Another Legacy, 1.37

“I’ve decided I want to graduate early!” Kiki announces at breakfast the next morning.

“Say what?” says Ira.

“Wait a sec!” Case says. “You want to what?”

Kiki explains about her counselor’s text.

“Just think how much I could learn if I don’t have to go to school!” Kiki exclaims. “I could work on my painting, step up my workout routine, start a daily yoga practice! Maybe learn a new language! I’ll be so ready for college in the fall! Or maybe, by some stroke of luck, I could even get early admissions and start Spring semester!”

Once they get past the shock and the idea of a change in plans, Case and Ira can’t think of a good reason for her to postpone graduation, and all the options she envisions for the coming months sound promising, so the wish becomes reality.

Kiki graduates early, and before they know it, they’re having a graduation party.

No one from high school comes, but Olive Tinker, Lea, and a few family friends show up, eager to usher in this new stage of life for Kiki.

Case puts birthday candles on the graduation cake. “It is like a birthday,” he says, “for the new high-school-graduate you!”

Kiki knows what to wish for. While a few months off of school sounds enticing, Kiki’s secret desire is to somehow get accepted early so she can start after winter break. A college student! She can taste it with every bite of vanilla icing!

Ira, who’s been a student for the past ten years, can’t imagine one more semester. She’s so close to done. All that’s left is the defense of her dissertation and the adjudication of her last show.

Case feels a bit overwhelmed. So many changes!

Ira’s accomplishments–the stellar grades, the acclaim at her art shows, the so-close-you-can-touch-it graduate degree in fine arts–these are successes that she hasn’t even realized she’s achieved yet. But Case feels respect, admiration, and gratitude. He’s so glad she’s been here to be a role model for Kiki.

On her first Saturday as a high school graduate, Kiki drinks each breath on her morning run. It’s the flavor of freedom. No homework! No classes on Monday! She can set her own routine and run all morning, if she wants.

That afternoon she submits her college and scholarship applications. She’s applied for next fall, but she put a check in the box asking if she would consider early admissions, if there were openings.

She has a good feeling about this. She wrote her application essay from her heart, her teachers provided shining recommendations, and her transcript practically blazes with her high marks.

There’s a door opening before her, and she’s going to fly right through it!

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Another Legacy, 1.35

What started two years ago as a summer project to get fit has become, for Kiki, a lifestyle of fitness. Rain or shine, she loves the hour she spends outdoors, walking or running. Add yoga on top of that, and daily movement becomes her best tool for regulating her mind, senses, and emotions.

Also a habit, she discovers, has become the pre-schoolyear anxiety, and it’s no different as she gets ready for junior year to start.

“OK,” she tells herself, trying to psych up for the first day, “After today, you only have to do this one more time.” Somehow, she doesn’t expect to feel these same jitters before the start of a new year at college.

But she soon realizes there was nothing to worry over, after all. Socially, she seems to be invisible, which is how she likes it, and academically, she’s in the spotlight, which is also to her liking.

Ira is deep in drafting an art history dissertation, and she and Kiki keep each other company studying at the breakfast table.

Mostly, they don’t talk. Kiki likes the sound of Ira’s pencil scratching on the pages of the notebook.

Now and then, they both stop simultaneously to catch their breath.

“Do you think Elizabeth Murray would be better known if she had called the group she founded ‘The Society of Artists,’ rather than ‘The Society of Female Artists’?” Ira asks.

“When was it founded?”

“Mid-nineteenth Century.”

“And where?”

“London.”

“Oh,” says Kiki, “then definitely.”

Kiki enlists Ira to be her editor for the essays she writes for her Advanced Placement course.

“This is really good!” Ira proclaims. “The way you describe the process of turning pigments into paint. I mean, I didn’t know half of this stuff! And I should! This is my degree program!”

But junior year isn’t only about study success.

This is the year that Kiki’s life, once again, is touched by grief. Or, maybe it’s more than a touch.

It’s a series of body slams, one after the other, that entire winter.

Moira Fyres, Case’s old friend, is the first to pass, and her loss hits Kiki hard, for they’d just begun to become friends themselves, the last time Moira was over. Moira had offered to teach Kiki how to save heirloom seeds this coming summer, and now, this would never happen.

But it isn’t just Moira. Tina Tinker, Aadhya, and even Knox all pass on that winter.

“Most of my friends were old,” Kiki realizes, “and now I don’t have any friends. Except that one art person I met last year at the Romance Festival. I wonder if she even remembers me.”

Having most of her friends die is hard. But what hits her even harder is not that she’s lost them, but that they had to die. That they’re gone.

They’re missing out on everything now. On eating cake. On seeing the gray night slowly gain color again. On the sound of the fridge and the stillness between the hums.

She remembers how, when she was a little girl, she saw her mom and dad in the light of the candles. She believed that they carried on in light–their spark became the spark that shines wherever there is light.

How did she know that? How was she so sure? Was it just wishful thinking, or a way to survive the trauma of grief? Or was she on to something?

