Cool Girl

Author’s Note:  I wrote the “11 year old” post a year ago.  That’s how efficient I am at publishing blog posts now, apparently.  Thanks to Grandma for letting me host her 12th birthday party at her house, also!

Lily recently turned 11 years old and I’ve noticed subtle changes taking hold.  She takes the stance of “older and wiser sister” more often with Vivienne; she doesn’t want me to read books to her at bedtime anymore; she is pickier about food in her lunch box.  Lily has always been incredibly emotionally intelligent and picks up on the dynamics that exist even when words are not being spoken.  In turn, she often melts away into herself and refuses to communicate.  Many days, letting an ample amount of time pass, just sitting next to her, and remembering to be patient and not pushy gets her to open up.  But there are moments when that shell won’t crack.

Getting ready for school one morning last week, she was sluggish and crabby.  I knew something was bothering her but she wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t eat breakfast, wouldn’t crack the tiniest smile.  I dropped the girls off at school and she walked away without even saying good-bye.  I cried on the way home, wishing the end of my week with them (and the beginning of their week with their dad) would have been different.

She still shares things with me, randomly and sporadically.  I know which of her friends is dating which boys at their school, when they break up, and when they get back together.  I know that two of her friends started their periods.  I know she still hates living in two houses and having parents who are divorced.  I know she has cramps sometimes and just wants to stay in bed.  I know she is already worried about middle school.  I know she is sick of mac and cheese and the other lazy things I make for dinner.  The only thing I know about what might be a better option, according to her, is tacos.

Lily has never been a follower but is careful and kind about how she leads.  She is, in a very deep, conscientious, and real way, a genuinely cool girl.  Lily has participated in a girls’ rock music camp a few times before, which culminates with a live performance at one of our local clubs.  Seeing her on stage, usually with fun makeup and sprayed-on hair dye, introducing herself and then singing and playing her heart out, makes me explode with joy.

She is that cool girl I always wanted to be when I was younger; the one who had this magic and drew others to her, and when you actually got to know her better realized she was a decent human being and not “cool” in the cruel sense of the popular crowd.  I was not cool in any sense of the word.  I was smart and nice and survived middle school by trying to blend in and fending off the popular kids with humor.  Lily is one of the cool girls, in the best of ways.

As she gets older, I worry about a lot of things.

I let her watch too much Netflix and YouTube and don’t make her do enough chores.  I’m worried about hormones and trying to deal with my own as well as hers (AND her sister’s, eventually).  I want her to learn self-sufficiency and responsibility and how to navigate through difficult situations.  I worry about eating disorders and self-esteem and the middle school years to come.  I worry about that spark being beaten out of her through peers and experiences.

I want to explore the world with her and give her more perspectives to think about.  I want to spend time volunteering somewhere with her.  I want to cultivate and encourage her passions without being overbearing.  I want her to love riding the carousel for much longer than she most likely will, and want to continue taking her there for as long as she asks.  She always gets the gold ring.  And she usually saves it for when her sister wants to ride again.  Because that’s what cool girls do.

And then the other night, while tucking her in, she asks, “Mama, what’s a crush?”

I shut down my internal monologue and simply answered, “It’s when you like someone and you want to spend more time with them because they make you happy.”

“Well then,” Lily responded, “Mama, I have a crush on you!  Snuggle with me for a little bit?”

Of course.

*

Lily recently turned 12 years old and I continue to notice not so subtle changes taking hold.

For her birthday party, a group of girls met at the mall to wander around for a couple of hours and then I paid for them all to ride on these ridiculous, child magnet, stuffed animals on wheels that go about 2 miles per hour, for ten minutes.  We ate pizza and cake (she picked a flying pig version this year for me to make) and the girls did pretend shots of their fizzy drinks.  We made friendship bracelets and they summoned spirits with the Ouija board and sang karaoke.  The girls watched movies and stayed up most of the night.  They slept in and all dined on waffles before heading home.

