Our bear is six-months old – 19 of 100

James turned six-months old on Saturday. Here are some things I want to remember about this moment in time:

-After I feed him in the morning, I prop him standing up on my lap and he tilts his head to the right and grins at me.

-He’s desperate to stand up. He can pretty much sit on his own, but every time I set him down to practice, he’s pushing himself up, straightening his legs. I can’t be sure – but I think it’s a sign of independence and eagerness to get out and explore.

-He used to cry and cry when I put him down for naps, but now, he tucks into my shoulder, pops his thumb in his mouth and listens to me sing. My heart pretty much explodes every time.

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-He loves to be kissed – especially on his inner thighs. It makes him squeal with delight. He loves it when I howl like a wolf and then drop my voice right at the end. When I get him giggling, I’ll do anything to keep it going.

-I am amazed by how much communication can happen with a baby who cannot speak a word. He tells me everything: when he’s hungry, tired, what he likes, doesn’t like, when he’s bored, when he’s happy. I had this fear when I was pregnant that I’d be the first mother on the planet to have no instincts – but I now see that that is entirely impossible.

-When he was very small, I used to fear losing him all the time. I still do, but my more daily fear now is that I will die and he won’t remember me. It’s a bit morbid and maybe a little narcissistic. I have this crazy desire to stay alive at least long enough that he’ll know how much and how completely he is loved.

-Watching the man you love become a dad is an extraordinary thing. The way Dan can’t wait to see James as soon as he pops out of bed and again when he’s home from work. The way he swings him around and makes James laugh. The way he peeks at the baby monitor every night right before we go to bed and sighs, “I love James.” To have a partner in all this – to share this wild love – it’s beyond words.

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-Nicknames: little J, little B, Mr. B, Bugaboo, Bugabee, Bug Bug, James B, Mugwai, Bean Bon, Mr. Boo, Boo

-People want to hold him all the time-especially mothers. We were in Glacier National Park the other week in a little lounge and this older man and woman struck up a conversation, making silly faces at James, just being generally friendly. As we got up to leave, the husband piped up and said, “I think my wife would love to hold that baby.” You can see the look come over their faces when he’s in their arms- it is the same with every mother – a wash of love, nostalgia, of all of the mixed up emotions that come with time passing. And I get it. In her essay “Baby Weight“, upon becoming a mother, Cheryl Strayed finally grasps why her mother loved to hold babies so much: “I understood something that had never occurred to me before: that when she had raved about the smell or weight of a baby in her arms, she hadn’t really been talking about that borrowed baby, she had been talking about me.”

-And that’s the thing about being a parent: you live in a perpetual state of bittersweet. You are so excited to see your child progress – to roll, to laugh, to stand – to know who they are! And yet, a day will come, when you can no longer kiss his pudgy little thighs to your heart’s delight, or sweep him up into your arms whenever you like – when he’ll no longer tuck so perfectly into your shoulder and listen to you sing.

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-Time becomes different – a physical thing. You can actually see it passing in your baby’s growth, in their face, the way they change every day. And boy does it go by fast.

IMG_2376 -Sometimes, when he’s quiet, we’ll lie next to each other on the ground, roll onto our sides and look at each other. Or he’ll grab my face and pull me close when I have him on the change table. We look at each other, and he touches my face and I run my fingers through his downy hair, and we smile this twin knowing smile. I feel like we are having the most ancient conversation there is – like we have uncovered the very origin of love.

Minnesota Roots – 18 of 100

I got lucky this year – I got to go to Minnesota twice in one summer. That’s a rarity. Some years, I don’t get to go at all.

There’s no place in the world that has ever felt the way Minnesota feels to me. Because I spent the first 18 years of my life there – it is like my native language. No matter how long I am gone, the roads run through my memory like a song I didn’t even realize I knew the words to. Not to say it’s a feeling without complication or that there aren’t many other places that call up emotion – only that Minnesota is the one place with this feeling. After all of these years, I still call Minnesota home.

Anyway, it was good to be back.

There are so many familiar places – places filled with memories and stories.

Dan, James and I spent a week up my family’s cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior.

DSCF3739 My great great great grandfather, Joseph R. Kingman and a bunch of buddies bought this land back in the 1920’s. I’m sure they all imagined their grandchildren and their great grandchildren enjoying this place- but I wonder if they fathomed the sixth generation (James) walking the trails that they built.

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We’ve been going to Encampment as long as I can remember and there’s a picture of me at about one or two years old in the clawfoot tub.

In a way, our family history is chronicled in the guest books. My grandfather wrote about his solo journeys- splitting wood and hiking the trails. There are marriages, births, deaths.

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It was magical to be there with James. Long mornings with too much coffee, afternoon hikes with him in the carrier. Him, grabbing at rocks on the beach and trying to put them in his mouth. Sitting by the fire. Loading him into the tub for a picture.

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Back in Minneapolis, Mom, Dad, Dan James and I went to Lakewood Cemetery where both of my grandfathers are buried. You can track my mom’s side of the family back to the Skiles family, for whom I’m named – the Eastmans, the Woodwards, the Welles, the Kingmans.

My dad’s dad, Don Hornig, is buried there too. We stood under a tree by his grave and read prayer.

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Grandpa and Grandma Hornig began buying apartment buildings decades ago. It’s become a pretty big thing. They started with nothing. As a family, we drove around to look at the buildings. What a story, I thought. What a legacy.

What I’m getting at is that I have roots in Minnesota. Long ones.

And above all the places and the history are the people: our family.

My cousin Meghan – we’re six days apart, grew up down the street from each other, and have always been the best of friends. Getting our little beans together – well, that was the best. And the late night at her house drinking wine with her and her husband – that was the best too.

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With Meghan, Gunnar and Harriet

And my sister and her husband coming over for dinner. And my brother stopping by to hold James. And my aunt and uncle and cousins coming over to say hello. And visiting my two grandmothers – James’ great grandmothers. It’s popping in and out and everyone being close.

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My beautiful sister Maddy and her hubby, Laurent

And, of course, my parents. My parents who love us to the ends of our tippy toes. Who can’t squeeze James enough times in one day.

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James and Nana

When Dan and I were doing long distance, I used to crave everyday moments with him. Just waking up on a weekday and having coffee before work – that kind of thing. I find myself craving that with my parents now. Like them coming over for a little while just to play with James or take him to the pool or for a walk around the garden.

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Jimbo’s garden

You want to know something funny? Whenever I watch comedies about dysfunctional families – like Arrested Development or Transparent – I wish I lived near my family. Imperfect as we all are, as much as we drive each other totally nuts and gripe about each other – there’s nothing like family. There just isn’t. We have so much fun together. We have quirks and share memories, know how to push each other’s buttons and make each other laugh.

Anyway, we’ve all been spoiled rotten by all this time together this summer.

I read a great article a while back in the New York Times that children who know their family history do better. “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”

My parents have done an incredible job of keeping our family history alive–the good and the bad. They’ve been honest. I hope to do the same for James. Even if we never live there, I hope James feels connected to Minnesota – because he is.

I hope is some place in this world for him that calls up memory and comfort and the love and wonder of childhood.