I’m stunned at every birthday. It all just races by.
For last year’s birthday we planned to take them up north for a long weekend away, including a stay at an indoor water park that they love, but we scheduled it several weeks out from their birthday and by the time the date arrived we were already in lockdown and had to cancel. They haven’t forgotten and still ask when we’ll finally be able to fulfil that promise, so for their birthday this year we really wanted to be able to do something special. I told them weeks earlier that we could take them skiing for the first time if they wanted to, and they were thrilled. Vivienne in particular has felt a certain injustice every time I leave to ski with only Jonah. But as the week approached the weather was warm and the snow was melting and sloppy and things began to look uncertain. We scrambled to find something different at the last minute, thinking that horseback riding might be an excellent alternative. The Saturday morning before their birthday though, we decided to stick with the plan to ski, 45 degrees or not.
On the way out we called and discovered that there were no lessons available. Only two out of five of us knew how to ski and we’d fully planned on a lesson. No matter – Jonah volunteered to teach everyone with enthusiasm. Everyone was overdressed and sweaty, and it wasn’t an easy start, but eventually they all got the hang of it. We even got everyone onto the beginner hill chairlift. We spent far longer than I’d expected (roughly six hours) and by the time Jonah was melting down from exhaustion Vivi was begging to go “six more times” for her age. They had so much confidence, and so much joy. It was such a beautiful thing to see.
While we were out skiing Kristin heard back from one of the stables she’d reached out to the day before. They could get us in for a ride the next day at noon. We’d planned on one activity or the other, but why not? So the next day, their actual birthday, we headed for northern Indiana for a trail ride.
The kids had the chance to help groom and tack their horses before we headed out, which I thought made it extra special. It was the first time any of them had been riding (well, maybe with the exception of a pony at a fairground once). The kids each had a young helper leading them on the ride, and on the way out to the trail suddenly Vivienne’s horse decided to roll. The girl leading did her best to stop him but she was no match for the weight of a horse. Moments later Jude’s horse must have felt inspired because he did the same thing. Both kids tumbled to the ground but were entirely unphased and unharmed. They just dusted themselves off. Only when I looked at my photos later did I realize I’d gotten a shot at the start of the roll. The whole thing was so bizarre.
I was second in line on the trail and as far as I could tell Vivi was silent for the entire ride. Jude was behind me, and never stopped talking; an extended stream of consciousness peppered with questions for the young girl leading him.
“What’s that? I see a barn in the distance (that’s the neighbor’s barn). Have you visited it before? (No) Why not, don’t you like them? Riding a horse is really bumpy because they walk funny. (It’s because they have four legs). Humans have four limbs just like horses have four limbs. Can you imagine a horse with two heads and eight limbs? (No, I can’t) Spiders have eight limbs, and cicadas….I don’t know how many limbs cicadas have.”
It never stopped. It was so amusing. Somehow Jude has so much more to say these days. He’s always been so much quieter than his sister, and in a million ways he still has this wonderful zen-like quality, but he seems to have exploded with knowledge this year and with that knowledge what he has to say has grown. He’s less focused during online school, but seems to have mastered at least as much learning as his sister. He’s excited and proud to share what he knows.
He’s every bit as cuddly and sweet as always. When he heads to bed some nights he’ll say, “see you in the middle of the night!” because he knows he’ll land in our bed eventually. He’s affectionate and effusive, and pauses multiple times each day just to say, “I love you.” The night of our ski adventure we decided to drive up to Grand Rapids to see a winter light show. As we walked through the city eating ice cream Jude said, “You’re the best mama in the world. Well…(It’s OK if it’s a tie) Mama K might be a tiny bit more my favorite because she borned me, but I only love her like an inch more than you.”
Jude’s creative and loves art. The other day he drew a house during virtual art and decided to make it a nighttime scene. We’d recently spent an evening on a moonlight hike where we’d pointed out constellations including the Seven Sisters. As he drew his night sky he said, “These three stars are the Three Kids, and these are the Two Mamas.”
Vivienne is still dramatic and creative. These days I see her singing and dancing a bit less, and telling stories much more. During the pandemic she’s fallen deeply in love with audiobooks, which I’m sure has fueled her love of a good story. She’ll retreat to the basement (often to her trapeze room) just to tell stories aloud entirely from her imagination to no one at all. At times we’ll call to her for something and she’ll reply (with great irritation in her voice), “I’m telling a STORY!”
She loves to talk, loves any opportunity to engage really. I think that the past year has been hard on her in particular, although she seems to have settled into it in a way that’s now causing her anxiety as she thinks about leaving her family to go to school in the fall. She’s very attached to all of us and has deep needs for connection. She’ll fill almost any blank space with, “What do you want to do? What should we talk about while we ______?” She loves to ask questions that are always a bit of a creative game. “What kind of mythical animal would you want and what would it look like? What would your wand be made of and what powers would it have?” Lately she craves one-on-one time, especially with Kristin, but it never seems to be quite enough to satisfy her need. She always asks if they can draw together, and Vivi gives the art prompts. “We’re designing a super hero suit” or “We’re designing a treehouse” or “We’re drawing our dragons.” They each create their own unique wonder and compare as they go.
She also loves to cook lately. Baking cookies, making dinner, chopping vegetables when we’re cooking. She loves to make sauteed mushrooms and white rice (her brothers avoid the mushrooms). She doesn’t want any help whatsoever (although she does still need it, at least a bit). She’s both remarkably confident and assertive (she was certain she would master skiing immediately, and she essentially did), but also craves external validation. One night when she cooked for us she repeatedly asked, “Do you like it?” with only a minute or two between asks. She must have asked it twelve times.
She’s very studious and focused during school. She raises her hand, never interrupts, loves her teachers. When Jude is off task she’ll correct him, or tell him when he’s been called on.
They love one another deeply, all three of them do. So many hugs a day. Today we were on a walk in the woods and Jude slipped on the ice and cut a deep gash in his eyebrow. We all panicked, the blood was everywhere, and to make things worse we’d walked to the woods, and were probably a 20-25 minute walk from home. Kristin took off her sweatshirt and tied it around his head and I hoisted him onto my back to hike out. Kristin had the wherewithal to call a friend for a ride (if you’re going to have friends, have one who will drop everything to pick up your entire unmasked family in their car at the edge of the woods to get a bleeding child to the ER). We all wanted to go with Jude, but quickly realized that only one person would be allowed to accompany him at the hospital. I cried, and so did Jonah and Vivienne, but we agreed to stay home. Jonah’s were angry tears (“I’m going with Jude!”), while Vivienne wept on the floor repeating, “I just want to be with Jude!” Vivienne made him a picture (a slice of pizza with eyes and a mouth and the words, “I love you Jude”), wanted to buy him flowers and macaroni and cheese, and was so excited to surprise him with it when he finally returned home. He closed his eyes and hugged the picture to his chest tightly, clearly feeling the love in his sister’s gesture.
They both seem so tall all of a sudden. Every year I want to freeze time, and this year has been frozen in its own way of course, but I’m thankful for all of that extra time together. Their bond is even stronger, I’ve missed so much less of their day-to-day. Each year they become more fully themselves, or maybe they just show us what that looks like more clearly, and I love every little piece.