It is spring: time to de-clutter. This is hard for me because when I do muster the energy to tackle the basement, I have to do so clandestinely because I have a 6-year-old who will not let me give or throw anything away. She still brings up the “Fish Mask Incident.” To this day I cannot tell you what the fish mask looked like, but apparently I threw it out and Caroline realized after-the-fact that one day the fish mask was in the trash bag, and the next day, the trash bag was gone. I told her a tale about the lucky little girl who had always wanted a fish mask and somehow magically acquired ours, but Caroline was unimpressed. The “FMI” still comes up, and I can’t handle it, so, I de-clutter alone, in the dark of night, like Jason Bourne.
Caroline is obviously too young to be featured on A & E’s Hoarders. She’s supposed to be collecting stuffed animals at her age. And mini Menchies spoons. And pine cones. And bits of cement and asphalt. Right? Her red winter coat is heavier on one side because of a pocket packed with rocks, dead leaves, and a plastic hippo head. She finds things all of the time, things she deems special and worthy-of-keeping, and I feel like that’s okay for right now.
We certainly spend enough time losing things. I misplace my keys daily. I still can’t find the cord to charge the camcorder. Just this past weekend, we lost an hour, the Magic Tree House Book #34, and Caroline’s tooth. The hour’s gone for good, but we found the book under a pile of yet-to-be-de-cluttered clutter, and Caroline’s tooth actually just finally fell out after dangling for days.
She’d recently lost—and I mean really lost—tooth #3 at school during PE class. She came home with an empty plastic tooth necklace, so we scripted a sincere note to the Tooth Fairy explaining the obvious absence. Next day Caroline got the goods from the Tooth Fairy, and, bonus, her PE teacher handed her the missing tooth. So she’d scored the cash and was able to keep her tooth. Because normal protocol had been disrupted, after losing tooth #4, Caroline drafted another heart-felt note to said Fairy, hoping again to keep both money and tooth. And the Fairy accommodated.
How will this end? Will our house teem with baby teeth, pink plastic spoons, and rock shavings? What if we ever need to sell this place? How readily available is Nate Berkus for home makeovers?
I joke, but I know how this will end. We hold onto things for our own reasons. I have kids ages 4 and 6, and I am just now gathering big items to consign, bulky items that have been taking up prime storage space: multiple strollers , a crib, a mattress, a booster seat, a pack-and-play.
Eventually, we agree to let things go.
My kids are growing; my house is shrinking. I take the occasional pilgrimage to IKEA for the bigger bed or some sort of Swedish contraption that will help me keep my keepsakes: the school papers, the photo albums, the crayoned rainbows. How can I toss this stuff? I see pregnant women browsing in the nursery section and think, you’ll be back here next for the bunk bed. It doesn’t take long. Lexi’s new quilt now matches her sister’s since they share a room. How soon until she’s coordinating with a college roommate?
It’s a lot to carry—this acute awareness of time, this need to remember, these attempts to capture everything before it disappears.
Caroline had been nervous about losing tooth #4. On the night just before she lost her tooth, she didn’t even eat her dinner. She was anxious and irritated that her sister and the friends we had over were so oblivious to her plight. She wished that somebody else would lose a tooth. Finally, our toddler friend, Quinn, went in for a hug and head-butted that stubborn tooth right out. Caroline called me into the bathroom; her smile was broad and beautiful, her mood had immediately lifted. She was light and giggly, herself again.
At the end of the evening, Lexi in red puffy coat and pigtails, scooter poised, was hoping to escort Quinn and his family home. Before we reeled her in, she had a chance to breathe in some night air and check out the stars. She yelled, “Look, guys, it’s Ryan’s Belt!”
She’d made this awesome discovery and was ready to ride like Paul Revere, to share the news with the neighbors.
We find and we lose. We lose and we find.
We work so hard trying to carry it all with us, trying to get it all down. How much lighter would we feel just being happy that we get it at all?
published on patch.com March 2012
So Caroline’s engaged. Which is cool.
She seems a little young—she’s five—but, they say when it’s right, you just know.
He’s unemployed. He’s in school part-time. If she takes his name, she’ll be Caroline Blackburn.