She keeps her senses open.

She pricks her intuition, opens that third eye. Maybe they’re still around, though not in physical form. Maybe, just as when she was a little girl, she still had her mom and dad around as angel parents, maybe she still has her friends around on the spiritual level. She doesn’t have to believe that, but it couldn’t hurt to be open to the possibility.

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Another Legacy, 1.32

Kiki wakes in the predawn on the first morning of summer break. She has a plan.

While the rest of the household sleeps, she descends to the kitchen, still dark. She’s going for a run while the sun rises.

This summer, she’s going to get fit.

She isn’t sure if she’ll like running so early in the day. During the last half of spring semester, she fell into the pattern of running when she got home from school–if you could call it running. It was more like running five paces, jogging three, walking two, then stopping out of breath and waiting for her heart to stop pounding so hard. But after a bit, five paces became ten, then twenty, then she found her rhythm and could run for two or three minutes before needing to slow to a jog, and by the end of the semester, she didn’t need to stop to catch her breath at all.

But this was all late in the day, after her mind had been stimulated, and she had used the running/jogging sessions to clear and process all the confusing social input that she’d encountered that day.

But early in the morning? Before her mind had activated itself? Would she fall into some sort of trance, or something?

And sure enough, that is exactly what happens. While she runs in the early morning, her mind, not yet stimulated into a state of wakefulness, falls into a deep still quiet, without a thought. Everything becomes the rhythm of her feet on the ground, the pulsing of blood through her veins, the contraction and release of muscles, the steadiness of her breath. It’s an altered state, and she finds it almost mystical. Transcendent.

But she doesn’t have to go to school and interact with peers and teachers, so she realizes it’s OK if she’s in this state. She doesn’t have to appear normal. She’s at home, with no demands that she mask. So if she’s in a nonverbal state, that’s OK.

But perhaps the most amazing discovery is that this nonverbal, transcendent state, while recurring, is not permanent! She can move into it, but she doesn’t become it. She can still talk! And think in words. And states come and go, that is the discovery which pleases and intrigues her most.

It’s Aadhya who teaches her this, when she drops by with a “Happy Summer” gift shortly after Kiki returns from her sunrise run.

“Your first day of summer!” Aadhya says, with her dear smile that crinkles her eyes.

And Kiki finds herself thinking a torrent: How sweet! Is this a tradition? Look how adorable Aadhya is! How thoughtful. Does she share this kindness with everyone?

And when she opens her mouth, she says, “Thank you. I’ve never had a happy-summer gift before!”

It’s a set of oil paints, linseed oil, and turpenoid, which is exactly what Kiki wanted if she’d stopped to think about her other summer goal of painting.

She has this idea of creating a series of post-industrial landscapes. She loves the way that the relics of refineries, shipping containers, and warehouses have gained a patina that makes them recede into the landscape, as if they were landmarks of forgotten times, eclipsed by the trees and vines that now obscure them. She wants to remember them through her paintings. After all, her birth parents had worked there, just as Case had worked to shut them down. And now they stood, like her, really, as the junction of the industrial and the ecological. This is what comes out of that.

She has other goals for the summer, too. She wants to win a chess game against Case. She’s drawn against him once or twice. But a win? Not even close. She doesn’t know if the goal is reasonable, but she feels it’s worthy, for in striving to be the victor, she’ll develop her mind, specifically, her ability to detect patterns, visualize, and plan, and those skills, she feels, will be especially useful as she goes into her sophomore year of high school. At least her mind won’t have stagnated over the summer.

The best part, though, of the chess goal is that it ensures she’ll spend regular time with Case. Right now, as it’s been the past 13 years, Case is her favorite person on the planet. When they’re together, they can talk or not. They mostly don’t talk during chess because, you know… chess. But at other times, in the kitchen, or over meals, or in the garden, they can talk or not. It doesn’t matter. It’s comfortable, regardless.

When Kiki gets up from the chessboard and walks into the house, this is how I find Case looking after her.

Moments like this are times when The Sims 4 really gets it right. His face–that pride and love and tenderness and protectiveness–that face says it all.

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Another Legacy, 1.31

Hey! It’s been a minute! Or… rather, six months! April to November always finds me exceptionally busy, and this year was no exception. It’s mostly the extra garden time that summer asks of me, and I’m happy to provide. I also taught several classes, participated in a teaching fellowship on Open Pedagogy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, developed a new class with partners from other colleges as part of that fellowship, practiced daily yoga, cooked meals, cleaned house, unpacked groceries, and tried to manage all the daily tasks that are so challenging to my executive functioning…

Hmm. It almost sounds impressive when I write it all out here. But the felt experience of it was much different. I’m still trying to find my footing, during these strange pandemic days and my early retirement from the full-time job. So I suspect that the real reason I didn’t update this story for six months was because so much of my creative energy was going into trying to craft this new life that I’m in.

It’s still a bit surreal for me and feels a bit cut-off from my pre-shutdown life.

