April 2010


At least three times a week we stop at an intersection that is flanked by an enormous sculpture of a windmill. It is really something to behold. It’s base taller than all the buildings that surround it and the propellers create a massive shadow that extends down the block.

If it really were a windmill it could power a small town.

Every time we drive past my daughter makes the exact same request. She reaches towards the spinning netted blades and says with an almost desperate whine, “I wanna get that Mommy!” Every time she asks I give her the exact same response. “No honey. It’s too big. It’s bigger than mommy and daddy and mommy standing on daddy’s shoulders. It even bigger than mommy standing on daddy’s shoulders standing on top of a house.”

“Really big,” she says.

“Really, really big,” I say.

Then as we drive away we try to list all the really big things we can think of. And as each one is mentioned I say, “That sculpture is bigger.”

But today, for some reason when we passed by it and she made her usual,  “I wanna get that” request, I responded longingly, “I want get that too. But I never could.”

I glanced back at Sage and she gave this really sad yet hopeful look. “You could try to get it Mommy…” she said.

“Can I see you try?”

When I heard this my heart just leapt up into my throat. It was like the strongman game at a carnival where you hit a lever with a giant mallet and send a puck way up to the top of a tower to ring a bell. Some really big guy had grabbed the mallet and sent my heart rocketing upward.

I just drove off crying.

Two years ago my husband and I went to see a twelve-year-old friend in a play. The director had gone all out. There was an elaborate set, multimedia dance numbers, and a stellar cast of middle school girls. To highlight each of her pre-teen performers the director had created a program in which each child had a little bio. It was clear from reading it that the girls had been asked a series of questions that they were told to answer in fifty words or less. Each girl talked of her school, her life ambitions, and lastly her heroes. It was during the 2008 elections so many mentioned Hillary Clinton. Others gave a shout out Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and other fabulous and funny role models. But one of the girls answered differently. Under who’s your hero she wrote, “My parents because they try really hard.”

I was pregnant at the time and could not keep myself from weeping. I leaned over to my husband and pointed to the hero line. “I want our child to say this about us.” I whimpered.

We didn’t have our lives together in many of the ways that our own parents did when they had us. We were struggling artists, we were renting a tiny little Brooklyn apartment and saving up our money to make puppets and do renegade plays on rooftops, our bank account rarely got above four figures. But we were trying really hard; trying to do what we loved, trying to invent things, trying to be brave. So there in that theatre we made a vow that we would show this to our child. We would show her what it meant to try really hard.

As I was driving away from that sculpture I just couldn’t stop thinking, “When did I become someone who would not try to lift a giant sculpture out of the ground?” All at once it seemed utterly ridiculous and unacceptable that I would shy away from attempting such a thing. Sure, logic and science and the limitations of the human body would suggest that I might not succeed, but why not try? Why not let my daughter see me give it a shot. Every day I ask her to try new things and hard things; things that must seem impossible to her.

So, I’m going back there tomorrow. I’m going to limber up, wear my best workout shoes and bring lots of water. I’m going to try to lift that windmill way up into the sky. If I can’t do it, I’ll ask my two-year-old to help. If we can’t do it together, we’ll gather some people off the street to join us in our efforts.   Who knows maybe Friday’s local newspaper will read, “Giant Windmill Sculpture Mysteriously Disappears. Witnesses report seeing it carted away in a Volvo sedan.”

You never know.

It could happen.

It’s certainly worth a try.

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At our house all good things happen “When the clock is up”. It started at dinner. We needed a way to get our daughter to sit through a meal even when she deemed the offerings to be inedible. We tried songs and stories and slapstick and even magic tricks but nothing seemed to distract her from her ultimate goal of getting out of her highchair. Until one night, in a last ditch effort I pointed to the old wooden clock that hangs on our wall and showed her the journey that the big hand would take in order to land on the Roman numeral twelve.  “When it’s up,” I said, “you can leave the table.”

“When the clock is up?” she asked just to get confirmation.

“Yes,” I repeated, “ You can be done when the clock is up.”

In that moment the clock became her greatest ally. It was her gateway to freedom. The clock could give her what she most desired.

After that night she got it in her head that “the clock” could help her out of other situations too.

We’d be waiting in a line at the grocery store and she’d ask to go home because “The clock is up”. We’d be driving somewhere and she’d pronounce that she could get out of her car seat because “the clock is up.”

