Day Four. Thanks, Ma.
Remember when you used to chase us around the house with a raw fish on a newspaper for fun? Well, I found myself doing the vegetarian version of that this morning. I aggressively shoved a Chanterelle mushroom in the face of a four year old and made that weird “EEEEEEEEEEEEE” sound you used to make. Something has come full circle, ma.
I had a bit of an epiphany this morning. Babysitting kids is like making pancakes. You shower all this attention on the first one and you try for perfection. And you nearly break down in tears because it’s all half-cooked and misshapen and the pan’s not really hot enough or oiled enough and you can’t believe you’ve failed so epically at something that you think should come so naturally. But you try again, and again, and you get better as you go. By the middle of the batch, you’re really getting into your groove. The heat’s just right. You’re functioning like a well oiled machine. You’re not even thinking about it. One hand is flipping pancakes and the other is pouring juice. You’re feet are probably dancing to Paul Simon in the kitchen and your mouth is answering questions about why the sky is blue and your brain is already thinking about what to make for dinner. That’s what these past four days have been like: making pancakes.
Mom, do you know what I did this morning? I sighed contentedly when Elton John played on Pandora. Elton John, ma. I think you know this about me, but I really hate Elton John. Billy Joel, too. All those piano-playing soft -rock-music-station artists. You probably know that Black Flag and Fugazi is more my style for cooking music in the kitchen. But, honest to God, I sighed contentedly when Sir Elton came on. I just needed something familiar and cozy hitting my eardrums at that moment because everything else was feeling like I couldn’t do it right. Maybe Sir Elton reminded me of you when YOU were in the kitchen making eight metric tons of pancakes for four hungry, annoying kids who were asking you where milk came from and how much adult turtles weigh and why we weren’t having eggs and why the sky is blue SIMULTANEOUSLY. My blood pressure dropped down to normal when that song came on and I was able to make those pancakes in the shape of pumpkins without breaking a sweat because of “Tiny Dancer”. What the hell? You didn’t warn me THAT would happen when I had kids.
This is my problem, mom. I’ve got this thing for perfectionism. It’s a real problem. Seriously. It’s been getting in the way of everything, babysitting included.
So, every once in a while, when kids kick my ass, I feel compelled to write you these letters to both thank you for handing down to me that curse and that gift.
I know those middle years were tortuous on us both. I know mental illness is a deep river that runs through our family, and, though I couldn’t appreciate it at the time, I was being taught a very valuable lesson back then with all that shit we went through. More than most kids my age, I could appreciate a pretty full range of emotions because of those years. You scared the shit out of me, ma. Kids don’t usually run away from home because things are all peachy keen. But, though it’s the strangest thing I’ve ever admitted, I’m grateful for for those years. If nothing else, I’ve learned massive amounts of empathy and gratitude from those years. That’s what all these years in the secluded Pacific Northwest have taught me: gratitude. It’s why I had to move here. Nowadays, I work with ease, I live with ease, I love with ease. There was nothing really easy about our lives together back then, was there? So, I’ve finally gotten what I always needed, just much later in life. And that gratitude has spilled over into (finally) gratitude for you and dad too. Even through the shit (and the shit you continue to struggle with), I am able to see you as humans, humans who did the very best they could with their limited educations and finite patience and vices and family history of depression and whole generations of tragedy and struggle handed down. I can appreciate all that now. Moving out here has backed me up from my microscopic scrutiny of the first part of my life. I can see a much bigger picture now. I can see who you both were before you had me, who you became after you had us, and most importantly, how hard you tried to make everything in our lives as fun-filled and joyous as you could humanly manage. I can see your mania for what it was now and I am cultivating a love for it.
I’m going to guess you’ve either blocked those years out, or you so deeply agonize over them still, you don’t quite know how to talk about them. Well, time and 3,000 miles (and thousands of dollars in therapy) has helped me to understand quite a bit about those years. So, even though they still pain you, they don’t pain me as much anymore. My higher self has emerged out here, and she is learning forgiveness every day.
Anywho, thanks for making zaniness a very regular part of my life. It feels more normal to chase a child with Chanterelle mushroom than it does to do shop for appliances and pay for a mortgage. These past few days, I’ve been learning to let go of every single expectation for how this would go. I’m not perfect, and perfect is frustrating to kids anyway. I hope one day you can shed just a little bit of your prefect self too and feel free to human and fallible. While I am grateful for having learned how to do hospital corners and how to set a table properly and how keep a house clean, I also know how exhausting it can be to keep that routine up.
I’m hoping what these kids take away, just like I did, is all the good times, and leave the not so good times for later on in their lives to sort through. Thanks for everything, mom. Good and bad.
Your Oldest Daughter