May 2010


My daughter and I are at the local library playing hide-and-seek in juvenile fiction. Suddenly she takes hold of my skirt and urgently pulls me close,  “I am going to shout!” she tells me as if confessing a deep dark secret. “How do you know?” I whisper. “Because I’m going to,” she says trying to match my hushed tone.

“Well we’re in the library,” I explain.

“We don’t shout here. You see that lady reading, she needs quite. And that librarian won’t like it one bit. She already got mad at mommy for letting you touch the computer. No shouting” I say. “Those are library rules.”

“Mommy,” Sage interrupts now looking extremely serious, “I’m going to shout.”

I quickly pick her up. “Count to five first,” I say and then book it towards the door. I nestle her head into my chest to help muffle the sound just in case she can’t hold it in.

“One, two, three, four, five…” I count aloud. And just as we are crossing through the glass doors and onto the sidewalk Sage releases a gigantic, “SHOUT!” She actually says the word shout as she shouts.

“I did it mommy. I shout outside!”

“Yes,” I say. “Good work.”

As we walk home I think to myself, “What was that?” and I file the event in a section of my brain that I now reserve for figuring my child out.

A few weeks later we have a similar incident. We’re in the car and I’m sitting next to her in the back seat. After waiting at a particularly long red light she turns to me and says, “Mommy I’m going to do heeyah!”

Heeyah is my daughter’s version of a karate chop (inspired by Miss Piggy) and she knows she can’t do it anywhere near people. “I’m going to do heeyah at you.” She further explains.

“But you can’t,” I say. “You can’t do heeyah at me.”

Sage is adamant. She’s got a strong urge to hit me and she’s not giving up just yet. “I NEED to do heeyah,” she says with great force.

“Are you feeling mad?” I ask.

“No” she tells me, “I’m feeling heeyah.”

“Well you can not do heeyah at me and you can not do it in the car.”

My daughter grows quiet and then calmly states, “I will do it in the car and then I will go to my room.”

“Yes” I respond. “I will send you to your room if you karate chop me.”

Sage grows very quiet. She looks up at the ceiling and closes her eyes. She is deep in thought.

I imagine she’s playing out her punishment. Perhaps she’s picturing herself behind her closed bedroom door crying in despair. Suddenly she opens her eyes and glances back down to meet my gaze. She is clearly having second thoughts.

“I don’t want to go to my room,” she says.

“Then do not karate chop me,” I respond.

She stares at me.

I stare at her.

Then slowly she takes hold of her arm and pulls it close to her side as if trying desperately to keep it from following its dangerous impulse.

She holds it there for several seconds. When she finally lets go it falls limply at her side. The urge has passed. My daughter is in the clear. “Hi Mommy!” She says in a light and cheerful tone. “Hi Sage,” I say. “Good work.”

That night as I lie in bed processing this event and the incident at the library it dawns on me that I am witnessing my daughter develop self-control. For the past two years she’s been discovering “the rules”. She’s seen what gets her in trouble, what is deemed unsafe, what is “crossing the line.” She’s watched us gasp as she runs towards an open staircase. She’s heard our lectures as she refuses to share with a friend.  Now she’s taking a stab at policing herself.  But it’s raw and awkward. It’s new and most definitely hard. It takes everything she’s got. She narrates her actions and talks through the consequences. She involves her whole body in restraining her impulses. It’s incredible to watch. Though soon her response will become automatic it occurs to me that this way, this early form of self-restraint is actually really responsible and thoughtful. It’s almost noble. I start thinking about how I might be served by such a process.

Like the other night: would I have eaten four cookies and gone to bed with a stomach ache if I had taken the time to really think through my actions and their consequences? What would have happened if I had paused on my fourth trip to the dessert platter and said aloud, “I am going to eat a fourth cookie. That will mean that there will be four cookies in my stomach. I will want to puke. I will have great regret. I will be sad.” How would it have played out differently if I had actually reached for the hand that was grasping for the fourth cookie and pulled it towards me and held it tight even when it tried to wriggle loose and grab that round morsel of chocolate?

What would have happened is that I would have gone to bed having NOT eaten FOUR cookies.

And then as I drifted off to sleep, instead of gripping my stomach and moaning into the night I could have given myself a gentle pat on the back.

“Good work” I would have said.