“There’s no clock here. It doesn’t work like that,” I tried to explain. But she needed something to help her wait it out. She needed a cue to look forward to; some sign that would let her know, “you will soon get what you want.”

So I just started inventing it. I started creating the passage of time. Like, we’ll go to the park and she’ll immediately ask for a snack. So I’ll say, “You can have a snack when the wind sounds like a cat.” And then fifteen minutes later, after she’s run around for a bit I’ll hold my hand to my ear and say, “Do you hear it?” And she’ll get quite and say, “The wind is a cat. Time for snack!” and we’ll eat.

Or she’ll be having trouble waiting for a kid to get off the swing and want to know “When will it be my turn mommy?” And I’ll answer, “It will be your turn after we find the biggest green leaf.” Then we’ll go around hunting for some foliage.

“Green leaf” she’ll say each time she spots one.  I’ll look over to see if the kid is done. If he isn’t I’ll say, “ Humm…I think there must be an even bigger one around here somewhere.”

Occasionally I just leave it up to fate. Like the other day we were walking towards the front stoop about to go collect the mail and I got a phone call. Sage immediately wanted to know when I’d be off. “When the red car goes honk” I blurted and then just sort of kept my fingers crossed that a disgruntled driver of a cherry corvette would not zoom by with his hand one the horn anytime within the next three to five minutes.

And the more we do this, the more we let time pass by our surroundings, the more I feel like we are tapping into something very primal and very real; It’s kid time, it’s earth time. It’s not broken into little fractions and bits. It’s graceful and continuous and unexpected.

It’s like watching a stray balloon move across a city skyline.

It’s like camping.

I want it to continue as long as it possibly can. I wonder if I can make it last forever. So I conjure up a scene of us way down the road, just to see if we could pull it off.

I imagine us ten years in the future…

Me: Sage it’s time to do your homework.

Sage: No mom. I’m waiting till the moon is full and the sky is clear.

Me: But the moon is full.

Sage: The moon is full yeah but the sky is not clear. Maybe it will clear up in an hour or two. If not there’s always next month’s lunar cycle. I’ll just tackle the book report then.

I picture us twelve years down the line…

Me: What are you doing driving the car?

Sage: Today I saw three yellow bikes in the parking lot at Walgreen’s.

Me: What does that have to do with anything?

Sage: I always knew I’d be ready to drive on the day I saw three yellow bikes in the parking lot at Walgreen’s.

Me: But you’re only twelve…

Sage: Age is just a state of mind mom. God you’re such a fascist.

No, this kid time definitely has an expiration date. But luckily I don’t know what that date is. I’ve ditched all my calendars and watches. For now I’m just flying blind. I’ll stop when a bee flies around my head six times or when my left shoe gets carried off by a hawk or the day after a black cat winks at me.

I’m thinking, or hoping, I’ll just know when it’s time…

As a child I yearned to live in “yonder years”. I remember taking a sixth grade field trip to Colonial Williamsburg and feeling like I was finally home. Oh, to write with a feather pen and churn butter. If only that place hired minors I would have sent in my resume and spent the remainder of adolescence in a one-room schoolhouse. I remember wondering if the people who worked there stayed in character all the time. I surely would have. I fantasized about how I would run an apothecary and mince herbs with a little mortar and pestle. “Tis a pleasure to see you Bitty Washington, might I prescribe you some horehound and thyme?”

Oh what a life!

When I returned home from the trip I spent hours in my backyard pretending to “live off the land.” I had it all planned out. I’d keep my perishables in the creek, I’d build my house behind the woodpile. I’d hitch my horse to the Magnolia tree in our back yard. If I could get my parents to purchase a few sheep and a loom I was sure I could learn to weave. I figured out all the things I’d need to acquire: a lantern, a washboard, a musket… Maybe I’d put them on my birthday list?

The fantasy continued for several years. Even in high school I’d occasionally pour cream into some plastic Tupperware and shake it till it turned to butter just to prove that I had what it took to live in colonial times. But eventually the fantasies fell away. I began to focus on mix tapes, movies, and cars. The “yonder years” just stopped making sense. It got so I could no longer recall what the big appeal had been in the first place. Why would anyone want to churn butter?

