Monday, June 21, 2021

Dear Dad, 2021

Hi Dad. I miss you.

It's been almost six years. I know because your youngest grandchild is six. I haven't seen him in over a year because of the pandemic, but in pictures he's looking so big compared to that tiny baby you got to hold before you died.

Six years is a long time, but on the upside, I can now talk about you at some length without bursting into tears. I'm able to share stories about you with my kids that make them laugh or smile without it also bringing me down. That doesn't mean your absence isn't still difficult, but grief is strange like that. I've adapted to it. Although that sometimes means it hits me in a wave at an unexpected time.

This year is looking up compared to last year at this time. I'm actually surprised by how quickly we're able to go back to normal in a lot of ways, considering how practiced we got at our socially distanced protocols. Things are opening up instead of closing down. It's amazing what it does for your attitude to know you could go out and do something, even if you stay home anyway.

But this Father's Day we did go do something! Mom is here (after a visit to LaCrosse) and we got tickets for all of us to the Milwaukee Public Museum. We have a membership, but you need timed tickets as part of their Covid protocols. Plus we all wore masks, which is no big deal at this point. We mostly wanted to see all of our old favorite displays before the museum moves in a few years. Things like the giant T-Rex eating a Triceratops in that spooky storm setting probably won't survive because they are out of date with current science, but it's fun to visit while we can and remember how nervous it used to make Aden when she was little. We even had the fun on this trip of introducing a family to the hidden snake button. (No kid should go to the Public Museum without getting to push the snake button.)

Last year when I wrote you, Aden was getting ready for her first year of college. That's where we still are, because she wound up deferring both semesters. Covid not only made us nervous, but it made the college experience look really rather abysmal. But our whole family is now fully vaccinated (YAY!) and things are looking up for fall. I think things will be normal enough at Stout again that it will be worth going. The silver lining in the deferrals is that not only did I get an extra year with Aden at home (which I've really appreciated), but she kind of has the fear of leaving home out of her system now. She's had a LOT of home lately, and is ready to move on. It's nice to see her excited rather than nervous. I think she's going to enjoy college.

Mona finished her virtual Junior year fifth in her class. Virtual school has been a mess for many, but a boon for Mona. She's on track to graduate early, and I'm trying to convince her to go back to in person learning for her last semester. I think she needs friends and socializing and time out of the house, but she wants us to sign her up for the continued virtual option. We'll see. Mona remains complicated in many ways, and it's hard to know sometimes if we actually know what's best for her. Currently she's excited about applying to art schools, both near and far, and she's been using the studio at the violin store to work on pieces for her portfolio. I wish you could see it.

Quinn graduated from Fernwood and will be moving on to Rufus King High School in the fall. He may have to take a city bus there, so that's something we still have to figure out. After a year of virtual schooling, he's ready to be in person. He did get to do the last month or so of eighth grade in person, but it was still odd with masks, and partitions at lunch, etc. The graduation was weird. It was held in the Bay View High auditorium so we could all spread out. The one part of the ceremony I was really looking forward to was the slideshow of the photos. Each kid was supposed to submit a baby picture, a slightly older picture, and a current picture, and they would show them on a big screen to music. It's fun to see how each kid has grown. And I submitted photos for Quinn twice! Both times under the wire--first time by email, second time by text as requested. So I was, um... disappointed when on the screen under his name they had to use a stick figure as a stand in because the pictures somehow didn't go through. Oh well. (It's kind of funny, and I have it on video.) 

Anyway, Quinn is now the tallest person in the house, and definitely has the longest hair. He's still smart and funny and sweet. He'd give you a good run for your money at Scrabble. (Remember when he tried playing with us when he was really really little, and he put down "Japon" and we had to explain that "Japan" wasn't spelled that way, but more importantly you couldn't use proper nouns? He was so embarrassed. We should have just let him play whatever he wanted, but he would have been upset with us later for not making him stick to the rules. He still likes rules.)

Ian likes not being in the Army anymore. I definitely like him not being in the Army anymore. He's doing a great job running the building and keeping the finances in order at the shop. I married a good man, Dad. I remember how you had your doubts twenty-something years ago when I told you we were getting married. That upset me until I talked to Grandma about it, and she just smiled and said, "Do you think there is any man you could pick that your father will believe is good enough for you?" I know you came around eventually, but I thought you'd like to know it's still good, and we're happy we're together.

Business is busy. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed lately because there is so much to do, and I'm about to lose my assistant. She only came up about twice a month to work, and I know that's not enough to count as really putting a dent in my workload, but it was nice to occasionally not have to do everything. It's hard doing everything. But I am grateful to have a job that survived the pandemic. I just keep hoping at some point I'll catch up on all the work at the store, and have more time for the projects I need to finish on my bench at home. I put in long hours, but never seem to get there.

