I know, I know. I'm sorry. I mean well, but I've been hiding something from you all. Something big. We have a new member of the family. May I introduce...
This morning Sophia woke up to find that she'd turned six.
This called for twirling.
As you can well imagine.
Lots of twirling.
After all, it wasn't just her birthday. It was finally the day. The day she got her ears pierced. In case you're wondering, she's pretty much the ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD who doesn't have pierced ears yet. And so we went.
She got there to discover that she was a bit more nervous than she'd thought. But she picked her earrings, hopped up in the char, and sat still as a stone.
The first earring went in, and she didn't so much as blink. She was so still, Clay asked, "Did you even feel that?" She glanced at him and said evenly, "Yes. It hurt." Not enough to stop though.
She saw it through, without a word of protest. And when it was all done, she thought about it...
..and decided it was well worth it.
Happy birthday, sweet girl! You are my squirrel, my heart, my joy. You are fierce and kind in equal measures, and I couldn't love you more. Thank you for sharing these six wonderful years with me. Now your birthday is over, so take off your Easter dress already.
At church this morning I settled into the pew with the usual family chaos swirling around me. For me, though, I was mute and angry and sad in the way that only an argument before church will leave you. I knelt and tried wanly to turn from myself and toward the joy of the day. Easter. All has been made new.
In the pew in front of me was a couple I know, with their two small children. It's a terrible habit, people-watching during Mass. Especially on those days when it's harder to raise my eyes like I should. The husband reached over the head of their youngest and placed one warm hand on his wife's shoulder. She turned careful eyes to him.
"I love you," he whispered. She nodded, and mouthed the words back. She started to turn back, but he rubbed her shoulder again. She looked back. "I'm sorry about this morning," he whispered.
You know how some animals' skin can change before your eyes? Like an octopus or a chameleon? To camouflage them or display aggression? Women's faces do that too, only instead of protecting them, it exposes them.
Her cheeks flushed, and the muscles under her skin tightened. Her chin tipped up, to trap the tears that pooled in her eyes. She nodded wordlessly, and they both turned back toward the front of the church.
I watched shamelessly, tears rolling down my own cheeks. The choir burst into song, and we all rose to sing our welcome of the good news, the death and the life, the love and the loss.
My own husband's warm hand reached for mine, and I wept and sang too.
Today Clay was home from work, so he came with me to the student's Mass at Sophia's school. I love the student's Mass. The kindergarten class sits right up front and when they kneel, they grip the back of the pew in front of them, their noses barely reaching over it, like they're clinging to a bit of wood in a storm-tossed sea. And then they do random things, like today, when Sophia took a break from looking reverential to play rock, paper, scissors with the little boy next to her. She's a shark at that game.
Just a few minutes into Mass, my phone buzzed in my purse. I glanced at it. Tre. I silenced it and put it back in my purse. He was at work, and could wait.
After Mass, I pulled the phone back out and saw I had a message from him. "Hi, Mom. I cut the heck out of my hand. I'm at the emergency room getting stitches." He sounded shaken, and I stopped walking to call him back.
In the time that had passed since his call, he'd regained his calm, because he sounded positively breezy. He'd been sharpening a knife, and did he ever mention how terrible the knife sharpener was? I asked if he wanted me to come to the ER, and I could almost see him waving me off.
"Nah. I'm fine. I'll let you know when I'm done."
Throughout the day, he called or texted me occasionally to let me know what was going on. They determined that he'd sliced a tendon, and decided to transfer him to another hospital with a hand surgeon. Once he got there, the hand surgeon cut open the stitches he'd gotten, put five stitches in his tendon, and another eight or something in his hand. He had pictures, if I wanted to see them. No, don't come. His friend from work would give him a ride back to his car. He was fine. No, don't come.
I know. I know, I know, that this is the time for this sort of thing. For him to face the "effect" side of the causes, on his own. It just feels so strange, because a year ago I would have been negligent to leave him to sit alone in a hospital room. And yet, today my job was to wander the rooms of my house, with my phone in hand, waiting to hear what he was doing next, and not interfering. It was distracting, unsettling.
