Today

school_busToday my baby girl started Third Grade.  You’d think the summer had barely passed us by the way she hopped her way to the bus stop, new backpack on her shoulders, as if it was old-hat by now.  I was at my designated spot in the car across the street, an “acceptable” distance away so I can still ensure she’s safe, but not too close that she appear uncool to have mom trailing around.  I watched her with her friends, laughing, reconnecting.  Smiling as she got on the bus, grinning while she made silly faces at me when it passed by my car on its way off the block.  I managed to keep the tears at bay until she was out of sight, though it was harder to ignore the desire follow the bus the way I did her first day of Kindergarten.  I was almost as emotional today as I was that first school day four years ago, though for completely different reasons.  Such different feelings, such different milestones.

Today we documented this milestone, with pictures and hugs (too many, by her account).  Third Grade is a big deal, you know.  But a bigger deal is my hope for her this year, as she heads back into that school that she knows so well.  We’ve had some really big struggles over the past couple of years; some we’re still facing.  And she’s working so hard to overcome them; we all are.  So today, as I managed my tears while I went on to start my own morning, I thought of all of the anticipation this school year brings – good and bad – and all that goes along with it.  Not the least of which was the simple hope that this first day go well for her; there seemed to be so much riding on first impressions today, for some reason.

Today I was relieved to talk to her, and get a good report.  She was happy to see her friends, really liked her teacher, loved her new room (they have two ceiling fans, and they have carpet!), and had a great time at after-care.  She was in a fantastic mood for the rest of the night as a result; which doesn’t always happen.  It was the best possible outcome.

Today we read her favorite book before bed, and the main character (also grade-school age) mentioned how embarrassing it was to find notes from her mother in her lunchbox.  I occasionally did this last year for her during times that she was struggling, or seemed to need an extra pick-me-up.  I asked her what she would think about me doing that again this year, whether that would be okay.  She looked at me sideways and said, “So NOT cool, Mom.  But you CAN say ‘Peace out, YO!’, that would be cool.”  The way she said it was so smooth and full of bravado, all I could do was laugh.  Then Daddy laughed, then she laughed too.  It was a great happy moment.

Today I put her to bed without incident, and listened to her bubble and chatter and tell me about her favorite parts of her day.  Then after she fell asleep I snuck back up to watch her slumber a while, like I do every so often, just to soak in the silent serenity that is the beauty of my daughter.  All eight years full.

Today my baby girl had a GREAT first day of Third Grade.  And tonight I breathe a little easier and am grateful.

Goodness Shines Through

Violence. It’s everywhere lately, isn’t it? On the news, television shows, the papers; you can find it without even having to look for it. It’s so prevalent, we almost get used to it, I feel. Reports of fights, murder, abuse, rape. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t encounter some sort of story on at least one of these items somewhere. What a world, right?

Even television; violence seems to be a central plot-point to the most popular shows today. How many “CSI” series are running concurrently now, anyway? And can you have a Crime Scene Investigation without first there being a crime? Well, no, you can’t. And it seems to be worsening; many of the shows that came out last year were pushing the envelope way more than just your run-of-the-mill ‘CSI’. I’m talking about things like ‘Hannibal’ and ‘The Following’. Sure, great drama; but if you’ve checked any of them out, they’re extremely heavy on the graphic from a violence perspective. And they’re not alone. Thing is, they’re huge hits. Which makes me wonder, why the desire for more?

I’m not innocent, here. I watch my fair share of crime shows; though I stay away from the graphic ones. I can stomach them, but I choose not to. They simply turn me off. But I also see violence in shows and movies that don’t necessarily have that as their central theme. Sometimes, it’s part of the purpose of telling a story, so I get it. It’s part of life. And as I mentioned, it’s everywhere lately. So you can imagine my surprise when it hit me in the face last night when I watched a movie and was completely caught off guard…

It was a great movie; lots of themes about fathers and sons, responsibility, etc. It was a quick scene about two high school acquaintances coming to blows, only one got the upper hand and really took it out on the other. I mean really went at him. The other one was badly injured, wound up in the hospital; it was rough. Even rougher on me was the fact that this type of violence has touched my life in the past, and this particular scene hit way too close to home. The age of the actors, the sounds of the fighting, the boy lying on the ground. I was instantly transported back to another time entirely, unsuspectingly; and what would have just been some random violence in a movie took on a whole different feel.

I remembered vividly the phone call about the attack; though this one wasn’t from classmates, it was unprovoked and unexplained from strangers, and more violent. I remembered feeling helpless, with nothing I could do until being allowed to come to the hospital. Desperately wanting to go there as fast as I could while simultaneously wanting to avoid it at all costs because I was terrified at what I would see. Once I did arrive, using every bit of strength I had to conceal my fear and worry so as to appear calm when he saw me so I didn’t upset him more. Gathering in that small room with rows of chairs and solemn faces while strangers with scalpels and sutures put him back together. Waiting to find out if it would all be okay, if HE would be okay, all the while knowing that no matter what magic they worked in that operating room, nothing would ever make it OKAY.

All of this rushed over me in a matter of minutes while I sat on the couch, movie paused, remote in my hand, tears running down my face. It’s been years since all of this took place; and yet it came back so quickly, like only yesterday. Since then I’ve seen someone I love break in more ways than just bones and body. Violence has a way of permeating everything it touches like a virus and spreading outward; like a dark cancer. Untreated, it will consume your whole being.

