Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


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Has Anyone Told You, You’re Beautiful?

She was two years old, and covered in cream cheese.  Pink cream cheese smeared across her nose, the corners of her mouth, the tips of her pigtails, and even (somehow) on her stomach.  Her stomach was available for decoration because it stuck out, soft and round, peek-a-boo below a too-short shirt that her mother needed to remove from circulation.

She was two years old, and she was beautiful.

Her mother was watching her.  Watching the progress of the pink cheese and calculating the inevitable clean-up.  Watching the belly bounce and the shirt ride the wave.  Watching when someone walked by, outside, on the sidewalk beyond.

The woman outside was not like the mother and daughter inside.  She was clean.  Her hair was done, her face, stunning.  Her clothes were stylish; pressed and curved to her sculpted body.  She laughed into her cell phone, stood for a moment, and then moved on.

The watching mother sat as the earth shifted beneath.  A wave of sadness hit.  She looked at her daughter.

One day you won’t know how beautiful you are.

One day, the mother knew, the self-consciousness would hit.  The bar would be raised, raised to a standard as high as the perfectly sculpted woman outside the window.  Her daughter would look at herself and compare.  She would look at her clothes and complain.

She would wipe the cream cheese off her face.

The mother knew the lying voices too well.  Beauty that can be bought, sold and measured.  Beauty as a competition.  Beauty as an unattainable goal.  But this wasn’t beauty.  These were lies.  And the mother made a vow.

Beautiful.  We will tell you that you’re beautiful.  Again and again, forever and ever.  Beautiful when covered in mud.  Beautiful with mismatched clothes. Beautiful when taller than the boys.  Beautiful when sleepy, beautiful when poised, beautiful when laughing so hard that milk comes out of your nose.

Beautiful when your eyes are wide… like they are right now.

The mother vowed to reclaim a word that had been stolen from her, and hopefully, over the years, to help her daughter (and help herself) see that there is more beauty in the depth of the eyes and the warmth of a smile than there could ever be in a flat waist or a perfect outfit.  Maybe, together, they could see it.  Maybe, together, they could hear and speak the truth.

And maybe the beautiful truth would set them free.

*The title of this post is taken from a song that ran through my head as I wrote–“Beautiful For Me” by Nicole Nordman.

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Kindergarten, Day One: The Aftermath

It wasn’t a fight exactly, but the tension took me by surprise.

“I just don’t understand why this is so hard,” my husband said, “I thought you would be celebrating.  She had a good day.  She’s at a good place.”

“Well, uh, yes.  I am excited,” I stammered, “but it’s just that… um… it’s just that… it is hard.  For me.  It’s hard for me.”

He looked confused (wonder why).  “But it’s been hard on you to be at home with the girls too.  Kindergarten means that you will have time to write, to work… you’ll finally have some space.  Isn’t this what you’ve wanted for five years?”

Of course, but…

****

I hadn’t know how upset I was until I blubbered all over the school secretary.  Blubbered.  Really, it was lovely.  But it wasn’t during drop-off.  During that first morning drop-off, you would have thought we were professionals:

“Have fun today, honey.”  “Okay mom, bye.”  “Love you.”  “Me too.  Bye.”

She had stickers, markers and a name tag to decorate.  I had a little sister to entertain.  Who needs a scene anyway?

On the way out I remembered to tell the secretary that I would be picking her up today.  The bus had been a little intimidating that morning (as in, no-way-am-I-getting-on-that-thing), and so I wanted to help her first day go as smoothly as possible.  “Would you tell her so that she won’t worry about it?”  I asked.  “Sure,” the kindly secretary smiled, “I’ll let her know.”

The day went by quickly, and I kept the 3:05 pick-up in my sights.  Little sister wanted to go to a museum on the other side of town, but no matter, we would leave early and be at school in plenty of time.  I guessed that the trip would take thirty minutes (never having done it before), and so I left fifty minutes to get across town.  Fifty minutes was a little over-the-top, but I didn’t want to cut it close.  We had a plan.  Everything was under control.

