Here are some of the highlights of my visit to meet three-month-old Niecie in Colorado. I taught her to swim:
She’s a natural. Here she is, practicing her backstroke with Mommy.
She’s a very, very alert little girl. When she’s awake, she hardly blinks. At all. It’s a little bit spooky, to tell the truth. Here we are at my aunt and uncle’s house, about to share one of many yummy meals they provided.
Aunt and Uncle have a free range moose in their neighborhood. Here he is, eating saplings in their front yard. I hoped to see him, but didn’t get a chance.
We left Niecie with her daddy, and Sis and I went to Steamboat Springs for an afternoon. We took a dip in the hot springs, and then went out for a late lunch of some of the best fish tacos I’ve ever had.
We crossed the Continental Divide, twice.
We went to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where we climbed many steps.
(The view is totally worth it.)
We went disc golfing, until Niecie had a meltdown.
We had a lovely dinner and overnight with Brother and Soon-to-Be Aunt K. (Not pictured.)
I survived the last leg of the flight home, in a tiny 10-seat Cessna 402 in the rain, with zero visibility, bouncing all over the sky, and I did not cry or puke or even scream (though it was close). I might have whimpered a bit. I definitely prayed.
And now I’m so glad to be home with my own little family. I missed them so much!
I am still in Colorado with Niecie, having a great time visiting family, going to hot springs, disc golfing, and eating copious amounts of Mexican food, but I have to share this story Penelope just told me about Hank’s performance at church this morning. They were in their pew at the start of the service, when Hank started quietly saying, “Giraffe, giraffe.” (There is a giraffe painted on the wall of the church nursery.) Penelope whispered back that he could go to the nursery when the pastor finished talking (at the break between the children’s sermon and the sermon, when the choir sings an anthem). Well, sure enough, when the minister stops speaking, Hank runs into the aisle to meet Mrs. M, who minds the nursery. He walks with her up the aisle toward the door at the front of the sanctuary, past the whole congregation, and he’s calling, “Amen, Amen, Amen!” the whole way. Of course everyone laughed, which only encouraged him. Boy, oh, boy, where did a couple of hermits like us get this crazy, funny, hammy kid?
I brought Hank to Grammy’s this morning, just like I do every work day. To Hank, of course, this is like every other day, and the instant we were out of the car, he was off to the races, eager to get to his favorite books and toys and play with Grammy. To me, though, it was bittersweet. I was headed not to work, but to the airport. I’m flying to Denver to meet my three month old niece, and Hank and Penelope aren’t coming with me.
I’m thrilled to meet Niecie and to see my siblings and extended family. These visits are too few and too far between. It’s just that it’s so hard to leave my baby, even for just a few days. And the fact that he doesn’t understand enough to give me a real goodbye is rough. This afternoon, when I don’t come back to pick him up, will he be afraid? When I’m not there to give him dinner or kiss him goodnight, will he be hurt? I can’t stand to think about it. How did mothers bear to leave their babies before Skype?
Whenever I hear the saying, “Patience is a virtue,” I always add, “but not one of mine.” I am, and always have been, an instant gratification girl. I love the internet, because the moment a question pops into my head, I can get an answer in seconds. This need for instant gratification takes a toll on my wallet, of course: I shudder to think how much money I could save if there were no such thing as Amazon’s One-Click purchasing option.
Yet even as technological advances make it ever easier to indulge my every fleeting, consumerist whim, there remain many things in life that happen in their own time, and no amount of wishing and hoping and bashing my impatient head against the walls will speed up the process. And so, with very little grace and a great deal of frustration, I wait.
Hank is also learning about waiting and patience, with roughly the same levels of grace and frustration as his Mumma. We live about a block from a small regional hospital, which is visited on occasion by a life flight helicopter. When this helicopter takes off and lands, it flies directly over our neighborhood, filling our house with a racket similar to the noise made by an off-balance washing machine, only much louder. Penelope and I had always considered this noise pollution one of the drawbacks of our current address, until Hank took notice of the helicopter’s visits, and then it became a perk.
Whenever he hears the “copter,” he runs to the door and starts begging to go outside and watch it fly overhead. We bring him out onto the porch or lawn, and he erupts into paroxysms of delight. He points and shrieks with excitement, and he will spend hours (even days) enthusiastically retelling the story to anyone who will listen, reciting his entire helicopter-related vocabulary: “copter,” “loud,” “high,” “up,” “watch,” “fun,” “fly,” “vrrrroooom!” His excitement is infectious, and now when we hear the distant lub-lub-lub of the approaching chopper, we all drop whatever we are doing and run out to the lawn to watch the show.
The only problem is that Hank doesn’t understand that the helicopter doesn’t come and go at his mamas’ command. His nascent personality is developing a strong tendency toward perseverance. Unlike most toddlers, he is not easily distracted by another toy or activity, and he is not easily persuaded to wait: like me, when he wants something, he wants that thing, and he wants it Right.Now.
