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I have quite a few friends that have separated and then divorced and opted to live super close to one another so that their children can move freely between the two homes. It’s probably really excellent for their emotional development and surely can make shared custody easier.
My parents split up more than twenty years ago. For the most part, I can say that I am used to it by now. But you see, they lived almost 800 miles apart. It made seeing them both around holidays pretty challenging. My dad was more than 500 miles away from me and my mom was a little shy of 300.
This morning I drove the 1.2 miles from my house to my dad’s so that I could say hello. And then I ran from my dad’s house to my mom’s (almost finished) house via mostly the road and through downtown.
I ran back to my dad’s house via the River Walk (the scenic route, I suppose, although I would argue that downtown is pretty scenic, too.)
It’s not walking distance. But I plan to run.
I am 43 years old, almost 44, and my mom and dad are going to live right down the street. Both of them. I can’t even begin to explain how happy this makes me. It should make their shared custody of me much easier.
Losing Fisher the day after Emily’s 11th birthday was a blow to our family. For thirteen years I’d looked into his sweet face and asked him, “are you Mama’s best boy?” He never had to answer. He knew it. I knew it. Everyone knew it. He was my best boy.
I didn’t make it until Thanksgiving even until I was looking for a new pup. I couldn’t do it, the no dog life. My heart broke every time I opened the door. The quiet, the empty space at the foot of my bed. (Who am I kidding? Up near the pillows…) I am a dog person. And a dog person without a dog is just a mess.
A listing for a “black lab mix” named Adidas led me to meeting a ridiculous little pup with sharp teeth and no tail. I wasn’t sure he was the one, but how do you know? Puppies are adorable, all of them. How do you say no to a puppy?
I asked the vet tech how old she thought he was and she flipped open a folder. “It says here that he was born on September 19th.”
Fisher left us on the very same day that this little black dog came into the world. Put him in the car, we are taking him home!!
He was a baby. So we spoiled him. My human baby was getting bigger by the minute, my big kid was a precocious pre-teen. I needed something to love and he was perfect. He was a menace, don’t get me wrong. But he was a puppy.
And then he got bigger and he was kind of still a pain in the ass. He ran away when we opened the doors; he was just a pest in a way that I didn’t remember from the last dog, the best boy.
And then we got some answers in the form of those dog DNA tests. He was a beagle!
Turns out that he is an American Staffordshire Terrier and Chow Chow mix on one side. So, he is strong, stubborn, perhaps a little bit of a challenge to train. But the lineage on one entire side as far back as they can see? Beagle, pure pain in the ass.
So, we got down to the business of training him. Cue the laughter. We took a puppy class, we stopped yelling at him when he followed his nose right out the door. We accepted that he is food motivated and I had dog treats in my pockets for about a year.
And here we are.
Today he is three. He whines at night if he is outside of the covers and will not simply burrow down on his own. You must lift the blankets and invite him to come back to bed.
He stares at me whenever I am in the house.
He steals food, paper, pens and television remote controls.
When I was pregnant with Lucy I worried that if I had another daughter I wouldn’t know how to love her as much as I loved Emily. It would be simpler to have a son, right? Then I would always have my favorite daughter and my favorite son. Experienced parents, including my own mother, had long told me that the heart expands. And sure enough, that has been exactly how it all turned out. I love my girls, both of them, more than I could imagine, and each so differently.
But my dogs?
You’ve heard the old song “Michael Finnegan?” We sing it in our house about the dog.
“There was a black dog and his name was Finnegan,
He fell down and broke his shin again,
The doctor said he will never swim again,
Poor black dog named Finnegan, Begin again….”
With Finnegan we truly did “begin again.”
I worried that I would not settle on new nicknames, new patterns of behavior. That this sweet pup would steal my heart and with time I would lose Fisher more and more every day.
I tell him every day that he is the “worst dog ever.” I put his face in my hands and I get very close to him and breathe in his god forsaken breath and I whisper to him “You are a terrible dog. Do you know that? You are a bad, bad boy.”
He remains unfazed.
The girls asked me yesterday what he was getting for his birthday. I replied quickly, “He gets to live with us for another year.”
