It’s freezing, and I’m shuffling, sniffling, hugging her new sparkly reindeer build-a-bear, Glisten, to myself to keep warm. I let Cake bring it with her to the bus stop, but told her it’s too big a stuffy to bring to school.
She runs onto the bus, and I watch her, count the rows of seats as she has told me she does: one, two, three. The windows are tinted, but I can see there is a shuffling and a commotion. Cake is one of the last stops, and in her seat there are three little girls piled together.
Suddenly, her face appears in the window, and I grin; this never occurs. Cake is the kid who doesn’t look back. She confesses her nerves to me, and then moves forward with confidence to greet what’s ahead of her.
And she waves, and I wave, and I wave Glisten’s hoof. She is ecstatic and waves back harder. I can hear the other parents murmur a chuckle in shared amusement and affection.
Her eyes are bright, intent, framed by her glasses. She is wearing a handmade ear warmer her girl scout leader made for each girl: a forest green crocheted band with carefully crocheted cookies adorning it: a samoa, a thin mint, and a trefoil. It’s adorable. Her curls splay out from underneath, then are squished back up wildly from her backpack and the hood of her coat.
We continue waving, Cake and me puppeting Glisten, for what feels longer than really necessary, but I imagine her smile behind the dalmatian-print mask she is wearing, indulging her.
Finally, the bus begins to pull away. She extends her finger and draws her distinctive little heart in the fog on her window: down, up into a V, curve, curve. I barely catch a glimpse of the finished heart but I see it, framing her face as they drive away, and I can feel my eyes dampen.
“She’s so cute!” one of my neighbors says to me, smiling widely.
“I love her so much!” I groan back, laughing, squeezing her reindeer. “I need to remember this moment forever,” I add in.
“Carve it into your mind over and over! Call it back later! I’ll remind you!” She is calling to me as we walk back to our respective houses.
“I need to tell people about it!” I agree, then add, “Remind me when she’s fourteen and I want to strangle her!” We laugh.
“She’ll draw hearts for you again someday!” my neighbor reminds me, laughing.
“Yeah, when she’s twenty-three!” I bemoan, and we laugh more, and I turn back towards my house.
And I repeat the image in my head.
Of her beautiful brown eyes bright with happiness, peeking out between winter bundles and her mask. I see the love in her intention of her heart: it’s simple, it’s deliberate. I love you mama, it says.
I have been a stay-at-home mom for eight years. Cake is seven, but my pregnancy with her was so tumultuous, I couldn’t have worked in a regular workplace had I wanted to. Really, that’s where All the Medical Bullshit™, began. So I'll count that time, too.
And I enjoy Cake going to public school. We are not compatible as homeschoolers, Cake and I. It made both of us sad to admit it, and there were moments we loved, but ultimately, we’re both happier with public school. And honestly, I rely on the respite it provides me.
But that doesn’t change the fact that when she’s gone, I miss her. I see her in my mind again, smiling through her eyes, through a foggy bus window with a simple heart reminding me that she misses me, too.
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TW for this post: self-deprecating language
it is new year's eve.
the day begins simply, as all mornings ought to.
Cake wants to paint her nails, so I tell her to go for it. She sets up shop on the parlour room floor, which in retrospect is the first mistake, but she follows me throughout the house, and this is where I am.
Kids follow you, fucking everywhere, back and forth, for all eternity. And it's maddening, really. Get out of my ass and give me space for fiiiiiive minutes, please! But if you stop and consider the why, it makes perfect sense. People, as a whole, are communal. She doesn't necessarily want me to sit down and paint her nails, or paint mine with her. She'd be delighted for me to join in, sure, but it's mostly just, mom is in the parlour, shuffling around in the mugs, grinding coffee beans, turning on the record player and thus, this is where she wants to be too.
I'm sure reading this, it makes perfect sense. But how often do we stop and consider this, truly consider it, from the child's perspective? Particularly in the moments where we are so dang frustrated and need space? They just long for company, and parents are the best company they know when they are so small.
I wonder too, when does that fade? How long does that last? My parent(s) were/are not my preferred company. My spouse is, personally.
This is fine though, because it is a new morning, a bright new day, there's a latte in my hand and Cake wants to put on her Cranberries album she got for Christmas, and I am happy to share our newfound love for vinyl together and teach her to use the record player. It is not grating, it is endearing.
It is about perspective.
There is a clattering.
"What the--??" she says, and looks down at our feet.
There is red nail polish, everywhere. Spattered where her make-shift station is, spiraling out in wet webs, oozing from the bottle that had bumped her foot and gotten her attention.
She is blurting out apologies, and I am at first, initially, angry. She has been negligent and now there is the reek of cheap polish overwhelming us and a mess I will have to clean up--
--but it was an accident, and there are two cats and two dogs ambling about, and the youngest furry monster, our eight-month-old black cat Brisket, is darting around like a fucking lunatic, so I immediately reign it in, and am soothing her, holding her hands gently and telling her, it's okay, it's just an accident, accidents happen! We can clean this up, easy day, let's find the acetone and cotton balls, I'll show you how.
I want her internal voice to be compassionate. I don't want her to have the one I have, the one that screams and berates me, reminds me I'm a fucking idiot, I'm a mess, this is why I can't do things, this is why you suck Erin. I do not want that voice to be in her head. It already is. She is an anxious person. She is my clone. I love that about her, I hate it beyond all else for her. It sucks, being in your head like that. So I try, so much, to be the gentle parent she needs, the gentle parent I needed. Parenting my child has allowed me to re-parent myself, in so many ways.
