To Elena, From Aby: Adventure

[This post was originally published in June of 2021]

Dear Elena,

When your parents began casting about for a baby to adopt, I fervently hoped they’d pick (or be given) a girl. I can’t even quite say why, but I just knew I wanted a granddaughter. 

Little did I know that not only would I get a granddaughter, but that that granddaughter would be the one and only E-Blast.

From the moment I got my hands on you, I wanted to take you cool and interesting places, and push boundaries. Some grandparents want to spoil their grandkids – that didn’t particularly interest me, but the idea of grabbing you and heading for the edge of the envelope – now that had appeal. Like, here’s us when you’re just 3-4 months old. Somehow I got permission to take you walkabout in Berkeley near your apartment (2130 Ashby Ave #5, if you’re keeping track). I wanted to cover your head for cold protection, but couldn’t find a hat for you. So I threw your mom’s extremely cute knitted cap on you and off we went to find coffee at the nearby deli (yes, I got multiple comments about how cute you looked).

Lee & Elena on their first adventure – this time to a deli in Berkeley

You couldn’t know it, but that was the beginning of our adventures together.

It became clear from the start that you were not a Barbie and Princess little girl. You were jeans and t-shirts from the jump, and the jeans instantly got holes in the knees. And there was nothing you weren’t up for. 

There was that weekend when you were two and a half that Lisa and I “kidnapped” you to Monterey (with your parents’ permission of course) for the first time. We took you down to the beach, and you just lost it – you ran around the beach, you flirted with the surf zone. You were transfixed by the whole thing. This is you digging the whole Breakwater scene. We even got video of it.

Elena’s first trip to Breakwater in Monterey

Shortly after this picture and video were taken, you completely misjudged the surf zone. You did a face plant in six inches of very cold Monterey water. I was right there and scooped you up. You looked a bit nonplussed, a little shocked, but not upset. Just “What was that all about?” We took you back to our blanket, stripped your clothes off you, and wrapped you up in a blanket between us. All three of us took a glorious 30-minute nap. Then we put dry clothes on you and went back to exploring the beach.

Once you learned to say “Monterey,” it was all over. “When are we going to Monterey?” became your mantra. As you’ve grown, you’ve become more independent and bold about exploring the beaches of Monterey, but your fascination with the place, and its critters, has never wavered.

This is you, in May of 2021 in Pacific Grove, communing with a hermit crab. You were taken with them from the start, and are still intrigued.

Elena communes with hermit crab in Pacific Grove, CA. May, 2021

Once we moved into our townhouse in San Leandro, our community, and its warren of “secret passages” became a wonderland of adventure an intrigue for you. We even recreated a Wild Kratts episode, documented here.

As you watch the video, note a couple of things: (1) when you fall, you briefly come over for comforting, but then you’re back out on the trail; and (2) at some point we come out of a pathway and you’re not sure where you are. “Which way is the house?” “It’s that way.” You immediately head in the opposite direction.

Let’s talk about your bike. From the moment you got your bike, you immediately sensed it as a means to freedom. Sadly, I don’t have the video any more, but your dad got a short video of you riding the bike (training wheels and all) down a side street in Berkeley, within days of you getting it at REI. You’re rolling down the sidewalk, and as you head into the distance, we hear a clear, “Yee-ha!” 

February 15, 2020, just as the covid curtain was coming down, Lisa, your uncle John, and I took you over to Washington Elementary School (yes, where you’d attend school the next year). You had suggested that maybe you were ready to lose the training wheels. So I got out a wrench, took them off, and we walked you and your bike over to the school. We put you in the grass first for when you fell over. You got on the bike, pedaled 10 feet, and fell over. Then you got on the bike, pedaled 25 feet, and came to a standing stop. We knew that it would be easier for you to pedal on the hard surface, so we took you over there, and gave you a push-off. That was all she wrote.

Elena’s first day without training wheels, February 2020

These days, we routinely go on long bike rides together, sometimes with a doughnut as ostensible purpose of the journey, sometimes just for the joy of being out on the bikes. One of your favorite rides is between your house and our house – about a mile and a half. It goes right through downtown San Leandro, which can be pretty harrowing, even though we’re still at the stage of riding down the sidewalk. We recently did such a ride, and Lisa asked me how it was, “For Elena? Great – piece of cake, lotta fun. For me? Constant hyper-vigilance for 20 minutes.” So be it. It’s a small price to pay for being out on the adventure trail with you. 

P.S. on 9/3/21… I just had to add two things. First: a few weeks ago, we were out on one of our rambles through the secret passages of our townhouse community. You were in full spy mode for whatever reason. You turned to me and held up your hands – “Aby, I have to teach you the hand sniggles.” Then your eyes twinkled, a look I’ve seen before. The look said, “That’s not quite right is it?” It took me a moment, but then my heart melted with joy. “Oh – signals. Hand signals.” “Yeah, signals!” Then you taught me the secret hand signals. But oh, the world would be a very much better place if they really were “hand sniggles.”

And I promised two Things. Here you are:

Thing 1 and Thing 2