Monday, January 4, 2016

The Forest in the Trees


Each year on Jukie's birthday, we focus on spoiling our boy silly. Nothing makes Jukie happier than spending the day hiking through the woods with his family. If there's mud involved, so much the better! 


Jukie doesn't understand birthdays. He understands life's simple pleasures. We always strive to make Jukie laugh — and on his birthday, it's a day-long endeavor. He's used to lots of attention and affection from all of us, so he takes our additional focus in stride. We chase him till he squeals in delight. We offer countless hugs and kisses, and bake his favorite cake. And we always take our nature boy into his element so that he can run free, picking up sticks and communing with the forest. His middle name is Forest.

Today our sweet boy turns 15! We started his celebration early yesterday at Point Reyes National Seashore, hiking the Bear Valley Trail, a path that runs parallel with a winding creek. The fog surrounding the mountains and the meadow at the summit of our adventure made the place seem other-worldly. In a way, we felt that we had entered Jukie's world. 


Jukie sang his Jukie song in the car all the way to the coast and all the way back. Happy birthday boy. Mission accomplished.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Full of Beans


Last night at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Jukie made some new friends while Andy and I ordered our family's dinner. It was one of those times when I thought Andy had Jukie, and he thought I had him. It turns out that Jukie had himself, and that he was making an executive decision to expedite his eating. 

We found him sitting at a table with another family we had never met. He was smiling broadly, stuffing himself full of their beans and chips. Perhaps I should have apologized even before laughing, but the warm reception from his new friends let me know that Jukie had just made their evening. Jukie has a way of making people's day. 

Our eventual apologies were met with hugs and more laughter. This family clearly enjoyed Jukie's company and repeatedly told us that "he is a blessing." After we returned to our table, the mom appeared at my side with a plate full of sliced oranges. In their short exchange, she had quickly determined Jukie's delight in such an offering. What fast friends, I thought — she already knows the way to Jukie's heart. Andy ran out to our car and grabbed a copy of "Where's Jukie?" for this family who had just lived through an example of our book’s title. 

I'm struck by the way in which Jukie brilliantly busts through social norms and expectations and brings out the best in nearly everyone he encounters. We'd never have met this sweet family had Jukie not cozied up to their warm welcome and delicious food. And I'd love to hear the retelling of this story from the other side.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Wonder


 

In the days leading up to Christmas, Truman locked himself in his bedroom for hours, warning us not to enter, lest we spoil the holiday surprises he was creating for us. Although I wanted to sneak a peak, I stayed out of his space and only glimpsed piles of wrapping paper and ribbon while walking past his door. He was clearly putting a whole lot of heart and soul into his creations. 

On Christmas morning, Truman could hardly get ahold of himself — he couldn't wait to reveal and distribute his gifts. We all squealed with laughter as he passed out portraits he had drawn of each family member. How funny they looked with his rudimentary skills, like inadvertent caricatures, yet he still nailed each of us. He also made us "Human Trading Cards" with our vital stats. On his sister's, he labeled her skills: "Writing, drawing, and being loved."

And my favorite. He composed a poster board-sized card which made me cry and bust out laughing all at once. He is such a sweet soul, a deep thinker, and so crazy-funny. 

 "Dear Family, You are the biggest part of my life. You encourage me to write great stories. You help me do the right thing. You guide me through the path of life until the path of life can guide me. You are the greatest, funniest and most exciting people in my life. You tell me I will do great things in my life. I am writing this with a pen I got last year for Christmas, so please accept this gift for Christmas.

Dear Jukie, You can't read, so someone will have to read this to you. You are the best brother ever. The fact that you are different can be a good thing. You can't talk, so you can't say anything bad to me. You can't understand some things, so you don't know that George W. Bush was once president. 

Dear Daddy, You are the kind of guy who notices things. You share my interest in history and in reading. You said you did not want any stuff for Christmas, but I got and made you some cool stuff anyway. You are the smartest person in the family, even more than me. Merry Christmas! 

Dear Mommy, If I need someone to talk to, you are a good person. You know what the family needs, and what it doesn't need. I'm glad you are my mom, and I am glad you take care of the family.

Dear Boonie, I am glad I got to write my Fairfield report on you. Just imagine if my report were on New York. I would not be surprised if you ended up illustrating a famous book one day. I really hope you like this card." 

On the inside of the card, he drew a blueprint of our dream home, which includes both a museum and a research room, as well as a sleepover room and a playroom, a movie theater, a library, an indoor playground, an East Wing, and seven bathrooms. 

Truman helps me recognize every day that we're living in a sweet, golden stage of his childhood years. I love 10. And I'm soaking up every moment, every hug and every kiss. I love his wisdom, his wit, and his amazing sensitivity.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Anticipating Santa


Truman and I get into Christmas in a big way. We always put up the outside lights the day after Thanksgiving; I climb the ladder while Truman detangles the lights from below. "That looks great, Mommy! I like how high up you're getting them!" he says. We stand back together, Clark Griswold style, and then turn on the lights. They're not so impressive really, but we still oooh and ahhh over them. 


Having the lights up makes Christmastime feel official. We can begin working our way together through favorite Christmas movies. We can fill the house with Christmas carols and the scents of pine and pumpkin spice. And we can start making handmade cards for our members of the family who are scattered across the country. 


When we come inside to decorate the tree, Geneva and Jukie each put an ornament or two on the tree, but mostly they watch Truman and me handle the decorating. This year, Truman found a weird, fuzzy, oval-shaped Santa face in with the holiday stuff and hung it on the wall. "That was a gag gift, I tell him – a festive toilet seat cover." He doesn't care. We left it on the wall, where now it's a perfect complement to the tree and the stockings hung from the fireplace. 