We clean the mess.
I love doing nail art, so I've got all these extra goodies to make my home-manicure as bougie as I can. I have this neat stuff called Acetone Antidote from an indie polish maker, Baroness X, that is an additive which adds restorative oils to your skin and masks the chemical stink with fantastic scented oil blends. I mix the Pistachio Macaron scent into a bottle, and it makes the cleanup less unpleasant. I show Cake to clean in small circles instead of smearing the mess side to side, and she is ecstatic with how good of a job she's doing cleaning up. With the power of our ADHD Hyperfocus™️ combined, we scrape the polish out of all the tiny grooves in the luxury-vinyl-planking.
This was a Good Learning Experience. I handled my own frustration, I eased Cake's, the mess was cleaned quickly and I am pleased I have Acetone Antidote and vinyl floors; earlier in this year, Gage and his dad refloored our house, this room used to have a very janky DIY excuse for "hardwood flooring" made out of splintering 2x4s from a previous owner, that would have been an impossibility, woulda just pulled the varnish right off the floor.
In the afternoon, Cake wants hot cocoa, and I oblige her. She picks out a mug, but instead of one of her own, she grabs one of mine.
It is my favorite mug: a large one with glittering gold and black bees and large pink and gold flowers that reminds me of my days as a strike-off seamstress. The mug is probably about five years old; it is from a friendship, a work-relationship, that no longer exists, from a company that went under shortly after I had bought the mug. She had been trying to expand her fabric shop and started offering other items with her fabric designs on them; I had specifically requested she list this bee-print because I would not wear gold and pink fabric, but I will drink my coffee from this mug.
Nothing about this mug exists anymore; I think it is the only one in it's existence. It is filled with memories. I love the print, but more than that, I love the memories attached to this mug. The way I had pleaded for the mug, the way my freelance-boss-ish had been delighted in my enthusiasm, listed it that minute, and I had purchased it right then.
Writing this now, I don't think she ever managed to launch that section of her website, her company closed before she had the chance. She had opened it up early to her team of sewists so that when she was ready, we would be ready with physical items to show off, too.
But I didn't think of all these things, I simply tilted my head to the side and asked Cake, "Are you going to be careful?"
And she of course insisted yes, she would be, it's been so soooo long since she used this beautiful mug!
By the afternoon, my good mood has dampened. I am agitated by everything around me for no (outwardly apparent) reason; I have too many thoughts in my head, phone calls I need to make, emails I need to check, appointments to make and commitments to follow through and--none of them need to be done right this second necessarily, but they all need to be done and it is too much and there is laundry piling up and the office is falling apart because my cats keep climbing into the fabric shelves and kicking the fabric out to make themselves more fucking cubbies, and litter I can feel cat litter crunching under my feet so I need to vacuum, I am trying to write, trying to schedule posts, trying to post to Patreon, and every time I get half a thought down, Cake is calling me, showing me something, asking me something, demanding my attention, requiring my assistance, I am trying to shuffle around the mess of the house in my ADHD-pacing-fog, what am I doing right now? I bark at her to clean up her messes, there's trash, empty Sunny D bottles and the wrapper of a meat-stick and her paper plate with crumbs that has tipped to the floor, clean up your mess, PLEASE!! it is not a request, it is a shriek.
I sink back into my office chair, plop my headphones on.
There is a shattering.
I turn my head, slowly, towards the the parlour room, where Cake stands, arms full of plastic horses. Arms overflowing, knocking over the messes she had left out on the end table. I stare vacantly, already knowing what just broke.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it was an accident!" she says, but I am just... pissed. Fucking livid, if we're being honest.
I stand up, not hearing whatever she is saying, scoop up the pieces, snatching the one she has picked up out of her hand viciously.
I am aware that this was unnecessarily cruel, passive-aggressive, she is a child, I am an adult, it is just a mug. But that doesn't matter, I am angry! I take my stuff to the trash, look over the beautiful bees and flowers once more, then drop the pieces unceremoniously in. I walk past Cake; I don't know if she says anything, if she looks at me. I am angry, I am a wall.
Like in Fight Club. I am Jack's boiling point.
I walk past her and straight outside, to sulk on our front porch. It is here where I consider why I am so fucking angry over an accidentally broken mug. It is here that the flood of memories attached to the mug come in, what all the mug meant to me. I am still furious. She couldn't know what the mug means, she didn't mean to break the mug, but--
I am embarrassed to write this
I want to throw my potted plants next to me onto our walkway, I want to shatter the pots. I want to hurl them at the tree before me and scream and rage. I want to stomp and get in her face and tell her that if she would clean up her stupid fucking messes the first forty-six times I asked her, if she had put the mug away when she had emptied it like i had asked her to, this wouldn't have happened, she would have bumped her hip into the end table and said ow and that would have been it and i would still have my mug, it's just a fucking MUG Erin it doesn't fucking matter! but I am furious.
I am angry with myself for being so furious, but that doesn't make it stop.
When I feel I have been gone too long, I go back inside, but I am still angry. I fold a single piece of fabric, sit down on my futon, and cry a little. I can allow myself a little cry over a broken mug, and then I will feel better.
But I don't. I am still thinking of all the mean things I could do. I want to walk over into our parlour room and start dropping mugs, her mugs. What the fuck is wrong with me?!?
I don't, of course, but what the fuck, brain?