Sometimes, he wakes up in the morning with the helicopter at the forefront of his thoughts. We wake to hear him over the baby monitor, babbling in his crib: not the usual cheerful, chirping chorus of “milk” and “monkey” which are generally his first concerns upon waking (he has a monkey lovey from which he is inseparable, at least when he is tired), but a more plaintive and insistent “copter, copter, copter.” Days like that tend to get a little rocky, because there is no reasoning with him. If the helicopter doesn’t happen to visit, he will spend hours standing by the door hopefully, waiting, while his mamas try to interest him instead in breakfast, stories, music, toys. Any distraction we manage is only temporary. Sooner or later, he goes back to the door to ask, once again, for his “copter.” It breaks my heart a little bit not to be able to give him what he wants, or even to bargain with him as we do so often in other circumstances: One more story, and then it’s time for bed. Eat your broccoli, and then you can have more blueberries. Today is Tuesday; we go to the pool on Fridays. We can’t tell him, “It’s time for lunch, now, but the helicopter will come when you finish your carrots.”
I know that too much instant gratification makes for a spoiled kid with a nasty sense of entitlement. I know it’s good that Hank is learning that he can’t always get what he wants, and that some good things are worth waiting for. I know I can stand to keep learning those lessons, myself. It’s just that waiting is soooooooooooo damn HARD!
Tomorrow is Tax Day. Well, technically, Tuesday is Tax Day, because tomorrow is Sunday and Monday is a holiday no one outside of the District of Columbia has ever heard of (Emancipation Day — other states celebrate Emancipation Day, but not on April 16). But because I have a full time job, tomorrow might as well be tax day: I’ve got to get these suckers done today.
Now, lest you all think I am a terrible procrastinator, I want to note for the record that I filed our federal tax returns way back on February 2, the day the last of the W-2′s arrived in the mail. All that remains is our Vermont taxes, and my problem is not that I am a procrastinator, but that I am passive aggressive. Filing my Vermont taxes pisses me off, and not because I’m anti-taxation or anti-government, or because I’m not expecting a refund, or any of that. No, it’s because I’m gay.
Wait! You’re thinking, “Isn’t Vermont one of those pinko commie hippie fringe states where the gays marry and have babies and all that?” Why, yes, it is: Vermont was the first state to enact civil unions back in 2000, and the first state to legislate marriage equality (in 2009), and not have it decreed by judicial fiat. I was actually a spectator in the State House the day the House of Representatives voted to override then-Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of the Marriage Equality bill, and I don’t think I have ever been prouder to be a Vermonter.
So I know I shouldn’t be so snarky about my State taxes. I know my wife and I are blessed to be able to file our taxes as a married couple, and if I am going to be passive aggressive about anything, I should aim my wrath and frustration at the IRS. It’s just that it’s so much work. I have to file our federal taxes first, dividing up the various deductions and credits to which our family is entitled so that we can maximize our refund. That usually means calculating the taxes several times over, figuring out whether it makes the most sense for Penelope or I to file as head of household, which one of us gets to itemize the mortgage deductions, which one of us gets to take the child tax credit, and so on. It’s time consuming, and if we could file as married and just lump all of our various deductions and credits together, I’d be happy to do it, even if we didn’t get quite as much money back.
Then, I write letters of protest to include with our Forms 1040, explaining that while we are signing the forms “under penalties of perjury” and declare the financial calculations to be “true, correct, and accurate,” we cannot warrant that “all statements” are true and correct because we know our filing status (“single” and “head of household,” respectively) to be false. I’ve enclosed these letters with our tax forms three years running, but so far I’ve never gotten a response from Uncle Sam.
Anyway, after I do all that, I have to do it all again for the Vermont taxes. There is a box on the Vermont Tax Return form that says “Check here if using Recomputed Federal Return information,” and what that means is, I have to check that box, draft fake federal returns as “married filing separately,” and base all of our State tax information based on these “recomputed” federal returns.
I have spent a lot of time over the years bitching and moaning about the injustice of it all, and periodically, someone will interrupt my rant to ask why I don’t just pay someone to do my taxes like everyone else. The answer is that it is offensive enough that I have to waste my own time drafting FAKE tax returns: I’m hardly going to spend good money to pay someone else to do it.
When I was growing up, my mother dressed us in crisp new outfits and bundled us off to church twice a year, on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve. For a few years, my religious education was expanded to include an after school program at the Methodist church on Wednesday afternoons, but my motivation in attending was only that my best friend was going, and my mother’s motivation in sending me was that it meant she got an extra hour to herself every week. Despite this spotty upbringing, I knew that, when I had my own kids, I wanted our family to be part of a faith community, and here’s why.
