Right Now

RR started the third grade last week. I thought about getting myself a walker and and AARP subscription and then she flashed me and waggled her butt and I figured we had a few years left. She’s more though, in every way. Longer legs, stronger arms, she eats more, she tells more jokes, she has more friends, she says she’s doing geometry, I see her reading books with words like persnickety. I love this new bigness and the unexpected developments it brought along. She rides roller coasters now, fast ones, grown-up ones, and she greets the terror with laughter. Which goes a long way toward describing RR generally.

She’s not fearless but she is right in the center of any given moment. When she gets off the roller coaster she’s laughing, not because she wasn’t scared in the middle, but because that moment passed and now it’s all bright sunshine and smiling faces and the thrill of having done something daring. She she does it again and again because the fear, it happens, but she lands on exhilaration every time and that’s enough. She has always been this way.

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This picture of her four-year-old self shows perfectly how she sinks down deep into every experience. Here, she’s picking raspberries under the jasmine and a particularly spindly tomato plant. I can almost hear her softly humming. I know none of the raspberries made it into the house that day. She’s our garden fairy. She’s of the moment. There are times when I think she can’t possibly last and we can’t possibly keep her.

That got more grim than I expected. And after that adorable picture, too! This has been motherhood for me this year. Constant U turns back from anxiety and what if into the here and now. Start again. And again. It’s not too bad. It reminds me to stay right there with RR, in that moment with her, relishing every last second. But, since it seems sort of contradictory to say all that and not do it, here’s eight.

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Down With This Particular Sunscreen

I’ve never been so happy to have sent RR to what some of our friends lovingly refer to as “the chicken school”. And while they do tend the chickens, they also tend a garden, act as custodians to the local wildlife, make herbal teas, read, keep a fish pond to grow fish to eat, do complex math, paint, and play. Apparently I need to add activism to the list because the sunscreen petition I signed this week was a work of art.

Because you’d have to be a dedicated zoomer, here is the text of the three foot long petition, spelling uncorrected:

CHANGE THE SUNSCREEN:
a teacher sined it.
it is slimy
it makes us sweat
it is icky. WE hate it.
it smells.
got a sunburn with it once.
it stings on scratches.
it swelled up a mosquito bite [Inset: “this did happen” with drawing of wound for proof.]
you haft to take off the top to get it on you then it spills on the floor you can’t get it up you can slip and get hurt.
it is easy to get it in your eyes.
[Inset: A picture of the sun. Written on the sun it says “ha ha I will burn you” Under the sun it says “because the sunscreen does not (underlined) work”]
it soaks into your skin.
your eyes water a lot when you put it on your face.
[Inset: Picture of a beetle saying “OW”]
when you want to play on the monkey bars your hands will slip and you will fall and get hurt.
does not (underlined, emphatically) work [Inset: picture of a head/face with red cheeks, forehead, and nose.]
we hate it
WE HATE (underlined) THE SUNSCREEN
it is only 30 percent other sunscreens are way more than 30!
it says “fragrance free” but it has a strong fragrance.
it burns our face [Inset: sad smiley face]
it spills a lot (underlined in bold)
we want a CHANGE (in orange marker)

This is all accompanied by a well-done doodle of Wilma Flintstone proclaiming “I hate Terra Sport” and a page of glorious signatures which I haven’t included although I very much wanted to. Some of the signatories include “parent of X” and “x, the Boss”, “teacher X”, “X the dad of X”, tiny writing, big writing, first names, both names, cursive and not, and one parenthesis after a teachers name in which is scrawled “(As long as it doesn’t have chemicals)”.

I proudly added my signature to the thirty other names. RR has complained before that it stings but it’s sunscreen, I trust the school, and I realize it’s practically impossible to keep 30 sunscreens separate. I’m going to tuck this memory away for the next time she brings home a sheaf of beautiful drawings but blanks when I ask her what 2 x 5 is.

And You Get A Trophy, And You Get a Trophy…

I have opinions about participation trophies. Not that I’d begrudge a kid a little trophy for showing up, I just haven’t particularly supported that approach as a way to motivate or reward them. You know the arguments – hard work is the reward, they won’t value real trophies, it dilutes the work of the kids who deserved them, etc. As with everything parenting though, everyone has an opinion and everyone is right.

