Tag Archives: jack

A letter to my nephew on his sixth birthday

Dear Jack,

You have no idea how hard it was not to start this letter with something like My Dearest Quackadoo or Darling Quackers or even Dear Little Jackie Bear. But I didn’t want to embarrass you right at the start, so I saved that for the first sentence. You’re welcome.

Pool boy

Happy birthday! You are six, sweet boy, and I have been so excited to write you this letter. It’s hard to believe another year has gone by. You rocked kindergarten like a pro and are headed to first grade in a mere month. I promise that if you invite me to school for any events I will probably not call you Quackers in front of your friends.


Highlights from the past year include you and me picking out Halloween costumes. This is an activity I have enjoyed since you were a baby and I bought you your first prison inmate costume, complete with tattooed sleeves. Faced with fluffy choices like cupcakes and ice cream cones, you rejected convention and brilliantly decided that Fiona (who was not yet two at the time) would be a bearded garden gnome. You went as a musclebound, hammer wielding Thor, and Scarlett changed costumes at least three times that day, ending up as a zombie cheerleader for Arizona State University. We went trick-or-treating on Grove Street, where the neighborhood blocks off the street and residents decorate their garages with spiderwebs and cauldrons and give out buckets worth of candy. Halloween with you and the girls is magical.

I can tell you without hesitation that one of my favorite moments this year was when you and your mom came to one of Scarlett’s basketball games at the JCC. The game had started, and all of the spectators were lined up against the far wall of the gymnasium, most in folding chairs or standing in small groups. You walked directly to where I was sitting, in the middle of all the action, and without a word you climbed into my lap, wrapped my arms around you and leaned back. I am not making this up: people were whipping out cameras. I think two women spontaneously melted into the floor, never to be seen again. Take note, my nephew, your charm is a powerful thing.


As a five-year-old, you traveled to Barcelona and Kauai, trying out new foods and late bedtimes. You face timed us from a porch in Hawaii that overlooked the ocean, and showed us the chickens running wildly in your backyard. Though you had barely been there for two days, you were as brown as toast and probably just as warm. In a way, I felt like I was right there with you. I do miss our travels together.

My ALS continues to progress, and you have become one of my trusted wheelchair drivers. With you in total control of the chair, we have cruised through the Mission and Noe Valley in search of restaurants, zoomed maniacally around playgrounds, and covered much hilly ground in our chosen city. Well, I guess it’s my chosen city. You are from San Francisco, a fact that still gives me a small electric shock when I think about it.


You are a phenomenal big brother, which surprises no one. Fiona has learned so much simply from watching you. You take good care of the things you love, like your colorful betta fish, Doughnut. You are learning to play the piano. You play soccer and T-ball, tennis and basketball. You love to ride your bike and be with your friends. Whenever I see you, you come right up to me and give me a kiss. Lately, you have taken to clapping my hands for me at appropriate times, and lifting my hand for a high five. You sat on my lap at Scarlett’s violin recital and used my arms to play your own imaginary violin.


Jack, you crack me up daily. You are an extraordinary person, and like the Beatles song says, it’s getting better all the time. I adore you, and I can’t wait to celebrate this big day with you.


*Photos by your parents and my friend Margaret, except for the one of you dressed as a girl. I took that one. Scarlett dressed you.

My Kids

My sister is going back to work tomorrow, after a six-month maternity leave. It gives me flashbacks to when I went back to work after Scarlett was born. I had a very leisurely seven-month leave, and when it was over, I worked from home in my dining room, while my sister took over as Scarlett’s nanny and best friend.

Right now my parents are in town to help with the transition period, before my sister has to hire someone to take care of her two kids while she works. I wish it could be me. I would love to have that time with my niece, the way my sister had with Scarlett, to bond and play and snuggle. I want to be my niece’s favorite aunt, but how is that possible when I can’t even pick her up? I remind myself that my 4-year-old nephew hardly cares at all that I’m in a wheelchair, only noticing really that it’s cool because he gets to ride in it. He was born one month after I was diagnosed with ALS, and he’s never known me any differently.

So I won’t be the nanny, and I won’t be the aunt who picks them up and swings them around, who bakes with them and plays soccer and all the things that I would like to do both with my own child and with these two children who I feel are nearly mine. I’m not exactly sad about it. I’m so used to the situation by now, that it just feels natural to sit in my chair while someone brings the baby to me so that I can kiss her. My nephew puckers his lips and stands by the side of my chair for his kiss. I’m in a wheelchair. For the rest of my family, it’s surreal. For these three kids, it’s totally normal. Read More>

My Fiona

She’s here, she’s here, my little niece is here! My rockstar sister brought her into the world on Saturday morning, and she has spent the last five days being perfect. Please, just look at this face.


Her name is Fiona Catherine, and I’m allowed to call her Fee, but not Fifi.

So, naturally…

“Come, Fifi,” I say in an important voice, whenever anyone offers to put her on my lap. As if we are off to the country club to meet her friends Binky and Peroxide. As if we are having tea with the Queen.

“Fifi makes her sound like a dog,” my sister complains. But this is not a good argument for me, because my own daughter’s nickname is Scout, and although we were thinking Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, it turns out to be a very doggy kind of name.

The week after Scarlett was born, my grandmother called to tell me that not one, but two sitcoms she had watched that night featured dogs named Scout. She cackled into the phone and hung up. Read More>