Monday, February 27, 2012

My Dad

"In our most trivial walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course, we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned around--for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost,--do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature [...] Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."
-HDT, The Village

Over President's Day weekend, I flew out to see my family, but most specifically, to see my dad after his stroke. He'd been in a rehabilitation center for about 10 days, and out another few days when I arrived. My excuse was to go out and help my parents in whatever way I could. Really, I have no doubt that the trip was more for me than anyone else, and the only thing I probably really did to "help" was to diminish my own feeling of complete helplessness that comes after such an event, especially when one lives 1000 miles away at the time.

One of the biggest struggles I have had, aside from this penetrating helplessness, was the inability to understand what condition my father was in. There's a lot of funny things about the brain, I'm learning...both as it is affected by a stroke, and as it's affected by emotion. There is only one way I know Dad. He's always been a constant, and to hear about this altered is very hard to imagine. I understood that he was having a great deal of difficulty speaking, that he couldn't read or write, that he was quiet and struggling through conversations. The problem was that my brain simply couldn't apply those descriptions to my dad. I alternated back and forth between assuming he was exactly like normal, but perhaps a bit forgetful and imagining he was much worse off than I knew he was. I was able to Skype with him about two weeks before I flew out, on his first day of rehab, and I have to say I was really shocked. There he was, right in between these two fluctuations, in a place my imagination had been unable to take me. He was still him, but he was really struggling.

Going out to see him was such a blessing. I think in some ways, I have it easier than my siblings and mom (and Dad!) who watch the progress more closely and see it day by day. For me, to come out later and see him was a huge blessing because he was doing much better than last I had seen him, and it again gave me some perspective about where he was. All the therapy (speech, occupational, and physical) he had received in the rehabilitation center had obviously done a lot of good (as much as he claimed to hate it). He can hold a conversation better, though he still halts and has to search for certain words. He's got a lot of work to do, but he's come such a long way, too. The kids and I already had plans to go out in March, before this other trip, so I am looking forward to seeing even more progress.

That said, it's funny how the brain works. I got to take him to some of his therapy sessions while I was down, just to kind of see what's going on, and also to let Mom have a break (though, as an aside, she is just go-go-going. I don't know how she's held up so well, considering her own health and some other news she got around the same time). It was really fascinating to hear the sorts of things he struggles with (on one day, if you asked him a yes/no question with "after" in it, he could get it right, but if you re-worded it to have "before" in it, he'd get it wrong), and to wonder how that miraculous organ up there works at all. At the same time, just in the five days I was there, I could see improvement in lots of areas--physical, linguistic, emotional, etc.

It's funny too--I love my dad immensely, and have always had a sense of pride to call him mine, but I am really proud of the way he is working too. Sure, he's still my favorite cantankerous old goat that doesn't like to do certain things, but at the same time, he is working hard too, and I would watch him think hard in speech, or sit and do his therapy homework forever if I could, because it gives me so much joy that he's working so hard to get back where he was.

My favorite part of the trip though was probably his birthday, which was the same weekend. It was so nice to celebrate a man who has lived a quiet life full of goodness and faith, teaching and learning, giving and love, to be there with all my siblings and my parents and recognize what a blessing it is to have this good, good man in our lives another year, and, God willing, many more to come.

Happy 68th to an amazing man! 


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

To my son, on his 3rd birthday....

Dear Little Bird,
Three already? How can this possibly be? I will probably say it every year as long as I live, but I simply cannot understand how time moves so quickly and how quickly you change into a bigger someone than I knew just the day before. How can I write all that has happened in the last year when my memory is so weak that it tells me with certainty you were swaddled up in my arms just moments ago? shall I describe you at your third birthday? You are...complicated. I really do enjoy this about you, because it means you are turning into a little person, and not just a baby or a toddler. You have traits that make your personality round and complete, and it often makes me wonder what you will be like when you are grown. To list the traits that (at present) most come up when describing you, I would say (in no particular order) you are: funny (hilarious, really), imaginative, ornery, delightful, intelligent, sympathetic, stubborn, determined, resourceful, pensive, deliberate, charming, and affectionate. (Though I will also add that the inadequacy of this list is really striking.)