... this is why I need her to have a healthier, a kinder inner voice than the one I have. A gentler voice than the one I am wrangling with, the one insisting that to make myself feel better I need to make her feel as badly as she made me feel.
This is ugly and horrific. Who the fuck??? Treats kids?? That way?
Stressed out tired parents who are at their wits' end and not thinking rationally, really.
I didn't act out these thoughts, thank fuck, but they were there in my head and that was awful enough.
What about the times we don't hold strong to our resolve, can't work past our inner voice whispering cruel ideas?
It happens. It didn't this time. It doesn't usually. I hope it doesn't ever again, but y'know, it does.
Later that night, turns out.
It is evening, we will soon settle in to watch the Pete the Cat New Year's Eve special. (It's really cute, btw).
I have abandoned the earlier attempt to rage-clean my office, plagued by the reminder of the laundry on the couch, and sat in the living room and folded it with Gage. Decompressed, fucked off on my phone, finished some writings.
Cake is finishing up her chores, putting away the clean dishes.
There is a small cry of surprise, followed by--once again--the sound of something breaking.
"I'okay!" she calls out, then frantically, "it was an accident!! I tripped!"
I peer in and see one of my decorative pieces that goes in the parlour room, that has been pushed under the kitchen table since I decorated for Christmas and had no where to put all the usual crap, is broken neatly in half. She is picking it up, along with a shirt, holding the shirt up and inspecting it. "I tripped on the shirt..." she is saying.
And I am trying to reign it in but it is just flowing free-form out of my mouth:
"Are you, in any way whatsoever, aware of your surroundings, at any given point?!"
She blinks, her face screwing up, "Y...yes, I think so..."
"I don't know, are you, because this is the third time today!!" I am spouting off, frazzled, manic, close to tears myself because I am so frustrated: with her, with myself for being frustrated with her in the first place, yes it was three things all in one day and that is terribly unfortunate but they were all accidents--
which is what she is mumbling in between the shrugs and the i don't knows, it was an accident, she didn't mean to,
and I know this, and I tell her I know but she has got to be more aware of what going on around her! What is a shirt doing in the middle of the floor, anyways?!
Gage's voice chimes in, the shirt is his fault, it got wet when he was washing the dishes and he just absently chucked it to the side and forgot about it there...
this makes my brain ache more, because whyyyyy, but also because tripping on the shirt that shouldn't have been in the walkway wasn't her fault, but also how do you not notice a men's shirt just in the walkway how did you trip on that,
and really, it doesn't fucking matter.
what really matters here is that i am losing my mind, on my child, over things that are relatively unimportant, for things that were generally outside of her control. this is not the gentle and compassionate parenting I was emulating this morning.
this is the burnt-out parenting, the passive-aggressive internal voice parenting, the it's been two years of a global pandemic, I'm immunocompromised, and my kid is an only child who doesn't get enough social stimulation from her exhausted mother, -parenting.
This is not my parenting. But it is how I am parenting right now, and it's not fucking cool.
The other day, I saw a really great thread about gentle parenting, about do-overs.
We talk about how I am sorry I lashed out (both times), how yes, it is true, I am angry that things were broken, and that it is okay for me to be upset, but it is not okay for me to make her feel badly, and continue to bring up her accidents after she has apologized for them. Parading her mistakes over her does not help anyone: it harbors animosity, encourages fear from her mother, solidifies that voice in her mind I am trying to eradicate, the one that will remind her well into adulthood, if i don't quash it, that she is a mess, she is a failure, she breaks everything. I don't want that voice for her. I have that voice and I do not want it for me, I absolutely cannot allow it to exist for her.
After the Pete the Cat special, we talk about our year, the good things, the bad, the events, the mundane.
"I don't believe I've been admitted to the hospital at all this year!" I announce proudly. We cheer.
I ask Cake how many teeth she's lost this year; she doesn't know, and we try to count, but this brings up how earlier this year, in May, she had to be sedated to remove an infected tooth. They pulled another that was going as well, and a third one had fallen out during the process, it had been so loose.
"So there's at least three!" Gage and I say, encouraging her to try to count them, but instead she is making this horrific whining, gurgling sound, one of discomfort and general displeasure to the topic. The sounds grates on us. You can tell us you don't want to talk about this, you can express why this is bothering you, but please for the love of all that is good at pure do not fucking whine like that.
It is getting late, and all three of us are getting agitated with one another, but no one is willing to budge; we want Cake to reminisce with us, she wants to change the topic, we want her to learn to express her feelings, she wants to shut down and go to bed.
We try to get her to wiggle her loosest tooth, we used to love pulling our teeth out as kids! Don't you want the tooth fairy to come and leave you money, what a fun way to wake up in the new year!
It's not that we're neurotic monsters who want to rip her teeth out; it's that she leaves them in so long that her adult teeth are coming in at odd angles, her teeth are overcrowding, and she needs to get those little baby teeth out.
But she is becoming more obviously distressed with the conversation, howling that awful whine, her little body becoming rigid, pulling away from us physically.
Gage calls her back in, wraps his arms around her, lays his cheek on her head while she stares at me, unyielding.
