Tuesday, November 18, 2014

You

Dearest Daughter,

Weekend before last, we were having one of our periodic battles - the kind that always leave my male mind so confused because they seem to come from out of nowhere, more angry and intense than they have any right to be.

As I recall, it was about playgrounds. We had just come out of seeing Big Hero 6 at the movies and you wanted to follow up with a visit to a playground. But somehow every playground I suggested failed to meet with your approval. And then (as ALWAYS) I got lost - which did not help either of our tempers.

And at one point, you voiced your frustration that you ALWAYS had to pick. That sometimes I ought to step up and say what I wanted instead of always pushing the responsibility off on you. And after all the arguing and shouting I was just at my wit's end. And as I could not think of anything else to do, I just told you the plain truth.

I think I made you cry. I'm not sure. We were in the driveway sitting in the car and you jumped out and ran to your hiding space behind one of the bushes in the back. I am sorry for that. I hate making you cry. Eventually I came and got you and we played hide and seek and all was forgotten.

But I'm writing what I said here because I don;t want it forgotten. Long after I am gone, I want you to remember it, and I want to remember how important you are. So here is what I said (as best I can recall):

When I was little, I rarely got to play with my Dad. He was always at work. He worked long, terrible hours, so I didn't see him all that much. And when I did, he mostly wanted to be left alone to work out his stress in the garden.  When he was dying, on the very last day we sat and talked together, he told me that looking back, it was the only thing that he really regretted.

He said that back when he was growing up, that's what they were taught a good dad did - he worked and provided for his family. So he had always tried terribly hard to be a good dad the only way he knew. I told him that I understood - and I did and do. But he looked so sad as he was talking that I promised myself that if I ever had kids I would not make that same mistake.  And I've made LOTS of mistakes - you know it and I know it. Sometimes quite dreadful mistakes. But not that one.

There's so much I've wanted to give you growing up but was unable to because we never had much money. So I have given you time. I gave you every minutes that I could.. to play... to go places.. to explore (and to be just plain silly at times).

Because I like being with you more than anything else in the world.

I know I frustrate the hell out of you when you keep asking "but what do YOU want to do?"or "What park do YOU want to play at?" and I have no good answer. And I know you are just being thoughtful and trying to look out for what makes me happy - because you are and always have been a good and thoughtful person.

But you see - that's just the point. It doesn't matter. I don't care where we go or what we play - cards, Barbies, tag... whatever. As long as I'm playing it with you - that's all I care about.  You don't have to worry about it. If I'm with you, I'm already happy.




Friday, July 25, 2014

Wicker (2000-2014)

