This is a serious statement. I mean, I'm 40. I have a husband, a daughter, a house, an ex-husband. I have a car, a job, a credit card, a dehumidifier. Someone lets me spend my workdays shaping the future of America. I just can't believe that. Who on earth would trust me with all of this?
Sometimes I feel like the kid in Big who gets big but is still a kid.
This feels especially true when I don't know what to do with Abby.
I mean, I have to make sure she eats, for one. And on top of that, it can't just be donuts and M&Ms and bread and ice cream and pepperoni. But it would be so easy if it could be those things. It's probably those things more often than it should be.
I have to make sure she goes outside and plays and doesn't spend her whole day in front of the TV or the iPad or YouTube.
When she has homework, I have to see to it that she does it. And usually its math. I'm an English teacher, so...yeah. And I have to make it sound like I think math is great! Important! Fun! Weeee! (Ok, I know it is great and important. But fun?)
I have to make sure she showers and changes her underwear and brushes her teeth. Sometimes we kind of forget about these things.
I have to help her be kind to others and not yell and keep her eye-rolling in check. I'm not always good at these things myself, an yet I'm the one in charge! Woo!
I have to keep my temper when she loses hers.
I have to teach her to be a strong, independent woman.
I have to tell her when someone dies.
The first time I had to do this, Abby was just four or so. My grandmother--Granny--passed away. Granny and Abby met a couple of times, but really only when Abby was a baby. Granny lived primarily in Abby's imagination, based on photos from our visits.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table with Abby when I told her. She listened, saw my own tears, and then put her head down on her arms on the table. I didn't expect that. I didn't know what to do with that. I was ready to hug. But then...we just changed the subject.
The next loss was my husband's dog, Orson.
Abby was seven and visiting my parents in Indiana. I didn't even really get to tell her, as she read a text over my mother's shoulder. My mom had to handle that one. Abby wrote Orson a note and put it under her pillow and it was gone in the morning. I don't know how I feel about that. I was so far away, so ill-equipped to help.
And then last winter hit, with a shit storm of loss that I wasn't ready for, and all the while I had to be the grown-up.
She lost her hamster.
She lost her cat.
She lost her grandmother.
She lost her great grandmother.
She lost two beloved chickens.
When her uncle's dog died suddenly, I simply could not tell her.
I spend a part of each day now thinking about the people and pets we love so much, willing them to not die. This has done wonders for my already anxiety-ridden mindset.
We had a funeral for the hamster. Abby orchestrated it--with a photo of Polka, some flickering candles, a eulogy, and a burial. I stood amazed at my daughter's strength. But she slept in my bedroom that night--she couldn't be alone in her room without Polka.
We had a final evening with Tucker the cat, who spent part of his night in Abby's bed, then part in mine, and part with his sister, our other cat Henrietta. Abby said goodbye to him for the last time and then got on the school bus. She got on the school bus knowing that she wouldn't see Tucker again. How did she do that? I took the day off, cradled his head in his last moments. I cried gallons of tears, though I couldn't always tell which tears were for me and which were for my little girl. This has been the case more often than not lately.
We spent the last week of my mother's life with her. She was so heavily medicated that she just slept. Abby flitted in and out of her room, where someone was always by Nana's side. She'd talk to Nana, tell her she loved her. She rarely cried in front of anyone except me. All through the year of my mother's illness, I could think of little else besides how devastated my daughter would be. My pain was more than doubled as I ached for Abby's future without her Nana--how would I tell her? How would she go on? Once again I was bewildered by my eight-year-old's strength.
But Abby said to me recently, "Our family is cursed."
"Of course it's not," I told her, but I didn't totally believe myself. She doesn't really believe me either. After all, I told her that Tucker (the cat) would be ok. I told her Nana, my mother, would be ok.
But they weren't.
I didn't pull her out of school to attend Grammie's funeral. She had missed so much school already. Should I have?
I put her on the bus on the day we lost Tucker. Should I have?
I couldn't tell her about her uncle's dog. The words dried up every time I tried. But should I have?
My greatest fear out of all the many I harbor, day in and day out, is that I will screw up my kid. I'm responsible for turning her into a well-adjusted adult who will maybe one day get married, maybe have kids, own a home, buy a dehumidifier. Raising her to be kind, compassionate, smart, strong, and independent--and ok with the world of vegetables--is so, so, so, so hard.
I tell her I've got a secret handbook for moms. I use it to justify all the times I piss her off by refusing to let her have gum for breakfast or tie bells to the cat. But of course there is no manual. I have no idea what I'm doing. I make it all up as I go along.
Most days I think she's turning out all right. And my credit card is paid off each month. And I got my contract to teach again next year. And I'm making my car payments on time. I get along with my ex and the dehumidifier is still running. My husband and I are trying to set a positive example about what loving relationships look like. And she does want hugs from me from time to time. So maybe, just maybe, I'm doing ok.
|Abby and Tucker|
|Abby with Grammie and her father|
|Nana and Abby|