28 December 2011

K is for Cookie!

My brother and I were given to flights of fancy growing up: One time, he calmly explained to my Mom how he got a ride home from school in a police car, with help from a very nice officer, after being chased by guys on horses dressed as cowboys; while I was very late to school one day after spending a bit too much time talking with the animals on the way, a sort-of pint sized Dr. Doolittle. Kim and I have been lucky so far, though, as Kate leans much more to the literal -- we can usually tell when it's a story, as she's ready to run away with Dora and Diego, or when Captain Hook's pirates are about. 

That all changed last night, when -- about 14-1/2 hours into a white-knuckle 16-hour drive, Kate told us about the cookie. 

We had just gotten done with dinner, our only prolonged stop of the trip. Until then, we had hit rest stops and gas stations, quick in-and-outs, and Kate had been nursing a McDonald's cheeseburger from somewhere near Indianapolis. By Knoxville, though, we needed a break - Daniel had been screaming for what seemed like hours, Kim was contorted backwards on her seat trying to soothe him, Kate was getting loopy on only a 1-hour nap, and I had just finished a 2-1/2 hour stretch that included a long section of freezing fog with driving sleet and rain through the Cumberland Mountains.

So we stopped for a meal, grabbing a bite at a halfway-decent BBQ place attached to a gas station. Kate had been so good throughout the drive that I treated her to a bit of soft-serve frozen yogurt -- in pink, her favorite flavor. We took our time, making multiple trips to the potty, refilling the car, feeding Daniel, and just generally relaxing before our last big push home. We had 130 or so miles to go, some of it on very narrow, winding, wet roadway, and I wanted to make it all without stopping.

We pull out of the parking lot and climb back up onto I-75. By now it was pitch black outside, and though the rain had passed, it was still misting and wet. Daniel starts fussing, so Kim turns in her seat to calm him down. She looks at Kate.

"Kate, what is that in your hand?"

"It's a cookie!" she says.

"A cookie? How did you get a cookie?"

"From the store."

I interrupt. "What store? Did you take it from the gas station?" Pause for a second while we try to figure it out. "Is there a wrapper on the cookie? Where did you get it?" Panic rising.

"I got it from the store. The lady gave it to me." 

Panic gives way to fear: Instead of petty larceny, our daughter may have accepted food from a complete stranger, and could eat it at any time. My stomach drops. "Kate, does it have a wrapper on it? Give Mommy the cookie." My mind is racing through all the possibilities.

"No!"

Kim tries to help. "Kate, give Mommy the cookie."

"No!"

"Kate, don't make me stop the car. If I have to stop the car, I will be very upset. Please give Mommy the cookie."

"No!"

At this point, I'm freaking out. I don't like the obstinence, but I'm more scared than anything. Our voices rise. "We are pulling over at the next exit if you don't give us the cookie, and that will make us very angry. Give us the cookie."

"No!"

"OK, that's it. We're pulling over."

The car goes silent. "Don't think we're not mad," Kim says. "Daddy is just looking for a safe place to stop. You are in trouble, and there will be consequences."

It's dark. I move over into the right lane as we approach a remote exit on the outskirts of town. I slide in behind a semi and ease onto the ramp. We cross through the intersection and I pull to the shoulder. I stop, turn off my lights, and practically jump out of the car. I whip open her door, half expecting to find that she had gobbled it up. "Give Mommy the cookie. Now." There was no room for negotiation in my voice.

With a pout on her lip, Kate hands Kim the cookie. We look at it in the dimness of the dome light. We're confused, and it takes a moment to process. One beat. Two. Then, "What the hell?"

It's a bun. Or rather, a part of a bun. From a McDonald's cheesburger. That must have fallen into her car seat. Hours ago.

But to an imaginative 3-year-old Cookie Monster, it's a treat she got from the store.

And the nice lady gave it to her.


In her purple pajamas -- which she lived in for much of the trip -- Kate looked every bit like a cute, blonde Cookie Monster!

20 December 2011

Freeze frame

Kim asked me the other day, what image I have in my mind when I think of Mom. And you know, it's funny -- when I try to picture my Mom, I can only picture Kate.

