When Family isn’t Free

My daughter has a best friend that has been around for longer than she can remember.  They have a special, funny little world that they have had to take online, since we moved away.  But sweetly, and defying odds and expectations, the distance has not separated them.  They are BFF’s in the shared heart necklace sense of the word.  O’s little sister has honorary status as a BF (just one F short of full fledged forever), and her cousins have been grudgingly granted status as BFC’s (that’s Best Friend Cousins to you.) If that conjures thoughts of Sister Wives to you, you’re not alone. (as in, me too;)  O and H have been working on a master plan for their life their last two Skype dates.  It was apparently deemed complete today, as my daughter ripped it “just a little, to make it seem old mommy,” and squirreled it away into her secretest faux treasure chest.  And what does this list contain?  Well, I really couldn’t explain it to you any better than my kidlink, so I will type a full and unabridged (and “un”spell checked) version for you below, complete with original illustrations:

H & O’s (badly spelled) and well thought out master plan:
PA (Plan A): earning money
PB (Plan B): geting a job
PC (Plan C): geting more money
PD (Plan D): geting a car
PE (Plan E): geting a house
PF (Plan F): saving up cash
PG (Plan G): fashin contest
Ph (Plan E): Dog shoe (*show)
Pi (Plan I): get a casle
Pj (Plan J): Be prinsesis

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O’s dad reports that she was crushed to realize that all those extra letters mean “in case the first plan doesn’t work out.”  I am terribly pleased H isn’t putting all her eggs in one basket.  Which brings me to two points.  One, my own plan A for life required some literal eggs in the basket, if you know what I mean.  If you don’t, let me share my daughter’s version with you.

“So, mommy, it’s like this”… (we like to summarize a lot of things this way.  And by we, I mean H, when she gets into “telling me how it is” mode.)

….”Daddy’s got shrimp that have to swim to the eggs, but they maybe just don’t like yours, or can’t find them.  Or *squint*, you’re just out?”

And that’s it, in a nutshell.  I’m just out, for reasons no one can explain.  And by no one, I mean doctors and specialists. The only thing I know for sure is it is definitive. H is not a product of my eggs or daddy’s “shrimp.”  She is a special gift whose story I may tell another day, or leave alone for her.  But she was unexpected, and did not come, as J.M. Barrie would say “fresh from God.”  Each year of her growth is a little neon light flashing “one more year without.”  Not because she isn’t our sunshine, but because of her.  She has no built in playmate, no long term safety net.  She has no sibling to call her own, just as we have never had the private experience of “expecting” to call our own.  This loss is a leaden, heavy thing that presses down on our lives, sometimes with more weight than others.  Time does not diminish it.  It is apart from the experience of being a parent.  I am a parent, but I long for the experience of “expecting” a child.  Of bringing all my years of waiting to a close. Which brings me to point number two.  Expecting.

When I was in 5th grade, I have a clear memory of sitting in the back of a school assembly, and fixating on some (random) woman and her baby, and wondering what would happen if I just grabbed that baby and ran out the door.  I was the same age as H is now.  10.  And I had a baby radar that superseded all other desires.  I was crazy for barbies and my little ponies, for drying elmer’s glue on my hand and peeling it off, and for microwaved cheese.  But none of these pleasures came close to my over-riding passion for tiny toes and feather soft hair.  I dreamed of babies, the way H dreams of dragons and castles.  But at least in her list, there is a fall back plan.  Plan E: Get a house.  Maybe the castle won’t work out.  But hey! There’s always the car & the house.  And the possibility of a dog show or fashion show, to drum up extra cash;)  H is practical.  We just got hot water for the first time in 4 months.  We walk everywhere.  She gets to see the dentist after the rent is paid.  She knows all about Plan B.  She gets that you need cash if you want the castle.  It is a theme. She is a wiser 10 year old than I was.  When I was 10, this was my list:

PA: Have babies.

PB: Adopt babies.

I just read a really great post by a man who experienced years of infertility with his wife, and summarized it into ten words.  And it made me think of H’s list.  There are two things I would have liked to warn my 10 year old self, so I could have prepared for Plan J.  The inability to make a baby is a very real possibility, and the ability to beg, borrow or steal one is not.  You may laugh or scoff at this, but I am not joking.  Contrary to messages prevalent in popular culture, the following is NOT true:  adoption is not easy, and most people who have failed to get pregnant do NOT get pregnant the minute they do try and adopt.  Do NOT tell this story to anyone who know who struggles with this particular sadness.

