Abbie Stories

Abbie was born December 2, 1983, and joined our family on January 27, 1984. These are a few of the stories from her childhood that I did not want to lose.

* * *

We met Abbie on a Wednesday at Catholic Charities, in an upstairs room, in an old building. It was equipped as a nursery and we were led there to wait, and then our case worker brought in a bundle in a blanket.

One of the things the adoption process called for was a long list of medical conditions you would accept or would not accept. We had reviewed it with a doctor, who said, “You have a choice, which is a good thing. Most people just get what they get. You can say ‘no.'” So we went down the list, two pages, single-spaced. And he would say, “This one is $12,000 in surgery the first year, and the child may die. I’d say ‘no.'” Or “Here’s what this means…” Or, “Now, this is correctable…” And we said “No” to the worst things but “Yes” to many other things. I run through all this to let you know that our expectations were pretty low; we had steeled ourselves for any number of flaws.

So when our case worker opened the blanket, and there was this perfect child, with beautiful blue eyes and a tuft of red hair, we were overwhelmed. The case worker popped the pacifier out of her mouth, and there was a perfect pink rosebud mouth.

We each got to hold her. This was an audition, but there was no doubt in our minds from the first instant. But I was aware that she was auditioning us as well. She had a penetrating gaze, and looked at us seriously. And then we put her down for a short nap and watched her sleep. We had come with two names, Abbie and Emily, but with the red hair and strong will that were already evident, she was clearly an Abbie. Abbie for my grandmother, and Ruth, for Laurie’s mother, Alma Ruth. Hence Abbie Ruth Winship, and her name was a done deal.

Two days later, our case worker brought Abbie to met us at the doctor’s office, where she was declared in perfect condition. We took her home from there, and the adventure began. I know that we did not sleep for several nights, thinking that when she fussed she was dying and when she was quiet she was dead. But she was an extraordinary sleeper, and only fussed a little the second night, as if sensing she was in a different place now, and a little worried about it. And that passed, and we all survived.

* * *

I was rocking her to sleep in her darkened room. And just as she was dozing off, I felt her fingers softly brush my cheek. Tears brimmed in my eyes. Then her little fingers found my mustache, and began to pull. Tears leaped from my eyes. But to make a sound or take her hand away would only wake her back up, and I didn’t want to start all over again. So I sat still, trying to stay silent, while Abbie tried to pull several whiskers out of my upper lip. After about 15 seconds, she grew tired, closed her eyes and began breathing deeply, and her hand let go and slowly lowered to her side. I breathed deeply too.

* * *

Sundays at Luther Memorial, we sat in the front pew and Abbie would lay between us, on her back on a little blanket, dozing, cooing, being beautiful. Looking down upon us one Sunday was Pastor Paul Messner, well into his sermon, when Abbie broke wind. It was one of the loudest such reports I have ever heard, coming from any person of any size. The pew shook, and that is no exaggeration, reverberating like a sounding board. Laurie and I looked first at Abbie, in awe, then immediately at Paul, to see if he was going to stop preaching, and then at each other in relief as he continued on without hesitation. Then we just had to get through the rest of the service without laughing.

* * *

I have to thank Melissa Conway for preserving this memory. Abbie’s first word was “juice,” and she said it during church. So I said, “I’ll get her some juice.” And Laurie said, “Now?” And I said, “If she can say it, she can have it.”

* * *

When Abbie was very little, the time between dinner and bedtime was one of intense activity. She expected to be entertained, and so we hosted Toy Review. While she laid on her back on a little blanket, I would produce each of her toys and entertain her with it until she began to fuss. And then I would produce a different toy. The trick was to get this activity to span the gap. Some nights, each toy would have a banner run and the whole process would take half an hour. Other nights, toys were cast aside in seconds, and Toy Review was compressed to a matter of minutes, trying our powers of improvisation. To Abbie’s credit, she never allowed us to pass off a rejected toy as something new.