And I begin to ask her
what are you afraid of? what is giving you anxiety? why are you upset?
but she is shrugging, grunting i dunno type sounds, whining.
i try a different approach, yes or no questions
are you feeling anxious?
you do know. you know things, sweet girl. you know your feelings. you know your heart. are you scared?
she wavers her hand in front of her, which means "medium."
is it about your teeth?
do you feel scared about your teeth?
does thinking about the hospital make you feel scared?
do you feel worried that you will have to go back to take care of your teeth?
whimpers, a nod, her face twisting at the thought.
babygirl, i croon, that's okay. that's understandable and fine. it makes sense. it makes sense to be scared. that was a scary experience, and your tooth, that tooth hurt you. it is understandable to be afraid of something that has hurt you.
the infected tooth had caused her gums to swell up, an angry abscess she'd had to take antibiotics for because the surgical date kept being postponed, I don't remember why, I just remember the agony of working between the hospital, the dental office, the referrals from the dental insurance and medical insurance and fighting for my baby to get in and be covered, …how horrific that must have been for her.
You know, I tell her, I'm scared of the hospital, too. I'm scared of going back, I'm scared every time my tummy hurts that I may have to go to the hospital. it scares me, too.
Her eyes light up slightly, her body relaxes against Gage's and she sinks into his arms a little bit more.
But, I continue, we have to take care of ourselves. I know you don't like teeth stuff, it scares you, but we have to take very good care of your teeth so that that doesn't happen again, okay babygirl?
We all feel better after this; sad, tired, but better. As parents (and I haven't really asked him, but we both kind of shared the silence together afterwards so I feel okay writing on the behalf of us both), there was a certain agonizing sadness about realizing that our kid has medical trauma, surrounding her teeth, surrounding something we thought was so mundane, indeed, even figured she as a child would think was fun. We thought we were being fun, but we were hurting her. This is horrific, because we should know better. Look at her mother, I am a posterchild of medical trauma. How did we not notice that sooner?
I don't know. But I'm glad we did. It may have taken months, but we got here, and now we can work through it more. We are learning the tools that we need to open up the conversation. She may know her feelings, but she does not know how to put them into words, or how to form a conversation around them. She is learning that, along with us, because we did not know how to do this either. We didn't teach her how, in May, or in the following months after the extractions. We did not teach her until the end of the year. And it is not a one time lesson. We will have to continue teaching her this, over and over, as we learn, as she learns, as we as a unit lay the pathways for communication, instead of building up walls around us, sequestering us from the paths.
She heads to bed with peace in all our hearts.
the parenting for the day ends here, but my evening does not.
Gage and I ring in the new year quietly on our couch, streaming the ball dropping from new york, toasting with our sweet rose champagne (which he gags over being too sweet, and I choke would be better if it had honey poured into it), then resume to chatting, playing video games, puttering on our phones. Around two in the morning, we agree we should head to bed.
I head into the kitchen, straighten up a little. I pick a tupperware out of the fridge, nibble on a bit of cold ground beef from burritos the night before.
From out of nowhere, nausea hits me--hard. My mouth immediately fills with saliva. I chew the beef contemplatively once more... nope, definitely not working for me right now. I turn to spit into the sink, but this wave is bad, I am breathing hard, my mouth hangs open, slack, bits of beef flowing out down a stream of saliva. Hot. I am hot, I am breaking out all over in a sweat, completely drenched. I think quickly to myself that I need to make my way outside to throw up, the fresh air will help.
I hear screaming. Shouting? It's not shrill, just one long, anguished howl, rising in volume, in intensity.
I am vaguely aware of my head jerking back, looking upwards, before losing sensation all over my body and meeting contact with the ground.
cool, sweet, ground. it is a relief to my hot, flushed skin.
"What is it?! What's wrong?!" Gage's voice is filled with panic, his feet thundering from across the house to where I am, it's near me now: "what's wrong, what happened?"
I can feel the sweat, pouring off my face, my arms are sticky and slick under my sweater. I cannot breathe. It's too hot. I kick off my moccasins. Still too hot, but it helps. I have the moment of panic, is this it, is this how it ends? will i make it to the ER?
I realize my calves are seizing up, they ache terribly. My throat hurts.
"That sound..." I whisper, staring at my arms splayed on the ground before me, "that sound came out of me..."
"Oh babe," he says, touching me, "you're burning up, you're so sweaty."
I feel my torso pulling itself upright, my arms peeling the sweater and tank-top underneath off in one slick layer.
"You... left a puddle." Gage says, and we gaze at the wet image of myself I've left behind.
"I soaked through a sweater," I mumble agreeably before laying back down. "I don't know... what happened. I don't know. I'm just really nauseous. I don't know. I'm so nauseous. There was... something." I cannot remember, but there is the thought of something, something had to have happened, I was nauseous because I was nibbling and there was something...
the something evades me. there is just fog in the whole moment. I try to focus on the scream. I had felt it rising in my throat, I think? I had been... aware of it, growing stronger as... whatever that something was... it doesn't make sense. I don't understand what just happened, or why. something. I'm just so... confused.
After eternity, or maybe just a minute, the extreme nausea and dizziness passes, my breathing regulates.
"You need a cool shower," Gage is telling me, coaxing but insistent. "I'm going to go get you a cool shower started." the need to do something, the drive to help in some way, any way. it is love.
I take the cool shower.
It helps, a lot.
My therapist tells me there is a 70/30 rule. If you're being a decent human to your kid 70% of the time, you're doing a good job parenting. People make mistakes. You cannot be the best parent, 100% of the time. You just cant. You will make mistakes, have moments of failure. Give yourself a margin for error; 30% of the time, you're gonna screw up. Try not to do it more than that. And, if you are serious about gentle parenting, you will request a do-over with your child. You will be candid about those times you screwed up, apologize, because all humans regardless of their age deserve apologies if you've screwed up. So many of us were taught that grown-ups are right all of the time, just because they are grown-ups. I'm a grown-up now, and I can say with one hundred percent certainty, that's bullshit. Teach your kids that even you make mistakes, and that that's okay. It's part of being human.