He comes from a great family. In fact, I didn’t even hear from Caroline that she was getting married. Her fiancé’s mother, Jordan, sent me an email. Apparently, Owen popped the question while they were in kids’ club at the gym. Caroline said “yes,” that it would be “fun,” but that she doesn’t want to have babies because she doesn’t like getting shots. Read the rest of this entry »
“Cerulean”: Caroline’s go-to blue Crayola crayon.
“Cerulean”: From Latin caeruleus “blue, blue-green,” perhaps dissimilated from caelulum, diminutive of caelum “heaven, sky.”
“I had trouble sleeping last night, Mommy. So I counted the colors of the rainbow; then I counted the letters of the alphabet, and then I said, aaagh, I’m just tired.” Must be the engineering gene from her father’s side— Caroline’s got a knack for numbers. My head hits the pillow and churns in the way of an English major’s; sleeping comes second to sifting through the stories of the day. But I appreciate the cut and dry of numbers and am glad Caroline has found them. Mathematics, for me, is crazy Mrs. Carrazone jumping on tables singing of vectors, planes, and angles of inclination. It’s an 8 a.m. class in college I didn’t get too very often. It sometimes involves counting on my fingers. I joke with Dave that sooner not later, he’ll need to help the girls with their math homework.
For now I’m okay with shapes and sorting. Read the rest of this entry »
We just completed our first photo shoot as family. We’ve seen the sun shining on the changing leaves maybe once on a Sunday this fall, but today was the day—we finagled good weather on a weekend. The colors were stunning. Caroline posed like a professional, which was a tad alarming since she has surely acquired a relaxed relationship with the camera by celestial means. Neither Dave nor I take to cameras with anything resembling ease, but Caroline was a natural, and Lexi, naturally, had no interest in looking at anything but the pine needles blanketing the path. We wouldn’t have been out there by a dilapidated barn in the middle of a Maryland field, had it not been for baby Oliver, our painfully cute soon-to-be-one-year-old neighbor. Dave and I saw black and white photos of Oliver, and even though Oliver himself is picture perfect, we could not believe how well the shots highlighted his adorableness. “Did Liz take these?”
“Yes, she’s great,” said Mom-of-Oliver (named Corrie), which now leads me to a thoroughly researched, earth-shatteringly thought-provoking thesis: Some moms got mad skills. But, who would know it when all we talk about are these darn kids????
It could not have been raining heavier last Thursday when Caroline, Lexi and Mom-of-Caroline and Lexi (that would be me), struck out on our own, two of us donning matching Hello Kitty rain boots, and three wearing gear appropriate for the temperate rain forest in which we’re apparently now residing. After exactly 1 and ½ minutes of complete dousing, we arrived at the house of Mom-of-Hayden (named Susanne) for playgroup. She had been all worked up about hosting because some of our kids are toddlers. She worried that Hayden—a wee babe—might not have the appropriate toys to keep the three-year-olds entertained. Hanging like monkeys on newly cleaned drapery, oddly enough, kept the kids happy and the moms refilling the wine glasses. We attempted conversations, as three-year-olds pin-balled across the living room, tripping over two-year-olds with babies cushioning their falls. “So, how was New York?” Mom-of-Charlotte and Jacqueline (named Lee) screamed to me from across the room.
“Oh it was—hey, Caroline, leave Austin alone.”
“But we’re having fun!”
“Well, no, actually, I don’t think Austin is having fun. You’re cackling in his ear. Step away. Anyway, what I was saying?”
Mom-of-Hayden had baked some serious banana bread, and because fruit is good for me, I was well into my third piece when Mom-of-Owen and Cameron (named Jordan) released into the air a few words about her own pending trip to NYC. Something about a girls’ weekend and something about—well, I didn’t catch the rest as aforementioned toddlers speed-skated into the kitchen to discover that the unique spill proof system on the DrinkMoreWater water cooler was not, in fact, spill proof. Zamboni required. And a quick exit. “Sorry, Susanne. We’ve been a little cooped up.” It’s not only that I want to have a complete conversation with friends in the neighborhood, but I’d like to do so without a child pole-dancing around my legs. And that banana bread. Susanne makes a mean banana bread. What other magical foods of hers might I sample, if only we had more time?
The following Monday, I had just finished consulting the treadmill about three slices of banana bread and had then taken the girls to the playground, when Mom-of-Owen and Cameron drove by. I asked her how she did in the race she’d run over the weekend. “Did you win it?” I joked.
