Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Your Sister is Your Biggest Fan

Do you remember me telling you the story of how Casey Dog's barking interrupted my lunch with your great grandfather, the man you are named after? Well, it interrupted the dream lunch, since he died long before you or I were born.

At about 2:00 AM, your father and I woke to the barking, rubbed our eyes, looked at each other, slipped out of bed and crept down the hallway, not saying a word. Casey kept taking steps forward, slowly, waiting for us to follow her, and we did,  towards the rattling noise coming from the third floor. A trapped bird flying frantically through three small rooms (one soon to become yours) trying to escape, but there were no opened windows or chimney vents, nor holes in the attic. Its entrance a mystery. We freed it because that is what you do for trapped birds.

I kept remembering  the poem The Raven by Edgar Alan Poe.  Although the poem's theme is not about joy and love gained, the bird plays as a messenger from the afterworld, and at that moment, I thought of you. I knew that you were inside me, growing, which is why the first pregnancy test was done in the early hours of the morning.

When you were born, I was sure that the heavens had actually opened so that G-d could deliver you personally. Time seemed to stop.  I didn't want to move from the first day of your life because nothing mattered after that, nothing was created, nothing died, to stay forever in that moment.  Like a child, I believed that only your father, me and you existed, and that when the door closed to our happy home our guests, friends, neighbours simply disappeared.

Your father and I looked at your fragile little hands that we carefully navigated through sleep suits, your large chocolate eyes, and that fantastic smile. My finger went round and round the garden on your tummy and your little toes and soon you sang the song to me. Each day a new trick magically appeared you began to count, read, tell jokes, collect stones and create hairstyles, a proper little girl.  We watched the angel grow her wings and we marvelled.   Why would G-d have allowed us to be your parents when we really weren't worthy?

Soon my stomach grew again, and you barely noticed or cared because you were three, but the rest of the world did.  Your father and I looked at each other excited but worried. We appreciated that we could never create another child like you. Who could capture us the way you had? So, we agreed to not compare.

Your sister, born in water, our little mermaid, cuddled her wet body into me, trying to gain warmth. As she does this morning under a soft blanket while we watch Sinbad. I dipped down into the bath and cried. Your father ran his finger gently down the side of her cheek and kissed my forehead. She was not like you; she was like her. All night I stayed awake, gazing at her. The first sleepless night of many.  Only this night, I smiled.

You couldn't wait to hold her, and we have a picture of it somewhere. She looked at you and quieted and calmed.  You made cooing noises, smiled and she squeezed your finger. Love born during an introduction. You couldn't get enough of her, so you would poke her when she slept, which she didn't mind as long as it was you she saw when her eyes opened. When I called you into the kitchen, you came with her in your arms (to my terror). You would sing to her and play peek-a-boo and when she grew her first bottom teeth she would show it to us in many smiles.  You barely noticed your positioning being moved from centre of the universe. That came later.

She stopped being your favourite toy, sometime after her second birthday. You were pushed off to school and there she stayed at home, in my arms.  You would come home and find remnants of crafts, puzzles, play dates and mummy sitting tired on the settee. You would pull at my sleeve and I would say, just let me finish my coffee, one more sip, but you would pull harder and harder until I said it louder and louder, which usually made you retreat to your dolls or your crafts. She would want to join and you would agree, as long as she knew the toys were yours.

It didn't seem to bother her to play second in your world. She loved you even though she no longer fit on your lap.  She followed you as you slid down the stairs, listened to your cosmetic tips, watched you with friends (regardless if she was invited) and you enjoyed her as a toy. Her trusting eyes followed you everywhere, to the forbidden sweetie jar or outside the gate or into my make-up case and jewelry box. Each time I caught the two of you, I became cross, so in the future you just sent her, but I figured that one out too. You began to pinch, push, kick her but I saw and I became cross again, and she learned how to pinch, poke and push back, to your dismay.

