Lunch with Mom

Just around the corner from our house is a small three-room house on Sanders. Melvin, the owner, sits on his porch every day and waves as I pull Joy’s wagon along the sidewalk.

Yesterday was Melvin’s birthday. Neighbors stopped by in the early evening and stood on his driveway (ten feet away from each other and from Melvin), chatting, wishing Melvin a happy birthday. Signs and balloons decorated his yard and porch and carport. He offered chips and sodas to everyone who stopped by.

I stopped by at 6:40 pm.

“Happy birthday, Melvin,” I said.

“Do you want a sodie?”

“I’m good. Thank you. So you were born in 1924?” I said, reading a sign on the lawn that said: MELVIN IS 96!

“I’m ninety-six,” he said. “Got chips too.”

“Yes, sir. Were you in the war?”

“Ninety-six!”

It occurred to me later that my uncle Otto Jr., my mom’s older brother, would have been born in 1924. I Googled it. Yep. Born in 1924. Died in April 1942. In the South Pacific. The precise place where he was killed was classified during the war. I think it was American Samoa.

A few months ago, as I was moving boxes in the basement, I came across an American flag folded in the shape of a triangle. It’s the flag that draped Otto Weiner Jr.’s steel casket on a rainy day in May 1942. Due to a clerical error, his body was shipped 12,000 miles to his hometown (St. Louis) for burial. This was the first burial in home soil of an American killed in action in WWII. An article in Time magazine (June 22, 1942) reported that Private Weiner was “a favorite of the native chief. When he died, the natives held a tribal ceremony. They wove a tapestry of bark and sent it along for his parents.”

My mom was just two and a half years old when Private Weiner shipped off to fight in the war.

My mom’s sister Jean was born in 1932. Exactly one year ago, we went to Jean’s house for lunch. She wanted to meet Deb and Joy.

I sat at her kitchen table and looked around at the house where she has been living since the 1950s. Everything seemed so much smaller than I remembered it.

Of all the six sisters, Jean is the one who looked most like my mom when I was growing up. A lot like my mom. They have the same laugh. The same hair. The same smile.

Aunt Jean sat next to Deb and they chatted quietly while I talked to my cousin Patty.  Doug and Chrissy and Emily and Paige were there, too.  Joy got passed around the table until she fell asleep.

I looked over at Aunt Jean and Deb talking, baby Joy falling asleep in Deb’s arms, and for a second I saw my mom talking to Deb. I could, for a moment, imagine what it might have been like to have had lunch with Mom and Deb and Joy at my mom’s South City home.  “Hey, Mom. This is Deb, my wife. And this is Joyce Elizabeth. Do you want to hold her?”

Jean has since moved out of her home and into a nursing home, where visitation restrictions will keep most family from being able to see her in person. I hope I can stop by soon to see her (and my mom).

Paige holding sleeping Joy at Jean’s house.

Naptime

Is there anything sweeter than having a baby girl fall asleep in your arms? Spoiler alert: Nope. I will admit that it’s typically not a priority when I’m on deadline. But it is a real treat to lie down with Joy, turn on a repeat of Holy Redeemer Sunday Mass (on YouTube), and watch Joy watch Father Kevin give the homily and sing and offer post-Covid communion (no wine; host is placed in the hands of the faithful who are wearing masks).

Joy’s eyelids become heavy and flutter. Her head falls back onto my arm. And then I hear it: the regular breathing, with just the tiniest snore. I know that in about ten minutes I can (if I want to) safely extricate myself. But often I lie there much longer, until my arm (or my entire body) falls asleep. I look at her sleeping and realize that nothing will happen this week that will bring me greater joy.  I wouldn’t change her (or this time together) for anything in the world. But of course we need to change the world for her.  For all our kids.

In other news…

Joy is taking steps. Four in a row, sometimes five. And she is growing taller every day. She can reach items on the kitchen table (like a bowl of cereal). She can reach items on my desk (like my dictionary and pencils). She can now open the shower door and exit the shower while still covered in suds. Joy has lots of showers and baths (maybe three a day).

