The Death Situation

“Daddy, what’s the situation with death?”

Not long ago, I wrote about my Great Aunt Charlotte passing away.  That event has inspired all sorts of interesting and reasonably difficult conversations over the last few months with Julianna.  For this post, and for the record, Chloe is not particularly interested in these matters yet which is fine by me.

To catch the new people up, Julianna is 6+, about to start the 1st grade, enjoying her first summer camp experience, mildly sensitive about emotional things, and pretty inquisitive.

To put the sensitivity into context, which I think is relevant for this conversation, here’s a quick story from yesterday afternoon:  We were on our way to the pool, listening to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in the car.  We are just going through it for the first time.  I’m not sure if you are familiar with story, but if you aren’t, google it.  We listen to a lot of Broadway showtunes with the girls (deal with it).  They love it.  Anyway, the finale, “Any Dream Will Do” comes on.  We have pulled into the parking lot but the girls want to hear the rest of the song.  The lyrics talk about Jacob coming to Egypt to reunite with Joseph and his sons and yada yada yada.  Happy Ending City.  Chloe says, “Daddy, Julianna is crying.”  I turn to the back seat and sure enough, she’s quietly crying.  I ask why.  She tells me that she’s crying because she’s happy now that she knows, for sure, that Jacob gets to be back with his sons, and in particular Joseph.

“So this is a happy cry?”

“Yes but I don’t want to listen to this song for a while because I don’t want to cry every time.”

Ok, so this is what we’re dealing with.

Sidebar.

Aunt Charlotte was an art lover, both creating and consuming.  She didn’t have any dependents so when she passed away, we all visited her apartment and took a few pieces of her art to remember her.  In our house, we have Aunt Charlotte paintings in our bedroom and both of the girls’ bedrooms.  There was one painting that she had just recently started working on but hadn’t finished.  It was to be a painting based on a picture of Julianna with my sister’s daughter.  Unfortunately, she didn’t get very far into this painting.  My niece wasn’t really started yet but Julianna’s outline is there.  We recognize it very clearly from the picture it is based on.  To be honest, its perhaps a bit haunting but also quite beautiful.  When you look at it, if you knew Charlotte, you can almost feel her hand on it.  Its sort of comforting I think.  Its hanging in Julianna’s room.  She seems to really like it…other than occasionally when it gets her thinking about Charlotte…which leads to last night when she called me in after I thought she was already sleeping…

“Daddy, what’s the situation with death?”

Um…what do you mean?

“Like, what happens with death?  How does it work?  When does it happen?”

Ok, so here we are.  I don’t claim to be an expert on children.  I’m certainly not a doctor or a licensed anything (other than a licensed driver).  She’s brought these types of questions up before, recently, with both my wife and I and I don’t think we’ve exactly figured out how to comfortably answer.

So last night I just decided to go with it.  F*ck it.  We’ll do it live.

The following were the bits and pieces of what we talked about, in no particular order.

Well, Julianna, can you tell me 2 things your heart does?

“It moves air around my body.”  Right.  It is also how we “love”.  So if we agree on those 2 things, let’s talk about them.  First, the stuff we can explain-ish.

I found my pulse under my neck and put her fingers there.  I asked her if she could feel the the “bump bump, bump bump.”  She smiled a bit and told me she could.  Well, that’s my heart, actually working.  Its pushing the blood all over my body.  Bringing the air all over the place to make sure I’m good to go.  I helped her find her own pulse.  Another smile.  There it is.  Her heart is working.

Now that we “know” how being alive works, let’s discuss what happens when the heart stops working.  While we don’t have to worry about this for a long time (more about this in a bit), there comes a point, a very long time from now, when the heart stops being able to push the air around your body and that’s when the death situation happens.

“So what happened with Aunt Charlotte?  Her eyes opened and then like, they closed really quickly?  How does that feel?”

That’s not exactly how it works.  I explained that it wasn’t painful.  That if you could imagine, and again, not something to worry about for a long time, the most peaceful sleep.  She closed her eyes for a great sleep and that was it.

“Ok, so can we go and see her?”

Well, we can’t see her body.

This brought us into the next phase of the conversation…funerals and cemeteries.

[Spoiler alert for those worried:  she slept great last night - I didn't ruin her - I don't think]

We talked about a funeral and how people get sad because they won’t be able to see or touch or hug or laugh or have a conversation with the person, but that we spend a lot of time, almost like a party, telling great stories and remembering the great times.

We talked about what a cemetery was and how for some people, their bodies were put in this place and that we could always go and visit if we needed a real “place” to see but that anytime we wanted, Charlotte’s spirit would be in Julianna’s heart.  That she could always think about Charlotte or look at the paintings she now has hanging in her room and smile knowing that some part of Charlotte was with her always.

I told her that it wasn’t as important that someone died as it was to enjoy the time that you are alive with that person.

“Well, when are you going to die?”

Nobody really knows that.  Like I’ve said before, I’m pretty lucky to have a lot of healthy people in my family so I used the following:

Julianna, I’m your daddy and you know how old I am right?

Right.

And who is my daddy?

Papa.

Is he still alive?

Yes.

And how old is he?

Old.

And who is his daddy?

Great Grandpa Abe.

And is he still alive?

Yes.

And how old is he?

Very old.

