Baby Brother Turns Three

We spent a noteworthy week in Alaska in early September that began with a third birthday party full of fun. Baby Brother’s mother arranged for the Anchorage trolley (much like the trolley in the Land of Make Believe on “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” but usually full of tourists exploring Anchorage) to take party goers for a ride – high excitement!

Then home to pizza and a two-layer, construction site birthday cake decorated with a scattering of miniature heavy equipment, three tiny warning-cone candles, and the birthday boy’s name plowed out of Oreo cookie crumbs.

Baby Brother’s first year of preschool hadn’t started yet, so he was a great companion for fall days in Anchorage – game to go outside no matter the weather, and up for a bakery stop after requesting a “breakfast sandwich” (his dad said he wasn’t sure he’d ever had one when I reported that), though he settled for a blueberry muffin. He was completely engrossed in the Anchorage Museum’s Discovery Center’s activities for children – visiting Chompers – a large resident turtle, emptying grocery shelves into a little cart, making enormous bubbles, and building with giant soft cubes.

He’s often absorbed by his own undertakings for long periods of time – stopping occasionally to address a nearby adult with surprisingly complicated language. His comprehension and ability to express himself are impressive. Part of it comes from listening attentively when people speak, he tips his head and gazes into the distance, before interjecting a question.

At the bakery he noticed a woman with silver hair and stylish black glasses, and as she walked by, he said sociably, “You look like Gaga!” (his maternal grandmother). The passerby, recognizing the word for grandmother, said, “oh aren’t you sweet” – a comment often heard about Baby Brother.

This week was also Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’s 10th wedding anniversary! At the end of the week, they went off with the dogs for a tiny getaway to Girdwood. They left during afternoon nap, and when Baby Brother began to stir, Lady B put down her “Go Fish” cards saying, “Let me handle this!” And she did, with a little faux roughhouse and much laughing caused by monsters under blankets.

We read the birthday gift books repeatedly that evening – a Lowly Worm book about his “applecar – and “Richard Scarry’s Funniest Storybook Ever” (which Baby Brother calls, “What Do Funny People Do All Day”). Dinner and bedtime were uneventful (Lady B explained, “first you read to him and then to me”), and everyone slept all night. (These things matter if you are the temporary caretakers!) In the morning, eating pancakes, Baby Brother asked about the dogs, but no inquiry about his parents’ absence.

I attribute that lack of worry totally to his sister – where she is, all is well. We expect so much of the first child, and Lady B steps up. She’s a source of joy to her brother, providing elaborate, imaginative play, initiating “let’s pretend” or “ok, now you be king” games with him. She’s a safe harbor for him and a guide for me – she knows where everything is and how things are done.

My Baby Brother moniker might be outdated very soon – he’s no baby anymore – but very much a little brother with all the good-naturedness that comes with the position!

 

My Best Portrait Ever

In the midst of a week when governments fiddled while the Amazon burned, and continual bad and crazy presidential behavior bludgeoned us, I received a welcome letter from Sweet Baby in the mail. It contained a penline and crayon portrait of me (she says) with long curly hair, a rainbow-skirted dress (with a tiny bow), an apple in a green tree, and a heart for love. Spirits rose!

Summer’s Ending

Waaay too soon – but Lady B begins school today! We talked to all of them last weekend, before they set off for the last of their summer activities.

I am always absurdly glad to have seen them on Facetime – and this time at the end of the conversation, Baby Brother shared some surprising news: “I have a farm in England,” he said, adding that “the cows and pigs have ladders so they can climb to their bedrooms upstairs.”

Who knew!

 

 

Peanut Butter Cookies And Fear

The other day I made peanut butter cookies – by myself for the first time in ages. Recently I’ve had help from one dear little girl or another – Lady B, Sweet Baby, the little girl from next door. They each stood on a little stool to reach the counter while expertly forming balls and squashing them both ways with a fork to achieve the cookie’s trademark crosshatch.

