This. Already.

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I left my daughter’s room in tears.  Again.  There are so many reasons for this to happen.  Most often it’s because we’ve had a tender moment together, and it made me see the sand through the hour glass, so I’m leaving with a happy but heavy heart.  Tonight it was just heavy.

Here’s what she said to me.  And this is for real, except for a substituted name for her friend in there.  This came out of the mouth of my not yet four year old.

“Mom, how can I turn into Jenny?”

“Well, you can’t.  You’re you.”

“But I want to!”

“Baby, you can’t turn into another person. Why do you want to do that?”

“Because.  Because I don’t like to be me.  I have the wrong face.  I look like a boy. (lip quivering)

What?  What?! There is more there than I know what to do with.  There’s the soul-crushing image of one of her peers telling her this.  And it isn’t the first time it’s come up.  She’s been telling me that she has the “wrong face,” the “wrong voice,” or the “wrong laugh” every couple weeks for a few months.  I can’t quite place the source and I don’t exactly want to.  I don’t think that there is a little friend out there who is trying to be awful, I don’t.  I think there is a little friend who is imitating unkindness that he or she has heard, and is testing it out.  Sadly, though, an imitation of mean still feels real to the recipient.  And sadder still is the thought that my kiddo could internalize this and pass it on any further.  So I don’t really want to know who said it, because I don’t want to give it any more power and I don’t want to feel a totally irrational anger toward a child.

Further on down my litany of sads is the whole boy versus girl thing.  The week before my daughter started preschool she wore robot shirts, loved baby dolls and dinosaurs, and her favorite color was silver.  She was just Edie.  Days after she started, I pulled out a blue shirt for her to wear and she crumpled to the ground, and after guessing what words she was trying to make through her sobs I finally discerned that she was saying “That’s a BOY shirt!”  Well, ok then.  Wear what you want.  It’s not a thing.  Marking Edie as a girl has never been a priority.  I have been, arguably, concerned with not being concerned about emphasizing gender with my kids.  And until Edie was with a big group of kids and lovely female teachers, she never showed me a preference.  So when she did, and so very quickly and stereotypically, I was thrown.  But I also know that the need to make sense of the world and to fit in is as natural as it is strong.  So I may not have run out to buy up her weight in tulle, but I packed up the clothes that made her cry, stocked up on dresses and leggings since she expressed a clear and intense preference for wearing them over anything else, and generally tried to keep neutral on pink versus blue but stay positive about Edie.  So it’s not that I dislike her obsession.  I understand and accept it, or at least I strive to.  And I think I do all right.  But this has all set the stage for her being the type of kid who cares so so much about this.  About being right.  About not having the “wrong” anything.  It may exhaust me temporarily when she drones on about wanting fancier shoes.  But I’d take that any day from hearing that her fragile preschooler sense of self was being shaken.

But none of that is the worst of it.  The worst is the part of it was what she hadn’t said before.  Namely, I don’t like to be me.  Baby girl.  To even put words to that at this age.  Ever, I know.  But already?  Before Edie came into my life, had I been presented with this scenario, I think I would have planned to redirect.  To refuse to engage in what is objectively an insane notion that she’s wrong.  But having her in front of me, asking me in earnest how to be someone else, because she doesn’t want to be her?  All I could do was squeeze her chubby cheeks and make her look at me and say “You are Perfect.”

Man, I love this kid, but she shatters me.  We have been struggling lately, as we have in the past, going through some transitions.  It seems like it comes in fits and spurts.  Her awareness and understanding will just shift, and it causes behavior that I don’t understand and inevitably react poorly too.  Then there is friction.  But once I can get on board with who she has become, we work it out.  We always do.   But these moments are difficult.  Now I am left with hoping I have some quiet times over the holidays to give this some thought, and to give her some more of me.

Not wanting to focus on girliness may have felt like it was about me wanting her to be true to herself, and to choose whatever she wants and likes without hang ups.  And that’s still a good and noble intention.  But I’m seeing more how it’s also about my own pain.  How I wanted to erase that for her, all the insecurity and self-loathing I’ve inflicted on myself for not being enough of this or that.  For being the “wrong” kind of girl.  Hearing her say those words hit a deeper part of me than she has before.  And this child has hit me where it hurts in the past. Parts of me that are still healing, I guess.

So now I try to own this?  Yeah.  I think so.  Here goes.  Edie, you are not me.  You don’t own my pain and I can’t prevent you from feeling pain.  I am here for you, but I know you are on your own path.  But, honey, for what it’s worth, I really do think you are perfect.

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Deep breaths. And I promise I will keep trying to work hard at not trying so hard.

Me and My Cats

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I am a cat napper.  I don’t take short naps (or any naps, though I should).  I nap cats.  Or is it nab cats?  Either way, I have a history of cat taking.  It’s a hobby that combines some of my most critical traits: bleeding heart, spacey-ness, and an inflated sense of how much responsibility I, personally, need to take for everything that happens in the world.