This morning I woke with you in my arms. “What time is it?” you asked me. “Time for school, kiddo.”
You rolled over, all arms and legs, and groaned. Moments later you sat down at the kitchen counter in running shorts and a hoodie. “Casual day today, huh?” You smiled.
“So. Being eleven has pretty much sucked so far, huh?”
You laughed and your eyes filled with tears. I turned away and offered to make you some eggs for breakfast. I don’t usually cook in the morning but I wanted to be busy and I couldn’t look at you. I knew if you looked me in the eyes you would try to stay home with me today. I can’t ever fool you.
“It’s just that everything we do all day will make us miss him even more, Mom. It will really feel real when I get off the bus. Even though it’s different now, like he doesn’t run down the driveway anymore, he still comes out…”
You stood and I wrapped you in my arms. You have grown so tall. And you have grown into this warm, compassionate, funny girl. We held onto one another in the kitchen until Lucy barged in and broke up our sobfest.
Yesterday, after Fisher was gone, we were sitting in the living room, you and me and Dad. I mentioned that I should probably throw out his dog bed before one of us was curled up in it, breathing in his scent and sobbing. Dad broke the silence as he said “Yeah, Mom is really trying to help me save face here because I was just about to do that…” Your laughter was so perfectly right on time.
Not an hour before Fisher was gone you were eating an oatmeal raisin cookie and you broke off a little piece for him You stopped and pulled your hand back “But the raisin….” and we all laughed. You have my same horrible sense of humor. But you have a quiet confidence that didn’t come from me. I love it.
Em, I am sorry that this birthday will always be the day before Fisher died. But I will never forget the gracious, loving, incredible young woman you turned into when you were only eleven years and one day old. I asked you if you wanted to be in the room when Fish was put to sleep and you said that you did. And then I asked you for a difficult favor. “Baby, I am going to need to be there for Fish. And just kind of do everything I need to do for me to let him go, if you’re there, too, I am going to need you to just kind of take care of you for a minute and I feel awful even saying that…” You interrupted me to assure me that you knew that already and that you’d be fine.
The veterinary assistant was carrying Fisher to the front door when you sat down in my lap and put your head onto my chest. “Oh, Mommy….” Together, we wept.
This morning the bus pulled up at the bottom of the driveway and I kissed you quickly and said “Don’t worry about me today.” You smiled back at me. “Impossible.”
You’re incredible, Emily June. I love you and your big puppy feet.
Being an extroverted introvert makes some things difficult. One of those things that is tricky is busting in on a group of people that are already established. They have a rhythm and a routine. I am kind of a big personality (shut up, I know that is an understatement.) And finding my place in a group of personalities that already have a vibe is delicate. I don’t really know how to take a back seat.
But the back seat is exactly where you sit when you are the new kid that joins a group of people that regularly share a swim lane. Treading water next to the lane line while you wait for your spot to grab the wall and try to think of something clever to say in the ten seconds you have before the next swim set starts is exhausting. Never mind the swimming part. I always feel like a 12-year-old kid in the back seat of a car. I can kind of hear the conversation but the windows are down and the infinitely cooler teenage driver and their counterpart in the front seat are smiling and laughing and I am nodding along and treading water and trying to not look clueless.
5:30 a.m. Master’s swim practice is a strange animal. It’s not the retired folks from mid-morning or the work from home people from lunchtime. Both of those groups are happy to chat it up poolside. These people are getting in and out and getting on with their lives. They’re busy people or so it seems. And nobody is particularly chatty when it is still practically the middle of the night. So how do you get to know them? How do you find a rapport?
You keep showing up. Therein lies the problem. I can think of a zillion reasons not to get up before five in the morning. Add in a little social anxiety and I can convince myself to bail on practice. Easy peasy.
But on Wednesday there was this lady that made me laugh. Hard. She said “I’m going to make an art film called Sounds From the Pool” as we were all gasping for breath in the cold water. Later in the practice as the gasping had to turned to heavy breathing I said “If you started the film just with sounds – snapping of the swim cap, gasping and then creepy, heavy breathing – it would totally sound like a dirty movie. Condoms and then hot and heavy humping…” She didn’t miss a beat, guys. She immediately grabbed onto my ridiculousness. She was my people.
