Hoo Boy

Want to be shocked that we’ve known each other so long? RR turned nine on Tuesday. NINE. I’m grappling with complicated feelings about it, more than any other birthday, because she’s right on the edge of Big Girl and is about to tumble headlong into Pre-Teen.

It doesn’t seem right, how can nine be almost pre-teen? How can my baby be almost a pre-teen? How can it be she wants both a phone and a doll? Both a floaty for the pool and a face mask with cucumbers for her eyes? She got all of those things (yes, I’m that mom who gave her nine-year-old a phone and I’m ruining it for all the other moms, I know, but at least it’s wifi only) but she hasn’t put the doll down for more than a minute and is ducking into her new play tent (also designed for the younger set, I think) every chance she gets.

My mom is in town for THREE weeks and I don’t think she realizes that she’s unlikely to see RR when they are at home alone together because the privacy that tent offers is way more enticing than a grandma. Today she came out of her room bearing the slinky we got and bounced it while checking her texts. I don’t know what to do with this person who is so much of the cusp of a new stage. I don’t know what to do with my own complicated emotions. I guess we’ll just keep on living here in this moment of transition and appreciate the in-betweenness of it all before it gets whisked away.

The Artist

I don’t know what sort of child I thought I’d get, but I figured she would be a regular child. Sort of good at lots of things, sort of interested in lots of things, sort of unremarkable in all those things. After all, I was that child – smart but not a scholarship winner, a strong swimmer but not olympic quality, a good enough writer but not a prodigy. My parents encouraged me to play the piano (mediocre) and go to ballet lessons (I’m more elephant than gazelle). They said my writing was strange and they didn’t come to swim meets. I was a regular child who was regular at things and I don’t feel badly about it.

RR is not a regular child. She is okay at many things and she’s moderately interested in lots of other things. Mostly, she is a talented artist. Very talented. She’s not nine yet (as if that were a magic number) and she’s in an oil painting class for the first time. She’s rolling out painting after painting. Every week I’m increasingly struck by her talent.

Let me reiterate, she’s eight. I haven’t done anything in my life as well as RR paints. It’s possible she’s mediocre and my parental blindness can’t see it but I’m pretty sure she has something special.

I don’t know how to nurture this except to keep her in art lessons. This wiggly, mischievous, scamp (she’s the very definition) is perfectly happy to paint in silence for two hours every Sunday, to endlessly practice digital drawing, and to perfect a parade of novel My Little Pony characters in her room on scraps of paper. And, of course, I stand in awe when she’s not looking.

Andrew Jackson’s Hands

We took RR to DC to visit the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Portrait Gallery to visit the Obama paintings. I was particularly excited for the latter because they are so visually interesting and well, I miss seeing that man’s face. Also, RR has never been to an art museum before and I thought that there was a good chance she’d enjoy it given the kinds of lessons she’s had at school and her general overwhelming appreciation for art.

I had no idea.

No idea that RR would find the Natural History Museum only mildly interesting (except for the Aye Aye skeleton which she knew all about…for some reason…). Though given her feelings about zoos, I shouldn’t have been too surprised.

No idea that neither dinosaurs nor diamonds would be considered “big enough”

No idea that the Portrait Gallery at dinner time after a three hour drive and two hours looking at an Aye Aye and judging dinos would be so fascinating.

No idea that a room filled with nearly all white men wearing similar suits, sitting in the same pose, painted in the same style would be the hands down most compelling thing that has happened in recent memory.

And especially no idea that Andrew Jackson and Andrew Jackson’s hands, in particular, would be the highlight of her day and would involve an intense session of investigation and examination filled with pacing and muttering and attempted caressing of the texture of the oil paint.

Who knew.

 

Eight!

RR is eight. You guys, it’s so much fun to see the delight passing to horror passing to acceptance on the faces of our work acquaintances who realize that oh my god we’ve known these people and their baby since she was in utero and it was that long ago?! Followed by (I suspect) how am I that old/how has almost a decade gone by/why are you (or I) still here? I don’t feel overwhelmed myself, just happy she’s still the delightful little person she always has been (Wolverine-ing aside) and that we’re all still coming out on the good side of life.