I think there are two reasons: First, my Mom hated to have her picture taken. So although we certainly have plenty of memories captured on film, there is no one, single enduring image for me that says "Mom" -- at least, not from the past few years. And second, as Kate grows up, she is beginning to look just like her.

My Mom's aunt says Kate is this generation's "Montgomery child" -- the one that looks (and acts?!) most like the Montgomery family. And you know, it's uncanny -- photos of my grandfather, my mother, me, Kate: at any given age, but for the quality of the print, they might as well be photos of the same person.

I didn't notice it so much at first. Life had been trucking along for a while, and some of my emotions had calmed down, when I took Kate to see Peter Pan a few weeks back. Afterward, we went out for a treat, and as she swung 'round and 'round on the soda fountain stool, I snapped her photo. And when I got home and looked at it again, I froze. Because there was my Mom, smiling back at me.

We had the fortunate opportunity to celebrate my parents' 40th wedding anniversary with them at Christmas in 2009. In preparing for that special night, we put together a slide show from their lives, set to music, starting with a few childhood photos and moving quickly into their late teens, when they first met. One picture in particular stands out for me: Mom in an orange-ish blouse and 1968 hairdo, her whole face lit up in a smile. It's one of the nicest photos we have of her, and to me, one of the prettiest.

And the photo I took here, in 2011, perfectly matched the one of my Mom, snapped 43 years earlier.

In a bittersweet turn of events, we updated that slideshow for Mom's memorial service. The images and music that were such a source of joy just one year before were instead a poignant reminder of what we were now facing. As the family gathered in Chicago last January, struggling with our loss, we began to go through photos to find a few more of my Mom that could be shared.

And wouldn't you know? The very last photo we have of her, taken one year ago this Christmas Eve, is a photo of her and Kate, together. One Montgomery generation and the next. I know that photo will never mean quite as much to Kate as it does to me, but I also know that it will always be special, and we will talk about it for years to come. And as those years pass, I know too that I am blessed, because my images of my Mom will never fade. 

All I have to do is look at her granddaughter.





19 December 2011

Avoiding spontaneous combustion

I'm not really sure which came first; this ...
... or this: A Bicyclists' House Built for Two. If you haven't seen it yet, check out the WSJ article on Sue Butler's new house -- holy cow. I'm not a big fan of modern architecture, but this ... well, it's just stunning. And their bike room! Wow. Be sure to click on the link for the slideshow of photos -- the last one in particular grabbed my imagination, took hold, and wouldn't let go -- at exactly the same time Kim and the kids were getting ready to leave. Inspiration, meet opportunity.

Having a usable basement is a novelty to me. For most of our marriage, Kim and I have shared downwards of 850 square feet on one level, dining room doubling as bike room and all that. Before that, I grew up with my Dad's workshop in our garage, and though he had a fantastic table saw setup and a set of shelves that reached to the sky (that made excellent pirate ship rigging to fuel a young boy's fantasies), working out there from November to March was excruciating, as your knees ached from the concrete and your fingers froze from the breeze that blew under the back door.

Since finding a basement with a house on top last autumn, we've been steadily moving in and finding the optimal arrangement; it didn't take long for me to set aside a bit of a self-contained area for bikes, bench and stand -- not to mention wheel storage -- but it's taken longer to set up the rest of the space. It's quite perfect, maintaining a steady 67 degrees or so with very little moisture, but there was a bunch of stuff left over from the previous owner that's taken us a while to find new homes for. In the meantime, I grabbed some fixtures from work that I was able to install to hang our bikes against the wall -- not my favorite arrangement, what with all the hydraulics we've got going on, and -- to be blunt -- my laziness at needing to lift anything above my head.

At any rate, Kim's dad helped us quite a bit when he was here a few weeks back, and got some left-over cabinetry installed that has created an instant "craft space" for Kim. Of course, with her out of town, it also made for a perfect wood-working bench!

