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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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)

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.

Six-Year-Old Cursing

Have I mentioned to you how much we love camp?

RR has been learning lots at camp. She is learning things mostly from the 8 and under set which gives a certain sort of spin that makes you wonder what’s going on in their little minds. Certainly they are importing parents, brothers, aunts, neighbors, sisters, friends thoughts and beliefs but in a distilled way that makes you wonder what was actually said on the other end of the line.

The first time she came home chattering about her newfound religious beliefs, Debra and I gave each other the side eye. What on earth was going on at definitely-not-church-affiliated camp? It was disconcerting to be participating in a sort of theological game of telephone where some child’s parents said one thing, that child told my child, and I was hearing some rendition that had been hybridized by two people who can’t tie their own shoes. We let it lie. On the whole, it’s harmless. In fact, it’s helpful. Better to start out knowing that everyone has beliefs and opinions and not everyone has to have the same ones.

On the other hand, the swearing I could do without. Surely RR’s school has prevented a fair amount of conversationally-transmitted blight and I have no doubt that the new school has just as low of a tolerance. But camp found us at dinner the other night and between bites she asked, “Mama, what’s the f-word?”

I don’t know how Debra’s mother handled this priceless piece of childhood, but mine was more than happy to tell me what words meant just so long as I a) didn’t use them and b) didn’t ask about the wrong ones. I’m in the words have power camp and if you really know what a curse word means, a female dog for instance, the power to hurt gets sidelined a bit. I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt at all, but we have A LOT of words, and there’s no need to rely on a few ridiculous ones when you really want to let loose.

So I told her and she nodded. And I mentioned that it was fine to say it in her bedroom or to herself but that she couldn’t use it in public. Fortunately, she didn’t ask me what sex was because that’s a conversation not covered in What Makes A Baby and that’s as far as we’ve gotten. Then we moved on to the a-word and the b-word. We all had a good chuckle at the s-word since we covered that one extensively the time the bed broke. After that though, she asked what the c-word was and there’s something deeply wrong about saying the word cunt at the dinner table. That was about the time that Debra mentioned that under no circumstances was RR to be the one enlightening her friends. Tell them to go ask their mothers, she said.

The rest of the dinner was spent with RR muttering fuckfuckfuck quietly in between bits of broccoli.

We were not nearly as composed when she was talking to a toy in the backseat and she said shut up. We were on her so fast I think I saw her head spin. Not in our house, not in our car, not in a box, not with a fox. No ma’am. She said it one more time under her breath and I thought Debra would pull the car over and take her out by an ear. Thanks camp, for everything.

 

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.