Right.  You shouldn’t worry about any of those things.  We didn’t discuss that not every story plays out that way.  I think the goal was to give her some of answers for her questions and make her feel like there was less mystery, while not focusing on the scary parts.

“Well, the next time someone dies, I want us to have a party at our house to remember them.”

K.

She went to sleep shortly after that without fuss.  I’m sure the conversations will continue over time.  I consider myself to be a pretty logic & science-based thinker.  I like to know how things work and why things are the way they are.  I think a lot of kids, Julianna included, are like that.  There are certainly topics and certain details that are better discussed when they are older but I’ve been trying to put myself in her shoes on this one.  I can relate the general fear of the unknown.  If there’s an explanation to be had, or at least part of an explanation, why would not share it in as appropriately a way as possible.

At least until she asked this:

“Like, how do your bones get out of your skin after you die?”

Pass?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Day

Of the rest of her life.

My wife and I just dropped Julianna off at the bus stop for her first day of camp. If you know me well, you might imagine what a tremendously huge deal that was for me.

I’ve been absent from the blog for a while for all the usual reasons. To catch you up, in a real-quick sort of way, when we last spoke, we were about to embark on our first family vacation to Disney. That trip was the first time on an airplane for both Julianna and Chloe. It was their first time in Disney. The four of us went along with my sister, her husband, and their two kids as well as my parents. I debated writing about the trip in longer form but I feel like that’s pretty cliche. Too long, don’t read (TL;DR): Watching your kids meet the characters they have idolized for years was by far the highlight for me. It wasn’t about going on rides or seeing shows…it was seeing Julianna give the REAL Minnie Mouse an all-consuming hug after sleeping with a Minnie Mouse doll essentially since the day she was born. It was seeing Chloe, who was initially very nervous around the characters, stair in awe as Sophia The First took the time to draw a picture of herself in Chloe’s autograph book right next to a picture Chloe had drawn of herself which lead to Chloe wanting to meet every character. Awesome. The whole thing.

And then, the day after we got home, we went to pick up the puppy. Her name is Rose. She’s a mini chocolate labradoodle who doesn’t shed and isn’t going to be huge. She’s also not chocolate at all…more like a cloudy grey with a few dark patches. This development, in case you wondering, was not on a whim. We had arranged with the breeder months earlier to hold on to Rose for a few extra weeks so we could go to Disney and not leave a puppy alone for a week. Chloe, as expected, can literally not get enough of her. Her biggest complaint is that her lap isn’t big enough yet for Rose to really curl up in it. Julianna, well, that’s a different story…she has dog issues. She seemed very excited about Rose prior to her arrival but its been slightly less than that level of excitement ever since. She has enjoyed Rose from a distance and only recently started physically getting close.

Now, back to the day at hand.

My wife and I just dropped Julianna off at the bus stop for her first day of camp and if you know me well, you can imagine what a giant deal that is for me. This camp is a day camp, very similar to the day camp I started going to when I was around her age. I got on the bus back then, just like she just did, and off we went. I attended day camp for a few summers prior to moving on to overnight camp. Camp in general is probably the single most transformative experience of my life prior to having a family of my own. I have been involved in the camping world in one form or another for the better part of the last 32 years. I started as a camper at day camp, then became a camper at overnight camp. I moved on to be a counselor in training at that same overnight camp, followed by a counselor for a bunch of years and then an administrator and then finally the camp director. I met my wife at this camp and while I’m not the director now, I am just as connected and continue to visit regularly and be involved in alumni event planning. I am one of those annoying camp people you probably know (or you might be). Deal with us.

So today, when Julianna walked on the bus (naturally with another little girl who happens to be the daughter of a man who was my counselor multiple times at overnight camp), I had, as my wife would call it, “a moment.” I had prepared myself for a similar type of departure to the one we got with Kindergarten. She waited on the sidewalk, with her backpack on and as instructed, her bathing suit on under her sporty camp outfit, with the other kids, for the bus. The bus pulled up with that familiar air release door opening noise. Inside, the counselor in charge of the bus, a young woman who I knew, naturally from my overnight camp, when she was a little girl. Comfort. I feel tense…but in a different way than with Kindergarten. With Kindergarten, I had a miserable transition and miserable drop-offs all the time. With camp, I was never homesick. I never had a hard time going for some reason.

I so badly want “camp” to be the greatest experience of her life. I also know, from years of talking to other parents about it, that my camp experience can not be hers. What I enjoyed and what I connected with are my things. She will have her own experiences and so I cautiously stepped back slightly, waving and telling her I loved her and to have a great day and I couldn’t wait to hear all about it.

Camp. Its a pretty silly thing when you really think about it. Organized recess for however many hours a day. Swim in a lake maybe. Play softball or volleyball…it really doesn’t matter. Meet new people. Do some jewelry making. I can’t really explain it. You’ll hear camp people say something like, “if you didn’t go you don’t know.” Its not intended to be a high-nose or confrontational thing. Its just difficult to explain the connection people have.

Leading up to this day, I had to check myself and make sure that I remembered that this was her beginning, not my to-be-continued.

So she got on the bus, tear free, happily…

And that is how her story starts.

IMG_2171

How To Live

My Great Aunt Charlotte died today.

Great as defined by the family tree.  Great as defined by humanity.

When is the right time to explain death to your kids?  I thought about it for a long time over the last 6-8 months.  I’m pretty lucky to have lots of older people in and around my family in relative good health.  In other words, I have been very fortunate to have come this far in my own life with limited death around me.