“Well, actually, yea, I did,” she said. “First in my age group.”
“What???!!!” I didn’t know she was a runner. “What was your time?” She told me. “That’s a 7 minute mile! I had no idea!”
“I ran track in high school,” she said as Owen began his sit-down-strike against the Subaru safety feature that prevents a complete window roll down. He couldn’t get a clear visual of Caroline and Lexi, so he gave us all a clear audio. “Gotta run!” said his mom. “Owen’s tired.”
And so am I—of sometimes feeling that I know more about my friend’s parenting strategies than I know about my friends. Jordan and I spend at least 42 hours a week together and I was pretty secure in the knowledge that she was a volleyball player. For all I know, Robyn is recognized in other circles for her translations of Petrarchan sonnets from Italian into English. Cheryl may have swum the 50 meter free in the 2000 Olympics. Though it is helpful at times to discuss potty training techniques or vent about a child’s penchant for cheap-shotting the neighbor’s Chihuahua, it is helpful also to talk about other things. That’s how I made friends in the past. That’s how, presumably, I’ll make friends in the future. I must continue to practice basic social etiquette. When I meet someone, I must avoid asking how old her child is in months.
Caroline, Lexi, and I made it to story time at the mall a few months back. The woman reading was soliciting audience participation as she paged through a cutesy animal tale. “What does a cow say?” All of the mothers looked lovingly at their little ones, saying, “Moooooooo.” There was lot of “Meowwwwwing” and “Oinking” going on between respective parents and children. Pottery Barn Kids is a bit cleaner than my house and is a short walk to Starbucks, but other than that, I might as well have been in my own home since I was only interacting with my own children. Oftentimes it really is hard to communicate with other mothers because I get worried that my kid is going to fall off a chair, disappear, or –god forbid—yell out “QUACK!” when the reader asks what an elephant says. So I was trumpeting emotively into Lexi’s face when, suddenly, beside me, a mother who’d been sitting quietly with her infant throughout most of the reading, made the most realistic elephant noise I have ever heard from a non-elephant. It was miraculous. It was exquisite. I cannot over-emphasize how remarkable this elephant sound was. All I wanted to do at that moment was congratulate her. I would have asked her, “Is there a class for that?” I would have insisted that we become friends, but in an instant, the woman reading was closing up shop and doling out stickers. In an instant, Lexi was yelling “QUACK!” while falling off of her chair, as Caroline disappeared into a sea of pink pastel kitchen utensils. In an instant, the elephant mom was gone.
Staying home with Caroline and Lexi can be lonely work. I have been known to lose my sense of humor, especially after three full days of rain. I’ve lost my sense of self on occasion during the last three years, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. People often say that this time is short—when your kids are young—and that the rest of your life will happen soon enough. Believe me, I’ve waited a long time to have these gorgeous girls, and I refuse to rush into any next stage, but I’d like to avoid pushing the pause button altogether. It’s possible to raise and love your kids, while also maintaining past friendships and creating new ones. It’s possible for a mother of three to bake muffins for a new friend when that new friend has a child in the hospital. It’s possible to hire a sitter and then spend a couple of hours talking to someone about all the cool jobs she’s had—all the wonderful places she’s traveled. It’s possible to raise two rowdy boys during the week and then win a fun run on the weekend. It’s possible to drive carpool on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then, in your few free moments, take beautiful photographs. Mad Skills.
Thursday, June 11
Caroline is in her pajamas on her bed, crawling at me with a lovely little grin on her face. She’s cupped her right hand and attached it to the side of her mouth, and she’s coming in towards my left ear for the whisper, “Tomorrow, Mommy…we can go to the pool. If you’re a good girl. And then we can get ice cream.” She is so sincere. Her warm breath puffs and tickles my ear, but my whole body reacts, like she’s blessing me, curing me. I close my eyes—this is the first time Caroline has whispered in my ear. Afterwards, I sit on the rocking chair, telling her the story she wants to hear; then I wait, as I do sometimes, watching her fall asleep.