When you are 10, 20 is old and 30 is ancient.  Which means that, at the ripe old age of 35, I am decrepit.  I am feeling it.  I don’t even need the 10 year old me as a mirror.  I understand now what a mid-life crisis is.  It is looking back and realizing that you don’t have a castle, or a house, or a car, or a baby.  And that even if you were willing to throw over the first three for the latter, it probably wouldn’t be enough.  It isn’t enough.  The years have pooled into a particular moment in which you realize that “that” thing you dreamed of all you life probably won’t happen.

It’s not the post I read that resonates in particular, it is all the comments below. The women who have put themselves through Plan B (clomid), C (fertility treatments), D (donor eggs), E (2nd and 3rd rounds of donor eggs), F (failed adoptions), and are now trembling at G, so very angry at all the people around them that glowingly succeed with Plan A.

I get this.  It is perhaps a dirty little secret, but I’ll just let it out.  When you were dreaming of boys and swatch watches, I was dreaming of babies.  When you were getting on birth control and worrying about your weight, I was dreaming of babies.  When you were dreaming of white weddings and an Italian honeymoon, I was dreaming of babies.  I know, you wanted them too.  But did you want them with the passion and singularity I did?  And so yes, irrational and petty as it is, I am angry that it all came so easy to you.  It changes nothing, but you should know how it feels.  And don’t ever expect that I, or anyone else floating around in this little raft with me, will move on or get over it.  We are painters that didn’t get to paint, and musicians who do not get to sing.  We despair.  And listen up, 10 year old me.  We are not, as my husband likes to say, Brangelina.  We cannot afford the adoptions.  It’s not because we don’t want to.  These dreams, as my own 10 year old has figured out, require cash. Ironically, I suppose, I “shared” a cute little image on Facebook today, in which cheery little stick people declare that “the best things in life are free.” One of them, of course, is family.  Which I guess makes me a fraud of sorts, because family isn’t free for everybody.

I wrote a post yesterday about a family who got news that their very young, very loved little girl will not be with them much longer.  Plan A is not going as planned.  I would like to assign some cosmic meaning to it, but I can’t. God doesn’t love them less or you more. If Plan A or even Plan B went, and continues to go, as planned for you, please tremble carefully there, with the gratitude and respect it demands.  I know your life isn’t perfect.  But be kind with those around you who cannot reach the shore.  It is exhausting.  All I can do is hope that in 25 years, H will still feel about O the way she does now.  “She’s my sister, right mom?  We’re close as sisters, she and I.”  That may be as close she gets.   I hope they have some cash-but if not, at least they can share an umbrella.

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The Age of Innocence

I overheard my daughter talking with two friends yesterday about their classmates who *pish posh*;) don’t believe in Santa.  With world weary sighs, they gave each other “the look”, and began to come up with proofs that Santa is.  These included staying up as late as possible on the stairs with a computer and built in video camera-until of course it got very late (and the camera operator succumbed to sleep); empty cups of coke (apparently, in one house, Santa gets sick of the milk and appreciates the variety), and-the topper, a friend saw him, and reported it.  I think the eye witness takes the cake.Christmas 057

David Duncan wrote a marvelous short story in his collection River Teeth called “The Garbage Man’s daughter”.  It’s about a wary little girl who doesn’t believe in any of the usual suspects-not the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, nor Santa.  However, what she does believe in the garbage man’s daughter.  More specifically, she believes that the garbage man’s family subsists on the items he picks up from people’s homes, and thus begins a campaign to make sure said daughter is properly clothed and fed by leaving small well wrapped bundles of quality stuff on the top of the garbage can.  I love this little story, because it so accurately captures the inner workings of a child’s mind, and the elaborate logic that children employ to make sense of their worlds.  It is just like my daughter being absolutely convinced that faeries exist, and in the same breath disdaining unicorns.

Almost as much fun as the questionable logic of 9 year olds are age old traditions that are so familiar, we rarely stop to ask why.  In his gift to long road trips, David Sedaris wrote a brilliantly funny collection of short stories called “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” which includes an essay called Jesus Shaves.  (Click the link to read the whole thing, but make sure you don’t have any liquids in your mouth when you do!).  This little gem narrates Sedaris’s trials and tribulations learning french with a sadistic teacher, and in particular, their discovery of the absurd practices we take for granted.  My favorite section is when the students begin to compare holiday traditions, and find each other’s equally confounding.

Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.

“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.
“A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears.

“You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”
“Well, sure,” I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods.”
The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country.

“No, no,” she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome.”
I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”
“Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?” (Sedaris, 2000).

It’s a good question, right?  I mean, we all know the bunny doesn’t really bring the eggs, but why did we decide it should be a bunny?  Why not the easter lamb, or donkey?  Wouldn’t it make more sense?  At least France’s mythology makes sense!  Rome=church=resurrection=celebratory candy from Rome!  I don’t recall Jesus ever being referred to as the great bunny of Judah.  Here’s another thought to contemplate-why the tooth fairy?  In Chile, where we currently live, it’s the tooth mouse.  (And right here, I’d like to give a shout out to Disney for the addition of Cheese the mouse to Tinkerbell’s back story.  It has made our cross cultural transition much smoother;)

I should admit at this point in my rambling that I have strong suspicions about the origins of these stories.  When my daughter was smaller, she was a prolific “artist,” and while I appreciate her efforts, I do not need a painting a day, no matter how sentimental I may be.  And so I created a little convenient fiction for her (i.e. a big fat lie!) to get those paintings out of my house sans tears, that she continues to believe to this day.  Are you ready for it? (You just might want to take notes here, moms and dads): I told her about the art fairies.  You know-they pretty much live in the same time zone as the tooth fairies, only they collect art.  In fact, they probably hold exhibitions in conjunction, exhibiting the best art and teeth they have collected.  And the really great part is that they collect all this world class art for a very small fee-less than they’d pay for a tooth, and sometimes as little as a piece of gum.  It works, its fun, and it adds to the little canon of fantasy that already populates her childhood. Now, just in case you are taking notes, let me tell you what NOT to do.  Don’t leave those little teeth or pieces of paper where little hands and eyes can discover them “after.”   I made the mistake of keeping my kiddelinks teeth with my jewelry (does that seem creepy?)  and one day when she was rooting around to make mommy fancy, her eyes got very big.  Our conversation went something like this:

H: “MOMMY!  HOW did you get my tooth?”

Mommy: “Well, um, H, the fairies know that mommies are sentimental, and sometimes leave us teeth as a little  momento.”

H: “Nah uh mommy-this is MY tooth” (as a Gollemesque greedy little glint stole into her eye).

Mommy: “Nah uh H-you got your money, fair and square.  Tooth’s mine.”

H goes away for a little while, and comes back later.

H: “Tell you what, mommy, let me borrow that tooth, and I’ll share the money with you.”

Mommy: “H!  You can’t scam the tooth fairy!  That’s a mean trick, and you’ll never get money again if they find out.”

So, later on that evening, as I’m checking on my sweaty, sleeping little scam artist, I find a tiny note in tiny print right next to the tooth. “Deer tuth farie, this is my real tooth but I already gaved it to yu, but pleez give me just a little money.  Love H.”

My small criminal will soon be 10, and is still a naïve, gullible, whimsical kid.  Just yesterday, we were going down the street and she handed me her “leash” so she could be my baby dragon.  These are behaviours that the “too cool for school” crowd will slowly erode sooner than I would like.  I’ve seen it already, when H walks into a group of kids holding a baby doll.  It’s like sharks, as they sharpen their teeth and get ready to attack the soft one.  And equal parts of me want her to be calloused and hard, so they can’t hurt her, and open and vulnerable, so she is her authentic self.  What solution is there to this conundrum? We are going home in just a few short weeks to spend some long anticipated time with our American family-including Haley’s much younger cousins, who for a few wise and sensible reasons, do not believe in such nonsense as Santa Clause.  And I am bracing myself for the beginning of the end, as it seems unlikely the 4 year old will “keep the secret” from the 9 year old.

The wonder years set for each of us, but I suppose I can look forward to conspiring with my kiddo some day when she tells her own children about the “art” fairies, and be reminded about her own wonder years.  And perhaps that is why some of us take so much pleasure in the shine in our own children’s eyes when they talk about “el viejo pascuero” or the tooth fairy.  When H asks me if “he” is real, and I ask what do you think, I love the little light of possibility that illuminates her face-it’s the light of innocence. It makes me think of the lovely Emily Dickinson poem on the topic.

I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Superior–for Doors–

Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–

Of Visitors–the fairest–
For Occupation–This–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–

May we all dwell in possibility this holiday season!

Works Cited:

Sedaris, David. “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York: Little,

Brown, 2000. 166-173.