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A few weeks ago Foos learned to ride her bike without training wheels.   We got her this bike two years ago, when she was still so little that harvesting the strength to simply get the pedals moving seemed like herculean task. Even recently, if she went a few weeks without riding the bike it was as if she was getting back on it for the first time— slow and unsteady, like a drunk walking a line.   She rode her bike to the park that morning, where she befriended a fellow bike rider, an older girl named Jessica, who turned Foos into her disciple. They excluded the bikeless from their schemes, chased each other in figure eights, raced to a victory line of their own making, and stopped short of a stranger enough times I contemplated leaving the park for fear of injury.  During one of these loops, Jessica explained to Foos that her training wheels sometimes didn’t touch the ground.  In fact, she may not need the training wheels at all! I watched this revelation unfold from afar, Jessica pointing to the wheels, Foos’ initial confusion and realization. Foos seemed so pleased by this news that when she rode her bike to tell me, grin on full display, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the wheels where designed that way.  But Jessica had planted the germ, and I was going to take it as far as I could.  As we were leaving the park I casually mentioned removing the training wheels, and she agreed without hesitation.

That afternoon, I fashioned knee pads for her out of tape and leggings while Seth removed the training wheels.  We gave her the pep talk—you will fall down, you will get hurt, you may not get it today, but eventually you will.  She rolled her eyes and walked her bike to the empty lot, the tape of her knee pads making noise every time she bent her knees. The expression on her face like she had been doomed to damnatio ad bestias. With seth holding on to the bike they went around the lot a few times. The first time he let go, she fell.  The second time, she fell.  The third time, she fell too. Big fat tears rolling down her face, threats of quitting and going back upstairs coming out of her mouth.  We had been reading The Hobbit the night before, and I sat her on my lap and asked “How would you introduce yourself to Smaug? I know how I would.  You are the never quitter, the rider of bikes, the scrape eater, queen of wheels,” and so on. She nodded her head. With her dad running after her, and me shouting introductions to Smaug, she got back on and fell down about a dozen times.  A couple of our neighbors came out to cheer. Twenty minutes later she was going around the lot on her own.  An hour after that, she was riding down the block.

She told us she promised her bike she would ride her everyday, and she almost always does.

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Yesterday I was in my kitchen cave, listening to Radiolab and making dinner, when I felt a tiny tap on my back.  When I turned around, my Foos was standing there, holding up this piece of paper and beaming at me. I got all verklempt, fell to my knees, and gave her the biggest squeeze. People say a lot of cheesy shit about their children, most of which feels obligatory, but this girl, you guys, makes me feel like the luckiest mom in the Virgo Supercluster.

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One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about living in Northern Florida is the variety of green/historical places we get to enjoy. Recently, we’ve been going on hikes at the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve. Through some miracle we found a trail that was just right for all of us – Foos included. She likes to run ahead of all of us, and I like to worry about said running ahead, even though by now I’m sure she knows the trail by heart.  I like to linger behind my family, mostly staring down at the roots with the misfortune of being in the middle of the trail, looking up once in a while to make sure everyone is still accounted for.  The trail ends in a breezy lookout we usually monopolize, annoying the shit out of other hikers by taking up the benches, audibly snacking, and singing Moana songs into the marsh. I love my family.

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My daughter has been a reading machine lately. In the car, while walking to school, at the supermarket, at home —she is never without a book in hand.  Photos I sneak of her reading have taken over my instagram feed. Sometimes when I am lost in my own head, thinking in circles about goals and how I can achieve them and how I probably won’t because all I do is shuffle back and forth, I realize how quiet it is.  Then in a panic I start to look for her and almost always find her, book in hand, in some corner of the apartment.  It is a relief that she is a dedicated bibliophile, the tiniest of bookworms, consuming chapter books at the age of five in a way most people don’t until much older, if ever.  Anyway, she has inspired me to try and read more books this year.  I am going to try and read at least two books per month, which doesn’t seem like very many.  I am hoping that will be a starting point and that as I get better at carving out time to read I will be able to read more than that.  Wish me luck!

 

 

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Seth finally got around to taking nice photos of the vintage hitchin’ ring he gave me in October.  I will admit here that I have never cared for diamonds, but I love this very old ring. I spend more time than anyone should thinking about all of the things that had to go wrong in order for me to possess it.