It felt wrong.
He came home by the afternoon, and after a couple of hours, left again to hang out with some friends. His only capitulation to my anxiety was to consent to drive Clay's car, instead of his own (Tre's car is a manual transmission, and I stand by my assertion that you need two hands to shift, because if you do it when you're stationary, you're doing it wrong).
I'm unreasonably exhausted by the whole thing. Who knew it required such energy not to do anything? It is a disorienting land I find myself in. My primary job is non action. I wish with all my heart for him to know how risky life really is, to respect the dangers around him, and at the same time, I would do anything to save him from learning that.
I wait to hear him drive in the driveway, and turn my light out so he won't know I'm waiting.
This morning I started coughing in the shower, and then I couldn't stop. I coughed and coughed until my field of vision started to close in with shimmery black diamonds. I sat down on the floor of the shower, thinking, "I am going to pass out, and at least from here I won't hit my head on anything."
But no, it passed, and as the dark receded from my view, I thought, "I am feeling SO MUCH BETTER today."
Then I sort of studied those two thoughts, side by side, and came to the conclusion that I have Stockholm Syndrome with my own body.
The truth is that I am feeling a lot better. I've been sick, really sick, for something ridiculous like three weeks now. I actually spent over a week in bed. Isn't that ridiculous? Clay was running around like crazy, getting everything done. He really is Superman.
Oh, that was a close call. I almost launched into a description of my illness. That was a narrow escape from something deadly boring. Suffice to say it started out with one thing, then morphed into something else, and ended up with bronchitis. Like I said, ridiculous.
At one point, early on, I ended up in the emergency room, mainly out of panic. I got all the tests they had on special that night, including a spinal tap. Two, actually, because the first one didn't work. Nothing showed anything because nothing ever does because I have yet to meet the doctor that took Kira Studies in medical school, which is just rude if you ask me. But after the second one was successful, the doctor told me he was done, then apologized again for missing the first time. Apologized! He was a peach of a guy, and seemed really sorry to hurt me. I shrugged it off and said it wasn't that bad, because it wasn't, and they gave me dilaudid and that was worth the entire trip. The nurse kept checking on me and I'd wave at him with a beatific smile and say, "Nothing hurts! At all!" and then I would fall asleep again. Poor Clay had to sleep in a plastic ER chair, and they didn't offer him ANYTHING.
I have a point here, what was it? Ah yes. Tomorrow is my birthday! God willing, I will wake up to be 44.
44. Huh. The way I feel about that is this: unnerved. I know I'm supposed to be embracing my wonderful, wise self, but I feel like I was pretty brave about that when 40 struck. And then 41 came right on its heels, and now - doesn't this seem to be a little out of control? Can we just PAUSE for a minute?
But apparently we can't pause. Maybe I am actually getting wiser, because it occurs to me that's actually a good thing. The only reason I get to wake up and be 44 is that I didn't pass out and drown in my shower this morning. I have successfully rejected all the opportunities the world has offered me to die, and so I get to be older than I ever have been before.
And life, well, it's the only game in town, isn't it? It's so good, and so grueling, and occasionally you even get dilaudid moments when nothing hurts at all, and the hurting that came before was worth it just so you know how sweet that is.
In case it's not clear, I'm not actually advocating drug use. Just say no. You know. Mostly.
But I do advocate celebrating the days we're given. So tomorrow I will celebrate 44 years of not dying. My family will fuss over me and it will be very sweet. Happy my birthday to everyone!
So, remember when I told you that Sophia was fine? I seem to have spoken too soon.
She's edgy and emotional, bursting into tears over issues like the "thank you" bite she's required to try at dinner. She doesn't want to go to school. She fights with her brothers, which is frankly not that unusual with the 13-year-old, but bewildering with the 19-year-old. And in the middle of the night she bellows into the dark, reciting her side of scary dreams that she doesn't remember in the morning.
