Dirk Knemeyer

Elena 5.05

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.

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