This morning I considered sleeping through practice. But I kinda sorta wanted to see her again. She was funny. At 5:30 in the morning. She’s a rare breed.
I make friends the way drunk girls in bathrooms make friends. I like to go from “Hi, my name is…” to “OHMYGODYOUAREMYBESTFRIENDEVER” in about four minutes. It doesn’t always work out well. I am trying to play it cool. I am.
But when I saw her this morning and she made me laugh again before I even had my goggles on – well, I was smitten. While swimming this morning I was thinking about how stressful it must have been to have been a swimmer in high school. Imagine sharing a lane with someone you are crushing on. You’d spend the 200 yards you were swimming thinking of something clever to say in the ten seconds you might share at the wall. And then when you said it there would be a 50% chance that it went unheard. So if nobody laughs did they not hear you? Do you try and say it again? Or would you then become that weird girl that repeats herself and thinks she is funny? (Again, shut up. I know that is self-referential.)
This morning as we were climbing out of the pool and laughing I decided to just go out on a limb and ask “do you stay home with your kids?” There’s a certain camaraderie among people who might not talk to anyone else all day that is not biologically related to them. Maybe it is a momentary “holyshitwebettermakethiscount” kind of feeling but whatever it is – she had it, I knew it.
We joked about how it is hard to MomFriend someone at swim practice when you only have ten seconds at a time to get your funny on. I mentioned that I write stand up routines in my head while I swim/bike/run and sadly the only people who ever hear them are my peeps at the grocery store.
“Do you do stand up?” she asked.
And it took everything in my power to not crumble to the floor at her feet on the pool deck. Only moments earlier she said something to the effect of “that’s a sleeper that will make me laugh again and again all day” and I could feel myself stand up a little taller. We’ve only just met. She thinks I am funny. That’s my in, y’all. (Granted, my ten second schpiel on how sprinting breaststroke is like fast walking was pretty damn funny.) I know I get myself into trouble when I dive in prematurely – but I think I am making a new friend.
Maybe I will write some stand up, huh? Take this show on the road. And by on the road I mean to the Harris Teeter.
And it’s not like I need to find things to do. There’s new SnapChat filters on the daily, y’all.
I am not a super competitive person. Not in my life, not in triathlon. I am just not. I really believe that hocus pocus about how you’re only competing against yourself. It’s true. I struggle with my training because I want each run to be faster than the last. And improvement comes in incremental leaps not daily.
This month has been big for me. In the middle of my fourth season of triathlon I have started to make some improvement. I rode the bike leg of Ironman Raleigh 70.3 a few weeks ago and I didn’t ride my brakes downhill. And I did not die. At all. I used my aerobars even though I still feel like I am going to crash because my hands aren’t even touching my brakes and I figured out what it feels like to blow your legs out on the bike. (Awesome, by the way.)
This last weekend I raced my first sprint with a pool swim in over a year and I passed a bunch of folks so apparently I hugely overestimated my swim time.
And then I went all out on the bike and figured I would just see if I could run. At all. And I smashed my personal record for a 5K. Not a 5K in a tri. But at all. It was crazy. I felt like George Jetson. In my head I was all “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!!!!” but my legs just kept moving.
Another fitness related accomplishment is as much about my head is it is the rest of me. I started running without my shirt on. And it isn’t pretty. But I feel like a badass and it seems that people will not actually DIE if they see my stomach in motion. Stretch marks don’t tan so they are just whiter and more bold than ever but I am over worrying about it. I stopped in the bathroom on a run recently and when I looked in the mirror I noted that I looked like a “runner.” Intellectually I know that runners come in all shapes and sizes but I have always felt like a poser.
The last accomplishment is one that I hesitate to speak about. It feels more personal. You know, since I don’t get naked and stand on the bathroom scale in front of all of you. But it feels good to be proud of yourself, and dammit, I am. I have lost a good bit of weight this year in my “Get Your Shit Together Before You Turn 40!” plan and I have maintained it. I have had to change my race registrations from Athena to Age Group since I no longer qualify. And it feels weird. I have identified as a big kid for the last ten years. I actually enjoyed that moment when I told someone that I was just a little shy of 200 pounds and they raised an eyebrow and said “No fucking way!” But I am down almost 40 pounds and I run faster and sleep better and drink less alcohol and wear ALL OF MY CLOTHES because holy shit, they fit!!!