“Good work.”

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My daughter wants a cat; preferably a cat who likes red meat and can be carried in a suitcase. “What will you do with your cat?” I ask. “Go on an airplane” she says.  “What will you feed your cat?” I enquire. “Beef” she says. “Beefy beef.” She’s got it all planned out. If she can’t have a cat her next pet of choice would be a dog. Every time we pass one on the street or in a park she explains, “I need that dog.”

“Do you mean you want to pet that dog?” I say.

“Yes” she says… “and I need it.”

On various occasions she has also expressed an interest in caring for a monkey, an iguana and a baby pig. At one point she adopted a cow that had been drawn on the pavement with sidewalk chalk. She named him Buddy. We visited him daily. She pet him and left him piles of acorns to eat. But then it rained. And Buddy disappeared. And try as I might I couldn’t re-create him in our own back yard. “That’s a cat mommy. That’s not Buddy,” she said after every attempt. Each time we arrived at the park I kept my fingers crossed that the artist had made a visit and had reincarnated Buddy. But it never happened. I thought of posting up a sign. “Urgent: Would the mother or father who has a gift for drawing chalk cows please sketch out another bovine slightly to the right of the swing set. Can you make it blue? Thank you!”

But I didn’t and Buddy never re-appeared. Then one afternoon Sage and I were pulling out weeds in the garden and I happened upon an earthworm. “Look Sage!” I said holding him in my hand like I was showing off a platter of desserts. “It’s a little worm.”

“Oh mommy!” She responded. “Cuttie, cuttie worm.”

The worm was in.

I spent the next few minutes helping him seal the deal. I gave him all the characteristics you’d want in a pet. “Oh look he likes to be scratched,” I said as I ran my finger across his back, or maybe it was his front. “What’s your name little guy” I asked as I leaned in close and pretended to put my ear up to his mouth, or maybe it was his ass. “He says his name is Squirmin’ Herman.” I informed my daughter. “Oh Squirmin’! I wanna hold Squirmin’.” She shrieked!

Next I gave Sage the pet speech. The one I’d been saving for a cat or a dog. I figured I could make it work for a worm too, “You are going to need to be really gentle with him,” I said. “He’s a living creature.”

“And feed him, and love him, and clean up after him.”

“Oh yes, yes, yes” Sage agreed as I handed him off.

She spent five minutes looking into his eyes or maybe it was his tail. The she started chatting him up.  “Will you go to school Squirmin’…like daddy? I’ll feed you beef? You like beef! Where’s your Mommy, Squirmin?  Is she on an airplane? Let’s go on an airplane.” It was all progressing so well. But then Sage got excited. She and Squirmin’ were heading for the pretend plane and she wanted to invite me to join. She gestured over towards the fence to show me where the plane was parked and…she dropped Squirmin’ into the grass.

“Squirmin’!” She cried out like she’d just lost a sibling.

At first I thought we’d have to put up missing posters and mourn his loss and I’d have to get an age appropriate video about how sometimes pets die or disappear in the grass. But then, it dawned on me. Squirmin’ is an earthworm. As hermaphrodites, worms can reproduce with any worm they choose. They must be mating all the time. There must be millions right under my feet! I got down on all fours, peered through the grass and like magic I found a new worm in seconds. “Look Sage. It’s Squirmin’! He was just on vacation.”

Problem solved.

At the end of the afternoon I explained that Squirmin’ needed to go to bed. We found him a comfy spot in the yard and said goodnight. The next day I bent down, picked up the first worm I saw and handed him to Sage. “Squirmin’ had a great nights sleep!” I said.

He really was the perfect pet. No matter where we were I could always just run outside and find him. On Saturday we were hiking through the woods and out of nowhere Sage asked, “Where’s Squirmin’?” I just plunged a stick into the earth, dug around a bit and poof, I had Squirmin’. “He’s right here!” I shouted with delight. “Oh Squirmin’,” Sage said as she curled her tiny hand around him.

Squirmin’ also became an easy solution if Sage were impatient. On Tuesday we were waiting in the parking lot as my husband ran inside for groceries and my daughter was particularly unhappy. “Want to visit Squirmin’?” I asked. “Yeah” she answered and I just leaned into the grass that bordered our parking space, turned over a few rocks, and scooped up a worm. “Squirmin’,” Sage shouted.

