4th Grade

Believe me, I know. Fourth already? There’s nothing like the passing of another birthday for your child that makes you reckon with the passing of time. Her ninth birthday is looming and I can’t count the number of people who have said “I can’t believe it, nine already? She was just a baby!” Don’t I know it.

I have lots of things to say about fourth grade but this post is really about the passing of years and the ending of third, in particular. RR attends a Montessori school and the children are grouped into classrooms spanning three grades. She has progressed in the same classroom since she was 5, with the same teacher, and the same children. This year’s crop of first graders has been a particularly enjoyable experience for RR, who is young for her age and happily plays with and teaches the smaller set.

Her teacher has been a compassionate, attentive, kind, funny person who has taken RR’s same traits and helped them flourish. She’s one of the most calm and thoughtful people I’ve met and I know for certain that we can thank her for helping RR’s personal space bubble evolve, nurturing her drawing skills, ensuring she could read and write beautifully, and teaching her to channel her frustration at learning new facts into curiosity and enjoyment. You guys, Montessori has been the right choice for RR since the beginning. I’m sure you know how it feels to just know you’ve made some parenting decision solidly right.

But today it ends, friends. Today is the day she rises up to fourth grade. The last day of school. The last day in this classroom with this teacher. I’m not great with lasts as a general rule but I’m a wreck. Somehow this artificial moment makes me feel like my little girl is gone, replaced by the person who has been glimmering in the distance. I’m thrilled with that person’s confidence and maturity, I’m not so thrilled to be saying goodbye to my baby.

I know, I know. You’re right, of course. You always are. This IS artificial. She’s still the same person. It’s a ceremony is all, a last day, a bookmark. But I’m a cryer, happy or not, and I’m an emotional disaster. I need all your tips to keep from crying. Cause I have a day to get through and no real confidence I can get through it in one piece.

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Actually, NO

This is how I feel about my body acting like an asshole. I’ve mostly gotten over quirks I can’t do anything about. We’re not at war, I’m not bemoaning my brain chemistry, I’ve tried to internalize that there is not a normal. My naive hope that my body and I had reached peaceful relations has come to an end as I find myself suddenly under siege. Perimenopause. What the actual fuck. WordPress doesn’t even recognize it as a word, that’s how lame it is.

I went to the doctor. I know! I went willingly. Why, I asked? Why this particular bullshit? Why now? Why do I itch? Why am I waking up at night shivering? And don’t even start me on hot flashes. What are these things? I mean, I don’t have enough strong language for a hot flash. Estrogen dominance, she said. But, and I respect this, she had profane feelings about hot flashes, too. The commiseration was nice.

I work in a place with plenty of women 5-15 years older than I am and a fair number wield cardigans and fans. I refuse, friends, to fan myself in a meeting. But if this is any sort of warning bell, I fear the first pre-meeting/class flash. And I’m angry. Mad as a hornet, I said to the doctor. She said, it’s no use, it’s not helpful. She’s probably right but it makes me feel better to rage around like the running of the bulls for a bit.

It’s not grief over the end of child-bearing years, though I suppose that’s a pretty common thing, it’s absolute frustration that I have no control over this phenomenon without some sort of medication. Or, of course, the advice for anything wrong with you – more greens, less refined sugar, more exercise, more sleep, less stress. Are you kidding me? I need the refined sugar to deal with the broccoli and cauliflower.

Mad as a hornet. And not a damn thing I can do to stop it.

Am I Doing This Wrong?

I have no idea if I’m doing this parenting thing right. As far as I can tell, there’s not a commonly agreed upon metric beyond the basic ‘do no harm, no, seriously‘. I can also tell that this is a common insecurity held frequently by people doing a damn good job. I look at you all as paragons of parenting or paragons of good advice, or both. Perhaps you have advice or speculation?

Things I have worried about of late:
1. Not encouraging RR to be on the swim team (stick-to-itive-ness)
2. Not insisting she learn to swim AND breathe (survival)
3. Not taking her to practice riding her bike (practice is important if you want to do something well)
4. Not buying her oil paints and a guitar (it’s worth it to nourish your hobbies)
5. Letting her watch too many YouTube videos (live life in person)
6. Not having more playdates (social life is also important)

Now, I know no one is perfect. I did bake cupcakes with her this weekend, Debra played stuffed animals with her, we didn’t make her run errands, we played with her in the pool, hell, we TOOK her to the pool which, given my current body image, was a feat. Still, she says she’s lonely and she still watched too many videos and didn’t ride her bike. This is a lack of follow-through on my part and what is that teaching her? If we continue on this path, it becomes a downward spiral so let’s not.

How do you let it all happen without worrying? How do you handle it when your child says she’s lonely but doesn’t have particularly close friends? How do you insist she leave the cool house to practice a skill she doesn’t see a need to learn? It’s useless, this worrying, but here we are. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I feel better.