(Not all that) Interestingly, I have never had a cat, and frankly, as much of an animal lover as I am, cats have never been at the top of my list.   Yet.  Yet.  The cats, they call to me.  One of the first I remember was a sickly fellow.  He jumped into my car while I was at a gas station in the small town near where I was working as a summer camp counselor.  Did I say jump?  Is that the right verb for what happens after you lure an animal?  Anywho.  We’d been told in no uncertain by our camp higher ups to STOP BRINGING MORE CATS back.  They were lousy with cats, and didn’t want more.  Still, I was 18 years old, there was a mangy, hacking cat, and I had a job that were I to lose it, I would be left homeless.  So obviously I had to save that cat.  To my credit, this cat was almost certainly homeless.  He was emaciated and his eyes were practically glued shut with pus.  And to the greater credit of the nice people I worked for, they let us take the cat in and had the visiting vet check it out.  Turns out the cat had allergies, which is not ideal for an outdoor country cat.  The vet gave me some meds to administer, and my fate was sealed.  I was going to resurrect this near corpse kitty, take him to college, and have a best friend.  But, yadda yadda yadda, after a few weeks of being the one who had to forcibly administer meds to the cat, I became the one that cat hated most of all.  Actually, the only one he hated.  He would interrupt his purring and cute-making just to hiss at me from like 15 feet away.

Another memorable one was Zeeb.  There were posters for Zeeb all over town.  They said he was “talky.”  Talky! I wanted to meet Zeeb!  Then one day, I saw him, and I decided that I had to get that cat and reunite him with his owners.  Will and I were living together then, and we had dinner plans with my parents, I believe.  We didn’t want to be late, but Will learned a lesson he would have to so many times again:  Rachael’s cock-eyed plans will make everyone late.  Again, yadda yadda, Zeeb was in our apartment.  I hunted down a flier, called the owners relentlessly, anxious for their tearful reunion all rife with gratitude.  Eventually, after Zeeb had been trapped in our apartment throughout our dinner and then some, I reached the owners.  They suggested I open my door.  I guess Zeeb was an indoor / outdoor cat, and he had been missing, but now he wasn’t.  Now he was just out, enjoying some fresh air, when I got him. I guess what Zeeb was “talky-ing” to me about was how he was in a living nightmare. While I still contend they could’ve been more diligent about taking down signs, I also had to accept that I had been holding a cat hostage.  Or did I?!

I started traveling down feline-memory lane after another banner day.  The kids and I were returning home from the playground, and I was thinking through the dinner I would make.  Even though it was the children’s witching hour, which involves Edie pleading and begging to watch Arthur while Eli bashes her over the head with blunt objects, which, naturally, makes her cry, yet has become so common place that I can often be heard saying something like “If you don’t want him to hit you with a rolling pin, then just walk away.”  Tonight, though, I was going to make broccoli potato soup and maybe a casserole, and didn’t I have some Brussels Sprouts to roast? But, stopped in mid-unrealistic fantasy of domesticity, “meeew meeeww” went a little cat.  It was in my alley and sounded distressed.  I leaned down to check for a tag and sweet talk it for a moment.  No tags, so I tried to shake it off and move on.  But it followed us into the garage.  Now the kids played with it while I stressed out about its life.  Today all of Nashville was covered in ice and snow.  Not Michigan amounts, but enough to sled this morning, and it was going to be well below freezing that night.  I wanted to shoo it, but what if I found its frozen corpse on tomorrow’s playground walk?  Because I went right there.  My three year old tried to talk sense into me.  I didn’t actually take it in until right at this minute, but it occurs to me that she literally said to me “Mom, just open the door and let it out.  How is it going to go home if it’s here?”  And I did listen.  At first.  I took it out, and put it on the other side of the fence, left the side door on our detached garage ajar, and went inside.  But, but the cat didn’t give up! It snuck back under the fence, and came to our window and cried at us.  I tried to ignore it.  But it needed me!  I put it in the garage and set about a plan.  Took a picture, posted it in ten places.  Then, I tried again to force critical thinking through the curtain of melodrama.  I cracked the door, and let it out.  Again, the thing came right to our door and just yowled at us.  What do you want from me cat? How can I save you? Now I have to face the fact that it is pitch black and getting colder by the minute.  Cat has given me two choices: let him out and witness his hypothermia set in, or settle him in for the night in our garage.  Obviously, I chose to save that cat.  I borrowed a cat house, a space heater, gave it dog food and water, and, in fact, kept it company while my family ate dinner.  (Chickenless strips and freezer French fries was the gourmet delight we ended up with.)  You’re gonna make it, kitty!  We put the kids to bed, and I was making a case for having a pet cat.  We settled on a garage cat, who would have a bed, a cat door, and Costco brand cat food.  Will suggested we go check on the cat together once more so I could relax and watch … something really educational on Netflix.  Not reruns of subpar reality programming.  So out we go, one more pet, and I squat down to get the love I’m due and in scratching its neck, his collar rotates.  Well, true story: no tags on this cat.  None.  But know what he did have?  The address printed onto the collar.  Yadda yadda yadda, I swaddled the cat into a towel and smuggled it home.  Oh, it fought me, but, not to brag, but you don’t go around being me without learning a thing or two about subduing a feline in a choke hold.  Got there, but no one answered; but! it had a heated cat house on the porch.  So, obviously it didn’t want to leave my house because it had a better set up in my swanky two car garage.  I do not doubt that this cat will beckon again soon.

Small victory: I did not wrestle a neighbor’s cat into a veterinary office to be scanned for a microchip only to have the vet tech see its address on its collar.  Because that was definitely on the docket for the morning.  Excuse me while I rest up to attempt to save, but ultimately end up having an elaborate funeral ceremony for, a baby Robin.