At one point during the party, half of the group were sitting around the kitchen table and the other half were in another room fooling around with a play kitchen set.  The group at the kitchen table discussed rumors about someone in their grade having had sex, and if it could possibly be true, and who else it might possibly be, and who else had made that jump.  The group in the other room pretend-shopped and pretend-made dinner.  I sat in the living room, quietly observing, and intently working on my own friendship bracelet.

I still think about this moment, months after the party has passed.  Lily is in the crux of becoming a pre-teen, reaching the middle of abandoning her childhood, absorbing information left and right, but still processing things as a kid.  Sixth grade was somehow miraculously smoother than fifth, which has left me petrified and convinced that the shit will hit the fan in seventh grade.  I still worry about, and want, similar things that I did a year ago.

I worry mostly about our communication drastically changing.  I worry about hormones and emotions and depression and the complicated drama that can ensue at this age.  I try to remind myself that her seventh grade experience won’t be exactly what mine was, but I know that she is on the turning point to something entirely brand new.  I worry about taking her actions and behavior too personally instead of realizing that she is going through an incredible change and being able to support her even when she storms off and slams a door.

Our conversations have become more grown-up.  We frequently discuss topics such as gender and sexual identity, periods, the dispensary next door to my house, sex.  She consistently sends me YouTube videos to watch, navigates any kitchen in a comfortable and laid-back manner (schnitzel?  chocolate chip cookies?  you got it!), loves cuddling on the couch, and is pursuing a passion in photography.  She is still that cool girl I always wanted to be when I was younger; she just wants more rides to the mall now.

I should inquire if maybe we can walk down to the carousel next week when her sister will be out of town.  And the snuggles at bedtime?  Those will always be welcomed with open arms.

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Not a Disposable Life

Growing up, my mother was a fantastic keeper of memories in the photographic sense.  My sisters and I would spontaneously select an album from the book shelf and thumb through the pages, hesitating over specific pictures and remembering our childhood experiences.  I remember a random conversation as a teenager in which I was discussing first memories with friends.  I swore up and down that my first memory was when I was very young and we had taken a family trip to a beach.  I told my mom about this later, and she remarked, “Wow, you were incredibly young!  It is kind of amazing that you remember that.  I don’t think you were even two years old then.”  I paged through one of my early albums and gazed at a photo of me lying on the beach, examining a bug.  I then realized.  I wasn’t sure if I remembered my actual experience in that moment or simply the photograph taken.

When I moved into my own apartment at age 18, I lugged two gigantic Rubbermaid’s along with me.  The albums were stored for a couple of years until I eventually bought a house of my own.  They remained in storage, still, for the most part.  I would sometimes curse the gigantic boxes when attempting to make room for other things, but when I stopped and looked through the photos, it was mesmerizing.  And then I felt bad for cursing them, thanked my mother, and decided I just needed a bigger house.

In my experiences with viewing other peoples’ printed photographs, I understand now that my mom had a unique talent for organizing time.  Most photos are stored in boxes somewhere on a top shelf, and that in itself can even be considered old-fashioned in our day and age.  Now the exchange of experiences happens instantaneously within the realm of social media, but they never live long enough to become memories in the same way that a carefully crafted book of photos captures those moments.

I kept up with my own albums through my twenties.  Backpacking through Europe.  Halloween parties and craziness with friends and black and white photo shoots in alleys.  Wedding, honeymoon.  My older daughter has multiple albums.  I think the first is hundreds of pictures of her first couple weeks.  My second daughter has perhaps two.  I gave up, somewhere in the months after she was born, in my attempts of becoming a fantastic keeper of memories.  I admit that I am swayed by the immediate gratification of uploading a photo, and the minimal time necessary to dedicate to the task.  But I still cherish the print media every single time I pick up an album.

When the first Christmas after my separation was impending, I felt the need to start a new tradition with my daughters.  One of the presents was a disposable camera for each girl.  Their assignment was to document whatever they wanted throughout the day (part of the new tradition also involved going out for breakfast, visiting a candy shop, and soaking in hot springs).  I laughed out loud when I had the first set developed; both kids had taken many shots of their other gifts and blurry-too-close-for-a-disposable mementos.  But they had also caught smiles and hugs and happiness.