I think the first indication that we were getting close to having the conversation was when Julianna asked a while ago what happened to mosquitoes or bees when they got “squashed”.  It was the first time that either of them showed any sign of understanding that there’s another “state” beyond what they can see.  It wasn’t long after when the dots started to connect.  If bugs’ lives can end, can people stop living too?

When I was a kid, my parents, sister and I would go to my Grandmother and Grandfather’s house every Sunday afternoon.  The house was a 2-family house.  Grandma and Grandpa lived in the main unit and [Great] Aunt Charlotte lived in the other.  Over the years, these visits usually involved greetings, some play time, a meal with some combination of my Grandparents’ kids, my 1st cousins, Aunt Charlotte, and various guests, more playing, dialing up Prodigy, watching the Red Sox, playing outside, losing a ball over the neighbor’s fence and never getting it because of a mysterious scary dog…and one other thing: I am pretty sure that about 100% of the visits involved some sort of craft or project over in Aunt Charlotte’s house.  Every time.  She always had something prepared for the kids.  She was always ready for us.  She never had kids of her own and I suspect that my father, his two brothers, and his sister would agree with me, my sister, and my 5 first cousins that Charlotte always treated us like we were all her kids.

The girls (Julianna more than Chloe) will occasionally ask about death.  “Daddy, when are you going to be dead?”  I think they are starting to understand some of the implications and my wife and I have spent a lot of time reinforcing that even if we aren’t physically able to see, hug, or play with that person anymore, it doesn’t mean they don’t continue to be alive in our hearts; in our minds.  I genuinely believe that it makes sense to them.  I also believe that its an understandably confusing concept. 

Not too long ago, during a conversation with Julianna that revolved around her trying to figure out how many birthdays someone can have she said, “Daddy, what happens when Great Grandpa Abe (Aunt Charlotte’s older brother) turns 100?”  I know exactly what’s she asking.  She’s learning about numbers and is trying to wrap her mind around life and setting expectations.  My answer was something like, “Well, each year on your birthday your age goes up by 1.”  My wife and I both typically then redirect into something that focuses more on life then on death. 

Chloe often just listens but doesn’t have much to say on the matter.  She is perhaps too young to understand the impact so she just lets it soak in.  Recently we planned a trip to New York to visit my wife’s Grandmother.  Julianna asked my wife, “Mommy, does Great Grandma Minnie live with Great Grandpa Joey?”  “No.”  “Why not?”  “Great Grandpa Joey isn’t living anymore.”  “So he’s dead?”  “Yes but he was a wonderful man and he lives in my heart.”  Unfortunately, neither my kids nor I ever had the chance to meet him but Julianna followed up with one of her more touching responses as her eyes welled up: “But I miss him.”

Like many people with higher ages, she certainly had her share of health problems but she was probably the most vibrant, full-of-life person I’ve known, literally right up until the end.  I almost never witnessed her doing anything other than smiling, for my entire life.  I mean, who is that happy for that much time? 

Aunt Charlotte recently became seriously ill.  About one and half weeks ago she was taken to the hospital.  Just a few days ago my sister and I went to go visit her in the hospital.  We knew things weren’t good and that she was in an incredible amount of pain and discomfort.  My wife asked the girls to paint pictures so I could bring them to her because painting was one of Charlotte’s biggest passions.  The girls got right to work.  My sister’s kids did the same.

My sister and I got to the hospital and Charlotte was asleep but clearly not comfortable.  Two of my cousins were also there.  The four of us stood there for a while letting her sleep.  We all thought that waking her up so she knew we were there was a good idea.  A nurse helped wake her up.  She slowly made eye contact with each of us.  We told her that the kids’ had made pictures for her.  I went and got the pictures and held them up so she could get a good look.  In perfect Aunt Charlotte form, she gave us that ear-to-ear, full-of-life, you just won a million dollars smile.  For that moment, it was literally perfect.  She almost immediately fell back asleep. 

When we sat down with the girls tonight, my wife and I decided that we’d just tell the girls the truth.  They listened as we told them that Great Aunt Charlotte had died.  They listened as we told them that she absolutely loved the pictures they had painted.  We told them that even though we wouldn’t be seeing her at family gatherings anymore, we’d still have her in our hearts and in our minds and memories.  She’d always be with us as long as we shared stories and laughed about all the great times we were lucky enough to spend with her.  Following my wife’s lead, they both pantomimed locking thoughts away.

Chloe asked, “Daddy, how did she die?  Did her heart stop?”

Girls, its far less important how she died.

What’s most important is to always remember how she lived.

Aunt Charlotte Feasting

The Great Aunt Charlotte – Always enjoying life

Unfrozen

Today Chloe Turns 5.

I feel like I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: what a year.  I’ve said it many times on this blog and I’ll continue to do so:  My kids are completely different and incredibly similar.

Julianna enjoys being the center of attention.  She is happy on stage, performing in front of people.  She is generally friendly with new people who come to visit us.  She likes going out and trying new things, mostly.

Chloe, on the other hand, dislikes attention, doesn’t like performing (when someone is looking), and she needs time to warm up to all people, even the ones she knows well.  She does not like trying new things…

…until recently.

