To Elena, From Aby: Togetherness

[Originally posted in February of 2021]

Dear Elena,

It’s a month after your 6th birthday, and your life is speeding up faster than I can believe. Which is why I’m pausing today to write about this – I wonder if it won’t be gone before too much longer.

Ever since you were little, you’ve craved and sought close physical contact with “your people.” You hold hands, you burrow into laps, you sprawl across us as if to maximize body contact. I present as Exhibit A you and your Uncle John at Glacier National Park, in July of 2017.

John and Elena at Glacier Lake, July 2017

You were two and a half… Look at that lean-in. “This is my Uncle John, and he belongs to me.”

Or this one. This is the two of you last month watching a Hanukkah video. For those of us in your “pack,” it’s a sublime experience, made only more so by its purity. You are still at an age where you (mostly) go where your nose and heart lead you. You don’t cuddle or hug somebody because you think you’re supposed to – you do it because that’s what you want, right now, in that moment.

There was that time out at Wildcat Creek where you and I went on a hike/climb in the dry creek bed. We stopped to have our lunch, and picked out two appropriately flat rocks to sit on. You ate for a couple of minutes, and then said, “Can I sit on your lap?” Trick question? So you sat in my lap and we ate our sandwiches. Then I took this picture.

Lee and Elena at Wildcat Creek, November 2020

Of course, as you age, you’ll learn to follow the social rules that we all do – it’s a necessity of navigating modern society. But for now, when you clamber onto a lap, we know it’s because at that moment, that’s where you wanted to sit, period. And I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that it is quite a blessing to have one’s lap chosen as where you want to sit.

Which brings me to yesterday. We’ve made a bit of a routine of picking oranges from a neighbor’s tree and taking them to a local food pantry, where they’re gratefully received. Yesterday, we filled two grocery bags. With Lisa/Ana watching, I climbed into the tree on a ladder and tossed down oranges.

Elena in an orange tree, February 2021

You caught them (“¡Lista!”) and put them in the bag. Of course, you demanded to climb into the tree to pick one, so I spotted and you climbed up and got the last orange for the bag. Then we drove over, handed over the oranges, and went for our reward – a doughnut from the nearby shop.

Sitting in the chilly wind we munched on our doughnuts (“I want half of mine and half of yours.” “Cool.”). Then you silently crawled into my lap and leaned into my shoulder. Was it to warm up? Was it just to be close to one of your pack? Do I care? I was looking at this picture yesterday, and thought, “That’s a different little girl. Not the little girl I played with a year or even six months ago.

Oh, I shall miss that little girl awfully. But the one who has replaced her catches oranges thrown to her, does some arithmetic without her fingers, and sometimes says things that reflect an insight for which none of us would have credited her. I am proud and humbled to be her granddad and can’t wait to get to know her better and see where our adventures take us.

I close this with a moment from a couple of weeks ago. I was over at your house helping your dad build your exceptionally cool two-story fort. I was standing near the back deck when you came out of your parents’ room, and across the back deck. You purposefully walked to me, quietly said, “Aby,” and held up your arms in a way that every small child (and grown-up) knows means, “Pick me up.” So I did. You wrapped yourself to me and put your head on my shoulder. Maybe you were there for a full minute? At some point, my brain said, “You know, of course, that it won’t be long before her growth curve and your strength curve cross in opposite directions, and you won’t be able to do this.” Elena, were you thinking this too? I shushed my brain before it could break my heart. And marinated in that exquisite moment of togetherness.