But there's lots to pay for coming up, so I should just be grateful for the work. Besides college to fund starting this year, our deck out back is falling apart, and we have to replace it this fall. Remember how weird that deck is? At first glance people always think it's great, but it's ridiculous. Too many levels accomplishing too little. And it's just rotting all over and is officially a hazard. The new design should be scaled down, but with more space that's actually usable. We'll see. We really didn't want one more big project right now, but we don't really have a choice. (Short of not stepping outside the back door anymore to be safe.)

Chipper died back in March. That was hard. He was such a weird little thing. I know it made you sad that you couldn't pet him. I wish there had been a way to explain to his little doggie brain that he didn't need to fear all men. Anyway, I think of him most when I'm in the kitchen. I was used to him planted at my feet with that hopeful look on his face as I chopped things. I miss him being underfoot, and I miss his wanting me to scoop him onto the bed in the mornings. Did you have moments when you missed Anna? She was a weird dog, too, and I know you and mom were relieved not to have to factor her into your schedules anymore once she died, but wasn't it kind of nice having a dog? Someday we'll get another one, but not soon. That freedom from one more responsibility is definitely nice, but I miss having something to pet when I sit on the couch.

Writing is sort of stalled. I need to get the last project wrapped up before I can put my brain into the space of the next one, and I'm sort of stuck as I send out queries and wait to hear back from people. I hate waiting for other people to do things when I want to move forward. But I do still need to do a full couple of rounds of editing, so I have to make time for that. I wish you could read the new novel! I miss your proofreading skills, although Barrett (and occasionally Arno) has been wonderful for that.

You know what you would have loved? Visiting college campuses with Ellora. Arno described to me their process of visiting potential schools, which in pandemic times means no tours, just wandering outside of buildings and getting the general vibe of an area. They visited Yale and Amherst and Harvard, etc. It sounded like a lot of fun, and right up your alley. We still haven't seen Aden's college! I'm taking Aden up in August for her orientation, so we'll see it then. It has me thinking back to when you and I visited Oberlin. Remember how the dorm I was supposed to stay it looked too freaky, so I ended up in your hotel room instead? I liked that trip. I feel like we didn't have enough trips together like that, but I don't know when we would have had the chance.

What else would you want to know about this past year. . . Politics improved a bit. Trump is out and Biden is in, and I don't miss the daily weight of panic that the news used to bring. The Middle East is still on the brink of mayhem, racism is still a dire issue, environmental reports and mass shootings usually make me want to cry, but at least there are grownups in charge again, so I don't feel desperate about breaking news every hour. You would find so much to clip in the papers, some of it better.

My orchestra gets to play in the new fancy hall this coming season! I wish you could come! I'm still glad you got to hear me play in that Russian concert back in the Pabst several years ago. That was a good concert. I'm lucky to get to play with such talented people. I discovered during the pandemic that if I don't have something specific to prepare for, I don't take my instrument out of the case. So I guess my idea that my viola should be on my "if stuck alone on a desert island" list isn't a good one. 

Aden and Mona got to take a trip to New York to spend a couple of weeks with Arno! I drove them out there and stayed a few days to help get them acclimated, but then they were on their own to learn to navigate the subway system, etc. It was a good growing experience for both of them. They learned things about themselves and each other that were surprising. Mona even called me one night to say that she hadn't realized how much I usually facilitated certain conversations, and that she was having trouble finding things to talk about with her sister. Without someone there to dictate the plans, etc., they had to negotiate between themselves, and they have very different ways of moving in the world that don't always mesh. I know it upset them both not to be in sync, but it's part of learning to be with others. I think it was good for them, even when it was hard.

My kids are getting so grown up, Dad. I mean, Aden's going to be 20 this year. 20! It's simultaneously really young and really old. I don't know how to process it some days. How did you deal with it when I moved away? I remember my friend Alit saying at lunch at your house after she had her first baby how she was having nightmares about something happening to her child out in the world, and she wondered when that goes away. You said it didn't.

What were your worries? Were there any moments where you felt more reassured that I was doing all right? Knowing my girls made it to and from Central Park on their own made me happy. Aden's actually been using the bus since she returned to Milwaukee, because now that doesn't seem daunting compared to NYC. I hope the world is kind to them so I don't have to worry too much.

Sheesh, I feel there is a lot more I should be telling you, but my mind is sort of blank. The pandemic stuff made everything blurry and flat. It's hard looking back on the past year and to put anything in any order, or see anything as significant. Maybe next year's update will be more exciting! I would say for this year, things are okay. Life is never easy, but I have what I need. You don't need to worry. I hope part of this reality is that your nightmares are over.

I love you.

Happy Father's Day.