Silly that I had to go stand in a store and weigh myself and purchase three months of a diet program to put into practice the same dietary advice that my mother has been giving free of charge since I was a kid. “Mom, I am hungry.” “Eat an apple.” “I don’t want an apple.” “Well, then you’re not hungry.”
I don’t do low-fat food. And I don’t do diet food. But I started eating real food. And a lot of it. And I dropped weight. And then I got faster. And then I stayed the same weight for two months and got faster still. I can’t believe that those things are not connected.
I was eating an apple (from my purse because I carry snacks around like I am my own toddler) and thinking the other day as I walked into Target. I eat like an athlete. I am fueling my body and my workouts and caring for myself. I’ll be damned.
I didn’t turn into a different person. I still drink cheap beers in the shower. I just make better choices when I get out of the shower. Another perk? It seems that losing weight has made my boobs all but disappear so now I can share my shower beer pics with no boobs in sight unless I take them from the waist up! Long boobs, indeed!
I am not that competitive. Not with other people. But with myself? I want to get there faster than I did last time. Every single time. I spent ten years gaining and losing the same 40 pounds. But I can guarandamntee that I won’t do it again. Because this feels so good. I feel like me again.
Running last weekend I was thinking about how I am not normally motivated to speed up by other runners. We are all in our own race, on our own journey. But there was this kid in front of me. Well, he was behind me at first but then he was in front of me. And I couldn’t stand it. I gave it all I had to try and catch him. The weekend before I was climbing up a hill on my bike and feeling strong when I heard that whirring sound of fancy wheels and “On your left!” I moved to the side and prepared to be passed. Out of habit I looked at his calf to check his age. 64. I dug deep and passed him on the next hill.
I guess I am a little competitive. I don’t like to get passed by people I could have given birth to or people that could have given birth to me. That’s my window of shame. And I don’t want to feel like I live in a body that doesn’t feel like mine. Eventually the triathletes I could have given birth to won’t be in elementary school and I will have to revise my plan.
But for now – I have goals. And I am smashing them, friends. Set some. Aim high. It feels so damn good. It feels even better if those goals serve absolutely nobody but you. Be selfish. Take care of yourself. Take naps. Take risks. I triple dog dare you.
It was almost 25 years ago that I realized that my boobs had tremendous power. My portrayal of Hippolyta in my high school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was nothing if not lackluster but the deep v of my black body suit meant that all I really had to do was stand there. My boobs had the stage presence of an Amazonian Queen (albeit one with a possibly historically inaccurate complete set of knockers.)
My boobs and I went to college and found employment behind the bar. My smart mouth and my perky young boobs made pretty stellar money for about a decade. When my older daughter was born and I retired from tending bar I am betting my boobs thought they’d get a break. Nope. I put those boobs to work overtime. I realized that these magical orbs were not only mama’s moneymakers but they were baby’s favorite, too.
In breastfeeding I found my maternal confidence. And when I had questions about how to feed my baby my boobs led me to finding my tribe. Breastfeeding helped me stumble into attachment parenting and co-sleeping and a million labels that helped me to know that I absolutely knew how to be a mother to my baby. I learned everything I could so that I could tell other new moms to just trust themselves. Funny that we all need facts to tell us to trust our guts, such is the first of many things that make no sense about parenting.
As my hell-raising and breastfeeding days were behind me and my life settled into that of a newly single mother my boobs took a little hiatus. I celebrated them both (both boobs as well as the hell-raising and the baby feeding) with this tattoo!
When my youngest was born my boobs got back on board and played their part. I imagine that they heaved a heavy sigh and got ready as they knew this time around that it was likely a long road. Four years and three months later… Lucy has started sleeping through the night. Sometimes she even falls asleep without me. And without “boobie.” I can see the end of the road and it is bittersweet. Nursing babies has been part of my life for nine of my almost eleven years as a mother. It has led me to yet another tribe of women. Volunteering with Best for Babes has been a meaningful part of my life for several years.
