My Little Water Sprite

Dear Caroline,

It was at the Silver Point Beach Club in Long Beach, Long Island, that it happened, probably around 1997, when you were still only eight or nine years old.

We’d gone to the pool there, walking along the rickety wooden planks, past the cabanas, for a little swim on a brilliantly sunny weekend morning. As I recall, you loved the pool – loved splashing around, loved swimming, just loved the cool, clean water.

Going in the pool was something we could do together. And so in we went. You liked to ride on my back, your arms wrapped around my neck, as I plunged underwater like a submarine.

“Do it again,” you would say, and I would do it again.

We tried all kinds of stunts in the water — racing, doing handstands, swimming between each other’s legs. You seemed pretty much game for any experiment.

After a while on this day, we were having so much fun we felt exhilirated. And you swam into my arms. And I held you close to me, my arms around your back, your face right in front of mine. You were smiling a big smile, your face gleaming with water from the pool, gleaming in the brilliant sun, looking so happy, so perfectly happy.

It was a sublime moment, my favorite moment in my whole life.

Oh, I’ve had wonderful moments.

Hitting a home run over the right fielder when I was about 12 as a girl I wanted to impress watched.

The first time I kissed a girl.

Getting hired for my first job out of college on a weekly newspaper called The Eastside Courier.

Marrying Mom.

Seeing Michael born.

Being published in The New York Times at the age of 26.

I’ve had so many wonderful moments in my 58 years, too many to recount here, so many, of course, related to Mom and Michael and you. But that moment with you in my arms in the pool at the beach club took the cake. Seeing you so happy that day made me happier than I could ever imagine.

It really was a glimpse of the divine.

All I can do now is wish you many more such moments in the sun.

Sleeping Around: Part 2

Dear Michael,

Now, please understand. I loved having our little guy there. I would kneel down next to you in the shadows and look at your beautiful face, watching you breathe. But I had my concerns. I expressed those concerns to Mom.

“Maybe,” I said, “Michael should sleep the night through in his room from now on. We’ve got to decide on a cutoff point.” I wanted only what was best for you. How long should we let you do your Ninja night routine? At a certain point you would need to learn to sleep by yourself, just as everyone does, and maybe the sooner the better.

I’d like to believe I raised those points with your mother calmly, logically, matter-of-factly.

But I’d probably be mistaken in such a belief. I probably got all indignant and maybe even snide about it. Sorry about that, kiddo.

Anyways, as you can well imagine, Mom would have none of it. “It’s fine,” she said. “It’s no big deal. He’ll stop coming in when he’s ready to stop coming in.”

And of course, given my imagination, I foresaw you sleeping with us in our bedroom at the age of 10, at 20, at 30, Mom all along saying, It’s fine, it’s no big deal, he’ll stop soon. You’d graduate from college, start a job, get married, even have kids, but still there you’d be, sleeping on our floor.

But one night you stopped your stealthy invasions, and the next night, too, you were nowhere to be seen. And I went to your bedroom to check on you and there you were, tucked in, secure enough alone at last.

And so you’ve slept all these years since, probably never even missing your former routine. Now that I’m older and maybe more understanding – and maybe even wishing once in a while to turn back the clock – let me offer you a reassurance straight from the heart.

You can sleep on our floor any time.

Sleeping Around

Dear Michael,

As a toddler, you came into our bedroom at night to sleep on the carpet, always on the side near Mom. It was really cute. You never knocked on the door or asked to come in.

I would get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and there you would be, sprawled on the carpet next to our bed, eyes closed, head on a pillow, all tucked under your blanket.

Obviously you wanted to be near us – or, rather, Mom – for a sense of security.

The system had its flaws, though. I know for sure I almost tripped on you, catching your foot or something.

It lent our sleep an aura of mystery, your habit of silently slipping in to join us. I remember waking up and wondering, Is he here yet?

You probably made your entrance at all different times, whenever you felt the need, rather than according to any regular schedule. I’m sure Mom felt flattered by your wish for such proximity to her round the clock, though she never said so.

Who could blame you, really? I mean, there you are – what, two, three years old? – alone in your room, thinking, Hey, man, it’s dark in here, what the fuck.

And then I can imagine your just deciding, Look, enough of this alone-in-the-dark crap, I’m heading Momward.

And so night after night in you came, our reliable little visitor, bundled in your baby-blue pajamas, the three of us sleeping together in the late, still quiet.

Of course, once you got to be about three years old, I started to wonder how much longer you planned to be our nocturnal roommate. I started to question whether maybe you were getting a little old for that kind of dependency on our company. And of course, the older you grew, the larger a sleeping object on our floor you became, and so more of a – how to say? – interference. In short, it was now easier to step on you and trip over you.