I still don't have a good saw, so that was step one the day Kim left. I borrowed a power saw from my boss, but I also picked up a hand-saw and a small miter box from Harbor Freight, before heading to Lowe's to pick out my materials. As much as I understand bicycles, I have no clue when it comes to wood -- I wandered the aisles seeking inspiration, with only a vague idea in the back of my head of what this would look like. As any good homeowner knows, this is a bit like wandering a grocery store when you're hungry: Even with the best intentions, you're bound to end up spending more than you planned, and leaving with a cart full of supplies that could equip a small army.

I did sort-of have a budget -- Kim had left me a bit of cash. This money was supposed to last me the full 2 weeks until I saw her again ... it was a generous allowance, but it was intended to cover expenses, a hair cut, and maybe one night out to dinner. Instead, in a move I perfected in my teens, I hit the register and the amount I had in my hand nearly exactly matched the amount that showed up on the screen ... With 12 days until I saw her again.

Undeterred, I got the supplies home and started making preparations. Again, there was no planning here -- I had a vague idea of what I wanted, and had downloaded some plans from the interwebs, but except for the last time I watched This Old House, I hadn't even thought about woodworking since I was about 14. But I started cutting, sanding and staining, staying up well into the night to get the first few steps complete.

Thankfully, my dad had taught me well when it came to staining; for cutting, notsomuch. Or rather, blame the student -- I just don't have the patience I should, and rather than try to set up the power saw better, I found myself chopping away with a hacksaw. When I woke up the next morning, I could barely move my right arm ...

... and then, in a turn that came to define this project, I made it more complex. As I drove to Pisgah that Saturday morning, I suddenly had a vision of what could be done with it -- and because I had no clue what that meant, I decided then and there to go for it. Little did I know ... 


I spent that first weekend working and riding, conveniently ignoring the household projects I was supposed to be doing, and not working out in the yard like I meant to. But I was possessed, obsessed -- I would conquer this project, and be done with it before Christmas!

I got the first frame done, and simultaneously moved the second frame forward. I was learning as I went, which was a good thing -- the first frame took me four days; the second took me two hours. It was getting more simple but more complex by the hour, and I posted regular updates to Facebook while still staying cryptic about the final outcome. I was also getting pretty sleep-deprived and high on Minwax fumes -- those first few days I didn't sleep more than 6 hours a night as the project consumed me.

But then, in a classic Chris move, by Tuesday my adrenaline had worn off and my focus was waning. I had to get this thing done -- the basement was an absolute mess -- but I also had other things on my mind. Chief among them was riding: We caught a break in the weather, and all of a sudden had blue skies and a run of 60-degree days -- the week before Christmas!

I got out on a couple of lunch rides, and Wednesday night hit Bent Creek with Greg and Thursday headed to the Sycamore ride for Bennett's Gap. Nothing was getting done in the basement, but I was getting inspired -- Carlos built a new rack in the back of the shop that gave me a new idea ... and of course, it also made things more complex ...

Anyway, as we headed up 477 that night, Dan and I cruising along with Chad not far behind, I heard a loud "POP!" that I thought was a rock hitting my bottom bracket. Thankfully Dan was a bit more astute and asked about my spokes -- sure enough, I had broken one mid-shaft, and ripped open my thumb getting it to bend around another nearby. There was no rub, though, so down the singletrack it was!

That wheel is kind of a hybrid; it's a NOS Cane Creek hub laced to a standard rim, with adapters in the spoke holes. It's been troublesome since it was built, as we had to fake the spoke lengths and it didn't come out quite right. So instead of spending Friday closing out sales for the year, I spent the day tearing down and completely rebuilding my equipment ...


Just what I needed -- manual projects at home, manual projects at work. What's worse, this weekend was slated to be the end of my season -- I've stretched it since February, and need a solid break. So here I was, Friday at lunch time, rebuilding a wheel for what might be my last two rides of the year before an extended break during which I will clean, fix and maintain bike stuff in a more leisurely fashion ...

After work, I realized I needed just a couple more pieces of wood and a whole lot more screws, seeing as how the project had taken on a life of its own. But remember that allowance that was already spent? Yeah -- imagine me, in a steady rain, with my ass sticking out of the open passenger-side door of my car, scrounging around in the center console trying to count out several dollars' worth of quarters, dimes and nickels so that I could buy more lumber. It was pathetic, but I was determined ...