But the other day I took my daughter to a farm and as I watched her chase a bird up a sloping pasture it all came back. She looked so free and at home just moving across the land. Suddenly I wanted it again. All at once I needed a stone hearth and a family farm and a horse and loom and a big pot of stew dangling over an open fire. I needed to know all my neighbors. I needed my husband to become a blacksmith. I needed a chest full of tiny little drawers so that I could finally open the apothecary store of my dreams. I could see it all play out. My daughter would be wild and resourceful. She’d have her own flock of chickens. We’d sew quilts together. We’d eat long meals, work the fields, and tell stories by candlelight. This was the life for us! In that moment, if I had had a time machine, I would have powered it up and hit the road.

That night I stayed up after everyone had gone to bed and googled “Colonial Times.”  I needed to start planning our escape into the past. At first it was just like I remembered it- the brick homes, the lush gardens, the axes and muskets leaning against the front door. It was lovely. But then I moved beyond the pictures and started reading the details. I saw the fine print; the first thing that caught my eye was the four-page list of common diseases including smallpox, malaria and the bubonic plague. How could my little one run through the fields and tend to her flock of chickens if she was too busy fighting off the black death? Then there were the rules. I found a list of 110 rules for “decent behavior in company and conversation” at least ten of them mentioned proper ways to handle utensils. Suddenly the long family meals didn’t sound so appealing. How could we all kick back and just shoot the shit together if we were obsessed with holding our forks “just so”. Then there was the oppression of women, the terrible life expectancy, the packs of wolves, and the fact that I was somehow going to have to get my two year old to wear a bodice. I can barely get a t-shirt over her head. There was no way this whole Colonial thing was going to work out.

I closed up the computer and called it a day. The next morning I woke up grateful for modern medicine and women’s suffrage and the ipod that kept my daughter occupied as I made coffee. “Want some toast?” I called out to Sage as she danced to The Black Eyed Peas.

“Yeah,” she said.

“With butter?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

And as I opened the fridge I did have a brief moment where I looked at the cream. “I could churn it…” I thought. “I wonder how long that would take?” As I contemplated the routine, I heard my daughter call from the other room,  “Come dance with toast!” She said.

“Coming,” I answered back. I grabbed the Land O’ Lakes, cut off a piece, slapped it on some toast, and joined my daughter in the living room to dance through breakfast.

“How are you sleeping?” It’s such a simple little questionFor most of my life no one even bothered asking. Sure, maybe during finals or after a breakup when I’d walk around with big circles under my eyes but mostly it just didn’t come up. If it had been a common line of inquiry I would have answered it with little thought, “How am I sleeping? Huh, let me think…well yesterday I cruised into the local brunch joint only to find that I’d missed the pancake menu and they had moved onto to pasta and burgers, SO… pretty well I guess.”

But now, now that I have a child, now that sleep is as fragile and as volatile as an eggshell in a tornado that question has become dense and weighted. I think deeply and grow tense every time it is asked. And it is asked ALL THE TIME.

It’s like when I’d be home for Thanksgiving after college and everyone would want to know, “What have you been doing?” The entire kitchen could be on fire, aliens could be landing on the back porch and still everyone would want the answer to this question. On good years I’d answer proudly and with great confidence. I’d pluck my choice experiences from a pool of many and launch into a detailed description.

Well…I’ve been working on a national cartoon and writing a ton, but that doesn’t fill me completely, so I’m also teaching. I really have a passion for that! Did I mention I’m in grad school too?  Yes, I am. It’s really coming together.  All those little choices I made along the way have brought me to this moment. What’s the word for that…serendipity, karma, fate… oh I forget, anyway, how are you?

But on a bad year, a year where I was feeling like I’d never be much of anything, a year where I’d spent the bulk of my time answering phones in a mini suite or filling lunch orders at a temp job, I’d dream up ways to avoid the question all together.

I’m sorry what did you ask? Did you ask what I’ve been doing? Well…ummm… I’ve got a lot of ideas so I’m thinking about doing something with those and I’ve got a friend who’s got some ideas too so we might collaborate, which is really exciting. But that’s kind of big picture stuff. For now I’m just working in a building. There’s free coffee and a great view of even bigger buildings so that’s cool, anyway… I’m going to see if my mom needs help in the kitchen.

And I’d be off, sweating, regretting all my choices, and feeling like a moron and an overall phony.

It just blows my mind that a question like, “How are you sleeping?” can send me right back into this state of insecurity and panic. It baffles me that I find myself rehearsing the answer as I walk down the street to a playgroup or sing-along. Back when my daughter was sleeping between us and spending most nights nursing from dusk till dawn I’d practice little ways of making our situation sound as socially acceptable as possible. “Our daughter sleeps in a very large crib. Actually one might call it a bed. Actually one might call it our bed. But that’s really just semantics.  Anyway what’s your sleeping arrangement?”

