Yielding to Death

I just heard Lily tell Jake “I wish dogs would never die.” Our sweet beloved Katie is struggling again. Lily continued “Maybe its better if a dog stays alive until the last person in the family passes away, that way the dog doesn’t have to be alone.” Jake is completely still. He walks over, gets on the floor next to Katie, then kisses her on the nose.

How do you prepare your kids for their first experience with death? Their “forever young” hearts swell with invincibility.
The dark damper of death is a unwelcome cloud in a kid’s bright blue horizon. Jake and Lily have seen that dark cloud. They’ve seen it on my face. It is usually when the conversation moves to the topic of their grandmother. The woman they never had the grace to meet.

I was twenty-five when I suddenly lost my mother. I found that tragic loss can hit you in two ways. Either you resist or you yield. I’ve witnessed people become bitter or deeply resentful. I’ve watched others become compassionate, wise and remarkably loving.

Jake pulls Katie closer. Lily retrieves the flipcamera.

I fought for a decade after losing my mother. I finally gave in and yielded. I found yielding resulted in a inner acceptance to what is. You become more open to life.

Katie licks Jake on the nose. He kisses her again and she lifts her paw on to his right hand. She seems resigned to the eventual outcome and so does Jake. He is far more empathetic at twelve than I was at forty. At this moment I look down and realize that if the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in. Jake instinctively knows that without saying a word. I’m not ready to let Katie go.

Who is wise one now?

Meat & Potato Albums

“Dad, let’s play Desert Island Discs!” This is the response Lisa and I get when Jake finds out that there is no iPod in the car (Jake is the house DJ for our car.) Since we have a half hour drive to Mercer Island the game commences. The premise is simple: what music would you take with you if you were left alone on an uninhibited island. The twelve year old goes first.

1) Beatles – White Album (“Rocky Raccoon”, “Dear Prudence” are sung weekly if not daily by the wee-man.)

2)  Blue Scholars – Bayani (Two Seattle Hip Hop talents, Jake has met and followed these guys since he was ten.)

3) Led Zeppelin – 3 (“Dad, is that the album with the Immigrant song on it?”)

4) Pearl Jam – Ten (He knows if there was no “Ten” there would be no Seattle for Daddy, no Mommy, no Jake. One album – One family.)

5) Bob Marley – Kaya (“Redemption Song.” End of story.)

6) Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson (It was my favorite album when I was ten so I played “Got-To-Get-Up” and “Coconut”… a lot for Jake.)

7) Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant (Another Seattle band Jake has followed, we know the Pecknold family so this is like rooting for the home team + it is a remarkable band.)

8) Tribe Called Qwest – Midnight Marauders (Josh Taft and I did the video for “Award Tour”)

9) North Twin – Falling Apart (Aunt Rebecca, Uncle Tony and RockTim’s band)

10) Soundtrack – The Royal Tennenbaums (Since Jake was three this album has been the background music to our daily life. “Hear that Dad? ((humming)) Wigwam, Bob Dylan.”)

Once Jake gets to his tenth selection we debate whether the albums or songs are more important. We agree that is a different game. Jake is struggling because he wants to include The Clash “Police & Thieves”, Elliott Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” and Nick Drake’s “Fly.” “Dad I’m picky about albums like I’m picky about my food.” This is true. Lisa says his basic food group consists of cheese, meat and bread. And sometimes fruit.

The list above are Jake’s meat and potatoes.

Joan Crawford and The Precious Stone

“Dad, did you know that Joan Crawford is not her real name?” This is not the question a Father expects from his twelve year old son in 2010. First because he is making reference to bye gone Hollywood film star. More so, how the hell does he know who Joan Crawford is??? So I ask.

“You’ve got a book in your office called ‘Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actress of the Studio Era’, I’ve read the whole thing.” Turner Classic Movies gave it out as a gift bag item at one of the Award show parties I attended. I tossed it up on my bookshelf without a cursory read.

Who else stood out to you? “Well, I like Lauren Bacall she was married to ‘Bogey.’ Bette Davis seems intense. She was the first female President of the Motion Picture Academy. Doris Day seems nice. She was a vegetarian and didn’t wear fur in her movies because she was a animal lover. Did you know that Ava Gardner was married to Frank Sinatra AND that little guy, Mickey Rooney. How weird is that? Marilyn Monroe was so beautiful + she was married to Joe DiMaggio. Can we see one of her films, please, please”

Why are you interested in the Leading Ladies? “Great-grandma was an entertainer. She knew a lot of show business people. I thought I would learn more. Plus the book has a great pictures and the women are so pretty.” Jake’s great grandmother legal name was Mary Precious Stone. She was 4 foot 11 spark plug. My cousin and I would spend our summer days hearing stories about Cary Grant and other remarkable film actors. Precious Stone had a sandwich named after her, supported her entire family during the Depression on the money she made from touring and headlining at Chicago clubs.

