Her name is Ryan. We mostly call her JJ. There’s no particular reason for this. It just suits her. It fits. I guess that’s the thing about nicknames. You can’t force them. They just kind of arise naturally and show themselves to be sticky. Sort of like barnacles. Sometimes they make sense; sometimes they don’t. With Ryan, it doesn’t. Not really. The only material I could provide regarding her particular moniker would be that her middle name is Jordan. So there’s a “J.” Interestingly, when we decided to name her Ryan Jordan, we had every intention of referring to her as “R.J.” Never happened. Again, nicknames are an organic science. I think we called her R.J. twice. It was like Teflon. Rolled right off. But then I took a shine to using “Ryan JJ.” Then the Ryan fell away. And so, there was JJ. My wife picked up on it. Then my sister and my dad. Her fate was set. She was JJ. And JJ bred a whole new world of off-shoot handles. Jayjee. Jojo. Juju. Jujubee. Jujyfruit. We still use Ryan quite liberally. But she is JJ. And while neither my wife nor myself have any specific passion for, nor affiliation with, the television show “Good Times,” our littlest girl is most certainly Dy-no-mite.
Dynamite in every sense of the word. She is dynamite in the sense that she is impactful. JJ leaves her mark. She’s almost unfairly adorable. Her face, when expressionless, looks more doll than human. With that said, she is rarely expressionless. Her expressions are as priceless as they are constant. She’s funny. Really funny. There’s a natural performer inside of JJ. She has timing. She has rhythm. She has an innate capacity to draw rapt attention from those around her.
JJ is also dynamite in that she is explosive. Being her parent is akin to working on the bomb squad. You never cross the wires cavalierly with JJ. Because one wrong move and the explosion is immediate and all-consuming. JJ’s fits are epic. The most seemingly inconsequential moments can trigger her into a volcanic rant, raining down ash and hot lava on all who lie in her wake.
Even JJ’s physical presence brings to mind the idea of dynamite. She’s skinny as a rail with a head full of rabid curls exploding out of the top of her her. In fact, Ryan’s hair is as strong an indicator of who she is than almost anything else. It’s wild and untamable. It springs in a hundred different directions and the more you try to control it, the more haphazard it becomes. The only sane option is to simply accept it as it is. In fact, whenever we take JJ to KidSnips for a haircut and the nice girl asks what kind of cut we’d like, we simply tell her, “just less of what is there now, please.” It’s sort of like trying to domesticate a wild jungle cat. As if there is a puma living at the top of the stairs. She’s just not meant to be restrained.
Interestingly, more often than not, I find myself undisturbed by Ryan’s rage. Sometimes it can be a bit much, sure. On a day where I am struggling emotionally or feeling particularly salty, it can be rough. But mostly, it kind of fascinates me. I’m blown away by the fearlessness of her volatility. It’s liberating in a way. To an extent, I’m a bit envious of it.
I have that kind of rage in me. A hot fire desirous of disintegrating the boundary and blowing forth from its host. She does it with no reservation or forethought; she just blows. I’ve never really been like that. Even in my early childhood, my people pleasing tendencies were far too intense for all out eruptions.
But the rage was in there. It just that I was always trying to control it. Trying to find a way around being overtaken by it. I still do that. I don’t yell and scream. I growl and hiss. I grit my teeth and gently vibrate in contempt.
That’s what Sydney does. My older daughter is a carbon copy of me in this regard. Unlike her sister, Sydney rarely goes of half cocked. Her anger is measured and controlled. And it is far more troubling to me than the route taken by her little sister. In the grand tradition of “ya spot it, ya got it,” Sydney’s anger annoys me in a way that Ryan’s doesn’t. Mainly because I identify so strongly with it. Sydney grows angry and gets what I refer to as “the death stare.” Her eyes go cold, her nostrils flare and she simmers in disgust. It’s like looking into a mirror. And the familiarity makes me cringe.
This is not to suggest that I prefer Ryan to Sydney. I don’t I love them both for very different reasons. Additionally, I like them both for very different reasons. But I find my relationship with Ryan far simpler. And this brings me to my current sense of sadness. You see, JJ and I have been sharing something very special over the last four months or so. A very particular opportunity brought about by a synchronistic set of circumstances- soon to end and never to occur again.
Back in August, just before the beginning of the school year, Lorri and I had decided that I would take a shot at home schooling the girls. This experience has been detailed in past posts, so I’ll skim the particulars. The decision to home school was a bigger deal in terms of Syd than it was with JJ. Not sending Sydney back to Carl Sandburg Elementary for second grade had farther reaching implications, not to mention potential downfall, than the choice to not send Ryan back to a second year of pre-school- essentially glorified daycare. Also, we knew that, regardless of the success of the venture, JJ would be assuredly be sent to Sandburg for Kindergarten for the basic purposes of socialization.