When the movie Frozen hit theaters, something changed with Chloe.  All of a sudden, she is a little less apprehensive about performing (she sings Frozen songs almost constantly).  She’s a little less apprehensive about talking to new people.  She’s a little more vocal about communicating what she wants.  She’s a little more interested in being the boss (not always easy when you have a sister who is less than 13 months older than you).

She’s a little more “present” at all times and a lot more independent.

It could be that in regards to many of her inhibitions, she decided that she should just Let It Go.  It could be that she’s just maturing a bit and has started to feel more comfortable with herself.  Its possible that she just wants to share in some of the extraverted fun Julianna enjoys.  Whatever the case may be, we’ve welcomed this “New Chloe”.  Don’t get me wrong; there was nothing wrong with “Old Chloe” but this new version is even more delightful and fun to be around.  She’s genuinely entertaining.  She’s turned into the funny one.

She’s also sneaky smart.  Julianna is more obvious about whatever her intelligence is but Chloe leads you to believe she cares a bit less about education-related things…and then she drops some sort of ridiculous bomb on you…

Just recently she started this move (at first with my wife), which is a quote-ish from Frozen spoken by the character Hans to the character Anna:

“Mommy, come here.”

[wife bends down - Chloe puts 1 hand on face of wife]

“If only someone actually loved you.”

And then she starts laughing, in a genuine “I crack myself up” sort of way.  She doesn’t really get what she’s saying but she gets it enough to know how funny it is coming from her to one of her parents.

Speaking of the “I crack myself up” sort of way, this is further proof that she’s my daughter.  You can ask my wife how often I say something and then look for a High-5.  Its sort of like the time when Chloe randomly asked me, earlier in the year, if she could karate chop me in the forehead.  When I said I didn’t think it was a good idea and that hitting was not allowed or nice and we certainly didn’t want to hurt Daddy, she responded by smiling, staring at me for a moment, smiling wider, and saying, “Ok, but just a small karate chop?”

She’s just fun.

I’m sure that in the families where there are multiple children and any are as close in age as Julianna and Chloe, its not uncommon to be concerned that the “trailer” will always be the trailer.  I feared that she would always do and have everything second.  I feared that she would always live in some sort of shadow of her older sister.  Her lack of interest in being in the spotlight only made these fears stronger.

This year was great for a number of reasons but maybe the best thing, selfishly, is that she has shown me that those fears are no longer warranted.  She’s who she is.  Chloe, in many ways, is Elsa to Julianna’s Anna.

Chloe has come out of her shell in many ways this year, or in Frozen terms, has taken off her gloves and let her hair down.  She’s loud and proud.

When I started this blog, I told myself that I wanted to cover the first 5 years of the girls’ lives.  At the time, that felt like a good goal.  With this post, in my mind, the goal has been reached.  I suppose I’m finished…

But then how would you know how Chloe’s Kindergarten transition went?

 

 

Phase 2

Today Julianna turned 6.

I’m not positive but I think I need to start thinking about her as a big girl now.  This morning when she woke up, my wife and I went in to give her obnoxious birthday attention that feels “this” close to warranting eye-rolls.  I sort of picked her up and held her like a newborn, explaining that it was the way I held her 6 years ago.  She is of course, much larger than that first day.  I think that she gets that even though she isn’t a baby anymore, she’ll still always be my baby.

This year, like the previous ones, has been filled with great moments and transitions.  It seems like both yesterday and forever ago that I was writing about Julianna’s transition to kindergarten.  Feeling completely helpless as the guidance counselor brought her into school for the first time, while she cried to please not leave her brought back a lot of bad memories of my own at that same time of life.  The good news is that she recovered a lot, and I mean a lot, quicker than I did.  My mother would tell you it took me between months and the entire year before I went into school without a fight.  Julianna was fully recovered and ready for action on day 2.  DAY FRIGGIN 2.  I didn’t have a day of homesickness or “transition trouble” after kindgerten so I’m hopeful she will have a similar future.

Kindergarten epilogue:  I still drive her to school every day.  She buckles her own seat belt when we get in the car.  We still wait in the line.  When its our turn to drop off, it goes like you hear in the movies:  she literally has no time to say goodbye.  Inevitably she sees a friend walking in from one of the busses and she can’t wait to go catch up.  Occasionally I’ll get a wave but for the most part, she’s very busy doing other things…like socializing with kids I don’t know.  Once she gets out, its usually seconds before I need to move so I only get a quick glimpse of her “social skills” but its oddly fascinating.  That first time you see a 4th grade girl walk up to your kindergarten daughter on her way into school and you read her lips as she says, “Hey Noa, how was your weekend?” its sort of awesome and sort of heart-breaking…

It feels like she’s starting to not “need” me quite as much.  I know that’s not really true of course but seeing her interact with friends and not need me there to facilitate is something that I think you strive for as a parent.  I love that she has made friends, without my help.  I love that she can handle herself without me.  Those things feel very reassuring.  They are also mild shots to my ego.  I’m sure almost all parents go through the same sort of withdrawal and that its a normal thing but I also think that no matter how often someone tells you to “enjoy every moment because they aren’t going to be babies forever” you don’t really grasp it…

…until your cell phone rings one afternoon and its your wife’s # and when you answer, a lispy little girl voice excitedly says, “Daddy, my tooth was really loose at recess so I pulled it out.”

Yeah, Julianna also lost her first tooth.