Sure after a good night’s sleep I’d strut around just asking for the question. I’d talk at length about how we were all getting so much rest and bonding at the same time. I’d explain the closeness and the rare privilege of getting to watch a baby dream right next to me. About how feeling her breath on my shoulder was like taking a sedative- it just put me right out and sent me into a sleep that would make the Sandman himself feel envy.

But when a night had been rough, when I’d woken to sobs every fifteen minutes, when my nipples bled from so much midnight snacking, when the rocking and crying and shifting and waking had gotten so bad that my husband and I had actually gotten out of bed in the middle of the night to discuss all the ways we were screwing up our child with our crappy sleep routines I just dreaded that question with all my being. I wanted to avoid every place where I might run into a parent who might ask that bloody sleep question.

“How am I sleeping? Well I…oh look it’s a meteor falling from the sky…run. We’ll continue this chat later. Good bumping into you!”

For so long I just couldn’t make myself confess the details when things got rocky. There was just too much at stake. The whole sleeping arrangement was the first big conscious choice we’d made as parents, just like the whole job/career thing was the first big choice I’d made out of college. It felt so tender and raw, and lonely.  I couldn’t bear the thought that it might not have been the right choice.

Then, one afternoon I was just too tired to put on a charade. I’d been up most of the night and I was trying to recover over a cup of tea with a friend. It was a friend who I knew did the “cry it out method.” Generally we tried to avoid the whole sleep conversation altogether because we had chosen such different routs and both felt simultaneously competitive and insecure. Then out of nowhere she just began confessing all the little details of her sleep situation. “One night…” she shared as if beginning a ghost story, “I put the kid to bed and she started wailing and wailing. We were just at the start of the ‘cry it out’ thing so I made myself sit downstairs and listen. I held fast. I let her cry and cry. Then finally after like forty-five minutes I caved. I went into her room only to discover that her crib had collapsed and she was lying in a pile of rubble. Unscathed, but deeply traumatized I’m sure.”

And I just started laughing, and she laughed and it felt so good.

“Do you wanna know something?” I kind of whispered, “My husband and I have given our daughter our bed. We’re sleeping on the couch. We’re trying to get her to self-soothe and it’s the only way we could think to do it.” And then we both laughed again. It all came out after that. The tricks, the insecurities, the tales we’d heard from other parents, “I know a woman who knows a woman who sleeps on the living room floor with her six year old, it’s the only way she can get him to sleep.” She shared, “Well I know a man who knows a man who’s kid will only sleep in his arms in an easy chair.”

And somehow in that moment, I felt like I was part of this big community of crazy sleep deprived parents, and it was exactly where I wanted to be. It suddenly dawned on me that we were all bound to get it right eventually, otherwise the world would just be littered with people wandering around unable to sleep because they were so scarred as children by bed sharing and crying it out and all other manner of early sleep methods. And I’ve been awake in the wee hours of the morning, and I’ve looked out the window and I simply haven’t seen these people roaming the streets.  So it must just be a matter of time. Maybe a few years, maybe the day after tomorrow before we’re all just laughing at that silly sleep question.

“How am I sleeping?” we’ll say when asked, “Better than I was!”

“May May?” my daughter cries out.

“Is she talking to me?” I wonder.

“May May!” she says sounding more desperate. I run to her thinking that perhaps she has hit her head and forgotten my name.

“Oh, May May,” she says when she sees me pass through the door and into her room.

“How many fingers am I holding up? Who’s president?” I ask as I check her pupils to see if they’re dilated.

She can’t answer either question but it’s clear there’s nothing wrong. She’s giving me a big smile.

“Hey May May,” she says in a casual “what’s up” sort of tone.

“You’re my May May,” she continues lovingly.

“Oh,” I say. “I thought I was your mommy. I thought we’d kind of established that over the past two years.”

“You’re May May,” my toddler insists.

“Okay” I think to myself, if the past two years have taught me anything it’s that I should be adaptable, roll with it, go with the flow.

So I spend the afternoon answering to May May.

“Whatever,” I think, “it’s just for the day.”

But the next day May May is requested once again; and the day after that, and the day after that too. I start to wonder: What has become of Mommy?