* * *

When Abbie was of a size to walk around but still much smaller than the Christmas tree, she was appropriately fascinated by the lights, the ornaments, the tinsel, the glowing land of fantasy it represented. One cloudy December afternoon, Laurie and I were in the kitchen when we heard a strange, distant chiming sound, as if glass ornaments were ringing. “Where’s Abbie?” we both asked and trotted around the corner into the living room. The Christmas tree was swaying, as if in a breeze, and Abbie, hands outstretched for balance, was just emerging from inside its boughs, blinking from the pine needles that had brushed against her face.

* * *

We were sitting at dinner and running through animal sounds. “What does the doggie say?” “Bow wow wow,” Abbie replied. “What does the kitty say?” “Meow.” “What does the cow say?” “Mooooooo.” And then I thought for a moment and out of curiosity I said, “What does Mommy say?” “No, no, no!” Abbie said without hesitation. I think we laughed for about a minute, and when I caught my breath, I said, “What does Daddy say?” And Abbie lowered her face and her voice an octave and said deeply, “No, no, no!”

* * *

Abbie had a great vocabulary and was attuned to the finer shades of meaning. One day on the changing table she was giving me a hard time, kicking her feet and generally being a little porcupine. And then she looked at my face and stopped kicking. “Are you angy?” she said. “No,” I said, through clenched teeth. She thought about it for a moment, and said, “Are you fwustawated?” “Yes,” I said, but it was hard to stay fwustawated in the presence of such a perceptive child.

* * *

One morning I was leaving for work, and met Abbie with her mother at the bedroom door. I said, “Bye bye,” and Abbie reached up and grabbed my wallet right through my pant’s pocket. “What dis?” she asked. “That’s my wallet,” I replied, in my very best teaching voice. And then, with her free hand, she reached up and grabbed the bulge at my fly. I gasped, and she said, “Da Da have two wawwets?”

* * *

Abbie’s first ambulatory summer, she went for a walk each evening after dinner, wearing a bonnet and carrying a bucket. The bucket was green plastic, with a white plastic handle, and it held everything she found of interest along the way – stones, leaves, whatever. She insisted upon returning home with these precious objects, but the next night, the bucket empty, she began with a clean slate and a new spirit of discovery.

* * *

The Children’s Sermon one Sunday involved an “apple tree” with fresh, red apples placed all around it. The older kids were called up first, since they had taken part in creating the tree, and then the younger children were called forward. Abbie was very small. Instead of sitting down when she got up front, she kept moving toward the tree, working her way through the older kids saying, “‘scuse me, ‘scuse me” very loudly until after about four ‘scuse me’s she got to the apples.

I thought she would pick one up and sit down, but no. She picked one up and took a bite. And then put it back down. She picked up a second apple and took a bite out of that. No sale. She put it down and picked up a third apple, took a bite, and decided that was the best she was going to do. But she did not sit down. She began picking her way back out to the edge of the crowd, again saying, ” ‘scuse me, ‘scuse me” all the way. I was proud of raising such a polite child.

* * *

When Abbie was highchair age, Laurie and I took turns keeping an eye on her during dinners in restaurants. Laurie’s father enjoyed taking us out to dinner, and one night we all went to Gruen’s, on the city’s north side. It was my turn to watch her, so Laurie and Dad sat on one side of the table, and Abbie and I on the other. I kept one hand at the ready to steady the highchair, a rickety old model, and looked at Abbie every few seconds.

After one such glance, I looked back at Laurie, and Dad was gone. Vanished. Like he’d been beamed up. I said, “Laurie, where’s Dad?” And she looked over where his chair had been and said, “Dad!” He was on the floor, out of my sight, where he had fallen while trying to get something out of his pants pocket, leaning to one side to free up the pocket, leaning a little more, a little more, and gone. After he was dusted off and back among the diners, I said, “Hey, Laurie, I’m holding up my end of the deal here.”

