Birthday Hello

Here comes the birthday blueberry crisp!

Today is Owen’s birthday. Most of our kids came home last weekend to celebrate August birthdays. That would be Owen and me, both Leos. We celebrated a little early this year. Twenty four years ago, on August 17th, Owen was my best present for my 30th birthday. So on Saturday Bronwyn and Oskar put up balloons and streamers, and Freya and her boyfriend Keir made blueberry crisp. Edward grilled lamb, and Daric brought some gorgeous gerbera daisies and also a very nice bottle of rye whiskey from his wife Jamie. The meal was the perfect birthday present for me: dinner table conversation is my favorite form of social life, and listening to the Simons children tell their stories, banter, tease, and support each other warms my heart. I can’t tell, but I think Owen may feel the same.

It’s my new custom is to decorate the fridge with photos in honor of the family birthday person. During the week before, I had dredged up sweet and funny photos of Owen from babyhood to now.  Coming into contact with his childhood innocence was powerful – and a big help I found as I tried to keep patience during some of our not-walks last week. But looking at old photos of my kids has its drawbacks. As delightful as it is to remember the childhood beings you may have forgotten, seeing them again captured in ink or pixels brings a sharp awareness of things lost. You will never go back, to those little people, and although you may look and remember, you will never know them (hear them, squeeze them, smell them) again.


I find the subtext of any event in August these days is wistfulness for the end of holidays, and for coming farewells. I used to look forward to the start of school, buying supplies with the kids, sharing their excitement at new classes, and anticipating more peaceful moments for myself. And before that, September meant new beginnings for myself, the discovery  of new worlds that my new classes meant.  Now it means deep breathing. Practicing not being clingy, learning the careless smile when tears threaten. Saying goodbye gracefully as the kids move farther and farther afield. Emotional honesty is not a boon in every arena, Wystan dear.

Learning to say goodbye is a critically important skill that begins with babies and peek-a-boo.  I have had a lot of opportunity to practice it, from the time that my family moved away from Chicago and a huge extended family to a little college town in Pennsylvania. I still remember sitting on my Grandma Mary’s lap a last time before we left, her arms around me in the moonlight out in the garden (for some reason my folks thought it would be easier to drive through the night, something they never repeated). I wondered to my grandma why her eyes were so wet behind her glasses. I can’t remember what she told her seven year old grand-daughter, who was only excited about the adventure ahead.

Frequent practice does not seem to have improved my aptitude. Somehow I don’t think that’s how it works. As I prepared to bid farewell to my girls on Sunday, I thought of my Grandma Lucy and how she greeted us every time we returned to her home with “Rabbit’s friends and relations!” (Grandma Lucy was a fan of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh), and how at every parting she cried. We made that journey, with joy and tears, to and from Chicago many, many times. Owen didn’t get to meet Grandma Lucy. But he did make the acquaintance of his great-Grandma Mary, who was pretty sprightly most of the way to 97. How many hellos and goodbyes, in that near century of hers.

This weekend Oskar ,our youngest, heads off to his first year of college. Then there will be three of us for dinner, but since our kids did high school boarding school away, we learned last year to manage and enjoy. I have a full and rich life of my own. It’s just the actual facing the loss, the change happening, that is so painful.

“Nostalgia is a trap!” my mother said once. And she was too right. Now is the only time that we have, that is real.  Not those old photos of chubby cheeks, or boxes of little clothes, or those sweet and funny sayings lisped and scrawled down and pinned to the refrigerator. This moment, today, and what you decide to do with it, is alive.  And in truth I wouldn’t change out any of my kids’ future growth for a return to childhood sweetness — not even with Owen. It is too important to see where they are going, and how truly human they can become. Human beings are born to mothers every day, but truly human beings emerge only through the fires and floods of experience, and by learning to love something greater than oneself and one’s own agenda. Owen may be on his own special trajectory, but he too can learn, if ever so slowly.