“Fancy seeing you here.” I said.

We never would have been able to pull that off with a cat or a dog.

He was great! He didn’t require that we feed him or take him to the vet. He didn’t bark at the neighbors or pee on the comforter. Sure he’d occasionally leave a trail of excrement in our hands but that was nothing we couldn’t take care of with a Kleenex. And it was hard to tell what his personality was, we were never really sure which end was his face, so we could make him whomever we pleased. If Sage was in a grumpy mood, Squirmin’ was too. If Sage wanted a buddy to sing to, Squirmin’ would always squiggle around in her palm. If Sage just wanted to sit and stare… well Squirmin’ was up for that too. On Wednesday we ate goldfish crackers with Squirmin’, on Friday we found him at the park and Sage showed him how throw a ball. It was all going so well. It was like those romance movies where they show a montage of all the adventures that have happened in a week and you just watch and think, “Why can’t my life be that fun.”

It was like that.

It was fun.

And I felt like such a hero for finding him over and over again and bringing him into our lives. Then Sunday rolled around. And just like always Sunday was the spoiler, the day when you come back to reality and realize another Monday is staring you in the face. We were in the back yard and I scooped up the nearest worm and Sage just looked at it and said, “That’s not Squirmin’! He’s too little.” At first I tried to play it off. “Oh, that must be his baby brother… Burmin. How about we play with Burmin?” But Sage was adamant, “I want Squirmin’!” she insisted. But each worm I found was wrong, one was too squiggly, one was too tall. Another had legs and that was just plain unacceptable. It was like overnight my daughter had figured out my trick. I’d lost my magic. I couldn’t just produce a pet.

It was really sad. There was only one thing I could do. “I think maybe Squirmin’ is gone.” I said. “Maybe he went on vacation,” my daughter responded. Then she just sat quietly staring at the dirt. She looked like she was working really hard to process the whole thing. I thought maybe she was planning to stay there until he came back from his trip. But after a few minutes she lifted her head.

“I could have a cat…” She said.

A few nights ago I stayed up into the morning playing poker with friends. I was super excited as I sat down to play. In my fantasy life I’m the kind of person who walks into a backcountry bar and slowly makes her way over to the card table. When I join the game everyone groans. “Not another big city chick who thinks she can play with the real boys.” I just smile and say nothing. At first I lose a couple of hands and they start getting all riled up thinking they’re going to make off with all my money. But then I step it up. I make a big bet and take them all out. I win round after round. At one point a gentleman tries to shoot me with a pistol that he’s been hiding in his boot but I’m too fast. I clamp my hand over the gun and say. “Do you really want to do that?” And I lift up my shirt ever so slightly to show off the karate black belt tied around my waist. He backs down and in the next round I wipe everyone out for good. I scoop up all my winnings and leave the crowd in a daze. “That was hot” I hear someone say as I exit the bar but I don’t even turn around to see who. “Not a chance buddy.” I chuckle. And I’m gone.

In real life however it turns out that I’m not such a good player. As my friends at the table studied their cards plotting their bluffs and weighing their odds I kept glancing over at my Texas Hold ’em cheat sheet. “Crap what if I have two pairs? Is that better than if someone has three of a kind? Can an ace be any number in the deck? Can I turn it into a three?  If I can turn it into a three than I just might have a full house. If not then I’m screwed.” As might be expected of a crappy poker player, I was the first one out. And because I am also no good at shuffling cards I was not elected to become the dealer, which I found out, is what usually happens to the first one out. So I had a lot of time to think, a lot of time.

And what I found myself thinking was, “I would have expected to be better at poker.” Now I’m not completely delusional. I am well aware that my poker fantasy is exactly that- a fantasy. It surly was not going to prepare me for being good at an actual real life poker game but I kind of just assumed that parenting would. After all they both require so many of the same skills. I know from watching poker on TV that the game is all about reading other people’s cues. As a parent, I’ve spent the past twenty-six months perfecting this skill. I can tell when my kid is going to poop forty-five minutes before it happens. I can predict how big a tantrum is going to be based on a subtle shift in her eye color- greenish grey, not so bad, blue-gray you better run. So trying to gauge weather or not someone had a good or bad hand should have been right up my alley.