Dearest Daughter,
I have just come in from burying Wicker in the backyard – so my thoughts are likely to be a bit scrambled and my emotions more than a little frayed. But I have developed a bad habit of not writing, and Wicker deserves better from me. She always did, though regrettably she seldom got it.
Your mother decided when we were first married that I needed a dog. I told her I didn't.. but you know your Mom once she makes up her mind to something :)  And so early one morning we found ourselves out in the arse-end of nowhere, looking for a breeder down winding, wooded country lanes that bore no relation to either the lines on our map or the instructions your Mom had taken by phone. There were false starts, reverses, close calls, and a very great deal of inventive and heartfelt swearing before we finally, finally found the farm.
I was not in a good mood by then and wandered off sullenly while your mother talked to the dog breeder. And when I looked down, there was a tiny ball of red and white fluff trying to climb onto my shoe. I picked up a tiny cocker spaniel puppy and it looked at me with dark, solemn eyes before reaching out a tiny paw to pat my cheek gently as if to reassure me that everything was going to be all right.  By the time your mom and the breeder came around the corner of the farmhouse and tried to give me the dog they had selected, it was a done deal. I had already lost my heart.
So we took our ball of fluff and headed home.
Somewhere along the way our puppy was named “Wicker.” For years people have asked us why. And for years, I've had no answer. It was rather like the scene in “Harvey” where the doctor asks Elwood P. Dowd why he chose to call his invisible rabbit companion “Harvey.” And the answer was simply “Well, Harvey’s his name.”  Wicker was just Wicker.. and that was it.
She cried all that night in her crate in the kitchen. We tried everything we had ever read: hot water bottle wrapped in a fluffy towel, ticking clock. It was finally the stuffed frog that did it. She snuggled down content and for the next several months, froggy was her constant companion.
Well.. till she ate him.
Wicker never complained about out eclectic household. Not when your Mother brought Duncan kitty home (after I had told her that under no circumstances were we going to get a cat – and she not only picked one out at the shelter, but then got me to go and pick it up). In fact Wicker mothered Duncan, laying her head flat so the tiny kitten could climb up on top and groom her shaggy spaniel ears while Wicker lay immobile with a look of pure bliss. And years later when Duncan was lost in the woods it was Wicker who dragged me frantically at the end of the leash through the brambles till we found her.
Nor did she complain when Simon kitty came into our lives. Early in the pre-dawn darkness while Wicker was selecting the perfect spot to relive herself (a process that could take 15-20 minutes on a good day) a dark gray, homeless cat came out of the woods and approached Wicker carefully. They touched noses gently and then Wicker went on about her business while the cat purred around my ankles. Some sort of silent permission had been requested and granted and we repeated that same ritual greeting every morning at the same time for months until the morning Simon came to us injured and thus became absorbed into the interior life of our home where she lives still.
Nor was Wicker fazed when Pops gave us a domestic rabbit he’d found abandoned on his land (though Simon was terrified of Hetty bunny), and many’s the picture I have of Wicker up on our old bed, dozing intertwined with the other critters (and occasionally you) for warmth and for comfort. In fact your arrival was the only thing that upset Wicker, but only when you cried. She would paw at your crib and whimper until we came to comfort you. And somehow comforting you comforted her.
Every day after I picked you up from daycare, our ritual was to go home and see how many rabbits were in the yard. We’d feed the fish in the fish pond. And we ‘d take Wicker for a run/pee.  Then we would all sit on the front porch - me, you and James Bear, and Wicker dog. And in companionable silence we’d watch the cars go past until it was time for dinner. It was perfect peace – what I call a “snapshot moment”. And I hold the memory close and dear.
The one problem we had with her was her absolute unwillingness to let us know when she needed to go outside. She was the most silent dog I have ever known. On at least one memorable occasion when she was young your mother and I sat on the kitchen floor on either side of her trying to teach her to bark by modeling “proper” dog behavior. So for about half an hour we took it in turns to growl, woof, and bark while Wicker's head swiveled back and forth between us with such a clear look of “what in the sphincter of hell is WRONG with you people?” that we finally became too embarrassed to continue.
And so we lost many, many thing to dog pee. Rag rugs, expensive carpets. At one point the dining room floor became so saturated (she got good at peeing in out-of-the-way locations) that the handsome hardwood turned black. We tried training pads. We even for a time swaddled her in dog diapers (and it was a near thing as to who hated the morning ritual of putting them on her more, Wicker or us). We tried taking her out more and more often, but to no avail. I sat and watched one day, having just brought her in from a good 20 minutes of fruitless waiting for her to pee – only to have her squat immediately on reentering the house and saturate the dining room rug. 
Unfortunately in despair I turned to punishment to try to resolve the problem. There was yelling and sharp slaps on the rump. And as our marriage disintegrated and I turned to drink to dull that pain, I became like - so many drunks - a bully and my bullying focused on my disobedient dog. That is my greatest shame in this life. I hated the son-of-a-bitch I became. I still do.
And so when your Mom left to go live with Larry, it was right that Wicker go with them. Larry was always far, far better and more patient with her than I had ever been. And when on occasion in later (sober) years I was called upon to dog sit, I did my best to make up to her for all the unkindness.
And she was friendly enough. I think I was forgiven, though we both knew I would not be her human ever again. I indulged her with treats and with lots of runs. Lord how that dog loved to run. When we had our country acreage, whenever I got home from work I’d put her leash on and run with her for as long as I could keep up – from one end of the property to the other, tracking rabbits and possums and God knows whatever else her busy nose could detect. She could never get enough running and I’d have to force her to stop and drink before she keeled over. I can still see her in my mind’s eye when we would visit Nana and Pops – the only time when we could let her off the leash without fear of cars. And she would tear off as far and as fast and she could go, great shaggy ears flying out in the air behind her and her sense of pure joy palpable.
And even in age, when she grew infirm and deaf and half-blind, the sheer exhilaration of running seemed to make the years fall away (See the entry "Snapshot").  The very last time that your Mom and Larry brought her to me to dog sit while they were out of town, Wicker and I trotted the perimeter of my back yard as hard and as fast as our wheezing lungs and old arthritic legs would go. Then we huffed our way into the family room and cooled off by eating crushed ice (which she loved as much as I do).
And finally the time came to lead her to her rest. 