Maybe I need to reintroduce myself; come to think of it I’m not sure I ever officially introduced myself to begin with. Maybe I’ll just rewind and do this right. I’ll give my kid a hearty little handshake.

“I’m Mommy,” I’ll say.

“I’m the one who’s lent you the boobies all these months (26 to be exact). I’m the one who loves you till my heart hurts and lies awake at night obsessing over your future. I’m the one who strategically places developmentally appropriate toys in places that you can reach and sings to you all day long. It’s Mommy, got it, Mommy.”

But lately that’s not all Mommy has been doing. Lately I’ve had to occasionally diverge from my impulsive, intuitive, “go with the flow” parenting and begin to play the role of enforcer. Lately I find myself saying things like “If I don’t hear a please I’m going to have to turn this car around!” or “I’ll count to three and if you don’t clean that up play time is over.” In short, I’m doing some dirty work. I’m having to be firm at times and even, dare I say, teach some lessons. I’m making some demands that make both of us miserable in hopes that it’s ultimately “for the best.” I’ve let her cry a bit, I’ve sat back and watched her struggle in frustration, and I’ve ignored her requests when they are delivered with a whine.

And it occurs to me that this new phase of parenting just might explain the sudden appearance of May May. Sage seems to ask for her just following these tough parenting moments. Like the other day when she took a friend’s toy and I ushered her over to a park bench for a talk. “May May,” she whimpered as I carried her away. “No Sage, no May May. Mommy has something she needs to talk to you about. If you can’t share, you can’t play.”

I believe that May May is my daughter’s super hero. And my daughter is calling to be rescued. If Mommy says no to ice cream maybe May May will say yes. If Mommy will not be interrupted a tug at the shirt maybe May May will indulge.

As soon as I piece together the May May puzzle, that little super hero starts fucking with me. I hear my daughter crying in the other room because she can’t fit her oversized doll into a tiny plastic highchair. I go to help her but then stop myself. “Just give her a minute to figure it out,” I say to myself. “She needs the independence. This is good for her.”

But as I hold myself back I hear this little voice that I can only assume is May May’s. “Come on, what’s the big deal?” she says. “Independence is overrated. What she needs is someone who’s attentive. You don’t want her to think that she’s alone in the world do you? DO YOU?”

“Must not cave to May May,” I chant to myself.  Sure she’s cool and fun. She’d be a great person to take out for drinks or to a movie. But will May May show my daughter how to be self reliant and polite? “Step off May May! I’m trying here, you just don’t see the big picture. Get out of my head!”

And just when I think I’ve suppressed May May, Sage starts calling for her (I guess because Mommy did not come running). Suddenly my guilt intensifies. And that May May, she feeds off my guilt. Her voice gets louder and louder. “You’re not trying to make her independent, you’re just slacking. Help your kid put the fucking doll in the high chair so we can all get on with our day. So we can have fun. Don’t you want fun? DON’T WE ALL WANT FUN!”

Then all at once it’s quiet.  My daughter has stopped shouting.  She has figured out how to cram the baby into the chair.

Now it’s “Mommy” she calls, “Look what I did!” She pronounces triumphantly.

This time I do run. I swoop her up and tell her I’m proud. Proud that she’s doing things on her own, proud that she’s such a big girl.

And as I hold my daughter in a tight embrace, I whisper under my breath

“Suck it, May May. Suck it.”

“I’ll get you next time,” I hear a little voice say.

“We’ll see about that May May…we’ll see.”

I’m in the sixth grade. I’m wearing stone washed overalls and a straw hat. I’ve drawn extra freckles onto my cheeks with a friend’s eyeliner and I’m sucking a piece of straw. I’ve got a rubber chicken hanging from a rope that I’ve tied around my waist.

It’s the Halloween dance and I’m looking HOT.

So what if the other girls are dressed like slutty cats and nurses in mini skirts?  What could be sexier than a chick with a chicken? It’s a good thing I’m looking so good because this is my big chance to woo “The Crush”.

I’m going to dance with him.

It will happen.

Laura said that Haley said that Holly said that he is totally going to ask me. So it must be true. Each new song brings a rush of anxiety – “Funky Cold Medina” – retreat, retreat. I do not want to be asked to dance to a fast song, there will be no contact, no eye gazing, no hands on the hips. “Stairway to Heaven” – yes yes yes!! I make myself visible. This song is perfect. We will tell our children that Led Zeppelin brought us together.