This August however a new chapter unfolds for Edward and myself, that may change once again the way I feel about August.  Call it the natural reward for raising and releasing children, not to mention trying to become more truly human myself.  Or the best of birthday presents. If all goes well, and my Owen sitter works out, I will have the privilege of holding a grand-daughter out in Denver, in this our shared birthday month. I will snuggle her, and try to get acquainted, and sing to her my hopes for her future, before we say goodbye. I will probably cry, as my grandmothers did.  Joy, loss, growth, joy. Time never stands still.






The Strength of Ten Grinches – Plus Two


My sister already asked me way back at the beginning of the month what I am going to do about Owen this Christmas. She means, what am I going to do to stop Owen’s trying to stop Christmas from coming. From sneaking downstairs like he did last year, devouring every bit of Christmas stocking candy in the wee small hours of the morning, leaving a pile of papers a foot high and “a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.” His siblings were not amused. (Read about last Christmas Naughty – or – Nice -?)

Of course longtime readers know what we tried to do. We built a wonderful, beautiful, aesthetically elegant gate on the stairs!  And then Owen learned to scale the darn banister in no time flat, skipping that gate entirely. (“Once More Into the Breach—!”)

We have to stop Grinchy from coming — BUT HOW?

We rallied of course. Like the Whos. We joined hands and remembered – after a dark despairing little walk in the woods to cool down and warm up – that Christmas happiness didn’t require a thoughtfully arranged, candy-laden Christmas stocking.

Still, even a carefree Who doesn’t want to go through that every holiday.

I have considered floor to ceiling cargo netting along the banister – but cargo netting in a foyer isn’t really my look. And stapling Owen to his bed, or locking him in his room would not be approved of, by me or anyone else (except in a few dark moments maybe). Meanwhile, Owen was busy as ever last night, shredding holiday cards, searching baskets, swiping food off the counter, chopping his sister’s ID card. Much as he loves brothers and sisters coming home, this doesn’t seem to calm him. The time-out chair was kept warm. Must be a lot of stress trying “be nice.” Apparently he can’t take it. How can we both love our Owen and protect our property? How to foil our marauding Christmas bandit?

I know that the best bet will probably always be distraction  – in the spirit of the family I heard of  who used motion activated water (fountain and sprinklers) to distract their runner. If their child bolted out the front door, that moving water captured him, and redirected his attention to the front yard, buying mom and dad a few more minutes to locate him. If I create a barrier, I know that Owen will focus his energies on how to thwart my efforts to control him, displaying strength or agility we didn’t know he had.

This in itself is pretty cool, and I wish I weren’t so tired from getting up every morning with him at 6am that my brain cells are compromised. I’d like to figure out how to employ this phenomenon usefully to make his life richer and more interesting. It’s good to have a reason to fight! Imagine how interesting life would be if we all had to climb down a cargo net to breakfast each morning.

I must stop Owen from descending – But how?

Perhaps hang his stocking at the end of his bed for him to pilfer and explore? Or is that too obvious. Hmm. Maybe it should be dangling casually from the top of the bathroom medicine cabinet?… Or not quite out of reach, on the floor? Just through the bars of the temporary pressure gate in the hall – because there’s no doubt a temporary gate is going to be required across the hallway outside his door. This temporary barrier in place, he still could access the hall bathroom, and check up on his siblings, but not make it to the stairs. Nor incidentally could he reach his dad’s and my room. That does sound good. Usually I want Owen to be able to come and get me when he needs me at night. But maybe not for the short number of sleeping hours on Christmas eve.

And maybe the distraction method does not just apply to Owen – last week we celebrated Edward’s birthday with an evening out. Dinner with mulled wine, and a play – a wonderful theatricalization in words, sing, and dance of Melville’s Moby Dick. It transported us to a different dimension. We came home relaxed. Light. Strengthened.

Respite for long term caregivers is distraction.  Caregivers will still have to face their challenges again tomorrow, but strengthened by a break we can face with humor and patience what we might otherwise grit our teeth and “get through.” Our loved ones don’t just need our hands – they need our hearts. They need our attention. And giving attention is by far the hardest thing.

