Archive for the 'Celebration' Category



Festivities: a fast rewind

Spring is always a pretty busy time for us, and I was taking pictures all season with a view toward blogging, so I have the material, but I have not had the hours when I’ve also had the poop to write. So this will be a sort of visual tour of some of the funner things we got up to since April.

At Kelsey Creek Farm. Which way to the long lines?

A cloud of sugar!

It seems like a lot of the photos I have are of Mara running, but that’s good in a way — it means we’re succeeding in getting our older daughter out of the house for the adventures she needs to occupy her very busy brain. Though Mara’s baby sister Emilia is also turning out to be a person who approaches life very kinetically and “hands on”, her tender age means she needs the opposite — lots of naps at particular times, which is why Mara and I have been swashbuckling as a duo a lot lately.

Emilia and a favorite admirer. Photo by Angela.

We did all manage to get to the sheep shearing festival at Kelsey Creek Farm in Bellevue again this year, and even were joined by a very special friend of our family. That was on the last day of April. The day after that, Mara and I got up early and beat it down to the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Ballard, also known as the Government Locks or “Gummit Locks”, where some Morris Dancers we knew were ringing in the May with dances and songs of spring.

Powering up for a day of adventure.

The Morris group Sound and Fury out early for a lark at the locks.

Then Mara and I did Folklife. I wrote about Mara’s first Folklife festival two years ago; it was so fun that first year that we went two days in a row, and both days she ended up getting herself soaked in the wading pool. We went last year, too. This year, Mara and I rode the 16 down to the Seattle Center and met some friends. I spent most of the day blazing a trail for Mara and her friend Gem and Gem’s parents through a crowd of festival-goers that turned up in spite of a lousy weather forecast, and when you spend your day like that, you get to the end of the day and tally up what you did and it turns out to be only about three things, two if you don’t count getting food, and one if you don’t count finding a bathroom.

Mara dodging the fountain's tentacles of water at Folklife.

Down in front, Mom. Five-year-olds mosh to the sounds of The Board of Education.

So we walked around a lot and we heard a lot of music peripherally, but we didn’t really get to hunker down and enjoy a full set of any single act’s music. But that was okay, because kids like to keep moving; they’re grazers. We caught a little of this on the way to here and a little of that waiting for one of us to return from the restroom, a little of something else while standing in line for an ice cream cone. Because of all the crowd-wading, I didn’t get a lot of photos. I didn’t get a picture of Mara wearing the balloon sword and scabbard and helmet that the balloon artists made her (they were the same ballooners that we encountered last year at the University Street Fair), nor any decent shots of her in the wading pool, which has now become a tradition, a checklist item. 

A tribute to the songs of Woodie Guthrie. Some amazing musicians stepped up for this.

Mara and water chasing each other. This happens a lot.

It was like that at the sheep shearing, too. We spent four hours there and really all we did was stand in line for the tractor-pulled hayride, then eat some lunch we’d brought, then stand in line for the pony rides. By the time we’d gotten through all that, they’d finished with the sheep shearing. Not the end of the world, since we saw it last year, but it’s no wonder you come home exhausted. It’s a lot of walking, carrying, and standing in line, and you don’t realize how many hours are going by. 

The tractor was an early contributor to the ruin of the American small-holding farm, but when you look at one of these early Farmalls, you can see the appeal. There was also a Ford, a Deere, and an Allis-Chalmers.

One dizzy pony. No Oscar, but Blossom treated Mara well.

As a side note, the pony rides at the sheep shearing were kind of anticlimactic this year. We had hoped that the same “ponies” would be there this year as last year (they were full-sized horses), in particular the one Mara rode named Oscar. We have talked about Oscar the Palomino ever since last year. But this time they had only very small ponies, and instead of being led around a large ring they were hitched to a merry-go-round that moved in a tight circle, as if they were milling flour, and there was a sign that said “You must be no taller than this sign to ride the ponies”, a sign than which Mara was slightly taller. They let her through anyway, which was a good thing, because we’d stood in line for more than an hour before arriving at the sign, and I’m not sure who’d have thrown the bigger tantrum, Mara or her dad, if she’d been refused.