Writing Practice

Overheard at the coffee shop:
“I can’t just apply for this job. I have to become a filmmaker first. And it’s seems like you just put something out there, you know? But…”
And then he just trails off.

As someone who would rather write for a living than work (because while writing, for me, is work, it’s a much more pleasant sort) I get where he’s coming from. Including the trailing off part. Because let’s be honest, all you need to write is the motivation and the time. I apparently am in short supply of both. And since together they complete a sort of circle (I don’t feel like I have the time so I’m not motivated and I’m not motivated to find time. Finding time make me tired, which saps my motivation and… ). That guy and I, we’re in the same boat. 

I thought I would commit to an online writing course. Self-paced, free because not only am I short on motivation and time, I’m short on cash. Also important because a long practice of any kind seems pretty unattainable right now. I made it through the first videos and workbook but the next section is all about establishing your own writing cubby.

First of all cubby. But we don’t have to worry about that since finding a place at all seems unrealistic in my current life. I have priorities that take priority over any sort of practice, so carving out a space seems beyond. That may seem surprising. I live in a house, yes? And surely not every place is spoken for? True, there are places but not the emotional/physical spaces that permit the sort of selfish time writing requires. 

I remember my mother going through this. It seemed silly as a child. She had a bedroom, the sunroom. She had any space she wanted to have and yet she complained she had no room of her own. So she took the hall closet, stuck a mirror and rocker in it and ruled it off limits. I am not so melodramatic and besides, now I know what she was missing. It wasn’t the physical space. She did have whichever space she wanted. It was the emotional space she couldn’t/didn’t want to whittle away from the rest of us. I think if she had known that it would have been easier on her.

I have an understanding family who would turn over all the spaces if I asked for them, including the emotional space. That makes Debra and RR pretty excellent family members. But because they are excellent, I don’t want to take the space apart from them. We have enough time apart, for me anyway, and the days and years are short.

And so, like our young filmmaker, I recognize that to write I just have to write. It’s free, it only lasts as long as you want it to last. I’d argue I have it better than he does. Still though…

Not My Best Day

Let’s talk more about not belonging.

I can’t think of a single community in which I belong right now. RR asked me what I was good at the other day and I thought hmmm (yes, that’s how I get started thinking) I’m not sure I’m really good at anything. At least, nothing marketable. I mean, I’m pretty good at video games but also I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find a new employer who wants to hire a 45 yr old queer woman with no coding skills and no real desire to learn. Not that I’m looking for a job. It was a fake interview question (no time like the present) and one that I had asked her moments before. She’s good at drawing (established) and that’s a pretty good answer. Rambling, yes

So even the things I’m good at, I don’t feel like I belong in. To wit:

  1. Using fancy words like to wit – I would not be good at RenFest sorts of things, mainly because those dresses are hot, I can’t get into the names, and I don’t sew or joust. Also, no.
  2. Aforementioned video games – puzzles, platforms, archery, I’m on it. But I’m also a girl who doesn’t care for first person shooters, who doesn’t have time for castle raids with strangers or grinding to build skills. 
  3. Writing – I can’t seem to find time to write anywhere other than here. I love to put words together but I don’t particularly care if I have readers (though I very, very, much appreciate this community) and I don’t especially want to critique or be critiqued so no writers’ groups for me.
  4. Cooking – hobby. I’m never going to write about it and I almost always fail to read some sort of step. Like the angel biscuits we were going to have but couldn’t because they actually took 12 hours and not 1. 
  5. Comics – but not really the superhero kind. And I can’t converse about this Spiderman vs that one or the darkness of Batman or even Marvel v. DC. There’s a women’s comic club that meets downtown but my anxiety isn’t down with going and besides, see previous sentence.
  6. Reading – I am the world’s worst homework doer. Going to a book club, reading a prescribed book, and then talking about it might be torture. Also, I don’t drink wine.
  7. Gardening – I considered doing all the steps to become a master gardener or naturalist but  I can’t be relied upon to remember which plants are lilies and which are irises in my own yard and the various kinds of mulch perplex me. Having a conversation about which plants don’t like wet feet is terrifying.
  8. Herbalism – see above. Also imposter syndrome.
  9. Playing board games – I suspect my friends don’t want to play with me, not because I suck necessarily, but because I don’t want the game to take three hours while we chat. This makes me suck and so we can check this one off the list. 
  10. Reading tea leaves – I’m actually quite good at this but somewhat out of practice and probably just a really, really good guessitmator. There is not a local community of legit tea readers.
  11. Being a librarian – I am bad at this and they pay me for it. 
  12. Being a teacher – I’m good at this, they pay me for it, but I don’t fit in with the other librarian teachers. I’m not radical enough, I don’t present enough, I don’t write enough, I’m not anyone, if you know what I mean. It’s the one place where I should fit in and yet I look at my colleagues and I could disappear and they probably wouldn’t notice. 
  13. Telling bedtime stories – first rate however they don’t go anywhere and besides, see 2.