I can’t get out of the rocking chair; I’m tired. Mr. Potato head’s arm lies under Caroline’s hamper unattached to his body—he’s a casualty in her colorfully cluttered room, like Oz’s wicked witch beneath the fallen house. Nobody’s safe when my little munchkins are running around, but they’re both asleep now, and it’s quiet. I’ve noticed that toddlers are noisy. While I’d like to say that their noise is like music, there’s actually a lot of whining, crying, and shrieking going on in and around my head these days, and it can be tiresome and loud. Carol Gilligan writes about girls in the school years needing to find their voices. I’ll have to cross that bridge, but for now my girls have theirs intact, often at high volume. So I sit and think about the day: what made me laugh, what didn’t, what I got around to doing, what I didn’t, what I probably won’t get around to doing tomorrow.
Then there’s Krista. She learned she had a slow growing tumor in her brain, just after delivering her first child, Anna Mae. I see Krista in the neighborhood. In fact, our kitchen window looks out at her front door. I think of her in the morning when I drink my coffee; I think of her at night when I close the curtains on the day, heading to sleep with the bold assumption that I’ll be waking up, doing it all over again the next day. And I’m thinking of her now as I sit in the rocker.
She’s going in tomorrow for brain surgery. She could die, or she could live, and there’s much that could happen in between. I picture her tonight in her house—the same as mine—in her child’s bedroom, sitting on a rocking chair, watching her baby fall asleep. Would this be the last time? How does she allow herself to think that way? How does she avoid it? And how do I as a bystander, a passerby, do more than pray and wish deeply that Krista will be here for Anna Mae when Anna Mae first learns to whisper in an ear?
Wednesday, June 17
Krista has survived surgery and grueling post-surgery complications. 70% of her tumor is now gone. She will learn in some time what that means for the long term, but she’ll be home with her daughter by the end of the week. Anna Mae, bring on the noise!
Krista, welcome home. May that first whisper be yours.
I used to spend a lot of time thinking about my ex-boyfriend. I imagined losing 10 lbs and then running into him at the grocery store. I would meet his wife and understand with other-worldly clarity what the word “fine” meant. She’d be wearing a pale pink sweater that bulged at the waist and she’d greet me with a limp handshake. He could have hair—or not. Really, it had always been her that I’d worried about. He could still talk in that low, comfortable voice, but she needed to squeak a bit. Even though he had been decidedly self-absorbed and awful, I got hung up still on the unknown of her: Who was this woman who was better than I?
“Regan you need to get over it.” My friend Joey nicknamed everyone; I felt privileged but a little left out since he merely called me by my last name. He called himself “Erdessy,” a play on his last name “Ersek,” and often referred to himself in the third person: “Erdessy needs a beer.” We were Philly transplants sitting in the Zoo Bar across the street from the Washington DC National Zoo. I always thought Joey should have stuck out more in DC, but he assimilated fairly well: He dated attorneys; he stomached the steak sandwiches; he frequented sporting events but just didn’t root, root, root for the home team. He loved the Zoo Bar because it was dark, small, and a bit grimy. “Something Philly about it,” he would say—likely those gorillas across the way.
“Get over it? That’s a problem,” I sighed. Joey asked why and my response was immediate: “Because I don’t know what to do next.” But in fact, I had been thinking about how pathetically I’d been handling the latest break up. I was not the sap that I made myself out to be because I managed to keep friends, read books, and go to work. I wasn’t incapacitated. I had always been quick to laugh at myself; in fact, this latest chapter in my life seemed to fit right in with what I’d been teaching my high school English students. It struck me as I progressed through the American Literature program that I was in the company of some classic nut ball 30-year olds, single and troubled about it: Nick Carraway, following Gatsby around in a West Egg haze; Blanche Dubois seeking the kindness of strangers; and Emily Grierson from Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” poisoning her ex and then cozying up to his corpse each night. Considering the post-30 crowd in our curriculum, I’d been handling my situation fairly well. But—it was time for a change.
“What you do next,” Joey said, “is what you wanted to do this time last year, before you met that bozo Frank.” I smiled, thrilled Joey had remembered and that he was still interested. “We start the band.”
If I could compare this marriage of drummer (Joey), lead guitarist (Dave), bass player (Matt), and singer/keyboardist (me), to a marriage between husband and wife, and then compare the process of naming the band to naming a newborn, finding a name that fit those involved in the marriage was almost a deal breaker. We would have found good reason to annul since we obviously were not going to be able to work together on even the most basic of tasks. The DC residents (Dave and Matt) ultimately caved when we came up with Blue Route, named after a Philadelphia highway. We had less trouble deciding on a song list since together we really didn’t like too many of the same songs. Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks, the Replacements, the Police all provided us with our first set.
