As usual my younger children fill much of my thinking and daily life. This year, her first in Kindergarten, has watched Elena develop in literally exponential ways. In past years I could sort of track her development and tick milestones. This year, almost all as a 5 year old, I am instead thinking to myself “How does she know that word?!” or “She has a really sophisticated idea about this!” or “They are teaching THAT in school?!” Now, the things that stand out are about her personality in more general ways as opposed to “firsts” or unusual things she does once and then does not do again. She is simultaneously shy, yet loves to perform. She lets her natural feelings flow outside the constraints of social convention, particularly in the way she is quick to get up and dance whether we are in a restaurant, on the subway, or pretty much anywhere when the feeling moves her. She is a big tattletale. She may be the pickiest eater I’ve ever met, including her older brother Alex. Fortunately for her, whereas when I was younger I had little tolerance for Alex’s refusal to eat many, many, many things, I’m now older and wiser and work with her to find solutions that maintain harmony in the family unit. She loves art and creating. She still plays the violin but is now generally bored with it and a huge fight breaks out almost everyday when it is time to practice; I wish I could get my wife to let her move onto something else. I recognize that cycle of “get deeply involved, get bored, and want to move onto something new and interesting” all too well. She remains the person who I am closest to, and who I share the most special moments with. The latest comes at bedtime. In our house, she, her brother, and their mother all go to bed around 8 PM. Elena is never tired and ostensibly bored and not wanting to go to bed. So, now she comes in and snuggles with me. I ask her what she wants to learn about tonight, she tells me, and I explain while jumping onto Google to find pictures for her. Last night, sealife in the Boston area was the topic. It is often something aquatic as we both are interested in the animals of the deep. In the various things we do together I hope that they become cherished memories and a foundation of love and caring that serves her throughout her life. But, thinking about my own memories of being five years old, I suspect it is more likely that she will simply forget about all of it.
Her younger brother Soren continues to develop even while being a mama’s boy and sliding into baby mode all-too-often. Like his older brother Brandon was a youngster, he is “all boy”: interested in trucks and trains and other boy-ish things that have zero connection to me, my wife, or anything in our lives other than his maleness. What about trucks and construction equipment is so alluring to boys? I can’t even imagine but will Google it after posting this. My relationship with Soren has been much better than in years past, although it remains a near-daily thing where he will refuse and spurn me for only his mother in some unexpected context. He goes out of his way to mis-pronounce a variety of words despite knowing better. Instead of “excuse me” he says “excuse cow”. Instead of “sandwich”, it is “noo-nich”. He will, delightedly, say to me “Hi Kenny Boy!” again and again, a reference for which I can find no match on the interwebs. For him it is hilariously funny, no doubt doubly so because it irks me. Just last week I finally figured out my retort: do it back to him! Soren is almost impossibly physical. Like Brandon he likes rough-and-tumble play but he has a strength and a pushback that I do not remember in his brother. He wants me to push him down on the bed – HARD! – and otherwise toss and throw him in explicitly rough ways. He loves being tickled, but while being tickled he violently kicks his legs and hurts me on a fairly regular basis. There are times when he, seemingly for no reason in a normal situation, starts giving me this weird, evil smile – head down, eyes up by his eyelids – that he won’t stop giving. He is mischievous in so many small ways, sure to be a problem at school (although, now in pre-school, his teacher says he is the sweetest boy in class). We see signs of this, for example, when I come home from work. It is now he even more than his sister often times who is delighted to see me and demonstrative in his affection. He does like cuddling, much more than Elena. He is impossibly headstrong and when he wants something simply careens straight for it at full speed. Out into a crowded road. Or, away into lots of strangers. I go out of my way to show him love and affection, because I know he sees how close Elena and I are. It is important to me that he knows the same things I have with and for her, I also have on offer to him. I don’t know if he realizes it or not. One thing I’ve learned very well as a parent of two children, now for the second time, is that I have the same love on offer for both children but am going to be closer with the child who actually engages to take it. I hope that his discretion and my efforts result in his feeling equally loved in light of my relationship with Elena.
Turning more to milestones, Sigrid and I moved the family back to Boston again this year. This is my third time, now, living in Boston: a year in 2004-2005, and a little over a year-and-a-half from 2008-2010. I hated living here both previous times. However, my company is here as are most of Sigrid’s clients. In light of instabilities with some of those income sources being closer and more impactful seemed a requirement. Additionally, as much as we both enjoyed the more bucolic and comfortable nature of Ohio, we were also very aware of the whiteness of it, and what was too often provincial thinking and lifestyles from our neighbours and community. Both for us, but more importantly our children, we wanted a more diverse community and access to culture than we had there. We’re both just too progressive and liberal at the end of the day.