* * *

There was a time when Abbie loved to have me chase her. She had a pretty big room with a slide in the middle and if she could get me running in circles around that, she was pretty happy. But I was not always up for a footrace, especially with such an energetic opponent. One day, we were in the bedroom and I was over on my side of the bed and Abbie was standing by Laurie’s night table, fishing for something in her nose. When she pulled her finger out, there was a large booger on the end of it and she inspected it closely. I reached for a tissue. Abbie heard the tissue come out of the box, looked at me, looked at the tissue, and a light came on in her eyes. She knew I would have to chase her.

A huge smile lit up her face. She turned to the door and began running, her red hair streaming behind her like a flag, her little sock feet pounding on the hardwood floor, the booger held aloft on the tip of her finger. I was at a huge disadvantage. I had to catch a moving target with a tissue all the while shouting, “You come back here.” And there we were, running in circles around the slide, Abbie screaming with glee, deliriously happy, her finger pointing skyward. It took me four laps to bring that little booger to bay.

Which brings to mind the second booger story. One evening, Abbie wanted something we weren’t going to give and we wanted her to get ready for bed which she didn’t want to do, and in the heat of the moment, Abbie began sputtering and looked straight at her mother and said, “You… booger!”

You could see the terror in her face when she realized what she had done, and Laurie said, “You get straight upstairs!” which Abbie did, very swiftly. And then Laurie turned to me and said, “I wasn’t sure what to say, but I knew if I laughed, it would have been the wrong thing to do.”

* * *

I was sitting on a neighbor’s porch while Abbie played. She ran by looking at me instead of where she was going, with her half-zipped jacket falling off her shoulders, and I said, “Abbie, look where you’re going and don’t let your coat fall off like that.” So a minute later, she came flying by, doing the two things I’d told her not to do, and her sneaker caught a crack in the flagstones and she fell forward, but couldn’t catch herself because her jacket had trapped her hands at her sides, and she fell right on her face.

She was screaming, there was blood everywhere, it looked like some of her teeth had come right through her lip. The neighbor supplied ice and I carried her home, and we got her calmed down, saw she didn’t need stitches, called the doctor, and he said, “Popsicles.” Just keep her sucking on popsicles all day and she would be fine. So I changed shirts, jumped in the car and drove to Peter’s IGA for popsicles. While I was there, I picked up some medicinal beer, and opened one right in the parking lot, still shaking from the fear. I then drove the four or five blocks home and just as I approached the house, I saw another neighbor, Dan Malay, and I waved. Of course, my waving hand had an open beer in it. As I pulled into the drive, I remembered that Dan was a policeman. A father himself, he did not arrest me.

Abbie meanwhile was looking beyond the popsicles. “Do you know what would make this feel good?” she asked. We waited. “The butter on popcorn.” And so Abbie parlayed her fall into an afternoon movie.

* * *

When Abbie got older, toy review turned into bed ball and watching the lights on the ceiling. Bed ball was simple; Abbie stood on the middle of the Big Bed with a ball and threw it off the bed. If I caught it before it hit the floor, I got two points. If it hit the floor, she got one point. We played to 20 and for a year or so, we were pretty evenly matched.

The other game was really just a pastime, to lie on the bed in the darkened bedroom and wait for a car to drive down the street. We would then watch the headlights play across the ceiling, the window frames and panes breaking up the light into patterns that swept and swooped and made us both say “Wow.”

* * *

Pastor Johnson at Luther Memorial was giving the children’s sermon and Abbie was sitting with the other kids on the carpet in front of the alter, and Pastor said, “Who can tell me what a leper is?” And Abbie said very clearly and proudly, “A spotted yellow cat.” And so the Great Physician became the Great Veterinarian.

* * *

When Abbie was four, she placed me in charge of finding a birthday present for her mother. I wandered into the Antique Underground on a lunch hour and said, “What would a four-year-old girl want to give her mother for her birthday?” and a woman behind the counter said, “Oh, rhinestones.” Was she ever on the money. I selected a necklace of iridescent beauty, two rows of gemstones glowing a pale emerald green with glints of gold and violet, dazzling the eye. At home, I called Abbie into my closet, turned on the light, closed the door and produced the prize. Her eyes widened, her mouth dropped open. “Oh Daddy,” she said, “they must have cost a thousand dollars.”