I would guess that’s partly why I struggle, at times, with being the overprotective mother to my now 8-year-old daughter. It’s difficult, as she grows, to let her have the wings she needs; to not hover so much. To let her ride her bicycle with her group of friends down the block as they laugh without a care; let her run through the backyards of sprinklers and games of ‘tag’ so freely. Because I know what lurks when you don’t watch closely enough; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It’s an image you can never remove.

But you can fight it. You can be vigilant. You can attack that cancer with light and goodness and send it back to its hole where it belongs. How do I know this? Because I’ve seen that broken boy heal. I’ve seen him overcome demons in ways I never would have imagined, and some he is still fighting. Is he unchanged? Not even close; nor are we. Violence leaves scars on everyone it touches. But if we let it keep us down, then it wins; the cancer keeps spreading. Only when we fight back – even when it seems hopeless – only when we dig out of the darkest pit and move forward past the broken places, that’s when the healing becomes the victor. That’s when the goodness shines through.

Do You Believe In Magic?

Tooth PillowMonkey lost another tooth the other day. She was excited to again put it in her tooth pillow, go to sleep, and wake to find out what the Tooth Fairy would bring. After I tucked her in, however, it wasn’t long before she ambled out to the living room, a somber look on her face. I asked her what was wrong, and she quietly said “Momma, you lied to me.” It was then that I saw what was in her hand; the small little container that usually lives at the bottom of my jewelry box within which I keep her baby teeth (some of you may remember me talking about this before here). Then, it all came together, what was really happening. The veil of mystery had finally been lifted for my almost-8-year-old daughter; she knew.

She went and sat sadly on the stairs, head hanging down. She told me she knew I was the Tooth Fairy because I had all her teeth, and the notes the Tooth Fairy had left her. She asked again why I had lied. At first, I didn’t know what to say. I try, most of the time, to be as honest with her as I can; but this was a clear violation, and I had no way to counter it. So I knelt down next to her, and simply told her what was in my heart.

I shared that sometimes, Mommies and Daddies have a hard time letting go of their babies. It’s difficult for us to see them grow into big girls. When they’re little it’s so wonderful to see them play and imagine and believe in all the magical things that little kids do. So occasionally, Mommies and Daddies do things to help the magic stay around just a little longer, even though maybe we shouldn’t. She said, “Like pretend to be the Tooth Fairy?” I nodded yes. It was then that the most amazing thing happened… My girl looked up at me with her big blue eyes and said, “But Momma, I won’t ever stop believing in magic, no matter how big I get.” I almost didn’t know what to say, I was so struck by the weight and beauty of her words. “Me either,” I whispered, as I leaned over and hugged her as tightly as I could.

If that’s not evidence of magic, in itself, I don’t know what is.

We All Need To Be Rocked Sometime

lion-hugWhen I picked my daughter up this evening, she looked tired.  It was warm here today; her face was flushed, as if she was overheated.  She seemed a bit standoffish, not greeting me right away.  Then when she spoke, she was speaking in baby-talk.  Regressed syllables, clipped sentences.  It took me a bit of time to get her moving towards the car.  She wanted to be silly; not follow directions, play games, dawdle, etc.  I had a feeling I was in for a long evening.

My daughter is seven.  She is bright, beautiful, curious, empathic, and extremely loving.  She’s been facing more than her fair share of challenges lately, which leave her more often than not wounded and wondering.  Not much different from the rest of us, really, though we have the luxury of life and learning and how to bounce back better than a seven-year-old now, don’t we?  The regressive speak is a product of feeling vulnerable, and a yearning for being nurtured.  I also gather it’s related to spending time recently at her grandparent’s with her 18-month-old cousin; watching him being coddled and cared-for in a way reminiscent of what she feels she’s needing, when she is expected to be the “big girl” in the room must be especially frustrating for her at the moment.

The toddler-talk continued for the entirety of the car ride home.  I did my best to calmly tolerate it, while also reminding her to use better words.  When I could tell her frustration level was rising, I tried instead to shift topics or distract with music rather than continue to correct.  There’s a time and a place, and an over-tired child won’t soak in the message anyway, so why hammer it in?

When we got home I focused on minimizing her stimulation level (no television), and maximizing her comfort level (giving her my full attention).  I put on some music and we played a game together while Daddy cooked dinner.  As she continued with the tiny words, I tried a different approach.  I told her that I knew it might feel safe to pretend to be little sometimes, but think of all the things she would miss if she didn’t grow up?  Measuring how tall she was against my chest, riding the bigger slides at the water park, getting to go on overnights with her Girl Scout troop.  Those were pretty cool things that only big girls got to do, and she surely wouldn’t want to miss out on those, right?  She answered back in her normal seven-year-old cadence and added a few of her own achievements – getting tall enough to no longer use a car seat, riding the cooler roller coasters, and tackling me when she hugged me, which she then proceeded to do.  After the tackle, she got quiet, looked up at me, and said, “But what about rocking, what if I get too big for rocking?”

I pulled her onto my lap and held her close.  I told her, “You will never be too big for rocking, baby.  We all need to be rocked sometime, even big people like Mama.  I’ll always rock you, no matter how big you get.  Promise.”  Then she clung to me tightly for what seemed like a moment in between worlds – where baby and big girl and Mama all blended together in one swirly thought – and we just rocked there, together.