Then there’s the poker face. The good poker players always seem to wear a mask as they play. Emotions are kept tightly protected. I’ve got this one down too. My kid falls and though I want to screech and gasp and shout, “Oh my god, are you okay?!” I walk leisurely to her side. “No big deal,” I say. “Let’s just shake it off together.” In parenting, my poker face almost always achieves the desired effect. In an actual game of poker it was a lost cause.

And if the emotionless glance wasn’t going to be my secret weapon, I surly thought that bluffing would be in my bag of tricks. As a parent I’ve got that one down to a science. I put on my deep scary voice and say, “Sage I’m going to count to three and you better put those scissors down. One, two…” and as I count up I just kind of hold my breath and hope she’s going to fulfill my request before I arrive at that magic number. In all reality I don’t have fucking clue what happens after three; maybe a trip to her room, maybe a stint in a time out chair. It has never come up. For now it’s just a big old bluff.

And there’s more of course. There’s the fact that both parenting and poker demand patience and resilience. They both make you want to drink and they both require that you go to bed way too late and wake up tired.

But most of all there’s the bravery involved in both. In all the poker movies, the guy you root for always plays with everything he’s got. He’s not timid, he’s not meek, he plunges full force into whatever hand he is dealt. Sometimes he makes a big terrible goof and you gasp and think it’s over but somehow he comes back stronger. He risks everything. He goes all in. As a parent I plunge forward. A lot of the time I do it blindly. I make big decisions and I make big mistakes. I try to be really brave. Each morning I take out my heart and guts and just let my toddler walk around with them. I let her carry my most fragile organs as she throws herself down a slide or walks off with a new friend. I just hold my breath and hope beyond all hope that she’ll be safe and happy. If that isn’t going all in, I don’t know what is.

So why, despite all these parallels was I so bad at poker?  After several days of analyzing and making spreadsheets trying to uncover the disconnect I finally asked my husband, “What makes you good at playing poker?” His answer was simple and elegant.

“Playing poker.”

And that’s when poker became more like parenting than I ever could have anticipated.

Nothing could have prepared me for being a mother; no classes, no books, no rehearsals, no chats with my own mom. Any moment of success or grace that I’ve ever experienced as a parent has come from the fact that I’ve been doing it, every day. I’ve been working hard. I’ve been learning as I go.

So, using parenting as a model and an inspiration, the only way I’m going to get good at poker and fulfill my fantasy of hustling a bunch of burley guys in rural Kentucky is if I get a babysitter for several hours a day and play…

and play…

and play….

We’re at a wedding. The bride and groom stare into each other’s eyes as their friends recite Rumi. Behind them lies a sprawling apple orchard and everything is in bloom. The groom is beaming like a cartoon version of himself. The bride is full of grace. Sage sits on my lap and then on her father’s shoulders. She is riveted. She knows something special is happening. She scans the scene collecting all the details. “They’re getting married,” she keeps whispering like she’s watching aliens land in the back yard and can’t believe her eyes.

As the couple takes their vows and then skip arm in arm towards the reception, I imagine my daughter in love. I picture the look she’ll sport and the hours she’ll spend in her room whispering into the phone, ” You hang up… no you… no you hang up…ok we’ll count to three and then we’ll both hang up. One…two…three. Did you hang up? No…me neither…I love you…I love you more…”

I think about how I’ll feel when someone breaks her heart. I imagine what I’ll say and how she’ll yell at me when I tell her, “there will be others, someone even more right”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about!” She’ll bark, and I’ll rub her back as I plot ways to take out the little shit who made her so sad. For now, Sage’s universe revolves around my husband and me, a few dolls, a couple of close relatives, and a large rubber duck. It’s safe and controlled. I’ve got years, until I have to help her navigate the big wide world of love and loss.

But then, out of nowhere, emerging from a sea of apple blossoms, a girl in a yellow dress trots up the hill. She works the orchard like it’s a dance floor. She spins, she leaps, she does an arabesque. She’s at least two and a half, maybe even three. Her senior status alone makes her a rock star in my daughter’s eyes.

Sage is immediately smitten.

“Who’s that?” she asks, like this twirling toddler must be an “A-list” movie star.

“I wanna play with her…” Sage whispers.  “Mommy can you help me know her name?” She begs.

As we approach, my daughter practices her introductions, “I’m gonna say I’m Sage,” she informs me.

