I wake up to a small sound at midnight, my Miss Clavell-like mother sensors detecting something is not right. There it is again–a soft sniffle, a low moan. Is someone crying? I shuffle into the hallway, squinting from the scant hour of sleep and still half in my dream.
Maddy is crying–a soft, forlorn sob that breaks my heart. I scoot her over a bit to make room for myself under the covers of her twin bed. I fit my legs into the angle of hers (and note fleetingly how her legs have stretched longer in the last few months) and wrap my arms around her. She spills out her worries and disappointments that have been building under her cheerful 12-year-old exterior. Loneliness, jealousy, fear, nostalgia already for her simpler elementary school days, friend troubles, sister troubles, dashed expectations for the glorious experiences she thought would be hers at 12–these are all soured by their proximity to each other and by the late dark lonely hour.
There was a time when my midnight ministrations were easier, when, bleary eyed, I could provide milk and nearness and that was enough to satisfy her nighttime needs. Now my role isn’t resolving or satisfying but simply witnessing & waiting while she resolves for herself. Instead, with a nod to Mary and her Pieta, I can only keep these things and ponder them in my heart.
* * *
Most of my interactions with Sam are still instrumental, our days and activities Brueghel-busy. Where are my church shoes? What are we having for dinner? Will you help me with this song? Will you play a game with me? Comb my hair? Check my homework? These things I can do, can check off as positive scores for the parenting balance sheet.
Although yesterday, when he hollered up from the kitchen “Can you cut my bagel for me?” I admit I weighed the probability of a lacerated, boy-sized palm versus a few more peaceful moments before I replied a delayed “okay.” Even the simple things are hard some days, their grinding dailiness overpowering my ability to rise to the occasion.
* * *
My daughter chose 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night, the last day of February break, to bring us the sheet of paper.
“I’m supposed to have a conversation with you.”
Distracted by the Oscar host’s banter, I register her request but fail to respond.
“Like, by tomorrow. It’s due tomorrow in Health.”
“Okay…let me see what it is.”
The form lists five questions that students are supposed to discuss with parents about sex and birth control: How should teenagers show affection for each other? What about a couple that loves each other and are going to get married? If a teen is sexually active, what kind of birth control should she use? Etcetera.
This is not the conversation I want to have, on demand, on Oscar night at 9:30. Keep in mind we have had nine unscheduled, unhurried days of vacation togetherness before this. I sigh and manage a smile at her.
“I already know the answers to most of these. We’ve talked about this before” she says hopefully. “Maybe we don’t need to talk about it and you can just sign the sheet.”
This is true, although we haven’t explicitly discussed some of this. I imagine a pregnant child, blaming her parents’ cluelessness: They couldn’t be bothered. The Oscars were on.
So we talk, our glances not quite meeting for most of it, Lauren’s neck angled away in a Modigliani-like stretch. As she heads for bed, she says “don’t worry, I’m not planning on doing anything like this anytime soon.”
Silence in the wake of her departure.
Greg asks, “Did she say ‘not anytime soon’? Because I was hoping to hear ‘not planning on anything like this ever‘.” I’m just thinking why didn’t I turn off the t.v. and spend a little more time? What’s so difficult about that? I sigh again, stretch my ear to my shoulder and wish for a do-over.
* * *
What blessings and challenges have you found in parenting, “aunting”, and loving children in middle childhood?
What aspects of these relationships are kept and pondered rather than fixed and mended?
How do you find the balance between watching/walking with and helping in more concrete ways?
What images in art capture your experience as a mother, sister, daughter?