I don’t often think of eight in years. Sometimes it’s milestones like number of teeth lost, inches grown, clothing sizes (you guys, we’ve finally left 4T shorts behind. miracles), stuffed animals acquired, or shoes outgrown. Sometimes I think of it in terms of child development expectations: on-grade skills in reading and math, check. Increasing self-awareness and social skills, check. Behavior ups and downs, check.  I’m not proud of this, but eight sometimes is calculated in why nots: Why can’t she ride a bike? Why doesn’t she talk about friends more often? Why does she insist on liking My Little Pony? Why doesn’t she complain about playing alone? Why doesn’t she tell us about her day? Why can’t she swim faster? Why isn’t she a genius at something?

Most often I think of eight in terms of accomplishments. When I do, I’m amazed at how wonderful, smart, charming, cheerful, and strong she is. She’s an artist with skills well beyond her years. She speaks with adults with growing confidence and finesse. Her cursive writing is lovely. She reads stacks of chapter books and has preferences about what she likes (adventure) and what she doesn’t (“boring family stuff”). She writes and illustrates her own chapter books and graphic novels. She tells jokes (and remembers the punchlines). She has mastered gliding on her scooter (I never thought it would happen). She can swim (I never thought that would happen either). I finally witnessed her roll over which I say in jest but, if you’ve been following along, you know that it’s a developmental baby holdover that exemplifies RR’s nonchalant approach to growing up. Her teachers think she’s wonderful and her school is helping her grow to be independent and considerate, a gardener and nature conservator, empathetic and inventive, a herbalist and animal care-taker. I value those things far more than being a genius at something.

Eight will bring 3rd grade, a bigger backpack to hold all those books, more adventures, and a bike ride come hell or high water. Eight is also going to pack in a heap of delightful surprises, I’m sure of it. Onward.IMG_6473

 

Welcome Fairies

RR loves a fairy. I suppose it’s only fair here to note that I still believe in fairies because life is magical and just because I haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they aren’t out there somewhere. That’s fine. You can still like me for my other qualities. Don’t let fairies come between us. Camp is teaching RR lots of things, things I wish they hadn’t, things I wish I’d thought to teach her first, and things I’m hope to hope Montessori knocks clean out of her.

Fairies though, that’s fine. And so when she came home from what must have been a particularly delightful art session (only so noted because it’s the only thing she’s ever talked about enjoying. once.), and said that all you have to do to get a fairy to move in is:
make a fairy a welcome mat
close your eyes
cross your fingers
say “I wish a fairy lived here” three timesI sincerely hope that such a pattern can’t be used on all magical things because I sort of superstitiously quiver to think you can just invite…things… in. Again, we can still be friends, you and I, even though I am admittedly a bit to the left of just-like-you.

And so RR rushed to make a welcome mat, and I’d like to say for the record that it was my wife who indulged her in this endeavor, did the requisite crossing and muttering, and dictated a note just to be perfectly clear to future fairy residents that they were quite welcome.

And so I drew her a tiny door. Because wouldn’t you?

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She was over-the-moon delighted. Since she hadn’t seen the fairy she commented that it must be coming at night and, since it was on the wall adjacent to the yard, it must be a Nocturnal Mushroom Fairy. No artistic rendering of the fairy is available at this time. And wouldn’t you know, a giant toadstool grew out of the yard not too many days after, just across from the tiny door where the tiny Nocturnal Mushroom Fairy comes and goes. I’ll let you imagine just what happened when RR saw that.

 

 

The Wolves at the Door (Boundaries, Part 1)

I think we can agree on a few things:

1. The Olympics don’t come all that often. I mean, every two years if you like both curling AND shot-put. And if you’re more of a trampoline fanatic, you have to wait the full four and that takes a lot of patience. We get how many summer olympics in our lives? 20? That’s not many if you’re a devout badminton enthusiast, that’s for sure.

2. Television reception and programming is a tricky thing. I mean, haven’t most of us waited for the cable guy at least once in our lives? And haven’t you also looked at the clock at 4:50 when he said he’d be by between noon and 5 and thought, well I could call, but I’m probably not getting to watch Game of Thrones tonight.