And Joy likes to throw her toys. Her balls, her blocks, her elephant, and the hedgehog. She throws Mother Goose while Mother Goose is talking. Yes Joy is a thrower.

Sometimes I am awakened in the morning because Joy has thrown my smartphone into the side of my head. “Hey!” she says as I rub my temple. I’m not sure if she wants breakfast or just wants me to unlock the phone.

I clean floors every day. I clean the kitchen floor after she throws Cheerios or crackers or hot dog across the room. I clean the carpet when she throws my half-empty/half-full coffee cup on the floor.  She threw a can of polyurethane last week, which popped open on impact. That was a mess.

I am home a lot. Maybe too much. I haven’t put gas in my car since early June. I do go to Schnucks once a week. I had been using Instacart, but the prices began to annoy me. Things that are on sale in-store are not on sale on the app. The Instacart shoppers are mostly great, but I don’t like green bananas, and sometimes their substitutions make no sense (tuna salad and broccoli salad are two different things, for example).

We get Amazon deliveries almost every day. (Vaseline, kid cups, and hand soap are arriving tomorrow. Diapers and Cheerios on Thursday. Amy’s Organic Chili on Monday.) We’re even buying clothes online now because “trying it on” is suddenly an antiquated custom.  In the post-Covid world, you will get kicked out the bank for NOT wearing a mask.

Joy seems fine with staying home 24/7. She never gets tired of Mom and Dad being home 24/7 either.

Happy birthday, Grandma Joyce

Today is my mom’s birthday (she would be 81). As I posted on Facebook today: 

In 1939, the movie Gone With the Wind was released. In 1939, Hitler prepared to invade Poland. On July 2, 1939, the St. Louis Browns defeated the Cleveland Indians 4-3. On July 2, 1939, the carving of Theodore Roosevelt was dedicated at Mt Rushmore. And the most significant event of July 2, 1939, was that Gertrude Weiner (my grandmother, who in 1939 was 42 years old) gave birth to twin girls in a small house at 4760 Heidelburg Avenue. Joan Bobby Weiner and Joyce Louise Weiner were born about 15 minutes apart.

Baby Joy is named after my mom and Deb’s mom: Joyce Elizabeth. But we call her Joy 99 percent of the time.

Every time I paw through my desk drawer for a pencil and see Joy’s Social Security card (“JOYCE MCCONNELL”), for a moment I think, Why do I have Mom’s Social Security card?

Joy is still getting her therapy—physical, occupational, and now speech. All of it by Zoom or FaceTime. It’s not ideal, but we are trying to make it work.

Two weeks ago, Deb stayed at a hotel while we anxiously waited for her Covid test results to come back. (“I’m sure it’s just a cold,” Deb said.) Before she took off for the hotel, she put on a face mask and lay down with Joy until she fell asleep. Actually, they both fell asleep.

And yes it was a cold. A cold that everyone in the house eventually caught.

Joy’s Smart Clipboard

Joy loves technology—smartphones, iPads, the Kindle Fire, laptops, and TV remotes. She especially likes to tap and swipe the touchscreens of our devices. She can delete apps, open YouTube and Audible, download music and movies, FaceTime and call my friends, and send nonsensical emails (Subject line: “lldkjkkk”) to my clients—all within seconds.

Some of my work is pencil on paper, though. I still edit some projects on printed proofs, so I have several clipboards around the house. In fact, Joy found a chapter on a clipboard last week.  She began tapping the paper. Then she swiped. Tap, tap, tap, swipe, scratch, scratch. Nothing. It’s like when she finds my sleeping iPhone and can’t get it to turn on. In frustration, she just tossed the clipboard to the floor.

In Joy’s world, every tablet-shaped object should be smart and have a touchscreen:  clipboards, 10-piece frame tray puzzles, picture books, picture frames.

