We had a plan. Sometime over the summer, we’d convert Ari’s crib into a toddler bed. We’d give him time to sleep in the toddler bed while we were still living in our temporary home. Then, as soon as we moved into our house mid-fall, we’d transition him into a full-size “big boy” bed.
Best. Laid. Plans.
Halfway through the dismantling of the crib, Marc realized some of the parts were missing. He went to our garage to search through his toolbox. He came up empty handed. Then, Marc searched through some boxes we’re storing in the garage. He found a whole lot of nothing.
That meant that the “bed” had to be converted back into a crib.
So much for the big boy bed. It’s going to have to wait until we move — again — in October.
It was early. Too early for summertime. Regardless, we were up for the day. That’s when Ari surprised me with a fashion request.
“I want to wear a belt,” Ari stated.
“Why?” I asked.
“I wanna wear a red belt!”
Of course he wasn’t going to tell me why. He. Is. Two.
He doesn’t need a belt because his pants fit him thanks to adjustable waistbands. However, I didn’t feel like getting into a battle of the wits before 5:30 a.m. Therefore, I grabbed a pair of jeans from his drawer and found the “red belt,” which was really burgundy, white, and blue. Close enough.
I stood in front of Ari and snaked the belt through the loops. I encouraged Ari to turn a bit after each loop. What did he do every time he turned? Giggled. And I mean BIG GIGGLES.
“What’s so funny?” I asked while feeling a little cranky that putting the belt on couldn’t be quick. (Remember, I hadn’t had coffee yet!)
“I’m wearing a belt!” Ari declared.
I smiled. “Yes you are!”
By the end of breakfast, Ari’s navy shirt was untucked from his jeans and was covered in oatmeal. Therefore, I grabbed a gray shirt — that kinda matched — and put it on Ari. Because, as I told Marc, “There’s no way he’s taking that belt off today!” Marc nodded knowingly.
Right after we changed shirts and retucked the gray shirt, I insisted on a photo. Ari sported his silliest “Cheese!” face and I got my photo.
Isabelle has never been a run-to-the-door-to-greet kind of girl. It used to bother me, but I’ve come to understand she isn’t into big hellos and good-byes.
This afternoon, I heard the pitter-patter of footsteps as my keys jingled in the doorknob.
“Daddy! Daddy’s home!” Ari cried out with delight.
“Not Daddy. It’s Mommy!” I said.
Ari rose up and down on his toes several times. (He can’t jump yet.) “Hi Mommy!” He threw himself towards my legs.
“Hi, little guy,” I replied kneeling beside him. “Can I have a hug or a kiss?”
I got both.
I walked in the house and looked around. Isabelle was there. She didn’t stop what she was doing to say hello and I know her well enough not to interrupt. I chatted with Ari as I put down my things. Then I asked him for another hug and he obliged.
Kids are different. Ari gives me grand greetings, while Isabelle gives me casual ones. I’d be lying if I said her aloofness didn’t sting, but not everyone responds the way you want them to in life.
“Can I go outside and wait with Fox?” Isabelle asked.
I checked my phone. Two minutes until the bus would arrive. I checked the sidewalk. Fox was already waiting — between his driveway and ours — for the schoolbus.
Isabelle looked surprised so I continued. “I’ll watch from the window until you get on the bus.”
Isabelle donned her backpack and walked to the door. I stooped down, though not quite as far as I used to, and kissed the top of her head. I opened the door, waved hello to Fox, and felt the cold hit me.
“Are you sure you want to wait outside? It’s cold.”
“I’m sure,” Isabelle replied.
“Have a good day!” I called to both of them as I closed the door.
I cradled my coffee while Isabelle walked towards her 12-year-old neighbor. Next, she walked to our mailbox and opened it. She noticed it was empty and promptly closed it. Then, she walked in a couple of small circles. She peered longingly at our house. She walked closer, but not too close.
I opened the door, “Are you cold? Do you want to come back inside and wait?”
She nodded. Fox and I exchanged knowing looks.
“Do you want to come inside and wait too?”
He replied with a polite no, reminding me he’s always warm.
Isabelle hustled back to the front door. I smiled and reminded her, “You can always come back home.”
Those words lingered in my mind. To me, it meant more than coming inside on a cold morning, but I doubted she picked up on the dual meaning.
Less than 30 seconds later, the school bus rounded the corner. Time to say goodbye again.
“I’d like to take a picture of you and your brother on the couch before we drive to synagogue.”
Isabelle started to grumble, “I don’t wanna take a picture.”
“You never want to take pictures. But I would love to take a picture of the two of you all dressed up for services,” I said.
Isabelle had a choice. She could protest or give in. Typically she’d protest. Today, for whatever reason, she gave in. My heart swelled.
“Come and sit on the couch,” I said.