I'll suggest it once further: apply the 70/30 rule to every other relationship. To your partner. To your friendships. To your parents and relatives. Allow people to make mistakes, they cannot be present and perfect for you all the time, but don't let them hurt you, either. Are they applying it back?
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i type the title. delete it. type it. search the definition. i have to be sure.
i am correct in my usage, but now displeased because the definition is much too simplistic. the definition doesn't give you understanding of the fear, the terror, the confusion.
maybe i am incorrect in my usage after all, if it doesn't match.
maybe definitions are merely frameworks.
last week, we drove up north
to the place that is referred to
when others ask us where we're from.
"home" in the
"are you going home for the holidays?"
we drove to rural southern maryland,
although less rural than the days we left it.
it is not my home. it is merely where home once was.
(i moved around a lot as a kid. i've moved around a bit as an adult.
home is wherever you decide it to be.)
we weren't there for the holidays, either.
i mean, we were, in that it is holiday season,
but that's not why we went.
we went "home" because
"back home" is where everyone's parents still live.
my mom, my best friend's parents, my other best friend's parents.
they live there, and so the kids, now adults, flock back periodically throughout the year.
most predictably at holidays.
and so when Cait tells me she will be flying in from Canada,
I make plans.
and when Katie and I realize we will both be in Maryland at the same time,
Katie living in the Florida Keys, an eighteen hour drive from "back home,"
we shriek in delight and make plans as well.
i am not going home for the holidays,
i laugh when people ask.
oh no, we spend christmas actually home.
Christmas is for the three of us, our little family unit.
it's nice. it's quiet. it's calm,
and it's ours.
Cait is one of my childhood best friends. I don't know how or when we met. I moved to Maryland in sixth grade, so we have a general timeframe; but mostly, she's just always been there. We've grown older and apart and come together again in the ebb and flow in life; the one that all of my friends and I agree upon now as being a pretty normal thing to friendship, but in our twenties it was so... personal.
i wish we were more graceful when we were younger. in ten years, i will likely wish the same thing upon my thirty-year-old being.
this isn't where i was going to go with this post, but i have to highlight this part here
because i just made reference to the future. the future in a large chunk of time.
and that is big for me.
i am not ready to write about that, not here and not now and maybe not for awhile because that is too much for my fragile mind to consider right now, but
i let it slip
and to you
that there is
layer of hope in me
in ten years,
suggests that some part of me...
believes i will survive another ten years.
(teach me how to be hopeful.)
Mama Lorraine and Papa Joe have three children of their own; Cait is their eldest.
Gage moved to Florida from Maryland when we were in high school. The two of us did not start dating until after he had moved. Eight months into our long-distance relationship (which is a thousand lifetimes when you are a highs school student), Gage saved enough money to fly back and visit me.
My parents would not let him stay at our house.
.... part of me gets it, i guess. in a really archaic, distrustful way.
My parents have a large house. The one my mom still lives in. The one we sleep in when we visit "back home" is my teenage bedroom. It was a four bedroom house. Five now, they finished the basement. I have one sibling.
They would not let a sixteen year old child who flew from Florida to Maryland, by himself, stay overnight in their house because he had the audacity to have a penis! SCREAM.
PS nothing will stop horny teenagers
PPS i'm queer and a lot of my friends are queer and we touched a LOT of boobs during girls-only sleepovers, back before we all realized how very gay we are but i digress
It was Mama Lorraine and Papa Joe who invited Gage to stay with them. They had more children and less rooms. Less stigma and more compassion, too.
We stop by to see them whenever we can, whenever we are in town. They remind us we don't need a holiday to come visit. That Cait doesn't need to be in town for us to be welcome there.
When you walk into their home, you can feel it.
Its one of those magical places that is always warm, bursting with love. It has Good Energy. passes the vibe check. etc. lol.
It is real, it is lived in. it is home the second i step in. I know where the mugs are, I drop my phone and cardigan where they may lay, I make myself a coffee and make myself at home. Cake takes off for hours, fully enamored with Aunt Krissy and Uncle Bren and their collector's pieces they wince at while she squeals over Sailor Moon figures and Pokemon plushies and she heckles Kristen the entire evening about keeping her beloved Lugia stuffy. At some point I have to remind both Cake and Kristen that Cake does not get to lay ownership over everything she likes just because Kristen adores spoiling her; Cake's face falls slightly, Kristen looks relieved. I adore them.
We'd made the plans to spend the night there. My mom's house is only twenty minutes down the road (country backroads.. take me home.. through the woods.. the drive is loongg..) but it'll be fun to have a sleepover, to not have to rush goodbyes because the sky grows dark, to enjoy drinking into befuddlement, to let the kid crash on the couch after a feast of a dinner, to wake up and drink copious amounts of coffee ground fresh that morning by Mama L or by Cait or by any of the family really because their Love Language is Coffee. Gage and I also speak this love language.
It was an incredible evening, a full house. Because of the pandemic, and health, I haven't seen Cait in person in three or so years, I don't remember. It is the first time I've met her husband, Ryan. He is amazing; he seems soft and sweet, gentle and funny and kind. The Good Things you hope to see your best friend share in.
