the four questions

In ALL, PHOTOGRAPHY by Stephanie Klein21 Comments


All statements began with "Aunt Stephanie" and ended in a question mark.  "Aunt Stephanie," my niece Mikayla asked while watching me pump, "why are you doing that?"  While breastfeeding, "Why don’t you feed the baby on the other chest?" and "Why aren’t you using a bottle?"  "Aunt Stephanie?  Why is your chest so big?"  She’s four and three quarters and come September she’ll be going to kindergarten.  Her mother, Phil’s sister, is beyond terrified.  All the big firsts scare her.  "You’ll see," she said to me, "you’ll cry too."  And I imagine that’s true.  It’s bittersweet realizing your baby, who will always be your baby, isn’t a baby anymore. 

"Aunt Stephanie?"
"I forget."
"Oh, Aunt Stephanie?"
"Do you know when Uncle Phil and Mommy are coming back?"
"What time did they tell you?"
"They, um.  Well, they said they’d be back before I know it, but when is that?"  Four is fun.

They’re gone now, all the inlaws, and Phil and I are here, for the first time in a while, without visitors.  It’s a big exhale, being alone again.  Just our family.  As helpful as everyone has been, it’s also nice being able to walk around naked again.  My father and Carol should have been here, but their JetBlue flight was canceled.  So we’ll be expecting my sister and mother in another week, then my father and Carol.  None of my family has met their new family yet.  They don’t know the way Lucas grunts and tries to talk while he’s eating, or the way Abigail will wail continuously and suck it all back as soon as you swoop her up.  You can’t spoil babies this age, they say.  It’s true.  Really.  But it doesn’t feel true. The saddest part for me is realizing I want their family close.  I want them to know their grandmother’s voice and the way their Aunt laughs.  I want them to know my parents, the way I knew my grandparents, on Sundays, when my grandfather carried me around the house, stopping at each framed piece of art, letting me touch it, telling me the stories behind them.  I want them to know their histories, not in words and points at photos of relatives, but actively in their arms and between breaths.  I hope our family visits a lot. I think I’ll know what "a lot" is once the kids KNOW who all their family members are without the use of photos.  By the time they’re four?  Good question.


  1. Ya know, that crossed my mind when you said you guys were moving. I assumed at the time you had family in Texas.
    Im getting ready to move back up north so my kid can be closer to his dad, and my parents are just devastated.
    And my little boy is three and half and talks nonstop. They're so funny at this age, so so so curious. Cute pic.

  2. Four really IS fun. Once I was an au pair in Connecticut and the four year old said the best stuff. He'd always go, "Seriously!" except it came out "See-weously!" And his father would always say, "You're four, you're not see-weous about anything yet!"
    He also loved watching the Roomba and called it that like it was its name. Can we let Roomba out?
    The best, though, was the deadpan voice. Once when I was tired I pretended to be glued to the sofa. "Logan! I'm stuck! I can't get up! What am I going to do? How long do you think I'll have to lie here?"
    Deadpan voice: "Forever would be my guess."

  3. Ah, little kids are cute. My boy who is 3-1/2 knows all his relatives without pictures and they all live far away. He sees them a few times a year. So it will be ok.

    Right now when I ask him to help me with his little sister he says to me "i'm busy" I have my sister in law to thank for that one. And then in other cases if I ask him to help he'll shake his head at me, give me the eye and say "I don't think so". I have my mom to thank for that one. So see even though we don't see them often, he picked up on the annoying habits.

  4. Yeah, the distance makes it harder, but the beans will know their family. My niece is 5 and she lives over 1,000 miles away from me. I talk to her on the phone every chance I get and I send gifts and care packages for her birthday, holidays and sometimes just because. Even though I only get to see her 1-2 times a year, she knows who I am and is ecstatic to see me for each visit and is glued to my side the entire time. The hardest part is the heart-wrenching sobs that come from her sweet little face each time I leave. But there is no question that she knows and loves me, and it has been this way since she was a baby. I wish you and your family the best.

  5. this is a really tough issue. my 2.5 year old has no understanding of why his uncle joe can't see him all the time or why he can't see grammy all the time. 3 of his grandparents are dead and im not sure how to explain to him that a lot of the people he sees in pictures that we talk about are dead. not to mention – he LOVES mr. rogers. who's dead.
    you didn't seem completely committed to austin in previous posts – maybe you'll consider moving back to where there are more relatives. as they get older, this desire that you have will probably grow. that was true for me, and most of my friends too.

