Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Magic Years

Child experts agree that the first three years of life are critical to the development of imagination and intellect. For this reason, I was blessed to raise my son in a setting of such natural grandeur as Sitka, Alaska. I chose this journal entry from 1984, when my son had just turned a year old, to illustrate the natural beauty and of the place where my son Chris was born.

"This place is enchanting in the spring. Tonight we took a walk in the park and I felt sure that we were in the most beautiful place on earth. The warm, sunny, and dry days have been glorious. It hasn't rained in a while, unusual for Sitka. I put the stroller together and tomorrow if it's nice, we'll go for a really long walk, by the forest path that has a view of Mt. Edgecumbe. You're an excellent walker at one year of age and your favorite word is "duck". A few days ago, it was warm enough to swim, so we went "to the beach." You really enjoyed prancing around in the sand.

On Alaska Day, 1984 we had sunshine and at Christmas, you got your first trike. Now at 15 months, you're part angel and part elf. I had you in hysterics when I was tickling you. I must remember to tape record your laugh. Your word list includes hi and bye, mama, ba (for bottle), gook (for cookie), doggie, and duck. You love to jump up and down and clap your hands when I sing, and sometimes you chime in.

Before Christmas, I made mazurek, a Polish pastry, and took some to the Pioneer Home to an elderly Polish man there. I invited him to our house for Christmas Eve dinner and prepared a roast. Afterwards, we watched as the boat parade came past our house again this year.

Now -- at 18 months of age, favorite words include bird, rain, brush, doggie, cat, flower, bear, duck, and wolf-walk. You can also jump up and down, somersault off the big easy chair, help me unload the dish washer, go up and down the stairs with help, and scribble. One of the most endearing things is the way you say "home" when we arrive back at the apartment after an evening outing. If it's a clear night, you look up at the sky and exclaim "moon" and "stars."

April 9, 1985 -- What a lovely, peaceful day it has been. I kept a fire going most of the day, as it is still cold out. Beethovan going on the record player. There was a marvelous low tide this morning -- 2.5 feet and probably great for crabbing. Pretty soon now, I'm going to be hoisting down the little cliff outside the apartment so you can accompany me on walks along the beach at low tide. There's a wonderful, mysterious world out there and I'm learning about this world by reading Rachel Carson's The Edge of the Sea. I wonder if you'll always have a love of the sea since you were born on an island (Baranof). Every morning, we have breakfast and watch the boats and sea gulls outside our window. You can even say "waves"!

It seems as though you already have an appreciation for nature. I know you'll enjoy North Carolina and Virgina in the spring -- it should really be in bloom then! We'll be leaving in 2 weeks and how I'm looking forward to the trip. We'll be flying into Raleigh so you can meet your aunt Susan and uncle John and cousins Nick and Adam. (You have already mastered their names, with the exception of Adam). Then we'll be flying to Roanoke to see Grandma Stone, as she likes to call herself.

A trip to Pennsylvania is also in the making to see your grandparents Wodaski and my good, good friend, Lynda Podolak who lives in Wallingford. Your dad paid a visit a few weeks back and you were delighted to have such an enthusiastic playmate. He'll be coming back this week-end. You seem to understand the concept of "daddy." We have book called "All Kinds of Families" and you're constantly pointing to the picture of "daddy" and saying the word. Your father said to tell you he loves you.

Yesterday was Easter. We went to church with my good friend, Pat Keeler and her six year old son, John, whom you idolize. You two have a ball playing with each other and seem as close as brothers. They are leaving in a month and it will be hard to see them go. Pat has been like a rock, such a wonderful friend.

During 1985, I started working as a counselor at the Sitka Native Education Program with my good friend, Georgina. Celebrations were a regular part of work there -- birthdays, Alaska Day, holidays. The Tlingit language was taught to young Indian children in the program, along with drumming, beading, and dancing. The program kept oral histories of the elders which we madly tried to rescue in face of a tidal wave, which thankfully, ever came.

This place feels so much like home. Having someplace to go is home. Having someone to love is family. Having both is a blessing.

Christmas, 1986

Merry Christmas, Christopher! On this our fourth one together. A light dusting of snow lay on the ground this morning. It's been a "blustery day" as Pooh would say and it was pleasant to just relax and play for most of the day, without pressure to go anywhere, except to visit friends. We listened to European Christmas carols and heard English bells play on the radio. That brought back memories of my time in Bath, England, and in Edinburgh, where I had an opportunity to hang out with bell ringers at their practices. How I love to hear the English bells and their "changes."