“Oh that’s a good one” I say, “Open with that.”

Within minutes Sage and Yellow Dress are running after each other, frolicking down the isles of perfectly planted trees. We meet the girl’s father. He’s lovely. As we follow our children we start to frolic too. This dad is funny and down-to-earth. My husband and I exchange a nod like, ” I hope this Yellow Dress Girl thing works out. I could see a future with these folks.”

Sage is exhilarated.  Yellow Dress girl teaches Sage how to point her toe. Yellow Dress Girl reaches out to hold her hand. She drags Sage around the wedding grounds saying, “come on little Sage, I need to show you this, I need to show you that.” It’s all going so well. I want this new girl to move in, I want her to be in our family. She’s so friendly. Sage is puffed up with pride as she moves just like Yellow Dress Girl. She keeps looking over at me like, “Do you see this mom?  Yellow Dress just taught me to shimmy? I never knew my shoulders could move like this! Me and Yellow Dress are gonna own this wedding.”

And just when I start planning our first family vacation with Yellow Dress and her folks, a little darling in a polka dot jumper enters the scene. She looks shy and delicate. She’s eyeing Yellow Dress and quietly inching close when all of a sudden she falls down landing conveniently right at Yellow Dress’s heels. Yellow Dress extends a hand. “Are you okay?” she asks, and then gives this kid a gentle back rub.

“Come with me little girl,” she says like she’s this child’s Mommy. “I’ll show you all the apples.”

And just like that my daughter has been replaced. Sage throws herself into the grass and cries. “Mommy! Where’s Yellow Dress? I wanna play with her!”

Yellow Dress just gives a little “See ya” glance as she takes Polka dot’s hand.

But Polka dot can’t quite keep up and then she poops and her Mommy needs to take her away for her diaper change. Now Yellow Dress in alone.

I can see her scanning the orchard for my daughter. When she finally spots my kid she bends down and picks a dandelion. “Nice tactic.” I think to myself, “We’ll see if it works!”

When she presents Sage this little peace offering my kid just rips the bloom right off the flower and throws it onto the ground.

This is passion.

Yellow Dress is completely thrown. She looks confused. Sage begins sauntering off towards the dance floor. Now I’m feeling bad for Yellow Dress. It’s looking like tables have turned and Yellow Dress has really lost her bearings. Sage glances back and shows Yellow Dress this gyrating hip swirl that she’s been perfecting since she could stand. She really wants to rub it in Yellow Dress’s face: “Do you see what you gave up?” but Yellow Dress will not let her go she follows my daughter all around the dance floor. She repeats all Sage’s moves. She claps for my kid after each twirl and hop. After a while I can see Sage warming up. But she’s not quite sure. She runs from Yellow Dress and then stops and waits. Yellow Dress follows and embraces Sage.  Sage runs again. Clearly she is testing this kid’s loyalty. How committed is she? After all, she did stray within the first forty-five minutes. She could still be trouble. But Yellow Dress is in it for real now. No matter where my daughter goes this kid is at her side. After a while Sage is convinced.

“Mommy I need my note book.” She tells me with a serious look on her face.

“The one we just got? The one you’ve been carrying around for the past week? The one you can’t live without?”

“My notebook,” she reiterates.

“What for? ” I ask.

“I’m gonna give it to Yellow Dress,” she informs me.

That’s when I know it’s serious. Sage is going to share her most prized possession with this kid.

I take up the defense. If Yellow Dress ditches my kid again I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to kick her ass.

The notebook exchange is made and Yellow Dress holds it like it’s a tiny sparrow, precious and new. The two girls strut around. All the guests have taken notice. The wedding photographers cease to follow the bride and groom. They’re now trailing this burgeoning toddler twosome. When the little ones hit the dance floor the sea of people parts around them. We once again take up with Yellow Dress’s parents. We marvel at our children together. We dream of future play- dates. They live hours away from us but maybe, just maybe, we can make this thing work.

As the sun goes down we break from our conversation to notice our kids are starting to melt into the dance floor. We swoop them up and begin to make our exit. As we walk to our cars and wave goodbye there is a moment where we could exchange numbers. We could give it a real go.

But we don’t. They head one way and we head the other.