The rain we got Friday broke the string of warmth and turned Saturday morning into a frozen mess. I might have ridden, but my mojo had come back -- I realized I had just a few more hours left in the basement, and the project would be complete! So instead of heading for Pisgah, I headed down the stairs.

First, I cut. Everything. Then, I sanded. And I sustained my first injury of the project.

Thankfully, it was just a flesh wound, no blood, no harm. Then, I cleaned up a bit -- this was the pile of sawdust that I didn't inhale.

Then, I stained, and left the wood to dry.  

After that, I headed to REI to help Stephen wrap gifts on behalf of Trips for Kids-WNC. Thank goodness his lovely wife is good a wrapping -- as bad as I am at woodworking, I'm even worse when it comes to gifts!

As we hung out near the front door, Stephen -- who is experienced with wood -- scared the hell out of me. "You know, you can cause combustion when you sand, right?" Wait, what?! I knew the stain was toxic, and had taken steps to ensure adequate ventilation, but still -- I was staining and sanding in the same general area, which though there is a window nearby, is also close to several electrical outlets. A friend of mine just experienced a house fire that destroyed her ex-husband's home, and I was already paranoid from hearing about it -- holy crap! That's the last thing I need is to burn everything down!

However, he assured me it would be alright, and that I "should" be fine. I was still a little nervous as I drove back that night ...

... I got home, and it was on -- final assembly! Behold, The Bike Rack! 



All told, it's 11 ft. long, in two equal sections, and can hold upward of 10 bikes. It turned out pretty well, and as I put on the finishing touches and finalized the installation at 10:30 Saturday night, I thought to myself, "Self, if you had a beer right now, you'd drink it." Only, I'm allergic to beer, and I don't drink, so instead I made myself pineapple fish tacos and a big mess of refried beans. You only live once, right?

The next morning was even colder, and I totally wussed out -- yes, I had rebuilt that wheel in order to ride Pisgah on the weekend, but I also had neglected all the household stuff I was supposed to do while Kim and the kids were away. Sunday was my last weekend day before the holidays, so it was my last chance to make amends!

I started out in the yard, and knocked out our 150 cubic feet of a leaf pile that had been sitting there for weeks, completely neglected. Our yard has lots of hiding spots, and those leaves will make decent mulch for some of the out-of-sight areas ...

See? You don't even notice them! Ha ha -- this area was already cleared, but I had to take a photo of the beautiful greenery we have here in the mountains, even this late into December. It was a perfect 50-degree day, and after clearing the leaves, I grabbed my Monster Rake and headed for the back forest -- there was trail to be built! I raked for 3 hours, defining the right-of-way and making it more fun for the kids to start playing in there while I go back and IMBA-fy the tread. And the self-discovery continued: I'm a much better trail builder than woodworker, and with a palette like our back yard to work with, that trail is killer! I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: If our kids do decide to ride or run trail, they're going to be a force to be reckoned with!

But that's a post for another day. After another afternoon of moral support while Stephen and Rhonda wrapped, an evening of pathetic bromance cinema and finally getting the dishes cleaned up, I'm ready to see my family again -- the project is done!

15 December 2011

Misdiagnosis > Mistreatment


Hello. My name is Chris, and I can’t eat wheat.

Most of you who know me, know that the palm of my right hand has always been an embarrassing mess of scabs, dry skin and blisters, and that I’m scratching it pretty much constantly. It’s been that way since I was 13: nearly 26 years of painful burning, bloody cuts, swelling and peeling. What you hopefully don’t know (only a couple of people do) is that my palm isn’t the only place on my body where this happens. Waking up in the middle of the night because your fingernails have just scratched apart some very sensitive skin is never a pleasant experience; to me, it was a way of life.


Until now.


Thanks to a few years of half-hearted attempts to fix it, a strong suspicion that it was a food allergy (despite an allergist telling me it was not), and something finally clicking when a friend of mine went public with his celiac disease, I finally FINALLY figured out what was going on: I am gluten intolerant.