Everything except the school buses.

There were school buses everywhere.  School buses like locusts.  School buses stopping traffic so that little children could walk across the street safely.  School buses turning a five minute stretch into fifteen minutes of gripping the steering wheel.  School buses ruining my life.

I tried to stay calm.  We had extra time after all.  I had been a responsible parent, hadn’t I?  We had plenty of time.  

Inch, inch, inch.

Now I was beginning to lose my bloody mind.  The school had been clear in mailed-home papers: Please do not ask us to hold your bused child if you are running late.  If you are not there by 3:05, we’re very sorry, but your child will be put on the bus.  I pictured my dear sweet kindergartner crying as they forced her on the bus.  “But my mom,” she would sob, “was… supposed to… pick me up!”  

Inch, inch, inch.

2:55.  2:59.  3:00.  I called the school.  The secretary answered.  I forced out the words, “Um, I’m stuck in traffic.  I thought I left plenty of time.  Could you tell my daughter that she’ll have to take the bus? (yep, that would be the same child that I asked you to give the opposite message to earlier today)  I’m afraid that she’ll be upset…”

With the word ‘upset’, I lost it.  The crying forced it’s way up through some deep place in me, and I was done.  I bawled.  “I’m… so… sorry…”  I couldn’t get any other words out.  “Bye…”  I hung up and kept crying.

Poor little sister.  She didn’t know what to do as her mother wailed and turned the car toward the bus stop.  “Mama, it okay.”  “Mama, don’t cry.”

Great.  I was scarring both children at the same time now.  I cried harder.

By the time the bus came, I had calmed down and bought two bribery cookies.  I prepared myself for my kindergartner’s tears, her well-founded accusations, and tried to steel myself so that I wouldn’t sob again.  The bus pulled up.

She bounced off, grinning from ear to ear.  “Mama!” she hugged me jubilantly,  “I took the bus!”

****

At dinner we got the story out of her.  The school secretary had hung up with me, gone into the gym, and walked her out to and then onto the bus; holding her hand until she found someone to sit with.  It had been the best part of our kindergartner’s day, and she couldn’t stop smiling.

I smiled too, but inside I was still a wreck.  It had turned out well, but I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.  “I’m so proud of you honey” I managed, and my husband put them to bed.

I stared at the wall.  Why was this so hard?  When he came back down, I tried to explain it to him (see stammering above), but I barely knew why I was feeling the way I was.  It was complicated.  Messy.  Hard to explain.

I’m starting to understand that this ‘letting go’ thing always is.

On one hand, you’re thrilled to see them grow, to have just a little bit more independence, and to become a little bit more of who they are apart from you.  After all, if our kids live to be eighty, they will be under our direct care for less than a quarter of their lives.  We are raising adults, and watching them become themselves is a beautiful thing.

However.

There is also the other hand.  You know, the hand that feels like its wrenching organs out of your chest?  It happens slowly, sometimes so slowly that you don’t even realize what’s going on until you start blubbering on the phone.  Suddenly you realize that you’re going to be putting her on that bus everyday.  That you won’t see her again until the bus returns.  That she has a world you will only visit, and though that world is a good good place, it’s not yours.

It’s hers.  And this is harder than I thought it would be.

All of this is taking me by surprise, because really, I am an exceptionally disgruntled stay-at-home mom.  Needy babies drove me crazy, and demanding preschoolers are only marginally better.  No, I don’t want to play kitten doctor with you again.  No, I don’t want to keep you company while you poop.  Please, please watch another video so that I can read a book (or write a blog post… right now little sister is watching Blues Clues).

My husband is right.  I like my space.  But I love my girls, so much that it really honestly feels like they’re somehow physically attached to me.  So much that these steps of letting go, while lovely and necessary, are a little like surgery.

Kindergarten was/is a big procedure.  So please be kind to me.  I’m still recovering.