But here I am, six months later, with a bit of time opening up for me now, and a longing to write–and to write this story–cropping up in my heart.

So let’s get to it!

Kiki is in her freshman year of high school. In second semester, she takes a physiology class and learns about BMI. This is fascinating to her. Her BMI is 28.1, which is in the 94th percentile and indicates that she’s overweight. She doesn’t mind being overweight, and she enjoys how her body looks and feels, but she’s concerned about the health risks. Diabetes. Heart issues. Joint problems. Sleep apnea. This is a nightmare!

Not only that, but she’s aware that Ira and Case also have high BMIs, and the risks for middle-aged people are even scarier!

She decides to do something about it. Starting now.

“This fruit salad makes a great breakfast, right Ira?”

She’s not going to skip meals, because she doesn’t want to develop an eating disorder, and she knows that with her hyper-fixation on things, it could be easy to do. So she decides she’ll focus on eating healthy.

It’s easy, and delicious, to do, since Case is a lifelong vegetarian and an amazing chef. He adds organic walnuts and flax seed to his fruit salads, so there’s protein.

“It’s good,” Ira says. “I kinda liked that sugar habit we were getting into of pastries before class. Got my mind revved up for studying.”

“I don’t think we’re doing that anymore,” Kiki says. “We’ll have to find other ways to regulate our brain chemistry.”

Like what? She’s not sure, and she’s noticing that the sugar from the fruit feels good, but it’s not the same type of high. But maybe she’ll also be able to avoid that mid-morning crash.

OK. She’s going to have to learn about nutrition and neurochemistry, she realizes.

That evening, she’s deep into Nutrition and Functional Neurochemistry, which her physiology teacher leant her, while Ira and a classmate are reading poetry.

A spark
a leap
like the connecting
force of

you
to me…

It’s not that the poetry reading makes it hard to concentrate, it’s that Kiki can hear Ira’s friend breathe, and he taps his foot in a non rhythmical non pattern which causes her, in her search for auditory patterns, to notice that the fridge is really loud. And also, non rhythmical.

“I needed a little peace and quiet,” she tells Case when she finds him, still in his work clothes, in the garden.

“Too much for you, eh?”

She nods.

“Mind if I’m out here?” He asks.

“Not at all!” And she proceeds to tell him everything she’s learned so far about BMIs, and neurotransmitters, and nutrition, and how norepinephrine is formed from tyrosine, and serotonin is formed from tryptophan.

“How could I have lived for so many decades and not know that?” Case asks.

And indeed, I’m wondering that exact same question right now!

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Another Legacy, 1.30

During the years when Kiki is growing up, Ira is working on her college degree. It seems to take forever. Rather than rush to get through it, Ira gets into it. This is my life now, she decides, and she directs all of her perfectionist tendencies into her work. It pays off in terms of grades and that dopamine satisfaction of goals met and jobs well done, but it has costs in terms of stress, overall well-being, and life balance.

Ira doesn’t care. She figures that she can achieve balance later, once her good grades are established.

At one point, one of her mentors at college gently suggests that she might want to get an evaluation from a neurological psychologist.

“You seem to have a different neurological profile,” her mentor says. Ira, having lived with Case for 15 years, knows she’s not autistic, but she also suspects she’s not neurotypical. “Maybe ADHD?” the mentor suggests. “OCD? It might be useful to find out more about that. Or maybe not.”

Ira decides not. She knows she’s neurodivergent and that her urges to steal things, her “twisted up mind,” as she calls it, her hyper focus, her drive to always be doing something, and her perfectionism stem from this. She also decides that it’s OK. It’s part of who she is, she’s managing fine, and she’s not going to bother unpacking a diagnosis–or misdiagnosis. Everything is OK.

And whether it actually is or not, she’s got so much support from Case and Kiki, a harmonious home life, and even from their family friend Aadhya that she feels she doesn’t need official “support.”

During Kiki’s second year in junior high, a school counselor makes a similar recommendation to Case regarding Kiki’s neurological and sensory profile, and he, having witnessed Kiki’s approach to making friends her own age, which, in its continuously missing the target, reminds him so much of his own social style, agrees. He and Kiki are too similar in too many ways for him not to already suspect that she’s on the spectrum herself.

And she is. He’s glad she got diagnosed before reaching adulthood, since so many girls and women fly by faking it. Perhaps since she grew up in a home with Case and Ira, Kiki never really formed a convincing mask, and the flimsy masks she did bother to create, she seldom bothers to wear.

Case and Ira are both thrilled to have an autistic kid in their neurodivergent home.

And to Kiki, who continues to look up to Case and Ira as being the best examples of the best of humanity, being autistic like Case makes her think that she, too, might be an awesome person who can do amazing things.

By the time she enters high school, she’s embraced her social identity as a geek and she’s chopped off all her hair.

