Anne Notations

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry, happy, love, moon

The full moon and (upper right) Mars in conjunction.

Technically it is now Christmas Day, but emotionally I am still savoring perhaps my best Christmas Eve ever. Earlier, our three children sat around the dinner table with us, eating the vermicelli with homemade meat sauce, salad, and Christmas cookies that I'd prepared. Balsam and spice candles flickered throughout the house.

The tree and its tiny white lights glowed by the staircase, and carols played softly on the stereo. We talked. We laughed. We ate. We did the Advent wreath ceremonies for both Fourth Sunday and Christmas Eve, reading our parts after lighting the purple and pink candles anchored on the flat wreath my mother made decades ago.

We opened Christmas stockings and guffawed about the little things we'd bought for one another: A lump of chocolate "coal". A box of Claritin-D tablets. A lint roller for the fastidious daughter.

Michael had stuffed the stockings with scratch lottery tickets, and we all sat at the kitchen butcher-block island, rubbing quarters over the numbers, exclaiming when we won a dollar or two. "Gambling on Christmas Eve," we joked in mock horror.

Midnight Mass at St. Sebastian's, a misnomer since it began at 10:30 pm with a choir recital and carol sing-along. Greg and I were the lectors, and both priests officiated. From my seat to one side of the altar I could see my family in the front row. I beamed when they rose to bring the gifts to the altar before communion. How did we raise these great young people? Each one is so beautiful. I honestly mean it when I say I am the luckiest woman in the world.

The choir and organist ended tonight's services with a joyous Hallelujah Chorus, for which we all stood, spellbound and singing along. Afterward: talking warmly among the pews with so many friends, their grown children home from college, Father Hayman dimming the lights (hint, hint! – go home, people, I have a 9:00 Mass to do in the morning!).

On the church steps, we hugged and said Merry Christmas under a midnight sky flooded with the full moon's cold light, Mars close by, glowing faintly red in this close pass to Earth's orbit.

I couldn't get enough of the night sky as we drove home. After the kids stumbled upstairs to bed, I put on boots and parka and took Daisy for a moonlit walk on the beach. It's cold tonight but not frigid, with only a breath of breeze. On the beach I gazed from the white lights outlining the Newport Bridge to the white stars of Orion striding across the southwest sky. The only sounds in the world were the faint jingling of Daisy's tags and the hooting and honking of the geese in Brushneck Cove, punctuated by a mallard's urgent "quack."

Home again, I put Daisy inside and sat on the porch steps, studying the sky. My two favorite stray cats – a big black tuxedo guy with a white "milk" mustache and his sidekick, a small gray and white tuxedo – joined me, swishing sinuously around my arms and back, bumping up against the palm of my hand, purring with pleasure at the unexpected presence of a friendly, ear-scratching human so late at night.

Now I must get to bed, but I feel almost too bewitched and happy to sleep. Did God pierce the barrier of time and join us as a baby on a night much like this one? Did the Star look like some of the sparklers I saw on high tonight, beckoning my imagination far beyond the ken of we who see as through a glass, darkly? I don't know, and I don't mind that I can't know – not now, maybe not ever. It is enough to inhabit this Christmas Eve in the cold reflection of celestial lights, warmed by new memories our family made together.

Merry Christmas to all. And – good night!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kevin Skywalker

Slacker or deep thinker? Wiseass or softie? When it comes to our 15 year old son, the jury's out.

You know how the media has insinuated that Angelina Jolie lavishes attention and love on her adopted children and ignores her biological daughter, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt? You don't? Good; you have more of a life than I do.

Sometimes I've wondered if I am less apt to brag and blog about our biological son Kevin – my 40th-birthday surprise – than about Melinda and Andrés. Am I guilty of reverse discrimination, or perhaps (and worse) have I harbored lower expectations for our adopted children than for our birth child, thus rejoicing publicly about the formers' accomplishments? I hope not. Besides, Kevin isn't easy to brag about. A fretful, screaming baby, he has tested us with his intense and contrary personality and his tendency to favor immediate fun over eventual rewards, e.g., good grades.

The truth is, my bond with Kevin is intense, and not just because I incubated his hiccuping, thrashing little body for nine months. He is complicated, contradictory, not easily summed up in either glowing or exasperated terms. He's a smart kid who likes to act dumb, a natural loner who loves his friends more than life, a macho cynic who slept with his old plush seal until just a few years ago.

He reminds me in many ways of me. In other ways, emphatically not.

Michael and I have spent the better part of the last 15 months worrying about Kevin. He bombed his freshman year at La Salle last year, flunking two courses first quarter and generally underperforming and avoiding work. By midyear he had developed a chronic gastrointestinal disorder - vomiting, cramps, pain - that ultimately was diagnosed at the pediatric GI clinic as stress-related overproduction of stomach acids. He has been on a double adult dose of prescription antacid since April and missed nearly 30 days of school last year. He gets psychotherapy for stress management. Oy!