As we cruise down the highway Sage whispers sleepily into my ear, “I have so much fun with Yellow Dress” she says. “Maybe she can come over? Maybe to my house…?” She asks hopefully.

“Maybe someday.” I say, not wanting to break her heart just yet.

Even if it’s all forgotten in the morning.

For now, it’s first love.

Dear Anna Marie Jarvis (apparently the founder of Mother’s Day) I need some clarification. Is the holiday meant to celebrate mothers or celebrate being a mother? The two require entirely different types of festivities and this year I found that I was not really sure how to observe. When my husband and daughter delivered me a homemade breakfast, batch of chocolate chip cookies and bouquet of flowers I jumped right into celebrating being a mother. What a glamorous life! As part of this celebration we danced to our new favorite album, made up stories, packed a picnic and headed out for a family hike. But when we got lost on the way to the hike, and I bruised my knee trying to get my child out of her car seat, and then had to negotiated with her for several minutes to get her to sit in her stroller, and then discovered that the hiking path was not built for strollers and had to turn around all together and drive back home serenaded by tears and disgruntled protests, I suddenly wanted to make the day about celebrating mothers. In that moment it struck me that a day celebrating mothers might lead me to a spa where I’d sip wine and sit alone in an Adirondack chair while gazing out at the mountains. In short, celebrating mothers might be a day where I was not expected to mother.

And I want to know, is it set up to be vague like that? Is Mother’s Day supposed to be a chose your own adventure type of event? Other holidays seem to be so much more clear cut: Haloween- get dressed up and get candy, Valentines day-say I love you and get candy, Easter- wear a nice hat and get candy. Why is Mother’s Day so amorphous? Somehow I find the many possibilities to be too overwhelming. It’s a guilt trap. Because if on the day that was designated to celebrate the joys of being a mother I want to crawl into a cave, listen to Ani DiFranco, and beat sticks against a wall I’ll just feel so guilty. I’ll feel like such a bad mom for desiring a break on this most hallowed occasion.

So I need to be told to do it, by someone official. Like maybe the holiday needs to come with a mandate “On Mother’s Day thou shall act like an infant. Thou shalt be taken care of, thou shalt drink heavily and sleep by the ocean, thou shalt return the following morning with a new tattoo.”

Something along those lines… I’m sure most years I will indeed choose to spend the day celebrating together with my offspring. I’m sure I’ll proudly don macaroni necklaces made in my honor and revel in planting geraniums from the school flower sale conveniently scheduled each year the Friday before Mother’s day. I know that most years I will invite the entire clan into my bed so that we can snuggle the day away or watch movies in our PJs.  But I can anticipate too that there will be years when I’ll just want to be shot out of a canon straight into an uninhabited universe where I can swim in a black hole or just listen to the sound of a meteor shower.

And on years like that I think I’m going to need a little nudge, a little whisper from the ghost of good old Anna Marie. “It’s okay, Rebecca, everybody feels this way sometimes, even on Mother’s Day. It’s a hard job you know. For everyone. The movies are just movies. No mother or father wakes up already wearing makeup and happily whips together a three course breakfast without spilling anything and then goes throughout the entire day skipping across fields with a pack of children and singing happy little ditties right on pitch.  It just doesn’t happen! SO give yourself a break Rebecca, especially on this day. Rest up and congratulate yourself for being messy and clueless.  Remind yourself that surprises and confusion and even failures make life exciting. Step back and just look at your kid. She’s astonishing and you had something to do with that. And if you feel on this day of celebration that you just need to dig yourself a hole where you can meditate or make mud pies and smash them into your own face, or just sit alone and feel grateful and exhausted, elated and desperate and the whole tangled mess of emotions that comes with being a parent, you go girl! You dig that hole as deep as you need to. Tomorrow you’ll emerge more fabulous than ever.”

We head to the car. It’s our first road trip in forever and I’ve gathered all the essentials into three bags. We’ve got the music, we’ve got the snacks, we’ve got all the appropriate clothing and we are right on time. We will arrive at our destination in exactly two hours and thirty minutes and the weekend of fun will begin.

I strap in the kid.

My husband turns the key.

“Let’s hit the road!” I cry

.

“Do you have the toll money?” he asks as he shifts the gear into reverse.

“Wallet…wallet…” I mutter, as I feel around for a bulge in my back pocket and find nothing.