It’s always fun, the cookies delicious and fairly nutritious, and they travelled well this summer – on day adventures here and to Alaska and California. We used this recipe, doubled, and cooked them a little longer than called for.

Such a normal, happy thing to do with children.

But I kept seeing these three little girls in my mind’s eye when I watched the little girl named Magdalena, sobbing and pleading with authorities that she needs her father. I can’t let my imagination go far enough to put the girls I know in Magdalena’s shoes (probably pink and glittery or sporty with velcro), but am well aware of the sheer terror of this experience.

And that’s what we (our American government) visited on children last week – along with the slaughter of people shopping for school supplies and groceries on a weekend afternoon. From conscious will to act with cruelty to failure to protect us from assault weapons – it was quite a week for the occupant of the White House and the Republicans controlling the Senate.

Far from peanut butter cookies, I can’t tie this up, but can’t make sense of it, and can’t not write about it.

Sweet Baby Visits The Neighborhood

The first four mornings of Sweet Baby and her dad’s visit (while her mom flew to her family in Thailand), she attended Kindergym camp at the high school. Gymnastics team members guided three, four and five-year olds as they walked the balance beam, swung on rings, bounced on a long walkway trampoline, somersaulted, and ran!

And each afternoon, Sweet Baby and the five-year old girl from next door played “let’s pretend,” speculated on some imaginative and giggle-worthy, if inappropriate, name-calling to elders, negotiated back and forth about who set the rules, but overall took pleasure in each other and their easy proximity.

In between times, Papa Jim switched from enacting (with infinite patience and imagination that the rest of us don’t possess) Dale or Bob, the farmers (or sometime adventure guys) with Lady B, to princess tales. In these, Sweet Baby dresses in an inherited ballet skirt worn as a headdress as she goes about her royal business.

On long summer evenings we discovered an almost sandy beach across from the ferry terminal, where Sweet Baby searched for tiny shells, and at our favorite beach, she swam in her pink wet suit with her dad. On Saturday, we picnicked at Point No Point Lighthouse beach, and drove on to Port Townsend – our first visit to the old haunts for nearly a year.

A visit highlight was Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Zoos can be hard, but this zoo attempts to provide realistic habitat and supports endangered species around the world. Most of the beautiful animals we saw (charismatic megafauna Mrs. Hughes would call them) live in large outdoor spaces with manufactured cliff faces, moats, trees and shrubs. In a magic moment, as the keepers shut gates across our path, the giraffes, including a baby born in May weighing 122 pounds, walked gracefully right in front of us headed for their barn. (Up close the patterns of their coats are all distinct.)

Reading wins out over most everything for Sweet Baby now. Twice we visited the library for the little chapter books with more text than pictures and read them repeatedly. The zoo day, on the ferry going and coming, we read a Judith Kerr book about a baby seal and a gentleman (now one of Sweet Baby’s favorite words). She’d spot our neighbor John and call out – “here comes that gentleman!”

Other book-learned words suddenly appear. When loading into the car, after fastening her car seat, she’d say: “OK, Daddy, clamber in! In the car we listened to “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” and every time we “clambered in,” she’d request, “put on the mouse song please!”

My painter friend always comments on Sweet Baby’s open and smiling face – and that’s her personality – quick to engage with new people, always observing other children and moving closer to invite inclusion – and sometimes finding it. She’s expressive and funny and can laugh at herself. She twirls with the gentleman’s wife (who loves to ask her about ballet moves) while wearing the headdress as a skirt. At a stumble she says, “oh my goodness, here I go!”

A late flight on departure day allowed an aquarium visit. Sweet Baby sat right up front by the tank to be close to Diver Kim – and chortled with glee to see the puffins swimming. The tank is transparent, so you realize puffin-swimming looks like flying underwater.

Sweet Baby said she was eager to see her mom, but sad to go. Leaving the airport, after a period of silence, I told Poppa Jim I was sad and asked about him. His reply: “It’s awful.”