"Do we like him?" Mama L whispers, smiling at me over coffee.
"We love him," I agree, grinning, hugging her.
I had explained to Cake many times in advance that Aunt Caitlin is called this because she is my best friend, and we may choose our families, and Cait and I love each other like sisters and she loves Cake like her Niece, so she is Aunt Cait. Marriage makes Ryan "Uncle Ryan," but she's never met him before and she may call him Mister Ryan if she prefers to get to know him and she may decide when or if she calls him Uncle.
Cake takes to Uncle Ryan immediately.
I am telling you these details because I need you to know,
I need you to know how good things were,
how perfect and filled with happiness and love and joy i was filled with
.... i still don't think i'm conveying enough, i don't know that i can.
my mind, and my body,
are dark, and depressed, and in pain,
so much excruciating pain,
so much of the time.
and it left me. the mental anguish.
Mama L and Papa Joe, their house is peace to me.
but there is no break from the physical.
and the trip beforehand was long
the week beforehand was long
the month of december has been
and i think really maybe thats why
when i was at peace
my mind left.
there was a point in the night where i just... lost focus.
i don't know how to explain it, other than sometimes my brain just gets... disoriented.
i don't know if it's the cancer, or the treatment, or the cPTSD. if it's just sheer exhaustion piling up, if it is compounded by ADHD. if it's everything rolled into one. i don't know. i just know that sometimes, i lose time. it's terrifying, disorienting, confusing.
i am on the couch. we have all decided we are going to play a game in the living room while we wait for dinner.
i don't know where this context comes from. i don't know how i got on the couch, because last I remember, i thought...
.... last I remember ...i thought..?
i was in the dining room?
picking at cookies?
but now i am sitting on the couch and gage has his arm wrapped around me and he and everyone is typing animatedly on their phones
and i have my phone in my hand too
and i have a website pulled up and it matches the screen on the tv
what are we doing? i am asking, maybe outloud, although now i don't remember
it must have been, because somehow i knew we were playing a game, so someone must have answered me.
and we are supposed to read the prompts and fill in our answers
and then we will all vote on the funniest answers
it is like ad libs and cards against humanity
and that makes sense,
or it would if the words on the phone made sense
there are words, and i can read the words, but they don't make sense.
they are shaped like a sentence but they do not read like a sentence
i type something to make the prompt go away
and another pops up
and it also doesn't make sense
it is also words shaped like a sentence with no sense in it at all
and there is a timer on the screen
and i don't understand what we are doing
i dont know how i got here
and i dont know how my phone is in my hand
and i can't read words anymore which is cool
and i begin to cry.
just crying. on the couch.
in my best-friend's parent's home.
and i am trying to make the tears stop
because to cry is to draw attention to the fact that i am broken
but it is too late,
they have seen me
and that makes me cry harder
and now i am sobbing
on the couch
while everyone stares at me oh god
like a lost child
who cannot find their mother
who has wandered too far in the mall
it is overwhelming and too much and i cry
this is not how adults behave
this is not how you act around others
this is not how christmas works
the guilt that comes with illness
because Gage is squeezing me tight, reminding me it's okay, i am okay,
everyone here loves you it is okay
as I choke out I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I don't know what's wrong I just don't know what is happening--
and Mama L sits on the other side of me and holds my hand
and Cait is before me
and their soft soothing voices are salve to my mind
and they whisper that
they forget too
they forget things and places and names and words
and i squawk at them between the tears that they absolutely must listen to Neil Gaiman's reading of The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury, it's really apt, it's an ode to Ray Bradbury but it's a piece about losing your memory and --
this is who i am. i am sobbing hysterically on the couch because i am so fucking lost and confused that the only response my body could think up was literally Cry For Help, and my outward response is to recommend readings that really highlight the conversation at hand.
I cannot remember how i got here, to being a sobbing lump ruining dinner, but I can remember that Neil Gaiman put into words what I'm feeling much better than I can right now, crying on your couch Mama L.
... that's it. The memory ends there, with Cait and Mama L speaking their melodic voices, with Mama L and Gage rubbing me comfortingly until the tears and the shivering and apologies somehow come to an end.
later in the evening--i only know it is later because i know i was sitting on the opposing couch--Mama Lorraine and I are snuggling. My brain lumps this memory in with the one just before, insists they go together. I know they do not, but I am beginning to see why my brain insists they are connected.
because they are, in emotion,
the feeling of safety as I snuggled against this woman who has invited me into her home over the last fifteen plus years
who does not have to love me but gives it
so abundant and overwhelmingly free,
who has loved my husband and welcomed him into their home before she even truly knew who he was, other than a friend in the group who had moved away and come back for a week,
who has cherished Cake and her milestones as one of her own grandchildren,
who has shared woes of mothering with me, her own acquired nuggets of wisdom, her triumphs and failures and heartaches and struggles
who has opened up her heart to me of our shared traumas
and navigating through
who are loving grandmothers
who are loving mothers
who are harmful who are immigrants who are products of their violent pasts who are broken and jagged but still smooth and polished and beautiful and will cut you and then scorn you for touching the edge that was wielded against you in the first place---
the safety that has been built up over the years
the love and empathy and compassion
the free, untethered love that does not come with clauses or conditions
or wane like the tides and the face of the moon
Mama Lorraine strokes my cheek and whispers "beautiful girl," so soft, and i wonder if the words are really meant for me. she repeats them, rhythmically, petting me--loving me, i realize, and i can feel my body relax. i did not know i was tense, i did not know I was withholding my weight from her body, did not notice that although I slouched on the couch I still sat upright just enough; this tension melts away. I sink into her, the couch and our bodies shift slightly as I lean my head into her hand and close my eyes and let her lull me in and out of consciousness.
