Soren 3.0

by Dirk on April 22, 2015 · 0 comments

My youngest son turned three years old on Monday. It goes so quickly, which is trite to say yet so pointedly true.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching Soren develop are the behaviours that seem firmly rooted in birth order. Well over 90% of what comes out of Soren’s mouth is rote copying of what someone else in the environment – primarily his sister Elena, sometimes the rest of us – says. And more than what they say: how they act. The emotion they express. What they do with their bodies. The facial expressions. The gestures. It is a near-literal apeing of what the older person said and did – but always including the “said” part. How much of that is something about Soren’s specific unique-to-him personality and how much is a second child modeling after the more developed older child I have no idea. But it is certainly central to my experience of Soren over the last six months or so.

Much of what I have written about Soren in the past bemoans how attached he is to his mother, at the expense of a greater connection with me. While that remains true it is decidedly less total than it was a year ago. In August Sigrid left for two weeks to attend a conference in Greece. During that time I, along with my mother for part of the time, were left to take care of Soren with no “mommy security blanket” left for him to latch on to. By the end of that trip he had more tolerance for and openness to me. But not always. And never to the sort of complete, trusting, comfortable degree that he has with his mother. I hope it continues to evolve, as the moments where he wants nothing to do with me and ONLY wants his mommy put strain on my relationship with him despite my best efforts to excuse it as a product of his just being a baby. I don’t, actually, know if that is the case or not. Hopefully as he gets older that all untangles more.

Soren shows unusual talents in both the mental and physical realms. Mentally he seems appears to be smarter than his older sister, with a natural problem solving instinct that combines with a comfort in getting his hands dirty that sees him move beyond and through things while Elena is left asking us for help. Physically he takes the soccer ball and runs circles around his classmates and even older kids, displaying an intuitive skill for keeping control of the ball while moving at a fast speed. How these things translate as he ages who is to say, but he seems to have some definite skill advantages over his sister, particularly on the physical side.

Soren’s speech increasingly gets better and better but many or even most words are not said quite correctly. Of particular confusion is how he says “Yes” or “Yeah” – sounding like “Nnnn-es” or “Nnnn-eah”. You have to listen pretty closely to figure out what the little guys desires actually are.

In some ways Soren is much easier than Elena. Whereas she is picky and particular about many things, Soren is for example a human vacuum cleaner when it comes to eating: he will have whatever is given to him and, happily for Sigrid, many of the things she makes and likes that neither Elena nor I like. Sometimes he can want something specific, often related to the clothes that he is given to wear each morning. This is one area of parenting that I’ve never understood about how Sigrid parents: she insists on choosing what the children wear, and they both hate it. I’ve convinced her to let Elena pick her own clothes for the most part which eliminates a lot of drama and consternation; hopefully that translates more and more to Soren. I mean, why not?! That seems a little bit of control that has limited cost to provide but with a big impact on the child.

One thing that Soren and I do share in common is we are not morning people and do not wake up well. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who wakes up as badly as Soren. Grumpy, angry, unpleasant…if he doesn’t get up on his own time it is not a good experience for anyone in the vicinity!

Soren’s interests and activities are an interesting mix of very masculine things and decidedly feminine things. We do not attempt to guide his self-expression and let his choices come naturally, creating a departure from the firmer boundaries that I remember around gender growing up. He is naturally – and strongly – drawn to tools and vehicles. He loves trucks, construction and building, in really rough-and-tumble, masculine ways. On the other hand he also will take Elena’s dolls, dress them, watch over them, and taking very good care of them. These are things that Elena, herself, does not do. It is Soren playing dolls, and doing so in a very nurturing and considerate way. Maybe he is emulating the same traits of his mother, whom he so admires, developing caretaking and family building skills that he enjoyed and appreciated from her. In either event it is sweet and a little odd, at least in contrast to the frames around gender expression that I grew up with and was forced and funneled into.

Each day I hope for and try to cultivate a closer relationship with Soren. We certainly now have moments of genuine mutual affection and enjoyment. But there is a clear split in the family, captured simply by our family dining table. It is a size that seats six, with me on one end and Sigrid on the other. Elena sits down by me; Soren by his mother. While I am unquestionably Elena’s favourite she also has easy and significant affection for her mother. The difference is not manifest in negativity or distance from her mother, but the depth and intensity of her affection for me. With Soren, his mother is not only his first and favourite but still, for all intents and purposes, his only. While for Sigrid’s sake I would have no problem with her being the little guy’s favourite I sure wish the love he expressed for me was more reminiscent of that his sister expresses for his mother. Maybe it will come with age.

