Friday, September 24, 2010

To Sydney, On Your 5th Birthday


You are 5 years old today. It's hard to believe that it's only been 5 years since I first held you, first stroked your dark, curly hair, first shared you with another person. Then again, it seems like you've always been with us.

What a year this has been. I've said that every September for the past 5 years, I know, but the last 365 days have been filled to bursting with every sort of milestone and celebration. Last year I wrote about my feelings about your upcoming graduation from Abeona House, and your move to Big School; I simply could not imagine how we would all handle such a major change. But you, you amazing and brave and powerful little girl, handled the transition with complete grace. On the last Friday in May you walked down the ramp at Abeona House, giggling with your friend Amaya, and took the certificate Ms. Emmy handed you; 3 days later I left you in a crowd of strangers at a summer camp across the river. You looked so tiny sitting there amid all the bigger kids, with your princess backpack and princess sneakers, but when the time came you kissed me goodbye and took a seat on the floor with your group, arms crossed over the tops of your knees. I stepped outside and watched through the window as you sat quietly, taking it all in. Watching you there made me feel relieved and proud, of course, but it also made me acutely aware of your inner life: what was going on in your little mind? What mysteries were swirling around in there? For the first time ever I experienced you as separate from me. There are things about you I will never know, thoughts I will never be privy to, feelings that will remain hidden.

But here is what I do know: you are fierce, you are fiercely loving, you are a social creature but tend to be shy and reserved around people you don't know well. You are left-handed, and this causes me a ridiculous amount of anxiety with regard to the logistics of teaching you how to tie your shoes. You are keenly aware of rules and like to know whether or not you are following them. You love to draw and paint, to do puzzles, to read, to sing, and create menus and serve meals to me from your play kitchen in the little house outside.

You are very girly; every day you must wear a dress. I know my wardrobe disappoints you.

You are starting to read and write. You started a "dream book" recently, wherein you record the important ones, or the ones you manage to remember; I help you occasionally with the words but you like to sound out and spell the words as much as you can. Your first story is called "The Scary" and reads: "I was in my bedroom. I fell in a tunnel. I was scared. I met a princess. She told me the way out."

You have a gigantic personality. Everyone who knows you knows that booty dance you do when you get really worked up, your infectious laughter, your VOLUME. They also probably know your sweetness, your sensitivity, the way your little hand rests on the back of the younger child you're guiding across the playground. They've undoubtedly seen what Dad calls your "troll face," which we see a couple of times a day, sometimes more if you're tired or if Evan is getting on your nerves more than usual.

There was a lot of Katrina talk over the last few months, as we approached the 5-year anniversary, and you've seemed more and more curious about--and proud of--the story of your birth. We talk about how Dad and I left New Orleans that Sunday morning, and you seem particularly interested in the fact that we didn't bring any of your baby stuff, except for the car seat. I explain to you that bringing the seat was a last minute impulse, and seemed at the time to be a ridiculous waste of precious car space, and I watch you struggle to understand why we didn't know what was coming. We talk about living in Houston with Aunt Syd and Uncle Parry, how I found a new doctor and we got all set to have you there, how PaPa even made you a basinette while we all waited for you to be born. You have a hard time understanding that Miranda and Josephine, who live with Nana and PaPa, were actually our cats before the storm, how they moved with me and Dad from New Orleans but had to go back with your grandparents when they left Houston a couple of weeks later. We talk about the other hurricane, the one that came to Houston and forced us to leave a few days after you were supposed to be born but hadn't yet arrived, how we drove for 3 days until we reached Grandma's house in Orlando. You like hearing how you were born the day after we arrived, at the same hospital in which your beloved cousin Ethan was born. As you get older I see you developing an awareness of the special nature of your story, which is fun to watch. How many people can claim such an interesting beginning?

You draw me lots of pictures and somewhere on almost every one of them are the words "I Love You." I hope you hear this often enough.

Thank you for choosing us, for challenging me to be a better person, for bringing us such incredible joy. Even our difficult days are so important, so precious. I hope you will read this 15 or 20 years from now and know, deep in your bones, the wonderful gift you are and how much you are loved.

Happy Birthday to my big girl.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010


From Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek":

Thomas Merton wrote, "There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues." There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have "not gone up into the gaps." The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzilingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound...Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock--more than a maple--a universe. This is how you spend the afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you.