No dice. We stare across the room, shrouded by our friends.  Then, just as I begin to think that all is lost, “The Crush” gets up the nerve. He saunters over with a group of guys and they push him towards me. He trips from the impact and falls into me. He’s so fucking cool he’s not even wearing a costume, just a button down shirt doused in cologne. He’s got broad shoulders and a post-pubescent voice. He’s a year older than me. He might as well be Zeus incarnate for all the manliness he’s oozing.

“Wanna dance?”he sort of whispers under his breath.

I know what will happen next. I’ve been playing it out in my mind all night. We are going to croon and I’m going to leave this dance with a real live boyfriend!

But suddenly I’m speaking, and the words are not the ones I’ve rehearsed. I do not say, “Yes crush I’d love too,” or even “uh huh, sure.” Instead I aggressively blurt, “Not before you dance with my chicken!”

I’m dumbfounded.

He looks utterly confused.

Not knowing what to do I untie the chicken from my waist and slowly hand it too him.

“Ok,” he says.

“Ok,” I say.

And he dances with the chicken.

And they never play another slow song, the whole rest of the night.

End of story.

For months after I wanted to bring that rubber chicken to life just so I could murder it.

I thought the dance was going to be my “how I met your father” story.

But it was just the sorry tale of a lame chick losing a guy to a piece of synthetic poultry.

That is until the other day, twenty years later, when a mother of two told me her girls had just attended their first Middle School dance. And it suddenly dawned on me that the whole chicken debacle just might transcend its lameness. It could become the funny tale that I tell my daughter when she some day goes to her first dance. I can see it all play out in my head. She’ll nervously sit before me in her “too short” skirt, anxious to just go already and I’ll say, “Before we head out, there’s a story I need to tell you.” She’ll think she’s getting the sex talk or something and will quickly grow confused when I start speaking of a rubber chicken. As I get deeper into the tale she’ll lean in close, I’ll see her begin to relax. By then end I’ll have her laughing. When it’s all done she’ll head off to the dance completely liberated. She’ll know that no matter what she does, no matter how she embarrasses herself or screws things up, there’s absolutely no way that she’s going to be a bigger moron than her mother.

Suddenly I can imagine re-purposing all of my teen tales of embarrassment. Like the time I stapled my maxi pad to my underwear so it wouldn’t fall out while I was running the hundred-yard dash during the annual seventh grade track and field day. And how because of the staples I ended up with little scrape marks on my thighs that left me walking like I’d just humped a porcupine. Or the time I French kissed a VCR just for practice and got a nasty shock on my tongue. Or the time I tried to Nair my upper lip and ended up with a moustache made up of burn marks from leaving the chemicals on too long. All at once every middle school mishap seemed to have a higher purpose. They’d help me bond with my teenager. They’d show her that she’s not alone. They’d reveal the universal ridiculousness of being twelve and then thirteen and fourteen.

Maybe they’d even help her avoid the whole Middle School mess altogether.

MAYBE MY STORIES WOULD SOMEDAY FREE HER FROM PUBERTY!!!

But, more likely, they’ll simply keep her from making my exact mistakes. If there’s one thing I’m reminded of in all of these tales it’s that puberty is hard. It’s an ocean full of weird sea creatures and twenty-foot waves. She’s bound to have a wipeout. No matter how hard it will be to watch her fall, no matter how much I’ll want to save her from all the embarrassment, it just won’t be possible. She’s bound to take out a tampon instead of a pencil in math class or get caught kissing a vacuum cleaner or accidentally dye her hair the shade of puke. It’s going to happen. And as she sits there feeling like her world is over I’ll have to bite my tongue to keep from saying, “Honey, one day it’s just going to be a funny story you tell your kids.”

No teenager wants to hear that!

We have emerged. After so many months living tucked away in our hovel with only Play-doh and marbles to occupy our time we are crossing the street and rounding the corner to THE PLAYGROUND. It’s sixty, maybe even seventy degrees and I strut like I’m hearing the soundtrack to “Almost Famous”.  As we reach the gate I set my daughter down and take her hand. I expect that we’ll survey the grounds together, she’ll tentatively check out the scene, run her fingers along the slide, watch some big kids play and then eventually ask to go on the swings. But the second I open the gate she bolts. She runs past the baby slide like it’s “soooo 2009” and immediately begins climbing a ladder to reach “the scary bridge” that last summer was the source of so many slips and so many tears. I brace myself for a fall but she walks gracefully across and then throws herself down the slide on her stomach…HER STOMACH! I do a double-take. This is not the child I accompanied to so many parks last summer. This is not the kid who clung to my legs like I was home base. This is someone new. She runs here and there like she’s sixteen and has just gotten her license.  She’s finally free. When we hit the swings she asks me to push her “higher mommy higher” and when I try to help her mount a big wheel she instructs me to “move back.”

