A Smaller Loss

I don’t know if there’s a post marking the arrival of my parents and the subsequent overhaul of life. I looked but didn’t try too hard which I think is a good summary of how I feel about the last four years. When we suggested they consider this state over their current one and over the two inhabited by my sisters, we did so partly for their sake (better medical care! lower property taxes! four seasons!) and partly for RR’s, who otherwise would have, at best, annual contact with her only set of grandparents. It was not for my sake. I think that much is clear.

We had dinner with them, and then my mom alone, every Sunday. Our lives changed in dozens of small ways and some very significant ones. We have new electricity in the basement and new plumbing in one bathroom but the lights are crooked and the silicone lining the sink is shifty at best. Weekend relaxation ended at 3pm but we had multiple Sundays on a porch, in the fall air, with the scent of apple pie and pot roast wafting through the house. I got to spend the last two years of my father’s life with him and that’s unquantifiable. There are no more sentences for that because I can’t do it justice.

We were right that the medical care would be important. The property taxes didn’t turn out to be lower. And, in the end, winter is why my mother is moving away. That’s the kind reason, the one she drags out for friends. It’s so cold, she says, and my other daughter is in Arizona. That’s true. It’s the family she’s spent the least amount of time with and the daughter she probably likes the best. Although, to be fair to my other sister, it’s just me she doesn’t click with. But mostly, here is where my dad died. I don’t think she can get away fast enough.

As we come up on the moving date, I’m parts sad for RR and part happy for Debra and I. This is going to reduce stressful conversations and increase weekend opportunities. I’ll be able to take a deep breath. We won’t have to move a tv, or bring over supper, or change plans for anyone but us. She’ll be happier on the other side of the country. To be honest, I also could use a break from the constant reminder that my dad is gone. In the end, RR seems to be the only casualty. It’s (hopefully) the final loss in two years of losses. And just think, now we have an excuse to vacation in Arizona again!

 

Advertisements

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?

 

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?

 

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.