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Mara’s Restaurant and Cafe: a grand opening

One of the deepest held hopes I have for my daughters is that when it comes time for them to earn their bread they are able to imagine ways of doing so that do not involve punching a clock or collecting a paycheck. If they really want to be software engineers and work for Apple (or better, some company that does not outsource the manufacture of their products to countries whose labor laws lag our own by a century) then fine, I will do all I can to speed them on their journey and try to keep an open mind and an open conversation with them about what it is about that kind of work that floats their boat.

Welcome to Mara's Restaurant and Cafe. Note the name and face on the menu.

A taste of what it might be like.

But my true wish is that my girls become craftsmen or tradesmen or small business owners — landscape designers or fixers of engines or sculptors or creators of fine chocolates or soap or mandolins. Or restaurateurs. I want them to love what they do, that’s all. My belief, and there is research to support the belief, is that in the main people who work with their hands are happier and healthier on more levels than are people who work in abstractions only. (It’s important to note that I’m not talking about my daughters becoming assembly line workers in Detroit. I refer you once again to Matthew Crawford’s book “Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Nature of Work.”) 

Sometime last year Mara expressed interest in opening a restaurant here in our house where she would make food for her friends. We jumped all over that idea, and said that maybe sometime we could have a few friends over, give them a short menu, and we would help her cook. Mara’s sixth birthday was last week and we celebrated today by inviting her fellow étudiantes from her homeschool French class and her two closest non-school friends to a grand opening of Mara’s Restaurant and Cafe.

Jay and Mara make the rounds.

Jay waits to take Amelia's order, which turns out to be Combo #3.

Learning to walk with beverages has to be one of the hardest parts.

We didn’t actually cook, but we put together a menu of snacks and sat the party attendees at kid-sized tables in our large kitchen, each table adorned with real flowers in a vase. We told all of them to bring a purse, which half of them forgot to do, and we gave them each a wad of play money, and we charged exhorbitant prices for the snacks so that they would get to count out and spend plenty of it.

It was a riot. Mara wanted to be the server, and while her original vision had assigned me to the kitchen to help Angela chop vegetables and fruits and slice cheese, one of the other parents beat me to these tasks while I was answering the door, so I photographed the doings and helped serve. It was such an inspiring event that I took a frillion photos.

Not hovering, not neglecting. The ideal server.

By the time it came to paying the bills the veneer of refinement had begun to wear off.

My hope is that as Angela and I take their ideas seriously, even in play versions, our children will grow up confident that their ideas are worth trying and that their interests and passions could precede (and ideally guarantee) making a living. In that regard we thought that simply being able to pull this off today was a huge success. Also, Mara worked her butt off today serving her friends, which we feel is a beautiful way of being. She got to be the center of attention during Present Opening Time, but for a solid half-hour she circulated among the small tables, wearing an apron her aunt in St. Louis had made with her name embroidered on it,  and asked what else her friends would like to order. She had help from Jay, an 11-year-old girl who is also one of the homeschoolers and, being the sweetest child on Earth, is like a big sister to many of them. Jay wrote down the orders and added up the bills afterward. Like waiters in a real restaurant, Mara and Jay sat down to eat only after having worn themselves out bringing food out to the guests.

Something for every palette.

Time for some sugar. The Birthday Girl still has her serving apron on.

The children took it all very seriously. You might be astonished at how easily young children adapt to the idea of being led to fancy tables and making their own choices from a menu. Even when they chirped “This is the nicest restaurant I’ve ever been to”, they did not sound as though they were playing or pretending. They looked like small adults dining. Sure, there were moments when they cut up, and Mara had a blast shouting “Three #1 Combos!” to the kitchen. But by and large, it seemed to me that the girls were all feeling extremely grown up and honored by this unusual birthday theme, which was just a bonus we hadn’t anticipated.

And then they all turned into children again and started chasing balloons.

The layers of belief

Our little family is slowly developing a list of holiday traditions. I wrote about Trinity Farm last year, the place where we have now gone three years in a row to cut our Christmas tree. People go there to get their trees, but they also go there to ride the kiddie train, sit on Santa’s lap, play on the old firetruck, sit around drinking free cocoa and apple cider around an open firepit, and just generally be outside in the subalpine air.

Emilia and I survey a field of future Christmas trees.

Saturday was a gorgeous day, sunny and cold. We found our tree rather quickly (and encircled it with a prayer of thanks delivered eloquently this year by Mara, then cut it down and affixed it to the top of the car), which allowed us more time to clamber around the fire engine and linger by the fire.