I no longer chase after her bracing myself for a skinned knee. I don’t have to introduce her to each piece of equipment like it’s a long lost cousin “Oh look, a seesaw! Hi seesaw. What a friendly seesaw. Let’s give the seesaw a try.” This kid is independent and fierce. She’s on fire!  “Mommy’s going to watch,” I say as I plop down on the bench with the best view. Is this really happening? Am I really sitting on the sidelines? I’ve seen other mothers do it but I never thought it would happen to me. This is the beginning of something truly magical.

As I kick back my mind begins to scroll through all that has happened in the last twelve months. It’s like this return to the park is New Years day or Rosh Hashanah- I just sit there taking stock of the blur that was last year.  I try to pick out the significant moments- full sentences where uttered, first curse words were bandied about, imaginary play began, a love of avocados was replaced by a love of chocolate. I can’t help but feel proud. We’ve made it to another season. We are all still standing and Sage is absolutely breathtaking. She’s making up stories, collecting a group of friends and singing all the time. She has preferences, catch phrases and a favorite color.

She can jump.

The other day she told me, “It’s my time to fly, I’m going to go to some place warm and wild!” And damned if I didn’t believe her. As I reminisce, I can’t help but leap forward. I’m so excited to find out what will come next. As a preview, I get up from my perch and cruise around the playground to watch other kids. It’s like when I was fourteen and reading “Seventeen Magazine”.  I want a glimpse of what lies ahead.

I see a group of kids who look to be about five. They are pretending to be cats. One is the cat chaser and he’s got an invisible net. “I get to chase you,” he says, “I get to catch you and bring you home. Then we’ll have milk.”

“Meow, meow” the others respond apparently agreeing to these rules.

I begin imagining Sage at this age. What will the rules of her games be? I can see her with a pack of friends racing about on all fours pretending to be squirrels or monkeys. I can’t wait to hid out and watch as her imaginary worlds unfold.

Next I spot a crew of kids who look to be seven. They have set up a pretend restaurant and are serving invisible ice cream. They are meticulous in their play. They’ve made menus, they’ve got a special of the day. I hear them promise “speedy service” to all of their customers. As I watch I think of how much my daughter will learn in the next five years. It is clear from their play that these kids know how to count and write. They’re working together like colleagues. They’ve got a system. I think of my daughter in first grade and then in second; learning to read, learning to add, growing close with a favorite teacher. It blows my mind to imagine sending her off with a bag lunch and a backpack.

Just as I begin playing out my daughter’s first trip on the school bus I notice a pack of pre-teens who have gathered around a picnic table. They’ve all got cell phones decorated with stickers and puffy paint. They’re wearing tiny skirts and leggings pre ripped to look very Cindy Lauper (or is it Miley Cyrus?) I move closer to catch their conversation and I hear this:

Girl: Did you know John-Paul peed on the drum kit at band?

Boy: I play that drumb kit!

Girl: He’s lame. He’s running away.

Boy: When?

Other Boy: Monday.

Other Girl: He’s so lame.

Boy: So lame.

Girl: You should talk. You were going to run away.

Boy: Nu-uh. I tried but there wasn’t a bus to Florida the day I was gonna go.

Other Boy: Why did you wanna go to Florida?

Boy: My grandma has a huge house there.

Girl: That’s lame.

Boy: Whatever, you wanna run away too.

Girl: Well yeah.

Other Girl: Who doesn’t wanna run away?

Girl: Duh.

Other Girl: Florida’s cool.

Boy: Whatever.

Suddenly I imagine these kids’ parents coming home to find a note that reads, “Gone to Florida. Whatever!”

This game is no longer fun.

This journey into the future has gone south. Where is my two-year old? “I WANT MY TWO YEAR OLD!!” I run after Sage like she is home base. This time it’s me clinging to her, chasing at her heels and reaching out.  “Can mommy come with you on the slide? Can mommy follow you over the bridge? Maybe mommy should hold your hand? Wait for mommy! Slow down Sage! Slow down…”

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