Friday, December 2, 2011

Dear Katherine

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Dear Katherine,

I'm writing to explain why I have to sell you to the gypsies. We've had a good run, sweet daughter, but the party is winding down and your mother is tired. I think it's an important life skill to know when it's time to call it a day. Tonight I put you back in bed three times. When you get older you might read this and assume there was an underlying parenting issue, an operator error. So let me nip that one in the bud and assure you that absolutely no amount of lost privileges or threats of impending spanks has ever induced you to remain in bed. Why sleep when there are so many other appealing options? Like waking up your sister in the bed next to you, or inventing sore throats or menacing hang nails that make it conveniently impossible for sleep to come.

The third time you appeared at the top of the stairs I took you back to your room and got in bed next to you. I was simply too tired for battle. We snuggled down under the covers and you curled into my chest like a very small comma, and then I hummed Christmas carols until you fell asleep. It sounds like a dreamy mother-daughter moment, but instead of feeling that candle glow of love I felt confused. I can't understand how we arrived in the same family with shared DNA. Our differences are miles long: You're a slob. I'm a neat freak. You're laid back, I'm high strung. You react to challenges with a shoulder shrug and a joke. I'm more like the Masai in East Africa who walk around with a spear and a machete in hand, just in case. I like to be on time, you could care less. I'm a rule follower, at six years old you're a determined rule breaker. And if it can be stained, broken, scratched, or disfigured, you will find a way to do it. A few weeks ago you asked to carry a glass salad bowl to the table. We had company over and I said yes, not wanting to publicly deflate you. You took one step and dropped it, shattering it everywhere. And your disloyal mother thought to herself, Yep, I thought so.

Most days we aren't exactly a match made in heaven.

But undoubtedly you're the happiest kid I know. You are fun. You are loving. You are untamed and naughty in ways that even the most determined disciplinarian would find humorous. I can see your comet flying through the sky in years to come. I can see how people will stand back and watch you and know that they're witnessing something special. But I also know that small pieces of debris will crumble back down to Earth in your wake.

Here is a brief list of misdemeanors that are recurring and disruptive to our family life:
  • Hiding when we are already late
  • Spitting on your sisters to make them scream
  • Licking me when I lean down to kiss you
  • Lying
  • Wearing "sexy" undershirts under your clothes and changing when you get to school
  • Raising the roof until nearly ten o'clock at night and then crying all morning when I wake you up for school
This afternoon you were supposed to be doing your homework at the kitchen table. A few minutes later I poked my head in to check on you and the kitchen was empty. I went over to the table to inspect your work. Remnants of your afternoon snack were smeared on your unfinished homework page and the contents of your disemboweled backpack scattered through the kitchen. I stooped to pick up a piece of paper. Yesterday's homework. I had reminded you several times to turn it in to your teacher. I hauled you back into the kitchen and pointed at the evidence. Yesterday's homework still in your possession. Today's homework unfinished. Oops, you grinned with a jack o'lantern smile. I closed my eyes and counted to fifty because ten isn't nearly long enough. This kind of exchange is normal for us.

One of the things that struck me tonight as I was humming you to sleep is how tactile you are. Left to your own devices you will roll around in bed, get up a hundred times, and do your best to keep your sisters awake for hours. But as we discovered when you were a toddler, if someone sits with you and physically rubs your back or runs fingers through your hair you'll calm down almost immediately. You crave human touch and nothing soothes you like loving, purposeful hands. Sometimes in the middle of my day I'll feel little arms snake around my waist, a surprise hug from behind, and I always know it's you. When you had your tonsils out earlier this month you were inconsolable. Hold me Mommy, you weeped.

If there's one glaring difference between us it's that I am verbal whereas you are always looking for the warmth of human touch. I move through life looking for people to explain themselves, to articulate their feelings and experiences, while you just want to be held. I read somewhere that it's through our children that we mothers receive the parts of us that are missing. Maybe I have enough words for the both of us and I could use more time cuddling under the covers. Maybe I need to stand still and let you hug me from behind for as long as you need. There is an honesty to touch that isn't present in words, and I can see how three dimensional your soul becomes through physical movement even when you lie, lie, lie to my face all the time about the silliest things. I happen to know it was you who got out my nail polish yesterday.

Despite myself I feel a deep down welling as I imagine packing your suitcase and handing you over to the gypsies. I fear they might not see your creativity and appreciate your quirkiness the way I do. After dinner tonight you spent a good deal of time rummaging through the fridge and cupboards to prepare dessert for your sisters. You peeled clementines and arranged the wedges in an artful wagon wheel around the rim of a plate, with a heap of whipped cream and raspberries lumped together at its center. And who else would have thought of adding one red peanut M&M on top like a deceitful cherry?

When I attempted to check you into the IKEA play land earlier this week you burst into tears, fearful that I would forget to pick you up and you'd be stranded. Even though I've never forgotten you before there must be a small, little girl sixth sense that knows better. That can feel the strain between us when you spill eggnog all over your shirt, jeans, socks and shoes five minutes before we're supposed to leave for school. Maybe you've been expecting a caravan of gypsies to come calling for some time now. If that is true then shame on me.

I'm reminded of a scene in Anne of Green Gables that feels particularly relevant to our situation. We've spent entire days curled up together watching Anne of Green Gables, so I know you can recall this particular scene with ease. Remember how Marilla and Matthew had ordered a boy orphan to help out on the farm? And then Anne Shirley showed up and upset the entire plan. The next morning Marilla loaded Anne back into the buggy and set off for town, determined to send her back, but in the final moment she took pity on the little girl and decided to keep her on for a while. And thus began the unpredictable, infuriating, heart squeezing relationship that would transform all of their lives for the better.

There is a distinct possibility, sweet Katherine, that you are my Anne with an "e." You are passionate and irreverent and I also believe with my whole heart that I possess many of the crotchety, inflexible old lady qualities that made Marilla difficult. And yet in time they shared such a beautiful love and respect for each other. They gave one another what the other was lacking.

So, now that I've taken some time to clear my head and think things through I've discovered a few lingering seeds of compassion buried deep down. And it's enough. I've cancelled the gypsy train, for the time being, and we'll just see how things go over the next few weeks. A trial period, if you will, similar to what Marilla and Anne arranged. I suspect my capacity to love your wicked heart is greater than I can currently imagine, but even so I suggest you avoid dying your hair green or hitting school mates over the head with your slate. After all, Anne only received Marilla's approval by the skin of her teeth.

I wish you the best in your future here in our family, and imagine that when you awake in the morning I might even be hoping for one of your famous hit and run hugs. Despite it all I love you Kate.

Respectfully yours,

Mom

PS- I hope you didn't forget to say your prayers tonight!

7 comments:

  1. I love reading your blog. You're always inspiring me to write more.

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  2. Sigh. So sweet - and I was just about to call the gypsy train for two of mine...

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  3. Reminds me of one of my children. I am sure you know which one. :)
    Great writing, I enjoyed reading this.
    Diana Dean

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  4. This made me laugh so much, I think its my favorite blog for a long time, Oh her and Parker should have been twins. Loved it!!!
    PS - I love Anne of Green Gables

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  5. Did you know that Anne of Green Gables is my favorite book? And did you know that my second child is, it appears, very much like yours? Great post.

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  6. I had such a great response to this post, including more than half a dozen facebook notes. It seems that the gypsy train is making its way all around these days.

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  7. I am supposed to be getting the kids ready for piano, instead I am sitting here crying over your post! Beautiful writing. Sarah Christensen

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