Today is my daughter Alexandra’s 29th birthday.
Her second, in 1983, was the last I was able to celebrate with her.
I gave her the bentwood rocking horse that you see here.
You can see she is holding her beloved Annie, which her mother Robin made for her. (There were two regular Raggedy Annies so Alexandra would not be without one while the washing machine removed the saliva from sucking on one of her arms, a smaller Punk Rock Annie with flyaway hair and, later, a larger Annie.)
That was the day Alexandra learned about death.
It must have been a lot warmer than today because a big housefly with lots of bronze on it was flying about the room at 955 Lake Road, where Robin had moved to live with her parents as the divorce proceedings continued.
I swatted it.
Alexandra looked at its still body incredulously.
“It’s dead,” I told her.
That was a concept she clearly did not understand.
I found a “singing” birthday card for Alexandra. It was one of the first ones with a musical chip inside.
Robin said she took it everywhere, even to the local grocery store. She conducted music as it played.
Last night I went to sleep thinking about Alexandra and, not surprisingly, I woke up thinking about her…sadly for the lost of contact for so many years.
Not that I am not thankful for the two and three-quarter years I enjoyed. I am.
Often I stayed in her bedroom rocking her as we watched a little ballerina revolve on top of music box. (I wish I could remember the tune.)
As she got drowsier and drowsier, we would watch the dancer twirl away from us.
“Good-by, ballerina, good-by,” I’d say.
As she again turned toward us, I would say, “Welcome back, ballerina, welcome back.”
For some reason Alexandra didn’t like to go to sleep in her crib without company. I’d end up sitting on the floor with her hand holding mine. If I tried to withdraw it before she was fully asleep, she’d make a fuss.
During the first thirty days after the divorce papers were filed back in 1983, there was not automatic visitation. (I wonder if that’s still the case.) Things went OK for the first week, but for the last twenty-one days I wasn’t allowed to see Alexandra. That was rough.
After the court set temporary visitation, Alexandra and I were sitting on the floor in the hallway next to the mirrored hall rack at 360 S. Madison Street in Woodstock.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Shasha,” she shyly answered.
That surprised me because both Robin and her mother Millicent were adamant that she would have no nickname.
Of course, I told her that her name was Alexandra.
Alexandra loved to be read to. We sat on the floor under the front room under the magnificent stained glass window with a representation of grapes in a fruit bowl above us.
She would go into the study along the north side of the house, get a book, plop down in my lap and read it to me.
And again until visitation time was up.
Eventually, the house into so much remodeling time and effort had been spent by Robin, her parents and me was sold and Robin moved to her parents’ Lake Forest home.
Alexandra was apparently told there wasn’t a extra bedroom for me there.
One late spring day, Alexandra was using condiment containers filled with finger paint to squirt designs on black paper. She gave me one that was quite good, but I wasn’t smart enough to put it in a frame immediately. It curled up as the paint dried.
No surprise at Alexandra’s early artistic talent. Her grandmother Millicent was an artist and her mother Robin has drawn the best representations of the State Capitol dome that I have ever seen. Her work was also featured on Governor Jim Thompson’s Christmas cards. I met her manning the phones at Thompson’s campaign headquarters. She became his youth coordinator and photographer.
The divorce trial continued. I’m mentioned elsewhere that I began thinking of the McHenry County Courthouse and the McHenry County Courthouse and Spa because I spent every vacation day and every personal day there.
The motions were unending. Discussing the court fees being run up by private attorneys at the McHenry County level elsewhere, I mentioned that I stopped keeping track of my divorce lawyers’ fees at $100,000.
I remember one day because Herb brought in a video of Alexandra. It showed her playing “Daddy’s game.” Judge Ward Arnold didn’t allow the video to be entered into evidence.
One time before the divorce papers were filed, Alexandra was in the Desmond c0usins’ family room. She was watching Lissa and Heather play on the swing set as one of the two hung by her legs from the trapeze.
“Just like in the Olympics!” she exclaimed.
She was also impressed that her younger cousin Kelly climbed up the outside of the stairs to the second floor.
When it came to visitation, it turned out I got four hours a weekend. Working in Springfield, I couldn’t see Alexandra during the week.
Instead of four hours on either Saturday or Sunday, I asked for and was granted two hours each day.
I remember one warm spring day in Lake Forest. We were out on the lawn overlooking Lake Michigan and Alexandra decided she wanted to climb the stairs that went up to a sun room.
She had a bit of a limp on her right leg (which I wonder if she still has), but she was determined to reach the top. At the urging of Robin, I stood behind her to make sure she didn’t fall. Alexandra had no problems. In my present family I see the same caution on the part of my son’s mother and I play the same role of assuming that he can assume more risk successfully.
Sometime after Alexandra’s second birthday, Robin moved to a high rise apartment overlooking Lake Shore Drive. It was on Chestnut I think, next to a private school.
The first time I visited there, Alexandra asked, “Where Daddy sleep?”
After Robin explained that there were only two bedrooms, Alexandra took both of our hands and led us into her bedroom. She pointed to the floor next to her bed and said, “Daddy sleep here.”
Sunday I would bring the funny papers. We were reading Little Orphal Annie one day and the cartoon character was using a doll to make letters.
Alexandra took her rag doll Annie and imitated the cartoon.
Somewhere I have a half a dozen journals about this time in my life.
One time I remember we walked under Lake Shore Drive to the path parallel to Lake Michigan. There was a totem pole that attracted her attention.
“Can I feed it?” Alexandra asked.
After getting permission, she picked grass and put it inside the wrought iron fence.
Another time we drove to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Alexandra was asleep by the time the little red Honda hit Lake Shore Drive.
We walked past the tigers and, knowing that Robin was reading her the book about Madeleine, I tried to interest Alexandra in them.
She wasn’t interested in saying, “Pooh, pooh,” to the tigers in the zoo.
Instead she was chasing pigeons around the fountain close by.
So, if my daughter reads this, I wish her a Happy Birthday, a successful adulthood and wonder if she might not like to come to her cousin Kelly’s wedding and meet the other side of her family.
One more thing. Last Saturday my son was excited to get a call from a young woman asking for Alexandra G. Skinner. Asked if she were here, my 13-year old replied that she wasn’t. Then she asked for Cal Skinner, Jr., and received the same answer. “When will he return?” The answer was “in about two hours.”
It was Monday night, I think, when I answered the phone with a young woman looking for Alexandra. After I told her that she wasn’t and that I did not know where to find her, I asked why she was calling.
She was looking for Alexandra to solicit a proxy for the Columbia Funds. I don’t know why a mutual fund wouldn’t know where one of their shareholders lived and the only reason I can think that her birth certificate name and mine would be attached to an account would be that Alexandra’s grandparents opened an account for her before the divorce.