That tooth loss I suppose is symbolic of this new transition…out with the baby stuff…in with the whatever is next stuff…

…like how to read.  So much for my wife and I spelling out things we don’t want the girls to understand.  Tonight at bedtime, we let the girls have a rare, school-night sleepover.  They love having sleepovers with each other and we often let them do it on the weekends but because today is Julianna’s birthday, we are having a special treat.  Normally, bedtime is one of my wife or I reading a book to each kid.  Tonight, Julianna insisted that she read the book and while its certainly a slower process, for the most part, she can actually do it.

Recently, while she was reading a book to me, she had apparently recently learned what a question mark was and went into a 5 minute long lecture on how they worked and how she was supposed to make her voice go “up like this”.  There are always moments when we can see “education” but this was one of the first display of a specific proper educational moment and another reminder that she’s growing up.

And then there’s Chloe.  Their relationship has just gotten stronger.  They are even better friends than they were last year at this time.  Many mornings, one of them wakes the other one up and we hear them playing with dolls or reading books to each other.  Its another thing where we’ve been told, “they won’t be this close forever.”  No complaints.  They are this close and continue to get closer.

They share with each other (most of the time), think about each other (most of the time), are learning how to compromise (some of the time), help each other and clearly love each other.  It is just super cool to watch them be together.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit and that’s because I typically don’t like to overthink these posts but rather just sort of type what I’m thinking.  This year has felt like year 1 of phase 2 and last year I felt like I had finally gotten comfortable with what parenting was all about…now I suppose we continue to learn and enjoy, again.

I’m sure there will be answers.

I’m sure there will be questions.

I’m sure it will be another great year where my first baby continues to give me wonderful things to be proud of.

Happy Birthday Julianna.

Love,

Daddy

 

Tooth

Julianna lost her first tooth today.  We’re all pretty excited.  It has been many years since I lost my baby teeth so I didn’t remember this part, or maybe things have changed, but apparently the Tooth Fairy writes personalized letters now…who knew?

[Full disclosure: She sent a handwritten note and I transcribed]

To my dearest Julianna,

Losing a tooth can be so much fun,

And losing your first is the very best one.

As your teeth fall out, I can come and collect them,

I will take care of each and every one like a precious gem.

I’m ever so quiet and come very late,

I’ll be careful to not wake you because sleep is so great,

Of course brushing your teeth is more important than ever,

But you already knew that because you seem to be so clever.

As your baby teeth fall out and your big teeth obey gravity,

Keep brushing and flossing so you don’t get a cavity.

Take care of your sister Chloe who I know you love dearly.

Congratulations and I’m very proud of you…

Love,

The Tooth Fairy

Today is the Day

I wake up each morning and just have to say,

Yesterday was something but Today is THE day.

With the vigor of sunrise and the flowers of May,

Today is the day I continue on my way.

 

Today is the day I will do something smart.

I will draw it or paint it or create some fine art.

I will type it or sculpt it or play it by heart.

Whatever it is, I’m sure to take part.

 

Today is the day I will do something right.

I’ll hold open doors and I will be polite.

I’ll be cheesy and corny and won’t even care.

I’ll run and jump and breathe the fresh air.

 

Today is the day I’ll be thankful for you.

And you and you and even you too.

The people around me, whether many or few,

I’m lucky to have them as part of my crew.

 

Today is the day to make some mistakes,

To get some things wrong, because those are the breaks.

I’ll learn from my faults because that’s what it takes,

To get a bit better by having some aches.

 

Today is the day to plan for tomorrow.

When I’ll go and I’ll climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I’ll move ahead and do so without sorrow,

Because what I learn today I’ll be able to borrow.

 

Yesterday’s tomorrow is where I am at,

And tomorrow’s yesterday is really just that.

I’ll get out and do something and be a success.

Because defining tomorrow is only a guess.

 

Today is the day to clean off the slate.

Today is the day with the most important date.

Today is the day to pull your own weight.

Today is the day to do something great.

 

 

 

 

Hidden Gems

So now we’re a few weeks into our family’s latest transitions.  I’ve written about these transitions as they related to the kids but haven’t written a ton about them solely from my perspective other than to essentially out myself as a huge baby with minor emotional instability issues.

To recap, Julianna started Kindergarten a few weeks ago and Chloe moved up (literally upstairs) in her school to the “oldest” classroom, Pre-K.  Age-wise, they’ve always been the same distance apart and last year there was 1 day a week when they weren’t both in the same place but now that’s changed significantly.  Chloe spends 3 days a week in Pre-K and 2 with our nanny.  Julianna spends 5 days a week in Kindergarten, in a different school, and 0 with our nanny.  3 days a week, Julianna takes a bus to the “sister school” affiliated with the school Chloe is in.  The girls might see each other outside but they aren’t in the same area.

Since they’ve been able to communicate and play independently, they’ve been tremendously close friends.  In tribute to what feels like a Little House on the Prairie TV show, they even call each other “sister” rather than by name.  They occasionally like to have sleepovers (always in Chloe’s bed because she has 2 bedrails and Julianna only has 1).  I even catch them cuddling every now and then when they think nobody is looking.  Needless to say, this school “separation” was another thing I was worried about for them; and also excited.  I was excited because I know that its important, particularly for Chloe, to branch out and do things on her own.  I was nervous because, well, they love each other and being around each other and have been “there” for each other without really knowing it.