So we had something of a safety issue there.

P.S. — Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Just Kidding

Dear Caroline,

You want funny? Maybe I can give you some funny. Here’s my latest attempt, a fresh, heaping plate of it:

· Husband to wife: When did you stop knowing how to take a joke? Wife to husband: When you stopped knowing how to make any.

· Husband to wife: I think that last remark might have come out wrong. Wife to husband: If it came from your mouth, I’m sure it did.

· February is really getting to me. I’ve started my weekend drinking on Monday.

· Okay, here’s the message I, as CEO of this company, would like to send our shareholders. Fuck you. Now you’re the writer. So you go do what you have to do. Feel free to wordsmith it.

· I would eat more tonight, but I’m watching my hairline.

· How can you complain about getting older? It’s indecent – almost like complaining you’d rather be dead.

· My favorite abs work is lunch.

· Some day a court might find me guilty of mirth aforethought.

· Remembering is good. But forgetting can be better.

Losing My Grip On You

Dear Michael,

I miss holding you as a baby.

In those first days and weeks and months of your life, I kept you in my arms day and night. Your skin felt so smooth. I would bring your face toward mine and you would look me right in the eyes.

Hey, little guy, I would say.

Who are you? you probably thought. Are you who I think you are?

Your head was so round, your arms and legs so rubbery. You felt like a living doll. I would press my cheek to your cheek. You would burble and gurgle and squirm, your head bobbling, your lips so shiny, your eyes so wide, seeing the world for the first time.

I miss all that. I miss how much you needed me. No one in my life had ever needed me that much before. You needed to be fed and dressed and cleaned and laid into your crib and comforted. I felt so important.

I would give you a bath in our kitchen sink. I filled the sink with warm water made sudsy with soap, little bubbles forming here and there and popping. I’d dip you in up to your waist.

Wait, your face said. What’s this? A new sensation, methinks.

You would slop at the water, splashing and giggling. Your skin gleamed with the moisture, and you felt as sleek and slippery to the touch as a seal.

I miss all that, too. I miss being so important to you, representing so much of your life. It’s selfish of me. I know that now. It was what you might call the selfishness of selflessness.

In those moments with you, I could think of nothing but you. In those first days, holding you and caring for your every need took me out of myself. Just as I was all-important to you, so were you to me. Your dependence on me as I held you was so absolute, so non-negotiable.

I fed you or you starved.

I cleaned you or you stayed dirty.

I dressed you or you went naked.

We shared the most intimate connection, tender beyond belief, all sense of sight and sound and texture and touch heightened to the point of a hyper-reality that bordered on hallucination.

If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get to do it all again someday. Maybe I’ll get the opportunity to hold another baby I can call my own.

Somehow You Already Knew

Dear Caroline,

One summer afternoon, when you were only a year or so old, our family went to a family gathering at my Uncle Leonard’s mansion in Brookville, Long Island. Nana was there, and my mother, and my cousins Peter and Danielle, and maybe some others, too.

We hung out in the backyard, near the swimming pool and the bocci court, but it was hot and sticky, almost tropical, so we shuttled into the house to cool off now and then.

It was our chance to show you off, our beautiful, perfect little girl, tucked into your stroller, the cutest creature on the planet. Certainly everyone admired you, and said as much, leaning over to check you out, taking you out to hold you.

But we had one little problem that day. You cried almost the whole time we were there. You cried inside the house and outside the house, cried during lunch and afterwards, bawling away at the top of your lungs, even then operatic.

We had no idea why – hunger? indigestion? a rash? – and nothing stopped you, no matter how much we coddled you and cooed at you. Inconsolable, you were.

At first everyone accepted your crying as par for the course. After all, a baby’s gig involves crying now and again. But your wailing went on and on. It became the sound track for, the white noise behind, all our conversation that day. We felt frustrated, annoyed, puzzled.

Finally, even though the afternoon was still young and we would otherwise have liked to stay longer, Mom and I decided we might as well leave. We gathered our belongings and started saying our goodbyes. And before we even took a step toward our car, you stopped crying.

Just like that.

And for a second we considered changing our minds and staying. But no. It seemed you had sent us some kind of a signal. You seemed to be telling us we should go. It was as if, in being with my family, you had caught a certain vibe. Just being around my family, it seemed, had upset you.

How else to interpret the sequence of events at Leonard’s house on that hot summer day? No sooner do we get there than you commence to cry. No sooner do we decide to leave than you cease and desist said crying. One could see a pattern there, a cause-and-effect relationship.