As my 40th birthday approached I decided to go ahead and get a mammogram. I did my hair for the occasion. Like you do. No big deal, right? When the technician apologized for any discomfort I laughed and explained that my boobs barely belonged to me anymore. These “long boobs” can reach a kid in a car seat in the backseat while I am driving! I kid, I kid. Sort of. Think a few glass plates are going to bother me? Pfft.
“Now most women will receive a call back since this is your baseline mammogram. Don’t worry if we call you back in.”
So then they called. And I worried. And worried some more. Because everything is so…. ok. This last decade has been a bumpy ride, y’all. But I am looking down the barrel of 40 and thinking that this is going to be my decade! I was ready to coast into 40 with my smile bright, a husband that is crazy about me (most of the time,) two healthy kids, a ridiculous addiction to triathlon that keeps me healthy, my boobs in retirement and sleeping through the night! Life was looking good.
“Well, I don’t really like what I am seeing on these images so we are going to need to do an ultrasound.”
And my stomach dropped. I had that moment when your life is a Lifetime movie and suddenly you are Valerie Bertinelli and you are wearing so much mascara and you’re crying and there is shitty music playing and you know that absolutely nothing good is going to come of you wearing this unusually soft cape dress that opens in the front.
And so the ultrasound technician does that thing where they bite the inside of their mouth and go back and forth over the same place again and again and I tried to make jokes and she just kept taking pictures and typing illegible things on a screen I could not quite read. “Now you just relax here and I will take these down to Radiology and be back in a few.”
“Sure,” I said, “I will just kick back and play on my phone and contemplate my imminent death. None of us get our of here alive anyway, right?” I laughed. And she closed the door and I let myself cry.
Five minutes later the radiologist came in (that can’t be a good sign, right?) and says “Everything is fine. But I am going to show you what I am looking at so you don’t have to take my word for it.” She adjusted her dials and smiled at me with her warm face and said “When I was your age and my kids were small we didn’t have all of these fancy machines so we just had to wait and worry. Since you’re still nursing I am guessing that what we saw before was maybe a milk duct that was full?”
And I started to laugh and cry and wipe snot on my arm since I had no sleeves. Breastfeeding for longer than a year can actually lower your risk of cancer. But evidently it can increase your chances of being certain that you most definitely have it for the five minutes it takes for a radiologist to look at your pictures.
At the end of it all… Everything’s ok. I will go back in six months when my milk ducts are dried up and my last baby has hopefully weaned and I will get another round of pictures. And I will surely get called back in because we still don’t have a baseline of images to look at, really.
The other day in swim practice we got to dive off the block and do 25 yard sprints. I have not dived off a swim block since I was 10 years old and I was petrified. I told my coach “When something scares the snot out of me and my first instinct is to say No Way – that’s when I know I have to do it.” That has been my Life Plan these last few years. So far, so good. I considered putting off my baseline mammogram because I wasn’t sure I was in a headspace that could stomach the potential worry. But I was scared. So I went all in.
In the last month I have had one of those roller coaster rides of the mind when you imagine that thing, the thing you fear the most. And I am not saying that I fear breast cancer more than anything else, not at all. In fact, in the five minutes I waited for the doctor this morning I let my mind go all the way there. I would fight hard and I would be ok. And I would get some brand new boobs as a present when it was all said and done and twenty-five years from now I would write another blog post about the twenty-five years I had spent embracing these new boobs. Because I am in my heart of hearts an optimist. I am a Lemonade maker.
The thing I fear the most is feeling Stupid. I have been making lemonade from lemons for much of my adult life. But in the last couple of years things have started to slow down and I have relaxed into a groove that feels so incredibly … ok. And deep down I am scared that Life will start handing out something even worse than lemons… Sucker Punches? And I will feel stupid for relaxing and believing that maybe, just maybe, it was all going to turn out alright.
But for today…. I am relieved. And I am grateful. And I am bawling and sweaty in a co-op grocery store in a town that I adore while my kids are in schools that I am pleased with and my husband is at a job that he mostly likes after a run that I cut short because I kept crying. And I am ok.