I don’t even remember who won the game…

Into the Wind

Piglet-goes-against-the-wind

As I left my office building today, the wind was blowing.  Not just a slight breeze, but a real guster.  My hair kept covering my eyes, forcing me to readjust my load to clear them so I could see my way.  As luck would have it, I had parked quite a bit farther from the entrance than normal this morning, which only extended my path.  As I made my way to my car, I found not only was my view compromised, I was actually fighting against the wind just to walk, as I was headed directly into it.  It just so happened that also, at that moment, I was anxiously hurrying to pick up my daughter due to an issue at her day care.  I tried to walk rapidly, but every step I took into that damn wind seemed more and more arduous, like I was fighting against everything just to reach my goal.  My goal of getting to my car, getting out of that parking lot, getting to my daughter.

Honestly, most of this week has felt like that; like walking into the wind.  For the most part, my husband and I often count our blessings when it comes to our daughter.  We have markedly few complaints; she is healthy, brilliant, and thriving.  But we have had a particular set of challenges this year we’ve been working on improving with her that occasionally rear their head.  And when they do, they leave me feeling – as a mother – short-handed, confused, deficient and heart-broken.  Like that wind is relentlessly battering against all of us as we fruitlessly try to walk directly in its path, once again.

I know, overall, we are making progress.  I can see it in her, in us.  I know the wind does not blow all the time.  And I will try to remind myself that during those times it is gusting, and we are staggering against it, those are the moments we are becoming stronger; we are learning to weather it, together.  And we will, eventually, reach our destination; as blustery a path as it may be.  We just have to keep moving forward, even if it is into the wind.

Blood, Sweat and George Washington

The ups and downs of parenting; unpredictable, sometimes unmanageable, and yet often immensely enjoyable.  Case in point – my daughter; she alone is a 7-year-old ball of volatility.  Combine that with parental efforts at lab work, random rites of passage and motherly attempts at hairstyling, and you’re on your way to a snapshot of the last 24 hours in my parenting journey.

Initially it started off with my daughter’s desire for lovely bouncy curls.  She wanted ones resembling those she received at the hair stylist the other day after a quick trim (and truly, they were quite fetching).  The problem?  Momma is not adept at styling hair.  Mostly, we leave that to our Auntie – she owns her own salon, and can do mighty amounts of hair magic.  But currently she lives 2,500 miles away, which leaves Momma quite on her own, and very in the lurch for delivering on the hair front.  Since it was late on a school night when the request (more like ‘demand’) was made, and we currently don’t have any curlers, I had the bold idea of trying to rag-roll her hair as an experiment.  She seemed up for it, so we washed, half-dried, and rag-rolled our way to a happy little knot-tied head in no time.

Next we had a not-so-pleasant task to attend to.  We needed to take a small blood sample from my daughter’s finger for a food sensitivity test we are running on her.  As they kindly sent us two lancets, we had already used one on Daddy’s finger a few days earlier as an example (which didn’t seem to be as useful as we had hoped).  Now we needed to do the actual deed on her finger, and she was not having it.  We tried preparing her for it, reasoning, cajoling – nothing.  We then tried the ‘forceful hold’, which led to immediate hysterics and a physical clamp-down.  Not pretty.  We took a break so we all could breathe, which resulted in her locking herself first in the bathroom, then in her bedroom.  Then we all sat down for another conversation; she gave us a rather convincing argument of why she didn’t need the test at all, and we tried to use the kindest possible way to knock her argument down and explain that we were doing it anyway.  She somehow let slip that she had poked herself with a sewing needle earlier that day; oddly enough, that was our in.  We were able to convince her that the lancet wouldn’t hurt any more than the needle; that (along with a bribe that eventually was upped to $20) finally got her to reconsider.  Her last request was that she be able to push the lancet herself, to which we agreed.  Only given that we were now 45 minutes into the ordeal and the parental units were tiring quickly, we didn’t realize that we had actually fallen for a carefully calculated ploy.  No sooner had I set the lancet in my sheepishly grinning daughter’s hand did she launch it behind the dresser; the heavy, immovable, unable-to-reach-underneath-flat-against-the-wall dresser.  We’d been had; and my patience was about gone.  We retrieved the lancet and again resorted to the ‘forceful hold’; we finally got a finger free, and got the lancet in place.  Again the hysterics ensued, at least until the blood started to flow; then she was fascinated.  “Wow, Mom, look at it drip!”  All at once, she was fine.  We filled all five circles in no time flat.  My husband and I just looked at each other in wonderment.  The whole ordeal had taken over an hour; we were exhausted, sweating and spent.  I wasn’t sure which turnip we had really just gotten the blood from; her, or us.

A mere half hour later, my daughter popped out of bed and into the living room full of excitement.  It seemed the lower front tooth she had been wiggling for the last two days had finally worked its way loose.  As she animatedly waved her tooth in the air, she yelled she had lost it and then gave us a huge happy grin.  Only she looked less like a seven-year-old and more like a boxer in round seven of a prize fight; teeth and gums smeared with red, and more blood oozing from the gap in the front.  Honestly, it kind of freaked me out.  I was ready for the gap in her teeth; I was not so ready for all the blood.  She was so thrilled, standing there smiling from ear to ear, and I was trying ignore my gut instincts towards my daughter and her bloody mug.  I pasted a fake smile on my face and steered her towards the bathroom where we rinsed her mouth out, secured the tooth in her fairy pillow, and finally got her snuggled into bed.  I was hard pressed not to immediately follow her; it had been one heck of a night, and I’d had enough blood and sweat to last me quite some time.