I talk about Grandma Mary to Jake and Lily all the time. We talk about what it must have been like for Precious to sing to Al Capone and dance in front of Senators and Congressman in the 1920s and 1930s. She had plenty of gossip and hysterical stories about her time on the road with Bob Hope and the Three Stooges. When Grandma Mary died Jake heard all of those tales at her funeral at Westwood Village Memorial in Los Angeles. The same place that Marilyn Monroe and many of the leading ladies in the TCM book are buried.  It made an impression on Jake.

“Lucille Fay LeSueur. Dad, that was Joan Crawford’s real name. How wild is that? I like the sound of the name LeSueur.” It is incredible how one dusty book on a shelf can connect the personal family memories to entire to an era.

Falling Forward

The last few hours of summer feel like a race against time.

It is a day before school starts. Jake and his mother spend it rushing to get last minute items. In the middle of this errand filled day Jake sees his kindergarden pass by through the car window. “Mom! Can we stop by Kapka, please…” Lisa’s instinct is to keep driving, but she stops the car and parks.

Jake surprises his teachers as he walks into the little red school house. The three women are overjoyed. Each of them represent the three grades of the school: Kindergarden through second grade. Jake almost towers over them now. His head almost touches the ceiling of the cramped second floor office that is wedged in the tiny house that doubles for a school. The homecoming is joyous. Together they recall ancient stories of a distant youth.

The moment is bittersweet. Jake tells me later, “Dad, I can only remember a couple of things about kindergarden.” Like what I ask? “I remember Cora. She was a super tall second grader. She was like a giant. The kindergardeners were given yellow triangles, the first graders were given red squares and the second graders – blue circles. I saw those blue circles and I never thought I would have one.” What else do you remember? “I miss little kids humor. Stuff just always seemed funny. Like when one of my friends shoved his hands into dirt to try to catch a earwig. I felt so safe. Everything was fun.”

Is that all, I prodded? “I can only remember one other thing. On the first day of school I found out who my friends were. When our Teacher asked for kids with the letter ‘J’ in the beginning of their names to stand up, it was easy, two other boys stood up and we were immediately called the ‘Three-J’s.’ They were instantly my friends… It was so easy. Kapka was my second home.”

Time surprises each of us like the uneven sidewalk that suddenly trips you up and forces you to fall forward. Much of the time you catch yourself, regain your balance, relieved that you didn’t fall flat on your face. You wonder how you just jumped two feet unexpectedly. Jake feels that way right now. He starts middle school tomorrow. It is official. Elementary school is now the past. Our little boy is getting closer to being a man.

Color coded friendly giants are not so easy to pick out any longer. Jake has to work at making friends. It can’t happen by the sweet chance of sharing the first letter in your name. The world is far more complicated. My job now as a parent is to trust Jake’s instincts. I have to watch him stumble forward. Be a witness as he learns from the lessons that are in front of him. I miss my little boy laughing in the playground of the little red school house. Luckily Jake misses him too.

Happy Baby Acupuncture

A golden needle may be the key to Jake’s personality. Lisa heard that if you received acupuncture in your third trimester you can relieve stress in the womb. The Chinese have practiced this procedure for thousands of years. Our groovy Seattle practitioner said it insured that you had a Happy Baby. Lisa did it.

Jake’s smile could melt a glacier. That grin has been on his face from the first moment he could smile. When I go through pictures of him as a kid he is either laughing, just finished laughing or his arm around someone.

It is rare that Jake is under a dark cloud. He thinks the best of people. It is hard for him to understand why people are mean spirited. I’m a brawler. You put me at odds with someone I’m going in with my head down ready for body shots. Jake is the opposite. He looks at the a challenging person in front of him and his first question is always “Wow, what’s going on with them?” Jake is empathetic at his core.

I know its hard to believe that little golden needles could have such an impact on one personality. I get that. Then there is Lily. Have you met my daughter? Lily is a Happy Baby. It is not scientific but thank god for the Chinese and acupuncture. We are blessed with some happy babies.