Changeling

We do not recognize our daughter. Someone stole into our home in the night and replaced her with another daughter. This one is tall and all limbs, strong and fast but a little lazy, occasionally sullen, has a much better memory, and asks for specific toys and gifts. This one will only sometimes dress herself and likes to shower. This one is packed with sass.

We didn’t notice at first. You see, this changeling still has accidents and disappears for hours at a time to play by herself. She still likes to get up early and turn on the TV by herself. She still dances naked in the living room. But there were glimpses that made our eyes skip over her, looking for the real child. Our little girl, the barely-past-toddlerhood girl. The one who was still rocking 3T shorts just a couple of weeks ago.

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She’ll be seven next month, just like our old child, and if in fact she’s ours, she is finally, suddenly, and startlingly a kid. She has habits and preferences. The tiny wolverine we’ve lived with for so long has disappeared. She cuddles. She has friends. Let that soak in. Right? This is obviously not our child.

She wants things. You guys, RR has never asked for things. With prodding, sure, but years of television have skipped past and she has been impervious to the wiles of advertisers and, when sucked in, quickly forgets the object in question ever existed. Now she has focused her mind and has turned a laser focus onto robot dogs of all types. Her drawings have become less detailed and elaborate. I catch myself being a sad about that and then I’ll find an itty bitty drawing in a corner of a page and it’s precisely illustrated.

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This is not to say that this kid is better or worse that the kid who lived here before. Just surprisingly different. It happened so quickly, she seems like a whole new person. It must be her though, I’m sure of it, because she’s still six layers deep in dirt, sprinkled in freckles, loves dancing and parties, and other children love her (even when she doesn’t love them back. No changeling could be so matched so well. Seven at the end of June. Or a teenager. It’s hard to be certain.

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Where We Are Now

Remember that time we agonized over daycare? Then moving to a Montessori pre-school? Then public vs private grade school?*

Also, you know those moments when you have to make a really difficult decision and you have no way to know how it will shake out and then it turns out that, even though it was impossible in the moment, it was still the best decision you could have made?

RR’s Montessori grade school costs us an arm, leg, and very nearly the entirety of our bank account. We are tremendously lucky to be in the position to even make this choice. I think that at least once a day. But it wasn’t easy to decide. I love our public school system, for all its flaws. In the end, it came down to knowing RR well enough to make the decision that would best accommodate her style of learning and, let’s be honest here, her enormous personal space. And also? I’m pretty sure this whole business OF STILL NOT BEING POTTY TRAINED IN AUGUST wouldn’t have been great in public school. Regardless, she is, as her teachers have often described her, a true Montessori learner and so she’s happy as a pig in mud.

I can’t talk about how happy I am with the guides and students and school and lessons without crying all over the place so I won’t. I can’t sum it up all that well anyway. So here’s the bright spot in my week this week, coming directly from her teacher about their classwork for the week:

We began a study of the Montessori work called Interdependencies. In this study of economics, we have a set of cards that is used in several ways. One is to discuss a particular food we eat. The cards show people and a small emblem signifying the work they do to produce a particular food. These cards are used to illustrate just how many people are required to produce one item we use on a daily basis. We start with our own breakfasts, discussing what we eat. Most people’s breakfasts include a form of bread or cereal. From there, we ask where the bread comes from. The baker is the usual reply. From there, we add the shopkeeper, the transporter, the miller, the farmer, etc. One student remarked, as if on cue, “Look how many people it takes to give us our bread!” Your child may come home with their own colored pages or booklets of people and their jobs. Some chose to make cards of their own parents’ jobs, which was interesting and fun. 
Later, we will use the cards as we discuss how each person needs all the others to live, and we’ll also discuss things like taxes and services our cities and country provide. The goal here is to show children how everyone places a role, and everyone is needed.
One of the beauties of the elementary Montessori curriculum is that it emphasizes both the interconnectedness of human beings and the fundamental needs that we all have in common.”