All of that sounds pretty grim, but I suppose it could easily just be the pressures on a five-year-old who is realizing that life can be a little battering and school just. keeps. happening. There is, of course, that pause. That frisson of fear that something truly dark has dripped into her life, into her heart.
I hate the pause. I don't know if it's worse because she's a girl, or because she's gone, in the watch of others, all day. But it's worse, and I hate the pause.
For what it's worth (I wish I knew what it's worth), I don't think it's anything more than too many stresses at once. Sick and then sicker, followed by hurt and then hurt worse. She's weary. She's the one who needs a vacation. Or something.
Today was a beautiful, sunny day. After school, Sophia begged again to play on the playground. I reached out and hooked a finger through the loop on top of her backpack, and waved her away. She ran off, her hair a cloud around her bobbing head.
I found a spot with a huddle of moms on the side, and tried not to watch Sophia too closely. She dashed back and forth with her friends, shrieking in delighted fear during tag. And every few minutes she was back at the monkey bars, one hand on the bar above her, the other wrapped tightly around the safe bar next to her. She would lean out, testing her weight on her toes, and look down the row of bars. Then she'd tip back onto her heels, turn, and run.
I thought about the day she got hurt. She fell, and then she scrambled back up and tried again. She fell again, back up. Again. Again. At some point she faltered, turned to me and asked, "What if I fall?"
"Then you'll get up and try again," I said. And minutes later I was holding her and watching her fight for air and some way to comprehend all the pain.
It was just a fall, just a playground fall, with no permanent harm done. But life, it's full of unexpected falls. And not all of them have happy endings. This is the bar I am testing my hand on - is it my job here to urge her on toward greater potential pain? Or am I supposed to hold her back, safe and able to breathe? All I want is her life to always be full enough to light her up, yet never hit hr so hard that it extinguishes the light in her eyes.
After several passes by the monkey bars, I caught her eye. She balanced there and looked back at me. I moved over into place next to her, right next to her. Within arm's reach.
"Go ahead," I said, nodding at the bars.
"What if I fall?"
"Then I'll catch you. And eventually, you'll figure out how to fall without getting hurt again. Go ahead."
She leaned forward, paused, pulled back. Looked at me...
...and swung out into the air.
So last week, minutes after leaving a birthday party attended by her whole class, Sophia turned to me and said calmly, "My throat hurts. And my head feels spinny."
This may not sound like a startling thing to say, but Max had been diagnosed with strep not two hours earlier. So. That was good. I reached over and felt her forehead, and I swear I could feel the temperature rising under my fingers.
It was 5 PM on a Sunday, so I spent the next fourteen years (three hours) trying to find an open and functioning urgent care. We got there, and she promptly lay down on the floor to look wan.
Did you catch that part about how she had just left a birthday party? Attended by her entire class? Yeah. I'm ascending the ranks of school mothers. Totes. THAT was a fun, grovel-y email to write!
Well, needless to say, it was strep. So she missed the next day of school (the first day of ITBS testing! Ha! Schools love that!), then went back, fortified by penicillin and an obliviousness about shade directed at her mother in the drop-off line. All was well.
The next day I got a call from school, saying she'd collided with another kid on the playground, and although she was fine, there would be a report on a head injury in her backpack.
Let me just say that I question this policy, in terms of reassurance.
When I picked her up, the "head injury" turned out to be a nice bump on her forehead. She barely paused long enough to let me look at it before she shoved her backpack at me and begged to be allowed to play on the playground for a while before we went home.
Off she ran to the monkey bars. She's making great progress on them, able to swing out to the third or fourth bar reliably, which is very exciting to everyone. She tried, and dropped to the ground, and tried and dropped and tried...
...and fell hard on her butt.
I could tell right away that she hurt, by the frozen look on her face. I ran over and scooped her up, and she gasped at me, "I can't breathe. I can't, I can't breathe."
"It's okay, baby, you will. I promise," I muttered, and I held her and rocked. After an eternity, a thin wail finally escaped her throat.
