Eight years old

I was in the car on Presidents’ Day half listening to the radio. At the top of the hour the first story on the news was that George Washington would have been two hundred some years old today.

I don’t remember the exact number because I was already yelling at the radio.

“No he wouldn’t,” I said.

The radio ignored me and went on to the next story. I wasn’t through with my lecture and so I reached over and turned it down. If I came equipped with a volume knob the radio might have turned mine down as well.

“First of all,” I continued, “it’s not his birthday. We celebrate today because it’s a Monday between Lincoln and Washington’s birthday so he wouldn’t have been turning any age today.”

This first point was clear to me because Elena died on Washington’s birthday. She died on the date when her favorite president was born. The anniversary of her death doesn’t move around each year to suit a national holiday and neither does the actual anniversary of Washington’s birth.

This brought me to my second point.

“There’s no way that Washington would have been two hundred and anything today,” I glared through the radio at the newscaster. “People don’t live that long. Even if he hadn’t died when he did, he wasn’t going to make it to ONE hundred let alone TWO hundred. This might be the two hundred and some-th anniversary of the birth of Washington but he would never have been that old today.”

Sometimes when I’m ranting I make up words like “some-th”.

And so we come to today: the third of March, 2007.

Elena would have been eight years old today.

Elena should have been eight years old today — Elena will always be six. This is the second birthday that Elena didn’t celebrate. The second year that we didn’t give her a hug and ask “who’s the birthday girl?” The second year that Maggie didn’t peer over her shoulder while Elena opened up gifts and cards and coo “oooh, what did you get.”

For Elena’s birthday, please post a story of her. Share a memory. Paint a picture. Thank you.

Published in: on March 3, 2007 at 8:12 am  Comments (23)  

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  1. […] post by dearelena and software by […]

  2. My favorite memory of Elena is from Passover in 2004. I had just started dating Celeste (who I would eventually marry), and Daniel had invited me to bring her along to the Seder dinner. Celeste had to work late that evening, so we decided that I’d go ahead and she would meet me at Daniel’s.

    Maggie & Elena were anxious to meet this young lady I couldn’t stop talking about. They kept peeking out of the dining room window, looking for a face they didn’t yet recognize. About a half hour later, I looked out and saw Celeste parking across the street. A split second later, Elena giggled and announced (in a voice I think even the neighbors heard), “MARK’S FRIEND IS HERE!!!” It was a great welcome to the family for Celeste.

  3. I only had the pleasure of meeting Elena once. I am grateful I had the opportunity. Daniel and I had been attending OSCON in Portland and the day before I was scheduled to leave Kim, Maggie and Elena were arriving and Daniel asked me if I’d like to meet Maggie and Elena. Of course! Daniel was always talking about his two girls and I felt like I already knew them in a small way. They arrived late – very late. Kim was tired and the girls were hungry. Despite that they were kind enough to entertain me in their hotel room for a little while. And entertain they did! I remember Maggie had a book about body parts or bodily functions, I can’t remember which. While Elena kept trying to show me the parts of the book she thought were funniest Daniel and Kim would say “That’s enough! I’m sure Sarah doesn’t want to hear all about that!” Then Elena said something like “Daddy, you have ___” – I honestly can’t remember what it was she mentioned but I remember Daniel was embarrassed and “that was definitely Enough!” I laughed so much that night and I will never forget the beautiful spirit of Elena.

  4. One of the things I loved about Elena was her appetite. My favorite food story about her happened on one of the days Kim and I had the kids on the playground after school. Elena always had something left over from lunch that she snacked on at this time. Kim and I were chatting away and not really paying attention to any of the kids, when we both stopped suddenly and looked over at Elena. Kim said to me, “What is she eating?”. She had a container of dried out KFC mashed potatoes that she was happily shoveling into her little mouth. I asked Kim, “Did you send those with her today??”. Kim’s answer was a resounding, “NO! My God, where did she get that?!?”. Elena was extremely put out when Kim took those old potatoes away from her. The child was the queen of lunch trades and was often eating some unusual item that some other kid didn’t want. Where did she put it all?

  5. The memory that stands out for me is Elena arriving at Boulevard each morning. I can see her getting out of the car, her backpack (almost bigger than her) bobbing up and down as she ran behind Maggie. Being late didn’t bother Elena. Some children get anxious or angry when they’re running late, but not Elena! She was always beaming. Her vibrant joy for life was evident as she greeted the crossing guard and skipped into school. She brightened everyone’s day with her smile.

  6. A couple of years ago Elena and Maggie were staying with us at our place in Rhode Island. It was late afernoon and time for supper. Elena had been playing on the neighbor’s trampoline next door beyond our deck. The other kids had all gone in and I called to Elena to come for supper. She ignored me. I called a little more firmly and Elena got down from the trampoline and climbed onto the swing set. I called even more firmly: “Elena, when I call you, you come!” She came at her own slow pace, looked up at me when she neared the stairs, and with hands on hips said: “You’re not my Dad!” I replied: “You’re right. I’m not your Dad. I’m your Dad’s Dad!” You could see the wheels turning in her head as she puzzled it out. Then she walked up the steps, went in to get washed up as told and played until we sat down for supper all cheerful and talkative as ususal. Elena had a mind of her own, but the issue had been resolved to her satisfaction. It never came up between us again. Nor, sad to think, will any other.

