Fifth Birthday Party

The Boy woke up at six this morning, ready to go. He’d been worried since Wednesday when he came home with a fever: “Will I be okay by my party?” he asked. Certainly. So this morning, he had his materials packed — cars and guns and other toys stuffed into the book bag Nana and Papa gave him for his birthday earlier in the week — and by the door by half-past-seven.

Later in the morning, he was packing his goodie bags for his guests, filling them with the Polish sweets he and K had chosen at the local Russian store (of course it’s called “Euro Market” or something similar, but like most Euro Markets, it seems, it’s a Russian owner). I sat down and glanced at the “Time Machine” links just at the bottom of the page as is my Saturday morning custom, and there was a post about holding the Boy when he was just a few weeks old.

Holding

Long gone are the days when you can hold him in the crook of your arm. Now it’s difficult to pick him up. When he falls asleep in Mass, it’s always in K’s arms, and I almost always end up holding him during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which means figuring out a way to kneel and hold a sack of concrete.

By the time it was actually time to head to the party, the Boy was more than ready, all nearly-fifty pounds of him.

The party itself was bliss for him. Many of his friends from pre-school came, as well as neighbors and kids from the Polish community. K brought some games for everyone to play, including a sack race, but in the end, what was most successful was what was simplest: E’s toys.

The Girl, though was sick, which accounts for her absence as well as Nana’s and Papa’s.

Two Concerts

The Girl sang in her school’s talent show this morning. She sang “Dziś idę walczyć, Mamo!” which is a song about the Warsaw Uprising. She’s been practicing it for weeks. I’ve found myself humming it as I walk down the corridor at school. E sings snippets of it every now and then. K sings it as she’s working around the house. It’s infected our whole family, but what a wonderful infection.

After dinner, we got another concert, a performance of a music that’s thousands and thousands of years old, a music that both calms and excites.

The owls have nested in our neighbors’ backyard, and they came down for a visit today. The would sing and hoot, caterwaul and even almost purr. It was hypnotic.

 

First Communion

L’s First Communion was two years ago. So quickly have those two years melted away than I still find it somewhat surprising when I see L lining up for communion. It’s one of those milestones in life — your own and your children’s — that we all remember it.

The Boy still has three years to go. When he first lines up in the communion line, L will be at the tail end of her seventh-grade year.

Roses for the mothers

And at that point, I’ll likely be writing about how it’s incredible that it’s been five years since L’s First Communion.

Mother’s Day Early

Saturday is always busy. This time of year, the lawn always needs a trim, and hedges often need their season’s taming. Tomato plants are starting to blossom, literally and figuratively, so it’s time to stake them. All fairly common late-spring Saturday work. Today, though, was a little different because of timing: tomorrow we will be going to a friend’s First Communion, so the Mother’s Day celebration had to be rescheduled.

Since I’ve neglected K’s vehicle the last few weeks, the Boy and I decided it was time to clean Mama’s car — well, that’s not exactly how it happened, but it sounds better that way. So the first thing we tackled today was the interior of the car. Every surface was exposed to an area of low pressure — e.g., vacuumed — and then wiped down. The Boy to the windshield rag and wiped down the parts of the exterior that, concealed by closed doors, never really get clean from normal washing. And of course, with the two of us involved, there was a bit of playing as well.

Afterward, the lawn got its weekly trim and the Girl prepared her Mother’s Day present for Nana.

Our Mother’s Day celebration isn’t the only thing tomorrow’s First Communion throws off, though. Tomorrow is the Boy’s birthday. “I’ll be a five-year-old tomorrow,” was a common refrain today.

So after dinner came presents. It’s a sign of his growing maturity that only a couple of the presents was a toy: a small jeep and trailer set that he took to bed with him and a Lego set that he will put together with Papa on Monday. The rest of the gifts were practical, useful even. A backpack — an appropriate, camouflaged design — will get its first test in a month when we head off to Poland. “And I’ll use it in K5 for all those big books!” he explained excitedly. A new cycling helmet to match his new bike. A flashlight so he doesn’t have to keep borrowing mine. “Daddy, I just need to…” So perhaps more than a couple of toys.