3. And isn’t it super hard to move? I mean you have to pack all of your things and say goodbye to all of your friends. Every day you wake up to new walls and different light. Things smell different. You don’t know the fastest way to the grocery store. You want things that are familiar, of course you do, even when you really wanted to do this, you still want something familiar.

3. Family is important. And sometimes they are also assholes.

Glad we’ve gotten all that straight. I feel like I’ve done you a disservice by not telling you more about my wife’s family, the wolves. There’s this Thanksgiving post, which offers up a glimpse. It doesn’t get to the heart though. The fact is, I was raised on an entirely different planet from these people. Her family would call mine (and have, no doubt) stiff, stuffy, and formal. Memorably, Debra’s mother referred to me as fancy. My family would say something shitty and self-congratulatory about grandfather’s good choices. Take mealtimes, for example. We used cloth napkins, silver, and place cards and not just on Sundays. One memorable Christmas, my mother once refused to allow a 2-liter bottle of soda in the kitchen and the aunt (married-in, of course) who brought it, drank it in the garage. If ketchup was served, it was transferred from the bottle to a charming bowl with miniature spoon before it was served. You’re getting the idea. Suffice to say, Debra’s family is about as far as you can get from my family.

Now, I recognize that, having just moved to town, Debra’s sister, niece, and nephew, are probably a little lonely and they certainly don’t have all of their stuff. The laundry in their complex is open odd hours and we have a washer and dryer just sitting in the basement. So it’s not so weird that they dropped by while we were at work to put the laundry in. But it IS weird when, at 9:30 at night, the basement door opens and the wolves come pouring in, make a ruckus in the hall (where your daughter sleeps with the door open), plop down on the couch and stay…until 11. Their cable isn’t hooked up, you see, and our TV sure is pretty. It was unsettling and worrying. Will this be a habit? I don’t WANT to have a boundaries conversation. But just coming in? At night? So loudly? So late? My wife cannot bring this up to her sister, because there’s only one way that would go: badly. Frankly, friends, I was thinking murderous thoughts.*

And so, because I can’t cry, I bring you this piece of humor which saved my evening via text from a friend and, if this goes on, my future co-parent.

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* Note to the police, this does not indicate a desire to kill my wife. If anything, it’s a desire to change the locks, draw the blinds, and hide from her family. I promise you, I’m a proper grieving widow.

Sneaking Out

Dear Sophie’s Mom,

I understand Sophie will be picking RR up at around 11pm to go on a Secret Mission. I’m sure little Sophie will be adorable in her tiny pedal car. I’ll be sure to pack some sort of Secret Mission snack. I believe the girls will be driving about three hours and RR will be sleeping in a trailer in the back while Sophie drives. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I wonder if you might send Sophie with a tarp to cover RR since it hasn’t stopped raining all day. Also, the directions to our home have been inscribed in RR’s Tiny Book of Secrets and so I’m not sure if Sophie will be able to find us before daybreak. I’ve included it here, just in case it helps.

From one mom to another, I’m sure you had a good chuckle when your daughter announced that she was going to sleep at 7pm, in her clothes, so that she was “ready to sneak out at night for the Secret Mission.” Adorable, wasn’t it? Oh and I’d almost forgotten, since the girls are sneaking out and driving three hours to see Tyler, that scamp from Cabin 4, would you remind them no smoking, no drinking, and no sex for the next decade at least? Thank you so much. I’m sure Sophie will see RR waiting for her on the curb. At night. In the dark. To sleep in a trailer. For the Secret Mission. Please send the tarp.

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The real question – had Debra and I not faked a call from The Real Sophie’s Mom, would our daughter have crept out in the night to the street? I was willing to bet on her sleeping too soundly or being too nervous to try but Debra faded to a remarkable shade of pale pea green at the mere thought.

I admit to a teensy tiny worry though, as I hear her in her bedroom, an hour after I left the room, singing and chatting animatedly and shuffling around making noises that some might say sound very Secret Missiony indeed. Send a tarp.