Goofing on the fire engine is an annual tradition.

Because the bonfire is so central to the Trinity Tree Farm experience, Angela thought to bring a bag of marshmallows with us, and I had snipped two long suckers from the cherry tree in our yard and thrown them in the back of the car before we headed up. I sharpened these into marshmallow roasting implements and we made ourselves sick on fire-roasted clouds of sugar. Other, less fortunate kids were eyeing the marshmallows and whispering to their parents about it, until we started telling people to help themselves. We passed the sticks on to eager young roasters, creating a miniature Sucrose Event there by the fire that will inform the pastiche of images and scenes in the memories of at least a dozen little kids.

Since there were cookies and hot-dogs and kettle corn for sale, I’m not sure that our little marshmallow commune quite fit into the farm’s economic model, but we were glad to have been part of so much spontaneous joy.

Onlookers lick lips in envy.

Mara still isn’t keen to sit on the old elf’s lap. We have never told her there is no such thing as Santa Claus, in fact we maintain the elaborate charade (some gifts are from Santa, for example, and we leave him a plate of cookies), but some part of her knows he is a fiction, and so it disturbs her to see him sitting there. Mara has not indicated to us that she is ready to give up this wonderful childhood myth — in fact just the opposite — but she definitely won’t sit on some stranger’s lap when she knows good and well that it’s not Saint Nick.

Millie getting her first whiff of grand fir.

Angela and I are learning about a strange kind of “belief” that Mara is displaying these days and that was even present to some degree last year. We dug the Advent calendar out of the garage on December 1st, lighting the fuse on a countdown to Christmas that will significantly reduce the quality and quantity of sleep for all members of our household who are five and a half years old. We’d splurged on a really nice Advent calendar last year. It’s not so much a calendar as a little wooden dollhouse with 24 cubbies — each hidden by a hinged door — large enough to hold a piece of candy or a small toy. Mara goes insane when this thing is sitting on the mantel, as though she were a wolf and it were a full moon. Little trinkets or M&Ms or other treats show up magically each on their appointed day, put there “by Santa’s elves”.

We were late getting this started this year, so the first morning had already gone by before we brought it upstairs and set it above the fireplace. This meant that the first day’s cubby should already be opened, a calculus not lost on the girl, who wondered whether there might nevertheless be something delightful behind that first door when we took it out of its box.

Magic for as long she needs to believe.

[Aside: Funny she should ask, because Angela had had the presence of mind to slip a chocolate coin into it before bringing it up.] We told Mara that it wasn’t likely there would be anything there since we were late about it this year, and we delivered thespian astonishment when she looked anyway and found the coin.

A while later she asked Angela, “Mommy, did you put that coin in there?” Angela usually says something like, “What do YOU think, Sweetie?” in answer to such questions, but she was caught off-guard and she answered “no”. This seemed to satisfy Mara, but I felt bad that we had lied outright in direct response to a yes or no question. Creating the myth in the first place, telling her that elves were hiding goodies in the calendar, was not the same as lying. But looking her in the eye when she was asking for the truth in unequivocal terms and telling her Untruth…well, I didn’t like it. Angela agreed immediately when I brought it up, and we agreed we would burst the bubble of her childhood innocence the next day, since she seemed ready.

Still a believer.

But the next day I had to rush off to work and “the talk” didn’t happen. Because I find Angela’s telling of what happened later so beautiful, I will use the words she sent me in an email that day:

Hey Dude,
I had a chat with Mara after you left, and I asked her who she “wished” was putting things in the advent calendar. She said Santa, his elves, or his Hon.* I said, “what about me or daddy?”. She got a kind of funny look on her face, and said “NO. Then we wouldn’t all be surprised.” That was the end of the conversation. Mara is a smart kid, and at some level, she knows that we are the ones that are creating the magic, but we can still give her permission to believe in Santa, elves, fairies, etc. She clearly wants to still believe. Because she’s such a smart kid, she’ll really need that permission from us to still live in the land of make believe. She’ll really need us to play along with her. I really botched it last night…I was so unprepared for her questions. But I don’t think it’s the end of the world. I think it would be sadder, at this point, to take away that ever so thin veil between fantasy and reality…I certainly gave Mara the opportunity to come up with the “true” answer this morning, and her choice was clear.” 