Your Mom and were both with her at the end, holding her and stroking her head and telling her what a good girl she was until she slipped quietly away. And then I brought her home. With your Mom and Larry thinking about selling their house, I could not leave her there where she would eventually be among strangers. And so she sleeps now in a sunny spot outside my bedroom window, near where she and I used to run.
I have done what I could for her. Later we will make a small monument to mark the place and plant some flowers.
Enough. My heart is sore. I need to sleep now.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Magic

Dearest Daughter,

Well, for the first time this year, we had Easter without the Easter Bunny. And now we've lost a tooth without summoning the Tooth Fairy.

But just like at Easter when you shyly asked if we could hide eggs anyway, and I said we would hides for as many years as you wanted, you got some cash for that tooth anyway. Because when every day brings changes – this year alone you've had to deal with a new school and school friends, with Mommy and Larry’s breakup, and with the slowly encroaching changes in your body – there’s a great, reaffirming comfort in the rituals and traditions of childhood. And I’m absolutely okay with that.

This will be the first year without Santa too. You took that quite bravely, I thought. You seemed quite pleased with the idea of being able to be Santa yourself now.. to be part of making the magic now for Max just as he’s becoming old enough to believe.

I shared my favorite quote from Terry Pratchett’s book “The Wee Free Men” with you when we talked about Santa. – one that is dear to my heart:

 "It doesn't stop being magic just because you know how it works." 

And it doesn't.

 I love you. May there always be magic in your life, kiddo.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

US

Dearest Daughter,

Not sure if you remember when we made this for Nonny, you and I. We mixed up a tub of casting gel in a bucket in the middle of the kitchen floor, held hands, and plunged them in the goo.

And waited. You were so very patient and so careful not to move while the gel set. The we wiggled our fingers and inched out a tiny bit at a time. Not something I'd want to do every day, but the results were perfect.

And long after you are grown and I have become just a story in your head, we'll still be holding hands


Love, Daddy

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas 2013

Once again, your Mom and Larry invited me into their Christmas morning so I could watch you open prezzies. Their continued generosity takes my breath away. And this year, Max took part.. not really sure what all the fuss was about, but determined to get into everything his little arms could reach.

Sadly, I slammed the car door on a corner of my winter coat around Thanksgiving. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal - I do it all the time – except that this time my camera was in the pocket. And my little cheap phone takes so long for a picture, that unless the subject is dead, it’s going to be blurred. So the only good picture I have is this one, taken by Mommy or Larry. And I treasure it. I cannot look at that smile and help but smile myself.
Afterwards, we colored and played dolls and hung out in your room. Then we went to my house and you opened the few prezzies you hadn’t already “puppy-dog eyed” me into letting you open earlier. And you spent much of the rest of the day making things in your Easy-Bake oven. Which I dutifully ate.
All of themSo you know your father really does love you.

A little bit of drama in the night. Like your father and my father before me, you never want to turn loose of the day. So you began acting out.

I don't know why I'm so dense sometimes. You've done this your whole life. Everything would be going along fine and then BOOM - at the last minute all hell would break loose. And it sometimes seemed that you acted worse the better the day had been. And all too often, tired myself, I would lose it and behave just as badly, if not worse. "Why in the hell do you do this?" I've shouted. "Why do you have the screw up such a good day?"

