Tell Them You’re a Mama

The last two weeks have been a slog. Not caused by any one thing in particular, just the general press of life day in and out. I’ve been so busy at work that my wrist started to hurt from typing. Then there was less typing and more meeting and my ass started to hurt from sitting. Finally there was more teaching than sitting or typing and I got a cold for my efforts. These are not actual problems*. Still, September has been oppressive in its unrelenting pace.

And then I got a UTI and I hated the world. Especially the insurance company whose machines were down and couldn’t process my prescription. I spent any free time I could find (and that is rare these days) working on it, including the ride home where I called both the main insurance company (we can’t help you ma’am) and the prescription insurance company (the system is just down, ma’am, I don’t know when it will be back). RR was deeply concerned about me because, as you know, all things urinary are in her wheelhouse. Her little brow wrinkled more and more as I talked and she kept repeating, “Just tell them you’re a mama!” as if that would magically move mountains.

Sometimes Being a Mama feels like moving mountains, and sometimes you take a moment to ignore the burning when you pee and realize how grateful you are to have someone who thinks it’s the most important job in the world.

 

*I live in Charlottesville

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Ting

For us, seven is the magic age of “what will I be when I grow up?” Now, her mother and I are pretty good examples for both doing what you love and doing what to have to in order to earn money while not killing your soul. And while we don’t want her to fall prey to the Dream Job syndrome (i.e. nothing is good enough if it isn’t The One), we also don’t want her to feel like she has to pick a path, prepare for it, and stick with it. At least, not forever.

The first job she reported wanting was a queen. She announced this about a year ago along with her plans for future residency (our basement) and children (two, twins, girls, who her mother and I will take care of). That was six. At seven we have a more practical job – an art teacher. Both residency and child-rearing strategies remain the same. I say practical with a bit of hesitation, I admit. She’s certainly talented, but is being an art teacher really a viable career choice? But then again, who am I to think it might not be? Besides, she’s seven and she’s still working on core skills like reading, math, and toileting (do not even get me started).

Art teacher sounds more realistic than queen and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was actually “art teacher with a tattoo artist side hustle.” Man, does this child love to draw on herself, others, walls, curtains, floors, etc. She loves the look of body art generally and begs for face-painting at every opportunity. She doesn’t ask for much else so this is a noticeable (and consistent) request. In fact, if she had free access to temporary tattoos, she’d plaster them all over her body. Which brings us to her latest efforts.

While at the pool this weekend, RR disappeared from view for 20 minutes. Debra was with her and looked all over but it was crowded and she was missing. When she reappeared, she had a large, glitter tattoo on her forearm spelling out the name of a new internet service provider in town. Yes, my child emblazoned herself with a glitter tattoo that turned her into a walking billboard. Best of all, she proclaimed, “This will last for THREE WEEKS!”

Giving the scrubbing I insisted she give it in the shower last night, I think it will, in fact, last three weeks. Can we at least get a discount?

TING

Don’t Say a Word

A week before her seventh birthday, RR had her last accident.

I mean, it was the last recorded accident, not to imply there will never be another. SHH. You guys! Do not tempt fate.

But, it has been…26 days. That is the longest dry streak we have ever had. Of course, she’s fucking seven, but that makes it even more of a win, right?

I would like to just sit here and revel in the sweet-smelling dryness of it all. I have a sensitive nose and her tendency to sneak drawers carrying poop surprises into her dirty laundry meant we frequently were perfuming our entire neighborhood with the smell of freshly washed human feces. We quickly learned that our lovely new washer and its water saving features mean that sneakshit does not rinse out in the wash so much as dissolve and coat all the clothes uniformly. Not only that, but they frequently pass a low-grade sniff test when wet only to get into the dryer and WHAM! poop neighborhood. Exhausting.

When she was two and we worried, our physician said “she’s only two!” When she was three and we worried, the school shrugged it off and gently offered potty training pamphlets. When she was four, we dragged her to a sensory specialist who told us that RR being who RR is doesn’t have anything to do with bladder control. At five, we despaired and got a doctor’s note for school, took her to a urologist, and visited another sensory specialist. At six, we took her to the urologist (again) and a gastro specialist who, at the end of a very long day of exams, gave her cookies and diagnosed chronic constipation. It wasn’t until the tail end of six that we were down to one or two accidents a week.

She’s in a camp that she loves (vs last year when she peed in her pants all day every day) in a building that she knows (vs a long walk to a restroom) that has a beautifully appointed, quiet bathroom for her to use (qualifications, apparently, for seven-yr-old dryness). On a recent trip with us she also stayed dry through naps in the car, time changes, and unstructured chaos. That’s not unusual though, all of the other promising streaks have also occurred while she was with us. I’m afraid that when she transitions back to school (same building, no access to that particular bathroom), all of this will be lost. I’m very, very hopeful that a summer of being so dry will make being wet seem startling instead of the norm.

Then we can work on getting through the night. But can I tell you something? I could give a giant flying fuck if she stays in a pull-up until she’s sixteen as long as she stays dry during her waking hours. Her butt’s tiny. It could work.

 

 

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.

changeling

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.

pics

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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In the Weeds

So you guys, I’m struggling every day over here. Struggling with inner guilt and pressure, the physical and mental health of my parents, a constant longing for my sisters to help with this terrible cancer, money, my relationship, my professional success. It manifests in the weirdest ways. For instance, I spent a good five minutes this morning worrying about the amount I’m contributing to retirement which may sound reasonable but, given that it is not even remotely an issue, was five minutes too much. In the five hours I’ve been awake, I have also had to haul myself away from the traps of:

Whether RR will ever ride a bike
How I have failed as a parent for not knowing how to teach her to ride a bike or swim
Whether my blood pressure was too high
Why that guy at the gym just can’t follow the rules
How to write reference letters for three people for the same job
Why I want to eat sweet things for breakfast or whether I would kill my wife if I didn’t
Why the school board meeting is tonight and not on the regular fourth Monday
If someone broke into the car
If I would get arrested for not having my license (this, after confirming I did have it)
How warm it is and what that is doing to iceburgs, seals, and polar bears
And New York and Miami
Why I am tired of eating
Whether I would cry at my therapy appointment on Thursday
Whether I cry enough or too much
Why my wife and I don’t take advantage of our alone time
Whether we would ever have alone time when we didn’t feel like just being still
How much I miss childless Saturday afternoons
If my new boss will want me to keep more regular hours
Why I am worrying about that when the position hasn’t been posted or even written
How we will ever get our grass to regrow
Whether I am going insane

It certainly doesn’t help that we’ve been through the wringer with my parents in the last two weeks. My father asked me if I couldn’t just pray away the gay. My mother ignored me when I told her. She spent the week not speaking to us and denied it ever happened while also complaining about her entire life to my sisters and copying me. Which only reminds me how much help she needs help. And also of my dad’s cancer which has visibly taken its toll in the last two months. This leaves me thinking hateful thoughts, like how it would be better if he just passed away in his sleep which is no one’s fault but my own.

I started getting daily texts from Shine which have a pithy saying (Today: “Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.”), then suggest a general plan of attack (Today:”Give yourself positive motivation through action. Take one small action to help you feel present.”) and sum it all up with some strategy (Today: “Stop waiting for the perfect time to write that short story, your dissertation, or a thank you card. Just do it.”) And so, while what I suspect I need is to resume a meditation practice, instead I’m spending 10 minutes writing to you, which is often just as good.

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.

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)