It turns out that I can file that one under the “Matt, you shouldn’t worry about it” folder.  The 3 days a week Chloe goes to Pre-K, she comes with me to drop Julianna off at school.  She usually gets a “love you, bye” from Julianna and then she and I get 5 minutes alone together on the ride to her school.  She gets to pick all the music, she sings along, and she’s generally pretty pumped to get to school.  I think they enjoy their “own” time.  It turns out they get excited to come home and share their day with the other, to the best of their abilities.  Its fun to watch.

Both girls are doing great in their respective new school situations.  Next year, they will be back in the same school but for now, they seem to be enjoying the way things are.

It seems that the set of transitions is just about complete.  I wanted to sum them up in this post and then move on in future posts to the next set of things (which will undoubtedly include things like how to handle wild boys, drop-off parties, learning to read, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, etc).

There have been plenty of moments that went a different way than I would have thought or planned and others that have been right on.  Like with trying to sleep-train your babies, we’ve tried a variety of things to help along the way and gotten lots of help as well.  Some worked better than others.

  • We spent countless conversations talking up both Pre-K and Kindergarten for months leading up in the hopes that more information makes the future seem less cloudy, and maybe less scary.
  • The Pre-K teachers, who had Julianna last year, arranged to give Chloe the same “cubby” in the classroom so she was familiar with it when she arrived.
  • We attended orientations and playdates leading up to Kindergarten so Julianna could see the faces of her new classmates, almost all unfamiliar.
  • We bought new clothes.
  • Julianna got a brand new backpack from her grandparents (and we know how excited kids – and dads – get about backpacks).
  • Julianna stole a necklace.*

* Not exactly.  Sort of.  Side bar.

A number of months ago, I met someone.  Yes, like that.  Not really.  I’m a nerd for a living and met a guy (Matt Lauzon) who had started a company called Gemvara.  It is an online retailer for “Fine Jewelry, Custom Made.”   I had heard of the site but hadn’t used it.  Mother’s Day was rolling around and I was in the market for something different for my wife.

I took a look at the site, more closely this time, and found a necklace that I thought would be a nice mix of sentimental and “don’t kill me because I spent too much money”.  I ended up buying a simple sterling silver necklace with a pair of linked hearts on them.  Because of the whole “Custom Made” thing, I was able to choose a stone for each of the hearts.  I chose Aquamarine and Diamond (the birthstones for Julianna and Chloe respectively).  I liked it because it feels like an ungawdy way to have something that represented the kids.  My wife liked it too and it turns out that she did not kill me for spending too much money.  Anyhow, on the first day of Kindergarten, we let Julianna wear it.  We explained that there were 2 hearts, one for her and one for Chloe, each with a special gem attached.  We told her that if she got sad or lonely, she’d have the necklace on her neck and she could touch it and feel closer to her sister.

For 2.5 weeks she asked each morning if she could put it on.  We obliged.  Whatever it takes.

3 days ago she didn’t ask.

We didn’t offer.

Transition complete.

The other night, I asked Julianna if she wanted to help me write this post, or at least “contribute” in some way.  I explained what the blog was and how it was sort of like a diary I have been writing about her and her sister, and more specifically, recently, about Kindergarten.  I gave her my laptop, opened up a text editor, and asked her to type how she felt about Kindergarten.  She asked for help with some words and tried to sound out others.  I figured this would be a nice way to get a 5 year old’s perspective on the whole thing (please pardon her grammar and excessive spacebar usage).  The only editing I’ve done is to redact names of people she typed.  If you don’t think the following is cute, you need to get your head checked:

This is a story written by julianna:

i  love  you   chloe   and   mommy   anddaddy.
and  my   whole   famely.
love   julianna

sitting    next  to  [girl in class];

Knock knock.  Who’s there?
Interrupting cow.
Interrupting cow Mooooo! who?

my  friend  is   [girl in class]
and   [girl in class]   [girl in class from previous year]   and   miss [teacher]

love      julianna

dog  ‘s  are  my  sister  chloe  favorite  animal

I don’t know exactly how much the necklace helped her.  I don’t know how much any of the conversations or playdates or backpacks or anything else did either.  Ultimately, I’m reasonably sure they both love their new situations.

I find myself seeing new things, daily, that make me feel pretty proud of the way my girls are growing up, both together, and on their own.  It feels like we are all starting to settle into this new situation and that’s a feeling I’m happy to have.

At least until the next thing…

Kind of Garden

One and a half weeks ago I wrote about a “bit” of a transition happening in our household and a realization that my kids aren’t babies anymore.  I wrote about how Kindergarten for Julianna was, at that time, less than a week away, with some subtext about how I was essentially a “bit” freaked out.

That was then.  This is now.  Things have happened.  It is time for an update.

I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog that the Kindergarten transition for me was not an overly smooth one.  Most recently, in May, if you’ve been following the run-up to Kindergarten, I documented some of the orientation types of activities setup to prepare both the parents and the kids for this milestone.  I shall now quote for you a few pieces of important background information from that post:

See what you have to understand is, I had a really, really difficult time with drop-off in Kindergarten.  I remember this part of this time of my life vividly.  It is possible I’ve skewed it a bit in the 30 or so years since it happened but I remember being miserable and not allowing my parents to leave.  I remember crying endlessly and inconsolably in the elementary school hallway.  I don’t remember much else.