Suffices to say, while I believe myself to have been a remarkably competent teacher, at least for a four and seven-year-old, home school was not the right fit for my girls. Within six weeks or so, this became clear to the entire family and, in short order, Sydney was back with her classmates in a proper classroom.
This, of course, left JJ and I at home. There was no way we were going to drop a bundle to send her back to pre-school. Much like her sister, she is smart as a whip, and we both knew that without another second of study previous to next September, she would enter Kindergarten toward the top of her class.
The original idea was that Ryan and I would continue along with the curriculum we had been using for the remainder of the school year. But it also became clear fairly quickly that, without her Sister at the neighboring computer, her willingness to sit with me and concentrate for any decent period of time went straight to the dogs. This didn’t overly concern me and I made a choice not to push it. Again, I had no worries about JJ’s academic capabilities and I could see that she was quite despondent about Sydney having left the nest. I decided that what I wanted to dedicate the majority of my attention toward was showing her a good time. And since then, this is exactly what she and I have been doing. Having an unbelievably good time.
Somehow, up until very recently, I had remained quite blind to how little alone time Ryan and I had ever really had. When Sydney was Ryan’s age, Ryan was still a baby, so daddy-daughter dates and alone trips to the park or the movies were pretty commonplace. There had been almost none of that with Ryan as almost all of her special times with me had also involved her big sis. This was not really something she ever complained about, mind you, as JJ completely idolizes her sister and, of course, it is difficult to miss something you haven’t ever really had. Still, though, Ryan and I, all of a sudden having full days together, just she and I, slowly began to shift the foundation of our relationship.
Somehow, when it was just the two of us, JJ’s anger became nearly non-existent. I don’t know if was the absence of her sister or the absence of the school work or just some sort of special hidden chemistry between she and I, but we had clearly entered virgin territory.
It has been the best. There are no words to express the unabashed merriment the two of us share. From nine in the morning until three-thirty in the afternoon, we giggle like a couple of hyenas on Quaaludes. It’s so easy. It’s deliriously entertaining.
And it’s ending. Very soon, it’s ending.
An average day for me and miss JJ generally begins a little past 9am, just after I get Sydney off to school. I generally get Syd up at eight, giving us an hour to get breakfast in her belly, lunch in her lunchbox, toothpaste on her teeth and coat, mittens, scarf and gloves on her body. Once she gets picked up, I generally prefer fifteen minutes or so to sip my coffee and peruse Facebook and email. That process always comes to an abrupt conclusion upon hearing JJ’s morning siren call. “Papa? Papa. Papa! Papaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
Why she decided to make the switch from “Daddy” to “Papa,” I have no idea. I fantasize a secret midnight viewing of “Yentl” or “Fiddler on the Roof.” Either way, I absolutely love it. It feels very old world Eastern European. It melts my heart. And she totally knows that it does.
I will generally ascend the stairs two at a time and open her door to find a small lump underneath her comforter. She’s silently awaiting my presence. Well, sort of silently. She’s attempting silence but she’s failing miserably. The small lump is vibrating with suppressed laughter choking back little snorts and snickers. At this point, she wishes me to feign confusion about where she could be and I acquiesce. “JJ? JJ? Hmm… where could she be? Ah, well… I’m sure she’ll turn up sooner or later. I’m kind of tired. Maybe I’ll just lay down on this lumpy bed.” As I drop down on top of her, holding back the majority of my weight, she explodes guffawing, “Here I am, Papa.” I climb underneath the covers with her, holding the blanket up with my knees, creating a little tent where we can enjoy som morning loving. Much like her daddy, Ryan is a physically demonstrative creature who loves affection. I grasp her tightly in my arms and eat her up. Literally. JJ will take all the kisses I can dish out, but she likes being nibbled even better. Usually, after smooching up her forehead, her cheeks, her nose, her chin, her lips and her neck, I begin to give her little bites on her armpits, her belly, her knees and her toes. The toes are, by far, her favorite. She squirms and squeals and titters until she has had her fill and says, “Okay Daddy, time to go downstairs.”
I get off the bed and bend forward so she can hop on for a piggy back ride down the stairs and over to the living room couch. She snuggles in under my arm and waits while I bring up the options for our morning show. Sometimes it’s The Fairly Odd Parents. Sometimes it’s Spongebob. And recently, it’s been reruns of The Magic School Bus, starring the incomparable Lily Tomlin, which her mommy turned her on to. After our thirty minute respite, we adjourn to the kitchen that we may get some food inside her skinny tummy. At her hungriest, it’s an oat bran waffle and turkey sausage, though it can be as little as some sliced strawberries with a touch of splenda sprinkled on top.