I can see the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny wiping their brows and saying “Phew! That was a close call.”

*”Hon” is Mara’s word for a spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, or civil partner.

All Hallows Eve, 2010

I realize I’m late on the draw here and that people are probably up to here already with other people’s Halloween pictures. But I would be remiss, given the joy that this weird holiday brings into our family, if I did not unfold. And something eerie happened to me this year, which I’ll tell anon.

Success at last. Three home-grown pumpkins.

First off, the news this year is that Angela successfully brought three pumpkins to plump fruition in the back yard. She had grown a large pumpkin one year at our old house, but someone nicked it the day before Halloween. Last year the two pumpkins that managed to get a start rotted on the vine. This year she slid a shingle under each one. Wooden boards lying on the ground are to slugs what “free WiFi” signs are to telecommuting cafe-goers, so I don’t know why the pumpkins didn’t get eaten the quicker, and the pumpkins at the farm are lying right on the ground, no problem, so I am unable to speak to why it worked, but we had three pumpkins to make into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. For a fourth (since we are now The Four) we used one of the pumpkins we harvested at the farm a fortnight ago.

The one in front is Emilia's, and it kinda looks like her (or Buddy Hackett). Mara wanted one of Angela's classic scary-grinning ones; hers is middle left. Mine is the worried looking one on the left. Click for larger if you dare.

Just before setting out, the energy level is high.

We carved our jack-o-lanterns just hours before Mara’s buddy Gwyneth came over with her parents and little brother and grandmother. Gwynnie was Dorothy of Oz. We were all proud of her for deliberately choosing silver shoes (what the book specified) rather than ruby red (a liberty taken by Hollywood). Coren was Peter Pan, but everybody thought he was Robin Hood. Mara was Fiona (“from Shrek”, I would add every time someone looked confused by her announcement); she wore a princess dress and Angela tied her hair in a ribboned braid like the one Fiona wore in the movie.

We hit the streets just before dark, and tricked and treated our way to a house we call the Vortex a few blocks away. It is a house whose inhabitants go to great lengths every year to construct some kind of storyland out of their front porch and populate it with individuals in costume who play various parts. I think it was called the Vortex the first year we went, which is why we still refer to it that way. Last year it was a space adventure, and though I didn’t go in, Angela said it was hilarious. They took a handful of kids (and parents) at a time into a little makeshift spacecraft, which had a sliding window that purported to be a monitor onto the surface of whatever planet they visited. Their guide narrated the wonders, and the people in funny costumes acted out the story. This year we were giddy with excitement when we approached the street and saw a sandwich board advertising “The Library of Horror”. Mara and I had driven down that street several days earlier on our way home from fetching the take-out Thai, just to see if anything was afoot yet, and sure enough three people had been out on ladders painting the front of what would become, by All Hallows Eve, the Transylvania Public Library.

Note the dry-ice fogger. Mara told me later that the horns looked real and "didn't have tape holding them on", otherwise this creature would have been no problem for her.

The extra mile in festive participation. The guide introduces another group to the crying gargoyle. As always, click for larger version.

Out front we were met by a David Duchovnyish character in a tweed jacket and cap and holding a pipe (lit with a battery) and an old book. He said he was returning a book to the library and did we want to come along? Knowing that these folks tend to underestimate how scary their productions can be, I asked if we could request a spiciness level of one-star, as it were. He said he’d see what he could do, and we followed him up the steps to a pedestal on which squatted a sobbing gargoyle wearing glasses and a sign that read “Closed Due to Budget Cuts”. Mara planted her feet and gripped my hand at this point and it was only when I told her that I was going inside and that she could wait with Mommie or come with me, that she allowed me to tow her up onto the porch, which had been enclosed to seem like an interior. There were bookshelves and an old white haired librarian lady, who read an abbreviated and non-spooky summary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein while a figure of the lumbering monster motioned through a window. There was also a hand that came up through a table, and a skeletal hand that handed books from the bookshelf. Count Dracula strolled in and said hyello, and the Headless Horseman came out holding his pumpkin head and offered us candy. “Thanks Heady!” said our tweedy guide.

The TPL was the highlight of our travels that evening. I hope they continue doing that every year. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s in our own neighborhood, done for the love of it.

Settle down, Yorick! One of the neighbors' decorations. (Don't click on this picture.)