I also wrote this which took place immediately after Julianna started crying during the final orientation:

I watched the Guidance Counselor, an angel, offer to hold her hand, and then, use the magic words to get her “on board” with the program:   “Would you like to hold my clipboard?”

So as the days went by, leading up to THE day, I stopped sleeping, aged about 10 years, started talking to myself (out loud), had some back issues, grew more grey hair, ate gallons of icecream, and became a “cat lady”; all the while trying to keep a happy face on and talking with Julianna about how much fun Kindergarten was going to be.  We talked about all the great friends she’d make and all the great things she’d learn.  Generally speaking, she seemed rather pleased by the whole prospect but I’m no dope…I’ve heard this tune before…

THE day rolls around and the plan is set.  School started on a Thursday for Julianna.  There are multiple kindergarten classes in her school and the school splits the start up into 2 days, with half of the kids in each class going each day.  This is a nice way, so they say, for the kids to get to meet the teachers and some of the other kids without quite as much craziness.  There are 4 other girls from Julianna’s previous school who will attend the same school but only 1 in her actual class.  2 of those girls went on Wednesday, 3 would be there on Thursday, including Julianna.  We are hopeful that seeing familiar faces might help.  Thursday is also a day when our nanny comes over to spend the day with Chloe so that freed up my wife and I to both go to school and not have to worry about Chloe.  Also, hopefully working in our favor, is Julianna’s cousin, who had just started 1st grade in the same school.

The school’s plan is that on day 1, you arrive with your kids and wait in a courtyard in front of the school.  The courtyard is filled with more nervous energy than Fenway Park would have before a World Series Game 7.  There is lots of side swaying and sweaty palms and me crying.  There are also plenty of teachers and the aforementioned Guidance Counselor who saved the day last time.  Interestingly enough, she came over to say hi.  She remembered us.  Swell.  I tell her that I might embarrass myself today but one day I was likely to be the president of the PTO so she shouldn’t hold it against me…and also we might need her help.  She tells us she will be standing by.  The Principal then comes out and tells some jokes and tries to warm up the crowd and does all this while I pee in my pants in “anticipation”.

Then for the fun…he’s going to say the name of a teacher and then all the boys and girls in that teacher’s class should line up and “head on in!  YEE HAW!”  And Julianna starts crying but I’m holding it together.  Stay strong Matt.

“Please don’t leave me mommy.”

“Don’t leave me daddy.  I don’t want to go in.”

Another teacher is called and another group of kids make their way in; most reasonably cooperative.

The crying and grasping persist.  I try to figure out in my head what’s going to happen next.  I can tell that Julianna’s teacher is going to be last.  Finally, they call “our” teacher and most of the kids line up and get going.  Julianna, still less than enthusiastic about the whole thing, refuses.  The Guidance Counselor comes over for the assist and together we decide that one parent at a time, we will hand off.  As the class heads in (apparently there is an understanding that this one time, its better for everyone if a “child is left behind”), most of the parents are now starting to leave, their children having crossed the education threshold.  My wife and I decide that its best if I break off first.  I gave Julianna a hug, told her I loved her, and held myself together as she told me during the hug that she loved me, and I walked away.

I didn’t look back.  Eye contact would have been a disaster.  I went straight to the car and hoped for the best.  What felt like an hour but was probably just a minute later, my wife got in the car and I decided it was then safe for me to look to the courtyard in the distance.  It was empty.  Apparently, Julianna had gone in.

We headed home.  About 3 minutes after we got home, my cell phone rang.  Here we go…

Sidebar:  My mother would tell you that when I was in Kindergarten, she waited outside in her car, once I let her leave, because back then there were no cell phones and what if they needed her and what if I refused to cooperate?

So my cell phone rings and I’m about to get my car keys to head back but rather than do that I answer.  Of course, its the Guidance Counselor.  She is calling to tell me that Julianna is smiling and in her classroom.  They walked together past her cousin’s 1st grade class and she got a wave and that made her feel good.  The Guidance Counselor gave her a book to deliver to her teacher so she could feel like a helper and that made her even happier.  Yada yada, she’s fine and sitting in class.

[deep breath]

Next.  Moms and Dads are invited to come into class for the last 30 minutes of the first day.  We can meet the teachers and have our kids show us around the room.  I figure she’ll be in tears but instead she runs over, ear to ear smiling and extremely excited to show us all the things:  where her backpack goes (which is slightly bigger than her), her coat hook, the listening station, the sink, the rug for circle time, her desk, and even where the bathroom is.  She drags us over to introduce us to her teacher and even tells us she made a friend that day.

So that’s it?  She loves it all.  She is very excited to come back tomorrow (she says).

Of course, it gets more complicated tomorrow…because tomorrow there is no courtyard nonsense.  Tomorrow isn’t a dress rehearsal.  Tomorrow is a drive-up-to-the-dropoff-circle-and-she-jumps-out day.

Tomorrow arrives, and the plan today is that it will just be Julianna and I.  The day before, after Day 1, we worked on learning how to unbuckle herself and how to open her own car door.  She seemed excited to try it out.  I don’t fully understand how this is supposed to work at drop-off but there is a very tight and specific window when kids who aren’t arriving via bus are dropped off.  We head out and on the ride over, I’m trying to keep the conversation lite.  I’m hoping that the Guidance Counselor will be in the area to help.  I’m hoping that there won’t be other cars in the dop-off circle that beep or try to hurry us if we run into any problems.  I’m hoping that it won’t be quite as bad as the day before.  I’m hoping that she’ll see a friend she recognizes heading in and that will make it easier.