We traveled to Laurie’s sister’s house in Connecticut for Laurie’s birthday, and Abbie presented them to her, bursting with pride and excitement. The following morning was a Sunday, and Abbie could help herself no longer. “Mommy, can I wear them to church?” she asked. For the next couple of hours, she was the delight of every adult and the envy of every little girl as she modeled what soon became known as the Wolverton Diamonds, a glancing allusion to Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey novel, The Nine Tailors, in which the Wilbraham Emeralds play a key role. My favorite image, though, is of Abbie, walking down the hall after Sunday School, glowing with pride and shooting me a little grin as our eyes met, she bejeweled and I bedazzled.

* * *

Shortly after Abbie had begun going to Ed Smith School, we were eating dinner and she looked up at both of us with a face that indicated a question was on the way, and she said, “Did you live in the olden days?” No, we hadn’t. “Did you wear raggedy clothes?” That neither. But she didn’t seem convinced.

* * *

One night after dinner, Abbie had gone into the kitchen while Laurie and I sat and talked. Something caught my eye. It was a change in a reflection on the glass of a print hanging on one wall. I looked, and there was the reflected image of Abbie climbing onto the countertop to reach a box of cookies. “Abbie!” I said. For weeks after, she thought parents could see through walls.

* * *

On one occasion when Laurie was off visiting her mother or her sister, Abbie and I were driving home from the video store where I had gone to stock up. We both loved movies, and I loved introducing her to all my old favorites. As we drove up Crawford Avenue to 729, Abbie turned to me from the passenger seat and said, “If Mommy died, would we watch movies all the time?”

Many people might have accused me of using cinema as a babysitter, but I felt fine about our viewing and was ultimately vindicated. When Abbie was a junior in high school, her homeroom teacher began talking about the films of director Alfred Hitchcock, and how Hitch often appeared in his own films. He began to list the films, and for each one he named, Abbie interrupted and told him where and when Hitch appeared. And he turned to her and said, “Gee, Abbie, maybe you do know something.” You can imagine my pride when I heard about Abbie’s day at school.

* * *

It was 1986, Abbie’s first year at Silver Bay; she was a Wee Woozle. In the evenings after dinner the EMPs had a program for the small children down at the Wee Woozle house. It was Animal Night. Laurie and I dropped Abbie off and went for ice cream. When it was time to pick her up, we returned, and as we were walking together up the drive towards the Inn, we asked her what she’d done at Animal Night. And she dropped to all fours, looked up at us with a smile and said, “I be’d a skunk.”

* * *

One of my fondest memories of Silver Bay was an afternoon at the beach that was interrupted by a thunderstorm. The sky above was clear and beautiful, but a huge cloud suddenly appeared from behind the mountain at our backs, and the thunder was audible from miles away as the storm approached. We scrambled to get everything together and I put Abbie up on my shoulders, and carried her as fast as I could to the Inn. We got to the front steps just as the rain began, and ran up to the room to check the windows. The wind was blowing from the other direction so no rain was coming in. Abbie and laid on the bed together and watched the storm roll over the Inn, over Silver Bay, over the lake, and on to the mountains beyond, oooing and ahhing with each lightning strike. It was one of my favorite moments of fatherhood, being able to share the excitement and wonder of a really beautiful storm in a really beautiful place with my little girl, who had never seen anything like it.