“Can Ari sit on my lap?” she asked.
“I don’t know if he’s going to even be willing to sit still let alone sit on your lap, but we can try.”
Isabelle sat down on the couch. I plopped Ari beside her. He stayed. “Why don’t I just take a few like this and then we’ll try your lap.”
Somewhere in-between getting Isabelle to look at the camera’s eye and trying to get Ari to smile, I noticed something. Ari was wearing a belt.
Now let me be clear. I put the belt on him about a half-hour earlier. However, it hit me… HE IS WEARING A BELT FOR THE FIRST TIME.
He didn’t really need the belt. After all, his pants had an adjustable waistband inside. However, now that he’s in an 18-24 month size, the belt loops looked gargantuan on him so I thought I’d put a belt on him. Initially, I didn’t even think it would fit since it was a 2T-3T size, but somehow it didn’t look all that large.
I lost track of the on-the-lap photo opp because I all I could think about was that my 17-month-old son was wearing a belt and that means that very soon he won’t be so little anymore.
“Would you please bring the artwork for Ms. Marie and the speech packet to the car?”
“That’s a lot of stuff,” Isabelle replied.
“You can always make two trips,” I offered.
“I can do it,” she said.
I opened the door to the garage and Isabelle slipped outside. I closed the door almost all of the way as she ambled to the car. I spun around, walked to the fridge, retrieved my granola and skim milk, and shut the door behind me. I poured my breakfast into the bowl I already set out. I put the perishable items back in the fridge, poured a glass of water, and brought everything to the kitchen table. I was about to sit down when I realized I forgot a spoon. I headed back to the island, grabbed a spoon, and sat down for real.
A minute passed by and Isabelle still hadn’t returned. What could she be doing in the garage? Even though she’s closer to six than five, my mind went places I didn’t like. What if she was climbing on the snow blower? What if she was tinkering with the lawnmower? What if she hoisted herself to the top of the shelving unit where we keep the motor oil? The what ifs were enough to drag my nine-month pregnant body out of the chair in search of my child. I opened the door to the garage and didn’t see her in front of me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the interior car lights were aglow. It was there I found a curly-haired girl with a white bow sitting patiently in the back seat.
“What are you doing in there?” I asked.
“Waiting for you,” she replied.
“I should’ve told you to come back in after you put those items in the console. Sorry, honey. I need a few more minutes. I still have to eat my granola before we leave for school.”
“Oh!” she replied sheepishly.
“It’s okay. Just c’mon back in the house. I’m almost ready to go.”
Isabelle climbed out of the booster seat, shut the car door, and walked back to the house.
“I thought we were going to school now,” she said.
I kissed the top of her head and then ruffled her curls. “Almost, honey. I hope you’re always this enthusiastic about going to school.”
She smiled back at me. We walked over to the kitchen table hand-in-hand. I sat down to eat and she stood next to me.
“Want to sit on what’s left of my lap?” I asked her.
“Sure,” she said.
I pulled her onto my thigh and wrapped my left arm around her. It was nice to have my big girl sitting so close to me as I finished my breakfast. I remember the days I couldn’t stand eating with one hand because I had to hold her with the other. Those days are long gone (but soon to return once her brother arrives in a couple of short weeks) with Isabelle. The days of her wanting to sit on my lap are fleeting so I am savoring the lap time I got this morning.
I walked Isabelle into her Kindergarten classroom on the first and second days of school. By day three, I stopped down the hall from her classroom and let her walk the rest of the way on her own. She allowed me to do that on the condition I would check on her a few minutes later. I did. She was beyond fine. She unpacked her snack and had already asked her teacher where to put her Home/School Folder.
This morning, which is her fourth day of Kindergarten, I kissed her goodbye in front of the office while she navigated her own way in the hallways to her classroom. Just as I suspected, she was unpacking herself when I arrived a few minutes later.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll say good-bye from the front door of the school. If she wants me to check on her, then I will.
By Wednesday morning I intend to drop her off in front of the school building so she may walk to her classroom on her own. I am not planning to check on her that day. Friday will be the sixth day of school; it’s my hope she’ll understand she can walk to class on her own.
Just as I’ve been gradually releasing responsibility to Isabelle for getting herself to class, I’ve been gradually getting ready to give birth. (My due date is less than a month away!) Last Friday, I itemized my business expenses for the year so I won’t have to work on them this winter with a newborn who may or may not be a good napper. As of this morning, I’ve wrapped all of the “big sister” presents Tammy Mulligan suggested I get Isabelle. Tomorrow, I’ll begin putting the items I’ve laid out into my suitcase so I’m ready to go to the hospital. On Wednesday, I’ll exchange the original outfit I bought for my son’s Bris — since I’ve decided I don’t like it — for something I like more. With the exception of a work-day I have scheduled with my dear friend and colleague, Lynne Dorfman, this-coming Friday, I’m pretty much finished with work until the new year. I’ve written and scheduled all of my Two Writing Teachers blog posts. The final one for 2016 will go live on Labor Day (pun intended), which is a week from today.