RR received a trophy for swimming this summer. She had just barely graduated past Flailing and Sinking when we signed her up. We didn’t put sign her up for meets at the start since it wasn’t at all clear she’d survive the experience. Thank goodness for lifeguards. I was also concerned that swimming would go the way of soccer where we spent most of our time watching her pick flowers and pass the ball to friends who hadn’t had a turn yet, her team or not. Or perhaps ballet, where she spent her time gazing in the mirror. I wasn’t at all confident this would be a success.

But she liked it. RR, who spends a lot of time being neutral about things, actually liked swimming. So we signed her up for swim meets. And she liked those too, once she got over the disappointment of it not being a swim meat.

RR: Mama, what kind of meat will it be?
Me: A swimming compitition, where you race the people next to you.
RR: Yes, but what kind of meat will they put in the pool? Pork? I’m hoping for pork.
Me: …

She wasn’t good at swimming and she didn’t win a thing. In fact, she mostly kept other little girls from coming in last. But she went to practice everyday. She tried hard. She coped with the weekly disappointment of not getting a ribbon and of not coming close to winning, even in the slowest heats. She has even been enthusiastic about the idea of continuing over the winter.

This weekend we had the awards ceremony for the close of the season. The look on RR’s face when they called her up was priceless. She was amazed and shocked and grateful and overwhelmed. She kept holding it above her head as all the kids came to the front, bouncing with excitement. She high-fived her friends (RR has friends!). She was breathless when she came to the back to show us. I had no idea that a participation trophy could make such a big impact on a tiny person. She was so proud of herself and it was clear – that little gold swimmer packed more motivation to try harder and get better and go faster than anything anyone could have said to her.

So here’s to yet another milestone: participation on a team and motivation to do it again.

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

 

The Variety Show

I don’t know if you did this as a child, or if a child does this to you, but RR does most of her deep thinking with Debra. Usually at night at bedtime, she unrolls a carpet of insecurities woven of dying, loss, and the future. The last two years have been difficult ones and it’s not something we’re overly concerned about. In fact, I’m glad she’s safe enough to use that time to explore those fears*.

Although the topics and timing are different, sometimes I’m the listener. Today I got to hear, at length, about her worries regarding today’s Variety Show. I suppose you’re not meant to celebrate this sort of thing but I was silently happy to hear it. Every so often, the Iron Curtain drops and we get to hear about life at school/camp. This week we got a deluge – she doesn’t actually need a snack this week or last (that might have been nice to know before the last day of camp); she loves egg salad, celery if it’s IN the egg salad, and, zucchini if it’s IN bread; she desperately wants a Pokemon stuffed toy; and, she was in a variety show last Friday and will be again today.

Well, this is a development. RR has long resisted public performance of any kind. It turns out that not only is she in the variety show, she has designed the bit that she and her friends** will do, and not everyone in the camp is performing, which makes her participation even more remarkable. I know you’re dying to know, but all I got to hear was that it was “a bird and cat” piece. This performance has issues though (like all do) and here’s a glimpse of what she’s facing today:

  • Stella’s costume includes a very long bird tail. No one know why she wants it to be that long but what if they trip on it?
  • Lyla keeps disappearing and no one know where she goes
  • Izzie keeps forgetting to play the xylophone and she’d probably be okay if it weren’t for having to do Lyla’s part.
  • Because what is Lyla even doing?
  • June keeps acting crazy
  • And perhaps most importantly (besides where IS Lyla going) is what if no one likes it?

I don’t know why she wasn’t nervous last week or, if she was, why she only mentioned it this week but so it goes with RR. We finished up the car ride with tips and advice that she’s heard before. Other kids are nervous. Other kids are worried no one will like their part. Adults get nervous and worried. We revisited the quirks Debra and I have before speaking in public. And concluded with one suggestion: when you get out there, meet their eyes, pause to breathe, and smile. They will always smile back. Always.

I hope the Bird and Cat is not a serious piece because that wasn’t the best piece of advice for a drama.

*I’m pretty sure this exact sentence is straight out of an early aughts parenting advice column. Believe me, I’m not proud of myself for saying it. But it’s true and also, who misses an opportunity to say early aughts? I had to do it.

**To be clear, it seemed like RR had no friends for a long time until we realized she just didn’t tell us about her friends or, more commonly, many other children were friends with her even though she was impartial. I’m not sure whether these are friends, recruited classmates, or the heap of younger girls that follow her around, but does it matter in a Bird and Cat show?

 

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.

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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