* * *

After Abbie’s first year of piano lessons with Erna Wedemeyer, she was ready to play at Silver Bay, the night of the Conference Show. Her songs were “Waltz Tune” and “Rainbow.” She went out on the stage, very confidently, climbed up on the piano bench, and began to play. Laurie and I sat in the audience, holding hands, watching our daughter grow up. She played perfectly, every note a perfect wonder. No one coughed, nobody’s seat creaked, it was perfectly still except for Abbie’s playing. And then she finished and turned to hop off the bench and the roar of applause knocked her backward back onto the bench, and her mouth fell open as the cheering filled the room, and she looked at the audience and then over at Charlie Bang who smiled and said, “Imagine how good she’ll be when she can reach the pedals.” And she pulled herself up and off the bench and ran into the wings and back into our row, and said, “Who was cheering?” And I said, “Everybody, Abbie. Everybody.” And it was true. (Although Laurie credits Erik and Susan Bresnahan with being the loudest).

* * *

In 1991 at Silver Bay, Abbie swam to the raft for the first time in her young life. When she tired, she’d float on her back for a moment. I swam alongside in the event she sank , but she made the ladder in fine style. And when she climbed up and onto the raft, and turned around to see the beach half a world away, the look in her face was wonderful. She sat down, hugging her knees, shivering with excitement, her eyes huge, her smile ethereal. I asked if she wanted to swim back in, and she said, “Not just yet,” and stayed a while longer to savor her triumph. I thought I would burst with pride.

* * *

We began reading to Abbie when she was six months old, when books were still something to chew on and her eyes were not quite focusing on the pictures. And every evening for many, many years after, we read to her at bedtime. As a boy, I had loved the Hardy Boys, and when those ran out, I borrowed Nancy Drew mysteries from my cousins. And so, at and age well before other girls were reading Nancy Drew, Abbie was listening to her adventures every night. I took special care to find the original editions, so that Nancy was still driving a roadster and her friends were still chums.

And when Abbie was ready for bed, she’d call down, “Time for Nancy Drew!” And up we’d come, picking up the book from her dresser top and starting where we’d left off the night before. We read one chapter each night, and on special occasions, such as the second-to-last chapter, we’d read one more to finish the book. We read 44 Nancy Drew books aloud to her, and I know we enjoyed them as much as Abbie did.

* * *

In 1991, in the course of making a living, I wrote a jingle called “Wild About Reading” for the Onondaga County Library System, sang it over the phone to Todd Hobin, a musician/producer, who wrote it down, smoothed it out and added harmonies. Then I produced a TV spot to go with it. It was Abbie’s first starring role, taped in a studio outside Rochester, and she was terrific. I was very proud of her, and carried the VHS copy with me everywhere. The spot ran on local TV and met with a riotous reception. The next year, “Wild About Reading” went statewide and played in Times Square all summer on the SONY Jumbotron.

* * *

The day Abbie’s bedroom filled with flying ants, she was at Grandma’s. It was the first hot day of spring, and an entire colony hatched in her wall. They came out of a small hole in the strip dividing the inside window and the outside screen; the screen was down and they could only come in. Laurie called me at work and said, “They’re everywhere!”

I arrived home to find Abbie’s door closed, a towel at its base. The solution was simple; I took off my coat, picked up the Electrolux, fitted with the long tube, climbed the stairs and strode into the room like Conan. At my request, Laurie slammed the door behind me. As I walked across the room to the electrical outlet, flying ants crunched under my feet. I plugged in, stomped on the starter, and started sucking up ants, brandishing the tube like a broad sword, alternately repelled and exhilarated by the carnage. They were everywhere, in her blankets and sheets, the curtains, the floor, the ceiling. The room was crawling with them. Thirty minutes later, I had every last one in the bag. The room was safe for my little girl. They never came back.

* * *

Abbie came home from her first day as a sixth-grader, and I said, “So Abbie, how does it feel to be a sixth grader?” And she said, straight-faced, “We rule the school.”

* * *

Laurie and Abbie and I were sitting in the Silver Bay Auditorium, listening to the Conference choir, and I was totally caught up in the beauty of their singing. Abbie leaned over to speak to me, and I inclined my ear, surprised that she would comment on the music but thrilled that it had moved her as it had moved me, and she whispered, “Have you had their hash?”