Bit-by-bit and day-by-day I’m getting there. I’m beyond uncomfortable, but I know discomfort is part of the final weeks of pregnancy! (Apparently my son is cramped up in my belly. I had an ultrasound this morning, which showed him balled-up with his hand sandwiched between his knee and cheek.) I know he’ll come when he’s ready, but let’s be honest, I’m ready to meet this little man!
I’ve been recuperating from the surgery I had on August 12th. I haven’t written since August 11th. Earlier today my father told me, “you’re back to reality now. Start writing again.” (Thanks for the tough love, Dad!) So here I am.
I’m taking some inspiration from a piece Dana Murphy shared on Facebook last weekend. It was written by Glennon Doyle Melton. I read it as her way of preparing herself to have a conversation with her son about being compassionate to others. And it reminded me of a conversation I want to have with Isabelle before she starts her second year of preschool this week. In fact, this conversation has been on my mind ever since I overheard her say, “He holds his marker like a baby,” about one of her peers after she learned how to properly hold a writing utensil this past March. She starts school on Thursday so here’s my letter to Isabelle (which I’ll use as fodder for the conversation I will have with her tomorrow).
You start preschool this week. Well, one of the two. The other one starts after Labor Day. I can’t believe you’re going to be out of the house, doing some type of school, every weekday this school year. Sometimes I wonder if it’s too much school for a four-and-a-half-year-old… But you love your first preschool so hopefully you’ll love the second one too.
But that’s not what I want to discuss. Instead, I want to talk to you about struggling and kindness.
Struggle is defined as proceeding with difficulty or with great effort. I hated to watch you struggle to crawl, to stand, to walk, and — most of all — to talk. Things haven’t come easily for you. You’ve exerted great effort to attain every goal you have reached. And while I could look at those struggles as weakness, I’ve reframed them in my mind. You have an excellent work ethic. You’re tenacious. You have grit. And that’s why you’ve been able to overcome your struggles.
I know you will continue to struggle with things in school. And that is okay. Everything happens for you. However, things often happen later than they do for your peers. And while you might have to work harder to attain things that come naturally to other kids, I’ve come to believe it will make you a stronger adult since you’ll know what it is like to work diligently to do something.
You’ve overcome so much in the past two and a half years since your CAS diagnosis. I am so proud of everything you’ve accomplished in speech and in OT. And while I know you’ll have to continue to work at things, I know some things may actually be easier for you (e.g., using scissors, imaginative play, following classroom rules) than they will be for some of your peers who haven’t had as much practice as you at doing some of those things. And that is okay. Just because someone cannot do something you can do doesn’t mean they are a “baby.” All it means is they haven’t mastered that skill yet.
It is important to stay calm if someone’s actions, behaviors, or habits annoy you. Trust me, I know from experience, that’s really hard to do. But part of being a good friend is being patient. And part of being patient is being a kind person. Instead of making someone feel bad if they cannot do something as well as you, you can show them how to do it (if they want your help). And if they don’t want your help, you can play together or do something together both can do. We want to make our friends feel good. Being sweet towards others usually makes people happy.
I hope you’ll be the kind of person who chooses to be kind, especially when you see a friend struggling. That’s what I’d want for you if you were struggling. I hope you’ll choose kind, again and again and again.
I hope this year is filled with happiness and growth. I look forward to watching you develop into a confident five-year-old this school year. I hope life hands you an easier path — one that’s not riddled with struggles — in the years to come. But if it doesn’t, I will be your biggest supporter — always.
I hear it all of the time. “She’s 7 going on 17.” I cringe every time I hear that statement about a little girl since it is usually a parent’s way of saying that the child is too sassy for her age.
My kid, on the other hand, is four going on 94! And I’m not sure I should brag about that. She’s the kind of kid people often refer to as “an old soul.” Case in point, this morning, after she guzzled her chocolate milk at breakfast time, she said, “I’m cold.” But it didn’t end there. A sweater was not within reach (She always requests a sweater if she’s cold!) so she snuggled into me until she warmed herself up.
But that’s not all! There were several old soul/old lady things she did when we went to Hersheypark with our friends Sarah and Molly on Sunday afternoon:
Isabelle and Molly walked into the park holding hands. Sarah and I pushed their strollers (which you HAVE to bring to Hersheypark since it’s hilly and kids get tired from all of the walking). We noticed them lagging behind. I turned around and noticed Isabelle and Molly chatting it up with a throng of people trudging along behind them. (How kind it was for no one to try to pass them!) There were about 20-30 people being held up by two four-year-olds who were just looking around, chatting, and enjoying the scenery. The girls didn’t have a care in the world about who they were holding up. And while I could say Molly was equally responsible for walking slowly, I know she was being a good friend and keeping up with Old Lady Isabelle who prefers a slower pace so she can take in the world.
