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 on April 22, 2014 · 0 comments

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 otherwise accommodated for as he flings himself hither and thither. It’s one of those moments where I wonder if he would be best off being left to take a relatively safe bump in order to establish some discretion. But as he already exhibits far less comfort with me than his mother I’m going to leave that an idle thought as opposed to an adventure in parenting.

Soren is 36 1/2 inches tall and 28.1 pounds: tall and slender. He is cooperative and good at sharing and playing with others. More recently he has begun to show signs of jealousy toward his sister in certain moments – as she has done toward him for quite a while longer – but otherwise play constructively and productively. Over the last month or two Soren has also begun expressing preference in the form of tantrums. If there is something he wants or doesn’t want to do you can bet he is throwing himself on the floor and wailing as if he had been stuck. It is “age appropriate” behaviour – classic terrible twos – but I wonder why, despite the limited communication means at his disposal – there is no incremental effort to communicate preference, instead skipping straight to Defcon 1.

My relationship with Soren has been developing, albeit slowly. Since around the first of the year he has begun seeking me out. Sometimes it is handing me a book to read instead of his mother; other times it is sprinting up to me with delight as I come up the stairs, smiling and demanding “Ing! Ing!” which is his way of asking for a “swing”. While he was initially fearless about swings, and sometimes still is, now there are moments where I can feel his body tense up, followed by his face clouding in worry. I’m never entirely sure what sets off this reaction. Still, when he is enjoying the swings he is REALLY enjoying them. And tickles: unlike his sister who always had a love/hate relationship with tickles Soren just squeals and squeals.

Soren enjoys his books very much and, like his sister before him, has memorized the lines. He takes a more active role than Elena used to in speaking along, gleefully bellowing out the last word of every line or every other line in rhyming books, or jumping on for the parts that he enjoy the most such as a lion roaring or a truck honking its horn. At first this was with his Dr. Seuss books such as “The Cat in the Hat” and “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”. His new favourite books are the Pete the Cat books. He asks for the “buttons” book or the “shoes” book and happily “reads” along the bits he has memorized and enjoys. While some of the Pete the Cat books are not as good those that involve singing and Pete’s philosophy that “It’s all good!” share being both entertaining and categorically positive in story and message.

Of course, the overriding theme with Soren is that he remains a dedicated momma’s boy. So often, without warning, he will become panicky in missing his mother and scramble to find her, screaming. On his birthday there was a moment where he was alone on the back deck, inching the new little bike he received from his grandma along. I went outside to be with him. As I opened the door and started slowly out he looked back and slightly anxious but continued what he was doing. At the point that I closed the door and stepped down toward him he stood up, in great distress, and headed back into the house crying. Yet, at another moment, he might call out “Daddy!” and be thrilled to see me. I wish I understood it, at least, as it is a continually crushing experience to have my son race away from me as if I were the devil himself come for his soul!

At least at this age Soren is the most outgoing of us – so long as mom is around of course. He get great joy out of being with other people. Sometimes, at places like the science museum, he will go up to all of the little girl who are within a year or two of his age and give them hugs. He also displays mischievousness. Periodically he will do something mean to his sister. He is still at an age where we can’t really tell him what is good and bad, right and wrong. He does not yet understand and be able to interpret that kind of feedback and direction. But sometimes when he does something mean to his sister we sit it: the gleam in his eye, the smile, the little thing that surely seems to indicate there is some little malice on his behalf that we are entirely unable to verify much less shape. It must be nice being two years old!

I remember there was a point with Elena when she consistently preferred or wanted her mother. It felt like it would never end, but eventually it did and now she and I are as close as I imagine we could be. While I don’t expect that with Soren – part of Elena and my closeness is how similar we are in temperament, enabling me to understand her well and fostering that closeness. While Soren’s disposition won’t be more clear until he gets older my suspicion is that unlike his sister he will remain closer to his mother than to me even as he gets older. Regardless, as long as he grows out of crying and running when I approach that will be plenty enough for me.

In the meantime I’m very happy to have him. Seeing him with Sigrid, or with Elena, or just doing his own thing, it is impossible to imagine the family without little Soren!

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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On needs and motivation

by Dirk July 16, 2013

Originally published on the Facio blog Chances are you’re familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow posited that there is a sequence of prepotent needs, each of which must be satisfied before a higher level need emerges in the subject’s consciousness. Progressing from physiological, to safety, to belonging and love, to self-esteem, to self-actualization, [...]

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