I am sometimes surprised or delighted (or driven to the brink of my sanity) at the way you can so quickly change moods. When you and I don't get along, it is almost always because one of these mood swings has overcome you.

If you learned the power of your will before your second birthday, you learned the power of your voice this year. You have learned to sass, and how! Let me say here that many people, myself included, have been impressed by how well you speak, and how well you have spoken since you began. You are ahead of your peers, the charts that say what you should do, and ahead of where your sister was at this age when it comes to your expressive language. Like most two and three year-olds, you experience frustration from time to time. This happens for any reason from not being allowed to do or have something you want, to being overcome with large emotions like sadness or pain. However, unlike most two and three year-olds, you have a rather refined vocabulary at your disposal to use on me for expressing anger, telling the reason for your sadness, and trying to convince others why you are "right."

Again, while I am grateful for the gift of language you have, I am not always grateful for it's outcomes when my two year old can expressly tell me why he should be able to do something, or how he categorically refuses to be disciplined in any way. Sometimes I am delighted by your expressions of emotional depth, and at others even a little concerned. (Happily, there is still plenty of humor to be found in these instances, such as the time you told me while traveling back from Phoenix and stopping at a McDonald's for Happy Meals, "Actually, Mom, I would prefer a Sad Meal."

Or when you looked your Dad squarely in the face with narrowed eyes after he informed you that spitting was inappropriate and told him, "You are not my father." While I smothered my laughter at your far too advanced assault, he simply cocked his head and said, "Hmmm...I thought I'd have a few more years before you started in with that one.")

On the positive side of the language skills, I absolutely relish the conversations we have. You have started to ask why and how things happen, and unfortunately I usually give you answers that are too complicated. This is good though, because then I get to hear your magical explanations of why the clouds really move, or why the sun comes out in the day (it's afraid of the dark). You have also been telling stories for a while now. Your stories have plot and character, and usually are full of Halloween-type characters like witches and monsters and "ghosties." (You love "spooky" stuff and spend all your time at the library each week looking for the books with the Halloween stickers.) You have also entered one of my very favorite periods of language development, the "I wish" stage, where you will randomly tell me things that you wish you could do, like be a racecar, or go back to Disneyland and "ride that rocket ride." I love this insight into your thoughts and imagination.

You know your letters and most of their sounds. You love mixing up letters and telling me what they "spell." You can count higher each day. You like to draw and paint and have discovered the apparently deep satisfaction that comes with using a pair of scissors (so far only on paper and some clothing, but I'm certain your or your sister's hair will find its way between the blades all too soon...). You run, you jump, you climb stairs, you throw and kick balls, ride a bike, fly like a superhero, fall, and wrestle. Sometimes you punch or bite. Often you "karate" and sword fight. This year, you have learned (and take enormous pride in) dressing yourself, how to climb on the countertops, how to use the toilet (though, as in many things with you, sir, I have learned that your ability to do something and your willingness to do so are very often not aligned), how to play with children your own age, and how to stand up for yourself.

You are sensitive. If I snap at your behavior, I can see you melt like a popsicle in summer right before me. If you are hurt, mommy kisses almost always remedy the situation immediately. You sleep hard, making up for all that hard play and big emotion: we must never wake you from a nap, because to do so awakens an antagonizing dragon-child. If we let you wake on your own, even if the difference is minutes, you are snuggly and pleasant and cheerful.

This year, you love Cars, space, dinosaurs, cooking, Charlie and Lola, monsters and ghosts, reading, rough-housing, your sister and baby brother on the way (whom you yell to in my belly), your daddy, and the great outdoors.

And, as always, what I love deeply this year is you: your growth, your charm, your humor, your intelligence, your all-consuming smile, and even your obstinance. You are simply you, and I wouldn't have it any other way, my sweet, hilarious, complicated, boy.

All my love in this year and forever,