Lest we forget about the rag-rolled hair…  Fast forward to next morning; she was super excited to take the rags out to see what the result was.  I reminded her that it was an experiment, and whatever the outcome, we could always make sure it looked okay for school.  I unrolled the first couple of strips, and we could already tell the experiment was a dud; her hair has natural curl already, and I think the strips were just too thin and her hair really took it in.  It was really more of a funny kinky curl instead of the lovely large rolls she was hoping for.  As I took more of the strips out, her expression got worse; I reminded her of the ‘experiment’ discussion, and that I could simply re-wet it and dry it straighter for her.  Once they were all out, she took a final look in the mirror and exclaimed, “Mom, I can NOT go to school like this.  I look like Mayor Washington!”  It took me a minute to grasp her train of thought, but once I did I asked her, “Do you mean George Washington?”  Her response, “Yeah, Mom, my head looks just like George Washington!”  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I also corrected her, and explained that George Washington was actually a president, not a mayor.  She then corrected herself, “Okay fine, but I STILL can’t go to school looking like PRESIDENT Washington!!”  I’m happy to report that after employing a little water and hot air, her hair was presentable for the day; no George Washington in sight.

It was such an absolute shift from the night before; no stress, no pressure, no guilt over bloodletting my own child.  Instead it was a complete release of laughter and joy and sincere delight over the amusement of seven-year-old logic.  It almost felt like compensation for the trials of the previous evening.  I suppose, in a way, that’s exactly what the ups and downs of parenting are. You face countless struggles; many unpredictable, even unmanageable.  But the rewards are often more enjoyable than you would ever imagine; they make all the blood and sweat worth it.

Boiling Point

I stood in the kitchen and watched the water boil.  I stared at the droplets as they spun and bubbled and rocketed towards the surface, bursting as they finally reached the top.  Only I wasn’t thinking about the water, nor was I thinking about the pot or the stove.  I was actually thinking about my daughter, and how closely that roiling liquid matched her emotions a mere three hours earlier.

My seven-year-old beauty…  She is an only child, for all intents and purposes.  Her three older brothers outnumber her by so many years (at 22, 24, and 26 years of age) they are more like awe-inspiring heroes than arm-slugging, room-sharing siblings.  She often laments this fact, pointing out that having a little sister around would make playing so much easier at home.  Truth be told, she struggles to find the right balance with relationships that are not family-oriented, and it’s likely much to do with this exact reason.  Not that we aren’t aware of it – we are; acutely so.  We’ve made extra efforts to find outside social avenues for her for several years now for the sole purpose of giving her more social interaction.  And though she is markedly confident in so many areas of her personality – academics, athletics, trying just about anything new – socializing, especially in the untested waters of all things “girl”, is still a struggle.

Don’t get me wrong; my daughter is far from shy.  She charges forth with unbridled enthusiasm towards any friend that gives her a second glance.  The introduction, itself, is not the problem.  Well, maybe it is, in the fact that she is SO forward she sometimes knocks the recipient off guard.  See, she is convinced that everyone she meets wants to be best friends immediately, just the way she does.  And she’s completely baffled when, for some reason she never understands, they may not.  This is where the issues come in; navigating the waters of 2nd-grade friendships when you haven’t a boat or an oar, let alone a team to row with.  It’s a tricky business, paddling alone.  And she’s constantly desperate to find anyone who will join her.  Fortunately she has garnered a couple of good friends in our neighborhood, but they are a bit older and more mature than she is, and there are still times when misunderstandings occur.  Unfortunately, they seem to weather these situations much more easily than my daughter does, and she often comes off as the immature odd-girl-out.

Hurt feelings – we’ve all had them, and they suck.  I’m 40, and they still sting; at seven, they’re practically world-ending.   Take this evening’s crisis:  four friends, happily playing, wind up at our house for a brief “breeze-through”.  During the stop one of them mentions going to another’s for some always exciting trampolining.  Problem: the girl with the trampoline can only have one friend over, per her mother’s instructions.  Cut to crickets and silent stares from the rest of the crew, as each of them wonder just who the ‘lucky one’ will be.  No need to wait long, as trampoline girl announces she’s already offered the spot to one of the other girls (the girl who happens to be my daughter’s best bud).  Drama ensues.  My daughter immediately bursts into tears because 1) she was playing with her best bud way before trampoline girl showed up tonight and 2) she never gets to go anywhere and 3) she was supposed to be able to jump with all of them and 4) she is never going to play with any of them again and (the list continues as she melts into a weeping puddle on the chair while the other three simply stare at her).  At this point I intervene by calmly stating that it’s close to bedtime anyway, and we have some things to do, and I’m just going to go ahead and keep her home for the night and we’ll just see everyone tomorrow.  This successfully redirects her ire away from them and over to me long enough to get the other girls out the door.

But remember the boiling water I was talking about earlier?  Well, here it comes; clearly I have forgotten to take the kettle off the stove and it is now screaming at me with a fever pitch.  All those hurt feelings of being left out and pushed aside by her friends have now been compounded by being embarrassed in front of them by her mother and forced to stay home like a baby.  The kettle quickly morphs into the form of a 50 pound seven-year-old banshee with wailing fists and kicking feet.  My daughter is rapidly spiraling out of control, and I am forced to decide what to do with her.