She didn’t like the way other people, boys, girls, adults, kids–everyone–were always grabbing her long red locks. Having her hair short, most people don’t even look at her twice, anymore, and she can disappear into the background when she wants to. She can also wrap her head in a bandana or other head-covering, like Case does, when the air pressure is doing that changy thing and stave off the barometric headaches.

Aadhya remains a close friend, dropping by often after school, even when Kiki’s too old to actually need a babysitter.

Every time, Aadhya asks, “So what did you learn in school today?”

Most times, Kiki doesn’t answer. She knows that once she starts talking about French pronouns or Shakespeare sonnets or the pigments that make up cerulean blue, she’ll forget to stop and Aadhya will get bored from too many details.

It’s easier to smile to herself and answer on the inside, rather than talking out loud.

Aadhya will fill in the spaces, anyway.

“You look good in a bandana,” she says. “I wish I’d been brave enough, as a teenager, to wear whatever I wanted.”

Kiki imagines Aadhya in high school, with her curly hair, smiling and joking. She was probably popular.

“As it was,” Aadhya continues, “I just wore what all the other girls wore, as if we had a uniform. We might as well have! Tight jeans and French-cut T-shirts. We all looked the same!”

Kiki suddenly imagined a line of French kittens, wearing tiny black berets, mewing in chorus.

“Are the other kids ever, you know, rude to you? When you stand out?” Aadhya asks.

“Sometimes?” Kiki answers. “I’m sort of used to it. It doesn’t really matter. People will be people.”

Kiki has learned that generalities work really well in a) keeping her from answering in too many details and b) satisfying the other person that a conversation is actually happening. She’s got a whole stock of them she pulls out when needed: “Time will tell”; “All things pass”; “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

They’re all true and also not-true, as most generalities are, and they serve as little envelopes that she can insert real meaning into, in case she ever meets anyone besides Case and Ira who want to have a real conversation.

One evening, when Case is running late, Ira gets a call from his secretary. “I just wanted to let you know that he just now left the office, but it’s so late he’s missed his usual bus, so don’t worry that he doesn’t come home at the regular time. You know Case! Always the workaholic!”

Case running late and missing his bus isn’t a big deal–it doesn’t happen often, but it happens often enough not to cause anyone to worry. But what is a big deal is that someone would call, and that that someone would be Case’s secretary.

“You have a secretary?” Ira asks him when he makes it home shortly after dark.

“Oh, yeah,” he replies. “That just happened. Part of the promotion.”

“Promotion?” This is the first Ira has heard of it.

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess I’m like the boss now, one of them. At least I can’t really be promoted anymore. Top of the field.”

“That’s fantastic!” Ira says.

It is fantastic. With his promotion to Master Inventor, Case achieved his lifetime aspiration of Eco Innovator. Completing the aspiration doesn’t seem to mean that much to Case (he immediately switches all his passion to his new special interest of achieving the Botanist aspiration), but it means a lot to me. I’m kind of thrilled that our founder reached this success, and that he did it his way, without really having to change or give up any of his own characteristics and inclinations.

And I’m even happier when I see this pop up:

He is a positive influence, and I’m happy the game can see it. I especially love the second point: “Friends will be more forgiving if he commits any social miscues, and they won’t be quick to judge him.” What autistic person wouldn’t love this? Having experienced lifetimes of slice judgments, the freedom of not being judged for missing social cues feels… well, it feels like an environment in which we can thrive. I’ve experienced this at work a time or two. Once, I had a manager who always gave everything I did the best interpretation! A few times, I had to admit, “No, I really did mess up on that one!” But even then, she’d find a way to discover the best in what I’d done. “Oh, I’m sure the instructions could have been more clear,” she’d say, or, “Well, if this is the first mistake you’ve made on this weekly project in over five years, I think we can live with it!”

Isn’t that what we all need to thrive, others who are willing to overlook our miscues, and who consider all we do with the best interpretation?

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Another Legacy 1.29

Unlike the stressful and glitchy gameplay during Kiki’s toddler years, the gameplay during her childhood years felt fun, focused, and successful. The only point of gameplay stress was managing Ira’s university tasks–but we figured it out and fell into a pattern that worked.

I tried the skilling hack that JordanNicoleJJ and I discovered during legacy-play back in 2015, where mental skill is developed through the arithmetic game and creative through Keyboard commander, but the glitch that allowed for rapid simul-skilling has been fixed, so the hack no longer works.

Nonetheless, Kiki knocked out all the childhood skills well before it was time for her to age-up, and she managed to complete all the childhood aspirations, too, and she still had time to play, draw, and ponder mortality and eternity.

Man, I love kids in The Sims 4.

When she comes downstairs one morning in the bear suit she wore for a school play, Ira and Case don’t mind. They don’t even ask her about it.

Her voice sounds muffled and echoing when she speaks from deep within the suit, so Case needs to focus extra hard to make out what she says. Ira just figures Kiki will repeat herself or speak a little louder when they don’t hear her.

“Bears are solitary animals, right?” Kiki asks. “I mean, they like to be alone best?”