This is a typical missive and sometimes they are so lofty I’m not sure I even get the concept but RR does, without fail. What she learns shows up everyday in the form of remarkable empathy, courtesy, patience, and respect. Interdependencies have been a big part of how we have framed her questions about the election and current fallout and again I think, I am so fortunate to have this child, this family, this school, this community.

I just had to tell someone and I picked you.

 

**There are posts on these and I’d have linked them expect that we had started trying to have a second while moving to the Montessori pre-school and so those posts are littered with this IUI and that IUI and obviously no actual babies. So you’ll have to take my word for it – those posts exist and those moments were agonizing.

Ways Cancer Doesn’t Suck: Interventions Edition

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You all, my mom, who was volatile? fragile? difficult? to begin with, has pushed my sisters too far. I’d say me, too, except that I’m pretty sure I stepped over the brink years ago. In fact, I emailed her therapist for the three of us, asking for her support in helping mom get to a psychiatrist who can diagnose and manage medications instead of relying on her own diagnosis that she relays to her general practitioner who prescribes what she asks for.

The therapist suggested we meet with my mom and she was receptive, although we told her that it was to help find ways to support her which is not entirely the truth. My sister is in town for the week, thank goodness, because I was not doing this on my own. I don’t have the greatest relationship with my mom to begin with and when she starts looking for someone to blame, she going to land directly on me. I spend some of every day afraid of her. It’s exhausting.

But! Without the cancer we wouldn’t have had the chance to do this with her. She would have never had a therapist. And now we have the chance to get through to her, maybe. It won’t be the first time we have tried, but she’s so conscious of what other people think of her, that she’s likely to stay put and listen since it’s good manners. So there’s your latest awful, terrible, no good cancer silver lining.

I’ve Got You

I picked my father up off of the floor for the first time. He’s not a small man and I couldn’t do it alone. He fell in the hallway, crashing into the ground, into the wall, smashing his head and neck into a strange position. I slipped him to the side and watched as he quaked. My not delicate, strong as an ox, can fix everything, dad has fallen a lot lately. Usually, it’s just my mom with him and after an hour or so he recovers enough for the two of them to drag him back into a chair. Next time, 911, my mother says. I don’t think the falls really sunk in until I found myself kneeling, arms around my father, meeting my wife’s eyes.

It’s okay, dad, I’ve got you.
You sure, kid?Of course. You spent so much time scooping me up, it’s my turn now.

But the truth is, I did not have him. I was in no way certain I wasn’t going to collapse. We did it though, the three of us together, dragging him back into a chair. My mother was hiding.

The doctor doesn’t have a good reason for the falls. His cerebellum is swelling on both sides a bit, but that doesn’t explain the way he walks, the tremors, or the falls. Although, the doctor says, the are some things that signify Parkinson’s and they suspect that, if the swelling goes down and things don’t return to the usual, shitty, state of normal, that it may well be this, completely unrelated, disease.

Because of course the fuck it is.

 

By Tomorrow

Find a place to see Christmas lights, my mom says. You know the kind where the shops are decorated and the trees are strung with white lights, she says. It shouldn’t be loud, my dad says. Or crowded, or cold, and it needs to be wheelchair accessible, says my mom. Maybe the downtown walking mall, she says.

I agree that yes there is a tree, but I’m not sure about other decorations. Not the stores. And it’s all outside, I mention, and there will be a lot of people.

No, she says, the street is lined with those trees that are lit up with the teeny white lights.

You are thinking of another place, I say. I don’t know if I can find a place that meets all of these things, I say.

Well, think harder, she says. We want to go tomorrow.

Sister Mothers

One of RR’s most favorite things is to have or do the same thing as I do. She does it more with Debra than she does with me and I suppose that could be because of some complicated birth/non-birth mother thing but I’m going to assume it’s more because she’s at a stage of taking joy in finding commonalities. She loves that our hair is the same color. If it touches as we read or cuddle (I KNOW, RR cuddling!) she slyly looks at me with a giant grin and says “sisters!” This comes out more as a growling, troll-under-the-bridge sissssterrrsss but she’s a friendly troll, and I’m a friendly troll so there it is. Sisssterrrsss.