i consider the feeling of safety.
time is weird.
i am not sure how long we sat there.
not sure how the night moved from there; I believe it was just the after-dinner lull and I know we stayed up much later.
but long enough for my brain to connect these memories
to take note of the moments as Important
to keep bringing them back up to me,
asking me to Think About It.
i love Thinking About It.
i love Thinking About Everything.
i love Thinking.
as i had felt my body relax
my brain made sure to tell me
my normal response to touch
is to flinch
don't let them get close
don't let them near
this is also funny and ironic because Gage can absolutely tell you I am a leech, suckered onto him, needing to be reminded that i am needed.
i like touch.
I like platonically holding my friend's hands, and hugging them often and a lot and leaning on each other, resting chins on shoulders
and plopping butts in laps when there are plenty of open chairs available
so perhaps my "normal response" isn't to draw away at all.
maybe drawing away
or the wall of tension put up prior
has been built up over time.
and as Mama L drew me in, never needing an explanation, never demanding a reason as to why i dissociated in her house in the first place, never accused me--of what, i am not sure, but the fear of accusation, it is there and it is real, i have been taught to feel guilty, i have been taught i will be punished for outwardly showing anything other than overt happiness--
as she brushed my cheek, she brushed away the wall, let it crumble as though it was nothing but dust in the first place.
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i didn't crash my car today,
so much as drove it off the interstate.
and into a ditch.
it wasn't a crash, and while i certainly didn't plan to fully exit the exit ramp and guide my SUV a deep ditch, i don't know that i can call it an accident either. it was raining, neither light nor heavy, just steady rain, and we simply... glided along the water and off the road. hydroplaned. into a ditch. . . . . o o p s.
later, in the evening, I stood up and bumped into our kitchen table, letting out a weird yelp. Gage quickly calls out if I am okay, to which I respond yes, the noise was more out of surprise than anything.
"more surprised than when you were STUCK IN A DITCH?" comes the fiery crack of a seven-year-old who is really learning the fine art of burning someone.
from the living room, Gage's howl of delight. "Jesus Christ!" he cackles, "I can't wait to tell people at work how good she got you."
Cake is laughing, Gage is laughing, I am laughing, doubled back down on the floor where I had been trying to get up from.
"no," i admit, "nothing was nearly as surprising as getting stuck in a ditch today."
"the two have made jokes about the ditch all day. they don't hurt my feelings; maybe once, they would have. it would have felt like an attack on my parenting, or a critique of my driving. Really, it's just how our family processes [trauma]. We make lots of weird fucking jokes."
I've certainly hydroplaned before. I lived in Florida for five years, lol. And that's probably, actually, why we made it out completely fine and unscathed. My friends all snapped back omg, how terrifying! things of that nature, but honestly, it didnt occur to me how very terrifying that it was until after we'd stopped, I switched into park, cautiously took my foot off the break, and had turned back to look at Cake. It was then, when we made eye contact, that she let out a terrible, strangled sort of wail, and tears plummeted down her cheeks, and it began to dawn on me how very scary the situation must have been.
Even still, in the moment, I reached back and squeezed her hand with a genuine, easy smile and calmly told her, "hey babygirl, we're okay! it's fine, we're absolutely fine!" Still not really registering for me. (She is terrorized, and I am smiling.)
Then I turned around and simply paused our audiobook, which had been droning on while had been I staring blankly ahead thinking, huh, that was bad. now what? and Cake had been sitting in silent shock. I must have stared a little more then, I think; I have very vivid memories of the patch of grass in front of me.
"Mama." Her voice brings me back, and I look up.
Passersby are pulling over on the shoulder lane, trudging down the steep ditch, their shoes sticking in mud and clothes soaking in the rain to be sure that I was okay, was I conscious, am I alone, is the baby okay? do you need me to stay, have you called the police yet, can I call someone for you?
Overwhelmed with love and concern from absolute strangers. Some had seen it happen, others saw my car on the side and stopped out of concern after the fact. Kind, wonderful humans, stopping in absolutely miserable weather, honestly putting themselves at risk by slowing down to stop on such a steep curve, on a busy exit ramp, to check on me, to help me in any way they can. They can't of course, not in any way that occurs to me, but I thank them all graciously, and I hope they know how much I cherish every single one of them, so deeply in my heart. I want to hug them all, squeeze their hands and let them know it made my eyes well up in gratitude.
I call my husband, calmly telling the person who picks up, "could you let him know it's urgent? thanks!" that same blithe smile in my voice. this should be a lot more upsetting than it is.
I explain the situation ("hey, we're fine, but... um, i'm stuck?? in a ditch??"), and he is on his way. He has a trailer hitch on that back of his truck, maybe he can pull me out. Don't call a tow truck yet, okay?
Sure. I dunno the protocol for getting your ass out of a ditch.
Rather quickly among all of this, a VDOT employee pulls along the exit, cones off the ramp, comes over and lets me know the police are on their way, and am I okay, do I need assistance or to have a ride called for me? No thanks, my husband's gonna be here in like twenty minutes. The tow truck is coming and will get me out as soon as he gets here, usually they just allow you to pay and you're on your way if the officer okays it. Oh okay! My husband was going to try to get me out first, is that okay? Sure, if he gets here before the tow truck, we've already got him on the way, he works with the police and he's their guy, and we've got the road blocked off so we just gotta get you out as quickly as possible, et cetera, et cetera; my head bobs along cheerily in agreement. That all makes sense, sure!
