Mother’s Day Presents

In honor of Mother’s Day, I bring you these two tidbits. One is, most definitely, better than the other.

My mother needs lots of help as she prepares to move cross-country. Mind, the move isn’t until the end of July but, by golly, she is going to be packed and sitting on boxes by June 1st. I’m not sure why she thinks this is a good idea and my opinion doesn’t generally matter. Suffice to say, we’re doing a lot of drop by furniture moving, etc. We also have dinner with her every Sunday. Every. Sunday. I think that we have rescheduled three Sundays in the last four years and have only passed on one outright. So it’s reasonable for a reasonable person to expect that we’d have dinner again, and move boxes again, this Sunday. Which is how we got to this text:

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Is it unreasonable to hope that someday my suggestion of items to bring will not be met by a statement about mini ice cream but rather by a “Great! I have ranch dressing!” She constantly, in small ways like this, refuses to make any decisions at all. Rather than hold accountability for saying yes to bread and salad at the risk of forgetting something else, she doubles down on what she has. Every conversation goes like this. Reasonable questions met not with answers but by close-but-not-quite statements of sometimes totally unrelated fact. At least we were both talking about dinner. This time.

On the other hand, I picked up RR from school yesterday and she has Mother’s Day presents:

RR: Mama! I made you and mama presents for Mother’s Day!
Me: Oh you did! That’s very exciting. I can’t wait to see them.
RR: It’s a secret. A potholder for you and this picture for mama.
Me: Those sound like good secrets.
RR: That’s right. They will be a surprise, won’t they?

Yep.

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If I Grow Up

Last night, RR turned to me and said “If I grow up to be a chef, I will definitely not cook [things in squid ink].” I was charmed by her turn of phrase – if I grow up to be rather than when I grow up I’ll be. Really, this statement captures everything about her.

If I grow up to be. As if it’s pre-ordained. Or as if it could be anything, independent of her wishes or choices. Perhaps personhood will be bestowed on her at some point and she will become a fully-realized someone overnight. It’s a lottery, this growing up business.

I come from a when I grow up I’ll be world. I assure you that I sprang from the womb planning the next five steps to the current goal. So I think it’s curious that at almost eight she still hasn’t offered a when perspective, only an if. Perhaps this is why bike riding (and potty training previously) doesn’t inspire her. She expects that one day she’ll wake up and be able to ride, or not.

Judging by the way she handled speaking, walking, reading, and nearly everything else, she’s probably right.

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Red Sky At Morning

Sometimes I have to remind myself that nothing lasts forever. I think this when I’m in a dull meeting, yes, but also when my daughter so readily slips her hand into mine crossing the street. Sometimes I get reminded against my will, like when the neighbor behind me sends a mild message about getting my tree that’s in her yard inspected again (I know. Just know that’s the case in her eyes.) and I know that our friendly detente over tree removal might be coming to a close. Or when suddenly, midweek, with no warning whatsoever, my kid no longer asks for a lullaby before bed. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry today. Even wore the non-waterproof mascara, so that’s all I have to say about that.

It turns out that the four years of Sunday dinners we shared with my parents will be over once my mom moves away this summer. That is a welcome but hard change for our family in a few different ways. It felt hard and unsustainable many, many weeks, but there it is. Over just like that. RR suddenly has a new afterschool zookeeper teacher and the old one, the artist, is rarely there when I pick her up. I had a great boss. Now I have a new boss. You see, as comfortable as it is, nothing is permanent. And sometime there’s no warning whatsoever.

A month ago, or maybe last week, I was pretty sure we’d be in this house, in this community, at this workplace until we retired. And then some. But then I visited a different neighborhood in town with charming houses and many of the things we love about our own neighborhood (on the surface). Debra got a new job which also had many of the things she excels at (on the surface). Gradually, some of the things I had taken for granted (even while knowing things change) have evaporated. Flexible work schedules. good soil, a car that both runs and has four working windows, stable mental, physical, and financial health.