Neither Debra and I went through that my mom is my best friend period, and no one would say we look so much like our mothers at our age that we are just like sisters. I don’t want to cast myself in the role of RR’s sister since I know someday in a fit of rage she’ll probably play the “you’re not my real mother” card. So now RR says sisssttterrr motherrrsss as much as she says sisters. I’ll take it. Examples of other things that make RR say it: singing in harmony, saying the same thing at the same time, saying jinx as soon as we do it, having the same cold, ache, or ailment, liking the same ice cream flavor, and wearing the skirts at the same time. She’s a little disappointed when she hopes we’ll have the same something or other and we don’t, but she handles it gracefully.

(Rage and sorrow status: so ashamed of feeling privileged enough to have panic attacks that I’ve mostly stopped having them publicly)

The Night I Was Disappointed in Myself

When I was young, I spent hours sobbing in my room. Big, gasping, wails usually brought on by some great injustice. When I was very young, it was the white patent leather shoes a size too small that my mother insisted I not wear to church. It was the silver plastic trash sacks she would fill with our things if we left them on the floor. It was the talent show I had to miss because I forgot to bring my spelling home. When I was older, it was being the caretaker for my sisters in the summer. It was having to clean the blender my mother left out to dry on the counter, with some green protein powder clinging in scaly patches between the blades. I asked her and asked her to soak it after she used it. Eventually, you lose your temper. The point is, it was little wrongs and big ones and over and over I cried alone in my room, loudly calling for my mother, even knowing she wasn’t ever coming.

You might disagree with me. Maybe that’s the way it is. She only accomplished one thing: showing me how not to treat a child. I never felt punished or chastened. Yes, I did eventually stop crying, but I also stopped loving her a little bit at a time. There’s plenty still there, of course, but you know what I’m saying. Less.

As a grown-up with a child, there have been plenty of days when I’ve wanted to close the door on my own tiny wailing soul and walk away, leaving her to work it out however long it took. Although Debra and I do sometimes let her cry, there’s that moment you can hear it – this isn’t going to resolve in anger. Only patience and understanding. And in that I can see where my mother failed. It’s hard to take the first step, to be the grown-up, and extend a compassionate hug. 

Tonight I found myself walking in my mother’s shoes. RR rebelled, rebelled further at my scolding, and then threw a mighty tantrum. I sent her to her room and before I shut the door I told her that she could come out when she pulled herself together. It was my mother’s voice. It was my mother’s hand that slammed the door closed. And I could see exactly where she stood in that second. I went into the other room and cringed. I let RR sob on and on, even though I hated myself for doing it. She has to learn to work it out, I told myself. She has to learn

Learn what though? Learn her mother doesn’t want to talk it over? Learn bigger people are always right? She wasn’t learning respect in there sobbing. She wasn’t learning not to stamp her feet and whine. She wasn’t learning anything at all. Except, maybe, she might be learning to love me less. 

And so, I got up and, I’m ashamed to admit it, still had a chill in my voice when I opened her door. Instead of coming in, I told her that she had lost much of her reading time already and would lose more if she didn’t pull herself together. She stopped crying the moment I opened the door, red and tear-stained, but she had put on her pajamas, exactly as I had asked. That’s all I could see as I walked away. One tiny person in too small pajamas, doing her best to do what I wanted her to do even though every thing had fallen apart around us. I still felt terrible. I didn’t feel like I’d done the right thing. But I had done something.

There was silence and then her feet came tiptoeing down the hall. I just need a little bit of love, she said.

And so we cuddleded and hugged and she was all smiles for bedtime. I hope I’m a better person the next time we come to this point. But I’m pretty happy that this point didn’t come until now, six years in. I can see where I’ve walked in my mother’s footsteps and I can see where I stepped aside, not enough, but I hope far enough for RR.