“We can’t stay for choir practice because we have family visiting,” K explained to the choir director this morning after Mass. As the dedication of the new church is only weeks away now, after-Mass choir practice has really ramped up. But today, we decided L could miss it. Because of family.
Of course, M and her daughters are not related to us in any other sense beyond her being E’s godmother and sharing the same adventure as K of being a Pole in America. But they’re still family. We spend holidays together; we know (or rather, K and M know) rather intimate details about each others’ lives; we’ve shared the same struggles at times.
You choose your friends; you don’t choose your family. It’s a truism that gets both sides of the equation right and wrong: because you don’t choose your family, it can be more difficult to love them and more important. (Note: such is not the case here.) Because you choose your friends, the relationships are more valuable and more fragile. That’s why close friends and family blurry the lines: these relationships have both elements.
So time with this kind of family is precious: E gains two more sisters for a weekend, and L gains siblings more her age. And because they’re more like family than friends, there’s no compunction in telling L that she’s being a pain in the back side (which she can be) or telling E that he’s got to share his new siblings (which is is reluctant to do).
Tonight, on the way home from Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, K got a text. “H’s mom just sent me a text,” she said to the backseat. “H is coming to your birthday party and is very excited about it.” An affirming thought: someone other than family likes our kid. Yes, it’s sort of an obvious assumption in a sense: by age nine, most every kid has learned how to make friends with someone.
And yet, there’s the girl that sits in our lunchroom at school every single day alone. One of the sweetest young ladies I’ve ever had the privilege to teach, and yet without a single friend some days. “I just like being alone,” she said once when I plopped down across from her during lunch with my salad and began chatting. And I believed her: I was a bit of a loner myself, and I sometimes thought being alone was just easier than dealing with the uncertainties of other people. So here’s this thirteen-year-old who can’t or doesn’t want to make many friends, and I realize that it’s entirely possible that L might have made it to nine without making any real friends.
What is friendship at that age, though? Just a few weeks ago she was complaining about how some of the very people she’s invited to her birthday party were being none-too-friendly toward her — the usual petty playground stuff. Can she tell when people are really her friends and when they’re just using her, I’ve wondered. How accurate is the perception of a young girl?
The day started with the Boy playing a game of catch with M, his godmother, after breakfast. He of course chose the best and worst seat in the room: almost every time he tossed the ball or caught it, the swivel chair began turning, both thrilling and startling him.
After lunch, it was the girls’ turn. K had promised L that if she met her computer-generated goal on the MAP score, she would pay for a visit to the local trampoline park. The goal, it turned out, was almost impossibly high: even the teacher felt it was too high. L had gotten to ambitious with Compass Learning, which affected the goal, the teacher explained. No matter: her results were stunning nonetheless (and more importantly, she took her time, having to return later to spend an additional thirty minutes to finish the test), and so K of courseÂ suggested bending the rules of the wager.
So off we went to Gravitopia, where the girls grew bolder and bolder with each moment until at last, and predictably, when they had reached the point that they were willing to try things they balked at only minutes earlier, it was time to go.
Then, a final surprise:
A former coworker gave E a motorized tractor, providing him with his own little slice of heaven.
Friends from Asheville came down today. Friends? Well, almost family it seems. After all, M is E’s godmother, and that, according to M’s daughters, make them at least half cousins with L. We headed downtown for some ice cream at Marble Slab (where else?) and a walk around Falls Park, which included wading in the Reedy. There was also some duck feeding, but that nearly turned into disaster as the ducks grew braver and decided to go after E’s cookie as well as the crumbs we were tossing.
Back home, a first: Nana and Papa gave us a campfire ring some weeks (or was it months?) ago, and we finally put it to use, building a small fire in the backyard in our heretofore-unrealized holidy-motif fire ring.
It just seemed right to have our inaugural bonfire with a group of Poles.
My mother sometimes would be telling someone stories of her youth and mention her best friend, S, and how they could get together after not having seen each other in years and it would suddenly be as if they were back in school together.
“Years melt away” is the cliche, I suppose.
Sat on their park bench
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the ’round toes
On the high shoes
Of the old friends.
Or old friends hang out in the driveway, taking turns playing badminton with the Girl.
While the Boy watches intently
Occasionally Mama gets into the game, and then we’re all in trouble.
Meanwhile, the Old Friend calmly entertains everyone.
Especially the Boy.
L has had the same best friend, E (for the sake of simplicity, Big-E), for five years now. They met at preschool, thus bringing our families into a closer orbit than would have otherwise naturally occurred: play-dates became dinner with both families, or even a short vacation together.
Five years, for seven-year-olds, is virtually eternity. It stretches even longer than the endless nights of childhood when we simply can’t wait until morning.
“How long until morning?” we as mom, and the resulting answer might as well be expressed in scientific notation.
So every now and then, the two families get together for an afternoon at the pool, dinner, or perhaps an afternoon at the park. The five kids have great fun together, the parents chat and take turns tag-teaming with each others’ kids (“E, slow down!” “Big-E, you interrupted her!”), and in the end, we all return home satisfied. What’s not to love about an outing that gives the kids great joy while simultaneously exhausting them?
Over the past year, though, a second connection has developed. E has been in the same preschool class as E (gosh — this is getting confusing: three kids with the initial initial “E.” Let’s just call her “Lady-E”), and when we asked E if he was excited about seeing Lady-E today, he smiled hugely and said, “Taaaaak!” (The question was posed in Polish: he’s much better about answer in the same language than L is at this point.)