  7. This is the first time I have written in response to Daniel’s wonderful blogs that make me laugh and cry and always evoke a picture of our much-missed Elena.
    On July 2, 2005 Ira and I celebrated our 50th wedding annniversary in a 120 year old wooden building community in Rhode Island where we have a second home. At the end of all the wonderful tributes, Elena wanted to honor us by singing a song. And so she did. With her hair done up in a high pony tail and looking very beautiful in her purple fancy puffy long dress, she sang “Do-A-Deer” beautifully – always in tune, accompanied by a live band. She sang it through twice with all our friends and relatives clapping in time. Our cousin videotaped the entire party and so we have this wonderful tribute to hold dear to our hearts always.

    Another Elena story- Ira, Daniel, Elena and I went to IHOP-(one of her favorite restaurants) on her 6th birthday. (Kim was at work and Maggie was in school.) Then we 4 went back to their house. Elena told me in great excitement that there was a b-i-g box in the trunk of her mother’s car. She said she didn’t know what it was because she did not know how to read yet. I asked if there was a picture on the box. Elena thought a bit and said, “I guess so, but the words are what are most important.”
    What a great comment from a 6 year old!

  8. I have many, many memories of Elena, but not one that sticks out most. I think it’s because each time with her was an extraordinary. YOu always knew that if Elena was going to be there, something was bound to happen. A weekly event that I remember most is going to Aunt Geri’s (her MaMas) every Sunday for dinner and after, while everyone was just sitting around chatting, there would be Elena in the center of the small room demanding attention. But she never needed to demand it because people would just be drawn to her. Elena would either perform a song or tell her favorite joke of the week (which she always found to be hilarious, even if no one else got it!).

    And each week I always said to myself ‘one day we will be watching her perform on stage or in television’ because she had that special spark about her. And still I think about those nights spent at Aunt Geri’s and I can’t help but smile and cry at the same time.

  9. Although I have read each and every entry- this is my first comment. As made evident by Daniel’s stories, that despite Elena’s size, her presence was huge. Elena love was huge also, and she was not one to mince words- as the saying goes “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”! Almost more than anyone in the world (except for Daniel, Kim and Maggie- and not to mention Mama Toots and Ira, Papa and all her Aunts and Uncles- who am I kidding- Elena loved everyone!), Elena loved her MaMa and her cousins. At first, Elena only tolerated me- for whenever I was around, I was a distraction to her beloved MaMa and her cousins (my kids), and Elena did not like that she did not have them all to herself. Whenever I would go to Geri’s house with my kids, as soon as my kids walked in and took off their coats, and she knew they were there to stay- she politely but firmly told me “You can leave now”. She finally figured that I came with the territory and as I said the year or two before she died that “she finally turned the corner” and was ALMOST as happy to see me as she was her cousins. I never minded, because in my mind the relationship she had with my children and theirs with Maggie and Elena was very important to me.
    Another memory- is coloring Easter Eggs. It is (and I say “is” because Elena is still very much a part of it as we reminisce about her) a tradition for Elena and Maggie to come to my house every Good Friday and color eggs. It seemed like we could never have any purple eggs, because without fail, Elena would spill the purple dye all over my kitchen floor and table.
    What a tribute to Kim and Daniel that we can share stories of Passover AND Easter.

  10. This story will always remind me of Elena’s unique sense of style, humor and confidence. The last time we got together with Elena (and Maggie, Kim, and Daniel) was around Halloween. The autumn party was held at our friend’s house outside of Oberlin. We shared a great potluck, the kids went on an outdoor treasure hunt, and we ended the eveing watching them carve big, homegrown pumpkins. This was our own local group of families who had adopted beautiful girls from China, including Bethany, Cassie & Susie (my girls), and Maggie, plus Elena (just like an honorary “Shen Sister” here, too). As the pumpkin-carving got underway, the girls went to work huddled over their pumpkins on a plastic cloth spread out over the floor. First, off came the “lid” of the pumpkin, then began the fun of removing all the gooey insides (we enjoyed roasted pumpkin seeds before the party ended). Finally, the joy of carving. The girls dug in and carved big, surprised-looking eyes, triangular noses and lopsided, toothy grins. Elena was busy off to the side. Her little childsafe pumpkin carving tool just wasn’t doing it for her design. “Could someone help me carve ‘GIRL POWER’ on my pumpkin?” she asked sweetly. Sure enough, one of the dads took a sharp knife and began carving. She was so pleased with the results. It was another great Elena moment I’ll always remember with a smile.