Oh, and the eerie thing that happened to me? For the first time in maybe thirty six years, I felt as though it would have been fun to have dressed up as something, and I resolved that next year I would do so. Angela was surprised. But I’d better start working on my costume now, because of course I’ll want it to be original, stunning, one-of-a-kind. Alright, maybe I’ll just settle for running into the costume shop next year two days before H-day. But it felt good to feel that desire to participate, such a distant impulse for me for so long. Maybe I’m thawing out after all these years.

Patchwork

Bereft of our CNO (chief nurturing officer) and most junior family member are we, Mara and I. Angela went on a much needed women’s retreat this weekend and could bear neither the thought of not being able to smell Emilia’s head for two nights and two days nor the prospect of returning to find us all dead because I couldn’t manage a baby and a five-year-old, so she took Millie-pants with her.

I was torn about whether or not to include the other fifty shots that each have one empty hole because the kids were moving around so much. Note the fog visible in even a few yards of background.

Mara and I went with her friend Gwyneth’s family to the Craven Farm Pumpkin Patch in Snohomish today. It’s become an annual tradition that Mara really looks forward to. I blogged about this last year, so I won’t go into all the details again. But I took a fajillion pictures, so I thought I’d post a good batch of them.

We arrived early and entered the patch under a blanket of white fog that lay thick and cold on the valley floor. But while we were hunting pumpkins the fog lifted and dissolved in a bright blue October sky. This happened last year, too, and it really is a kind of magical experience. Mara and Gwyn don’t notice that kind of thing consciously, of course, but it forms the background of the memories of this place that are forming and being strengthened every year. For the girls, the big attractions are the pumpkins, the makeshift playground the farm has — a teepee, an old speedboat, an old tractor, and a pirate ship structure — and the hayride, not necessarily in that order. 

It really should be called a straw-wagon.

Awaiting the next surprise on the hayride.

A vegetate Little Red Riding Hood is one of the enchantments in the cornfield.

You might pause to marvel that I got this shot, since I was inside the tractor sitting next to Mara on a bale of hay (straw, actually) and had no way to aim the camera or see what their faces were doing. It pays to have long arms.

The hayride is always fun because the tractor pulls the wagon into a tall acre of corn on a path along which little scenarios, some spooky and all festive, have been set up. The girls love this, especially the place where a pumpkin-headed witch has crashed into a post on her broom. After the ride, we turn our attention to the more serious business of selecting pumpkins in the field.

The pumpkin patch has a calming and restorative effect on adults, I think — we all end up meandering away into different corners of the field and then reconvening, over and over again — but Mara can only be interested in pumpkin hunting for so long and then it’s all about the worms. The earth beneath the gourds, when you roll them over, is silty and stinky and very rich, and large earthworms abound in it. I have to remember when we leave the patch to ask her if she has worms in her pockets and if she does, to enjoin her to release them back into some moist and shady shelter, otherwise she’ll bring them home and want to take them into her bed with her. 

Patch pals.

Each glimmer of bright orange lures you further into the field.

Worms. What it all comes down to.

The fog lifts. It's going to be a beautiful day.

A worm in the hand is worth two pumpkins in the bush.

 

The lucky man at four score

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my Country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

— Scouts’ Oath

Be prepared.”

— Scouts’ Motto

I do my father a disservice by drawing attention to him, this I know at the outset. So this may be a short post, depending on how long it takes to say as little as possible about the fact that we celebrated his 80th birthday last Saturday. I get the feelilng from old photographs (many of which were on display on a table at the entrance to the church multipurpose room where we had gathered only last month to celebrate his sister-in-law’s 100th) that my dad had something of a hambone in him when he was younger, but for the nearly half-century I have known him he has not been one to seek the limelight.

A good friend gets a good laugh out of Dad.

We his family and his friends are exceedingly glad that he was here to be celebrated Saturday. He comes into his 81st year beset by breathing difficulties that oblige him to be always within a few yards of a tank of oxygen, which he inhales through a nose-tube. This and the wheelchair (because it exhausts him even to walk) make him perhaps even less eager to be the center of attention than he would be anyway, though he does not say this, and in the tradition of his WASP heritage he does not complain very loudly or very often about the wheelchair or the oxygen tube, which he often holds coiled up like a cowboy’s lariat so that he can lend out slack when he walks from his chair in the living room to the breakfast nook, and not at all about the curtailment of his once-favorite activities — dancing with Mom, rebuilding pianos, walking the trails at Mount Rainier. And since he has lived well past the five years he was “given” when doctors discovered a slow form of pancreatic cancer eating at his internal organs, he actually considers himself lucky. Indeed, it is not the cancer that troubles him now — it has all but receded with the adminstration of annoying but non-invasive treatments — but the shortness of breath caused by emphyzema. The lack of breath is the only thing that he seems willing to own as a tribulation.