I, myself, am not the bastion of emotional control.  I grew up learning that when you’re mad, you scream.  When you’re angry, you explode.  I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to unlearn this exact pattern.  Part of the little kettle has come from the big one, in my house, and that fact is not lost on me.  So in moments like this, I have done an immense amount of work to train myself to remember that I have the ability to decide how to act.  Learned or not, we all have a choice.

Tonight’s meltdown took every ounce of patience and breathing and courage and momma magic I possessed, but I made the decision to offer a safe space for my daughter.  And I will tell you, it was excruciating.  I stared at my lovely girl and watched her boil.  I watched her heart break for a full half hour; watched her rail at me because she did not understand the hurt and frustration she was feeling.  And I had become the target; she clawed at me with her words, hit at me with her fists and kicked me with her feet.  Each time I calmly yet strongly prevented the blows and told her, softly, “I will not let you hurt me, and I will not let you hurt yourself.  I know you are angry and upset, and that is okay, but it is not okay to hurt people.”  I offered her two choices; to get into a warm bath, or to go to her room until she was done with her feelings.  I simply kept repeating the same things over and over, like a mantra.  I did not fight back; I did not scream at her; I kept her safe, I kept myself safe, I told her I loved her, but I also told her what was and was not acceptable.

She finally stomped off to her room.  She did it while screaming that she hated me, but she had finally made one of the two choices.  As soon as I knew she was clear, I let down my guard.  I didn’t realize how much adrenaline had kicked in until then; I had to breathe through it for about 20 minutes for it just to clear.  The tears continued for another 10.  I felt like I had just been hit by a truck, both physically and emotionally.  But I took a minute to remind myself that I was successful in my decision to hold a safe space for her as long as she needed it.  I was spent, but I was proud.

About a half hour later she came and found me; or rather, a flying note did as she hid around the corner.  It said she was frustrated that I said those things in front of her friends and made her feel bad.  But it also said she was sorry for fighting, and that she loved me very much.  She peeked around the corner as I read it, then came to snuggle on my lap.  We ended up having a really good talk about what happened, her actions, and what would be a better way to handle big feelings the next time she has them.  She’s learning; maybe not right in the moment, but she’s getting there.  My girl may have really big emotions, but she has an even bigger capacity for love, as I was so clearly reminded tonight.

You should know this kind of scene is not a hugely common occurrence; these ones only come out with the really big emotions for her.  But when they do come out, the water boils over and spills onto anyone nearby.  It’s a familiar pattern in my family, and I have long since wondered how much is genetic, and how much is learned.  I will probably never quite know the answer.  But I do know that I have the ability to change the pattern, both for me and for my daughter.  They say a watched pot never boils.  I’m not so sure about the “never” part; but I’m fully convinced that if the big kettle gives the little kettle a better example to observe, all that roiling and bubbling can be replaced by much calmer waters.

The Tooth Fairy Lives On

“We have a problem,” I stressfully whispered out of the side of my mouth in a sub-audible tone as I sped by my husband the other night, coming out of the bedroom.

“What?”  He replied, looking at me quizzically (he has a hard time with sub-audible, for some reason I have yet to understand.)

“We have a problem…she doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy.”

My daughter (currently seven) had been working on her left-front-tooth for what seemed like weeks, and had finally won the battle.  As expected, we had now moved on to the moment of pillow-placing and fairy discussion.  The problem?  She was convinced I was the tooth fairy.

You see, in addition to the tooth fixation, she had also recently developed an accessory obsession.  This led her to looking (i.e. sneaking) through my jewelry box one weekend, where she unfortunately stumbled upon her other two baby teeth (I keep them at the very bottom, in the macabre tradition of all mothers who wind up with hidden boxes full of teeny tiny teeth).  At the time she called me on it, but I thought I had squeaked out of the accusation by weaving an on-the-spot explanation about how all parents have a “contract” with the tooth fairy wherein she generously gives back the first couple of baby teeth so the parents can keep them as a memento.  She seemed to buy it at the time – or so I thought.

Fast forward to the front-tooth occasion, and we were at it again…

“Mom, you are sooo the tooth fairy.”

“Honey, really, I am not the tooth fairy.  Why would you think that?”

“Because I found those teeth, and I think you give me the money, because you always have money in your wallet.”

“Sweetie, I have a million other things to do besides going around being the tooth fairy, don’t you think?”

“Nuh-uh, I’m sure it’s you.”

“Seriously now, and what, I guess I’m Santa too, right?”

“OOOOOOOH no.  Santa’s TOTALLY real, Mom.  That’s a WHOLE other situation.”

(I secretly almost fall over with relief at this one while trying not to laugh in the process, but quickly refocus on the issue at hand.)

“Well it’s almost time for bed, so get under the covers and I’ll be right back.”

At this point I went out searching for reinforcements, because I was clearly losing ground.  After my quick-whispered panicky plea, my husband came in to say goodnight, and she started in on him too.

“Dad, Mom’s the tooth fairy.”

“Really?  How do you know?”

“I just know.  It’s her.  I’m sure of it.”

“Well, everyone in the world knows the tooth fairy, right?”

“Well, DUH, Dad.”

“But, not everyone in the world knows Mom…”

At this he kissed her on the forehead, grinned at her, and left the room, leaving her looking a little baffled.  Score one for the Dad!  I decided it was my moment to try again, so I chose distraction as my strategy and got busy getting the tooth and the pillow ready.  She seemed irritated at this point.  I wasn’t sure if it was at us or at the situation in general.  Finally, she spoke up again.