I hope you’re ok, too. And I hope you do things that scare you. Big ones and small ones. Because this life is made up of choices, millions of choices. The moments that I have chosen to be brave I have never regretted.
On the back of his chef coat was a design – black octagons in a line down the center of his spine. He was laughing and smiling and everyone around him was smiling, too. The first time I saw the design on his coat I had no idea what it was but I was still pretty green. It was my first bartending gig and I was barely 21 years old.
By the time I saw the octagons on the back of his jacket a second time I had already gotten a few of my own on the knee of the jeans that I wore to work. Kneel down on a kitchen mat to get something off of a shelf and you, too, will have a greasy octagon on your pants. That explained what they were. But it didn’t tell me how they got there. Who in the hell would lie down on the floor in a kitchen?
I was working in a restaurant with an open kitchen. From behind the bar I could see the boys in the kitchen and I would admire their fast hands and their furrowed brows as they made delicious magic happen on dinner plates.
I would look into the kitchen window often for a whole bunch of different reasons. It was wise to take a peek into the window before you sent in a Sunday brunch ticket with a bazillion “Hold Food” special orders. You were a fool to not check and see if the boys were busy before you ordered your favorite sandwich for your employee lunch (turkey club with boursin mayonnaise.) Eventually I would marry one of those boys on the line so I suppose I was frequently just trying to sneak a peek at that guy I had just met.
On a busy night in the middle of a dinner rush if you watched carefully you would see one of the most extraordinary things I have ever witnessed in a kitchen. (Now you know if you have worked in the restaurant business that kitchens are like another planet and a lot of insane things go down back there.) But there is only one boy I have ever seen do a somersault on the line. Perhaps more astounding than the somersault was that nobody ever looked irritated by this ridiculous display of bravery (stupidity?) in the midst of hot pans and high tempers. And knives.
Nobody could roll with it like Skillet. “My name is Skillet and I rooooolllll with it.” He would pop up from the floor with a fresh line of octagons down his chef coat and that smirk would spread across his face and no matter how slammed you were and no matter how much you hated every single person in your station or how outrageously hungover you were all of a sudden you were smiling. And you were rolling with it, too.
In the last fifteen years I have seen Skillet less than a handful of times. Some of those times were a little hazy and some of them were a lot hazy (I am looking at you, Urbanna Oyster Festival.) But each and every time I was laughing.
I might not have seen Skillet in ages… but I think of him when I take a deep breath and smile. Sometimes the choice to remain calm and smiling in the midst of chaos is all it takes to make the people around you just chill the fuck out. So very many times I have thought to myself “My name is Skillet and I rooollll with it.”
There are times in your life when you must fight. You must not back down and you must be willing to give every last shred of your being to a cause. But sometimes, lots of times, you need to take a deep breath and roll with it. Because it’s really not that bad. And everyone around you is just way too serious. And it will be over before you know it and you need to put a smile on your face and roll on.
Today I learned that that boy who so many of my old friends will remember is no longer with us. To be honest, it hit me a little harder than I was expecting. A lot harder. But I am going to put a crooked smile on my face and roll with it, Skillet.
My deepest condolences to the Atwood family.
It’s a gamble to take a shower with a toddler in your house. As desperately as I want to get clean I know that I must also want to Magic Erase crayon from a wall, scoop dog food out of the water bowl, re-roll a roll of toilet paper…. something.
I got out of the shower and I heard her start running. She was up to something. “Luuuuucy,” I cried. “What are you doing?”
I did not hear her customary response, “Nothing.” Instead I heard her dive-bomb onto the couch. “Are you hiding?” No response.
I peeked into the living room to see a pile of blankets on the couch and assumed (correctly) that Lucy was hiding with some kind of contraband. Whatever it was, she already had it. I figured I could quickly get dressed while she was hiding. I threw my clothes on and took a deep breath and prepared to find out what she had been up to during my 87 second long shower.
“Lucy, where are youuuu?” From under the blanket I heard her “Hiding!” only it sounded more garbled than usual.
“Do you have something in your mouth, Lu?” She pulled the blanket down, eyes shining. “What do you have in your mouth, Lu? Spit it out.” I put my hand in front of her face the way a parent does and steeled myself for halloween candy, a beetle, part of a magazine.