Today, you enjoyed playing with your new trike and you love your Micky Mouse bank (which you took to bed with you). We called John and Sue and Nick and Adam in Raleigh and Grandma was there also. You got to talk to everybody. They missed having us there for Christmas dinner but one day, maybe we'll all have Christmas dinner together...

Last night we went to a beautiful communion service which was specifically for families. We joined hands with the minister and released our wishes for peace in the world and at home. After that, we went to another church for a candlelight service and sang lots of Christmas carols. You have a bit of a cold, so we didn't go out of the house until dinner at the ANB Hall. Peggy and her girls dropped by beforehand as I was putting the finishing touches on the egg nog. At the Hall, we had had turkey and all the trimmings and there were lots of yummy desserts, which I passed up.

Afterward, we went to Peggy's house. Interesting how my family are so far away but how people like Peggy are like family. You made your debut in the Christmas play and grinned from ear to ear the whole time. Of course, they were all smiling back at you.

The joke of the day happened at Peggy's -- I remarked on what a nice scarf Tina had. Then Holly yanked up her shirt to show off her 5 year old bare chest. She thought I said "scar!" She has an impressive one from her heart surgery of 4 years ago.

What I will remember most about this Christmas is having such love for you and such delight in you. Last night, when you opened up your presents from Grandma and found out they were clothes, you put them on and danced around the room, saying: "these are my dancing clothes!" Your spontaneous shows of affection are wonderful. I can't imagine anyone I'd rather spend Christmas with.

This was also the year of the famous "Christmas haircut." While talking with Peggy I thought I heard clipping noises coming from the bathroom. When I went to check on you, to my horror, I saw that you had cut off almost all your hair so you could look like Mickey Mouse. I think it will be months before you have bangs again.

This was also the year of having Christ in the holiday, of feeling peace and contentment. I love you.

Notes from a working mom: Missing our leisurely breakfasts and looking at all the sights from our window overlooking the ocean. It was wonderful picking you up at daycare today, in fact it was the highlight of my day. You were two when I started back to work with the Sitka Native Education Program, where you got a taste of Tlingit culture. We went to many Indian dinner where we would watch the young dancers in their ceremonial robes. How you loved that, especially the dance that imitates a raven. We spent many happy evenings with our Native friends, Jeremiah and Georgie Kacyon, and had Thanksgiving dinner with them one year. Last summer, we drove out to the ferry terminal one night and had fun exploring the biggest ferry, the Columbia. I learned that the Alaska State Ferry has an outstanding safety record. Unlike cruise ships, the ferry is always piloted by a human, never by auto pilot. I would never take a cruise.
(As I write this nearly 30 years later, I realize how living in Tarboro is so much more isolating than living in Sitka, which is on an island.)

In July, 1985, we traveled to Virginia where you were quite a hit with your grandma and cousins.  We even flew up to Philadelphia to visit with my friend Lynda for a few days, then your Uncle Neal drove over to take us to grandma and granpa's near Wilkes-Barre.  We saw part of the Appalachian Trail and lots of country roadside place selling vegetables.  The countryside was really beautiful.  I had forgotten how hot the South can be, however.    I don't know if I could live there again because of that that.  It was wonderful to get back to cool Sitka.

Working at the Sitka Native Education Program was fun and rewarding because we got a chance to experience Tlingit culture.  We went to many Indian dinners where we would watch the dancers in their ceremonial robes.  How you loved the dances, especially the "Raven Dance."  We spent many happy evenings with our Native friends, Georgie and Jeremiah Kacyon, and had Thanksgiving dinner with them one year.  Last summer, we drove out to the ferry terminal one night and had fun exploring the biggest ferry, the Columbia.

March, 1988.  We had a favorite rock at Totem Park, a big rock that you pretended was a boat.  Last week, while you were at Dylan's house, I went down there and remembered the fun we had on that rock.  I also saw 9 or 10 bald eagles.  Herring season is almost here, a sure sign of spring.  The eagles are starting to return due to the plentiful food supply, especially herring.  I hope we can watch the big boats go out for the herring opening.  It's always spectacular.

We love to read.  Last night we started reading The Little Prince, once of my favorite books.  Your mind is developing by leaps and bounds.  I read to you the best in children's literature:  Leo Leoni, Virginia Burton, and Ezra Jack Keats, and you are developing an interest in the world and space.

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