Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boys and Girls

- For Kylie and Jackson.

  I've got one of each. Fifteen years apart. You don't really notice the differences between boys and girls until you stay with each of them as children for an entire day. The differences are immediately apparent. My boy can dismantle an entire room in minutes where my girl used to take at least a few hours. She liked to watch Barney and Friends. Even when she was a child of one year, I would faithfully rise at five in the morning and sit with her for an hour while she sat mesmerized by a purple dinosaur.  That boy, as a child of one, likes to rise at five AM,  put a pot on his head and run into walls. He likes to get the long stick that screws into the paint roller and swing it around. He immediately makes a beeline for the dirtiest (and clearly the most fascinating) spot in the parking lot and sits in it. Not that my daughter didn't have her moments. I have a vivid memory of chasing her around the living room as she tried to stick a penny into a wall socket. She always called me "Ga Ga." From the very first. She couldn't quite get the "d" sound down, so it came out as "Ga Ga." On those nights when we tried to let her cry herself out, the hardest thing in the world was forcing myself to lie there while she cried, "Ga Ga!" At around the age of two, she climbed out of her crib and fell the three feet to the floor. Three times (Oh, she's fine). The boy is one year old and he's already done it once. I dutifully lowered the mattress and he's fine, but I don't trust him. He will find a way out of that crib.
   I was a lot harder on my daughter. I was a young father, without much patience, and it drove me nuts when she made a mess, or pulled out my vhs tapes (yes, vhs tapes), or threw her fish sticks on the floor.  I regret that now. The boy consistently destroys any sense of order or cleanliness in our house and I can't help but laugh. I wish I had laughed a little more when the girl was his age. I think I denied myself a little of the joy of being a father by being so impatient. I do remember, though, that I did try to appreciate those brief years of her childhood because I knew they would go fast. I used to rock her as a baby on the front porch of our house on sunny afternoons while her mother was at work. I remember thinking, "Right now you're mine. Someday you won't be and the world will have your attention and I won't always be with you but right now, you belong to me."  I would sing her Eagles songs as we rocked. Mostly New Kid in Town and Take It to the Limit. What I would give to have one of those sunny afternoons back. As she got older, we would sing songs together. Uptown Girl by Billy Joel was one of her favorites and we would sing the chorus over and over to see who was best at it. She called me a few weeks ago and said she heard it on the radio and I flashed back to a twenty-something young father and a four year old girl in a car happily singing along with the radio. But I also thought of some things I regret:  how harshly I spoke to her when she spilled a drink in my new car; the birthday I missed because I just couldn't, or wouldn't, take a day off from work. Things that can't be taken back and done over, no matter how many times I've wished they could. My parents bravely stepped in and filled a lot of the gaps left by a divorced, somewhat bewildered young man, but I could have done more. Hopefully I'll do better with the boy. I rock him at night and the same sentence goes through my head: "Right now you're mine. Someday you won't be and the world will have your attention and I won't always be with you but right now you're mine." He has no patience for The Eagles or Billy Joel, though. He gets Jesus Loves Me. I think he'll need it.
   When I'm back in Georgia, I often pass by her old elementary school.  I used to go there during  recess when I was off and play with her and her little classmates. These days, I often drive by that empty playground on my way to her high school. I've never told her, but sometimes I stop for a minute and in my memory still see her as a second grader, arms outstretched, running toward me yelling, "Ga Ga!" Now the world has her attention and I'm not always with her, but I like to remember those days when she was just mine. Like the boy is now.

PS- She's fifteen and she still calls me "Ga Ga."

Saturday, December 24, 2011


  When I think of my Mother-In-Law, Janet, I think of a smile, and then of a sandwich. Everything seemed to make her smile, and she was always trying to give me something to eat. She was a pretty woman with Italian features, who liked to pepper her speech with Italian phrases. My face was a  facia bello. Hands were maninas. When I first met her, and visited thereafter, I found this funny and exotic. More mysterious was the way she was able to keep her house spotless with two dogs and a husband. But it always was.
   I liked to watch her with Rebecca, my wife. Rebecca was Janet and Dennis Golland's only child, and they doted on her. Janet was constantly taking Rebecca's face in her hands, hugging her, and telling her she loved her. The love she had for her daughter was a palpable thing. It filled whatever space we were in and was renewed over and again with phrases like, "You're so beautiful Honey," or "I love you Baby." The bond between them was immediately apparent to anyone around. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a mother like Janet.
     I saw a picture of her once as a young mother. She couldn't have been more than twenty-five. She was so young and beautiful in the picture, with my baby of a wife splashing in a swimming pool that it made my heart ache. We so often see our parents as only middle aged older people that to see them as someone we could have gone to school with is a little disconcerting. I think of that picture a lot, with her so young, starting her family. She had the almost gangly look of a teenager.  I often see her in my wife's face when she smiles or in the way she laughs sometimes. She looks so much like her, just for an instant, that it's startling.  I don't always say anything, but I think, "There she is." She pops up, smiles for a second, then is just as quickly gone. I find myself looking for these little visits. They make me feel like she's still here.  
    We lost Janet just last year. Twelve days before my son, her only grandson, was born. The cancer that she had managed to hold off for six years finally became too much for her. She passed away quietly, with her family around her. Her life in the days before were so full of excitement at the impending birth of her grandson, that to have them miss each other so closely, by mere days, is like a stab in the heart.
    I watch my wife with my son. She makes him laugh. Brushes his hair back with her fingers, just like Janet must have done with her thousands of times. She splashes with him in a pool, like Janet did with her on that sunny day so many years ago. The bond between her and my son is a lot like the one between her and her Mother. Unbreakable.  Almost fiercely strong. I can see the joy he brings to her in her smile as he does some mischievous boy thing involving a stick and a mud puddle.  Mothering comes naturally to her but she also had an excellent teacher.  We will tell my son about Janet. And someday, when the timing is just right and I catch a flash of her in one of her daughter's looks, I'll point to her and tell him, "Look quick! There's your Grandmother."