Regardless of the sad feelings I have from his frequent disposition toward me I love him dearly and look at him fondly and try to coax and encourage him as much as I can. To me he is still a baby – my last baby! – and the idea that he is three and really not a baby anymore is as startling as my being forty-one-and-a-half-and-oh-yeah-wasn’t-I-just-thirty-nine-a-month-or-so-ago?! All disbelief at the march of time aside, here’s to my lovely, sweet, little boy-boy’s third birthday!

Elena 5.05

by Dirk on February 18, 2015 · 0 comments

At some point in the last year I had that moment where I realized the best time of my life is not sometime in the future, it is right now, today. A big part of making that connection is my relationship with Elena.

Ever since she moved out of the “I just want my mommy” phase we have been two peas in a pod. She calls me “my sweet Daddy”. She tells me that I am her favourite, then quick to add that she loves her mother, too. She has the same comfort level around interaction and closeness that I do; we cuddle in a very natural way and she has adopted the same thoughtful touching and kissing that Sigrid and I give to each other and the children. But, more than those physical things, our connection is about really understanding each other.

Isn’t that the way any relationship – with family, friends, lovers, or co-workers – are? The more compatible your personalities and rhythms are, the better you get along. I just get Elena so well. And she gets me, too. The times when she is most excited is when we are doing things together: going out for lunch, going to an event, heading up to Toledo to visit the family. I suspect we would be inseparable if I wasn’t so restless, eventually getting bored with her relatively unsophisticated five year old being.

Recently I’ve started to wonder – or fear – if Elena will grow apart from me as she ages and forget most of these times because they happened when she was so young. I can count on one hand the memories I have from age 5 and earlier. Is it possible – even likely – that these moments that bring both of us such joy and satisfaction will one day be lost in the recesses of her adult mind? What will she take and keep from these times? The idea that she may not think of us as being – or ever having been – close at all is pretty hard to fathom.

OK, so. My love and affinity aside, what can I record from her last year for posterity?

- For Elena’s birthday this year we went up to Toledo to have a birthday with the family instead of having a birthday here at home. We could have had both but Sigrid elected to eschew a birthday at home once I insisted we go up to visit. So instead of Sigrid’s very inventive and wonderful thematic children’s birthday we spent it with Elena’s grandmother, two older brothers, her nephew (my grandson, who we call her cousin), her aunt, and her sister-in-law. Yes, along with myself, Sigrid, and Soren, it was one packed house! Elena loves going to Toledo and seeing her family, and she really enjoyed the little creature comforts like the great vanilla cake with cherry frosting from Wixey Bakery, the ham, and the toast which she always relishes in when there are guests around. It is remarkable that she is five!

- The week after her birthday Elena turned her room into an art gallery. We can’t figure out how she got the idea, but she took about two dozen pieces of art she has made – using the mediums of crayon, markers, pencil, and/or stickers – and hung them in four different groupings in her room. She had a book for us to sign-in, and we were told that admission would be free the first time but after that it would be $3. (Later she referred to it as “three pennies”, so I think her grasp on specific monetary denominations might be tenuous!) It was remarkably “realistic”. When we came in the second time she said we could either pay admission or just come in and buy something! Everything about it was entirely endearing. And it is a good example of something I’m increasingly seeing from Elena over the last year: she is acting like a person, not like a baby or child. She has sort of real and sophisticated insights or understandings about the world, things that are not always present but at moments like the art gallery project become remarkably clear. It makes me think about the old saw that children are far more perceptive, and realize much more going on in the adult world, than we realize.

- Elena continues to progress in violin. I actually get uncomfortable talking about it, because it makes me feel like a bragging parent that is getting their self-affirmation via the success of their children. That established, she is really, really good. During the Christmas recital she, as a four year old, was on the stage the entire time with an older group of 7-8 year olds. At the same time her age group and those one level older only came on very late in the performance and for only a couple of songs. She participated in a variety of the songs, and throughout. At the violin recitals everyone wears the same bright red polo-style shirt that says “Denison University Suzuki Program” in large letters on the left breast. When she first got it before the 2013 Christmas performance she HATED it. She wanted to wear a pretty red dress. Well, Sigrid made sure she complied and this year she had no problem with her shirt. However, she wanted to break dress code in some way and Sigrid let her wear her bright red shoes. And, of course, Elena delighted in having some makeup put on for the performance. Makeup is one of the few battlegrounds she and I have: she loves it, I hate that she loves it (and even more hate that Sigrid, who doesn’t even like make-up, encouraged her interest in it). When Elena plays the violin she likes to move her body and make flourishes with her actions. The way she moves is so dramatic as to be almost comic: some talented violin performers do move in sort of a rhythm to the music. Elena’s movements are bigger, bending legs and really moving, sometimes. It seems to reflect her desire to want to stand out and be more unique among everyone else who is so similar. That was a trait Brandon had as well. And so did/do I. Anyway, Elena is REALLY good at the violin, so good they recently gave her a violin that is much too big for her because the small violin she was using before was too small to make the right sounds. That is, her play was too advanced for the instrument which made what she did sound bad when actually it should have sounded really good. Now, while part of this is obviously Elena another part of this is Sigrid. Every morning she makes Elena practice. And by “make”, I mean “generally has Elena enthusiastic about it but otherwise gets her over the hump and makes sure that practice happens every day.” It is a big commitment, and one that Elena benefits from. I suspect if it was my job I would either let her out of practicing on days she didn’t want to, or it would manifest as an argument as opposed to how Sigrid gets her into it naturally.