I sit writing this and glance down at the clock: five years ago, we would be leaving for the hospital in about an hour. It was Sunday night, and I was just about to drift off to sleep, some time around eleven, when K woke me and said we had to get to the hospital. A couple of hours later, we were holding the Boy in our arms. And now, in a few hours, he’ll be the same age — year-wise — as L was when he was born.

In another five years? The Girl will be almost old enough to begin learning to drive. She’ll be in her second year of high school. Entirely new worries, concerns that are now non-existent, will likely consume me. Boys will no longer be icky. A moment of inattention could result in more than just a broken glass. Her grades in school will no longer be of little consequence.

Five years used to seem like such a long time…

Thursday Evening

We get our shoes on and head down to the swing. Mama has kicked us out: she can only do two things at a time, and she’s currently baking and helping L with something, so we’re on our own.

We play around a bit, here and there, but a hard-workin’ fella can play only so long before he grows restless. He’ll pick up any sort of tool he can find and get to work, because what’s the point of doing otherwise?

You might protest and suggest, “You’re just a kid. Take it easy!” But you’ll get a protest in return.

Eventually, I manage to get the hard worker to take a break and play a little bit. We go exploring, looking for more honeysuckle. It’s all dried up. We head to our favorite spot in the creek. But nothing’s really satisfying.

We head to our hideout to spy on our neighbors, but they leave soon and we sit there.

“What do you want to do?” I ask.

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?” he responds.

“Whatever you want to do. I just want you to be happy.”

“I just want you to be happy.”

What makes us both happy for a time is to carry on with such silliness, but it’s getting late, and soon, the Boy will need a bath. Tugging off his shoes, he notices how dirty his ankles are at the sock line. Smiling, he repeats his favorite saying: “It was a good day.”

K is still baking when we get back in the house. The cake didn’t turn out as she wished, so she’s doing it again. She’s like that. A perfectionist. I’d probably just go buy something, but not our K.

In the house, the Girl is being silly. I take the camera and snap some closeups. Instantly, the silly faces appear.

A satisfying Thursday evening.

Fishing

“Do you think I’ll catch a Clownfish?”

We were eating breakfast when this question came up. A typical Sunday morning: breakfast around half-past eight. The Girl off to choir practice at quarter past nine. The boys off to Mass about an hour later. That morning promised to be our normal, comfortable ritual. The afternoon, though, promised adventure.

“No, son. Clownfish live in the ocean. They’re salt water fish.”

“Plus,” added L, “they live in reefs.”

It only took him a few minutes to get the hang of it, and for a while, he was casting beside the Girl as she practiced with her new archery set.

A few bites later, he had another thought. “What if I catch a shark? I’ll have to be strong if I catch a shark.”

“I don’t think you’ll catch a shark.”

“Oh, right. It lives in the ocean.” He thought about things for a few more moments, then added, “All the fish I know are salt water fish.”

Playing in the water

Planning for the afternoon fishing trip really began on Christmas Eve, when our children following Polish tradition were opening their presents. Our neighbor, who goes fishing often, had bought the Boy a beginner’s rod and reel set, complete with a small tackle box. He was thrilled, and he was even more excited when I found a casting weight in my old tackle box downstairs and explained that he’d be able to practice casting in the backyard.

A few days ago, when our neighbor was packing up his gear and hitching his boat to the truck for a morning fishing trip, the Boy informed K that his rod and reel were, in fact, for nothing. “They’re not for decoration,” he explained. And so she told me when I got back home that afternoon, “You must take him fishing this weekend.”

I haven’t been fishing in probably close to thirty years. I can’t remember ever going fishing with my father — not because I asked and he refused. Fishing was simply not something we did in my family. My mother’s brother was very much a fisherman, and during one visit, he gave me a handmade graphite rod with a very sturdy reel with a tackle box filled with every imaginable worm-like, grub-like, and fish-like lure one could imagine. I was twelve, I think. I probably used it no more than half a dozen times, if that many.

