Grief Beauty

Today as I was drying my hair, I noticed how unsatisfying my arms looked. I mean yes, at that angle, very few of us at this age have lovely tight upper arms. However, a year ago I remember looking in that same mirror and thinking that they weren’t bad arms. Not as terrible as I thought they were growing up. Certainly not bad enough that they deserved to be obscured by a cardigan even on the hottest summer days. Now, though. Now there’s no cardigan negotiation. These are not arms I want to be dragging around town where everyone can see.

Completely related, a year ago I was at the gym 5 days a week. I was cardio-ing away the intense sadness of watching my father die. I cried on every treadmill in the gym. I walked miles with tears streaming down my cheeks. I lifted weights I can’t imagine lifting today. I was at the gym during his final days, making an exception to my no-texting-at-the-gym rule so that I could make sure I wasn’t missing the Big Goodbye. By the time fall arrived I had stopped going entirely. I’m not even sure the gym is still there.

My weight held steady until last month when it seemed like a dam broke on the scale. I can see the extra pounds on my arms and my stomach and I am not at all happy. In fact, I think the only things I’ve done for my appearance in a year are to dye my eyelashes and cut my hair. I got tired of wiping off mascara smears every time I cried. I cut my hair because half of it fell out and it made me feel better not to be reminded every time I pulled my hair back…to go to the gym.

So now I have more weight, short hair, and brown lashes which I probably won’t dye again. My summer clothes don’t exactly flatter. I am slowly coming around to the idea of going back to the gym. If only because I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and not be unhappy. That makes sense, right? Why is it so hard to actually do it? And why does it feel like it won’t make a difference if I do?

 

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Red Sky At Morning

Sometimes I have to remind myself that nothing lasts forever. I think this when I’m in a dull meeting, yes, but also when my daughter so readily slips her hand into mine crossing the street. Sometimes I get reminded against my will, like when the neighbor behind me sends a mild message about getting my tree that’s in her yard inspected again (I know. Just know that’s the case in her eyes.) and I know that our friendly detente over tree removal might be coming to a close. Or when suddenly, midweek, with no warning whatsoever, my kid no longer asks for a lullaby before bed. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry today. Even wore the non-waterproof mascara, so that’s all I have to say about that.

It turns out that the four years of Sunday dinners we shared with my parents will be over once my mom moves away this summer. That is a welcome but hard change for our family in a few different ways. It felt hard and unsustainable many, many weeks, but there it is. Over just like that. RR suddenly has a new afterschool zookeeper teacher and the old one, the artist, is rarely there when I pick her up. I had a great boss. Now I have a new boss. You see, as comfortable as it is, nothing is permanent. And sometime there’s no warning whatsoever.

A month ago, or maybe last week, I was pretty sure we’d be in this house, in this community, at this workplace until we retired. And then some. But then I visited a different neighborhood in town with charming houses and many of the things we love about our own neighborhood (on the surface). Debra got a new job which also had many of the things she excels at (on the surface). Gradually, some of the things I had taken for granted (even while knowing things change) have evaporated. Flexible work schedules. good soil, a car that both runs and has four working windows, stable mental, physical, and financial health.

It looks like I’m far more open to a significant life change than I thought I’d be once the conditions that enabled the current state started to melt away. I had been so busy reminding myself about the small things (don’t forget to pet the dog! he won’t be here forever!), I totally forget to remind myself that the big things can change on a dime. I missed the warning signs because I’ve been trying hard not to try to read the future. Now I’m back to soothsaying again, looking for the signals, trying to see where to put the cushion before there’s a fall. Wish me luck.

 

 

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.

Another Last Time

There have been a few things I was looking forward to in RR’s life. For example, I could not wait for her to grab her tiny feet with little plump fingers. Some of them have been happy pops of joy, like the first time she came home muddy or the first time she called me mama. Some of them are bittersweet last-time moments that meant swapping out the baby to get to the child. Seemingly overnight she shrugged off the pacifier, the sippy cup, the car seat. I soaked up every last moment when she wrapped her little hand around my index finger when we crossed the street. I know we’re minutes away from the first time she tries out “mom” and the first meal she cooks us is closer than I think.

There are the sad milestones we have passed: the death of the first pet and the first grandparent. There are the less sad ones that are coming: the first best friend fight, the first public speaking nerves, the first ask-for-money bailout text. There are the ones I wish we could skip: the broken heart, the first car accident, the first unrealized dream. And there are happy ones waiting just off stage.

I have been waiting for the moment she’d fall into reading. It’s every bit as rewarding as I thought it would be to find her curled up in a chair, head tipped over the page, finger tracing along under the words. We got her a library card and set up a lamp by her bedside so she could read at night. We navigated the unanticipated need to gently scold her for reading while a friend was over and agreeing on a reasonable time to turn out the light and go to sleep.

I was prepared for the first time she slipped her hand into mine instead of holding my finger. In the months leading up to it I took a breath and cemented the memory just in case that was the last time it happened. I was prepared for the last bath and we all know that I began hoping for the last diaper change years before I did it. Not bedtime though. I completely missed it.

All of a sudden, she wants to read herself to sleep instead of sitting on my lap and reading along. Did I miss the last time she snuggled against me? She is fine with a kiss goodnight and a remind to turn the light off when she’s done reading. Did I miss the last lights-out lullaby? I didn’t commit them to memory. I wasn’t paying attention. She slipped right past me.

I encourage her to run far and run fast. To climb out of my reach and disappear around corners. I try to let her fight her own battles and trip over her own feet. But I wasn’t ready to let go of bedtime. With RR there’s always a chance of a slide backwards after a big surge like this but it’s a small consolation. It’s part of growing. Mine not hers.

 

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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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.