- The only time I see Elena’s weaker nature is when she is with her younger brother. That is when I see jealousy, pettiness, even violence as they struggle with each other for control or attention. It is both a reminder that she is not my perfect little angel but a person with many facets like all of us, as well as takes me back to being a child and having some of those same moments. For example, as she (and Soren) care mightily which of them gets the slightly larger portion, I can remember that same thing in myself as a child. In this specific example it was like a fear of my identity being diminished, or perhaps my identity trying to be made into more, or at least not being made into less in juxtaposition to the other person/people. These were primal feelings, so disproportionate to the stakes. And I can see those same things firing in both Elena and Soren when dealing with each other.

- The way Elena writes is wild: she puts letters together with no notion of line breaks. Her words break between two and even three lines. Then, some/approaching half of her letters are inverted, or even upside-down. So there is a surrealism to the things she writes. Or better might be a modern art vibe, because from an adult it would feel intentional and loaded. But from Elena, somehow, it is how these letters and words align in her sweet little mind.

- Elena is kind, considerate, and sweet. She is also a tattletale. It is interesting, as abstractly I have always thought of being a tattletale as a bad thing. Now, when she does it, I find myself justifying it! The power of proximity: seeing it from someone I love leads me to see the good parts of it.

- It has been such a long time since writing about Elena, or Soren. I write now so much at work, and am so busy between my software and gaming adventures, that I do not have the energy to write these updates. This one is even much shorter than I like, but I had to get something out before too much time passes and the details melt out of my aging brain. I’m sure there is a lot more I would like to share, but this is all I can muster here in the middle of the night. Ultimately I do this for Elena, perhaps the 45 year-old Elena who has her own children, and for whom her father is deceased and simply a memory. So, as always, this is for her.

Soren 2.0

by Dirk April 22, 2014

My youngest son is now a full two years old! Much of Soren’s first two years was filled with his jolly disposition and infectious enthusiasm. He ate whatever he was served with fervor and threw himself physically into situations with wild abandon. Sometimes I even fear for his safety, as he anticipates being caught or [...]

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Elena 4.0

by Dirk February 7, 2014

Elena’s fourth birthday was last week. Four…it is hard to believe she was born in Cambridge, MA as it feels as though we have been in Ohio far longer than that. Her entire life has been here, at least from the standpoint of place being discernible in pictures. She is four and I am 40; [...]

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To 2013!

by Dirk December 31, 2013

The highlights that I will remember: * Brandon graduated from high school, started university, and announced he would be a father (and, me, a grandfather) * Alexander and I explored universities for him to consider * Soren took his first steps * Elena was on the ballet and violin stages, while learning to ice skate [...]

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Elena 3.10; Soren 1.7.5

by Dirk December 4, 2013

I haven’t written an update about my youngest children in four months. It has been a matter of not having the energy to reach back in my memory and document. They have, as always, been a joy so I’m not sure where that lack of initiative is coming from. Soren began walking within a week [...]

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Middle age and grandfatherdom

by Dirk November 24, 2013

So, now I’m 40. Other than some weird stress and acting out around how and whether it would be celebrated – finally it wasn’t, which was my preference – the event was entirely, well, uneventful. In my early-to-mid 30′s I began to feel the edges of middle age, mostly in observing my peers who are [...]

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On Age and Change

by Dirk August 31, 2013

I’m in the midst of making significant changes to how I live my life. This year, I will also turn 40. While I consciously do not think there is a connection between the two it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the potential subconscious connection. As I’ve written elsewhere, my adulthood was initially just a [...]

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On Fearing Death

by Dirk August 24, 2013

The last update I made about my children included the anecdote about how I inadvertently led Elena into a conversation about the idea of death, and my hope she would not become obsessed with and fearful of it at a young age, as I did. So much for that. Elena has articulated a fear of [...]

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Elena 3.6; Soren 1.3

by Dirk July 31, 2013

It has been a busy couple of months here at Casa Knemeyer, with Sigrid helping the children enjoy many enriching summer activities. I’m startled by how much richer the cultural backbone of my younger children are, with the difference between the generations being the turning of the mother. Indeed, the differences are so stark that [...]

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