It looks like I’m far more open to a significant life change than I thought I’d be once the conditions that enabled the current state started to melt away. I had been so busy reminding myself about the small things (don’t forget to pet the dog! he won’t be here forever!), I totally forget to remind myself that the big things can change on a dime. I missed the warning signs because I’ve been trying hard not to try to read the future. Now I’m back to soothsaying again, looking for the signals, trying to see where to put the cushion before there’s a fall. Wish me luck.

 

 

Fairy Doors

The other day my child, who is seven and many, told me that she urgently needed help moving her new bedside table away from the wall.

Why, I wondered. After all, moving it means that it would be harder to reconstruct her tower of books which routinely collapses into a heap at bedtime.

The fairy, she urged. Her door is trapped behind the table and she can’t get out.

Well, you know I’m not going to shrug off a fairy, so off we went to investigate and after an appropriate amount of hemming and hawing, I suggested she might make the fairy a new door.

RR finished but her soul was not at peace. We couldn’t keep the table against the wall because the fairy would not know to use the new door until she came out and saw it.

A sign perhaps? Yes, she agreed, that would do.

She is seven and perfect.

 

Community

We moved to Charlottesville almost ten years ago. Before coming here I thought that the concept of “a village” was something that happened in queer collectives and groups of suburban moms who had lived in the same town with the same people since they were babies themselves. How lucky those villagers were to have carpools and potlucks and emergency sitters. Surely you had to live in some sort of neighborhood of brownstones or quirky farmhouses or anywhere in the midwest. I was nearly certain I’m not the kind of person who would be welcomed into the kind of village people praise. Too independent and private. Not bohemian or suburban enough. An impractical pipe dream.

A borrowed egg here gives way to a loaned jar of pins. Changed light bulbs and warm cookies turned into bedroom dressers and garden transplants. Sometimes it was a request without anything in return (would you help me scoop up this dead animal, please?) and sometimes it was a gift unasked for (I didn’t mind shoveling your walk, I was here anyway!). It didn’t take long to realize we had great neighbors. And then they moved and we got more great neighbors. And realized we’re pretty good neighbors, too. We’re woven tightly into the people in the village.

Debra went out of town recently and I got a direct glimpse of the strong scaffolding around us. First there was a committee of vultures in the backyard.* I put on my boots and grabbed a shovel. You guys KNOW I am in a fragile place with dead things. Fortunately, this possum was fresh. Unfortunately, there were possum pieces all over the yard. I flung the possum bits into the trashcan while the vultures sat in the trees above me considering whether I was feeling poorly enough to wait for.

Two days til trash day and I somehow came home without the requisite sticker that signals to the collection crew that we paid for pick-up. RR does not like to go back out once she’s in and so it was either deal with rageface or live with the possum (and vultures) another week. My neighbors came through with a spare sticker. Then it snowed and it appears our shovel, which had been holding up the house all winter, was nowhere to be found. Another neighbor happily provided a shovel so that I could dig out to get my wife from an airport two hours away. My wife was delayed (no drive a plus) but school was delayed the following day (not a plus). My sister-in-law agreed to take RR to school so that I could get to work on time.

I’m one of those lucky people.** Things work out for me. Debra was bumped but the airline made up for it and then some. The snow day meant I got a break from making lunches and running RR hither and yon. The delay also meant Debra arrived at the airport the same evening as my mom so that I could pick them both up at the same time and I didn’t have to make small talk with the other girl scout moms at the event RR was supposed to go to. The fence guy is giving us a discount because my wife and I are still married. Most couples, he said, don’t make it the ten years til a fence needs fixing. I left my wallet on top of the car, did a couple of errands and found it there at the third stop, snugly wedged in the roof rack. There was just enough peanut butter left in the jar and just enough milk.

It’s more than luck though. It’s the people around us. The folks that lent a hand this week were a tiny fraction of the people we’re tangled up with. If I wasn’t able to give the cat his medicine, I would have had help. If my sister-in-law wasn’t able to take RR, I could have called three different families for help. If the vultures had been more menacing, I could have called on two other healthy friends with shovels. It’s a community of the heart and I’m truly lucky to have it.