I did not respond immediately. I first dismissed the notion that the choir was selling, or was known for, hash. Given Abbie’s tastes, that left the dining hall’s breakfast offerings. I then recalled that due to the rigorous demands of Abbie’s teenage social schedule, she had slept through breakfast every morning all week, and thus had not had an opportunity to partake of the hash, but knew that I, a real breakfast-meat chow hound, would have. Why it occurred to her at that moment I will never know, but I was able to answer, without asking for any clarification, “Yes.”

* * *

I tune out at times; I may be physically present but I’m totally inside my head. I blame it on being a writer and usually I am working on words when it happens, but I might just be flaky. Abbie’s first experience with it was at the dinner table. One night I heard Laurie’s distant voice saying, “If you want to talk to him, you have to call his name.” And then I heard Abbie saying, “Dad.” I blinked and there she was, sitting in her chair looking at me, with something to say. And I said, “Yes, Abbie?”

I was reminded of that moment at a funeral home during calling hours for Laurie’s father. I was standing out in the hall and I heard someone say, “Kihm!” And I blinked, and it was Abbie, standing directly in front of me, smiling, and knowing exactly how to get through to me.

* * *

A good friend since my Freshman year of college, Mary was the recipient of many of my letters, the handwritten kind, the one-of-a-kind kind. Recently, lightening up, she sent me two bundles of them. Among the treasures to emerge were Abbie stories I had forgotten. Here they are:

March 19, 1984

Abbie is getting heavier but I don’t have a figure in pounds and ounces. Her bladder must be huge.

October 15, 1984

She is abundantly alert, inquisitive and patient and has reached the stage at play where she builds as well as destroys. This week she’s doing a lot of “placing” and “matching,” very deliberately, repeatedly. She stands and sidles using the sofa or a chair as an aid to coping with the rotation of the earth. She plays the lower end of the piano with hesitation because it seems to growl at her, but attacks the high end with real passion.

May 28, 1987

She went upstairs last week “for a little privacy” and returned five minutes later saying, “I’m done privacying now.” She likes to tickle, and ride on my shoulders, and read books in my lap. This is a marvelous time. With a little more patience and selflessness, I’d make a great father. As it is, I am hoping to break even in her memory.

July 26, 1988

Back from Silver Bay, Abbie’s first act was to put on a dress. Laurie forgot to pack dresses and Abbie went through dress-withdrawal. She’s a fool for shoes and dresses. Loves to change clothes, three and four times a day. I find her shoes everywhere; they seem to explode off her feet, preparing the pink surface for a new shoe.

September 13, 1988

At the State Fair, the sheep were all very white, clean and soft. “Like wool,” Abbie noted.

November 23, 1988

Abbie sat coloring at the table next to me. She was doing a letter, in scribble, and wrote it aloud: “Dear Elizabeth, I am glad you are not dead. Love, Abbie.”

Abbie’s nursery school teacher asked her what she was thankful for this Thanksgiving and then wrote the answer in a card Abbie decorated. It reads, “I am thankful for my jewelry, my friends, my Mommy and Daddy and my toys.”

December 5, 1988

Dorothy & Her Companions, as Abbie describes them, arrived by mail from Uncle Jeff in California. Each is 3 inches tall. They speak through Abbie in high-pitched voices. Soon after their arrival, Dorothy was heard to say, “Where will we eat? Where will we go to the bathroom?” and someone replied, “Oh, Dorothy, you always worry about that.”

The next day, Abbie’s birthday, Barbie arrived and was rushed through customs into the Land of Oz.

Saturday morning I came downstairs and found Prince Charming, Snow White’s husband, nude with a frozen smile, in the arms of Barbie. I said, “What’s this?” and Abbie said, “He’s Ken now. He and Barbie are getting married.” I put pants on ‘Ken’ while Abbie was in the bathroom. She performed the ceremony during Welcome to Pooh Corner. I said, “What about Snow White?” Prince Charming had been married many times to Snow White, now nude and face down on the floor of the dollhouse upstairs. Abbie said, “He’s married to her, too. Well, they’re divorced, except they still love each other, and maybe they’re getting married again.” Yeah, maybe when the real Ken shows up.