And so I find that this post is really an acknowledgement: Thank you. Thank you Emma, for an evening out. Thank you Kathie, for walking and talking with Owen twice a week, week after week! And thank you folks at New Horizons, Stephen and Damian, James the van driver, and director Ron Vaughn – for the gift of your attention to some special people, including our Owen.  What a Christmas present, every day.

“And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,

He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light! –“



 How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss 


Ignoring Owen in the Dark.


I have decided to ignore Owen.

It’s only fair – he’s been ignoring me. He has been going to some lengths lately to let me know that:

 “No, my reverberating friend, you are not the beginning and the end–”                                       (Eliza to Professor Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady)

If I say “Let’s go for a walk,” he flattens himself against the wall. If I put out a lemon wedge for him he doesn’t touch it, but will sneak behind my back to swipe one out of the fridge. Or eat the one in my glass. I offer him a spoon of cookie batter, and he is silent. He echos “No fank you.” So there. Keep your darn cookie batter! You can’t control me with it!  To some extent, Owen’s always been like that. To some extent, all my kids are. I call this an artist temperament, but you could say cussedness.

So today, I thought I would write about something else. So there. It is could be difficult, but somehow I will manage, if only to show that—

There’ll be fruit on the tree! and a shore by the sea!  There’ll be crumpets and tea without you!”  (Ditto.)  (So there)

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s important to me not to let Owen win. Owen can be very competitive. Unlike me. Did I mention that he is still climbing over the banister about every morning, just for the thrill of picking up a few extra plastic chunks out of his drawer of stuff? But if he isn’t climbing the kitchen gate too, and marauding in the kitchen, it’s not enough to get me out of bed in the pitch dark to prevent.

Pitch dark. Like right now, outside my studio window.

It is far too dark in the mornings lately. Readers may remember that in past seasons I have bemoaned the biannual time change. Not this year. I have been looking forward to it for about two months. I’ve been trying to alter my rising time so as to flow right into the new time without a hitch.

[I tried to get Owen to segue his time change too; naturally, he started getting up earlier. Besides, I am not talking about him.]

There is no writing time like that early morning space, when Edward and dogs and chickens are sleeping, and Other People are tubbing. Or climbing over the banister to get more toys for their baths. But as the mornings get darker I find I just can’t do it. This could be because after 53 years under the rule of Benjamin Franklin my body is habitually prepared to be assaulted by the changing of the clocks about this time of year.  The pitch darkness that used to be 6am will soon be an ungodly 5 am, an hour when no one should be vertical. It’s true, it’s true, 4 am is worse – let’s not talk about it. Especially in the presence of anyone I am ignoring.

This fall I am again getting into the meat of rewriting a story, and that early morning hour is needed. Without it, I either never get to writing, or I sit down and don’t know how to stop. I lose all sense of time, caught up in an imaginary world of my own making…miss my lunch… miss my nap… Bad news. Writing from 6 to 7ish allows that special peace before then the flood of Human and Domestic Need necessarily drags me away from the imaginary to the real world. It works.

All my life I have I have been fairly lousy at managing time. And since it is just an imaginary thing anyway (as Ben Franklin’s rash action and sun dials prove), who cares? Except that everyone else in the whole world runs their lives according to this imaginary measure. Simply put, I am handicapped. One minute I am relaxed and swimming in time, and the next scampering down a vanishing sliver of pathway that becomes stepping stones over a rushing fiery river of lateness. Out of time and out of breath. Since I am now half a century old and still do not have any innate sense of time passing I do not expect to ever have one. My only hope is to create a kind of rhythm to my days, so that my rhythm tells me hey isn’t it about “time” you switched over from X to Y?  It can take me a while to create a new rhythm though, the in between is not pretty.

[This is probably how some Other People operate too, but since he doesn’t exist, never mind.]

So this year, as the peaceful dim summer 6am became the grim pitch black 6am, I saw old Ben’s time change concept with new and grateful eyes. Maybe he did know a thing or two, after all. Well, I’m grateful to him.


What was that??  isn’t that the sliding door to the kitchen–?!  Hey doggone it – what time is it??!