“Well, if you’re not the tooth fairy, then I have some questions.”

“Okay,” I said, and sat down on the bed, ready to spin some answers.

“No, Mom, WRITE THEM DOWN!”

Grief.  Up I stood to find pencil and paper, and then quickly readied myself to scribe.  Here were the pressing queries she insisted be answered, and placed alongside her pearly tooth in the pillow for the night:

  • What color is your dress?
  • Where do you live?
  • How old are you?
  • Can you bring me a $5 bill?

Children are open books, when they’re young.  The imaginations of youthful minds are eager to trust in the hearty laugh and rosy cheeks of a jolly old man from a far off frozen land; they revel in the possibility of a puffy white tail bounding down their doorsteps on an early spring morning; they show no fear when a mysterious tiny winged creature sneaks under their pillows in the darkness to replace their teeth with gleaming coins.  But as they grow, logic and common sense (and, let’s face it, in-your-face-truth-telling from the slightly older crowd) start to seep in and the familiar characters of our youthful world slowly fade away.

As parents, we have a responsibility to guard our children’s safety; teach them right from wrong.  And yet, we go to great lengths to extend this childhood gullibility as long as we can.  Bites out of the cookies at Christmas time; flour tracks on the floor at Easter.  As if the longer we can get them to believe, the longer we can extend their childhood.  And really, it may even be more for us than for them.

Clearly, I was not about to let this challenge go unheeded.  As soon as I was sure she was asleep, I sprang into action.  I found my “fancy” stationery (the kind that looks like parchment paper with the feathered edge), a pretty pink pen, put on my best fairy persona and began my official Tooth Fairy response (in fancy cursive writing, of course, with a British tone…I figured giving her an accent would help with the authenticity):

“Dear Katie,

Thank you for having your mum write me a note.  I like questions!  Here are your answers:

1) My dress is a lovely lilac color but my wings are a slightly darker purple with silver sparkles.

2) I live in a little cottage in a far away village which is about three bright moonbeams away.

3) I am 243 years old.  Pretty young for fairy years!

4) I may be able to grant you a $5 bill if perhaps you lose a large molar tooth.

Congratulations on losing your first front tooth!

Love,

Tooth Fairy” 

I crafted it so it was long and thin like a scroll, then rolled it up with three one-dollar bills, tied it with a ribbon and put it in her fairy pillow in place of her tooth.  The next morning I knew she had found it when I heard the high pitched squeal of “Momma, Momma the tooth fairy came and left me a note!  She left me a real note!  And it’s in cursive!  I can’t read cursive!!”  She waved the note in the air as she bounded out of bed, running to me and insisting I read the note for her, which I did.  Her ensuing grin and giggly-ness were exactly what I had hoped for – childhood extended just a little bit longer.  For her, and for me, and the Tooth Fairy, who lives to fly another year…

We Are Safe

She’s not bleeding; she’s not starving; she has not broken a bone, fallen down the stairs, or gotten caught under something heavy.  She is not in pain, nor is she suffering uncontrollably.  There is no risk of immediate terror or peril; she is safe.’  This is the mantra going through my head as I listen to my daughter repeatedly scream out my name at the top of her lungs from my bedroom downstairs, as I basically hide out in the office upstairs.  After about five minutes, I close the door so the sound is more muffled and I can’t hear her as well.  Then I close my eyes, put my head in my hands and try to breathe…

It’s been a particularly difficult day.  Well, this is a bit of an understatement.  It’s been one hell of a freakin’ day; how about that.  Today is one of those days where you run into your mothering wall.  You have used every bit of patience and sensibility and bargaining and “don’t you dare”s that you can remember coming out of your mouth, and you’re truly just spent.

I’m sure we’ve all been there.  We love our children; and for the most part, they are lovely and wonderful and brilliant and amazing.  But they can also be the Achilles heel of our parenting prowess.  My daughter is closely approaching her seventh birthday; she is in transition.  As a result, we are all in transition.  Every parent laments about the “terrible two’s”, but no one warns you about the other ages.  They make it sound as if once you get past two, it’s almost a breeze; what they fail to mention is that the transitions continue at almost every age, and many of them are just as difficult.

My daughter is certainly not entirely to blame.  She is a small little being trying to figure out how to exist in a world of larger ones; trying to find her way to herself, even though she really doesn’t even know who that is yet.  I have some memory of how challenging that can be, at seven years old; the immense pressures of trying to shift from that “little girl” world where everything was safe and protected and many things done for you, into the “big girl” world where it’s expected (and really, self-desired) to be more independent, more self-reliant, more mature, a more separate being.  But what do you do with all those feelings of still wanting to be safe and secure and babied and coddled?  How do you shed those all of a sudden, just because you’re supposed to?  Even when you want to, you don’t want to…it’s hard to give up that secure little bubble and branch out of it, as curious as you may be.  That ever-present internal dichotomy makes for a perfect little emotional storm that is really a beast to navigate.  Can you blame her for having bad days?