You know what I am good at? Noticing that this is probably imposter syndrome at work and knowing that I could probably make it happen. You know what else I’m good at? Letting my anxiety get the better of me. These are not making it better. And so I bring you this video about anxiety as the third person in relationships:

The 80s Called

For the first time, there are kids in the neighborhood RR’s age. I’m delighted by this and more delighted that at least one of the families is relaxed enough to let their kid ride down to our house. Of course, this means that my child rides back with her to her house since our house is decidedly Not Fun.

And since my child rides back with her it means she’s alone out in the world on a street with no way to call home. Or, she’s having fun in the neighborhood, potato potahto. Between D and I, one of us is decidedly more anxious about the entire thing. Will she come back? What if something happens? What if she gets hurt? How will we find her if she’s missing?

Of course, some of these things are also true when she’s home alone when we go to the grocery store. There are equally dangerous things in the house but for some reason it feels like there’s less to worry about. We know the statistics about kidnapping. My sister was part of a failed stranger danger child snatching when she was six so I’m not really excited about those particular statistics.

RR does not have a phone (yet) but she’s equipped with a device to buzz when it’s time to come home. I just KNOW she will leave a phone behind unless we make her take a backpack with her everywhere. Maybe we’ll give her a fanny pack to go with it when we do cave. Teeny tiny fanny pack.

We’ve definitely gotten less worried the more she does it but does the nagging what if she doesn’t come back ever go away?

Vietnamese Coffee and Getting Old

When I was 24, I had a fancy job working for the Department of State. I moved to Washington, DC with exactly seven cardboard boxes, one suitcase, and a bike. I left the last odds and ends of college in a box for goodwill. I was thrilled to be in a new city (my brief hiatus in Tucson, AZ had included providing childcare for the local YMCA camp and seeking house-sitting jobs in between being desperately heartbroken over having to leave San Francisco) and I was more thrilled to be starting a Grown-up Job which I had worked very hard to get. I moved into a furnished apartment at 10pm that night and tried to ignore the fact that it looked like someone had slept in the bed and the apartment manager was asleep (or dead, it was all the same at that point).

This particular job involved learning a new language, how to destroy the company china upon a coup, and the fine knack of signing a contract without over-committing the United States government. It took a year to do all that. The language took the longest and the china nearly so, contracts, schmontracts. In that year, I ate cuisine I hadn’t imagined existed and went to fancy dress parties with my classmates who spoke Arabic and Hebrew without blinking and had all studied at lofty institutions. They came from Boston and New York and a few had been in DC all along with their more than seven boxes and cats and comfort.

To say I felt out of place is an understatement.

But I had the slight advantage of an undiagnosed bit of crazy and so threw myself into blind dating, spin classes, soccer teams, and an unstoppable drive to make up for all the missing bits and pieces. I did not do my language homework (you can imagine how far that got me). I joined friends at restaurants and threw on my most extroverted exterior. This self I have now, the one that fights anxiety everyday, was sat on, pushed down and drowned under heaping amounts of Thai iced tea, Afghan cuisine, baba ganoush, Ethiopian injera, and tzatziki. And then I had one of the most important memories I’ve had yet.

One mosquito-free summer night I was invited to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant not too far from my apartment. I walked there and met two of the most cultured members of my training class. They had invited me. I didn’t speak much during the meal except to laugh appropriately, eat my food appropriately, and contribute a small bit of humor here and there. They laughed at my jokes. The lights dimmed and twinkly lights glowed to life. The dinner lasted well into the evening, long after the utilitarian consumption of food (this luxury, I was learning, was a thing amongst adults). It culminated with Vietnamese coffee suggested by one of my companions.

I hadn’t had coffee before but I was not about to share that humiliating bit of information. The server brought tiny tin pots of espresso to place on top of mug of sweetened condensed milk. We turned the tiny dial on the bottom of the tin cup and the espresso dripped slowly into the milk, melting it as it drained, leaving behind a cup of sophistication I had never experienced. It was delicious, much like the warm humid air, the good company, and the sense of belonging I was feeling for the first time in months.

I’ve felt that feeling since, but never so intensely. It was years before I understood the joys and camaraderie of coffee. And now here I am, 21 years from that moment, sitting in a cafe, drinking Vietnamese coffee, and wondering if I should cut back my coffee consumption in order to make the unexpected hot flashes less startling. I can only assume these are the heralding bells of peri menopause. I refuse to read any more about it since the symptoms and their timeline are so depressing. So let’s think about the beautiful things, like the last drops in the cup beside me, the mosquito-free spring morning, and the comfortable buzz of strangers.