Alex is our littlest, our farewell to our own procreation, “notre cadet.” I have always been 45 years older than him, and had no intention of fathering again. His mother, while younger, still appears unlikely to have another baby. She’s not that much younger! (Okay, she is, you’re right, but after Alex she did announce closure of her child-bearing role.)
Marie-Hélène was expecting Alex when we left France (also when we got married, a month earlier!), and he was born in Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz early in 1998. Unlike all our other children, he had only ever had one home in 2007.
He and Nick are our only two children born in the USA (the other four were all born in France), and he is the only one born in California.
He was born into an already large blended family. Blending. Just as they had gelled around Charlie, the older children gelled again around Alex, and adored him and played with him and looked after him from day one.
Things were a little more difficult for Nick and Tom with Alex at first, because the courts retained them in France until August 1999. They only saw him during irregular vacations until he was a year and a half old. They still asked after him all the time during our frequent phone calls while they lived in Paris, and he was regularly called into action to answer a few simple questions and chat with them, or at least listen to them, over the phone.
Fortunately, Alex started talking young, and listening with awareness even younger!
But whatever effects Nick and Tom’s prolonged absence had within the household, it did not interfere with the development of their relationship with their little brother. Here are photos of Tom playing with Alex and Charlie, and here photos of Nick doing the same.
For many years, Alex led a charmed and simple life. Being the littlest, his maman doted on him even more than she’d doted on her other children. That’s the way it works. A mother switches those wonderful excesses of tenderness and nurturing from one baby to the next, until there are no more, and then the excesses stick where they last settled. The youngest gets something special: the excesses of caring wane over time, but they never get switched away more or less abruptly when the next baby arrives.
Alex’s brothers and sister all doted on him too. The older four did the same to Charlie, but Alex had the older four AND Charlie doting on him. I never saw that doting change over the years. Whatever the dynamics, and we had a whole bunch of dynamics for most of the time, Alex and Charlie always had four doting older siblings, and as soon as he was old enough to dote, Charlie made it a fifth for Alex.
My big fear was that as a result of all this tenderness and caring Alex would end up spoiled and helpless.
Somehow, it never happened. Maybe it was because most of the care-givers involved in our extended family were brothers. There’s something about a brother that can’t spoil his brother unequivocally. The relationship always has an edge, something competitive going on, something expressed the best in fraternal roughhousing. In our world, there was a lot of roughhousing, and the four brothers somehow outweighed Daphné and Marie-Hélène, whose tenderness toward Alex had less of that edge.
By 2007, I was no longer worried about him getting spoiled. For one thing, the older children were already less present in his life. Nick was already 21 years old, Daphné 20 and Tom and Alban 18. All were more focused on their own lives, turning outward, of course, away from the family they were raised in, moving towards making a family themselves.
But also, it was already clear by 2007 that just because he was the littlest didn’t mean that he was always going to do what he was told. He stayed tough when Charlie pounded on him, which did happen, upon occasion several times in a day!
In response, Alex typically pounded back, upon occasion several times in a day! Having a big brother about your age is more of an asset than a liability, at least when it comes to developing a backbone!
Charlie remains only two years older than Alex, and he has stuck with his little bro., always loyal, as the older children dispersed on their way to becoming adults. And Alex continued to admire his big brother. Their friendship has remained an anchor in both their lives.
They spent four years together at Happy Valley School, a couple of grades apart. When Alex started in elementary school, Charlie was already there, smoothing his way in. When Alex started in middle school in sixth grade, Charlie was already there in eighth grade. Tell me that having Charlie there already all the way through wasn’t a great big plus for Alex! Oddly enough, it was also a big plus for Charlie, kid brother or no kid brother!
One of Alex’s real knacks is for the violin, perhaps music in general. I hesitate to say a “gift,” because parents say such things too readily these days. But he can produce some beautiful notes, plaintiff and fragile.
Unfortunately, he resists the violin more as he gets older, because in his mind and in the minds of his contemporaries at school it’s a girl’s pastime. That’s a terrible shame, if I may say so, even if I remember similar silliness (about different aspects of being a boy) when I was his age.
More photos of Alex and his violin are on the music page.
If you look at his pictures, on this page and throughout this tapestry, there is a delicacy about Alex, about his features and his build. Hopefully, you will also see that there’s much more to him than his delicacy.
He is delicate in ways, in his feel for music, in his perceptive and dry humor, but he also has a very strong will, which has been developing over the years.
The simplest way to see that willpower is to watch him play soccer. He plays tough, and has done since day one. He was five years old when he started out, and has always played much tougher than he looks. Opposing coaches miss the threat he poses, for one game maximum. Then they learn!
It’s the same way with his coaches. Youth soccer coaches tend to have their own itinerary, some sort of personal or political agenda. If you’re on a team where the coach has such an agenda, and it doesn’t favor you, then you need to be able to tough your way through it, and make your own way despite, and not with help from, your coach.
Alex has done that twice, and prospered twice. And once, when he decided that he’d had enough of the coach’s agenda, and that the parents were being a little slow in getting the message, he brusquely and forcefully convinced us to change his team. Yes sir!