And it finally clicked. Because it had been a good day.. such a sweet day. That was the problem. You knew that once you closed your eyes, it would be gone. And that's pretty upsetting, no doubt about it. That's something I can well understand. It just took me way too long to do so. Sorry.
So I shut my mouth, laid down with you and we talked. And I read Matilda to you with Simon kitty purring between us till you drifted off.
And so closed a good day.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Misc

Dearest Daughter,

I watched Matt Smith's last Doctor Who episode with you last night. And at the weepy end, he said something that made me think of this blog - this message in a bottle to you -- and why I keep posting to it as you grow up:

"I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear."

Games


Dearest Daughter,
I so love playing with you. In fact I would say that other than reading (and Doctor Who), it is my favorite thing in the Universe. Sometimes I’m tired and sometimes I’m grumpy and I grumble. But I hope that you are wise enough to see past that and know that I will always love playing with you, no matter what and no matter when (though admittedly, I enjoy some things more than others).

Last weekend, after we’d seen the movie Frozen for the second time (and I’d given you an Elsa doll for early Christmas), I loved that we reenacted the entire movie from beginning to end. I got to be Elsa, Hans, generic villagers, and the guy from Weaseltown. I especially loved that in the middle of it you whipped out your iPod, managed to find the music on Youtube, and that we recreated all the dance numbers with Barbies.
It makes me sad that some of the games fade with time. It came as a shock to me last week when I realized I had completely forgotten Bad Gorilla and all the other imaginary people you used to play school and occasionally host game shows with (I kind of miss doing all the voices). But all things change. And old games give way to new ones. There’s ALWAYS card games – I like some of the ones you’ve taught me that you picked up at the Y – and while some of the simpler board games like Candyland are starting to pale, others like Monopoly are starting to come on strong.

Tickling is still a favorite, as well as a game we first started when you were a baby – Tell Me a Secret. You bugged me to play that with you ALL last week. I begged off one night because I was convinced you had a cold. But as you know, the “puppy eyes” can usually win me over. And so we’d take it in turns to tell each other “secrets”, getting right up to the person’s ear and whispering in the most lisping, sibilant voice possible so that it tickles beyond belief.  "I've got a sssssecret. You wanna hear my sssssecret? You can't tell nobody my sssssecret 'cause it's a sssssecret and you can't tell a sssssecret 'cause then it won't be a sssssssecret...."
By the time we'd get to the third hissing repetition of the word secret, you're usually convulsing and I’m surprised your giggling squeals haven’t yet called down Child Protective Services on us.

We play a lot of tag in the new house, when my arthritic knees allow. I love that the open floor plan let’s us run riot through the living room and kitchen. And there are so many variations – we’ve done Scarf Tag (a kind of capture the flag with running), Cheater Tag (you are EVIL with the timing on your time outs), Ball Tag (using the yoga ball to combine tag with dodge ball), and ever since you described me as running “like a chicken horse”, we’ve occasionally had Chicken Tag, complete with flapping wings.
If there’s a small span of time before we have to be somewhere, we still play “Doggie, Doggie, Where’s Your Bone?” in the living room. For a short time, it morphed into “Pirate Bone”, where I would pretend to be asleep with my treasure beneath my pillow and you’d sneak up and try to steal it away without waking me and my shouting "AAAARRRR, JIM BOB! WHAR'S ME TREASURE??" (this was back when we were playing "Trolls and Vampires", with me as the stupid troll chasing you to the vampire lair and running headlong into the invisible vampire shield and knocking myself out). But mostly we now play it in its original format, placing an object beneath a stool and sitting on it blindfolded, listening for the other trying to creep up and steal it. Thank God my hearing at least is still sharp.

And that you have never yet learned not to let yourself walk between me and the light. Heh.

And there's the bingo and Barbies we play over the phone when you're at your Mom's (I love it when you do the role of "Other Ken"). And Hangman. And hand games like slap and thumb wrestling kept us entertained through all those long, boring lines at Disney.
So we play. So far as I can, I play whatever you want, whenever you want to the best of my ability. Because while I hope we will always play together, all good things do come to an end. And I would hate to look back in regret one day, knowing I had squandered what I was offered.

Because I really, really DO love playing with you more than anything.