Abbie also received a Moon Dreamer, sort of a stunted Barbie with iridescent clothes and glow-in-the-dark hair. She said, “I’m going to sleep with her,” and I could guess the same thing was going through Ken’s mind. Moon Dreamer and Barbie both went to church on Sunday, probably feeling some qualms. Ken stayed home, grinning.

Saturday afternoon, we played Sorry, a gift from Abbie’s cousins, and Slap Jack and tiddley-winks.

February 3, 1989

Abbie met a Dairy Princess this week, with a sash and a real crown, who talked about cows and stuff. “Cheese?” I asked, and she replied, “All the stuff that’s got milk in it.” How could I have been so stupid? I missed the best exchange though. To Laurie she said, “I never met a real princess before. Are her mommy and daddy a King and a Queen?”

The competition on the Sorry board continues apace, with victories and defeats all around. Abbie is overcome with either joy or grief depending on the outcome, but it’s always cathartic and dramatic. Yesterday evening, she struck up an alliance with her mother, a mutual non-aggression pact, with much diplomatic fawning and affection, and they both sent me back to Start many times on Abbie’s way to victory.

March 8, 1989

When Laurie visited her sister, Abbie and I stayed home and watched movies (Pollyanna, In Search of the Castaways, Lady and the Tramp, Return to Oz, Anne of Green Gables), ate hotdogs and went skating. I asked her what her favorite part of our weekend together was. She replied, grinning, “When Mommy came home.”

May 17, 1989

Abbie is almost completely over the chicken pox. I didn’t know you could get them in your throat, as Abbie did, but she was spared the whites of her eyes.

November 19, 1989

Abbie received an award for good bus behavior, her first major commendation in kindergarten. We had our first parent-teacher conference where we learned she bosses the other kids around on block detail.

March 28, 1990

Abbie is wonderfully verbal. The three of us were flattering one another at bedtime (a good thing to do at bedtime) and after the usual litany of “You’re so pretty, Mommy” and “What beautiful hair you have, Mommy,” she said to Laurie, “And your toes, they dance on the wind.” My little poetess.

January 18, 1991

I was at my desk when I heard Abbie call out, “Daddy, Daddy!” and then Laurie’s voice coming up the stairs, “Kihm, the war has started.” It chilled me. Abbie began to cry. Since then, we’ve watched a tremendous amount of CNN. We have replaced the anxiety of anticipation with the anxiety of the home front… Part of it surely is the fact that I’m a father now, with concern for the world Abbie will inherit.

She is fascinated by the war, and asks all kinds of questions. We’ve tried to explain that nobody wins a war, but when I was giving her the report after the first day, a wildly successful day by military standards, she said, “Yessss!” and then added, “But they don’t really die.” “Yes they do,” I said. “For real.” I hate to have to explain this to a child who still believes in Santa Claus. In fact, the other night she said, “I wish Santa Claus could just make this all right.”

May 29, 1991

Abbie beat me at soccer 5-4 and as we left the field, she called me a wimp.

* * *

One final note, from a letter I wrote to a friend who found his friends’ children boring:

“People with kids tend to mention them in conversation because they share the same quarters, cruise for bruises and grow in miraculous fashion. Please leaf quickly past any references to Abbie if you find them tiresome or irrelevant, and do not take them as a recommendation for parenthood or some sly suggestion that fathering is a superior calling. Kids, like pets, are in general a nuisance. It is only in the particular that they become indispensable, warming, universe centers with their own gravity. (I would die for my daughter, but that is how I have felt about all the women in my life.) Their innocence, which can take their parents suddenly back to their own childhoods to marvel at the innocence they once possessed as well, comes across as stupidity to most but their parents and those who choose to work with children and inhabit their world. I used to hate kids, and still keep the emotion in working order for selected urchins, and so can understand the tedium they and their proud parents can inflict on passersby.”

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