Joy is constantly looking for her favorite music (“Stayin Alive” and “Funkytown”) and TV shows (“Holy Redeemer Sunday Mass” starring Father Kevin).

Joy Is 18 Months Old

Joy is 18 months old today. She likes to stand unsupported for 15 seconds or so, maybe make one tentative step, and then she falls back on her diapered bottom. She’s all smiles and chuckles. See what I can do, Daddy? she seems to be saying.  

We have a full size mattress on our bedroom floor for co-sleeping. She gets on and off the mattress dozens of times every day. She loves lying on (and jumping on) her soft mattress. If she falls over the edge and misses one of the many pillows on the sides, she still lands on soft carpeting—a fall of just 8 inches. And she does fall. She rolled off the mattress yesterday and tapped her head on the chest of drawers. She wailed. We picked her up and kissed away the hurt.

Joy can reach items on the tops of standard tables. Over the past thirty days she has broken a dozen dishes that she has assumed were Frisbees or toys.  Although it’s disappointing to see our Ikea 18-piece dinnerware set become a 9-piece set, it’s impossible to be frustrated with Joy. We pick her up, move her to another room, clean up the broken shards, vacuum-vacuum-vacuum, and mop twice. The kitchen floor has never been cleaner.

And although she can have tantrums and fake crying jags, is an expert at whining for extra ice cream (or Cheerios or apples or crackers), and likes to throw my iPhone down the stairs, I’ve never been angry with Joy for one second. Because for every tantrum she has, she gives a dozen hugs, a hundred kisses, a thousand smiles, and (so far) 548 days of love, joy, and laughter.

J is for Joy

Joy is almost 18 months old. She can pull to stand and do some cruising around the coffee table.  She likes to stand on the full size mattress and fall forward, landing on her face. She loves the mattress for bouncing. Occasionally, when she is sitting on the hardwood floor, she loses her balance and falls backward, often hitting her head.

Today I noticed Joy holding one of her board books. She was holding it right side up and turning the pages with her pointer finger, using her fingernail to catch each board and pull it over. She looked at the colorful pages and cooed. She set the book down, crawled away, then turned and came back to the book. She picked it up and again held it right side up.

Okay, I thought. She knows that the book has a proper orientation. I had never seen her hold a book like a pro before.

I decided we would “read” (it’s mostly just 26 photos of kids with 26 objects) some of the pages as she turned each one.  The book is called Kids Like Me Learn ABCs. It features photos of smiling children, mostly toddlers and grade school kids with Down.

“Okay, Joy,” I say, pointing to the 72-point capital letter. “This is the letter A. And below is the American Sign Language sign for A. A is for apple, as you can see by this baby boy sitting among the apples that, for some reason, are scattered in his bed.”

The facing page is B. “Here, Joy. Look at the little boy with the balloons.” (It’s not a flattering photo. The photographer is trying to show a look amazement on the boy’s face as the balloons float at the top of the colorful strings. But the boy seems to be saying “Huh?”) “So B stands for either balloons or bewildered.”

Joy turns the page. “Good girl, Joy. This is letter C. The sign for C actually looks like a C. The letter C can stand for cookie. That boy is holding an M&M cookie. Yum.”

I point to the facing page. “The next letter is D,” I say. “And once again—four times in a row—the model is a boy. Oh, and D stands for toy dinosaur. I guess it wouldn’t be right to photograph a girl playing with a triceratops.”

Suddenly  Joy decides to flip to the last page. “Oh, Joy. You are so ZANY!” I say.  “Z is for zany and for zipper.” The left-hand page is, of course Y.  Y is for yarn. The photographer has draped different colored yarn over a little boy’s head.

Joy then flips back a page to W and X. “Look, Joy. W is for watermelon. Girls are allowed to pose with watermelon slices.”

The facing page is X. X is for xylophone (of course). “Look, Joy,” I say, “the little boy is going to bang the heck out of the ZYE-low-fone.”