Dear friends drove long distances on the freeway and crossed large bodies of water to be present for Dad’s celebration, and some of these folks are people for whom travel is a discomfort or even a hardship. My Mom’s brother and his wife, Uncle Jack and Aunt Lil, flew out from what Jack calls “the right coast” for the occasion (both my parents are from Baltimore, Maryland), and my brother Ben brought his family down from Alaska. Two of Ben’s children, the twins Emily and Jack (yes, named for his great-uncle) were also celebrating their birthday that day (Dad’s was a few weeks ago, theirs was that very day), and so there were several cakes and we sang multiple renditions of Happy Birthday.

On leave in Switzerland (probably Zurich), early 1950s.

Dad and me, late '60s.

Dad brought his Boy Scout sash with him. He’s very proud of the fact that he made Eagle Scout back in the day. I have only seen this accessory a handful of times — maybe fewer than five — but it means a lot to him and it has obviously been kept rolled up or folded in a safe place throughout my entire life. As I googled the Scouts’ code of honor online (that’s a sad picture, isn’t it?) it became clear to me that my father has never stopped being an Eagle Scout. The Scouts’ Law describes my dad to a fare-thee-well.

What meant even more to him was that several people attended his party from “the old neighborhood”, the one in south Bellevue where he and Mom raised us kids. I spent most of the event flitting around from one table to another saying hello to people I hadn’t seen in years but whom I had known, or rather who have known me, since I was two days old. And because my century-old aunt Evelyn was able to attend — this had not necessarily been a certainty — brother Ben got to see her at last. He was not able to be here for her do last month.

It's all here.

Mara was once again happy to spend time with her Alaska cousins, who despite turning eight years old are near enough to her own age as to be a new kind of cousin in her mind (all but one of her “adult” cousins on my side were also present). Mara has quickly bonded with Jack and Em, especially Emily. They spent the afternoon playing together and eating cake. 

In my father’s lifetime, American society has evolved from an essentially agrarian world to a digital one, in many ways a virtual one. When he was born, cities were surrounded by and supplied by farms and most people in America still lived in the countryside. I think about this all the time, what has changed, what has been lost. In some respects, the America I long for is one that I don’t really remember but that he does. People stayed put more and were more interdependent on one another, community supplied what has been replaced by money now. Planned obsolescence was unheard of and would have been regarded as the insanity that it is, and things made were made with pride and with the intent that they should last as long as possible. If my dad has ever reflected on the remarkable transformation of the world he has lived in for 80 years he has not done so out loud, nor is he a glass-half-empty man like myself. My dad has cheerfully accommodated the plastics and high tech polymers and fabrics that have emerged and taken over the world once made of iron, tin, aluminum and wood, meanwhile simultaneously keeping his own love of more traditional materials alive in his piano rebuilding work. 

One of my favorite shots of Dad. Cannon Beach in the late '70s. He bought himself a kite.

At a lookout point south of Cannon Beach, late 1970s.

I think one word that fairly describes my dad’s outlook on the world is acceptance. That alone wins him not only my highest admiration, but also a measure of vexation. More than any other, this is the man whom I am more likely to resemble in all ways as time goes by, no matter what I do. I am filling the space where he walked, the stages his face has gone through, the shape of his body — my brother saw a recent photo of me and said I even stand like him. But other than the fact that he values, still values, the mores listed in the boy scout’s code — being trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent — I know him so little. More than anything I want to know who my father is and it is mainly by what we are passionate about that we are known. His passions he has held close to the vest, and that’s just how it is. He is, after all, descended of English and German farmers.

I do know that he considers himself to be a lucky man in more ways than not, and that’s a posture in which I am happy to follow him. 

