Abby comes home today. Yesterday they boarded the train for Moscow and began the long journey west. She’ll arrive back here in time for a birthday kiss but too late for dinner or a real visit. That will have to wait. I can’t wait. But, with my children, it’s pretty much always been that I am waiting. Dan started that pattern by arriving, not voluntarily but two weeks late and Abby, like-wise. Neither child was the least bit inclined to come into the world freely or easily. And throughout their lives, try as I might to orchestrate things, they have moved very much at their own pace. That’s not to say they continued with the late routine; in fact, with Abby it’s usually that I’m trying to catch up.
No, the wait part is more like waiting to see what comes next. I never know with them. They have followed unpredictable paths from the get go. For years the stuff of my professional life had to do with predicting developmental milestones from infancy through childhood. After finishing graduate school my post graduate studies were with NIMH in infant and child development (Didn’t you love Mrs. Frisby and the rats?). Families would be sent to me by their pediatricians with questions: When will he sleep through the night? When will she talk? When will they be ready to potty train? Until I had my own children I had those answers down pat.
Dan, who had colic for a full nine months rather than the “normal” six weeks and would subsequently require 4 months of negotiation to consent to wear shorts (“MY YEGS STICK OUT!”) stood up and walked easily at 10 months. He could recite the alphabet at 20 months (and we paraded him out at every opportunity to do so) but couldn’t read it until he was 7. He played complete works by John Coltrane at 16, checking accounts at 27.
Abigail hit the pavement running at 14 months( Buck naked. Unlike her brother she wanted everything to stick out) and didn’t stop until she was 16 years old when she seemed to slammed into her own personal marathon wall. Then she was dead in her tracks for two years. I guess in retrospect, given her previous pace, two years out to sit on the roof and get high wasn’t really such a bad idea from a developmental viewpoint. Everyone needs to find time for a little r and r, time to regroup.
The point is, for me an awful lot of parenting has involved adapting to their pace. For decades it was not for want of trying to get them to move at mine, but now that I have stepped back just a bit, I’m usually waiting to see what comes next with them.
And so, today, on Abby’s birthday I’m waiting for her to come home from Russia. From what I’ve gathered on Skype, she’s had an amazing time, getting to know Misha’s family and seeing the sights. She sent me a couple pictures and it made me wonder: If they saw a picture of our family gathered around the dinner table would we look so close to how they envision Americans? Because to me, this photo of his family gathered together is somehow exactly the way I pictured this close Russian family. Mother teaches school and father is a chef. Since Abby has been there they have taken time off from work to visit, to cook endless meals, to take them to the mountains, to throw a giant dinner party for 40 in their honor. Abby has been to the small village near the Black Sea of Misha’s grandmother and there, on the little farmstead that provides much of the meat for Misha’s family, Abby learned to milk a cow. She was very excited to tell me about that during one of our brief skype chats. At the beginning of the trip in Moscow, she saw the Kremlin and cathedrals and museums. They don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th; to the degree that they do celebrate it is according to the Orthodox calendar. And to a certain degree, it’s an old holiday coming back because the government suppressed religion for quite a while there. But on December 25th, Misha’s mother had a Christmas gift especially for Abby- a pair of earrings. I feel grateful to this woman I don’t know. New Years is the big holiday there. I rang Abby on Skype about 1pm here on New Years Eve because that was about 11pm there and that had been the time I was most likely to catch her just before they go to bed. In this case, they were just getting ready to sit down to a midnight dinner, as they heralded in the New Year. On January 7, they will celebrate Christmas. It’s close in time to Epiphany (aka 12th night, Bonnie’s most favorite holy day, with the possible exception of November 10th) but not the same and their son and my daughter will be here. I’m sure they will be missing them.
I’ve missed her a lot these past few weeks. In recent years we’ve fallen into a pattern where I chat with her maybe 3-4 times a week, briefly, on the phone and see her a couple times a week when she drops by for an hour or so. About once a week they come to dinner. It’s a very nice sort of visiting schedule with a grown child. But she’s close. Anytime I want to be in touch with her she’s a mile away in her own apartment, near campus and downtown, near the Bay and Fisheries and Wildlife, with Misha and their wonderful gray cat, Grey. So when she’s on the other side of the world I don’t like it so much. Same with Dan. I see him far less and I don’t like it. Funny thing is, when he is on tour I miss him more than when I know he is at his home in Ann Arbor and that is true even if he’s touring closer to me, say in New Orleans. It’s true for me now with Rich’s girls, too. They are all too far away.
Anyway, I’m just killing time here today, waiting. I’ll be waiting all day, just for her to pop her head in for a couple minutes tonight when they drive by from the airport. I’ve been cooking for them because I have to make up for all those missed opportunities of the past few weeks and because they’ll be exhausted for a couple days and coming home to an empty refrigerator. So, in lieu of Christmas, I’m going over to their apartment today with groceries and a few gifts and Christmas stockings. I made chicken tikka masala, beef stroganoff, cream of broccoli soup, fresh salsa. I shopped at the Saturday market yesterday and got them fresh lettuces, microgreens, spinach, just picked strawberries and tomatoes, newly dug red potatoes (a few advantages of living in Florida). Some breads, a birthday cake and flowers.
Their plane departed Moscow an hour late (I checked) but they’ll still make their connection in Houston to Tampa (I checked). Now, I’m just waiting. Waiting to see what comes next with this one.(With age comes grace and patience and the ability to stand still. Abby in Russia.)