I came down the stairs this morning to find that Truman had written Santa a letter. I love that my boy is a believer. "Dear Santa," he begins, "I'm sorry I didn't send this to you. But there was so much going on that I forgot. I have been good, and so has everyone in my family. I made a big wishlist online, and I will read ten things from it." He goes on to list the highlights from his list, which range from biographies of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, to a fart blaster megaphone. (Shhh! Uncle Paul gave him the fart blaster. Of course.)


Long after the Christmas presents have been forgotten, Truman and his siblings will remember their enthusiasm for preparing the house for Santa and other December visitors, and the time we spend together as a family during every winter break.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Where did the time go? Geneva at 18



Yesterday my girl turned 18. Eighteen! It feels like a moment ago that Andy and I were passing her back and forth, desperate for sleep and needing relief for our tired arms, hoping her newborn wails would cease.



"Bay G," she called herself as soon as she could talk. Geneva seemed too formal a name to call our Baby G., and in our house we're big on nicknames. "Boonie" soon eclipsed Baby G. She's still Boonie in our family and to those closest to her. Her friends have chosen their own name for her — they call her Viva. I smile each time I hear it. It fits. 


The other night over dinner, a friend observed how fortunate we are that Geneva never went through an insolent stage. It's true. Although she struggles with challenges that can make life hard for her and for us, she seems to have skipped that ill-mannered, petulant period for which parents brace themselves. Instead, her words for us are filled with gratitude and grace. She tells us that she loves us several times a day. She's generous with hugs, and still reaches for my hand. 

 

Parents discover that the days are long, but the years are short. I want to slow time and consciously absorb each sweet moment, especially during this year of "lasts" with our girl before she leaves the nest. My photographs attempt to freeze her in time, or at least preserve her forever in my mind at this age. Maybe she understands this need; most of the time she's patient with the camera. 


All that, and she's got mad style.


Happy birthday, Boon! We love you, Bay G.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Perpetual Privacy


Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.
~ Francis Bacon


When your daddy’s a poet, you often tag along to his readings. The venue of last weekend’s performance, the cramped cellar of a California foothill winery, may have appealed more to the grown-ups than to our boys. Nevertheless, because of Jukie’s strong bond with his dad, wherever Andy goes, Jukie goes. I bet Jukie has attended more poetry readings and spent more time in art galleries than any other kid in northern California.

Jukie loves a novel experience, so on this day, he happily hopped out of the car in sunny Placerville and eagerly entered the cool, tomb-like cellar room. Towering wooden crates filled with wine bottles lined the walls. Candlelight and a few antique lamps dimly lit the room. “How cool – it’s like a dungeon,” Truman announced. Jukie spied a plateful of cookies and swiped a few before anyone noticed. Grabbing a water-filled goblet by the stem and sitting down, he was ready for the entertainment.

When Andy stepped into the light and began reading his poetry, Jukie soon joined him, settling on a nearby empty stool. Always curious, and never self-conscious, Jukie was coaxed to action by the intimate setting (and by the unclaimed stool). Part of the fun of watching Jukie interact with the world involves watching him respond to the slightest notion, or the most subtle inspiration. Perched next to the racks of wine bottles (what could go wrong?), Jukie surveyed the room to see what Daddy saw.  


Sitting up front, and unable to intervene without making a scene, I relaxed and watched the show along with everyone else. Younger brother Truman shot me a worried look. “Daddy’s got this,” I whispered. Ever the unflappable pro, Andy continued his reading while handing Jukie his water glass, guiding him to choose a seat and to remain seated. He occasionally held Jukie’s hand or placed a calming palm on the top of our boy’s head. Andy did what he does while multitasking on stage: he read poems, made quips, and put the room at ease, all while expertly soothing and directing his boy. What a pair these two make – the distinguished poetry professor who teaches literature and writing, this poet laureate who crafts words into art, and his sweet, angelic boy who giggles unaccountably, and who cannot speak.

Robert Frost said that “poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” But what if there are no words? When I behold my mysterious, silent boy, I wonder about the poetry locked in his beautiful mind. I wonder how Jukie processes the world. Does he speak silently in his head, as all of us do? He understands our words, but does he think in words? Or does he think in pictures, as Temple Grandin says she does? Do our words translate into fleeting pictures in his unique and marvelous brain?


Sometimes at night as I tuck him into bed, I wonder if Jukie speaks in his dreams. Can his brain “unlock” while in a deep stage of sleep? I wish that Jukie’s dream state could let him speak freely, the way that he sometimes speaks to me in my dreams, when I’m lucky. He runs and laughs and goofs around just as wakeful Jukie does, and then the words flow from him, as if requiring no effort. Sometimes I notice myself hearing his impossible words and then wake unwillingly, keeping my eyes shut, clinging to the dreamy engagement for as long as I can. I want to remember everything he has said to me. 

Aching to hear his words, I envision his unconscious mind traveling down the hall during the wee hours of the night and meeting up with mine.  At times like this, I wish to jump back into the dream so that I could ask him questions. What makes you laugh so heartily and suddenly, and seemingly without cause? Why do you sometimes burst into such heart-shaking and unprovoked tears? How can I help you when that happens?

So much of your day is so peaceful and unhurried. What are you thinking about as you watch the trees sway in the summer breeze? What do you see in those clouds you study? What are your greatest desires? How I wish I could interrupt your perpetual privacy for a moment, and hear your spoken thoughts. My son, can you tell me that you love me? Just once? I promise that I will hold onto it forever.