Learning to untangle

In thinking about taking my own son fishing, I had a whole list of concerns. Some were reasonable: what’s the best type of bait to use at this lake when fishing from the shore. Some weren’t: what if I can’t remember how to tie a hook? But with muscle memory, that latter worry disappeared. But the bait? When I saw the lake, I realized that it really didn’t matter: we weren’t going to go onto one of the fishing piers because the Boy, having no practice casting with an actual hook, might cause disaster. (In fact, he caught my shirt once, but fortunately only my shirt.) Since the lake was so shallow with a gentle slope out to the deeper water, I knew he’d never cast far enough from the short to catch anything, so we tried a number of lures.

He caught nothing but my shirt. But he begged to go back tomorrow after school.

Saturday of Work

In a lot of ways, today seemed like a typical May Saturday. Coffee, eggs, a chat with Babcia. The morning sun made the backyard glow. It all appeared typical.

But the weather — it’s Polish summer here. Today I don’t know that we ever broke into the sixties, and if we did, it was just barely. Add to it the chance of afternoon rain, and given one of my major chores of the day, the day scheduled itself. Morning work had to be the mowing.

DSCF3988.jpg

As I was cutting the edges before transitioning to the long, almost hypnotic straight lines, a bit of motion in the deep grass caught my eye: a fledgling was hunkered down in a patch of tall grass. I cycled back and forth, nearing the bird, and I noticed that mother was near, flying in when I was away, taking off again as I approached. I knew I’d have to move the bird, and I worried a bit about how that might impact the situation. Since I always wear gloves when mowing, thanks to eczema, I didn’t fear the old thought of transferring my scent to the bird and somehow making its mother reject it. I’m not even sure if that happens. I was just wondering whether the mother would find it if I moved it too far.

First I it near one of the round planters in the yard, but I knew I’d have to move it again when I neared the end of mowing. The second time, I moved it over to the corner of the house, to a patch of grass that I never manage to cut because I don’t have a working weed wacker. Each time, mother bird had no problem finding the baby.

Yet I knew it was doomed. The second time I relocated the baby, it fluttered out of my glove and plopped straight down: no chance of it flying back to its nest. And with two cats in the yard, I knew it was only a matter of time before one of them made a natural discovery. “Wouldn’t it just be better to put it out of it’s future misery?” I wondered. Yet how could I do it? I could think of no quick and painless, and besides, who was I to say that it didn’t stand a chance of survival.

Thankfully, the Girl was away at an amusement park with her school chorus. Had she been there, I would have had to fend her off and deal with her eventual frustrated sadness when I would have tried to convince her that, no, we couldn’t take it into the house and try to raise it ourselves. That would be a sure death sentence.

When I walked back to empty the grass catcher, though, I saw that the chick had disappeared. Where it had gone remained a mystery for the rest of the day. Mother bird still fluttered around here and there, but I couldn’t figure out where the bird was.

And as I type this, I find myself wondering if mother bird has nestled up to the chick for the night to protect it and comfort it. And I’m glad I’m not a bird parent facing that impossible situation.

Still More Playing

So I’ve gone all in — Lightroom all the way. I’ve been importing photos all evening, and in the process, I’ve learned a thing or two.

First, the number of photos was actually a little surprising. When it was all said and done, over seventy thousand photos over a span of eighteen years, with most of them being over the last thirteen years or so.

Second, the spread: most years, I was taking around three to four thousand pictures. In 2013, the number jumped up six thousand pictures. In 2014, it was just under ten thousand. And in 2015, I topped ten thousand pictures. Not sure why that change happened, but it’s stayed roughly in that range since then. In 2017, I’ve taken almost three and a half thousand pictures, so it seems to be down this year. Of course, we’re going to Poland this summer, so it will likely shoot back up.

Of course Lightroom is not just a photo organization tool, and so I’ve spent the evening playing with some of the old photos I imported.

Sometimes, I do very little, like al ittle darkening of spots.

Before

After

Sometimes, I like to try to give it an edgy feel.

Before

After

And every now and then, it’s been fun just to push everything to its limits: pump up the colors, the contrast, the clarity — everything.

Before

After

More Playing

I put it off as long as possible — that’s how I explain it to myself. But push came to shove, and I finally began playing with Lightroom. What a tool.

Before

After

I especially like the highlights on the trees to the left. I think I went a bit overboard with them, but the idea is good.