Two-Year-Olds On My Mind on Christmas Day, 2010
By Shepherd Bliss
It all started with Ruby, the daughter of my long-time friends Randi and Claudia, whom I helped marry by co-officiating at their wedding one midnight in their lovely garden a couple of miles from my farm in Sonoma County, Northern California. I have known Ruby since her birth, though more deeply this year. Her sweet room is where I used to stay when I house-sat and dog-sat their rural place, before she was born, when I was visiting my hometown of Sebastopol during my three years teaching abroad as a Visiting Professor at the University of Hawaii.
One of the strongest moments of our time together was when we were commemorating the passage of our mutual friend Diana. About a dozen adults gathered in a rural place to remember her. Our sadness differed from Little Miss Goldilocks, as I heard someone call Ruby, who was robust and buoyant. I theoretically have known that death and life are connected, but there it was in her body and continuing enthusiastic participation in life. Her energy managed to shift ours and lift our sadness to joy as we remembered the good life that Diana did have and all the good deeds she did in the world for others while she was alive. Children belong not only at weddings, but also at funerals and memorial services.
“Can Ruby come out and play?” is a question that I pose often. And we are off to a farmers’ market, park, pon ride, of whatever. I like holding her little hand.
Then there is River, the son of Filipina filmmaker Carolina and Frenchman Laurent, who live nearby. He came to my farm one day, and we immediately recognized each other as kin. We play often. Many people ask if I am the grandfather, since there is a physical resemblance, given our olive skins and long eyelashes. I just smile in response.
River is re-parenting me, though I am thirty-three times as old as he, and in some ways not as smart. He radiates contact with some primordial energy that was there before we arrived and will continue after we expire. He tends to unite people and draw their attention closer to the ground as they watch him interact with things around him. Yet when he visits my college classes he sits calmly in one of his parent’s laps and seems to give even deeper attention that some of my adolescent students.
Ruby has been River’s “girlfriend” for a while now. They have such a unique dance when they see each other, open their arms, and move toward each other. They even hug and kiss each other.
I spent a delightful Christmas Eve with River’s family. They lifted my energy in this dark and cold time. I recall meeting River’s French grandparents while they were recently here for a couple of months. They were so alive and bright with their grandson, whose French improved during their time here. They model how important the grandparent-grandchild relationship is to the entire family and beyond it.
These two-year-olds are evoking the grandfather archetype in me. It feels as if it has a biological base. I do not have my own children.
I did not have any grandfathers in my life. One was struck dead by lightning on our Iowa family farm as he went out to get his son. The other, whose name I bear, being the third in this line-up, was thought to be dead. But in my thirties I got a letter from him, in his long search for his first-born son. “I’m too old to start having a father,” my own father responded, since he had been told that his father had abandoned him and his mother. I, however, responded, and we struck up a good conversation. My brother Barry even met our grandfather, and liked him. “Deceased” was on the envelop of my last letter to him, as we were planning to meet.
Such memories, long buried, but not really, return as I think about the grandfather energy, and how important it can be, and why I refused to father a child. Fortunately, I had great uncles, on my mother’s side, especially my farming Uncle Dale. He was my sweet masculine model.
Opal came to me through River, when we were at the Occidental Farmers Market. We were on a wooden side-walk and Opal began following River playfully. I often see Opal and her Mom Natasha, who is part Iranian and a graduate student at the college where I teach, at either the Occidental or Sebastopol farmers markets. Like Ruby, Opal is blonde and bright blue-eyed.
During the 2010 year-end holiday festivities River and Opal connected for some Christmas music. River and Laurent got there first. When I arrived they were sitting on the floor together. After a while Laurent wanted to buy some books, so he placed a meditative River in my lap. Then Opal, Natasha, and Grandmother Numi arrived. Bright-eyed Opal got very excited and started jumping up and down when she saw River, who looked at her and then back to the calming music. Opal had so much excitement at seeing River that she did not come very close—electricity in the air--but walked around him into the store, smiling and looking his way, as if inviting him to follow. This come forward/go back went on for around half an hour, much to the delight of others in the store. They finally touched, but only briefly.
We then went to a Himalayan Restaurant to eat. By this time River was getting more excited. After eating he would alternately chase Opal around the restaurant and lead her on, again to the delight of the adults there. Once outside on the grass, the chase continued as they climbed up the “mountain” where I was standing guard, keeping them away from the road, and would send them down.
River initiated the “All Fall Down” game, verbally and physically. Opal would repeat the words, but did not seem to understand them at first, or fall down. Eventually she did fall down on the grass. It was as if they were bowing with devotion to the ground that holds all of us up. I watch how quickly they learn, especially from each other, if they are protected by adults, but not over-protected. They fall and with the aid of those flexible spines get up again. By falling we can learn how to be flexible and get back up.
Opal and River also ended up hugging and kissing. Both Ruby and Opal seem to take more initiative toward River, who alternately holds back, responds, and takes some initiative.
I have seen each of these three two-year-olds various times. At Ruby’s recent second birthday party I met Asher, the youngest of this gang. He came into the room with his parents Simone and Shanti. For some reason he came toward me with his arms outreached, as if he recognized me. I instinctively bowed to him and opened my arms, picking him up. He promptly laid his head on my shoulders, which he did a few other times that night, both of us with large smiles. It was a very touching moment.
A couple of week’s later I invited Asher and his parents to a night-time boat festival on the Petaluma River. His eyes were full and his smile bright, as he pointed at one boat after another that came by, drawing our collective attention. His joy ignited our joy. As River, Ruby, and Opal grow and get heavier and harder to carry, Asher is easier on this old-man’s back. Asher’s parents have invited me to a holiday dinner next week with his grandparents, whom I look forward to meeting. They have an interest in poetry, as do I.
There is so much that I adore about these four young ones. I teach communication to college students. Each of these children, in their own unique ways, are peak communicators. They radiate connection, curiosity, sweetness, tenderness, and vulnerability. They have a lot to teach adults, as well as other children. It reminds me of the phrase from the old book, “Be ye not like a child, you will not get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
There is another side to this story of my growing attention to two-year-olds, which has darkness to it.
Because of my growing relationships to these four bright lights, the recent death of two-year-old Callie Murray hit me hard. She would have been three on the day that I began writing this, Dec. 25, the birthday of baby Jesus. She was walking across the street hand-and-hand with her mom Ling Murray on Dec. 1. A college student from Sonoma State University, where I teach, who was using a phone in her car at the time, crashed into them, killing tiny Callie and severely injuring her mother, who has many more months in the hospital.
Since then I have had trouble getting that crash out of my mind and my nightmares, so I have been talking to my college students about the dangers of texting and cell phones.
I began writing this because the Christmas gathering that I am going to today has personal storytelling focus. So I plan to tell the story of these four living two-year-olds and the one who was swiftly taken to heaven. May our memories of tiny Callie’s tragic death guide us to appropriate behavior. May we adults cherish and nourish the life that all young ones bring into the world and care for them as best we can.
I look forward to seeing each of my two-year-old friends again during this last week of 2010, including some of them at a community New Year’s Eve Celebration, and into whatever future might remain for me.
So however old you may be, it is not too old to have young children in your life, to enjoy them, and be part of the village that we all need—young and old. They need us and we need them.
Another thing that happened today was that my 78-year-old friend Doug Von Koss answered my request for something that James Broughton wrote on his 80th birthday. It follows:
"Stand firmly, sit serenely, mutter profoundly, sing outrageously and dance all the way to your death."