It was as if you had intuited something, divined a certain truth, even though you were still only a baby. It was truly strange and remarkable, as if you had already come to understand my family. That’s why you stopped crying at that particular moment.

You realized that after being there all day, now you were finally going to get away.

Your Link to John Lennon

Dear Michael,

It came out only three years before you were born, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” but every time I hear it I think of you. So here it is:

Close your eyes
Have no fear
The monster’s gone
He’s on the run and your Daddy’s here
Beautiful beautiful
Beautiful boy
Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way
It’s getting better and better
Beautiful beautiful
Beautiful boy
Out on the ocean sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we’ll both
Just have to be patient
It’s a long way to go
A hard row to hoe
Yes, it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime
Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you’re busy
Making other plans
Beautiful beautiful
Beautiful boy
Darling Sean (Michael)

Quiet Hour

Dear Caroline,

About three weeks after we brought you home from the hospital, we took you in the stroller to the square in Forest Hills Gardens. Mom and I were beside ourselves with joy at your arrival – our second-born, a girl, delivered healthy and perfect. We felt absolutely celebratory, life suddenly new again.

We wheeled you over the cobblestones clickety-clack under the train tracks and past the inn to a new café with a table and chairs on the sidewalk. It was November, or maybe early December, so a little cool out, but mild enough to park ourselves outside. We got ourselves coffee and some pastries and took our seats.

You promptly went to sleep. You lay there, swaddled in your blanket, a little cap on your head, your eyes closed. Can you possibly conceive of just how beautiful you looked to us at that moment? Can you fathom the depth of the adoration we felt for you? We had brought you home and taken you out into the day, into the light, under the autumn sun.

We sipped our coffee and savored our danishes as you slept, your nostrils flaring as you breathed. We marveled at the quiet all around us. We talked little, basking in the rare silence.

We gloried in our great good luck, too. We now had a daughter. Our son now had a sister. Grandma Nettie now had a granddaughter. A second child meant a second chance, a chance to do even better this time around. You completed us, made us everything we wanted to be, a family of four, boy plus girl.

Every few minutes we peered into the stroller to check on you. On you slept, on and on and on, perhaps tired from the rigors of birth, the shock of new life, perhaps just relaxed, feeling so safe and secure with us in the historic square at that little café.

It’s such a beautiful spot, Forest Hills Gardens, one of my favorite in the city, so much like a turn-of-the-century English village, or so I imagine. But now it felt better to be there than it ever had. We had our own little girl.

Mom and I probably talked about you a lot at the café. Again and again we peeked in on you, and on and on you slept.

Can you believe how long she’s sleeping? I must have said.

Neither of us could quite believe it.

Oh, this is going to be so easy, I thought, so much easier than with Michael. You were going to be a really good sleeper.

You slept something like 20 hours that day. I guess you needed it.

You never slept that long again (never went that long without talking either).

But it worked out fine. You took a break, and we caught one, too. Those hours gave us a special peace, some time to reflect on our good luck and brace ourselves for the years ahead.

The Kids Stay in the Picture: Part 2

Dear Michael,

Now we click the slide show to you and me in the bathtub. You might be 18 months old, maybe two years. I’m seated in the tub, my head forward, my hands holding your waist. We’re both wet all over. Our faces are about two inches apart and we’re looking directly into each other’s eyes. I’m looking up at you and you’re looking down at me. You’re smiling, a spontaneous smile, perhaps the first hint of a laugh. Do you know why?

I’ll tell you why.

My mouth is pressed right against your wet belly. I’m probably kissing it, kissing your belly really hard, with all the suction my mouth and lips can muster, and I’ll bet anything the sensation really tickled. You probably cracked up so much I had to stop. Some shot, that one. Dad kissing your belly in the bathtub.

Now let’s go for one more photo here. As it happens, you’re in the bathtub again. You’re up to your chest in bubbles, white, foamy bubbles. You’re smiling widely, your mouth open, your tongue halfway out. Is it because of the bubbles surrounding you, all popping so fragrantly?


It’s because once again you have some company in the tub. Caroline. She’s in there, too, almost up to her neck in bubbles. She’s smiling, too, more of a grin, really.

Hey, your smile says, I’m taking a bubble bath with my little sister!

Hey, her grin says, I’m taking a bubble bath with my big brother! She’s maybe a year old, moon-faced, so happy you’re there with her.

You stare at the photo and you ask yourself, Were a brother and sister ever happier than in this moment?

You ask yourself, Is greater happiness than this even imaginable?

Hey, you tell me.

P.S. – So what do you think? I’d love to hear from you.