However, as I put you in time out, in your room or just gave you a pointing, waving finger, your sister protested and you noticed. If there were treats, she wouldn't eat them unless you had some too, When she begged for a toy, she begged for you too. You realised soon that you never left the centre of her universe and I explained that she was and would always be your biggest fan. No matter if friends were "horrible," the universe scraped your knees, or the teacher "told you off", your sister would always step in the line of fire to protect you. Suddenly, her toothy grin made you smile again and you didn't mind her holding you like an overstuffed toy.

So, this morning, when she tries to tickle you relentlessly and you huff loudly or when she wants to match her nail polish colour to yours again, again and again. You roll your eyes,  grunt, but put your fingers forward, saying, "there," because you know that it is a small price to pay for being loved so much by such a tiny thing.  

Thursday, 7 November 2013

It Is Better To Be Alone Than To Share A Bed With Hitler

Living honestly was difficult for me to obtain and then to act on. I had to cope with the periodic episodes of loneliness that tend to coincided. I remember complaining to Grandma that I didn't fit in, that a particular person truly did not like me, that I had been left out of plans, that I was surrounded by lost invitations.   Grandma said, "Do you want everyone to like you?" I, of course, did, and she replied, "Even Hitler?" 

When I was 18 years old, visiting my hometown from university, I attended a cool person's party. Obviously this wasn't typical because I was never cool.  The host was a friend of a friend etc...  When I arrived, it was nice to wander through the crowd of swaggering designer clothes and static large hair. I listened to whispers about the host being a bit of a prick, but they were just whispers, no one would have dared to say it aloud. He was the archetypical male, large forehead under his cap and unnecessarily large condoms in his pocket, padding the keys to his father's Porsche. He was important not just because he could  funnel a few beers in under a minute, but because the next morning with hangover and bad breath, he still would  make the winning goal and that would win the crowd's hearts.

"Great party, Scott" I said. Thanks, he smiled. His teethe were so white that they seemed to glisten. I stared mesmerised, taking space in his circle. I listened to fluid conversations, interrupted only by laughter, the stomach holding type and I smiled and held my stomach too. But then came the racist slant, smoothly and comfortably introduced in the disguise of banter, aimed at the one jock who wasn't white. As my jaw dropped, the receiver nodded and smiled and waited for the spotlight to move on but, I didn't, I couldn't. I had to ruin the moment. Maybe it was due to the influence of midnight debates with lit cigarets in cramped rooms, maybe it was due to discussions had with a vocal mother (your grandmother) who marched for equal rights or maybe because it hurt when it happened to me, a Jew, which was the point I tried to explain. And then there was quiet, it was a moment where the world seemed to stop and my face started to itch.

Mr. Alpha  chuckled, head down, embarrassed, maybe, no.  His next line, "I hate the Jews,"  said with ease.

"You can't mean that."

His response, "Wish Hitler had finished the job, gassed all of you in the oven."

By you he meant me as a collective, my family, my community and eventually you, little one. I thought about my ancestors, who had attended similar parties, held by more powerful alpha dogs.   I looked around the room, at others with shared ancestry. I thought about the soldiers, professors, lost little children, who all attended similar parties, generations ago. Were they quiet?

His voice boomed, "Hitler didn't go far enough, he should have killed you all, poof," the room silently parted, so he could spit out his chew.  He looked back at me and wiped his face, confident that on Monday, the crowds would cheer him on again as he entered his arena. In a frozen room, I screamed until I no longer made sense and as he was pulled into the crowd, I was pulled to my car. The door shut and I sat staring at the vacant passenger seat.

Later, friends tried to excuse his actions, to convince me that Scott was not a bad guy, but he just had too much to drink. As well, they also tried to excuse my strong reaction saying I wasn't usually this hysterical, it must have been due to my father's recent death, another Jew.

Are Alphas made or born or a bit of both?  That person, aware of that dynamic and evasive social formula, a skill I have never mastered. Alphas, with their large personalities, often conveyed by few words, attracts and holds power. So much power that people will sit, patiently, to take notes, to take direction. They will stand staring at their feet like well-trained puppies as their organic world passes, in hopes of garnering acceptance, sense of belonging.