So L and Big-E zoomed ahead on a scooter and bike respectively while E and Lady-E tended to hang back on their less speedy models. And I (initial for the middle child, not me) sort of hung in the middle, like a middle child would.
We saw some lovely views, including a beaver dam,
had fun pulling our vehicle when we got too tired to ride it,
and had a nice picnic to fill the bellies and stop the complaining.
E and Lady-E are now the same ages (roughly: Lady-E is about a year older) as L and Big-E were when they met. And while five years have passed in the interim, none of us could have possibly believed how quickly it would have gone. Five years for a seven-year-old — forget about it. You might as well be talking the age of the universe.
Five years for any of us? It’s a flash, a blink, a second degree, a mere half-a-decade.
It’s absolutely nothing. Indeed, for us, the passage of twenty years has become nothing. I see on social media that a twenty-year-old beauty contestant boldly wore an insulin pump with her bikini (never mind the ethics of judging someone’s worth or beauty — oh, never mind), and I think, “Twenty years. That makes it 1994. I was starting my senior year of college.”
These kids are still learning how to control their arms and legs: college seems like an impossibly distant reality for them, but for us, it will just be a blip. A few birthdays, a Christmas or two, and suddenly this child or that is packing up to head to this or that college.
I keep writing about this because it keeps becoming more and more obvious. “Hold on to these moments as they pass,” sings Adam Duritz in “Long December,” and the older I get, the more that rings true.
Under the Linden tree, a small school blossomed today. Because everyone is an expert about something and a complete idiot about other things, the girls took turn being teacher and student.
Lessons covered a wide range of topics. There were English spelling and vocabulary lessons, lessons on Polish orthography, simple mathematics, art, and chaos theory — otherwise known as scribble-scrabble
It’s always fascinating how kids want to play things that they don’t really want to do in life. Already, just in kindergarten, L was complaining almost daily, “I don’t want to go to school.” Ask them to clean and it’s fun for a few moments, but then too boring. Suggest that theyÂ play like they’re cleaning and they’ll do it for hours.
School started up again in the evening, when guests arrived after the opening of a mutual friend’s photography exhibition. The Girl took over as full-time teacher, though, providing lessons in English for all guests, then testing them on their recently acquired knowledge. This was somewhat tricky as she’s still not the best speller in the world. Even guests who’d had some English were stumped with “shgar.” The Girl, unphased but ever aware that it was a test, switched to English and said, “Tata, how do you spell ‘sugar’? I don’t think I got it right.” I spelled it out, then she proclaimed “Dobra!” and continued her test.
Soon, L brought the chalkboard out of the “maly domek” and began quizzing everyone. D’s neighbor, who accompanied her to the exhibition, got grilled on “I” — the poor lady was forced to repeat it at least half a dozen times. A demanding teacher, that L.
The dog, of course, was entirely uninterested in learning any English commands. “Look for your ‘give'” doesn’t even make sense in Polish (Szukaj daj) unless someone explains to you that the dog as associated the command “daj” (give) with the toilet plunger he loves playing fetch with.Â
As the final week of our time here in Poland disappears — where did five weeks go? — it’s evenings like this that I most appreciate. Frustrations and irritations of the day (fish and guests smell after stink after three days; there’s no telling what we do after 35) seem to disappear in the cool Polish evening and I find myself hoping, wishing, that every day could end like this.
“Oh, this will be a memorable Memorial Day!” became the common refrain in the house as M, T, and C visited.
L is endlessly excited every time they come — “When will they get here?! When?!” — and often overwhelmingly depressed when they leave. They call each other cousins (Why not sisters? I know not.) and have a grand adventure every time they get together.
Their visit this time was short but packed. Sunday evening we hosted a pizza and movie party with Nana and Papa. M was practically tripping over herself with excitement, and the chattering in L’s room carried on into the late night. Yet still this morning, they were ready early as couldn’t be expected for more fun. For another adventure. L and I introduced them to the various “hiding places” we’ve found along the drainage “creek” that runs behind our house, but as often happens, E was the real center of attention.
The afternoon, the girls, practically falling on themselves with excitement, talked us into a visit to Nana’s and Papa’s community’s pool.
“The water will be cold.” everyone warned. “It’s been in the fifties and sixties at night.”
Still, a bit of chilly water is nothing compared to the excitement of the first swim of the season. The adults sat out; the girls jumped in. Perhaps that’s something of a harbinger of things to come as they grow older and we beside them? A growing reluctance to take risks in direct proportion to their willingness?
After M, T, and C left, we spent some more time outside, letting the Boy lead the way. The discovery of a great stick was the highlight for him; the discovery of virtually-flightless baby birds out of the nest was the worry for us. I manged to deposit one of the chicks in the nest in the turn of our gutter’s downspout, but the other hopped merrily away, into the street, its mother squawking nearby, trying to coax baby out of the road. In the meantime, E was heading, full steam, toward the embankment leading to the front ditch. K darted to him just as he’d turned around and prepared himself to sit up — which would have lasted only as long as it took for him to lose his balance and go tumbling down the embankment. She led him back up the hill to the accompaniment of the mother bird, still fussing at her own baby.
Two moms, doing their jobs.
Three girls in the Girl’s room. It’s Memorial Day, so they have the day off. As such, they do the logical: they play school.