The Holes in Thanksgiving

Last year was my nephew’s first Thanksgiving. I have pictures of my girls playing with him on the floor. Pictures of Maggie looking upside down at him trying to engage him in the different shaped blocks. Pictures of Elena holding him in her lap.

The girls and I played cards with their uncle – my brother. We’d pause when the baby needed to be fed or changed. Ethan and Rona were doing these tasks together. She’d announce that the baby needed changing and he’d excuse himself from the game and the two of them would take the baby in the other room and change him.

A year later and they’re still doing this. “Love,” she’d say, “it’s a two person changing.” And he would excuse himself from talking to me and Maggie and join her in the other room.

I looked at Maggie. Except for the very first time I changed her within an hour of having her handed to me, I don’t remember Kim and I doing the changing together. For us it was always a “you do it” or “I’ll do it” sort of thing.

In a way it’s kind of sweet that they do everything together still. What was kind of funny was that even Elena at six years old noted that their ways were different than ours. “Why doesn’t he just do it?” she’d ask. Later she’d ask it the other way around, “why doesn’t she just do it?”

“Shhhh,” I’d say. “That’s just the way they do things.”

“What?” she’d protest, “I’m just asking.”

“No you’re not,” I’d say, “you’re stirring things up.” But Elena wasn’t done stirring thing’s up. She’d ask these troublemaking questions in the most innocent voice. The same question would sound mean if Maggie, Kim, or I had asked it. Elena came across as sincere. Even now looking back, I couldn’t swear she wasn’t.

“But,” she’d say, “that makes no sense. Maggie used to change my diaper all by herself.”

And she did. From time to time, when she was in the mood, Maggie had changed Elena’s diaper. That was when Elena was little and Maggie wasn’t making fun of her for being in a diaper or pull-up at an age older than Maggie had been.

“Changing boys is different,” I told her, not knowing if it was true.

“You mean ’cause of their penis?” she asked.

I suppose I did, but I didn’t want to get into that. “Kind of,” I said. “If they poop there’s more to clean.”

“Ohhhh,” she sang both knowingly and with that devilish look in her eyes. “Maybe I’ll help next time.”

Elena let that one drop but seemed to watch for other opportunities.

“Dad,” she asked, “what’s Eli’s whole name?”

“You know what it is,” I said back.

“Oh yeah,” she grinned, “Eli Maxwell Steinberg. He has the same name as me, only for a boy.”

Elena Maxine. Eli Maxwell. Sigh.

“Kind of,” I said.

“Not kind of,” she corrected. “Exactly. If Eli was a girl he’d have my name.”

“Well he doesn’t have your Chinese middle name,” I said.

“He couldn’t,” she said. “He’s not one of the Shen sisters.”

“No, he’s not.”

Later at dinner I was playing with baby Eli. He giggled and smiled as I lifted him above my head and put him on my shoulders. Some babies like that and some don’t. Elena used to whoop with delight up on my shoulders while Maggie used to grab my hair in her fist and squeeze her knees hard around my neck. Eli was having fun.

Ethan and Rona were a bit concerned with how I was treating Eli and I started to bring him down.

Only Elena decided to put in her two cents.

“Hello,” she said. And everyone looked at her. “My dad has raised two children of his own.”

And so we’re left with a big old hole this Thanksgiving.

So many times Kim and I look at each other and think “Elena would have something to say about this.” And we smile at the mixture of a memory and a day dream. For that moment we fill a hole with a happy thought of a child who filled the room.

Published in: on November 22, 2006 at 10:00 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The trick is to keep remembering and honoring the memory of Elena. I think the day that hole isn’t there can be a very sad one…for it means that you have forgotten her completely…

  2. I think all of us are feeling that hole even more this season. I could tell Jack was feeling it at our pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner. Even with both girls screaming, it was quiet. You may have heard Jack telling the story of how Elena told all the kids in their kindergarten class that he still liked Winnie the Pooh (which, by the way, he watched with her) and that he got teased for it. I’ve learned that this is Jack’s way of trying to convince himself that she wasn’t so dear to him, and that he doesn’t miss her so terribly. When he’s feeling okay, he talks about fun things they did together. When he’s feeling that hole, he remembers the stuff about her that drove him nuts. It upset me at first to listen to him speak angrily about her, then when I realized what he was doing it broke my heart (again). As time passes, I keep waiting to “get it”. I still don’t get it Daniel. She was here, and then she was gone, and it makes no sense. I hope writing these stories helps you. Selfishly, I enjoy reading them.

  3. God bless you, Daniel, your family, and the good friends who gather around you. It’s good to hear you speak of Elena fondly. I’m sure the sadness is still there, I imagine it always will be. But it’s good to hear you smile at her memory, and to feel how she was so loved by so many.
    I agree with Patti’s closing thoughts, and I too hope that these stories help.

  4. Tim McGraw has a new song out called “My Little Girl”. There’s a line or two in there…

    “Sometimes you’re asleep I whisper “I Love You!” in the moonlight at your door.
    As I walk away, I hear you say, “Daddy Love You More!”.”

    It sounds like something she’d have to one-up-you on.

    Every time I hear it, I think of you and Elena.


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