  6. It just dawned on me that the only person who is back up north is your dad now, with L in Minnesota (?) and your mom in Florida. Your family is all spread out. No wonder you're fretting. Phone calls, packages, letters, emails, webcams…all not nearly as good as seeing someone in person but you'd be surprised how much of a difference they make. These days communication is so much easier (not to mention cheaper) when you have loved ones far away.

  7. no, you absolutely cannot spoil a baby at this age. when it comes to giving the attention and affection, you cant spoil them at any age.

    if anyone around you is trying to tell you otherwise, get them away from your babies. i mean that in all seriousness. there is no such thing as too much holding, hugging and cuddling.

    they need this like they need oxygen. especially since they were in the NICU so long. Dont ever, ever, ever let anyone tell you you are going to spoil abigail and lucas by loving them and showing them you love them, and holding them close. i will be so pissed off if you do.

  8. My nephew is two and lives 300 miles away. I see him only three times a year. He already knows who I am though and will say "Hi Christine" on the phone, so I don't think you have to wait until they're 4. My nieces on the other side of the family, who we see less often, really got into us around the age of 2 and a half and 3. It really helps if someone has a pet they'll remember. My nieces ask about our dog more than they ask about us! It's cute.

  9. Children's lives are immensely enriched by closeness to & with their grandparents. The converse is true also. There's a fine line between living your own lives in the community of your choice and satisfying familial bonds. Visits are special when grandparents live far away but day to day interaction with active grandmoms & grandpops is the ideal. The memories I have of my grandfather (the only grandparent I had) being with us for dinner each Friday night are with me as if they happened yesterday….& he's been dead over 40 years. I still can "see" him & "hear" him humming as my mother and/or I played the piano after dinner. I still can recall him taking me to a local farm to visit the cows & how much I loved it. I was less than 5 at that time. My grown children vividly remember the marvelous experiences they had as youngsters with both my parents & how their lives were affected by the closeness. My parents lived a few hours away but saw a lot of our boys. My mother-in-law lives no more than 15 minutes from us and made a deep impression on them also. If you ask my 34 yr. old son how he learned to make sweet & sour meatballs he'll recite in chapter & verse the hands-on lesson my mother-in-law gave him.

    I, too, felt from your writings that Austin wasn't going to be a "forever home." If the New York area isn't in the cards for you, perhaps a place not too far from there eventually would be a good compromise. It's a tough decision.

  10. Never posted before.

    Pick up those babies! My only daughter (who just turned 20) was very colicky–everything bothered her: cars, strollers, people, etc. I was an executive on maternity leave with a baby who started crying at 5am and stopped at 8pm. I picked up, carried, picked up and carried.

    She is THE most amazing, spectacular, un-spoiled, loving girl/women I know. I wish I could carry her one more time.

    Enjoy every minute!

  11. My children are 11, 16, and 18. When the oldest two were babies, we lived near my husbands family and parents, after #3 came along, we moved closer to my parents. So, they have never lived apart from their extended family. It is nothing but a blessing. So, on the sneek, here is what you do….drive your father, or your mother, around Austin, set the tone, of how fab it is to live there, and how the economy is great, housing prices unbelievable, etc..whatever the big selling points are, and then, suggest its time they were closer to you…put the bug in their ear and they'll be considering a move within a year.

  12. All of the 'firsts' with my first daughter were milestones that I looked forward to with excitement. Now, with my other 2 daughters, I would do anything to stop or at least slow down all of the firsts as I know what will be next and that it is indeed bittersweet.

  13. I live in Manhattan, despite the too small apartment, suburban loving family and overpriced everything solely because my family is here. It works for now, and I wouldnt trade the support and free babysitting and grandparents, but it aint easy.

  14. maybe all the firsts scare her because she wants her baby to stay a baby for longer and to feel that she needs her, especially if it's her only child.

  15. There are few things better in this world than seeing how much your parents love your babies.

  16. * You can't spoil them at this age. This is all about bonding at this point.

    * There is no substitute for family. The aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandmas all play a role.

  17. I think the secret to having your kids know the family is to talk about them regularly. "This present is from Grandma, she lives in NY, she has a dog. She loves you. Here's a picture of her. She is my mommy." Embellish with funny stories. My sister-in-law who is amazingly family-oriented does this in NY for the CA side of the family and whenever they come east the kids get excited and run to meet them! very heartening. I love my sister-in-law.

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