1. Community: Penelope and I are newcomers to a small town where most of the locals grew up here and already know everyone. While we were attending grad school and settling in to our present careers, we moved seven times in ten years, and in the course of all of that transition, we learned that when you find yourself adrift in a new place, church is where you go to meet people and to get involved in community events. The best part is that church is familiar: so long as you stick within your chosen denomination (we’re Congregationalists), services are more or less the same all across the country. No matter how disorienting your relocation — perhaps the climate is not what you’re used to, perhaps everyone has an accent, perhaps you haven’t yet figured out where to buy your groceries or get your hair cut or check out library books — if you go to church, you will have at least one hour in which you will feel a sense of belonging, of welcome, of home.
2. Music: Music used to be an integral part of our culture. Before we all had televisions with hundreds of on demand channels, people made their own entertainment at community events where everyone would sing, and everyone knew the songs. If you ever have a chance, go to a Sacred Harp/Shape Note sing near you to get a sense of what those events were like: I promise, that music will knock your socks off. (See, for example: www.fasola.org .) Music played an integral part in the civil rights movement: Imagine the Montgomery Bus Boycott without “We Shall Overcome.” These days, though, the only place where people regularly gather together to sing is at church, and even there, we’re not as good at it as we used to be. Penelope and I want our kids to know the power of human voices raised in praise, not anger. Even if you don’t have a prodigious musical talent (and I certainly don’t), there is value to learning to sing with other people: you learn to listen to others, to make your voice blend with the group, you develop confidence to stand up straight, lift your head high, open your mouth and pour forth a joyful noise.
3. Behavior: Our 18-month-old son has been going to church since he was three weeks old, and already, he knows how to behave. Our church has a nursery where he can escape when he’s not able to sit still, but he doesn’t always need it. He knows that when the organist starts the prelude and the choir sweeps up the aisle, it’s time to settle down and sit quietly. He doesn’t always make it through the sermon, but he can generally be counted on to behave through the opening prayer and hymn, call to confession, and the children’s sermon. During the children’s sermon, he’s learning how to speak for himself in front of a crowd (a task that makes many adults quaver with fear), how to listen to a teacher or pastor, and how to respond appropriately (yes, socratic method works for toddlers, too, in very small doses!) — all years before he will be old enough for school. Then, he goes off to nursery, where he learns how to play with other children, how to respectfully enjoy books and toys that aren’t his, how to behave for caregivers other than his mamas or grandmothers, how to clean up the nursery when the service is over.
4. Respect for Differences: We attend church with all kinds of people: people who are much older than Hank’s grandparents, people who get around using walkers and wheelchairs, people with glasses and hearing aids, people of different colors, temperaments, shapes, and sizes. I grew up without much opportunity to interact with people other than my parents and their friends, and so to this day I harbor a private unease around the very old or very ill, but not Hank: he loves them all, and they all adore him.
5. Christianity is a Cultural Touchstone: We would like our children to be people of faith, but even if it doesn’t work out that way, even if Hank rejects Christianity, this teaching is not wasted. Even if you don’t believe that Christ was born the Son of God, that He lived and walked and taught among us, that He died for our sins and is risen, as we may be — even if you reject all that, it’s still a damn great story. This morning as I listened to our Pastor tell of the Passion according to Matthew, and I was seized anew by the drama of the tale. I can only imagine how Judas’s hands must have trembled under the table at that Passover Seder, as Jesus broke the bread and announced that one of the twelve then eating together would betray him. “Woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him not to have been born!” Imagine Peter’s guilt when he realizes that Jesus’s prophesy has come true: that despite his professed loyalty, Peter did indeed betray Him three times before the cock crowed in the morning! That’s great stuff!
You may be the most rational, dyed-in-the-wool atheist around, but like it or not, Christianity and the Bible have shaped our culture, our history, even our language. If you don’t have a basic knowledge of religious parables, you won’t understand half of what’s going on when you try to read Milton, Shakespeare, Chaucer, or any of the other canons of English Literature. You won’t understand the poetry of Emily Dickinson or Gerard Manley Hopkins. You won’t understand hundreds of everyday idioms that come from scripture: a house divided against itself cannot stand, an eye for an eye, as old as Methuselah, beat swords into plowshares, by the skin of your teeth, give up the ghost, how the mighty are fallen, my cup runneth over, out of the mouths of babes… I could go on and on, but I won’t.
6. It’s Fun: Today, as I mentioned, is Palm Sunday. Our service began with the children of the congregation parading around the sanctuary, waving palm fronds and shouting loud hosannas. Hank was so excited, the smile on his face literally brought tears to my eyes. I took this photo on the drive home. You can tell he’s exhausted, more than ready for his morning nap, but the palms are still fascinating. He calls them “flowers,” and he will enjoy them (under close supervision) until he’s ripped them to shreds with his toddler-love. For me, a new favorite Easter tradition is born.