“Rocks!” she announced triumphantly as she spit into my hand eight teeth. Yes. TEETH. Two days before Halloween Lucy was living out some kind of twisted horror movie and she spit into my hand a mouthful of TEETH.
They weren’t bloody. She wasn’t crying. And yet still for a brief moment I thought “This kid astounds me. She has fallen and busted out all of her teeth in the time it took me take a shower and it didn’t even slow her down.” I am not sure what made me turn back and look into my bedroom. But there on my dresser was my jewelry box. It was open and on it was a small blue box. I started to laugh. In 87 seconds she had climbed up to open my jewelry box, dig to the back where I hide Emily’s teeth after the Tooth Fairy does her thing, stolen them and shoved them all in her mouth.
With a fistful of spitty teeth I started to laugh. “Yes. Rocks. Do not put rocks in your mouth.” And I started to count. I counted the “rocks” and I dug through the couch and carefully ran my hand along my white bedroom carpeting until I had accounted for all of the missing teeth. Teeth safely returned to their hiding spot I all but forgot she had done this. (Now that is indicative of how absurd life with an almost three year old truly is, she spit teeth into my hand that she had stolen from jewelry box and I all but forgot it happened hours later.)
Emily got off the bus later that afternoon. “Look at this, this tooth is loose.” We had the usual “Let me wiggle it” “No, don’t pull it” “I am not going to pull it, just let me wiggle it” argument. It wasn’t very loose. Nevertheless, an hour later she came back downstairs with a fresh gap and a bloody tooth. “It was a one day process! Loose tooth to missing tooth, Mom! Just one day!”
The world is weird. That night as I reminded her to put her tooth where the the Tooth Fairy would be sure to find it she smiled at me. “You’re the Tooth Fairy, too, right?”
“No. Go to bed. I love you.”
“But you’re the Tooth Fairy, right?”
“No. Go to bed.”
“I know that you are. You can tell me.”
“Do you want your dollar? The Tooth Fairy won’t come if she hears you talking like this.” She smiled and pulled her blankets up to her pierced nine-year-old ears.
In the morning she came down and said “Dad, I got a dollar coin from the Tooth Fairy.” He asked if it was Sacagawea or Susan B. Without thinking I responded “Susan B, 1979.”
Em just smiled at me and said “Yep. Silver. From the Tooth Fairy.”
Before coffee, before the alarm even went off this morning we sat down and I read to you. Letters from previous birthdays. You were sitting on the kitchen table behind me. We got to the year you turned five when I turned around and you had tears rolling down your face. “Stop after this one. I am going to be sobbing when the bus comes.” Oh, my dear, sweet girl, we are cut from the same sappy cloth. xxoo
Dear Emily June,
Yesterday morning when you looked at me and said “Last morning of being eight” I think you were disappointed that I didn’t leap over the kitchen counter and scoop you up in my arms and tell you that you will always be my baby. The truth is that I couldn’t get it out of my mouth without crying.
This year I have shed more tears over your birthday than I usually do (and we both know that I get a little sappy around your birthday.) I have tried to figure out what it is that has me so verklempt. And here it is, kiddo. The good, the bad and the ugly.
Sometimes I write you letters and I give them to you. Sometimes I write you letters and I know that I won’t give them to you for many years to come. This is one that I will hang onto for a awhile. This has been a big, big year for us. We have had lots of big, scary conversations. You pushed hard on me about the truth about my marriage to your father. You were ready to ask me hard questions about divorce and love. For the most part, I think I was ready to answer them. I had planned on answering them someday. And the someday just showed up and we ran with it.
We have talked about how sometimes two people just aren’t happy anymore and you have to let go. But here’s the thing – sometimes we were happy. I don’t really talk about that part much because it opens the little girl door to “why didn’t you just try harder” or “see, maybe you could have stayed married.” I know both of those doors because if I am honest with myself I still peek inside them from time to time. And one of those times is your birthday.