People like to stay within a breath of the alpha. They feel safe there. However, I encourage you to fight the pull of the mainstream current and find a comfortable seat that fits your individual stature. You will never finish designing your world, when helping to paint someone else's. I encourage you to seek that natural smile, even if that smile is given to you by a lifestyle unfamiliar to the one WE have led.  Do not expect people to publicly support your uniqueness, at best, there may be affirmations behind closed doors. But, trust me, being you is better than playing you and if you live honestly, then you will develop a more realistic vision of self and your surroundings.

Blind allegiance is dangerous, especially when given to those who lack intelligence and/or compassion, and, yet, it happens in all institutions and social circles.  People will choose obedience to dimwitted deities, and look down at their feet, smiling, waiting for the line to move, so that they can follow.  Hopefully, you, will stand outside the circle and rightfully ask questions. You will hold true to your own mores, map your own direction and not be pushed by the flow. However, this may mean that, instead of you joining in with the laughter, you could be the one being laughed at, which breaks my heart. It may also mean you spend some nights alone, covered in a pile of lost invitations. But some worlds may be wrong for you or they may just be wrong, and it could be a blessing to not gain entry.  I promise you, it will be worth it, because a cold bed is better than one warmed by Hitler.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

No More Babies In The House

It was the day before you started reception and the first day of school for your big sister. After drop off, it was to be our day, a you and me day, a day for just us.This is what I said to you many many times and you repeated back to me many many times.

After too many kisses, cuddles and pictures taken, your sister escaped and disappeared through the school gates.  You and I then turned towards different gates.  These gates were at the end of a windy path and curved walls. We peeked through windows to see women sitting inside a classroom- the teachers for big girls and boys. They were colourful, bright women in a colourful, bright room, cutting and pasting decorations to cover the walls. 

A special seat waited for you, positioned between me and her. It gave you the best view of your new world. You sat quietly and looked. The teacher then led you to "your special things": the hook for your coat,  the draw for your papers, and the cubby for your shoes. You were still quiet unlike the picture of the giggling girl, which identified your name.

When we left, I was a bit sad. You were quiet that is until you exploded.  You exploded down the street, into the store, to the garden, to the door, to all over the couch and you wanted me to join your display or at least stand by and watch.

You were restless, littlest one, very restless and the house was untidy.   It had been destroyed by last night's exploration through old uniforms, tights, shoes etc... many of which no longer fit your big sister.  For weeks I had prepared for the first day of school, made lists, visited various stores and bought and bought until my plastic cards cried to melt. I placed those items in safe spots. We then went away on holiday and came back with growth spurts and jet lag and the rest that we had scheduled was interrupted by to do lists, unpacking and last minute can't-miss-plans. So, labels stayed hidden in their safe places and markers ran down silk tags. Today, our morning routine seemed no longer routine. It was a disorganised hussle at best. I had a reminder of that when I opened the door.

"Let Mommy just have a cup of coffee," I begged.
"You tired? I give you a massage. Then you give me one." eyes arched, moisturising cream out.
"Ok," I replied. You made a pretty good masseuse and we both giggled at how much moisturiser we used. It was a good start.
"Now, Mommy is just going to have a quick cup of coffee." I smiled.
"We play a game first." You ran to the box of games saying we could play teachers.
I thought that wasn't a bad idea, I could teach you the alphabet and numbers and how to write your name in the next few hours and maybe a bit of physics, all it took was a little concentration.  However, you wanted to play the teacher and I was getting scolded for not raising my hand.

"I am getting that coffee," I said, in a much more assertive voice and you continued to scribble your very important notes. So, I slipped my way to the kitchen, turned on the TV and sat down. It seemed to be only a minute or two.  You didn't seem to notice I was gone, so I thought that I would tidy the kitchen and finish the laundry. About an hour or two later, you came back to me with letters you wanted posting and pictures you had drawn, and a snack later, it was time to go and get your sister. We no longer had time to go into town and have that ice cream or visit the park or go for a swim or just do that craft seen on TV.