Isabelle and Molly, both four, insisted on holding hands most of the time they walked around the park this weekend. It’s a cute little girl thing to do. But it reminds me of my grandmother, who Isabelle is named after, since she always liked to hold my hand or my arm in her later years when we walked together.
Isabelle doesn’t pay attention while she drives. I took her on the Classic Cars at Hersheypark and her eyes were everywhere except for on the road on which she was driving. Thankfully, there’s a track to keep drivers like her from going astray. Google “‘century village’ ‘pool’ ‘car'” and you’ll understand why this relates to older folks.
Isabelle loves rides that spin around (not so old ladyish), but she detests roller coasters (because she’s an old soul).
Long, lingering hugs. Those are the kinds of hugs my daughter likes to give. It doesn’t matter if you’re a character at Herhseypark or a friend, Isabelle will give you lots of hugs — repeatedly. It’s hard for her to stop hugging, especially when it’s time to go. Kind of like the way my grandmother never wanted to let us go when it was time for us to depart after visiting her.
I wrote the conclusion of this piece before I wrote the bullet points above. The ending was supposed to be: “I’m okay with Isabelle being an ‘old soul.’ It might not be desirable, but it’s better than her acting like a teenager at the age of four.” But then I stepped away from this piece of writing for a few hours and thought about it. That’s when I realized Isabelle doesn’t necessarily have stereotypical “old lady” traits. She happens to do things that remind me of my grandmother, who lived until 92.5 years-old, in her final years. While Isabelle might be an old soul, writing this made me realize that perhaps she has these old soul traits as a way of helping me feel as though my grandmother is here with me every day. That notion is kind of a long-shot, but that’s what I’m concluding with today.
Isabelle noticed an unlit Yahrzeit candle on the island in our kitchen before she went upstairs last night. (My mom is at our house through tomorrow. Today marks the lunar calendar anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. My mom is staying with us through tomorrow so she brought the candle to our house to light it.)
“What’s dat for?” Isabelle asked.
I said something like it’s to help us remember my grandmother who is gone.
“Who’s your grandma?” she asked.
I reached for a photograph of my grandparents that I keep atop my desk. I pointed to my grandmother and said, “That was my Grandma. That’s Bubbe’s mommy. You’re named after her.”
“Who’s dat?” she pointed at the little girl in the center of the photo.
“That was me. I was nine years-old in that photo.”
She was perplexed by the fact that I was ever young. So our conversation turned to how I could have ever been a girl.
This afternoon, my mother pulled me aside once Isabelle returned from school.
“What do you want me to say if she asks about the candle?”
“Has she asked about it yet?”
“Yes, she did this morning when we were eating breakfast.”
“What did you say?”
My mom told me her approximated answer and then followed up with, “What do you want me to say to her?”
I pondered. “A children’s author named Patricia Polacco talks about death as letting go of the grass. You could say Grandma let go of the grass.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” my mom scoffed.
In hindsight, I realize this was ridiculous to say to my mom. I was teaching fifth grade in Manhattan when my grandmother passed away in March 2007. We had done a Patricia Polacco Author Study and my students knew that letting go of the grass equated death. Therefore, we talked about my grandmother’s death as her letting go of the grass after her passing. (My gosh, that was such a great class of kids. We had our own little language.)
“Well, I guess it’d make more sense if you were familiar with Patricia Polacco’s books,” I responded.
“So, what do you want me to tell her?” my mom asked again.
I thought. “You could say something about Grandma being old. Or you could say she was tired and went back to live with her parents in heaven.”
I looked at my mom and she looked back at me. We were both clueless whether heaven was a concept we should be introducing.
“You could tell her heaven us up there,” I said.
“Do you want me to say that?” she asked. “I want to say what you want me to say.”
“I don’t know what the answer is. All I can tell you is that I remember going to Uncle Irving’s funeral when I was four-years-old. And look at me. I’m not permanently damaged as a result of attending the funeral. Whatever you say will be the right thing.”
Fortunately, Isabelle went to sleep tonight without another question about the Yahrzeit candle. It will burn out later and will be thrown away tomorrow. Most likely, she won’t remember it was ever shining.
But I know there will be questions about where my grandmother is again. And I don’t have an answer ready. It is so hard to talk about death without scaring a young child. I want to say the right thing, but I’m not sure there is a right answer.
We talk about my grandmother all of the time in front of Isabelle. Talking about her keeps her memory alive. I’m not planning to stop. But one day, not long from now, I know the question about where she is will surface again. And when that happens, I hope I have some kind of answer ready for Isabelle.