I was recently taking pictures with a disposable camera at my older daughter’s music camp rock show and one of my dearest friends remarked how strange it was to be using such a device.  I explained the purpose behind the camera (my older daughter still had pictures left on her camera from Christmas and we had forgotten to take them) and she exclaimed how incredible it was that I was teaching my kids a lesson about not having a disposable life with these cameras.

After three years, the Christmas pictures now live in albums.  We laugh at the blurry-too-close-for-a-disposable shots, reminisce about particular presents (“Hey, where is that book now?!?”), and remind each other about the details of each particular holiday.  My daughters and I page through the photographs often, and I realize my friend was absolutely correct in her observation.  In my own small way, in the virtual world we exist in, I have become a fantastic keeper of memories for my children.

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One Week

On Friday, I drop the kids off at school and kiss them good-bye. A week passes, quickly and suddenly, and I find myself in the midst of Friday once again. As I load the backpacks and snow pants and library books into my car, I notice the slight shift. The girls were having a typical sister argument about a random stuffed animal (Lily: “You smacked me with that!!!” Vivienne: “You chose to stand in front of me while I was swinging it!!!” When both the eight year old and five year old have valid points to an argument, I choose to ignore it and let them figure it out.) while I checked in with their dad about the upcoming week. And in that small minute moment, the shift echoed in the silent spaces between.

Over dinner that night, Vivienne clammed up when I asked about school and what “personal goal” her teacher had chosen for her (speaking up in class). Lily, in contrast, held the conversation hostage with her tales about school and third grade friends and drama between said friends.

“I didn’t sit with them at lunch, and they each came up to the table, one by one, to ask why I wasn’t sitting with them.”

“What did you say?”

“I didn’t say anything until the third girl asked. Then I just told her that I was sitting where I was because I wanted to.”

“It can be hard sometimes, especially with friends who are girls,” I tell her, “Some girls think you should only have a few best friends and those are the only girls you ever hang out with or have lunch with.”

“Yeah, but a real friend gets it that sometimes I just want to play with a different friend.”

Yes.

I think about my own third grade self, my current friendships, and others that evaporated or disintegrated with the passage of time. Cleaning up the dishes from dinner (or rather, pouring myself more wine while my partner cleans them up, lucky duck), the shift smacks me upside the head. My girls, my wonderful and amazing girls, are a week older. They are bigger in ways beyond winter boots fitting snugly or pants inching up above ankles. After a year of switching them back and forth between houses, it shouldn’t surprise me that they continue to change in each of those weeks. But it does.

Vivienne has a play-date with a friend from her old preschool tomorrow, and I ask Lily if we can do something special during that time, just the two of us. She distractedly says, “Yeah! That’d be fun!” in-between moves on the computer game she is playing.

And then it really hits me. These moments are dwindling and I can literally watch them like grains of sand in an hourglass. This is the shift.

“It’s coming,” I tell my partner, “The time when I ask her that question and she says ‘No’ – that she wants to be with her friends or at the mall or wherever – is coming. Thank god I still have this time.”

I remember how much could happen in the span of a week when the girls were infants. In the thick of babydom, I merely survived. The inevitable remarks of “She’s so much bigger! How different she is now! How amazing!” would be cast from anyone who didn’t interact with us on a daily basis. I would simply nod and agree, but always on a superficial level. I was living that “amazing” baby every day and, while loving them with every ounce of my soul, honestly just wanted to sleep and sit somewhere by myself while enjoying a glass of wine. Without the “amazing” baby.

The shift was present then, and still remains.

After the shock of this revelation passes, I remind myself to focus on this week. I will embrace my daughters for who they are right now. I take a deep breath, relish my past memories, excite in future possibilities, and ultimately, feel grateful for the time today.

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Training Bra

My eight year old came home from Grandma’s house singing “I Dreamed a Dream” and donning her first training bra. These two facts don’t really relate to each other with the exception that they both involve my mom.

