Be warned: I’m about to go wide and deep. Down low, where the sun don’t shine, etc. So, if you’re here for the sugartastic kickass confection I promised for a few weeks now, the amazing Gluten Free Rainbow Birthday Cake I made for Bunky, please scroll All The Way Down. Thanks. See you there.
And now, for those of you who are still here…
My daughter, that sweet wild handful of mine, known here as Bunky, just turned six years old.
She is finishing kindergarten and she is growing UP. Fast. It’s like a race to the finish, but there is no finish for a parent (ideally), and I feel like I’m running behind her, struggling to keep up, trying so hard because I can see her tangled blonde ponytail swinging in front of me like a metronome and I can see the sun shining on her still soft skin, but not as new as it once was, and I see the dirty bottoms of her heels, flapping out of her crocs, and oh my god she’s nearly out of my reach.
That’s the goal, I know. Letting go. Not pretending to own our children. To respect them as miniature humans, growing like fruit on a tree, ripening before our eyes. We can’t keep fruit from falling off the tree. If we do, it will rot there. So, we let it fall and hope it won’t get too bruised when it hits the ground.
My kids are out right now with their dad at the playground while I wait for the worker guys to clean out our dryer vents. I was doing dishes when my husband buzzed and told me to come to the front of our apartment to get Bunky, who had to use the bathroom.
I slipped on my shoes and went into the hallway, past the dryer vent guys, stepping over the snaky green hose they’re using to suck out all the lint and crap that has been collecting and gunking up the pipes ever since they came here last year. She runs to me all smiles and using her goofy baby voice, goes pee, asks me to wipe her (!) and I do (!!) and then tells me she can run down the hall herself, out past the dryer guys, over the snaky hose, and I’m smiling trying to be all cool, like sure, you’re six now, you’re a big girl but I’m still your mom and I have to make sure you’re safe, and I see her almost but not quite rolling her eyes (soon, coming SOON) and saying, but mom I can do it, I’m old enough.
I compromise and walk down the first part of the hall with her, telling her to be careful not to trip on the green hose and then she is about to turn the corner. “Do you see dad out there?” I ask and she nods, and in a flash she’s gone, her still little but not as little legs running off, dotted in the bruises of being a kid, but with a glimmer of the future, too, when they are smoother, less knobby, lean and strong and gorgeous (to me) but perhaps lacking in some way to her (alas).
She’s gone and I walk alone back to our empty apartment and go straight to my phone to text her dad. “She’s on her way. Did you get her?” And nothing for a few seconds and my heart starts to speed up as I imagine all the horrible things that could possibly happen in the span of seconds when she turned that corner and disappeared from my view. An entire horror movie of things. The silver car she saw that she assumed was her dad’s, what if it wasn’t? I start to panic. (Because kidnappers are clearly just waiting outside my apartment for little girls who think they are big kids to run outside to meet their dads in matching cars.)
“I’m sure you have her, but text me anyway,” I write to my husband and I wait.
Unable to do anything but imagine more terrible things, and I can’t help but think about the terrible nightmare I just had about Little Guy, who disappeared when I turned my head for a SECOND and how I felt so much panic and horror in that dream, and I was a wreck, a total mess, crying and screaming and freaking the F out about never seeing him again, about how it was all my fault, about the terrible things that happen to children that should NEVER EVER happen to children, or adults too of course, but children, never ever ever. When he woke me up from that hellish dream, all squirmy and hot and irritable in bed beside me, I was SO relieved that it was only a nightmare and that he was safe, I rubbed his back and helped him fall back asleep, and when he woke me up several times after that, whimpering and sweaty from his own dreams, I didn’t feel annoyed, just grateful.
Now, waiting for my husband’s text, I can’t do anything. I can’t do the dishes or touch the computer or eat my gluten free bagel, I just stand there, heart thumping, and I wait.
Then the text comes. “I got her.”
And I nearly cry with relief, and laugh a little at my dramatic thoughts. Then I stop laughing and shake my head, and I think: why, why, why did I ever think having kids was a good idea?
What kind of crazy f-ed up, selfish a-hole has kids when so many horrible things can happen to them? When you can’t keep them protected and safe forever? I wonder, not for the first time, why didn’t anyone tell me this before I had kids? And then, for the first time, I realize, someone did warn me. And that person was my mom.
I remember being a kid, probably a teenager, and my mom talking about how awful the world can be (what kind of awful, mom? No answer) and if she knew then what she knew now maybe she wouldn’t have had kids. BAM. Did I hear that correctly? I may have tried to clean out my ears because frankly I was horrified. I was her kid, and she loved me, so what the hell was she talking about? This was totally not allowed and against all the rules, and I promptly disregarded what she was saying, chalking it up to nuclear war or earthquakes, never for a second thinking beyond that, deeper than that, darker than that.