The symptoms

The “aha!” moment came nearly 2 years ago, when a fellow bike racer/Facebook Friend of mine started blogging about his celiac disease. He finally went wheat-free that January, and his whole life changed. I said to myself, “Self, could it be that easy?” … and sure enough it was. I started researching celiac disease and gluten intolerance, and I’ll be damned if things just didn’t start fitting together.

In addition to what I now know is Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH), I’ve also suffered from depression for all of my life. Not just your average, run-of-the-mill blues, mind you, but full-on Depression with a capital “D.” I’ve also had off-and-on digestive track issues, gastric reflux/GERD and a host of other small stuff that I just figured was life, making itself known.


Misdiagnosis = Mistreatment

Every so often, something would get bad enough that I’d need to see a doctor about it. My DH went completely untreated until I got good health insurance in Kim’s and my third year of marriage; I finally went to see a dermatologist in Chicago, who spent less than 2 minutes with me after I waited 4 hours in his office. He gave me a diagnosis and a prescription for a topical steroid, the first of my “treat the symptoms, not the cause” experiences.

The good doctors in Berwyn put me on Prilosec. The MDs gave me antidepressants. The allergist/immunologist tried to give me oral steroids and almost had me in some sort of clinical trial that I think may have included brain scans. One doctor changed my topical steroid to one that doesn’t cause as much liver damage and skin discoloration … gee, thanks.


But none of them, not one, got it right.


Peeling back the layers

I have to say a big thank you to our family at this point, especially Kim’s side. Once I buckled down and tried to figure this thing out, I went through a bunch of different phases, cutting out dairy, shellfish, chocolate, all sorts of things. Family gatherings, with their crazy mix of delicious desserts and overabundance of snacks, became an exercise in futility – one holiday, I wouldn’t drink milk; the next I wouldn’t eat crab dip. This month it was one thing; the next it was another. I couldn’t keep up, and I’m sure they couldn’t either. But in the end, nothing worked.

I’m sure it was annoying, but as it turns out I was peeling back the layers. Switching in soy milk for dairy? Made it worse – I react strongly to soy-based products, which often contain gluten. Crab dip? It wasn’t the seafood I was reacting to, it was the Wheat Thins I was eating it on. (Although iodine can exacerbate DH in a big way.) Chocolate? How about brownies made with flour.


Every single thing I tried was related in some way, but instead of being the underlying root cause, they were just a surface layer. Now that it’s become clear, I can see where we made assumptions even as we tried to figure it out. And like the doctors who never quite got it right, we made it partway without ever really putting it together.


Making sense of it all

As I do more research into gluten intolerance, everything is starting to make sense. Itchy hand? Check. Depression? Check. Gut problems? Check. Those weird spots I get on my arms? Oh yeah, those too. My annoying habit of talking too much? Well, maybe not …

I made the cut in mid-February 2010, after a particularly long weekend of sweets and wheat. I awoke on Monday with what I now call a gluten hangover, and I was at rock bottom. I laid there in my hotel room, and the very first thought that sprang to my mind was that I didn’t feel like racing my bike, ever again. I knew then that something had to change.


The very next day, I removed gluten from my diet. Completely. Gone. I began anew.


And oh my god, it is wonderful.


Just like … starting over

They say it takes 6-12 months to really begin to see a difference when you go gluten free. I say hogwash: I knew it was right within a week. My hand cleared up. (The other parts of me did too.) My mood improved and my tendency toward moodiness went away. My digestion issues got better. Literally almost overnight, I was a new person. More even keel. Happier. And a whole lot less itchy.

It is amazing.


The Aftermath

So it’s been almost 2 full years now, and things really are better. I can tell when I get hit right away now, but I also recognize the pattern: the itchy palm gives way to a serious gut-check gives way to a bit of Depression, the severity of which is in direct correlation to the outbreak on my hand. In between accidental ingestions, though, it’s incredible, and I’ve made it through some pretty rough times in the past 2 years without the moodiness that I would have expected. Yes, I have to be careful, and yes, accidents do happen (thanks to gluten hidden in a whole host of things you might not expect), but in the meantime places like Wal-Mart and Meijer have bolstered their gluten free offerings, and our off-brand grocery store here is a wealth of delicious surprises. The holiday season is always tough – who knew that Harry & David Moose Tracks popcorn has gluten? – but after 2 years, we know what to watch for and can work around it much more easily.