I ask him how he got here? I didn't call anyone and was planning we'd figure things out if Gage can't get me out. He explains that there are cameras everywhere so if there's an accident, someone will see, but he happened to actually see me spin off the road so he pulled around to help. I am delighted with my new nugget of information. I love asking people about how their jobs work, and thank him for helping me, for chatting with me, for taking care of us.
Cake wants out of her car seat and to be with me, but also does not want to actually move. She is terrified, shrieking and swatting when I put out my hand to help. I end up unbuckling myself, straining upwards, unbuckling her and then pulling her into my arms, over the center console, into my lap. Soon, she hops into the seat next to me, and we continue listening to Neil Gaiman's Coraline. I rewind a bunch, unsure of where we were when everything happened. I've just finished listening to the audiobook myself, making sure it's something she could listen to without getting too scared, and all the words are too familiar.
She complains about having heard this part already, and I squeeze my eyes shut and groan, shaking my head, shaking the thoughts into place.
I fix it.
She is content and listens, entrapped in Coraline's world instead of our own weird situation. Good.
At some point the police officer arrives. Cake looks stricken.
"Can you tell him why I'm out of my seat?!" she hisses, concerned. "Tell him I was IN MY SEAT but I moved here?!"
I giggle. I love her so much. I reassure her she won't be arrested for needing to be comforted.
I also call her school while we wait. "Hey, I'm calling about my child's late entrance... well, no, I guess absence from school today. No, no she's not sick, she had a routine doctor's appointment this morning and then I . . . crashed our car . . . oh but we're completely fine we're okay! I just, yeah, I don't think we're going to school after this." The woman is kind and understanding and we talk about the rain puddling up on the roads for a bit before hanging up.
Eventually, my car is retrieved on a flat-bed. I take Cake home in Gage's truck, and he brings my SUV home. We relax for a bit; they watch TV, I work on my website. We leave early for swim lessons, stopping at the local Girl Scouts store, picking up her Daisy Scout uniform pieces. She is delighted, and picks out cute Daisy socks as well; Gage obliges her, and she is ecstatic. We grab drive-thru dinner, and then she is in swim, excelling, a mermaid in her zone.
The two have made jokes about the ditch all day. They don't hurt my feelings; maybe once, they would have. It would have felt like an attack on my parenting, or a critique of my driving. Really, it's just how our family processes. We make lots of weird fucking jokes about our trauma; about cancer, about mental health, about careening over the interstate and into a ditch. She's learning from the best, really.
Before she heads to bed, I squeeze her tight. "How are you feeling?" I ask her.
"Your body doesn't hurt?"
"How about your head, how is your head feeling?"
"No, I mean, your heart, your mind, how are you doing?"
She thinks on this for a little bit, understanding now what I am asking her.
"You keep saying it was slow, but it wasn't slow, it was really fast!!" She begins crying again, and I scoop her in tighter.
Gage and I explain to her what that means; she's certainly heard us relaying the story, my recalling the details. That just because a car is going slow for a car, that it is still going incredibly fast for her tiny body; a car driving ten miles an hour is nothing, but a human being running that fast is extreme. How seeing the ground come up at us, seeing our car dipping at such a sharp angle, is not anything she has ever seen before and I hope she never does again, and that is an alarming thing to process, too. We explain how it could have been so, so much horrifically worse--if I had pulled the steering wheel too hard in response, we could have spun out; had I not steered enough: fishtailed back into traffic, we could have hit other cars then. Cake gasps in realization. We talk about how fortunate we are that there is negligible surface damage to my car, and how if we had been going just slightly faster, or had hit a guard rail just beyond or before the area we went down, there could have been much more damage, or we could have flipped. It was bad, and scary. Yes. Those scary feelings are okay. But also remember, you are safe. We talk about car seat safety and testing., how no matter the situation, that cars eat would have hugged around her and kept her little body safe from harm.
This all helps, it seems. I hope. She says it does, but in her uncertain way that reminds me so much of myself: overthinking, still mulling it all over, unable to put the feelings into words at such a small age.
Really, overall, I'm really quite proud myself in the of the situation. It sucks, for sure, lol. But also . . . shrug. I did the best with the situation at hand. I felt the car rising above the asphalt, levitating on the water. I knew we were leaving the road before it happened, knew my car was spiraling much too tightly for the turn and there was no correcting it; the safest place for everyone was for me to carefully guide the SUV into the grass. I didn't panic, or scream, or cry. In the aftermath, I didn't dismiss my child's very valid fear to make myself more comfortable, nor did I let her feed into my own worries and exacerbate her fears (...to make myself more comfortable).
Part of me figures it's because I've just been dealt so much extraneous bullshit, I don't have the energy to get hung up on how scary it was or how bad it could have been; I mostly come away like, well, that sucked but it wasn't the worst thing that has ever happened to me, huh. Lame way to spend the morning.
And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.
"Maybe it broke off keeping us safe," I muse softly as he tells me this.
"From all the way across town at the base?" he chuckles.
"Sure." I continue, "It held on as best it could, but by the time you tried to pull us out, it had already spent it's energy."
We consider this in silence for awhile.
In my mind,
I thank the bell.