I exclaimed over her new purchase and watched her pride and excitement about an item of clothing that signified, in a small but big way, that she was growing up. Hours later, I realized my mom had just bought my daughter her first training bra. EVER. I waited for that little kick in the gut feeling to settle into my stomach, but it never came. My partner listened to the story later that night and asked, “Were you mad at her?” I explained my small revelation of surprise to him; that it had suddenly hit me that Lily owned her first bra, and that I had not been the one to buy it for her. There was a small part of me that had expected to be angry or jealous, but instead what I had found was joy.

My village. I am grateful for my extended family for many reasons. I’m fortunate they live in the same town, appreciative that instead of choosing sides they have worked as much as they can to support both me and my daughter’s father during our separation, and thankful that they want to have such a big part in helping raise two amazing girls.

I have a sharp memory involving my paternal grandmother when I was about 12 or 13 years old. Middle school marked the beginning of a complicated relationship with my parents, and I never would have been caught dead being with them in public if I could have helped it. My grandmothers were a different story. The generation gap, combined with the fact that each had raised one of parents and most likely really really really understood where I was coming from in thinking that my parents were completely crazy sometimes, created a different relationship.

I remember walking next to her and smiling. We didn’t see anyone I knew at the mall that afternoon, but if we had I would have said hi and introduced her to my acquaintances. What I remember most was simply living in that moment. She asked questions and listened without probing too much. She didn’t give me the line of “I never wasted so much time talking nonsense on the phone instead of doing homework every night” but instead would laugh at how different things were from when she was my age. She was there for me, in a very different, but also important way, than my parents.

I am not the only one in charge of raising my children. When my daughters reach the stage in their lives where they absolutely will die if they are seen with me in public, I will remind myself of this. Having a support network people beyond their own mom (who is completely crazy sometimes, remember) will enable them to gain a different perspective. They will have people to keep them in check but in a not so obvious way, and, in the end, be loved. Be supported and so incredibly loved.

I love you mom. Thank you.

Related side note: Lily’s dad freaked out when he learned Lily has her first training bra ever. He is not ready for her to be in this stage of life. I told him to hold on, ‘cause it’s comin’…..and to call his mom.

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Sleep Deprived and Fabulous (?)

A year has passed since I wrote for the mommy blog; a chunk of time extensive enough that the password had been forgotten.  Perhaps this act of negligence encapsulates the things I consciously let slip by.

Almost 5,000 people have visited this third baby of mine since its inception.  Thinking back now, I am convinced I was (am?) insane, as Vivienne was a mere three months old.  Sleep deprived, certainly, in terms of birthing babies, raising children, switching jobs, maintaining a household, working on a marriage.  Fabulous, indeed, for these exact same reasons, with heels and cocktails and friends thrown into the mix.

My life had blossomed into what I had always dreamed about, planned for, and worked towards.  And yet, something didn’t fit, and I wanted more.  Trapped in my roles of wife, mother, daughter, lover, confidant, and sister, I sought a re-invention of myself, inclusive but separate from any other aspect of my life.  Describing my “more,” defining where it stemmed from, and figuring out how to move forward was challenging.

We talked, yelled, cried.  The winter drenched us in grey.  We discussed a break and clang desperately to each other while simultaneously trying to escape.  We went to therapy, started a blog, and gained new outlooks that tore us further apart.

He told me he felt like a chapter in my book that had been written, finished, and tossed aside.

We talked, yelled, cried.  We wondered if we had ever really been on the same page.  We realized we had existed next to each other and ended up losing ourselves.  We agreed “we” was irreparable.

Fifteen years is a long chapter, especially when it has been co-authored.

I’m still a mommy, half the time.  Sleep deprived, certainly, in terms of dancing until bar-time, going to midnight movies, making new connections and partaking in adventures.  Fabulous, indeed, for these exact same reasons, with parenting plans and sleeping in an empty bed and separating households thrown into the mix.

I find myself questioning if it really is fabulous to choose this life.  Some mornings, I awake and feel a freedom I’ve never experienced before.  Other days are soaked in sadness and a crushing sense of loss.  I’m finding my way again, discovering new paths, and living a life I hadn’t imagined.  In the end, the “more” I was seeking has turned out to be simply me.

I am sleep deprived and fabulous. (?) and (!).

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