Because the truth is, Emily, that Jeremy and I let each other down. We did. But for at least a few incredible picture-perfect weeks we had it in the bag. I was enormously pregnant and your dad was on stand-by. Your dad, who is allergic to answering his cell phone, picked up in the middle of the first ring. Every time. The weeks surrounding your birth continue to be some of the best days of my life. And whether I like to think about it or not, he was a huge part of that. And that’s hard for me to think about.
It’s weird. I know exactly what to do with the feelings of resentment, anger, sadness and disappointment surrounding a divorce. I am not really sure what I am supposed to do with the good memories, though. They break my heart a bit, every year. I have been struggling with all of these feelings, the good memories that surface surrounding your birthday, since 2011. You were turning six and you were seamlessly sliding into this new life, a new house, a new baby. A few years later and I still can’t seem to figure out how to feel happy and sad all at once.
You are so much stronger and smarter than me. You love and forgive and look forward. I have so much to learn from you. I am trying so hard not to lean on you, sweet girl. It is hard enough to grow up, you don’t need to be worrying about me. I will grow up, too, in my own time.
Last week I had a tantrum on a Sunday morning. Your dad and your sister left for church and we stayed home for a few extra minutes. Wordlessly, you just started helping me pick up toys and make order. You know that I think more clearly when things aren’t a mess. I was trying to clear the counters of your dad’s canning shenanigans and I might have been screaming about jalapenos and you said so quietly “But it makes him happy.” I just sat down on the floor in the kitchen and cried. I wanted to have clean counters and you just wanted the people who you love to be happy. See? You are smarter than me.
Every day I look at you and I am amazed that you are so big. Your sister is just the same size as you when it was just you and me and our big, scary, new life. When she slides into the crook of my arm at night and I press my head against hers I can close my eyes and see your face. It is almost impossible not to run up the stairs and climb into your bed. You’re so smack dab in the middle of being little and big. I wish you would climb in my bed and let me hold you while you sleep but I wish I could pour you a glass of wine and spill my guts, too.
This is the messiest, sloppiest birthday letter yet. And I am afraid it is more about me than you. I used to write you birthday letters that tried to sum up who you were that year so that we could look back and remember exactly who you were when you were two, three, four years old. I guess nine is the magic age when I don’t feel like I can write that down for you. I know how you make me feel. I know how I feel about your birthday. But I don’t really know that I can say “This, this is who Emily is” anymore. That’s on you.
Oh, Emily… there is nobody like you. You are the sweetest, kindest person I have ever known. I am smiling through my tears as I write this. My 20th high school reunion is in a little over a week, and here I am writing a letter to my oldest daughter and I am tempted to sign it like a yearbook…. “Don’t ever change, LYLAS, Mom.”
Because I do, love you like a sister. I never had one growing up, but I imagine this is what it might be like, growing up side by side with someone who understands parts of you that you can’t explain. Like it or not, I am still growing up, too, right along with you. And really, if I had one wish for you…. do not ever, ever change, Em. You are unfuckingbelievably cool, just the way you are. You are kind and funny. And in my book, that’s pretty much where it’s at.
I love you, baby girl. Every day more than the day before. You turned everything I thought I knew inside out and I never looked back. Keep being awesome, Ems. You got this.
She sat down at the counter for breakfast and smirked. “Last day of being eight.”
She was waiting for me to say something sappy. “Get your backpack, babe, and get packed for school. Let’s get totally ready for the bus and then we can ruminate on the matter of your birth.” She rolled her eyes.
As she packed her stuff she said “I am going to be nine tomorrow but I am still very immature.” I looked up from making lunches. “We are studying the duties of local government and every time…” that’s as far as she got before I started laughing. “I know, right? Duties. I am the only that laughs. In my whole class.”
“Do you think you will still laugh when you’re nine?” I asked her.
“Yeah. Because that is only one day from now and we have state duties and national duties to talk about still. But I’ll laugh really quiet.”
I am not sure how to break it to her. There is an incredibly good chance that she will not ever grow out of this potty humor phase. At 38 years old I am still yukking it up over here.
You will get an appropriate birthday letter this week but for today – enjoy being eight. Maturity is overrated. Pierced ears will surely fulfill your need to grow up a bit, no need to stop laughing at poop jokes abruptly.