We turn into the school area and find ourselves in the line of cars waiting to drop their kids off.  I tell her that, truthfully, I’m not exactly sure where I’m supposed to drive to and how it will work but I’m sure it will be another fun day.

We see the circle and I figure out how I think it works.  We happen to see some buses pull in and across the way, in one of the buses, Julianna sees her cousin again.  This is a good sign.  My niece gets off the bus and heads on with the stream of kids.  Slowly but surely we make our way up the line…

And then we start to enter the circle…here we go…deep breath Matt…

“Ok Julianna, when I stop the car ahead, you can unbuckle.”

Our turn.  I put the car in park and look back.

“Okie dokie, time to go.”

She looks at me.  Unbuckles.  Hops out of her seat, and starts to work the door.  I have her school bag in the front with me so I lean over and push the passenger side front door open.  She gets her door open, looks back at me with a big “I did it” smile and gets out.

She closes her door and moves to the front.

I hand her the backpack and lean over for a kiss.

I say, “Have a great day.  I love you.”

She says, “Love you too daddy.”

She puts her backpack on, waves, and starts to walk off with “the stream”.

There is pressure to keep the cars moving so I start to slowly move.

She looks back, smiles ear-to-ear, waves, and turns to go in.

And just like that, I have a Kindergartener.

The Human Condition

running

The human condition encompasses the unique features of being human. It can be described as the irreducible part of humanity that is inherent and not dependent on factors such as gender, race or class. – Wikipedia

It is an odd thing recently.  When I first became a parent I found it a little puzzling; this whole “child” thing.  I’d spent years as a summer camp counselor so I figured I would be nicely equipped for dealing with a baby and it turns out, at least I think, that I was sort of right.  I feel like I understand kids and with my own, as I’m sure many other parents would say, I feel like I can almost read their minds…now.  There are the sleepless nights and the constant worrying and the what does that sound mean and the I can’t believe you let me walk around the neighborhood with a shit stain on my shirt from the last diaper change and the I think I just got a smile and the get over here quick she’s walking and the I think she said ‘dada’ moments.

Life with a baby, and then less than 13 months later, with an additional baby, is “complicated”.  When I was single life was more often than not about “me”.  When I got married life became more about “us”.  When Julianna was born it was more about “her”.  When Chloe was born it was more about “them”.

But its an odd thing recently.  Julianna is now 5 1/2 years old and Chloe is 4 1/2.  Today, Julianna had her last “real” day in the preschool that she’s been in for 4 years.  She graduated from Pre-K.  When we went to pick them up from school today, my wife went out to the playground to greet them and I went into the school to get their stuff.  When I went to Julianna’s cubby, there was a new name tag waiting for me (for next week’s transition): “Chloe”.

And I had a moment…

Julianna was done with this stage and Chloe was about to enter her last in preschool.

For the last 4 years, we’ve had transitions but none of felt like the one we’re all in now.  When they both started at preschool they were pre-talking and pre-walking.  They certainly couldn’t articulate their thoughts or emotions or feelings or anything.  Each transition since then has been a bit easier than the one before.  This is largely due to them not only knowing the building that they go to but also having more and more familiar faces in the teachers and the friends they’ve both made.  While they’ve never been in the same classroom, they’ve had each other in the school and they both know it.

This is about to change.

Julianna starts Kindergarten in less than a week.  The nerd/geek/dork part of me is psyched because I loved school and think she’s going to love it too.  The parent in me thinks that its probably a really good thing for the girls to have some time apart.  Julianna has gone to preschool 4 days a week and Chloe for 3 so they’ve already had 1 day apart and its been fine but this is different.  This is 5 days a week when they won’t be in the same place.

I can’t tell if they’ve put that together yet.  While they are very different from each other, they are extremely close.  They love having sleepovers together and love playing with each other.  They are close like twins but without that secret and non-verbal communication thing so many twins have.  They argue, hug, team up on babysitters, share (mostly), and generally act like they are best friends.

To focus on Julianna for a moment, she’s having the harder time with this whole kindergarten thing.  Recently she said that she was nervous about kindergarten because it would mean that she wouldn’t get to see us as much and that she was nervous that her friends wouldn’t all be there.  We’ve gone over it with her a bunch of times to try and get her to understand that the routine changes and that she’ll get to make new friends but that she’ll still get to play with the friends she already has.  We’ve explained that the time with us literally doesn’t change and that the difference is that she just goes to a different school and how much fun its all going to be.

I think she gets it, sort of, but I imagine its very overwhelming…and by imagine, I mean, its very overwhelming for me so it has to be worse for her.  I think we are all nervous for this next big step but also pretty excited.  I’m sure there will be tears shed, and likely from Julianna as well.

Every time I start working myself up about these things, I realize that they aren’t babies anymore.  They are real, thinking, feeling, human beings.  They have the ability to reason and discuss and be logical (mostly).

I’m not exactly sure when it happened, and while I’ll likely always feel like they are my babies, I suppose its time to admit to myself that they actually aren’t anymore.  They’re human; all 10 combined years of them.