“Bear cubs like to play with each other,” Ira says, “wrestling and such. And they like to hang out with the Mama bear.”

“I like hanging out with grown ups,” Kiki says.

“I like hanging out with you,” Ira says.

“Bear cubs don’t really understand each other,” Kiki says. “That’s why they’re always wrestling.”

“Would you like us to invite some of our grown-up friends over more often?” Ira asks.

“Yeah!” replies Kiki. “That would be great!”

So on the weekend, Ira invites over Aadhya, the other Father Winter, and Knox. It’s just the right amount of people for the llama game, but not so many as to make it feel crowded and noisy.

“I didn’t realize you’d adopted a bear,” Aadhya says, “and one who likes fruit salad, even!”

“All bears like fruit,” Case replies.

But Kiki feels a bit awkward hiding behind the bear mask, so she braves a party dress. After all, Aadhya has changed into a party dress, too.

They all settle down at the game table, and the grown-ups take the game so seriously. Kiki tries to crack them up, grabbing her hand, as if it had a life of its own.

“No!” she says. “Mustn’t pull the stick! Must. Not. Pull. The. Stick.”

Aadhya chuckles. But the other Father Winter and Knox are deep in analysis. Which stick? Which speed to pull? Does velocity make structures more stable, or will it topple?

Knox wonders out loud, and Kiki learns about how the balance of force produces equilibrium, which then leads Aadhya to speculate on the right approach to living, and whether the secret of life might not be found in a simple game for children. But the other Father Winter says that there’s no such thing as a simple game–that all of life’s complexities and secrets can be found in any game, no matter how limited, and the more seemingly simple, the more elemental the truths.

They talk for hours, pulling out sticks, toppling the llama, making jokes, telling stories, growing somber, talking politics, sharing stories about their parents, all of whom have passed.

And after they leave, long after it’s grown dark, Kiki sits alone and lets the conversation roll in and out, like a tide, and she picks among the shells and colored bits of glass washed up on the shore. It’s an amazing thing to be a person, she thinks, and we’re all so much alike. Even those of us who are so very different, we’re really all alike.

If only the kids at school could get that.

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Another Legacy 1.26

Even though it never snows in Port Promise, on Winterfest, it snows. By now, Kiki has had time to process what it means that the adoption is official, so when she looks out on Winterfest morning to see Ira making snow angels, she smiles to herself. Now, she doesn’t only have her mom-and-dad-angels looking out for her from heaven, she’s got a real live angel or two looking out for her here.

They say heaven is a great place to be, but this morning, Kiki can’t imagine anyplace more beautiful, more exciting, or more fun than home.

Especially when that home is too small to have a Winterfest tree inside, because that means they can have it outdoors!

Tinker Tailor stops by to help them decorate, which is supposedly fine, because “the more the merrier,” but secretly, Kiki thinks no one can decorate better than Ira.

She tosses the ornament with a swing and a prayer, and it lands in just the right spot!

Kiki tries it, too. The ornament goes flying, but no one seems to care. It’s the style that matters.

When it’s done, it’s so perfect. It must be the best tree ever, with the biggest pile of presents, and the best smell of rosin, and the prettiest green. Kiki can’t help but whisper to her mom-and-dad-angels, “Look! This is for you, too! It’s our Winterfest tree!”

Kiki tries not to notice when she spots Ira over at the tree later, doing something with the presents. Kids aren’t supposed to know about sneaky present things, Kiki has gathered, so she plays along, pretending to ignore the growing pile of fancily wrapped gifts.

It seems to get dark before the day has even properly gotten started.

“That’s what winter’s all about,” Case explains, “darkness and cold. That’s why we have Winterfest on the darkest of days, and why we have lights everywhere and things that warm us from the inside.”

“Like presents,” Kiki adds.

“How come there are so many elves walking around?” Kiki asks.

“Must be some sort of party,” replies Case, “or community event.”

All evening, they see them walking on the road past their house, checking their phones.

“It’s a charity challenge!” Ira explains. “They dress up, post to their social media, and then there’s some sort of fund-raising thing-or-other where they get matching funds.”

It makes it harder for Kiki to spot the actual Father Winter, with so many dressed up in elf costumes.

But at last, he comes, walking right down their street towards their very own house!

There’s no mistaking that long blue snowflake robe, even with a yellow-and-green-striped t-shirt underneath, and that jolly belly and big beard, even if the guy is skinny everywhere else and the beard is black. It’s Father Winter. It has to be!

He even stops at the Winterfest tree, when he thinks no one is watching, and adds to the present pile!

“Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores!” he calls. “Is there a Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores here?”

“Here I am!” Kiki answers, and she comes out of her hiding place behind the dew collector.

“Well, I am very pleased to meet you,” says Father Winter. “Have a seat. Let’s chat.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, too,” Kiki says, remembering politeness, even though she is very excited and feeling more than a little bit shy.

“Now, what Winterfest wishes can I make come true for you?”

“Oh!” She is stumped for a moment. “You see, my most wished-for wish already came true. And so, I forgot to even think about another wish.”