We convinced Joey’s housemate Dan that we would be able to practice in the attic without making too much noise. Dan owned the house, so in exchange for the space, we as a group, well, we did nothing. The onus was on Joey, who mowed the lawn without prompting and kept the kitchen a little cleaner. The guys were upwards 30 as well, so they had dispensable cash flow, but none of us liked the idea of spending 20 to 40 bucks per hour renting a practice space. That would have been another deal breaker. The attic arrangement bought us some time and the four of us had dispensable time since none of us were married or even dating anyone seriously. As a result, we spent at least two days a week together as a band for almost three years.
I always felt a little self conscious saying the word “gig” as it applied to our performances. When I think of “gig,” I think of stoners in the high school cafeteria talking about their weekend plans: “Dude, coming to our gig on Saturday?” The same applies to even the word “band”—I feel the need to prolong the /a/ sound like I’m Sean Penn in Fast Times. Even after three years, I didn’t take myself seriously as a “band” member, but, that’s likely the reason why I look back on those years as being perfectly successful—no record label; maybe 25 “gigs”; and an aborted attempt at recording. But a lot happened in those three years, and in retrospect, being a rock star was one of the most stabilizing things I could have done. The Zoo Bar encounter was at the millennium’s shift. Basic math lands 9/11 right smack in the middle of those three years. In July 2001, one of my closest college friends died in a motorcycle accident. Exactly a year after his death, I lost my mother to cancer. Throw in the memories of Bozo Frank and you’ve got yourself some potentially expensive therapy bills. Though I bought another keyboard and several rock star outfits (I didn’t go leather when I could have—and now, post-babies, it’s too late!), Blue Route put us in the black not the red. And the only couch-time spent was on break in Dan’s attic, eating Doritos and checking Phillies’ scores.
The Blue Route song list turned from covers to originals as the “band” practiced and gelled and discovered its sound. For me, inspiration to write songs has always come from a need to put voice to feeling; otherwise feeling threatens to debilitate. Sadness, grief, and uncertainty all seem to get the phones buzzing (contentment deadens the lines), so I was a prolific songwriter during the Blue Route years. Now, I’ve been married happily for four years and in that time, though I’ve produced no songs, my husband Dave and I have produced the two most beautiful girls I’ve ever known. For now— playgrounds and play dates. Soon enough— I’ll challenge myself to get back to playing the piano without angst as inspiration.
“After You” was one such song— inspired by the break from Bozo Frank. I fired it out in one sitting; the lyrics and melody came easily and (thankfully) at the same time. I had recently read a song writing guide and had decided to pay closer attention to the structure: Though the initial outpouring of words can be liberating, listeners need a pattern, a clear link from point A to points B and C. It’s the song writer’s duty to make it easy for the listener, unless of course, the songwriter is Bob Dylan, in which case, he can do whatever he wants. “After You” was a simple song, word-playing with the title phrase. Three verses, a bridge, a chorus, just a few chords, catchy in a Tom Petty kind of way, if I may. With a friend’s help, I managed to record “After You” along with a few other songs, and on a whim, I sent the disc to the Songwriters Association of Washington (SAW) writing contest—deadline August, winners announced in November. Like Bozo Frank, SAW never called.
And that was fine. Blue Route would do something fun with “After You” and the fans would love it. More originals surfaced. We managed to garner crowds because we all had friends and co-workers who needed to get out more. We mustn’t have sounded too bad, because they came back to hear us play at Staccato, the Metro Café, Tommy Joes, Whitlows, IOTA, and the Grog and Tankard.
My parents came to one of the Grog shows. At the time, my mother didn’t know she had cancer. She was too busy losing her vision to Macular Degeneration. The irony was not lost on me, the fact that my mother—the one who misses nothing—couldn’t see. She had the wet and wicked kind of the disease, where the blood vessels grow and leak into the retina, causing straight lines to look wavy. Other things potentially happen: doorways look lopsided; close objects seem further away; intensity of colors fade, but whatever the symptom, the result in my mom’s case was complete loss of central vision. When she was at our “gig,” though, she took it all in, every thud of the bass.
