I’m just back from my second trip to Boston in three weeks. My brother-in-law’s father, Jim Dangel, died unexpectedly and tragically of a massive stroke that he had Christmas Eve. He was 70 and healthy up until the last moment. I’ve been helping my sister and Colin with their three kids. Colin with his brothers has been taking care of him Mom. I have truly enjoyed spending time with my sister and her kids without my own. Between us we had six kids in five years, so while we see each other frequently, it’s not often that I can focus on her brood. My kids may have had enough; their comment before I left last week was “come on mommy….” But they were troopers, and so were the tremendous staff (including my husband) back in C’ville that took care of them. Rebecca, incidentally, lost a tooth and, while our tooth fairy gives one quarter, the one who came while we were gone gave 3 quarters. And, coincidentally, the friend with whom she had a slumber party lost a tooth and wrote her tooth fairy a note asking her to leave Rebecca another quarter since the going rate should really be a dollar—inflation. We did get a few calls mostly from Jonathan with things like “Ann refuses to remove the vegetables from my plate. She doesn’t understand that I’m behind in eating and don’t eat them” Now that he can read we need to hide all those books about feeding therapy and oral motor skills...)
Jacob is the bossiest silent being I’ve ever met. He says little but somehow directs traffic unequivocally He says Cookie very clearly and calls his brother BOY. He luckily also knows how to say boots because part of our job involved finding the perfect black boots for my sister. This is out of character for her, but I’m convinced that there a skirt and boots can help most situation. All three kids love the fabulous new piano, and we got quite the family band going. Ethan especially has a knack for percussive sounds. I could tell my lease with the Dangle/Gordon kids was up when Ethan punched me in the face, and yesterday, when I picked the kids up from their friends’ house where they’d spent the day, he threw a fit after being angelic all day. I apparently deserved the punch because after he peed in his pants I said he had to change them—the kid by the way is a natural athlete and can really pack a punch. Luckily I have my own tantrumer so the thought of wrestling a kicking screaming four year old into a dreaded pair of corduroys doesn’t really bother me. And this one (as with my own) becomes quite cuddly and cute after he’s done with his explosion. Ethan’s pretty fascinated with the fact that I teach music, though my ability to play Twinkle Twinkle and If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands seemed more moving than my ability to say “can’t you just play by yourself a few more minutes so I can finish this letter of recommendation and read at least two of the over 50,0000 hits I got when I typed Thomas Jefferson into JSTOR”
Hannah, meanwhile, announced that I'm not her favorite Aunt. Aunt Peggy has that title. This declaration came at the end of two visits during which I’d cleaned up poop, woken up with the baby who thinks 5:15 is a good time to start the day, taken a shower with one kid, gotten a full description of some princess or other while I was going to the bathroom, and shared my MAC lipstick. Nope not me; it's Aunt Peggy--Colin's aunt who babysat Hannah just after she turned two and made her floating party hats out of newspaper. Hannah shares with Rebecca a certain fashion je ne sai qua. The theme this week was stripes—as in striped shirt, striped tights, striped dress, and striped head band. Luckily she had on her best duds because apparently she got married on Friday to Issac. She chose him because he doesn’t fight with dragons. When we asked why he picked her she said about the other two girls “They were dogs.” After the adults finished choking on their pizza, we realized that the future knockout of Harvard MA was not making an aesthetic judgments but referred to an actual ruff ruff situation.
I also during these last few days talked a bit, mostly with Hannah, about Papa. She reminded me just how literal kids can be and that when a child asks a profound questions wait ten seconds before responding. My sister and brother in law were with Colin’s mother in the morning, and my parents, Manuel, and I were with the kids. Hannah has taken to accompanying me while I get dressed. This prompted her to say she wants my red bra and green ring when I die. As we were putting on our makeup and doing our hair, she asked something about mommy, and I explained that we were all going to Papa’s funeral. She asked if he’d be there. This spun me into a metaphysical problem, and I wondered what to say about Death and afterlife to the child of a Jew and a lapsed Congregationalist who goes to a Waldorf school where they worship nature. She cleared up the matter when she said “oh yea he’s in a box like the ancient Egyptians and like Teddy Kennedy.” But she does understand some basics. What she understands most is that Papa took care of Nini, and now her Daddy and his brothers do that. She’s pretty sure she can help too and is quite proud of having cooked food. She thinks maybe she can help also with decorating—watch out Nini this will be kaleidoscopic. Hannah, by the way who can be a challenge, has completely risen to the occasion, helping her brothers and whoever is taking care of the kids. I trust this will blow at some point and since I’ve seen her tantrums which are rare but require nothing short of an exorcist to control, I’m glad I’m out of there.
The funeral was lovely. I haven’t actually been to any non-jewish funerals, and I did note that people arrive five minutes early instead of fifteen and that they serve ham salad instead of bagels and lox. And What struck me most was how incredibly eloquently and passionately each of the three sons spoke. I didn’t know Jim Dangle at all really; I’m sure there’s a yiddisher word for our relationship, but it consisted of seeing him at Dangel life cycle events of which there have been many. But I loved Colin’s analogy for his dad—a tootsie pop and even from my brief knowledge of him it seemed more than apt.
I’ve never been able to see my little sister in pain without feeling my own pang, and as it turns out it extends to her husband. (this is not to say that I did not when we were children sit on her and spit in her face and that we don’t even now have some pretty good fights). It struck me through all of this that I don’t know many people who are as close to their siblings as I am to my sister, but Colin and his brothers are that close. Now granted they handle this with words like Dude and Hockey, and we go running, buy boots and bake cookies, but still.... I’ve been a parent long enough not to worry about either crediting the parents with the good or blaming them for the bad, but I hope that, whatever Jim and Karen and my parents did for their kids to help push along a sibling bond, we can do it for ours. And I hope that Rebecca and Hannah continue to be close—neither of them has a sister and both of them have mothers whose kitchens are closed.