She explains, in just above a whisper, how she was a foster kid for more years than she can remember, and how she always wanted to be adopted, not just for her, but also for Ira and Case, so they wouldn’t ever be sad without her, and how now that wish, which was so much a part of her forever, has come true, and so she’s happy, and Ira is happy, and Case is happy, and everyone is happy, but she’s just not sure that she will ever wish for anything again, because why? She has what she’s always wanted. It would be selfish to want more.

By now, Ira and Case have wandered out to join them.

“It’s not selfish to want things,” says Ira, “even when you’re happy and you’ve got everything you’ve ever wanted. In fact, it’s kind of a secret of happiness, not just to be happy with what you’ve got, especially when your biggest dreams come true, but then to think, what next?”

“Oh!” says Kiki. “In that case! I saw this light thing once in a video and it makes these little dancing colors and shapes on the walls, and I thought that would be so cool to look at when I fall asleep sometimes. It would be fun to have one of those lights.”

“I had a feeling you might say that,” says Father Winter.

He hands her a package in blue-and-white wrapping paper, just like his robe, with a big white bow on top, and when she opens it, she finds that light-show lamp inside!

“You really ARE Father Winter!” she exclaims.

“I think Father Winter deserves a present, too,” says Ira. She hands him a smaller package. It’s a digital camera.

“This is too thoughtful,” he says.

“Well, you do all the work, on a holiday, nonetheless,” says Ira. “You deserve a treat.”

“Now for the adults in the household,” he says, handing a gift to Case.

It’s a giftcard to a seed company. “Rare heirloom herbs and veggies,” he says.

“Very thoughtful. We’ll make good use.”

“I know you will.”

“Where’s Clement Frost, by the way?” Case asks. “We were expecting him.”

“Oh,” replies Father Winter, “blame management. Something about mixing up routes to increase blah, blah, something, something, whatever. Anyway, he’s got San Myshuno this year, my regular route, and I’ve got his route here in Port Promise. Nice change, actually. I got to meet you and your family!”

I have to say, I was incredibly relieved to hear this Father Winter’s explanation. With the impact of Moira’s passing still felt in the household, I wasn’t sure we could handle losing our original Father Winter just yet. In fact, before I closed out the game that night, Clement Frost called, just to wish Case and his family a very merry Winterfest. Like my Sims, I get attached to the original Townies and NPCs, too.

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Another Legacy 1.25

Case rings the breakfast bell

Late one evening, a few days before Winterfest, after Kiki has gone to sleep, the social worker calls. It’s a go–the adoption is approved. There are still a few formalities left–the appearance before the judge and the receipt of the final paperwork, but those are mere procedures. It’s been approved, and Kiki’s no longer a foster child; she’s adopted.

Case and Ira are so excited they can barely sleep, and they arise early before dawn.

“I can’t wait to tell her,” Case says, looking to see if she’s stirring yet. She is such a sound sleeper.

“Let’s make a celebration out of it,” Ira says. “Let’s cook a fancy breakfast and all eat together and tell her then!”

They make pancakes and scrambled eggs and fruit salad with cranberries, oranges, dates, raisins, and Ceylon cinnamon. They make coffee and tea and hot chocolate, and when the sun comes up, but Kiki lingers in bed, Case can stand it no longer, and he pulls out the cowbell they use to announce suppertime, and he rings it so hard the windows shimmy.

“Breakfast!” he calls. “Sunshine! Celebration! Hurry! Fun-time! Breakfast!”

Ira busies herself at the counter, swallowing giggles.

Case rings the breakfast bell

But when they all sit down to eat, no one says anything right away. Ira has decided to leave it to Case to announce, and Case isn’t sure how to start. In his excitement, he forgot to script this one.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

He closes his eyes and just dives in.

“So she called last night and it’s going through!”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“These are good pancakes,” Kiki says.

“Do you know what Case is talking about?” Ira asks.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“I was eating,” Kiki says, “not listening. It sounded like grown-up talk.”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

Case tries again. “What I mean by ‘she called last night,’ is that the social worker called, and what I mean by ‘it’s going through’ is that the adoption. The adoption has been approved.”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“For real?” Kiki asks.

“For real. We still gotta see the judge and get the papers, but it’s a real thing! You’re adopted! You’re out of foster care, and now, we’re a for-real family!”

The family sitting at the kitchen table

Kiki doesn’t say anything. With the quietest of smiles, she spreads the fruit salad on the pancake and eats it.

“We were so excited we could hardly sleep,” Ira says.

“It’s what we’ve been wanting forever. It’s what I wanted even before I met you, when I just knew about you. When I brought you home on the bus that day, I hoped then, more than anything, that I could adopt you. I couldn’t think of a greater honor,” Case says, while he thought, or responsibility.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“Are you and Ira my mom and dad now?” Kiki asks.

“We could be, if you wanted. Technically, I’m your legal guardian, and Ira will be your godmother, which means if anything happens to me, she’s your guardian.”