Joy closes the book. She drops it on the mattress and decides to bounce.

Joy watching mass.
Asleep in sister’s arms.
Fresh out of the bath.

Happy birthday, Eileen

“Stayin’ Inside” by the Bee Gees and Joy

Well, you can tell by the way I cannot walk
I’m a baby girl, and I cannot talk
My voice is loud and bottle warm
I’ve been passed around since I was born
But now it’s all right, that’s okay
You may play with me all day
We can try to understand
The Tiger King’s effect on man

Whether you’re my sister or whether you’re my sitter
You’re stayin’ inside, stayin’ inside
Feel the country breakin’ and Fox News a fakin’
But were stayin inside, stayin’ inside
Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ inside, stayin’ inside
Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ insi-i-i-ide

Well, we got eggs and we got dye
But we have no Angel Soft, we really tried
Got some baby wipes for my poo
I’m a baby girl, and I just can’t lose
You know, it’s all right, it’s okay
I’ll live to see another day
I can try to suck my thumb
I like New York Times’ effect on Trump

Whether you’re a cousin or whether you’re a buzzin’
Happy birthday Eileen, happy birthday Eileen
Have a happy birthday and have a happy Earth Day
You are stayin’ Eileen, stayin’ Eileen
Ah, ah, ah, ah, we love you Eileen, love you Eileen
Ah, ah, ah, ah, happy birthday, Eileeeen!
Oh

I’m goin’ nowhere, somebody help me
Instacart help me, yeah
I’m drivin’ nowhere, somebody help me, yeah
I’m stayin’ insi-i-i-i-de

♫Ah, ah, ah, ah…♫

Happy World Down Syndrome Day! It’s been a good day in our family, all things considered.

Joy is singing and dancing. She still loves Stayin’ Alive.

Deb and I and the girls sing:

“And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive…”

Then Joy sings her line: “Ah, ah, ah, ah…”

Then we sing: “Stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

Joy: “Ah, ah, ah, ah…”

Everyone else: “Stayin’ alive!”

And the smile on Joy’s face is priceless. We all clap.

Joy is so loving. She gives kisses to everyone. Over and over.

______________________

I have an Airbnb on Main Street in St. Charles. I went up to my Airbnb apartment this afternoon to clean and drop off new towels. By the way, I don’t have any guests right now. And no guests in April, either. As far as I know, there is no bailout coming for Airbnb hosts. (But I’m offering the place at half price if you know someone who wants to self-isolate away from home for a while.)

Anyway, on the way to my Airbnb I stopped at Dollar General in St. Charles to get milk and Clorox wipes and graham crackers. There was an EMS vehicle in the parking lot, but I didn’t think anything about it. EMS is often called for fender benders, heart attacks, dog bites, falls of older adults, cuts, et cetera.

I walked into the store, picked up a basket, and turned to the left. A DG employee was in my way. She was sitting on a desk chair surrounded by EMS personnel. I heard the woman say, “I’m having trouble breathing.” That’s all I heard. I placed the basket on the floor, turned around, opened the exit door with my elbow, and I ran for my car. I was thinking, I cannot get this virus. I cannot give COVID-19  to Joy or Deb or the girls.

I know it feels like the zombie apocalypse is coming, but in my mind it’s more like War of the Worlds. Tiny viruses, so incredibly tiny that we need powerful microscopes to see them, have spread all over the world. Unlike the movie, these tiny entities are not going to kill invading Martians or evil aliens. In fact, only humans (older adults mostly) are vulnerable to the effects of the virus itself; and, yes, the coronavirus kills good people as well as bad people.

But the virus is testing our character—our character as humans, as leaders, as Americans. During this crisis, if we are smart and vigilant and helpful and compassionate and empathetic and honest, we will stop the spread of this virus and soon we can reopen our schools and restaurants and airports. If we pull together now, we will be stronger as a society when this is all over.  