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This was our morning yesterday, the kids made out like bandits, and we lazed about all day.  Seth and I didn’t exchange gifts this year at my request. In the past he has always gifted me something super thoughtful/expensive, but given how perpetually sad my bank account is, I could never reciprocate.  So I thought it would be best to forgo the guilt that comes with getting and not giving.  The best gift he could ever give me is his love and presence, and I get that every single day.  We did, however, receive some very thoughtful gifts from friends and family, for which I am so grateful.  When I was in my 20s, I really disliked this holiday, and wished very much my family would forgo it entirely.  As I get older, and now that I have kids, I find that stance has softened considerably.  I am an atheist, so the religious aspect of it doesn’t get me, but I do look forward to all the stupid little things. Getting the tree, christmas baking, the pure joy and anticipation present in my daughter, even the fact that we have a “christmas box” delights me a little bit.  Whatever you did or didn’t do, I hope all of you had a great day yesterday.  Happy Festivus!

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For many wonderful and heartbreaking reasons, these past two weeks have contained what will probably be the most memorable days in my adult life.  In the span of four days I lost Jess, lived through a hurricane, became engaged.  I’m going to use this entry to talk about Jess, because without her, very little of how my life has been, would have been.

It is not an overstatement to say the things I learned from Jess altered the course of my life. Bands and authors she introduced me to and taught me to love facilitated meeting new people, finding other writers, developing new interests.  She helped me grow into my feminism, to be in love with my body. Shit, in my late teens she taught me how to look at my own vulva with a mirror.  I remember sitting on the floor in her room, listening to Jack Kerouac read in his Lowell working class timbre, “You just don’t know how good this ham and eggs is,” while Steven Allen played the piano, feeling like we would never be cooler than at that moment. Oh! how I loved her! Even when I became annoyed she brought her Doc Marten boots full of snow salt into the room we shared, at the way she left every drawer open, at all her pastel sweaters askew on their hangers, I loved her. She was my constant at shows and shenanigans around town.  When we would get anxious together about inconsequential things she would say, “we are not people.”

When I got married on a whim after graduation, she was the only one of my close friends to come, a favor I was too poor to return when she married eight years later.  As I moved cross-country and struggled in my marriage, she moved too, from place to place, from one relationship to the next. But the letters were constant. Her handwriting a complicated scrawl, as if it was designed to be code, to keep secrets. Even thousands of miles apart, because of these letters, texts, and gmail chats, we became closer than ever.  She began referring to me as her “wife,” even now that is how Facebook labels my relationship to her.

Eventually, we ended up living in adjacent towns and saw each other a few times a week.  We would meet up for flan and coffee at the Brazilian place in Lowell on the weekends, she would come over for dinner once or twice a week to our place.  It was during one of these dinners that she first complained about a worsening numbness in her left hand. On her way to the sink she dropped her blue dinner plate, her arm betraying her.  That night in the emergency room they found the tumor in her brain. I was about six months pregnant with Foos.  That blue plate sits under one of my plants now, chipped and cracked, an artifact of memory.

After her diagnosis, she ended up near Jacksonville, living with her father and receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic.  A year later, after my husband left me, I ended up here, too.  During that first year here when I was lonely and depressed, it was Jess who got me out the door when I didn’t want to, who took me out to dinner when I couldn’t afford to, who loved my daughter as if she were her own.  She protected us fiercely, expressing doubt and alarm whenever my husband hinted at a change of heart.  Eventually she met the man she would marry and moved to Rhode Island, where her condition worsened and her cancer did not yield chemo. She chose to end her treatment.

Her husband, never a match for her intellectually, turned out to be a charlatan, unable to care for her or love her the way she deserved to be loved.   With just months left of her life, her family moved her back to Florida, where she was cared for wonderfully by them and the friends Jess had pulled into her orbit, including me.  I am grateful that during out last visit a week before she passed she was lucid, that the void between talking and silence was punctuated by kisses and exchanged I love yous. I will remember the force of those last hand squeezes and those big brown eyes for the rest of my life.

At her memorial service a few days ago, a woman shared a note written by Jess in the ‘Book of Joys, Sorrows and Concerns’ at the UU church in Palatka.  It read, “Today I am proud and grateful to have made it through another rotation around the sun. Despite setbacks, I have learned a lot about strength and kindness.” I, too, learned a lot about strength and kindness. From the hospice nurses who came to care for her every week, to our friends who flew in and drove up to be there for her. I learned from her father and sister whats it’s like to care, until the very last breath, for someone you love. I am so grateful to them and our friends for showing up when it really mattered.

All of this still feels too big to process, but I hope I can find creative ways to honor the memory of my friend.