The kids are in bed. Riley is working. I’ve plugged in my headphones into my laptop and turned The Watkins Family Hour up till it feels like the piano is thumping along inside my head.
When I opened the computer, the screen filled up with an excel spreadsheet. "Margaret’s Lunches" typed across the top, little boxes filled with food ideas laid out in neat little rows. Salami and Cheese and Grapes one day. Beans and rice and apples with peanut butter another. Cookies to begin the week, a piece of dark chocolate to end it.
This is what coping looks like, I guess. Planning out lunches a month at a time while I bite down on my nails and choke back at my heart in my throat.
We went to buy her school clothes today. A Mommy/Margaret date. She was at once much younger and much older than I expected. Sighing first because she thought trying on the clothes was a waste of time and putting back two shirts second so that we could afford to bring home a treat for Viola. In the midst of her little fit, I found myself in the space I often find myself with her - straining to be stern when easy understanding comes to me more naturally. When she thought of putting those two shirts back, I cursed myself for the sternness and then blessed myself for the sternness and then cursed the blessing and blessed the curse.
We went on a drive tonight after dinner.
Finish your dinner, girls, and we’ll go get ice cream cones.
Slurping at their spaghetti and then bare feet and books piled into the car. We played a game where we told stories to one another as we drove up and down the hills. Viola whispered a tale about good sisters and bad step-sisters and evil ladies and a dungeon and a housth-castle where she painted her nails. Margaret’s story had a fairy and a flower that needed water. When the fairy watered the flower, it bloomed and revealed a good old man and his good young daughter who had been imprisoned in its petals. Riley and I retold fables, changing names and little details so they seemed like our own.
We drove up around Margaret’s new school, an old building with a chain link fence surrounding a pristine reputation. It seemed like a place easily trespassed, both by people and pain. I wanted to hold her back from it and thought maybe I should let her run to it. And then wondered if I’d ever be able to pick out the fears reflecting real warning from amongst the shards of terror that only cast back my own shadows. I’ve cut myself open too many times reaching for the wrong pieces.
Down the hill to our house. The stories over and the ice cream gone. I reached into the car for Viola while Zuzu picked her way across the pavement to our front door. I walked behind her, with my little Vi breathing into my neck, in and out and the feel of her smile against my skin. Riley unlocked the door and turned on the porch light. Margaret turned and looked at me and reached back to hold my hand.
And then we all walked in together.