groceries. I’m also teaching him how to go down the stairs safely.

feet.3

And that’s pretty much the sum total of anything really unique he and I do together – read animal books, share oatmeal crumble bars, grocery shop and practice stair safety. I guess in some ways, as a second child, it’s part of his lot to scrabble, to find ways to assert himself – and really, he has no problem with this life skill, forcing books into my hands so I’ll read to him, plopping down into any readily available lap for a cuddle (including his sister’s), moaning dramatically at the back door when it isn’t open the instant he wants to make his way to the sandbox. But, like his sister, he is the heart of my heart – a piece of my greatest joy – the child who looks more like me, smiles as often as I do, who already loves a good book in a comfy chair, and I owe him a little more.

“One day,” Sam mused, “I expect to come home and find you two toe to toe on the couch, reading separate books, completely and totally at peace.”

feet.5

Or maybe I think I owe myself more? One of my aunts, who stayed home with my cousins for several years before becoming a school teacher, always referred to those years as her gift to herself – her time to soak up all their baby deliciousness – my mom uses the same words. In our age of “mommy war” and everyone reacting defensively, it’s not terribly politically correct to point out that children do need their mothers or fathers around on a fairly routine basis. I don’t live with regrets, and I know my working is best for my family, but I do wish I had been able to have more flexibility in my day for my kids on occasion.

At any rate! Guilt can consume you if you spend too much time with it, and is an inherently selfish and unproductive emotion to boot. Instead, I am greatly looking forward the upcoming 4th of July weekend. Our entire family was supposed to travel to upstate New York to visit Sam’s folks, but for the life of me I couldn’t find a kennel to take our dog. After some consideration, Sam and I realized this trip could be hugely beneficial for everyone – he could take Evangeline and she could be the sole beneficiary of her grandparents’ attention for a weekend, and I could spend some one on one time with Duncan, going to the zoo and the pool and dodging correcting his attempts to cover me in blueberry yogurt. My parents always made sure to spend individual time with my brother and me as we grew up, including trips to our grandparents, and those are some of my favorite memories. I’m looking forward to learning more about my little guy, just as Sam is looking forward to his solo time with Evangeline. Lemons out of lemonade, is what we are doing – and I’m greatly looking forward to it.

feet.7

Although – I did forget. I’m also trying to teach Duncan some table manners, particularly keeping his feet off the table during meals. It’s going really really well and I know his future partner will thank me for this someday.

dispatches from these sandwich days – alternating bullet points

* Duncan His words are coming so quickly now, and I feel a desperate desire to capture every moment of his toddler hood, scared I’m going to forget the order of his words – ball, dog, bowl, mommy, dada, yogurt, sister, stuck, stop, door and No, to name the ones he says most frequently. Once he has been fed, the only thing my boy wants to do is be outside, playing in our recently inherited sandbox or throwing a ball or going for a walk. His forcefulness is such that we all ended up spending most of the weekend outdoors. Don’t get me wrong – Evangeline has always loved being outside too – but her interest centers more around trips to the pool, the zoo and nature walks – trips with a purpose. She is otherwise happy to play on our porch or look at books or play pretend. But Duncan? It’s outdoors or bust. I’m looking forward to seeing if this continues to be the case as he grows older.

* My Mom has faced a series of upsetting medical issues in the last couple of months that are probably going to result in some pretty aggressive surgery, hopefully sooner rather than later so she can recover in time for my brother’s September wedding in Colorado. A moderately prickly person under the best of circumstances, she is understandably quite nervous. Already these health issues have drastically impacted her summer – she didn’t join her golf league for the first time in probably thirty years, and she is being forced to take her life day by day instead of the leaps and bounds she is used to. This made our last visit – complex – and I realized my fear for my parents in their older age is the possibility of descent into complete joylessness, as the demands of medical appointments and altered lifestyles take the place of their passions. This feels very real, and is what fills my stomach with dread more so than wonky EKG reports or necessary surgical procedures.

* Evangeline is so quickly growing into her own young woman. “They” say how fast our kids will grow up and of course I believed them but…this quickly? My babies? At 4 and a 1/2 and 1 1/2 they are utter deliciousness, learning in great sweeping curves. With Evangeline, four and a half is all about outer space and learning to take photographs and art projects – I’m getting really good at art, mom she told me one day and it’s true, she is. Another time she told me everyone has a hobby and mine is art. Yours is exercising, mom. Every day I say prayers of thanks for their health, their exuberance, their complete and total Evangeline and Duncan-ness.

* When my mom was in the middle of her health issues, I broached the idea of coming home for a few days to help. It wasn’t so much that I considered myself indispensable during her crisis but rather, for the life of me, I could not imagine my father properly grocery shopping or handling laundry. This felt like a betrayal, in a way – I have always been a bit of a daddy’s girl and he has always had my inherent trust when it comes to long hikes in the middle of the woods, filleting fish freshly caught from the lake on old picnic tables, and deep dives into the Great Lakes. So to believe as strongly as I did that he probably wouldn’t properly purchase food or launder sheets felt, in a way, ridiculous, but it turned out I was right. In a private moment, my mom confessed to me that my dad kept offering food she could not eat because of her condition, or allowing long stretches go by without her eating at all. The man is a vigorous 72 years old and spends his days much as he did 40 years ago – running, biking, reading, gardening, camping, golfing, morel-mushroom hunting – so why things like grocery shopping allude him so thoroughly, I’m sure I don’t know. I do know he loves my mom and this disregard isn’t intentional.

* I’ve been emerging from my kids’ babydom in what I think of as layers. When I think of Duncan as a newborn and Evangeline at three, I imagine myself at the bottom of a very deep pool, maybe even an ocean, floating. For months there wasn’t much to distinguish night from day – Duncan was born in the deep grim of a Pittsburgh February, and because of his initial health concerns we weren’t supposed to leave the house at all. Duncan had his days and nights inexorably confused, and his wails during his first six weeks of life often woke his sister. Many nights found the three of us on the living room couch at 2 a.m., all of us thwarted in our attempts at nighttime sleep. The biggest gift I gave myself during that period, though, was the gift of time. I didn’t grow anxious late into night and instead began, in a way, looking forward to those deep evenings when both my children needed me – Sam slept through it all. I feel like I’ve been rising to the surface, gradually, ever since and suddenly I’ve broken through – the sun is above me, the ocean floor far below and I’m not even treading water – I’m swimming toward something.

* I am aware of this surfacing in part because of how active my mind has been recently – I feel like my old self again. I love how, with the creation of Serial, Sara Koenig refers to her interest in Adnan Syed’s conviction as a “fascination” instead of an obsession – I know just what she means by that. I’ve been following my fascinations for a few months now (should I write a one woman show about this performance artist I’m obsessed with? Must learn all there is to know about Brian Wilson!) and its just occurred to me that it’s time to write – really write again. I’ve been blogging and keeping a journal throughout my children’s early years, but it’s not the same as working on long-term writing projects. I have so many ideas bouncing around in my head all of the time that they can become slightly crazy-making, but now is the time to return to what I’ve always thought of as my real work – writing, and possibly teaching.

…if I wait for a creative way to end this post, I will never post it -as it is it took me nearly a week to write this. So, I’m just going to post, with the promise of more substantial posts very soon.