  11. One story in particular always stands out and brings a smile. We were at an aunt’s wake almost two years ago. As people were waiting in line to pay their respects, I see little Elena go up to a woman she did not know and tap her. I couldn’t help but laugh when the woman initially turned around and expected to see an adult that was around her own height, but instead had to look down to see a little 6 year old girl. Elena pointed to the casket, put her hands behind her back, smiled, and bluntly asked, “Guess if that is my grandma or my aunt?” The Lady smile and responded, “um..your grandma?” Elena giggled and said, “no, that is my aunt!”. She then went on to ask the next family! I remember laughing to myself, thinking ‘only Elena would say something like that’. I was in awe that such a young girl was as out-going and sociable at Elena. Leave it up to her to brighten up a sad situation!

  12. I thought of another little “Elenaism” today. For some reason one day Elena started calling Mike “the M Man”. Mike would come home from work and she would stop what she was doing and say, “Hey, hey, the M Man is home” and let me tell you it made his day every time.

  13. I have tons of memories of Elena in my head that I go over regularly. One that stands out and truly typifies Elena for me is of her participating in the July Fourth fun races in Rhode Island two summers ago (2005). She was so much littler than all the other participants but threw herself into the race with great energy and joy. For one of the events, I watched as she ran top speed – not looking forward but with her head to the side, beaming at the crowd, calling to the other racers. That’s an image that stays with me: Elena moving forward at full force and absorbing everything around her.

  14. Remember when you guys came to Minneapolis? The girls were all dancing out on the plaza at Orchestra Hall – it was such a beautiful evening and we just had so much fun watching them. I’m pretty sure Elena led the charge, with the more timid Emily and Maggie joining her. You came to visit at our house and Elena just loved Emily’s “chickie pillow”. I have a great picture of Elena with her butt up in the air snuggling on the chickie pillow with our dog Molly. So so sweet.

  15. There are certain types of people that just seem to know how to live life in the moment. They are a joy to behold. Everything is just right there at the surface. Reading all your Elena stories I just picture a radiant little girl dancing and twirling at high speed and high volume until she finally collapses in a heap of uncontrollable giggles. Having my own children I know it’s not all happy times (even at the best of times) but some children do just have the quality that makes you smile even when they have you dangling from the end of your rope.

  16. Please post a picture of Elena…

  17. I come here to post this, not because it it the appropriate place, but because this is a community that understands – my younger brother died last night far away from family and friends. I miss him so.

  18. Hi Daniel

    I have put off writing to you for over a year, because I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. Bill Venners sent me a note last year shortly after you lost Elena. I read your blog from time to time. I haven’t been able to write. But I couldn’t. I’m crying as I write this now. Daniel, I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine.

    I’m a father now myself (see the blog URL above), and the thought… no. No.

    At the moment I’m in our upstairs bedroom at home. I’ve just put Zoe to bed. She’s 2 1/2 now. I hear her muttering in her room. Then a bump–I think she fell out of bed trying to get at her books.

    Daniel, I never met Elena, but I can tell you how I remember her. Over the past year, I can’t count the number times that I’ve been tense with Zoe, and then thought about Elena and you. And then taken a breath and relaxed with her. So that’s how I remember Elena.

    My wife Carolina lost her sister Marcela when she was 9 and Marcela was 10. Over a couple of weeks, not a day like Elena. But still. Zoe’s middle name is Marcela.

    Carolina says she thinks about the good, happy life Marcela had, and how it was good for her right until the end. So she is grateful for the time she had. I can’t see it that way, but I haven’t had to.

    I haven’t seen you in a few years, Daniel, but I think about you quite a bit. You are in my prayers, such as they are. Thank you for writing about Elena. It helps me to remember how blessed I am, and to make every moment with Zoe count.

    If you are ever in the DC area, drop me a note. We would be delighted to see you. I’d love to meet Kim and Maggie.

    Hugs and love


  19. I’ve never met you nor Elena in person – but you have made her memory very much alive in these writings,and for that, I am thankful to have met her and you and your family.

    I have wept with you and related with you, as we too lost a son two years ago, that will remain forever 16 in our minds – even though he is older, the picture of him in our mind never ages.

    Thank you for sharing.

  20. Love, love, love.

  21. Feeling Lucky?

    I was surfing the web tonight, trying to ignore the heat in my house. I typed the name “Elena” into the Google Toolbar and hit the “I feel lucky” button.
    Your website was the result.

    I am a mom and I am often overwhelmed by the feelings I have for my son, not knowing how to put them into words. I too kept a journal when my son was born. I completed about 15 pages, unhappy with my ability to say what I really wanted to say.

    Your ability to see and capture in writing the unique identities of your children, and the other people in your life is truely a gift.

    My husband and I are trying for a second child. When and if its a girl we will name her Elena. We chose the name becuase it is the name of a “beautiful” woman in one of our favorite movies. Now, it is also the name of a girl, with a beautiful spirit, whose story I wandered across one hot, summer evening.

  22. I Googled for something completely different, but found your page…and have to say thanks. nice read.

  23. my tears are flowing right now…my birthday is here and my girls would be almost three. Granted, I don’t have any live memories but all the woulda coulda shouldas come flying out. hugs from a distant stanger that has an idea how it feels

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