I suspect Kevin may be saved, as I was after college when I had no job and few prospects, by his gift for expression and writing. As a small tot, he was precociously verbal and original. We walked by a group of hippie-artsy college students playing strange medieval instruments in a local park one summer day when Kevin was about four. He stared, then said, "Mommy. That sounds like ducks fainting on a hot day." One night when I was sautéing our supper on the stove, Kevin remarked, "Fortunately, my markers smell a lot better than that chicken." A preschool angry epithet: "You're a plump rock!" Showing me his blue Beanie Baby elephant: "'Peanuts' eats raw, dead corn."

Kevin was a mordantly funny little boy, beetle-browed and intense, not naturally friendly like his big brother Andrés. I confess that I sometimes feared he might have a touch of Asperger syndrome. At age 5 we sent Kevin to a spring vacation soccer camp near my office. Each noon I would pick him up and, after inquiring about the drills and scrimmages, ask, "Did you talk with any of the other kids today?" Invariably, the blunt answer was "no." Finally, on the last day of camp, I settled him in his car booster seat and asked one more time: "Did you talk with the other kids?" The answer: "Yes." Yes! I couldn't help gushing, "Great! What did you say? Who did you talk to?" Kevin: "I called the other team names."

Lately I have seen Kevin's adolescence-stunned brain sparking back to life. This fall he informed me that he enjoyed philosophy (part of this sophomore religion curriculum at his Catholic high school) and hoped to take philosophy courses in college. Since he likes nothing more than a good argu– err, debate, this is less surprising than it seemed at first.

Earlier this week Kevin came downstairs from instant-messaging a friend on his computer. "Mom!" he said, animated. "I 'owned' Henry in a debate about religion just now." His friend is a self-described atheist, "and I'm not," Kevin announced firmly. "I won. Ha!"

His hazel eyes sparked with the fun of winning a verbal smackdown. I was cheered by the sight of our often-ornery boy, now 5'11", smart as a whip, and halfway into manhood, taking pleasure in a well-played intellectual sparring match.

The kid is all right. I hope. (fingers crossed)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmastime is here

Somehow I knew that having our first Christmas (and especially Christmas tree) in this house would cement the feeling of home for all of us. And behold, it is so.

This year we are keeping the gift quotient low, with an emphasis on stocking stuffers. I don't miss the panicky, last-minute shopping atmosphere one bit.

Yesterday, while Melinda attended her six-month performance review at Forever 21 (she got a 48-cent hourly raise!), I spent an hour in Benny's Home & Auto and purchased a few things for Caroline and some useful little gifts for the kids.

All approaches to the mall were clogged with cars, and I could only imagine the chaos inside the parking garage. It was nice to browse in a small store with ample parking, well away from the glittering "temple of commerce" downtown, and then to pick up Melinda and head back home in time to photograph an interesting sunset.

Hope you are all savoring this season and not being overwhelmed by it!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Talkin' 'bout my girl

Tomorrow, December 12, is Melinda's 17th birthday. Michael and I will always remember the thrilling long-distance call from the orphanage in Bogotá several days later in 1990: "Your baby girl has been born." Our child was born! I was 39 years old.

Melinda was and is, of course, her birth mother's baby girl, too. Each year I say a prayer for E, for the hard decisions she faced more than once and at a young age, for the doubts she may have suffered in making a plan for this baby, our baby; for her loss. Surely she remembers the date, and hopes that the girl she figuratively placed in a basket among the bullrushes to float toward an unknown future is thriving and loved. Melinda indeed is thriving, loved, and altogether miraculous to us.

November 1992

Our daughter was a pretty baby and toddler; she is now a lovely young woman. She walks into rooms in our house singing or cracking jokes, calling Michael "Padre" and me "Moomoo," "Camel Butt," "Shrimp Toast," and "Yule Log," among other endearments. My two guys at home and I can be acerbic and moody; Melinda is our leaven, adding her fizz to the family mix and making everyone smile. I often sing to her: "I've got sunshiiiiiiine, on a cloudy day / When it's cold outside, I've got the month of May...."

My daughter and I sometimes laugh ourselves silly, our stomachs aching, tears rolling down my cheeks, as we did several days ago when I discovered the camera and "Photo Booth" application built into my computer:

Last weekend Melinda treated four of her best friends to an early birthday dinner at her favorite Greek restaurant in Providence. They got all dolled up – see below – and turned every head in the place, by all accounts. Her friend Julie drove her to Providence and back here; entrusting this priceless daughter to her friends' newly certified driving skills is never easy for us, but it's all part of the necessary letting-go process.

Speaking of letting go: I find myself more and more often wincing as I imagine next year when our daughter will be away at college. Honestly, I'm not sure what I'll do without her, what any of us will do without our smart and funny sunshine girl at home. For now I will savor every moment. This kid is, truly, one in a million. Lucky us! Lucky me!

Happy birthday, princess.
Love, Moomoo

Julie and Melinda (avec tiara) ready for a night out on the town, December 1, 2007.