Let me tell you, friend, with nearly twenty years of mothering under my belt, I have never seen a child in so much pain. She could stand, she could walk, but she could not hold still. Her skin was chalk white, except bruise-like dark circles under her eyes and that bump on her head. I carried her gingerly to the car and strapped her in. She had settled down by then, and wasn't crying so much as moaning as she writhed in her seat.
"Hey," I said with deliberate calm, "can you tell me something? On a scale from one to ten, with one being no pain at all and ten being the worst pain in your life, how bad does it hurt?"
She pushed up on the arms of her seat and whimpered, "nine."
Long story short, I took her to the doctor, who told me that it looked like she had probably cracked her tailbone. She spent the rest of the week toting a pillow to school, which I'm entirely certain did wonderful things for her test scores, so thank GOD the powers that be have settled on such a reliable way to gauge our children's progress, can I get an amen?
So that's my report from last week. In the space of a few days, Sophia had strep, an official head injury, and a cracked tailbone. She's fine now, but I need a vacation.
Today Raphael took a six foot slice of bacon to Monday school.
It was paper mache, and if I'm telling the truth, it was more like 5'7". Six feet just sounds better. He made it because they were studying 3D art in art class, and the class had a contest to see who could make the largest piece of art. He won, which means he gets extra credit in the class.
Thank God for that, because he was previously squeaking by with an A. Plus.
He's picked a high school for next year, and the truth is that I'm almost as ready as he is. It's time. He's so sparkly and interested in everything ahead of him. He's the kind of person who makes practically six foot bacon on a whim. He needs more at his fingertips than I can give him anymore. He's excited about the school he's picked, and I'm starting to make plans about what I'm going to do next, and that's fun.
But every now and then, I have a moment. Like the other day, he was working out an algebra problem on the chalk board. I don't know why the chalk board and not his paper. But nonetheless, he was standing there, in his blue hair and jammies, and I just sat and watched him for the moment. These minutes of quiet calculation, in the peace of our home and the sunshine, they're almost over.
But today he brought bacon to Monday school.
This morning it was snowing, big, fat, fluffy flakes, so instead of lining up outside, the students at Sophia's school were huddling in the cafeteria. They like to do that three times a week or so, and act surprised by the weather like we don't live in Denver or something. We get snow, is what I'm saying. Why are we even trying to line up outside in the morning after October? Why isn't there a tunnel directly from the parking lot to the cafeteria, and would it kill someone to hand out coffee to the parents? Is it just me?
On my way back out to the parking lot, I started chatting with another mom. Almost all the other moms, by the way, are about twelve. There is one other mom my age, and a grandmother who does dropoff and pickup that I really get along with. But most of the time I'm chatting away with some nice young woman, paying no attention to what she's saying, because I'm wistfully remembering when the skin under my eyes had that lovely satiny texture, instead of looking like soggy tissues. Ah well.
So the lovely young mom says hesitantly as we pick our way across the ice, "So, um, how are you guys doing with the homework?"
How are we doing with the homework? I've considered faking my own death to get out of helping Sophia with the reading group journal. I may or may not have written scathing letters to the inventor of Singapore Math (in my head). When I unzip Sophia's backpack and pull out the homework folder, the cat runs and hides, the lights dim, Sophia's pupils contract, and my heart rate speeds up.
"Homework. It's...a lot. We have tears," I said mildly, because I thought a more sincere reply might get me pulled into the counsellor's office. AGAIN.
"US TOO," she answered, relieved. We exchanged coping techniques for a little, but that quickly died off, because hers were mostly things like, "I have her write her spelling words on index cards in the car," while mine were more along the lines of, "no, seriously, I think I could pull of the whole 'faking my own death' thing."
"Well," she sighed finally, "I guess it will all be worth it. Next week, when they take the standardized tests, I'm sure we'll see the results then."