Like War of the Worlds, though, the virus will bring down those who underestimate the power of tiny things. It will bring low those who don’t understand exponential growth. It will destroy those who believe we can ignore it and it will go away in the spring. It will wreak havoc if one person has 70,000 containers of hand sanitizer while my neighbor Melvin has none. It will kill health care workers who can’t get new masks and other PPE. It will absolutely not go away by giving the airlines $60 billion while laid-off waitresses get zero. (By the way, if all the airlines go bankrupt, new ones will emerge when the customers come back. It’s supply and demand.)

And speaking of the power of tiny things: When tiny Joy says (in her own way), “Daddy, pick me up!” Daddy says, “How high?” And her smile gets wider the higher she goes.

Pull-up Bar

A few weeks ago, Mary opened a box that contained a brand new pull-up bar. Apparently Mary wants to get in shape or stay in shape in the upper body.

She dumped out the contents: straight bars, curved bars, handles, long bolts, short bolts, lock washers, and acorn nuts, along with a small crescent wrench and an Allen wrench.

“Oh, crap,” she said.

“What’s up?” said Mom.

“I didn’t know this had to be put together.”

Mary opened the folded sheet of instructions, which were printed in seven languages, including Tagalog and Chinese.

Mary tried using the French instructions and then moved on to English.

Mom and Amanda gathered around her, offering suggestions. This went on for three or four minutes.

I just stood there. Then I said, “Hello. Why are y’all trying to put that together when there is a dad over here who has been to Ikea, like, eight times?”

“Are you saying I can’t put this together?” said Mary.

“Well, if you put that together within the next ten minutes, I will blog about it.”

So, I’m now blogging about it. It’s a great pull-up bar. Mary can do more pull ups than me.

Sorry about the delay, Mary. It has been a busy month.

Joy likes to bang stuff. For some reason, she has plastic, Disney-themed plates and saucers in her toy box. She likes to throw the plates into the bathroom because they make a loud noise when they crash into the tile floor.

“Hey, Joy, you think that’s a Frisbee? Because it’s not,” I say.

“Whaa?”

“A Frisbee! It’s not a Frisbee! It’s a plate.”

Whoosh. Clatter-clatter!

“Yeee!”

My Terrible (But Wonderful), Horrible, No Good (But Very Good), Very Bad Day

My baby turned one yesterday. It was a mostly normal day. At dawn I picked up Joy from her crib. I said, “Good morning, Joy. Happy birthday.” 

She cuddled me for a moment, and then pushed away and looked up at me. She gave me a smile. It’s the same smile I see every day. Her smile says: “Hey, Dad. Morning. I love you. And you love me.”

Yes, Joy. Mom and Dad love you. Everyone loves you.

It was a bittersweet day, to be honest. We are so grateful for her. So thankful she is healthy and happy.  But I—and Deb—want her to stay a baby. For a long time. My favorite thing in this entire world is watching Joy fall asleep in my arms. And then holding her for another thirty minutes, just looking at her face.

We have loved telling people: “She’s seven weeks old.” “She’s two months old.” “She’s eleven and a half months old.” However, it will be difficult to say, “She’s one.” Instead, I think I will say, “Joy is twelve months old.”  Later:  “Joy is almost 38 months old.”

Twenty-seven years ago (and twenty-four years ago) a beautiful baby girl fell asleep in my arms from time to time. And I remember those times. I remember a few of those times. But it wasn’t enough. It will never be enough.  Daughter Kat’s first year seemed longer somehow, even though she was at daycare eight hours a day. Maybe it’s because Kat’s first year was 1/30th of my life. Joy’s first year has been 1/58th of my life.

Joy is pulling up on the rails of her crib now. This started a week ago. So I need to get out the Allen wrench and move the mattress down six inches. Because she will be standing very soon. Soon she will be thirteen months. Fourteen months. By twenty-four months she might not want to be rocked to sleep anymore. Maybe that’s why parents say that two years old is so terrible.