“I think I have to go back inside.” I say.

My husband stops the car, removes the keys and hands them back to me. I run into the house and retrieve my wallet from the bottom of the laundry pile.

I head back to the car.

I hand up the keys and my husband once again starts the car. I strap myself in and quickly go over the little mental checklist of everything that I was supposed to pack. The wallet thing has rattled my sense of competence in the whole packing arena. “I’ve got a feeling I didn’t pack the wipes.” I say.

“Do you need the keys?” My husband asks.

“No keep the car running,” I say. “I’m just going to check.”

I unload the contents of all three bags and finally find the wipes. “We’re good to go,” I say.

“I want water!” says Sage.

“Water. Right water,” I say. “That’s what I didn’t pack.”

My husband is already handing me the keys. I race upstairs and fill up a cup. When I return to the car, flustered and out of breath I see Sage drinking water with a big grin.

“You packed the water,”  my husband says.

“Right,” I say, “of course,” and hand him up the keys.

Sage takes a big slurp of her drink and then turns to me with this sympathetic gaze. As we pull out the driveway and begin our journey she leans towards me and says, “Mommy, I used to be your age when I was born.”

I laugh, my husband laughs, Sage laughs and we head for the highway. But somewhere in the drive I start replaying the line, “Mommy, I used to be your age when I was born.” And the more I hear it the more it occurs to me that maybe my two year old is taking a crack at my intelligence. Last week she told me that she was two and I was four. Though off by thirty years in her estimation of my age, the important thing to note was that my daughter perceived me to be older that she. I was, at the very least a big kid in her eyes. But now, now she was clearly suggesting with her statement that she had surpassed me. She had moved beyond.

And if this indeed her perception, I can’t really say that I blame her. When it comes to competence and wit and memory and overall sharpness I do seem to be lacking of late. It’s almost as if I am devolving. It’s like I’m aging down as the rest of the world ages up.

The whole packing fiasco is just one minor example of my inability to remember what has just come before. I’ll be at the grocery store and I’ll throw a pack of cheese into the cart. Then two isles down I’ll think, “Oh crap I forgot the cheese”. SO I’ll go back and throw in another pack. Then as I head to the checkout lane I’ll think, “did I forget the cheese?” So I’ll rummage through the cart only to discover two cheeses. “Who the hell put two cheeses in here?” I’ll wonder. “Is someone trying to push cheese on me? Sage, stop grabbing cheese off the shelf.” I’ll say, and she’ll just look at me like, “are you sure you’re fit to be pushing me around in this cart?” And it’s not just limited to errands and household tasks. It happens at parties; it happens when I’m working, it happens when I’m reconnecting with friends.

“What have you been up to?” someone will ask. And I’ll just freeze like I’m guilty of something terrible and know it will all come spilling out if I open my mouth. “Umm I’ve been…ummmm…I’m sure that I did something yesterday…something important. But I just can’t remember what.”

It’s like I’m a goldfish.

And my language skills aren’t what they used to be either. I point and grunt. I look at a rocking chair and for the life of me I can’t remember what it’s called. “Honey can you hand me that book? It’s sitting on top of the thing, the noisy thing, the thing for sitting and nursing. No not the breast pump! The thing. Right there. Oh never mind, I’ll get it.” If I were the coxswain on a crew team my boat would sink. Even writing this one line metaphor took me fifteen minutes because I couldn’t remember the name of the thing you row when you are on a crew team. I googled scuttle but it turns out that’s a metal bucket used for carrying coal. I googled “What’s the name of the thing you row when you are on a crew team?” and I was led to a web page that tried to recruit me for The Rochester Community Boat Club. I googled “pictures of crew teams” and finally got a diagram that with a little arrow pointing to a crew boat. It read “boat”. The word for a fucking crew boat is boat? How could I have forgotten the word boat?

Meanwhile as I struggle to remember my own name my two- year-old can tell you the name of the waitress who brought her a cup of apple juice three weeks ago. It is simultaneously astonishing and completely depressing.