We arrived in Boston in September. It was especially rocky for Sigrid in the early going – she definitely had a shock being in the big city straight from her small town life. But, things have settled. We’ve been blessed with the ability to stay in my friend’s place while finding a home of our own. To avoid moving the children in the middle of the school year we will head out there in May. The hardest part about this move was going from being three hours’ drive away from my oldest sons to 12 hours. One of the reasons we went to Ohio was to be closer to family. However, the reality was they made virtually no effort to visit me, and my schedule limited my visits to them to about half a dozen visits, for just a couple of days each, per year. That just wan’t enough to keep us there. Still, we miss things about it, as well as the family, and the friends we made. Now, I’ve lived 35 of my 42 years in Ohio and don’t expect to live there again.
2015 was my biggest travel year ever. While I took less total trips than at my speaking peak in the early-to-mid 2000s, this year was loaded with exotic trips. For the first time I traveled to China, Hong Kong, Japan, North Korea, and Switzerland. Then, I was in Italy for the first time in a decade, Germany, and that fair neighbor to the north, Canada. In the United States, Sigrid and I took a trip together to Las Vegas which was a first for her. Additionally I was in many native places including New York City; Newark and Edison, New Jersey; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; Albany, New York; Indianapolis, Indiana; Dallas, Texas. In the process I made so many new friends, and took existing friendships to a deeper level. Outside of my family and closest friends it is this, the deep engagement and immersion with people all around the world who represent new and interesting relationships, that I hold most dear from these adventures.
My journey as a person continues apace. I am feeling my age in so many ways, whether it being physically less capable and more slow, to an ever more common awareness of “I likely won’t even do THAT again in my life!” The former is more sobering than the latter, which is more matter-of-fact than anything. Good food doesn’t taste as good as it used to; good feelings don’t feel as good as they used to. Whereas even five years ago I could put in a 16 hour day without breaking a sweat, now after dinner my work amounts to emails and other small stuff, no longer able to leap giant buildings with a single bound once the lights go down. There is a wearing that I am very aware of in how my body interacts with the world. It can only be age. I suppose it could be illness; better check to make sure! There was a period in my 30s when I was not in the same physical shape I had been in years’ past – I consider my personal physical peak when I was in fact 30 – but I “knew” that I could get back to it if I wanted to. That may or may not have been true, but I never tried. And now, while I could surely get myself into better shape, there is now no illusion that – in a variety of ways – I cannot and will not return to my past physical strength, attractiveness, and prowess. Never. Ever. I’m closer to dust than I am to that. I just need to fully embrace that now that it is so very clear to me.
All of this moroseness aside, though, I’m certainly wiser than I’ve ever been. Perhaps paradoxically I am also more intolerant. I got in trouble on a flight for not letting the person in front of me put their seat back, which could have ended much more badly than the admonition I was finally given by airline officials who detained me at the gate. That is just the most harrowing of various moments where I was not going to suffer from someone else and didn’t particularly care about the law or authority in preventing that suffering. At the same time I’m becoming ever more withdrawn in my introversion, content to opt out of situations with other people without even bothering with the pretense of some lie or excuse. Now I am quite empowered to directly say to people who don’t know me well: “Small talk makes me sad” or “Strangers make me miserable” and just go along my merry way. 10 years ago that would have been unfathomable. I just contorted myself into whatever sad shape the situation required and soldiered through. This year, I really have not had any tolerance for soldiering.
Still and all, I find myself filled with a great deal of gratitude and appreciation. I am very aware of my privilege in the world, the stereotypical white male living in the world’s wealthiest nation. Even within that, my income probably puts me in the 1%, and if not certainly very close to it. My quality of life is superior to some kings and popes of years’ gone by, a result of the miraculous, unsustainable world without limits we find ourselves in as we march ahead to 2016. In the macro I have no complaints and only a real awareness of what I have. For that I want to thank everyone in my life, from my wife who tolerates all of my weirdness with little complaint, to people I’ve never met who are reading this now and in the process investing some small part of themselves in me. In the micro, I continue to wrestle with the small problems that undergird all of our lives, each unique from the other but similar in their simple existence, and look forward to the next phase of what my life will bring.
Here’s to 2015! Now, bring on 2016…