An unexpected but fun sidebar to all this is the positive changes in my diet: Because I can’t fall back on standard fare, I find that we’re much more adventurous in our food choices. Sure, a night of Mexican is pretty straightforward, but Italian restaurants present a whole new set of options I may never have considered before, and even Chinese or Thai has become an adventure in “what-can-I-eat” guessing. Most ice creams are still on the table, and Kim has gotten really good at gluten free cooking and baking – for Kate’s birthday, she supplemented the Rice Krispies Treats we served our guests with a special gluten free batch for me. (Yes, regular Rice Krispies have gluten; they now offer a GF version.) It was the first time I’d had them in decades, and it was wonderful!


Furthermore, I find that it’s easier to control my weight – I raced about 5 to 10 lbs. heavier this year, but I was also producing more power and recovered better. And rather than the more extreme 15-lb. fluctuations I’ve experienced in the past, my body weight has stayed within a very narrow 4-5-lb. range for more than a year now. I’m not sure if that’s because I can’t snack on traditional bread products and sweets or if being GF keeps it more even-keel … regardless, it’s working for me!


Since I first discovered this, going GF has become a bit of a fad; all I know is that it’s been incredible for me, and I hope the gains in GF availability hold. My completely unscientific opinion is that more folks are gluten intolerant than we think, and the best explanation for this I’ve heard is that we’ve engineered our way here: Over the past 30 years, the proteins in wheat have been refined to the point that our body can no longer tolerate them; our evolution hasn’t caught up with our science. I just hope neither of my kids have it, but thankfully if they do, we know the signs! In the meantime, consider the potential wellness benefits if folks who are intolerant or allergic finally figure it out: This impacts mental health, digestive problems, skin care, even potentially bones and joints and other medical maladies. What if my Mom’s lymphoma was the result of a lifetime of her body rejecting the very food that nourished it?


Regardless, that’s all speculation. All I know is that it has worked for me, and has begun to work for many of my friends who have tried it. Even if it’s a lifestyle choice and not a medical one, there are benefits to be realized. And I’m looking forward to my next 26 years being happier and healthier than my last.

Because my name is Chris, and I’m gluten free.

09 December 2011

Big D

I'm pretty delinquent on this one ... Little D has become Big D! He's at 9 weeks, 2 days, and according to the docs, it's all systems go. Twelve and a half pounds and growing!

We've got smiles and a whole lotta' spitup, and this morning was a pretty epic blowout that almost had me late for work. All in all, though, he's pretty chill -- even more laid back than his sister was -- he's a snuggler!








Daniel and his sister are getting their first taste of Chicago winter this evening, while I get to postpone my reminder for a few more days. I know the families are excited to see them, and Daniel will get to meet some cousins, aunts and uncles for the first time!

06 December 2011

Frozen

I've been trying to put my finger on something for a while now, but the idea wouldn't quite fully form in my head. Finally, this weekend, I think I figured it out, one of the things that's been bothering me the most since my Mom died: In one certain way, time has sort of frozen.

I don't mean this in a despondent way -- what I don't mean is that life has stood still, or that we haven't picked up the pieces and moved forward, at least a little. But what's been bugging me since last Christmas is that I know Kate will never get another gift from Nana, and that Daniel will never get one at all.

That's heartbreaking enough -- I can only imagine what my Mom was planning for Kate's Sweet Sixteen -- but I realized this weekend as we celebrated Kate's birthday that it goes one step further: All the gifts Kate has from my Mom are frozen at two years old, and the association Kate makes between those things and her Nana is tenuous at best. That's what I couldn't quite fully grasp, and what led to some tears on Sunday evening.

