It’s gotten to be that time of year again, and, in fact, it has passed that time of year again, and now it’s nearly Valentine’s Day. It’s nice that there’s almost always some holiday you can count on to make it worthwhile to write to all your friends. So Happy Valentine’s Day!
This last year has been full of new experiences and all sorts of growing up. The kids are both in school, the cast of characters in our house has temporarily increased by one, Johannes Belin our Swedish exchange student, and we’ve gone into high gear in preparation for our spring/summer sabbatical in Italy (more later). Here’s an overview of the life of each one of us, to the extent that I can manage to step back and see the big picture.
Now Christopher, the smallest and most powerful of all of us, gets to come first. Because he’s five, and because he tends to always come first. He’s in kindergarten this year, going to school 6 hours a day, five days a week, and trying his best to handle the heavy yoke of being one of many and doing as he’s told. We gather, from what his teacher says, that there are a lot of negotiations about this. He’d really like to be king of the universe, but you can’t get elected to that position at his age. And a staging a coup seems to be unrealistic, for now. We’ll keep you posted. This year he was finally convinced to do without a pacifier, and (after the first week) has never looked back. It was a real transition from the last vestiges of babyhood. His snuggling abilities are only now beginning to rebound. He likes computer games, and he still can talk to strangers in restaurants at length about these. He likes machines and money and science, within reason. He likes weapons and the reassurance they give him about his ability to deal effectively with bad guys. We try to encourage him to stick with Iron Age technology although you can’t stop a guy from building a laser out of legos. At school he really enjoys learning. He’s coming along well with reading and writing and math. He’s also in chess club at school and seems to have a good intuitive grasp of that game. This year he was very jealous of Rose playing soccer, and so he’s been doing as much of that as he can on his own or at the park. He also is getting to be a good all around swimmer and is advancing in his karate class. He’s getting to be a very good five-year-old skier too, skiing runs that would make me a little nervous. We, his parents, who weren’t very athletic at a young age, are very pleased to see him being comfortable and enjoying all these things. He’s still intense and high energy, but he’s growing up well.
Rose, who is nearly nine, gives off an air of maturity that I wouldn’t have recognized last year. She likes to observe people and you can see her picking and choosing styles of dress and manner that appeal to her. She likes bell-bottoms and singing and funny movies. She can recite the funny parts of her favorite movies, complete with accent and inflections of the actors. It’s very amusing (at least until the fiftieth or so time). She must have hundreds of lines of text memorized. She’s in third grade, and for the first time in her life she’s at a traditional elementary school. Homework, tests, the whole deal. After being terrified for the first month or so, she now seems to be thriving on it. It’s great to see her enjoyment of math and reading. Writing is harder, but she’s getting lots of practice and is becoming comfortable with that as well. And she’s a whiz at writing in cursive, which is saying a lot for a lefty. Making friends at a new school hasn’t been too easy, so we’re grateful for her long-term best friends. Her activities also include chess club, singing in the Pacifica children’s choir, swimming on the pre swim team once a week, soccer in the fall, and skiing in the winter. Although she’s not a totally gung ho athlete, she, too reassures us with her comfort and ease at physical activities.
Johannes is, temporarily, our third child. He’s from Borlange, Sweden, and has happily invaded our life and taken over the basement and the computer. He’s 18 and in high school here. It’s been a trip watching our family geometry change as we learn to adjust to each other. Johannes has familiarized us with twelfth grade homework and rap music and a certain very intensely played computer game called Starcraft Brood Wars. He has brought us into the modern era of cell phones and text messaging. He has also made us aware of the superiority of Swedish cheese. He beats Richard at chess (Rich hates that) and Rich beats him at racquetball (Rich likes that). He plays soccer and guitar and tickles Rose and tells Christopher to “take it easy” and we will miss him very much when we go away to Italy.
Astro and Angie, our other two children, are getting to be very mature indeed. Astro will be 98 in dog years on her 14th birthday, which she will “celebrate” about a month after we leave at the end of March. Angie is 12 and will turn 13 in September, when we will fortunately be home again to make her hamburger cake. Despite my dire predictions, neither of them is at death’s door, in an iron lung, or incontinent at this point in time. They are actually pretty perky. Astro’s back legs aren’t so strong anymore and she can’t hear worth a darn and Angie has some sort of palsy in her left eye that makes her look like devil-dog sometimes, but they still enjoy their favorite activities, sniffing, chewing and barking for Angie, and fetching and ordering us around for Astro. Some of us will miss them a lot when we go away to Italy. They will have a housesitter to help them take care of out house while we’re gone, although we’re still searching for the right person.
Rich is 42 and seems to be edging inexorably into midlife. He has met the challenges, inevitable grumpiness and self-doubt of this time by getting into incredibly good physical condition and teaching himself to play chess. And by skiing as much as is humanly possible (despite the weather, which is very wet this year). Skiing gives him much joy (he’s now skiing the black diamonds without breaking a sweat), chess gives him horrible self-doubt (especially when he loses yet again to the imaginary eight year old child on the computer) and working out gives him nice abs. He’s been preparing for the trip to Italy in a number of ways. He has allowed some nice clothes to be bought for him, which look good over his well-toned physique. He has paved the way for a smooth electronic transition (internet and email and cell phone at the 2 bedroom apartment in Lucca). He has also studied Italian and become a walking dictionary of vocabulary and verb conjugation. He still seems to be doing a calm and reliable job of being chief of the anesthesia department, although he may be getting a touch of “senioritis” and is looking forward to having less responsibilities.
Rachel, that’s me if you haven’t guessed yet, am finally at that point I’ve heard spoken of, when both children are in school. I wondered briefly what I would do with all that time on my hands. For a few weeks I went to the gym more, and went for hikes in the woods. Then my priorities started magically getting reordered. Part of what I’ve started to do are things like paying more attention to some of the household responsibilities, working on my Italian and helping out at the kids’ school, but I’ve also realized that there are a number of things that I have meant to read and study, that have been waiting and getting dusty for a lot of years. I’ve joined a clandestine Unitarian women’s bible study group, which, despite my initial misgivings, has been a real pleasure. I’ve been reading more Zen material and keeping up with some technical information that I need to know for making sculpture. I’ve been spending more time in my studio, especially recently since I’ve discovered a good foundry nearby where I can have pieces cast. I’m hoping to finish up about five or six things before we go away on our trip. I continue to do Zen training, which gives much sweetness to my life. I’ve also become very fond of a little email poetry group that my sister Janice started, for which I write the occasional haiku. Here is one about life lessons arising from a ski lesson that I took last month.
Look out, don’t look down,
keep your weight over both feet,
lean into your turns.