I certainly don’t.  I’m forty and I have bad days; I have a much better handle on how to deal with them and I still struggle.  So I can’t possibly hold it against my lovely girl for simply being human and fallible.  But as difficult as it is for her to navigate her seven-year-old self, it’s equally as tough for the momma to discern how to help her steer a course through these rough waters.  Today’s challenges included everything from clothing crises to attention issues; from inabilities to listen to frustration over toys; from unhappiness over food choices to a power struggle over bedtime.  The current meltdown I was hiding out from, I would later find out, was a result over the fact that she was finally comfy and warm and had finished the apple she insisted on for a bedtime snack, and didn’t want to get out of the bed to throw it away, so she hollered for me to do it for her, and when I didn’t immediately answer (after the fourth or fifth try), she became distressed because she then didn’t know where I had gone.  I had initially not answered because I was on another floor; then when I heard her, I sent my husband in because I was busy, which apparently sent her into more hysterics because “you’re not momma!” and it really just snowballed from there.  The aforementioned hiding only seemed justifiable because I had personally recently put her to bed, knowing she was safe and sound, and also sent the husband in to check, assuring me that if there was a safety crisis he was with her.  Hence the mantra.  I know myself well enough to know when my daughter is better served by not having me there (such as when I simply have run out of everything I have to give, and all that may be left is frustration and impatience).

We did finally get to the end of this day.  I somehow got my 1200th wind, calmed her down, got her to sleep, and then proceeded to lay exhausted on the couch for a few good hours.  (Venting to the nameless blogosphere helped a little, as well, I must admit.)  Not all days are like this; I know the good ones outnumber the bad.  That’s why we do it, right?  It’s because the love is so huge and consuming.  That’s what carries us through.  At the end of days like these it’s the love for that amazingly beautiful creature that softly covers me like the warm embrace I so longed for when I was a little girl; it wraps me up in that safe little bubble and makes it all better again.  That love transcends it all.  And in one funny little moment, I am somehow the parent and child simultaneously, the keeper and the kept.  Only now, I am wise and strong enough to make myself safe, along with my little one; and that is a brilliant realization to behold. WE are safe.

Bring On the B-Cup!

It only it were really this ‘blissful’…

Ask any woman, and she’ll probably tell you she has a pretty good relationship with her breasts.  I think it’s a given, really; proximity-wise, you can’t get much closer.  They’re pretty much front-and center for the majority of our lives.  We live with them, grow with them, love with them, give life with them, lose life for them; it’s a whirlwind relationship that lasts from beginning to end and everything in between.

In addition to being close to our “girls”, most of us are intimately familiar with our current bra size (actual ‘correct’ sizing issues aside – we’ll leave that for another time).  Though that size clearly changes over time — from puberty to adulthood, from childbearing to middle-age to maturity, and beyond — we generally have enough time in each stage to know our existing letters/numbers.  I, myself, have clearly changed over my forty years in this body.  I shifted quite a bit after having my daughter seven years ago and again after dropping weight about three years ago. Since then, I’ve been markedly consistent.  I’ll even publish it (yeah, bold move, or maybe foolish? This is the webiverse, after all…); 40-C.  Steady as a rock – nay, two rocks, maybe – for several years now.  Or so I thought…

I’ve purchased my bras at the same store for years; Lane Bryant.  Call me unadventurous (well, call me an accountant – sometimes the label really does fit the mold, I tell you), but when I find certain products I like, I stick with them.  Like many women, I have the “work” bras, and the “relax” bras, and some “special” ones thrown in for good measure.  But generally, I stick with the same styles, because I like them, they fit and they work for me.  Recently I noticed a new style advertised that was particularly cute, so I thought I would check them out.  Out doing errands the other weekend I wandered in, grabbed a few good colors off the rack in my size, and proceeded to the dressing room figuring it would be a quick trip and I would shortly be on my way several bras ahead and several dollars behind.  However, when I tried the first one on, the fit wasn’t nearly what I expected; cup or band.  Nor was the second one, in a slightly different size.  Heading in I had noticed the “Free Sizing!” offer sign, so I decided to buck my normal process of eschewing the salesperson assistance and taking them up on it.  After the sizing, the associate told me I was really more of a 36-38, and she brought me the new sizes to try.  The 36 was far too tight; the 38 fit better, but the cup still didn’t work.  Then I heard something completely unexpected.  “Well, you must really be more of a true B-cup, and we really don’t carry many of those here.”

B-cup?  I was stunned.  I was able to mutter a polite “thank you” to get her on her way, so that I could process this information in private, as I stared at my newly labeled jewels in the poorly lit store mirror.  I’d just been reduced by one cup size by some random department store clerk, and though it was completely irrational, I felt oddly…well…deflated.

It probably didn’t help matters that a mere week earlier I had been in the shower with my daughter (modesty is a far-off concept at our house) and at one point, she cupped my breasts in her little 7-year-old hands, pushed them up as far as they would go, and proclaimed “look, Mom, they’re YOUNGER now!” with this giant grin on her face.  Then she laughed and laughed, because she clearly thought she was hilarious.  I laughed, too; not because I thought her joke was funny, but because I knew how hilarious it was that my girls would really ever be that high again (without serious surgical intervention).  The memory flashed again now, and didn’t seem quite so amusing.

Standing in front of that long store mirror, those lovely petals suddenly seemed much less supple and much more wilted, given my new size declaration.  It took nearly five whole minutes for me to get dressed, mainly because I was still trying to figure out why it bothered me in the first place.  Logically, it made sense.  Age, additional recent loss of weight, child bearing followed by breastfeeding, all of these things are present on my frame.  And really, the size of my bosom has never really been of issue with me.  (To be honest, I recently started a birth-control regimen in an effort to assist with migraine control, and the temporary size-increase that came with it was a bit of a nuisance.)  So why was I so stilted by these few words from some total stranger who knew nothing about me?