*Did you know that a group of vultures in the air is kettle, a group of feeding vultures is a wake (shudder), and a group of vultures hanging out on the ground in your not-at-all-rural yard is a committee?

**It’s a matter of perspective though. 3:33-3:47 And if you think the science of luck is as interesting as I do, this.

Independence

We are sliding headlong into a giant pool of sweet independence. I hope RR is enjoying this as much as I am. I think I can see the place where the constant effort to keep another person alive and unharmed ends and the cautious optimism that they will reliably do this for themselves begins. I’m pretty sure the pot at the end of this particular rainbow is Staying Home Alone.

We’re solidly in the realm of drop-off birthday parties. There are still some parents that hang around but, for the most part, the packs of children maraud at will interrupted only by generous smearings of cake and ice cream. She can make herself a sandwich and get a glass of water so even though it’s pretty much prison, she’d survive. She goes to her bedroom and plays or reads for more than an hour at a time. I suspect she wouldn’t even notice if I weren’t in the house. Yesterday I was outside for an extended period of time, first talking with the fence repair guy and then clearing out all the possum pieces some renegade vultures had left lying around.* RR was utterly unconcerned.

If she had a phone, we could practice calling 911 and that will be the clincher for me. She turns eight (I KNOW) in June and I think that’s old enough for her to stay home alone for short periods of time. I get giddy thinking of the things I can do. I can go to the grocery store unaccompanied! I can go to the grocery store without having to listen to RR’s sass about how she doesn’t want to go! I can go to the gym! I can take the dogs for a walk with my headphones! I can have a cup of coffee and write in a coffee shop like an adult! It’s a whole new world.

This is exciting territory, folks.

 

 

 

*I’d like to point out that we live IN A TOWN and not in some unchecked wilderness. IN A TOWN where I should not be besieged by vultures.

Another Last Time

There have been a few things I was looking forward to in RR’s life. For example, I could not wait for her to grab her tiny feet with little plump fingers. Some of them have been happy pops of joy, like the first time she came home muddy or the first time she called me mama. Some of them are bittersweet last-time moments that meant swapping out the baby to get to the child. Seemingly overnight she shrugged off the pacifier, the sippy cup, the car seat. I soaked up every last moment when she wrapped her little hand around my index finger when we crossed the street. I know we’re minutes away from the first time she tries out “mom” and the first meal she cooks us is closer than I think.

There are the sad milestones we have passed: the death of the first pet and the first grandparent. There are the less sad ones that are coming: the first best friend fight, the first public speaking nerves, the first ask-for-money bailout text. There are the ones I wish we could skip: the broken heart, the first car accident, the first unrealized dream. And there are happy ones waiting just off stage.

I have been waiting for the moment she’d fall into reading. It’s every bit as rewarding as I thought it would be to find her curled up in a chair, head tipped over the page, finger tracing along under the words. We got her a library card and set up a lamp by her bedside so she could read at night. We navigated the unanticipated need to gently scold her for reading while a friend was over and agreeing on a reasonable time to turn out the light and go to sleep.

I was prepared for the first time she slipped her hand into mine instead of holding my finger. In the months leading up to it I took a breath and cemented the memory just in case that was the last time it happened. I was prepared for the last bath and we all know that I began hoping for the last diaper change years before I did it. Not bedtime though. I completely missed it.

All of a sudden, she wants to read herself to sleep instead of sitting on my lap and reading along. Did I miss the last time she snuggled against me? She is fine with a kiss goodnight and a remind to turn the light off when she’s done reading. Did I miss the last lights-out lullaby? I didn’t commit them to memory. I wasn’t paying attention. She slipped right past me.

I encourage her to run far and run fast. To climb out of my reach and disappear around corners. I try to let her fight her own battles and trip over her own feet. But I wasn’t ready to let go of bedtime. With RR there’s always a chance of a slide backwards after a big surge like this but it’s a small consolation. It’s part of growing. Mine not hers.