I sort of froze for a moment, thinking about that. I looked back over the years at the boys' standardized tests, and I tried to imagine anything that could matter less than a kindergartener's test scores. Then I thought with horror, what if it DOES matter? What if it affects the groups she's in or the class she moves on to? What if people ACTUALLY THINK IT MEANS SOMETHING?
I muttered something that was meant to sound positive and agreeable, and staggered off to my car (WITHOUT COFFEE). I don't know much, but I'm pretty sure about one thing here: SOMEONE does not have this whole education deal figured out.
I find it hard to write these days. I even find it hard to read my old posts, which I used to love to do, odiously enough. It's not that I'm drowning in some debilitating depression, although I just barely skim that surface some days. And yes, I am too busy by far, but that's not why either.
Today we drove up into the mountains and went inner-tubing. All six of us, and it was a perfect day for it. We pulled into the parking lot and piled out to yank on snow gear. That's when I discovered that, due to an ass-expansion issue, my snow pants wouldn't fasten. I stood there in the parking lot, frantically trying to shove myself inside the pants, like trying to tuck biscuit dough back inside the ruptured can. Not doable.
For a split second I considered stripping those damnable snow pants back off and stomping away to the lounge, where I could sit by the fire and feel viciously bad about myself. But all around me my sons milled, like a flock of noisy birds, and my daughter sat on the car seat in front of me poking her sock-clad foot in my direction and holding her boot and the hope that I would fix everything. Clay stood by my side, and asked quietly if it would be okay.
I pulled my coat down over my midsection, and tried to smooth everything as securely into place as it would go, and proceeded to wrestle with a purple boot and a foot that resisted it emphatically.
This is where the writing falls apart for me, because I teeter on the edge of a story here, a beginning, middle, and God help us, an edifying end. This is what happened, I'm tempted to tell you, and this is what it meant.
I am no longer so sure of what any of it is supposed to mean. Life has surprised me, over and over, and I am no longer so sure where I am in the narrative. I glance back at the past and hear my own voice, telling my stories, my own sureness, and I cringe.
My kids are at an age where their lives are more complicated, too, and I struggle with how much of their story is mine anymore.
Tre is not going back to college this semester, but taking classes online. He hopes to return in the fall. There has been no great crisis, but an unexpected bump in the road, and he is recalibrating. I am persistently not hoping for any specific outcome, while still believing he can find his way to a wonderful one. When people ask me how he's doing, I don't know how to answer, exactly, although the answer is that he's doing just fine. He's doing what he needs to be doing right now, and I love him fiercely.
Max has decided not to wear the hearing aids, after all. That story is long, and convoluted. In the end, suffice it to say he made the choice not to use them. I disagree with that, but it turns out that they're his ears, and even if I'm right, I don't get to choose what he does with them. Which sucks. I am learning a lot about where the lines of responsibility fall with this one, and it's hard. And I love him fiercely.
Raphael is in his final months of homeschooling. He's picked a high school, the only one of all my kids who will be attending school in the actual town we live in. Miraculous. The days he has left doing school at home dwindle and fall away, but he is also 13 years old. He is a good and dear boy, blue-haired and persistent in so many ways. I love him fiercely.
Sophia hated school at first, then loved it, and is now somewhat ambiguous on the subject. I don't feel like her teacher gets her (at parent teacher conferences, the only thing she had to say about her was, "Well, you know Sophia. She's no trouble at all."), but it's not an adversarial relationship either. There is too much homework, and too much getting up early in the morning, but we persist. There is enough to love about it, I think. I hope. I love her fiercely.
Today we sailed down a hill in bright inner tubes. We gripped each other's handles so we could slide down in a group. The snow stung our faces and the sun slipped in and out from behind deep gray clouds. We laughed and screamed and retrieved lost gloves. The boys dissapeared at times, then reappeared. Every time I stood up, I yanked my unfastened pants back up, and grabbed my inner tube, and headed for the top of the hill again. Clay (whom I love fiercely, and securely, and as naturally as breath), took my picture, because he thinks I'm beautiful.
And whatever is true, or isn't, that's what we did today, and I'm glad we did.