With apologies to Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a last child in possession of a big family, must be in want of some individual attention from his mother.

Tobias suffers from last-child syndrome. A phrase I've coined just now to apply only and specifically to the matter of language development. It applies elsewhere (OK - everywhere!) no doubt, but I'm not inclined to shoulder a weighty guilt trip today.

I, like most first-time mothers, spent hours talking to Esme. We pointed at trees, pumpkins, dogs and bugs; this and that; and that and this on slow walks through the neighborhood. We pored over books and catalogues. We played with puzzles. We took sign language classes.

Esme's best friend sang "Frosty the Snowman," spoke in full sentences and knew over 100 words at 15 months. Esme definitely didn't sing and she wasn't any where close to sentences but she could speak. Some. And she knew as many signs as her pal had words. 

Mama did her job. 

Then came Desmond and Josephine. 

I may have done my job with a little less gusto but I had full-time help from Esme. While Desmond and Josephine were still young, she insisted that others call her "teacher," a position she took most seriously. 

She taught them signs and read them books and they talked on time.

"Uma eat sticks," Desmond said sometime around 15 months. 

"I see boons," Josephine said at about a year and a half.

Mama did her job. With a little help.

It's not like Tobias isn't talking. He has about a dozen words under his belt: Mama, Papa, night-night, bath, uh-oh, no and others. 

But that's because the boy is resourceful and fends for himself remarkably well. Not because we taught him anything. In fact, I remember the moment I threw up my hands in exhausted frustration. 

Remember my helpful little teacher? She turned saboteur. And conscripted her siblings in her efforts to muddle her poor brother. 

At mealtime, when Tobias seemed ready for seconds, I'd make the sign for "more" and repeat the word aloud. Esme would make an entirely different, altogether made-up sign. Josephine would make a third. Desmond a fourth. 

Tobias looked at each of us as if we balanced unicorns on our head. 

Tobias would finish his food and I would move my hands down in a sweeping motion signing "all done." Esme would sweep her hands upward. Josephine would throw hers to the side. Desmond would shake his like a loon. 

Tobias gawked.

My little cut-ups continued on the few occasions I'd try to teach Tobias the names of animals and the sounds they make. 

"What does a cow say?" I'd ask him. 

"Quack quack," went one.

"Bah! Ha ha ha," went another.

"Grrr!" the third said. 

Poor Tobias. What does a cow say?

I gave up. 

But yesterday I found myself alone with Tobias while the rest of the house slept and I seized the very rare moment to try to teach him a word. 

Tobias: (Holds a cup of water, clambers up and down a chair.)

Me: "Water."

Tobias: "Pssst."

Me: "WA-ter."

Tobias: (Puts the water cup in his mouth. Drinks. Stares at me sideways over the cup.)

Me: "Water."

Tobias: "Psstt." (Puts water cup back in mouth but can't really drink because he's grinning so wide.)

Me: "WATER."

Tobias: (Smirks). "PSSSSSSSSSTTTTT!" (Smirks again)

Me: "WA-TER!"


Me: (Remind myself that I'm the adult.) "Water."

Tobias: (Looks out the window and purposefully ignores me.) "Psstt."

Me: "Ok. Never mind."

Tobias: (Looks back at me. Makes sure I'm looking at him too.) "WAH."

Obviously, the boy knows a thing or two. About words. And sabotage. 


Big Shot

The boy has a future in dance. Or comedy.

Big Shot from Dana Damico on Vimeo.




Always my yogini

For the first time in two years, Esme won't be taking yoga class. 

My little yogini, pictured in the Butterfly Pose when she was 3...


... won't be headed to MIss Jackie's Monday afternoons to balance books on her head, make up animal poses, and learn how to breathe through frustration and anger. 

I've been trying for days to figure out why this makes my heart so heavy. I only put the pieces together last night when Kent remarked how tall Esme looked. It's something my mother has remarked on of late as well: how much older and adult-like she's becoming. 

The change is stunning sometimes. She walks into a room and I see a stranger almost. Who replaced my baby with a girl?

Her face is thinning, a development that draws particular attention to the delicate uptick of her nose. Her limbs - always lean - seem downright lanky. The most dramatic change, though, centers in her eyes. 

Even when she was a baby, Esme bore into people with unnerving intensity: so probing, so serious. But now her eyes seem so mature too. And more vulnerable, like she's finally old enough to know there's a world of hurt that awaits her. 

Esme flirted with swim lessons and soccer over the years but lost interest in both. Yoga remained her constant; she's been going every week since she turned 3. 

Each Monday, she pulled her leotard and tights from her drawer and readied for class. Never mind that everyone else wore shorts and shirts; Esme insisted on her self-styled uniform. The only modification: she ditched the tights in the summer heat. 

More than once, friends stopped their cars to gawk over the terrible sweetness of one of her fanny cheeks and a slice of underpants hanging from her leotard as we walked down the sidewalk. 

It's such a precious memory, right? But it's an image of a toddler and she's not that anymore. That's the point. That's the source of the sadness. For me, her toddlerhood and yoga go hand in hand. Shedding one, means shelving the other. 

And when I made that connection, I started thinking of two contemporary dances that slay me with their intensity, physicality, rawness and grief. It seems like a tangent, but stay with me here, it's not. 