Dad sat  in a high-backed chair like an old and well-loved king, and because so many people wanted a chance to talk with him he ended up clutching the same half sandwich in his left hand for about an hour. He held up well, though, and afterwards a small subset of family and close friends retired to my folks’ house in Issaquah to finish off whatever cold-cuts didn’t get eaten at the party and to prolong the togetherness before plane flights the next day.

Some of the clan. And this doesn't include the many friends who attended.

King for a day!

Adoption Day

You’ll fly away
but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job’s done, you’ll be the one who knows”

— Dar Williams

This morning on the third floor of the King County Courthouse on Third and James, the State of Washington recognized and established Emilia Jane as a member of our family and Mara officially became a big sister. Now when the cyclops eye of the state looks out upon the world, it sees, as all states do, only one truth without any gray areas or previous realities or multiple intertwining existential perspectives. As far as the state is concerned, it is as though Emilia was born of Angela’s and my loins, and there is no other condition of affairs as regards this family. We, on the other hand, carry with us the complexities of our situation, in particular the future questions to be answered about “why” and “what if” and the present questions of how to forge an ongoing relationship with Emilia’s birthparents in a very open adoption.

Waiting to be called before the judge. Some of our support team.

And yet…And yet, the fact that we have adopted both of our daughters is in our minds the least interesting thing about them. They are simply our children. When I call the house as I walk home from the bus stop at the end of the day and tell Mara that I’m getting near our street and she hangs up and runs outside and rushes down the sidewalk with her hair flapping and her bare feet slapping the pavement until she hits me with her arms wide open and I lift her up into the arc of her momentum and hold her in my arms, I never think “this is my adopted daughter Mara”. I stopped thinking of her as something other than my child about three seconds after she was born, and it is the same with Emilia. The decree of the state is a nice thing — it feels good to have the Big Wheel Turning acknowledge us as a family — but it is only the acknowledgement of what is already true. We have been on the job for eleven weeks in Emilia’s life, actually much longer. 

We consider ourselves blessed. Because of two women’s courageous decisions, made in love, we are the family we dreamed of being. And we joyfully accept the added difficulties that present themselves now and will emerge later. 

and yes we said yes we will yes...

Those difficulties, real as they are, were far from our minds this day as we approached the bench of Judge Carlos V– with our adoption attorney Albert. Uncle Albert, as we call him, was our lawyer all through Mara’s adoption process, and we are particularly fond of him. He talks fast and is always right, and he begins most of his statements with “Listen…”, which took me a little getting used to, but he is really an old softy and is very good at what he does. He has worked miracles on our behalf, cutting through red tape and o’erleaping bureaucratic hurdles to get the proper motions and pleas in place at the proper times in very hectic situations with very narrow margins for delay.

Albert introduced us to hizzoner the judge, noting that we were “veterans” of this process, and then asked Angela and myself each our names, then whether we were married, then whether it was our desire to adopt this baby, and then whether we were “in a position financially, emotionally, physically and in all other ways to care for her and provide for her needs”, and then what the baby’s name was to be. After saying our names, we said yes, yes, yes and Emilia Jane F—.

Judges like this sort of thing on a Friday.

I got tears in my eyes. The judge, who I’m pretty sure was the same judge as in Mara’s case, did not study our faces while Albert asked us these questions, did not seem that interested in us. I don’t think that he even looked up from the papers (or crossword puzzle?) he was working on, though I can’t be sure because I was looking mainly at Albert. You might surmise from his demeanor that he considered all this to be a dreary routine, but Albert once told us that judges in this kind of court love to preside over adoptions, because families come in all bubbling over with joy, which is a rare thing in the courtroom. The rest of their cases are divorces and custody battles and usually involve parties in bitter opposition.

Albert then turned to ask members of our family who had come to share in the event with us whether they were in favor, and my mother, sister and brother-in-law and our friend Bethany behind us all said yes (I think Randy said “aye”), and then Albert told the judge that in light of all this testimony he recommended that the judge sign our adoption decree. Then in the same tone that one might mutter “hmmm, I seem to have left my car keys on the counter at the hotel” the judge told us he was going to go ahead and sign our papers. And that was that. He invited us to come up behind the bench with him so we could get some photos of us with him.

The party in question. The dress is the same one big sis Mara wore for her finalization hearing five years ago.

As far as the adoption itself then, we’re finally done, but the journey of raising baby Emilia, and her officially recognized big sister Mara, continues. We’ll keep you posted, naturally.


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