This isn't materialistic in any way. Though the gift matters, what's more important is the experience that we have with the gifts, and the understanding of who gave them to us and what it means to the giver. This has always been kind of a big deal in my family -- gift-opening occasions were scripted; every box and envelope had a story to go with it. Heck, some years we even had a certain order we needed to follow! This went for very lean years, when just a handful of gifts were given at a birthday or appeared under the tree at Christmas; and also for better years, when my Mom sometimes single-handedly accounted for the profit margin of Amazon.com. Every gift had a story.

It was bittersweet to celebrate Kate's birthday this weekend. The photo above sort of captures it best: A very close family friend gave this rolly bag to Kate. She's always wanted one of her own, and our friend's daughter has a similar one; Kate fell in love instantly, and immediately set about to fill every single pocket with books and small items that mean something special to her. If you look closely, in the left outer pocket is a small sock monkey keychain; in one unforgettable moment, she looked at the pocket on the opposite side and muttered "hmm ... just. a. second" before disappearing in her room and coming back with a Princess magic wand that she used to fill the last available spot. "There," she said, in the perfect innocent joy that only a three-year-old can feel.

We are grateful to our friend for this gift that means so much to Kate -- she even insisted on bringing it to the Holiday Parade the next day. But I also have to admit, it breaks my heart into a thousand pieces: I had always assumed that my Mom would give Kate her first rolly bag. I don't know that it was ever a conscious thought, but that's just the way my Mom was -- she would find fun toys and knick-knacky things that might not last a season, but then she always managed to find that One Thing -- or sometimes two or three One Things -- that inspired. She'd always call us: "Well, I found this Thing. I'm not sure she'll like it, and it might be too old for her; what do you think?" Honestly, it didn't matter if we agreed or not -- Mom already ordered it, probably had it in hand, and was going to give it to Kate, no matter what. And it was always a hit.

We don't get to do that any longer. And over the next few years, the special gifts from Mom that mean so much right now will begin to fade into the background. The silly little farmhouse that makes noise when you push a ball through -- Kim and I were sure it would be a flop at Kate's first birthday; instead, here it is two years later, still getting almost daily use. The Fisher Price animal toysets. The Little People car garage. Daniel will inherit some of these -- if Kate lets him -- but in six or seven years, they'll have both outgrown most of them, and our fifth- and second-graders will have moved on.

For sure, there are a couple of things that Kate will have forever. The quilts my Mom made -- one for Kate, one for her dolls. (That, in a moment that overwhelmed me, she shared with her brother when he was first born.) The art easel that was probably a bit of a stretch last Christmas for a two-year-old, but that she has grown into and is a fixture in our front room. And the copy of Winken, Blinken and Nod that Mom gave to Kate, with a note in the front, after her heart was broken when we moved to North Carolina.

Kate is currently fascinated with how she got things. "Who gave me this present?" she asks with everything. "Where did this come from?" she says. And we're happy to share with her the love of her Grandma and Grandpa, her Grandpa, her aunts and uncles, her cousins, our friends. And especially her Nana, whom we talk about regularly, reminding her how much Nana loved her. But, sadly, it's also become noticeable that the memories have faded -- she likes the idea of Christmas, but her memory only extends as far back as last Easter. She doesn't really remember her birthday party last Thanksgiving, or Christmas Eve with my family, the last times she shared with her Nana. I try hard not to project my sadness on her when she asks about the easel -- she does not weep for that which she does not know, or understand -- but it's tough to talk to her without crying for what might have been. What should have been.

Our little girl is growing up, becoming a little lady. Over time, gifts will track the years, and special presents from her Grandparents, and our families, and our friends will hold their own meaning for her. But today, right now, I can only imagine what my Mom would have said when we sent her the photo of Kate, in her party dress, with her new rolly bag. "Oh, Miss Kate!" she'd say. "You are getting to be such a Big Girl!"

02 December 2011

What a journey ...

... and it's only just begun.

Three years ago right now, I was flying down the Kennedy trying to get to work and back in time to get Kim to the hospital. Straight out of a movie, I even got pulled over by a Skokie police officer.

"Sir, where are you going in such a hurry?"

"My wife's in labor."

It's a wonder he believed me.

Happy birthday to my beautiful daughter, we're so blessed to have you in our lives!