“Like fairy godmother?” Kiki asks.

“Exactly,” says Ira, “only without the fairy part and the wish-granting part. No mice pulling pumpkins and spider webs turning into ball gowns or any of that nonsense.”

“I was thinking you’d like to have your birth mom and dad as your always mom and dad,” Case explains. “That’s why we’d be guardian and godmother. But what do you want?”

“I like that,” Kiki says. “That way, I can still talk to them.”

“Exactly,” says Ira.

“But what about my name? Will I be Kiki Flores?”

“If you want,” Case replies. “Another option would be to take all the names. So you could be Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores, or any other order you wanted.”

“I like it! It’s so long!”

“We can practice,” Case says, so together, they chant the whole thing: Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores! Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores!

The family sitting at the kitchen table

“I bet nobody else at school has a ten-syllable name,” Case says.

“You’d be surprised,” Kiki answers.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

She recites them all: Rainflower Sunshine Jessamine Snowchild; Billy Bob Jasper Water Buffalo; Rebecca Sally Smith-Johnson-Snow-Tea.

“Are you making these names up?” Ira asks.

“Might be,” answers Kiki Donovan Mahajan Flores, as she takes another bite of pancake.

The family sitting at the kitchen table

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Another Legacy 1.23

Kiki walking down the hall

Four years have passed since Kiki came to live with Case and Ira, and the adoption still hasn’t gone through. Because Case won’t lie to her, and because of the social worker lady’s visits a few times each year, and because she’s a super good eaves-dropper, she knows she’s a foster child, and she knows that this means that where she is now might not be her forever home, and Case and Ira might not always be her really-tall-people. She could get taken away. She knows this.

It’s sad for her because she loves it here. This is her home, even if it’s not her forever home, and Case and Ira are her tall people, even if they’re not her birth mom and dad.

But she feels it’s even more sad for Case and Ira, because they love her. They tell her that every day, and she can see it in how they look at her, which is like how they look at each other, and she can taste it in the food that Case makes, especially the veggie dumplings with the just-so crinkled sides. It would be too sad for them if she ever had to leave, and she can’t bear that they would ever be that sad.

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

They don’t force her to always be happy. They leave room so that she can be sad sometimes. She thinks that, being an orphan, and a foster kid, and not having a forever home, it’s only natural that she be sad sometimes.

When she’s sad, they don’t try to talk her out of it. They just create this warm space, like a cloud she can live in, but not a bad cloud, a warm one, that glows pink, like sunset-pink–rose–inside, and she can stay in there until that warm pink rosy glow is all inside of her, and then she only smiles. That’s the kind of space they make for her.

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

She asks them sometimes how her mom and dad died. “From gentrification,” Case says. And she comes to learn that that means having to leave your home and get a new job and getting in an accident and then through medicine and drinking somehow dying. And she can understand that if one person dies, another might, too. She thinks it must mean that her mom and dad loved each other a lot.

“Angels are made of light,” Ira told her once.

So when she sees the flame of the candle, she thinks it’s her mom and dad. She always has, as long as she remembers. And she talks to them that way, too, through the flame.

“I’m doing really well here,” she whispers to them in the candle-flame one night. “I’m thriving, that’s what the social worker lady tells Cay-Cay and Ira.”

The candle flickers, as it always does when she talks to them in it.

“Is it true you can make wishes come true?” she asks them for the hundredth time. “I think it must be. I read that somewhere. If so, will you make my wish come to be? Will you make this my forever home?”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

She waits and watches for an answer. Maybe it’s just the wind, but the flame begins dancing, and in her heart of hearts she hears a promise of “yes.”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

“Thank you,” she whispers. “Cay-cay says that you will always be my mom and dad, no matter what happens. And Ira says that you are angels, always watching over me. And I think, if I can live here always, and grow up here, that you will feel really happy and proud of the person I grow up to be. You can’t help that, right? Cause I know how I feel in my heart, and since you’re there, you know how I feel, too.”

Kiki looking at the candle in the lantern

“Would you like a story, Kiki? Or would you prefer to sit alone?” Ira calls from the doorway.

“Oh, a story!” Kiki replies. “Is it Heidi?”

It is, and it is also Kiki’s favorite story, this little tale of an orphan girl who finds a new home in the mountains with a stern man who comes to love her.

“‘God is good to all of us,'” Ira reads. “‘He knows what we need better than we do. And just because he thinks it is better not to give you what you want right now doesn’t mean he isn’t answering you. You shall have what you ask for but not until the right time comes.‘”

Ira reads to Kiki

“Do you think that’s true?” Kiki asks Ira.

“Well, I’m not sure I believe in God,” Ira responds, “or at least, not that type of wish-fulfilling God. More like, you know, a universal consciousness, the spark of divine. But anyway, yeah, I think that principle is true, the bit about the right-timing, and all.”

