photo by heather mildenstein
I wrote this post a couple of years ago. But the reminder was needed this week. Here's to being seen. (Hey, I see you.)
It is nearly eleven o’clock at night and Viola’s cries creep out from under her door, tumble across the hall, and bounce in the kitchen from the unwashed pan to the blinds that need dusting out into the living room and onto my lap. Riley tells me to stay put as he goes to see what is wrong. And I do. Because I am tired. And I know she will cry again in a few hours. And right now, I need to pick up everything and place it on my husband’s square shoulders. I need to disappear, just for a moment. So, I brush the sound of her need off my skirt like so many specks of clinging dust and try to think about something else.
It isn’t working.
I have been so worried about my darling girls.
Viola is at that magic age, the one where the only real concern is whether she is eating and sleeping enough. While the answers to those questions change day to day, lately there have been more noes than yeses. Maybe she is teething? A virus? Riley, put your hand on her head, does she feel warm? And then she is up at 2am and 3am and not sleeping past 6:30, because my goodness, where would be the fun in that? But between the too short naps and too long cries, I can pick her up and make her smile. Because I am all she knows and right now, all she knows is enough.
I don’t know that I am enough for Margaret anymore. My goodness, that sounds a bit dramatic. Meg, you say, that is perhaps a premature pronouncement to make about a three year old. But it is true. She has feelings bigger than my capacity to soothe, fears more complicated than she can articulate and an occasional stubbornness that I can only engage if I am willing to stand till the ragged, tantrum filled end. I don’t mind the tantrums. They are fierce but few and I can handle myself just fine, thank you. No, I feel the most helpless when she collapses, when the light leaves her eyes and all that is left is panic without discernible meaning. The times when I can see the anxiety climb up her arms and into her ears until it all spills out in hiccups and screams and MOMMY’S! It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes I think the lines that connect one breakdown to another are becoming shorter. When it does happen, I hold her close and play with her hair and speak quietly, oh honey, everything is alright. And then, because it calms her down I turn on a movie and give her SHINY BLANKIE and walk away until she comes back to me, all big smiles and bouncing questions.
I think the breakdowns come when she is tired. Or when she is hungry. Maybe they happen because she is a creature of routine. Or because she is bored. Perhaps she reacts poorly to processed foods. There is always the chance that she needs more iron…or less.
I am not sure of anything, except for all the things I am unsure of.
Last night after a mixed meeting with her preschool teachers, (She is a very bright girl! Sometimes she is a little upset.) I came home and cried to Riley. I don’t mind that she gets overwhelmed and breaks for a moment. We all do. And at three she doesn’t know that it is more socially acceptable to eat your anxiety away (chocolate, anyone?) rather than scream it away. (Between you and me, I think the screaming might be the healthier coping mechanism of the two.) No, what I hate is that I don’t know how to help her navigate around this obstacle. I want Zuzu and all the people around her to see exactly who she is. I can see her. She is kindness and giving and warmth and humor and intelligence and strength and dance out in the open with her eyes closed. She is whimsy and steel. I don’t want fear or hysteria to cloud her vision. I am her mother. I am supposed to guide her. I don’t want to change her, I just want to help her. But, I don’t know how to keep my ignorance – how do I help her? What does she need? – from muddying the waters.
I went to bed last night heavy with doubt. Because if I can’t do this now how will I do this when she is 14? And maybe this is because I am not doing my job well enough. If only we read more, painted more, crafted more. A better mother would know what she needed. A better mother would know. Pressed against the wall, a continent away from Riley, he asked if I was alright. I nodded yes, and closed my eyes. The tears squeezed out hot against the cold night and the phrase repeated itself as I fell asleep – A better mother would know.
Riley and I fought this morning. I am not sure how it began, but I know just when it got going. He said I am too hard on myself more days than not – that I spill so many wasted thoughts on not being a good enough woman, writer, wife, mother. I told him that he had no right to tell me how I should feel. My goodness, I cried, what do you know about inadequacy and guilt? He isn’t in these four walls all day with two people hungry for more than cheerios. He leaves and I stay and try to be the things I want to be, should be, while wiping the crumbs off my clothes. Can’t he see all the magic I leave out of so many days with the girls I have been given as daughters? Can’t he feel the weight of the stories that go thought and unwritten again and again until they are forgotten? Does he think I want to be the woman that is too tired for dancing when he gets home after a long day of work? How, I asked angry and misunderstood, how am I supposed to get through this part of my life feeling anything but less than what I wish to be? Do you have any idea what you are talking about? Riley slammed out the door to steam it out in the drive way while I stewed in the shower.
When he came back in Margaret was eating cereal on the couch and I had nearly finished my makeup in the bathroom. A small comfort, as I prefer to be presentable when ugly crying. We kissed and he held me, sorry for the things we said and perhaps for a few that we didn’t.
He left for work and we survived the day.
Viola has stopped crying and in the rounded silence I have some clarity. Riley wasn’t telling me how to feel, he wasn’t negating my experience, or saying he could do it better. He was saying he can see me. And the woman he sees can do this. She can wake up with a baby who will not sleep. She can break through the wall built by a three year old’s tears. She can write whatever she damn well pleases. She can be the wife she knows her husband deserves. She can dance even when she is too tired to keep standing.
I don’t always know the woman Riley sees. But every once in a while, when he is looking at me, I see her reflected in his eyes. And right now, that glimpse is just enough to get me through one more day, every day.