At about ten, we head down to my office for what JJ calls, “computer and computer.” Essentially, I do a little bit of blog writing on the laptop sitting next to Ryan while she hits her favorite websites on the desk top. These involve ClubPenguin, Poptropica and her recent favorite, Fantage. These are all websites where she has her own little character who has her own little home and tromps around town amidst other little characters (other kids on-line) playing games and joining in activities in an effort to earn imaginary coins which can then be used to buy imaginary outfits, imaginary stickers and imaginary toys. It’s sort of the kid version of all those ridiculous Facebook games like Farmville and the sort. These sites are chock full of advertising and myriad opportunities to become “full members” and “preferred members” and endless other ways to get their hands on money and parental emails, but JJ understands and respect the limits that we set down. So we sit together and occasionally poke each other and chortle while she plays and I write.
Around 11, we generally set off into the world for some kind of field trip. Maybe The Children’s Museum. Maybe the park. Though our most favorite spot is the library. JJ loves books. And I love reading them to her. She and I can easily sit for two straight hours and read twenty to thirty books at a clip. And we do just that. We hold hands and stroll the aisles collecting up Fancy Nancy and Dr. Seuss and The Bearenstain Bears. She loves rhyming books and any book with a wide variety of characters enabling Daddy to do a variety of different voices and dialects. We make our way over to the kid area, decorated with plush chairs and couches in the shape of fairy tale stories, snuggle up and start plowing through our pile until my baby tells me it’s lunchtime.
What she wants is a Jimmy Johns “Big John” sub with cheese, thinny chips and a small root beer. Our financial situation does not allow a yes to that request more than about once a week. So, more often than not, I expertly elude a blow-up with a promise of some Wii play, and we head home for a peanut butter sandwich or some pizza rolls. In between chow time and the Wii, we will head up to Ryan’s room for a bit of dancing. We power up the little Disney Princess boom box and blast Justin Bieber, Miranda Cosgrove and Lady Gaga. We boogie until sweat is dripping from both of our foreheads and collapse on her bed laughing our heads off and trying to catch our breath.
The Wii competition is next, and let me tell you, we are fierce competitors. It’s quite the balancing act playing video games with JJ. She demands that I go full throttle and watches me intently to see to it that I don’t take it easy. At the same time, she is a terrible loser. It demands quite a deft touch to look like I am giving it my all and still let her emerge the victor more often than not.
An hour or so later, it is time to drive over and get in The Sandburg pick-up line and await sweet Sydney to emerge into the parking lot. JJ is always super pumped to see her only sibling. To be honest, usually far more excited than her sis is to see her. Sydney adores Ryan, but at the end of a school full day, she is usually less than thrilled to climb into a car to the tune of, “…and then we watched Kick Buttowski and then we went to the library and then we read the new Knuffle Bunny and then we played Boom Blox and then…”
Once we get home, and Syd downs a few goldfish crackers a glass of juice, they will find a rhythm and play nice. But the simplicity of the day has come to a close. From now until bedtime, they will alternate between being exhilarated and jacked up like a couple of meth heads and foaming at the mouths in a maelstrom of, “She pushed me,” and “That’s my lip gloss,” and “Daddeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
For me, it’s always a little bittersweet. I miss Syd during the day and I am always excited to see her. And Lorri’s arrival home a few hours later is usually the high point of my day. But it also means that my day with Ryan is over. Another day gone. Another day closer to her first day of Kindergarten, signaling the end of this period. This special time brought about by a perfect storm of particulars.
Part of it is that she is the last one. At least as Syd was shedding the last fractions of her baby hood, there was another little one tailing behind her to hang my hat on. But this is it. Lorri and I are nearly forty and are clearly done producing offspring. This is our last baby. My last baby.
This is all as it should be. Of course I know that is true. Circle of life. Part of me cannot wait until her first day at Sandburg. Dressed up in her brand new Target outfit, backpack full of supplies, excitedly getting in line with new classmates. There’s so much yet to be discovered, and I am so interested to see what becomes of this kid.
Again, Sydney too. But Sydney is an easier bet. At least it seems that way. Sydney is classically brilliant, likes to play it safe and has more empathy than she knows what to do with. I see Syd getting into an ivy league school and becoming a Pediatrician or a Veterinarian.
Ryan, on the other hand, is the ultimate wild card. She is a true force of nature. I foresee Ryan doing something like collecting platypus eggs in Tasmania or starting her own Kibbutz in Israel.
At the same time, I feel like I would gladly give one of my big toes to keep her this size for a while longer.
My heart hurts that I need to let her grow up. That I need to let go.
For the moment, I’m desperately trying to stay in the moment. It is eleven o’clock and Lorri and I are sitting and watching Law & Order: SVU. JJ is asleep underneath my Yankee blanket sprawled across Lorri’s lap. Her face is angelic. She is softly snoring and her limp body holds everything I know to be true and right in this world.
I don’t imagine that will be different when she’s fourteen or tweny-five or forty-three.
But I know it will never be like this again.
In about about ten hours, Lorri will gone to work and Syd will be off to school. In about ten hours, I will hear, “Papaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”
In ten hours, I will desperately try to let go of ticking off the time and bathe in the warm tones of my little one beckoning me to come get her.
I will always be there to come get her.
But soon enough, she won’t call so much anymore.