Ira reads to Kiki

“I think so, too,” Kiki says. “I think sometimes, things are what we think are bad–and maybe they really are bad–but it’s not like the end of the universe. Sometimes, it’s just that we need a little bit of time, and then something really good happens.”

“Like we have to get ready for it,” Ira adds. “Ding! Time’s right! Cake’s done! Take the cake out too early and it’s a gooey mess!”

Ira reads to Kiki

Case joins them.

“I don’t have cake in the oven,” he says. “Are you hungry?”

“No,” Ira and Kiki giggle.

The family sitting at a table

“We were just talking about timing adjustments,” Ira says, “of the universe.”

“All things at the right time, eh?” Case asks.

Kiki has stopped listening to the words. She’s bathing in the sounds of the warbles, and that pink-rosy-glow forms a safe bubble over them and the light inside swishes and swirls, and she thinks that if anything is forever, and she actually knows that nothing is, but if anything were, it would be this. This moment of rosy glow.

The family sitting at a table

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Another Legacy 1.20

Kiana looking upset as the fire blazes

Terrible things can happen.

Since my post on Dec. 5, when I reported that the COVID-19 death count in our county had reached 722, the count has risen by 362 bringing the total to 1,084, in less than a month.

The COVID-19 death rate in our county has climbed to 103.76 per 100,000, and the case rate is, stunningly, 7,093.9 per 100,000. These are terrifying and tragic statistics.

The holidays have interrupted reporting, so these numbing stats are, inevitably, lower than actual.

As a culture and a species, we grasp for optimism through exceptionalism–It can’t happen to us. It can’t happen here. It can’t happen this year. It’s 2021; everything is different now. Biden was elected; good things will happen.

But the tragedy continues. The disinformation campaign, in the political and public health spheres, escalates with predictable, but nearly incomprehensible, results.

Case putting out fire

Exceptionalism doesn’t apply to viruses or disasters or political corruption. Or video games.

In my game, Ira caught on fire–again. I thought of quitting without saving, deleting the cursed compostable toilet, avoiding disaster for my exceptional family.

Ira on fire

But I kept playing. It’s a legacy. We’ll deal with the consequences.

Fire blazing

Around the time of this game play, Deira’s game experienced a similar disaster, which resulted in the death of Aria, everyone’s favorite Sim.

While I was playing, I realized that Ira might die. It would be terrible and hard, especially for Kiana, who, in story, at least, has already experienced so much loss.

Case puts out fire

But Case pulled through. He, once again, put out the fire.

Ira’s white jogging suit was a disaster, but she survived without a scorch.

Case carries Kiana out

“I’m getting rid of that toilet,” Case says. “We’ll put in regular plumbing. Find a way to draw from the city water line, and have an old-fashioned flush toilet. At least it won’t catch on fire every summer.”

“I still can’t believe you saved my life,” Ira says, “again! Remember the last fire? This one was worse.”

“It was worse because Kiki’s here now. Can you imagine? That little girl does not need another trauma in her life.”

“She was retraumatized for sure,” Ira says. “I still hear her cries in my imagination. Is she sleeping OK?”

“Yeah,” Case says. “She calmed right down, and she fell right to sleep. She sings while she falls asleep. It’s the most amazing thing.”

Case and Ira talking

But it takes awhile to get the sewage and water lines dug and connected, and to fill out all the paperwork, and to save up money for the improvements, and before the summer is over, during another heat wave, the compost combusts, again.

Ira on fire again

Case is there in an instant. He’s had practice, by now.

Case putting fire out again

But this time, Ira’s not wearing her jogging suit. She’s wearing a negligee made from synthetic fibers that sends out wild purple flames and the scent of burning plastic.

Kiana upset

“No!” Kiki cries.

Her world crashes in on her. It’s dark and she’s alone and she’s hungry and she’s cold and there is no one.

Case puts out fire

Just because you’re little doesn’t mean you can’t love. And she loved from the moment she looked out at the world and into eyes she can’t remember now. And now, the dark eyes she can remember are swirling in flames.

Kiana cries

And she spent a long, long time in a place with white walls and white suits and faces with smiles that didn’t smile and noises all the time and she has known three places and one was taken from her and one, sweet days, she left, and now this place, home, is ablaze and Ira is at the center of the fire.

Kiana upset

But Ira doesn’t die. She is an exception, and Case is a hero, again, Kiki gets fed and cleaned up and played with and read to and tucked in. And life goes on.

“I hear you had another fire,” Aadhya says when she drops by one afternoon shortly after. “I mean, another-another one.”

Ira and Case sitting at the chess table

“Yeah, but Case put it out,” Ira says. “Our hero.”

“It was nothing,” Case says. “Anybody would’ve done the same.”

Ira and Case sitting at the chess table

“Being a hero is all fine and good,” Aadhya says, “but if you guys weren’t so careless, there’d be no need for heroics. I mean, dudes! You’re gonna retraumatize that little girl all over again. When are you going to grow up and get rid of the combustible toilet?”

“On Tuesday!” Case replies.

Aadhya yells at them

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