I'm such a crap dancer that I nearly never dance in front of friends or strangers. I'm all wild abandon and absurdity with the children. But others? The fear of judgment paralyzes me. 

It comes as a huge surprise to many then that I'm a devout fan of "So You Think You Can Dance." There's a lot of stupid banter and, of late, they're trying too hard to pull heart strings, but at its core it's a show that celebrates dance: gifted dancers and inspired choreography. 

I have been profoundly moved by more than a handful of dances over the past several years. So overcome that I search out videos of the dances a year and two years later and play them over and over and over and over. 

Last week, one pair danced a contemporary piece that told the story of a woman struggling with fear. Legacy, a b-boy dancer, personified fear and dogged his partner, Kathryn, throughout. At one point, he flung himself onto her waist and wrapped his entire body around her. 

Last year, another couple told the story of drug addiction. Kupono attacked Kayla in wild desperation with his arms, his legs, his hands, his lips as she labored to break free and he fought to hang on.

I'm reminded of these pieces because as a mother I feel like the characters these guys are playing: I feel like I'm fighting, scratching, clawing, DYING to keep hold of my babies. Even as they do what they should, do what they need to do, and rip away from me. One arm, one leg, one hand at a time. 


Hard Corps

My father and I sit at opposite ends of the political spectrum. We don't agree to disagree so much as we've just learned not to talk about politics EVER.

Luckily, he left on his annual trek to the remote wilds of Maine a few days ago so I'm hoping he's safely shrouded in a media blackout and didn't hear the news that Democrats passed a health care bill. One I largely applaud but that he no doubt would greet with an angry roar. 


Hear that? That would have been the sound of his computer crashing through the wall as he read the headline. 

It's better this way. Trust me.

Perhaps it's better too that he's not around to hear my latest hair-brained idea. See, I've made plans for me and my father next year; we're running the Marine Corps Marathon. 


Did you hear that? That's the sound of my father falling over in the woods. 

Six years ago, I hatched another -  far crazier - adventure for us: a 219-mile winter slog along the Appalachian Trail. At the time, Kent and I were nearing the end of an adoption process that started after we spent three desperately sad years trying to have a baby. And failing miserably. 

I wanted to walk myself to exhaustion. I craved the simple monotony of one foot in front of the other. I sought the comfort of my father as I struggled to become a mother.

A hard-core hiker and outdoor enthusiast since his youth, my father naturally agreed. 

We bought tents and mapped routes. Kent, though jealous, excitedly planned food drops. He was on board though others thought I'd lost my mind. Three weeks alone in the woods? In the winter? ARE YOU INSANE? 

And then...

The adoption fell through and I got pregnant with Esme. When we didn't miscarry, when we realized this pregnancy might actually work, the idea of scrambling over icy rocks in drifting snow lost its luster. The plan was shelved. 

I don't know what sparked my latest epic idea. I'm a walker, not a runner. I hate running, really. It hurts me. Worse still, it BORES me. The longest distance I ever clocked was five miles and I was so impressed with myself I never did it again. Ok, maybe not never. But hardly ever.

So I was pretty surprised to find myself running this morning on what I planned as a long walk through several neighborhoods. Running. Gasping for breath. Ignoring the pain in my legs. And thinking. Thinking about how much I'd like to do a long run with my father, how much I'd love the time we'd spend together preparing for the race.  

The talking; the planning; the practicing; the bitching; the ribbing; the accomplishment!  Think of the bond. Think of the stories. 

(Try not to think of the pain.)

I even designed the T-shirts we'll wear: Black, emblazoned with gold lettering on the front that reads: HARD CORPS. And on the back of his: DAD. And mine: DAUGHTER.

I got so totally lost in thought on my walk - RUN? - that I didn't hear the BEEP BEEP BEEP! of my heart monitor watch until it started sending smoke signals. I stole a glance at my wrist and saw my heart rate hovering at 192. 

Best to walk a few blocks, no?

Anyway, so engrossed was I with the plans that I also didn't realize how far I went: 4.5 miles. 

Not too shabby for my first stab at this, right?

Whooboy, my father's gonna be surprised when he comes out of the woods to find he's been challenged to a 26.2 mile foot race. Even more surprised than the fact that health care reform cleared the House. 


Natural Medicine

The towering oak tree that shades our back yard so beautifully from scorching summer sun also happens to drop six hundred thousand leaves for us to rake and bag every autumn.

The entire house has suffered from one variety of funk or another - swine flu, sinus infection, hacking coughs, extreme fevers - since last weekend. So, I thought it was time for a little outdoor medicine. 

We donned dresses and tights, vests and shoes, threw open the door and tumbled outside whereupon the little people commenced whining, complaining, crying, shouting and coveting sand shovels. 

Oh, for the love of God people, can't we enjoy the sunny day and the gorgeous weather?!

The answer: Yes!


Kent made a rain shower of leaves.


That Uma rolled in.


And Josephine ran under.


Esme shared moss with Josephine.


And Desmond shared a leaf pile with Uma.


I fawned over my oak leaf hydrangea for the umpteenth time this year. Really, could it be more beautiful?


And the girls found a sunny spot to rest after big play on a spectacular autumn day. 


Look at those feet.


Look at that face! Even I feel better now.