She and I never spoke about my lyrics, though a loving parent would have recognized upon one listen how sad her songwriting daughter must have been. Years before I’d ever stepped foot inside the Grog and Tankard, after an earlier break-up had stunned me, my mom wrote me a letter suggesting that I refocus my attention. Concentrating on the sadness can be addictive, she wrote. The best way to beat it is to look up and out. She must have known that songwriting and then performing was my way of doing just that. She didn’t have to actually see me on stage at the Grog; she could hear me muscling through my disappointment. It strikes me now that I saw about as much as she did that night, under the watchful glare of a hundred people and some serious stage lighting. I was looking up and out, refocusing my attention from staring faces and bright lights. And she was right—I was happy.
When our family went to the beach, months before the Grog show, my mother allowed that she could still see the ocean and the stars, each so vast that her peripheral vision could accommodate. Months after the Grog show, I drove up to Philly from DC for a surprise visit. Periphery is okay when you’re looking at the stars and the ocean, but not when you’re dying of cancer trying to see your own daughter from a hospital bed. I felt small, invisible, like nothing. But the way she looked at me, just the same—the way she held my hand as she bragged to the nurse about her “beautiful daughter”—that both broke and mended me. And there was her portable disc player by her bedside; she told me she’d been listening to my cd.
Seven years since her death and I still stew in the sadness. I have to stop myself from looking too deeply in and too far down when I miss her, when I wish she’d met my husband and my girls, when I wish she hadn’t lost her sight before she died. It is hard for me to come to terms with that last one, to find a silver lining. But my dad, my siblings, and I were all so muddled and worn when she was sick—my mom never liked to see us sad.
What does it take to see what’s important, or feel it if our eyes aren’t clear? How do we look directly, with genuine appreciation and deserved wonder at what is in front of us every single day? Straight lines blur and colors lose vibrancy when I wallow, when I get anxious about what I don’t have or what I haven’t done.
One November night, years ago, I walked into the Clarendon Grill, a music venue in Virginia. The Songwriter’s Association of Washington was holding the 16th Annual Mid-Atlantic Song Contest Awards Ceremony. First and Second Places were allotted in every category: Country, Folk, Children’s, R and B, Jazz, Pop, Rock, Gospel, etc. Some winners were going to play that evening. It was a Sunday night; I didn’t have much going on, and I wanted to see what I was up against, as a songwriter who’d just started to call herself a songwriter. Who were these people that could structure and sing? Who were these writers that were better than I?
I hadn’t ever been to a bar alone before. I didn’t even order a beer. I grabbed a glass of water, sat on a stool in a quiet part of the room and started to flip through the program that I’d picked up at the door. For kicks I went to the page—Adult Contemporary. I’d submitted three of my songs under that category just months earlier. Geez, I thought, not only is there a First Place and a Second Place, but there’s a slew of Finalists…I counted them, 8…and another slew of Honorable Mentions…I counted them, 8—and there it was in writing, the last on the page: “After You—Katie Regan, DC”.
SAW never did call, but in early December, I received in the mail an Honorable Mention certificate—the same kind of certificate I got when I finished my sailing class at summer camp, on that rough paper, the writing a bit raised. I still have it somewhere, but I can grab from memory that moment in the Clarendon Grill a lot faster than I can put my hands on a piece of paper. I smiled–fine, alone, and smug as hell to be 18th on a list. I bought myself a beer and took a good look around, ready to let those songwriters make my life a little easier, singing me through to points B and C.
“Hear lion waterfall, Mommy!” Caroline is standing by the bay window, her face turned to the outside, her little body turned to me—already trying to be in different places at once. There is a lot for an almost-two-year-old to see, after all. She is at the start of it, attracting everyone and everything: an elderly woman, a middle-aged man, a toddler boy, not-a-one can escape the pull and promise of this little girl. She draws smiles and awakens eyes wherever we go. Winter winds race to pinch and redden those cheeks of hers. Even the light coming from the other side of the bay window lands on Caroline with resolve, knowing she’s the one in the room most deserving of its attention.