But of course. That is what she meant. The deepest fear and deepest truth of being a parent is knowing that you can NEVER KEEP YOUR CHILD TRULY SAFE. Even when they are babies and you carry them everywhere, there are NO guarantees. OhmygodwhatthefuckhaveIdone?!
Sidebar from YOU: Enough of this horrible doomsday crap, where is that gluten free rainbow birthday cake that you promised us?!?!
You are pissed, I know. I’m sorry. I warned you.
So. I do the dishes and talk to myself, to my mom. I say, now I get it, mom! I understand what you were talking about, and as sad as this realization is, it’s kind of awesome too, to have a connection with my mom like this, and she’s been dead for almost seven years. I love that I can still learn from her.
I start to make deals with God, or whoever, because this is what I used to do as a kid and I’m feeling a little like I did then, when things felt so bad and out of my control that the only thing to do was to pray, even if some of those prayers were pretty selfish (the kind about growing boobs, for example) and even the not selfish ones (please don’t let my mom’s multiple sclerosis get any worse) and I was kind of sure even back then that they would not, could not, be answered.
But I’m making deals anyway. I’m saying, please God or whoever, let my dear Bunky and tender Little Guy grow up safe in the world, let them experience the normal range of pain and heartache, the kind that you have to feel in order to be human, in order to feel the flipside, joy, but please please please keep them safe from the other stuff, the kind of stuff that nightmares are made of, the kind of stuff that happens to other people’s children, please let mine be spared. Selfish. Totally. I know.
And I also know there are no guarantees, no deals I can make with anyone to keep my children safe, but I say it anyway because it’s all I can do.
My daughter is six years old. She is beautiful and terrible all at once. She throws tantrums, still (sigh) and she has emotions that are so powerful, so big, she’s like a miniature tsunami, and watch out, she will explode on you, and many times I don’t have the patience or the presence of mind to help her and I yell or shut down, but I’m trying to be better because she needs me to be better, and I love her.
Every now and then, like this morning, I make it through her storm with love in my heart and in my voice, and I hold her while she is screaming and kicking me, trying to hurt me, telling me she will hurt me, and I say, completely calm, “I love you, you can’t hurt me because I will always love you, but I’m holding you because I won’t let you hurt yourself,” and I repeat some form of this for a while, until I feel her body stop fighting so hard, the slaps less forceful, and then she is calmer, still pissed as anything, but calmer, and I let her go and she gets up and walks away talking shit, but I know she feels my love and I know she doesn’t feel shame about her big feelings (she gets them from somewhere, after all, and I know that shame myself) and she grumbles and groans, but she is safe.
Little Guy gets worried about her, but he also feeds off my energy, so while she was railing, before I went to her, I talked to him about his sister’s big feelings, about how she will be okay, and that she needs to be loud sometimes, and he nodded – so wise, this boy, I’m not even kidding – and he was calm too, instead of yelling and holding his ears, and we ALL got through it in one piece, which doesn’t always happen (like the night before, and the day before that).
Being a parent is HARD. It’s hard to feel love for your child when they are screaming at you, hitting you, hating you, but you have to dig deep and find it, remember that look on their baby face when they were sleeping, when their lips were full and dewy and pursed, like a sweet rose bud, and their face composed, relaxed, and soft.
Think about the look on their face when they felt fear, their eyes wide and scared, their bodies shaking, their mouths wrenched open in pain. Think of whatever you have to think about to remind yourself how small they are, how young, how vulnerable, how much they need to be loved. By you.
Now. For that cake…
Oh, hell, come back next week. It’s a boxed mix and about seven tubs of Betty Crocker frosting, for crying out loud. I will post pretty pictures and funny directions. I just can’t do it now.
Postscript, to all the people who don’t have kids, who may be cursing me for writing this post, and to all the parents who don’t want to be reminded of this horrible bullshit:
Most of the time, pretty much 97% of the time, when you’re a parent, you don’t think about this stuff. You can’t. Because it would make you ape shit crazy. Because you would wrap up your entire family in bubble wrap (something my mom used to joke about, hmm, not such a joke). Because 97% of the time, you’re on autopilot, getting shit done, driving kids places, making meals, reading books, playing legos, wiping butts (not forever, hopefully), bandaging cuts, wiping away tears, baking cookies, and having dance parties.
You shelve this stuff, you bracket it, because you have to. It’s only in those rare fleeting moments, where you read a post like this, or see or hear something awful in the news, or have a nightmare, and then suddenly your heart skids to a stop and you have to hold onto something so you won’t fall down.
Most days it’s business as usual. And sometimes that business is annoying as anything, and sometimes it’s beautiful, and sometimes it’s just the crap in between. All you can do is hang on tight, because being a parent is the ride of your life.