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

 

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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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Fairy Doors

The other day my child, who is seven and many, told me that she urgently needed help moving her new bedside table away from the wall.

Why, I wondered. After all, moving it means that it would be harder to reconstruct her tower of books which routinely collapses into a heap at bedtime.

The fairy, she urged. Her door is trapped behind the table and she can’t get out.

Well, you know I’m not going to shrug off a fairy, so off we went to investigate and after an appropriate amount of hemming and hawing, I suggested she might make the fairy a new door.

RR finished but her soul was not at peace. We couldn’t keep the table against the wall because the fairy would not know to use the new door until she came out and saw it.

A sign perhaps? Yes, she agreed, that would do.

She is seven and perfect.

 

Community

We moved to Charlottesville almost ten years ago. Before coming here I thought that the concept of “a village” was something that happened in queer collectives and groups of suburban moms who had lived in the same town with the same people since they were babies themselves. How lucky those villagers were to have carpools and potlucks and emergency sitters. Surely you had to live in some sort of neighborhood of brownstones or quirky farmhouses or anywhere in the midwest. I was nearly certain I’m not the kind of person who would be welcomed into the kind of village people praise. Too independent and private. Not bohemian or suburban enough. An impractical pipe dream.

A borrowed egg here gives way to a loaned jar of pins. Changed light bulbs and warm cookies turned into bedroom dressers and garden transplants. Sometimes it was a request without anything in return (would you help me scoop up this dead animal, please?) and sometimes it was a gift unasked for (I didn’t mind shoveling your walk, I was here anyway!). It didn’t take long to realize we had great neighbors. And then they moved and we got more great neighbors. And realized we’re pretty good neighbors, too. We’re woven tightly into the people in the village.

Debra went out of town recently and I got a direct glimpse of the strong scaffolding around us. First there was a committee of vultures in the backyard.* I put on my boots and grabbed a shovel. You guys KNOW I am in a fragile place with dead things. Fortunately, this possum was fresh. Unfortunately, there were possum pieces all over the yard. I flung the possum bits into the trashcan while the vultures sat in the trees above me considering whether I was feeling poorly enough to wait for.

Two days til trash day and I somehow came home without the requisite sticker that signals to the collection crew that we paid for pick-up. RR does not like to go back out once she’s in and so it was either deal with rageface or live with the possum (and vultures) another week. My neighbors came through with a spare sticker. Then it snowed and it appears our shovel, which had been holding up the house all winter, was nowhere to be found. Another neighbor happily provided a shovel so that I could dig out to get my wife from an airport two hours away. My wife was delayed (no drive a plus) but school was delayed the following day (not a plus). My sister-in-law agreed to take RR to school so that I could get to work on time.

I’m one of those lucky people.** Things work out for me. Debra was bumped but the airline made up for it and then some. The snow day meant I got a break from making lunches and running RR hither and yon. The delay also meant Debra arrived at the airport the same evening as my mom so that I could pick them both up at the same time and I didn’t have to make small talk with the other girl scout moms at the event RR was supposed to go to. The fence guy is giving us a discount because my wife and I are still married. Most couples, he said, don’t make it the ten years til a fence needs fixing. I left my wallet on top of the car, did a couple of errands and found it there at the third stop, snugly wedged in the roof rack. There was just enough peanut butter left in the jar and just enough milk.

It’s more than luck though. It’s the people around us. The folks that lent a hand this week were a tiny fraction of the people we’re tangled up with. If I wasn’t able to give the cat his medicine, I would have had help. If my sister-in-law wasn’t able to take RR, I could have called three different families for help. If the vultures had been more menacing, I could have called on two other healthy friends with shovels. It’s a community of the heart and I’m truly lucky to have it.

*Did you know that a group of vultures in the air is kettle, a group of feeding vultures is a wake (shudder), and a group of vultures hanging out on the ground in your not-at-all-rural yard is a committee?

**It’s a matter of perspective though. 3:33-3:47 And if you think the science of luck is as interesting as I do, this.

Independence

We are sliding headlong into a giant pool of sweet independence. I hope RR is enjoying this as much as I am. I think I can see the place where the constant effort to keep another person alive and unharmed ends and the cautious optimism that they will reliably do this for themselves begins. I’m pretty sure the pot at the end of this particular rainbow is Staying Home Alone.

We’re solidly in the realm of drop-off birthday parties. There are still some parents that hang around but, for the most part, the packs of children maraud at will interrupted only by generous smearings of cake and ice cream. She can make herself a sandwich and get a glass of water so even though it’s pretty much prison, she’d survive. She goes to her bedroom and plays or reads for more than an hour at a time. I suspect she wouldn’t even notice if I weren’t in the house. Yesterday I was outside for an extended period of time, first talking with the fence repair guy and then clearing out all the possum pieces some renegade vultures had left lying around.* RR was utterly unconcerned.

If she had a phone, we could practice calling 911 and that will be the clincher for me. She turns eight (I KNOW) in June and I think that’s old enough for her to stay home alone for short periods of time. I get giddy thinking of the things I can do. I can go to the grocery store unaccompanied! I can go to the grocery store without having to listen to RR’s sass about how she doesn’t want to go! I can go to the gym! I can take the dogs for a walk with my headphones! I can have a cup of coffee and write in a coffee shop like an adult! It’s a whole new world.

This is exciting territory, folks.

 

 

 

*I’d like to point out that we live IN A TOWN and not in some unchecked wilderness. IN A TOWN where I should not be besieged by vultures.