“Baby ‘Corn hear lion waterfall, Mommy!” Caroline’s holding out a white unicorn figurine. The fact that it’s one of those “Little People” characters from Fisher Price escapes Caroline. This is a friend, and wherever we go, so goes Baby Unicorn, Mommy Unicorn, Kingee, Queenie, Dragon, and Maid Mary. Sometimes Stone Wall, Bed, and Food hitch a ride, and occasionally purple chair scores the invite, so I’m thankful that a few months back I bought on impulse a small, green felt bag with a monkey’s face on one side… soft, durable “Monkey Bag” is the ideal transport vehicle.
I’m sitting on the couch with another baby, Baby Alexandra, the 6-month old, who is mellow and smiley and patient and lovely and by all accounts a second-child. She’ll every-now-and-then cry when she’s tired or hungry, but for the most part, she’s come to understand that she will be be cared for … just as soon as her big sister has been cared for. We are calling her “Alex” and “Lex” interchangeably, so even her name is in constant movement—she is as soft and durable as Monkey Bag. I ask Caroline, “Baby Unicorn hears the lion waterfall?”
I like to think that I am a fun, strong, good mother. Caroline and I read books; we sing songs; we go to the playground to swing on the “wee-wee,” and (well, once) we finger-paint with food-colored vanilla pudding. But I had a rule (no tv for Caroline until she’s two) and as soon as Alex was born, I broke it. Now, when I nurse Alex, Caroline gets to watch “Dragon Tales.” It was the only way, the only way I thought at the time, that I could preserve my sanity. To be sure, there are worse things she could be watching, but the Dragon Tales theme song is as catchy as a common cold, following me to sleep, waking me in the morning, and bursting from my lips while I’m (well, once) cooking dinner. Irrepressibly contagious theme song aside, it’s been so interesting to see how Caroline has welcomed the Dragon Tales characters into her life. She talks of Max and Emmy as if she’s just left them in their playroom. She lights up when you ask her “Now what’s the name of the pink dragon? And the blue one?” Like her Monkey Bag companions, the DT crew has become a part of her world. Space is expanding around her—a wide open ball of fresh, welcoming, wonderful air—and Caroline is letting us all in.
So…the lion waterfall. Mr Pop is the guy in one DT episode who uses a fancy gadget to take sounds and transplant them. A frog “cockle-doodle-doos,” a cow “croaaaks,” and a waterfall roars like a lion. Although the television is off, this is what Caroline and Baby Unicorn hear as they stand by the bay window.
I am one who does not like to lose a friend. I really don’t. I need to stay connected to all of those people who were at one time important to me. I’ll take the annual Christmas card, the occasional email, the random phone call, whatever—I just like to think that the contact is a possibility, that the line is open.
The line to Mary Kate is as direct and immediate as they come for me, even though she and I, after we graduated from college, lived very different lives. She married Bobby and had her three kids before I even met my future husband, Dave. She saw me through several bad breakups, heard a bit about my stint as a lead singer in a band, and we kept in touch through the years even though at times it seemed we were speaking completely different languages. Just before I met Dave, I lost my mom to cancer, and three months before my mom died, Mary Kate lost her mother to cancer. It was the oddest of reconnections. For me, being Mary Kate’s friend was the only easy thing about watching my mom die. Mary Kate had done it just before me. It was possible.
We spoke even more on the phone during the months following our mothers’ deaths, and five years later, I will see a woman in the supermarket that looks just like her mom, get home, and pick up the phone. She will see my mom in a dream, looking really healthy and happy, and she will pick up the phone.
As Caroline hears the lion waterfall, I think of a story from one of those phone calls, when Mary Kate’s youngest—about the age of Caroline now—was in the back seat of the car, pointing outside of the window at his “nanna” who was on the other side of the window. I believed it then: that her mother was there, angel wings and all, to spend time with this irresistible little boy, this pumpkin-faced sweetheart who was welcoming everyone and everything into his growing world. She was not going to miss this. No matter what, she was going to strap on wings and fly to him. That baby saw his grandmother. He was at this glorious age where his wide open eyes were taking it all in.
Caroline is there right now. Right now. I wonder with awe and a tinge of jealousy what she is seeing, and at this very moment, I wonder what she is hearing. It may be that she hears the distant rumble of the trash truck; it may be that she hears the toss and tumble of the clothes dryer. Or, it may be that she hears the lion waterfall. I’m giving it to her. I’m allowing it as a possibility, just as I’m allowing the possibility of a visit from a healthy and happy angel. What I would do to mingle with them in that welcoming, wonderful air.