Sissy was excited about her day. She had written letters, drawn pictures,  read books, been given sweeties and then ran around with her friends during play time. We looked at her work.  "I do that?" you asked. "No, not yet, Dear," I said as I turned back towards your sister.

After snack, you cuddled with your sister in front of the TV, until you pulled the cover off, until you kicked her, until I put you in time out. At dinner, you refused to eat, you played with your seat, getting up and sitting down, getting up and sitting down. When we went to take your sister's new pets out of their cage, you didn't find it necessary to practice being quiet and gentle. In fact, you threw down your princess crown in protest when I stopped you giving the rodents a shower.

I escorted you to your room because you wouldn't stay in time out. You screamed and yelled and said, "I don't want to play with those things anyway. They're boring."  At bath time, the water was too cold to hot.  You didn't want a bath.  You didn't want to get out. At bedtime, you jumped on the bed, under the bed, around the bed, until you were in your sister's bed but you refused to get into your own. I picked you up and carried you to a different room, a new room, a rarely used guest room, to calm you and let your sister sleep.  I was frazzled.

"I scared. This room spooky."
"I am with you. I won't leave you, but I can't have you keep your sister up."
"I scared. I'll be good."
"Sh, you need to calm down." I said.
"I scared, don't leave me." You begged. I had you wrapped up in your duvet. I was still holding you like a baby on my lap, on the bed. You, so small. "When are we going to play that game?" you asked. "What game? Oh, that game," the game I promised that we would play during our day together.  Our you and me day. "Tomorrow." I whispered.  Your eyes opened wide, "Promise." "Yes." You leaned towards me, "Pinky, promise." I wiped away the hair from your face and sank back in to the bed. My voice cracked, "pinky promise." I nodded.
"But, it won't be a you and me day," you informed me.
"No, it will be a school day and you will have such fun at school," I said.
"I scared, Mommy."
"I know." I held you closer and rubbed your back.  Your arms wiggled beneath the duvet, until your head could reach my shoulder. We sat for a moment.  Our fist cuddle of the day. I then carried you back to your bed and kissed you goodnight and left your room.

I walked into my bedroom and found your father's shoulder for my head to rest. Quietly, I confessed, "I screwed up. Her last day with me and I screwed up. I wish I could call for a do-over." He just turned, put his arm around me and kissed my forehead. "It will be alright," he said.
I took his hand and he shut his book, "Tomorrow, there will be no more babies in our house. It will be empty and there will be no more chances for do-overs." We both lay quiet.

I know that you won't remember this, but I will.  I guess I just wanted to say sorry.

Monday, 26 August 2013

This Is Your Home

When that mean girl digs her sceptre into your toe, 
come to me. I will kneel down, arms open,
a wish kiss given above red eyes.

When that man who spits when talking, yells, red faced 
because you have treaded on his territory. 
I will run, tissue in hand, to calm your tremble.  

I cannot always keep the bogie men at bay. 
Nor can I ensure the path you stray upon 
will be the one I have mapped. The safe one, 

the planned one,  the one your father and I quietly create.
Most likely, it will not be, and I will worry, quietly.
About what may trip your step? And what waits for you
across the bridge or under it?

I dress you in armour, sword in hand and
heart in chest. I teach you how to climb the stairs
And hold tight to the rail, but if you stumble. 

Please remember, this is your home, little one.
A place to take refuge, or just visit
when in need of a cup of tea and a chat. 

I will sit here, chair at window, ready to greet your return. 
I will prepare a snack for you, as I do today, 
because you may be hungry. 

You will no longer use crayons to hint
about your day, your world. 
And we will have to find another way.
But we will.

I will always laugh at your jokes
and tell you you're lovely, even if
you're hair is a mess and knees scraped. 

I love you. I am your safe place.