So that’s it, my destiny is carved out. I’m getting younger and younger with each passing day. I’m losing my words and loosing my memory. Soon I’ll begin having tantrums when I’m in need of something. I just won’t have any other way to express my needs. My husband and daughter will have to pick up the slack for me. When we go out they’ll translate my ramblings to the general public. “What she really means to say is ‘can you please pass the butter.'” Soon I’ll have no choice but to live in the absolute present. I’ll forget what came before and won’t be able to think ahead to worry about the future. Maybe I’ll become enlightened. That is enlightenment right? I think that’s what it’s called when you’re just living with no thought. Enlightenment…

Oh hell, I can’t remember!

At age eight I was master of the universe. With my special brand of magic I could avoid any malady or unfortunate event. I had a plan for never growing old, never thinking mean thoughts and never facing danger. Here’s how it worked:

Each morning I’d begin the day by touching the light switch in my bedroom six times with my right thumb and six times with my left. This little ritual would ensure that nothing bad would happen to me up until lunchtime. Mid day, I’d recharged the OCD force field by eating only even amounts of food. Six bites of carrots, two halves of a sandwich, twelve French fries. The counting was a bit exhausting but the payoff was huge. The ritual would ensure that I was safe till bedtime. At night, when the real dangers lurked in the form of robbers and ghosts and spiders I stepped up the compulsive behaviors to include measuring to make sure my pillow was in the exact middle of the bed, kissing each stuffed animal in my room six times and washing my hands for sixty seconds. Usually I was so exhausted by all these protective measures that I’d drift into blissful sleep the moment the routine was over.  Somehow I really and truly believe that these small acts of inane repetition could actually keep me safe and secure.

To avoid ever becoming elderly and frail I held my breath every time I passed someone over the age of seventy. This was particularly difficult when our school music class took a trip to serenade at the local nursing home. There was no singing for me, I was too busy nearly passing out from lack of oxygen.

To avoid any sort of bad luck I made sure to never tear the toilet paper off of the roll in a jagged and uneven fashion. I was sure that if I could break the tiny paper square off clean, I was going to have a good luck day. I’d just keep tearing off little squares until I got one just right. “What’s taking so long?” My friends would ask in the bathroom, “Are you pooping in there?”

“Yeah” I’d say, “Now leave me alone!”

And I had to look out for my friends and family too, who would I be if I had this secret power and did not use it for the good of all those I loved. I believed I could keep everyone alive forever and ever if I just patted my heart and gave a little squeaking sound every few minutes. I even convinced my little sister to join in.  After all, looking out for our entire community of family and friends was a big task, far too big to tackle alone, “You just have to do a little clicking sound after I do my squeak and that will take care of grandma and grandpa and all our extended family” I informed her. I can only imagine what that year’s annual eighteen-hour drive east was like for our parents. We both sat in the back clicking and squeaking through eight states. It’s a wonder we made it there alive.

If I had really been savvy I would have opened a little OCD pharmacy. People could just come in with a neurotic thought or worry and I’d provide a little ritual to rid them of their fear.

Customer: I’m worried I’m going to die some day.

Me: Well, just wiggle your nose twice every time you pass a cemetery, you know like  Samantha on Bewitched. Just do that and you’ll be immortal. NEXT!

I could have made off my mental eccentricities.

At some point towards the end of second grade these rituals just got too time consuming. So I took a huge leap and started trying to wean myself off of them. “What would happen if I only touched the light switch once with each thumb… Oh look I lived through the day. Tomorrow I’ll try not doing it at all.”

Eventually the rituals just disappeared.

Suddenly I had mountains of free time that had formerly been spent clicking and counting and tapping. I could start having some fun. I could become less anxious.

But then I had a child. And the anxiety came back with a vengeance. Within minutes of giving birth I was coming to terms with the fragility of human life and my own mortality and an intense fear of baby snatchers and spiders that might want to snack on a newborn. So occasionally in my weaker moments, I bring the rituals back. Like if my daughter has a fever I suddenly find myself making extra sure to tear off an even sheet of toilet paper and give the light switch a bonus tap. I just can’t seem to help myself. After all, if I could control the universe, if I could spare my kid from ever getting sick or being bullied or coming face to face with a giant spider, I would. And if there is even the slightest chance that one of these routines works, it’s worth it. For hundreds and thousands of years people have called on all manner of forces to get through tough times and irrational fears. So what’s wrong with occasionally reaching out to a light switch? It is a source of power. And given all the overwhelming neuroses that come with being a parent I’ll take all the help I can get.

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