Tuesday, October 27, 2020

She's Now Fourteen "Going-On-Jojo"

Josefina Janaro turned 14 years old yesterday... which proves (as much as anything I have ever experienced) that time is just...weird

Human beings have always measured the passage of time, and today we do it with an almost-insane degree of precision. In one sense, time is unambiguously empirical both for ordinary common sense (morning, afternoon, evening, night - over and over and over) and for refined scientific study, which can count on the overall remarkable consistency of the astronomical movements and various relational positions of the third-rock-from-the-sun and the big fireball itself. Even the irregularities are "regular" and can be incorporated into our measurements with a bit of fine tuning (e.g. "leap day" every four years).

In the world, time is reliably incremental, objective, even boring to the "observer" who measures it. But within the experience of the human person, within relationships, within life and history, time is beguiling, uneven, unpredictable, and seems to defy the quantities we use to measure it. Maybe it has to do with the fact that human beings exist in time and are subject to the passage of time in many respects, but not entirely: intelligence, freedom, personhood, relationships, and the acts, events, experience, and memories that flow from them are "embedded" in empirical time but also "go beyond" its boundaries.

"Stop it, JJ," says the reader. "I came here to see cute pictures of Josefina, not to read your philosophical ramblings!" Fair enough. Here's a collage of cute pictures from various moments during the past 14 years:

Of course, you want to know about these pictures. That will require me to reintroduce the phenomenon of "time" to the conversation, at least in a more colloquial sense (while also remarking on the unique qualities of what might be called "Jojo Time").

First the collage: (1) Top left, Josefina near the end of 2006, while still in the hospital. Look at those big eyes and chubby cheeks! (2) Top middle, John Paul with Jojo, the squirmy worm, Spring 2008. (3) Top right, "Papa" (my Dad) opening Father's Day gifts with "assistance" from his youngest granddaughter, June 2012. (4) Bottom left, Daddy hanging out with Jojo - actually it's Jojo keeping me company and cheering me up - in early 2015. (5) Bottom middle, which is two pictures (with Mommy / with Daddy) from Josefina's first Irish Dance recital, looking lovely in her special dance outfit, May 2019 - just note, I'm around 5'10"-ish (the old spine has shrunk a bit, and I'm leaning slightly, so call it 5'9") and I weigh *cough-cough-cough* pounds, so you can see the proportions; it's clear that Jojo's still small in size (though not small in personality, and never has been!). (6) Bottom right, a beautiful bridesmaid for her sister-in-law at John Paul and Emily Janaro's wedding (John Paul, who had just turned 11 in the "top middle" picture), August 2020.

These pictures correspond to moments of time and events that span 14 years, according to clocks and calendars and the earth's orbit. But they also correspond to a depth of reality beyond all measure, to gifts of life and love that "begin" in time, but are destined to grow to a fulfillment that endures. They pass through some very difficult experiences too - sufferings that I believe have shaped my faith, but that are not easy to think about and that have left me a little traumatized, with some measure of unease about what the future may bring. Still, I know that "God is good, all the time" and I pray to see this more and have greater confidence in Him. Because the Father's love is real, and it constitutes the meaning of my life.

My family is an ongoing, convincing sign of that love - not because they're perfect or they always make me "feel good," or because everything is easy. Oh my, no! (You know I love you all, fam.❤). Rather, it's because in the provocations and struggles (and the many joys too) of life with these people, in my bond with them and my responsibilities toward them, I can only be true to myself and to my vocation by praying to the Lord with all my heart and imploring Him to lead me and sustain me. And even with my own sins, incoherence, and many weaknesses, I see the evidence of His presence and mercy, moment by moment, so that I can continue on this mysterious road of time, step by step, in the company of those entrusted to me (and those to whom I have been entrusted).

The face of each person in our family is precious to me. The littlest of the faces, of course, has had a particular impact, not only because she is "the baby" but also because I have seen an awful lot of her face throughout her childhood. We have spent a lot of "time" together, as her growing up has coincided with the period since my "retirement" from the classroom.

Really, Josefina has always operated according to her own special "timing." In the beginning it took an unexpected, sometimes frightening, exhausting, and very long period of time for her to get started living like a normal baby. We had four kids under the age of 10 when we were expecting Josefina to be born in December 2006.

Instead she came - much to everyone's surprise - on October 26 (some seven weeks premature) with immediate serious health issues due to her undeveloped intestinal tract. I baptized her as soon as she was born, and then she was transported to Fairfax Hospital for emergency surgery, where the neonatologists amazingly connected her intestinal tract, using surgical techniques that were truly marvelous. She was then put into an incubator with a intravenous feeding tube, and given her place in the "NICU" (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). 

We were told that when the operation healed and she began digesting normally, we could bring her home. At first they gave us a daunting estimate of about three weeks, which sounded like a long time. Anyone who has had a baby in NICU knows how stressful even a few days can be. But we had no idea of the marathon that lay ahead of us. Josefina kept having setbacks. The weeks turned into months. In March she needed another emergency surgery. There were some scary moments. There were further setbacks, infections, and breathing complications. My mother-in-law came from California to take care of the house and kids while Eileen drove every day to Fairfax to be with Josefina (I was still working full time teaching at my school). I went to the hospital as often as I could and took videos so that the other children could see their sister. 

She finally came home on May 16, 2007, almost seven months after she was born. At that point she was just over ten pounds. It took a few years for her digestion to become completely reliable, and she grew somewhat slowly (though not in a way that was of any medical concern). When I began this blog she was four years old, and there were plenty of funny stories about her in the early years that you can still read in the archives.

And now she is 14 years old, which is hard to believe. She is still small for her age, with one foot in the "world of kids" and the other foot in the "world of adolescents." But Jojo is growing up at her own pace (in "Jojo time"), and she is doing very well. The only thing we know from the other four kids is that every kid is different. And the world is also becoming a very different place from what it was even a few years ago. We know we need to keep praying, asking God to lead us, and trusting His goodness no matter what. It's very humbling to be a parent.

Time is a strange phenomenon. When you're middle-aged (or "upper-middle-aged"), the years can seem to go by with very little to distinguish them. I think of 2006 as being "pretty recent." But seen from the perspective of my kids, what they have experienced, and how they have grown up, I realize that it was also "a long time ago." Our perspective on time seems to vary (especially in the way we remember it) according to the experiences we have had in a given period of time, or what facets of our experience we reflect upon. But I'm getting philosophical again...

Okay, here are a few more pictures.

Here we have: (1) Jojo in Spring 2008 again - such a shrimp! (2) Jojo wearing "the lamby" costume in the Fall of 2011. (3) Jojo from Easter Sunday 2017. (4) Another view of the bridesmaid of 2020. Dimples are a consistent feature.😉

We love you, Josefina! Happy Birthday! What a precious gift you are to us and to everyone who knows you.