They say I cannot wrap you in cotton wool, 
but here I sit with needles to hand.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Cinderella, The Long Story

I leaned against the door
and thought of Friday Harbour,
that table for one when I was 24.
That glass of wine.

When I watched mobiles
sway outside shop windows,
and felt the breeze pass me
to hide in the tall grass.

Then I thought of you
because you would end this
peace by pointing to the ferry
or foraging for pebbles.

Although when we met,
you lay quiet and blue
on my chest. So they took
you away to make you pink.

And your father looked
across to you, while I looked
at him, wiping his eyes
with my hand, we waited.

I turn to that man, deciding
to stay, to make him
another coffee, if I could
remember how he liked it.

Placing it in front of him,
my arm across his,  Feeling
a different memory now
from a different day,

That day in the park, before
we had the courage to speak
of you. That day he spread his
coat for me to rest my head.

It was before mortgage payments
Before leaky pipes and
leaky roofs. Before interrupted
dinners and calorie counting.

Before that fucking gift bag.

He and I simply
intertwined and let
ourselves be warmed
by the sun.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Welcome to Your Kingdom, Princess Peanut

Your tiny little body barely makes an imprint on my pillow as you wake me with a cuddle and kiss. Four years old next Wednesday and still fitting into size two clothes.  You hop around the house as if there were wings on your feet. You're a dragon fly skimming atop a pond. Skipping from table, couch, chair, my head, any obstacle in your way. You own that pond, and I simply stumble along beside you to catch you incase you bounce off the ground or off a tree.  You are my peanut, and yet, you demand to be my princess. We compromise, Princess Peanut.

You march fearlessly through your kingdom in which the corners are padded and scissors hidden.  A kingdom where I redirect your attention from the wobbly man in the park and the roaming stray dog you reach to pet. You do not yet realise that there are things to be afraid of, but I do, so I stand or crouch in your shadow and keep guard.

When you call, I will come. If you fall, I will pick you up.  You shed tears, I wipe them away.  I do this because I love you, because I have from the first time you disrupted my cycle. I do this because it is my mission as your mother.

This morning, I made you and your sister breakfast as you watched TV.  It took your attention away from my swollen eyes, from the tapping sound my fingers made on the phone. Then, I heard the bomb explode and turned to see the runner fall. I shouted,  "Change the channel." Your sister asked why and I, grabbing for the remote as she pulled away, said "because there are sad things on the TV."  My voice cracked and I hid my face from your first introduction to cruelty. How was I to explain this?

I woke last night, often, thinking of my friends and family in Boston. Praying that responses not given were due to time differences and nothing more. I thought of mothers who couldn't keep their children safe and memories of frightening crowds who pushed and rubbed against us and tried to separate us.  I thought of how, in crowds, I always clutched my bag and held you close, always looking ahead or at the ground, that is, when I was not watching you. You who smile, trusting strangers, and speak your name proudly. You have not, yet, recognised those who hate; although, sadly, they have probably recognised you-one that is innocent. Their understanding of justice is not rooted in the tangible, logic stilted with anger. I cannot plan for the nonsensical, make precautions for the absurd. I cannot always assure your safety.

Your sister asked "Why, Why did this happen?" and I felt the tingling in my chest, my eyes burning again and I cried, "Because there are bad people that want to scare us." Your sister's eyes focused back on the screams of the running people.  You sat, examining my face, the tears, you had never seen me make and asked, "Are you scared?" I decided to be honest, and honesty that would crack your perfect kingdom, "Yes," I answered. I left the room to get a tissue and you looked back up to see a different picture on the screen.

It took until the evening before I received the last response to the many messages sent to many friends.  It took until the evening that I could release the tissue in my hand. She phoned to say, "We're OK." She didn't go to the marathon. She stayed  home. Stayed tucked away with her husband and beautiful boys in that home that she never locks because that world that she lives in she describes as safe.   