I knew everything about me.  At forty, I can honestly and happily say that I’ve developed a healthy and fairly loving relationship with my body.  Certainly, this was not always the case; I had some pretty strong self-image issues in my teens and twenties that it took a lot of hard work to overcome.  They still rear their head sometimes – you can’t have a stilted view of yourself for 20+ years and not expect it to pop back up now and again.  But truly, I’ve worked immensely hard to come to the root of those issues, shed the pain/guilt behind them to truly accept me for me, and feel fully comfortable in my own imperfect frame.  The age spots on my hands that remind me of my father, and my father’s father; the stretch-marks left by my daughter as she grew inside; the puncture marks, left rear thigh that bring to the forefront the scared 5-year-old girl every time I see a large unfamiliar dog; the scar inside right arm from a screen door window accident at eight that reminds me of the bravery of my father when faced with blood and peril, and to be vigilant at what can actually happen to our children when they are not on our watch; the suture marks front left thigh where they (thankfully) removed the melanoma, that remind me how precious life really is; the softness of my stomach; the firmness of my upper arms; the left ankle that clicks when I walk; the fairness of my Irish skin; the blueness of my eyes; the grayness of some of my hair, these days.  I know all of her; she’s carried me through this life, through love and loss and fear and joy and all the spaces in between.

As an extension, I have a similar relationship with my breasts.  From being a little girl, admiring the women in pretty lace and wondering if I would look like that someday, to being the awkward but somewhat giddy adolescent getting her first training bra (though really, why are they called that?  What are we ‘training’ them for, anyway?).  Then, when they really finally came in, trying to decide what my “style” would be; did I like lace?  Silk?  Certainly it needed to be “modest”, right?  I was really only in junior high, after all.  Then on to high school when style was replaced by the boldness of patterns and colors and the realization that breasts could equate to power, if I wanted them to.  That power was wielded well into my twenties; everything was still in the right place then, so perky and full and supple and alive, just as I felt, discovering new worlds and new parts of myself, and who I was to become.  In my thirties my breasts took on a whole new role; life.  I had my daughter then, and was content to fully give them over to providing for her; though I was surprised to find that something I assumed would be so natural, breastfeeding, would prove to be so difficult for the both of us.  My daughter didn’t latch properly; something that baffled and frustrated us both to the point of weeping exhaustion, and I came to blame myself and my breasts as defective and sub-par; it was truly a blow to the psyche, that one.  I sought help from female friends, family members, practitioners, the LaLeche League, the internet, the library, basically anywhere I could find it.  Finally, with the help of a shield, my daughter finally found a comfortable norm and began eating like a champ, but we were both worse for wear.  At that point, I relegated the girls to one job only; sustenance.  If I wasn’t home feeding her directly, they were subjected to the pump so that I could nourish her as long as possible.  Amongst all the planning for a new bundle of joy, you somehow don’t land on preparing yourself to feel like a feed-cow strapped up to industrial-strength suction several times a day while cowering in the tiny “mother’s room” at your place of business, but it happens.  And you endure it, for no other reason than that tiny miraculous beautiful face that greets you when you walk in the door.  I will say that I did eventually reclaim my own territory on my breasts after my daughter no longer needed them, but it was never really the same.  I don’t know if it was like that for other women or not, but I’ve always since felt a bit detached; I still love them, but it’s hard to overlook that at the moment I needed them most, they betrayed me in some way.  I agreed to forgive, and they agreed to be repentant; but neither side  ever really forgot.  Sounds odd, I know, but that’s the best way I can think to explain it.

Today, the effects my forty years are evident; the girls have long since stood where they used to; they are truly reflective of the life I have lived with them.  And for the most part, I’m okay with that.  So why did all this knowledge and comfort suddenly fly out the window at the mention of a decreased cup size?  Why was I standing in a poorly lit dressing room scrutinizing myself in a way I hadn’t in years, and questioning my self-worth again?  Where was all this coming from?  It might have something to do with recent realizations of many life-questions popping their way into my conscious (you can read about it here), but I’m still trying to figure it out.  I will say that I completely abandoned any further bra shopping that day.  I am a creature of habit, and on top of the chest deflation I couldn’t deal with trying to figure out the intimates section at a completely new store; it was really just too much for my overloaded brain.  I did venture into a different store about a week later, only to find that their brand of bra was sized “S, M, L, XL”, which clearly didn’t help me in any way since I had so recently been given my correct band/cup size in letters and numbers.  I gave up that day too (does it really need to be THIS complicated to buy a bra?  Sheesh.)  I fully intend to brave the bra-world again; I just have to work up a little stamina for all the trying-on that I suspect it will take.  If I’m really feeling adventurous, I could always take my daughter along with me; I’m sure she’d be good for a little comic relief.  After all, what better way to get over yourself than to laugh a little, right?  Regardless of the letter or the number or any of it, I’m still me at the end of the day; just blood and bones and body.  I’m not a number or a letter or a size or a section.  The label is just a means to an end, really; I may as well embrace it for now.  It’s changed before, and it will change again, I’m sure.  So in the mean time, I think I’ll take the girls shopping again – bring on the B-cup!