Friday, 5 April 2013

Before and After, A Year In The LIfe of You

You cried tonight at the thought of school.  You were so happy all summer long, but tonight you cried. At the beginning of summer, when first assigned to a new class, when first told of this class being different to the class of your friends, your best friends, you told me that it was fine.  It was all fine and then you smiled, and turned back to your drawing and finished colouring in the picture of our house.  You continued by saying that you weren't scared by "boys" anymore and that the man teacher, Mr. ..... was fine.  Later that night, I asked if you would miss your friends and you said, I will still  play with them at playtime.  I wasn't sure whose words those were but you held up a Roald Dahl book and asked if we could continue reading, so we did.  It was easier to pretend you were fine, to explain this reconciled behaviour as maturity.

However, tucked away in a little crevice, in a little you, hid the truth and tonight it decide to no longer hide.You yelled the truth quite loudly through a snotty tear-muffled tone at 12:00 AM and I tripped my way into your room to see you sitting up in your bed, wet hair stuck to your face, moaning. "I don't want to go to school!  None of my friends will be in my class!  Mr. ...  scares me ..... so and so says he is horrible! Don't make me go to school." I came to you, held you, gave you a tissue and sip of water and tried my best to calm you.Yes, the truth is you don't like change and you don't like men and next week, you will walk into a new classroom and come face to face with a rather tall, rather loud, head shaven, male teacher. Another problem facing us that I am just not sure of how to fix.

I know that at drop off, I will seek out other mothers who have positive things to say about this teacher and relay those messages back to you. I know I will have a word with the teacher and pray that he can at least feign sincerity and interest and  that he looks at you when he promises me it will be all right.  And I know, if there are "bumps in the road" I shall try to work with this teacher to help fix it. I promise you I will. But, Darling, it may not be all right and with all my best intentions and efforts, I may not be able to fix it.  In fact, things may be shit.

Tonight, I stay awake, thinking of the sliding door theory, the nursery you attended, which introduced you to a certain group of friends, which introduced me to certain mothers, which shaped both our schedules and in a way our personalities.  I think about difficult personalities, past social struggles and the teachers who assured me that you weren't really upset as they pulled your white knuckle grasp from the school gates. And, I try to come up with a plan.

 I don't know how this year will progress other than it will progress and the days will pass, and it will point you in new directions and give you new ideas and affect your personality again and ironically most of these days and events will probably not be remembered. However, what I do know is sometimes in life we need to hold our breath, wish for the best, surround ourselves with ridiculous feel-good cliches and jump into the abyss screaming yahoo. And,  Babe this is one of those times.

OK, I have left this in draft form for about nine months, hoping for a happy ending and guess what, here it is.

On the first day of school, we walked slowly in rhythm towards the brick building. You twisted both your arms around my elbow and leaned your head into my arm. Girls walked by and some waved, which gave you a momentary distraction from the gates and the man standing by them.  We joined a line of parents, waiting to talk to him, and I realised that my house was probably not the only one with a a midnight wake-up call.  I told you not to listen to schoolyard gossip, make up your own beautiful mind. You nodded because you wanted to believe me or maybe you were just being polite. You loosened your hold slightly, feeling the pull of the abyss and we moved forward to take front position in the line. He smiled and bent down to greet you first. I smiled. He knew your name and you smiled.  I explained you were nervous, and in a serious tone he promised you it would be fine and then he looked up and promised me it would be fine.

And, it was fine. No, it was better than fine.  After a few shaky weeks, you made wonderful new friends, which you couldn't wait to tell me all about and the stories filled our afternoons. You taught me the new games and jokes you learned and showed me the the dangly things hanging from your coat which they had given you. And as for Mr. .... Yes, at times he used a "Loud Voice" to corral the group and this frightened you, at times, and then it didn't. He also gave out sweeties which seemed to release him of all his crimes.

At Parent Teacher evening, he sat there at the table telling me all the things that I already knew and then he asked if I had concerns.  I said my daughter's happy and I am happy that is all I could ever want. I smiled, knowing he didn't appreciate the gravity of that statement.   He didn't have to.  He just needed to create  and position the cushion that would protect your landing and he did that splendidly.