The Piano soundtrack is playing in our bedroom; I am still dressed in work clothes but have exchanged shoes for comfy purple shearling boots. The world outside is drying from three days of soaking rain. My hands have a sheen of Babycare massage gel. Everything--the music, my boots, my hands, the lighting--feels soft. Especially my spirit.
The girls are quiet in their room, tucked limply into the same bed, head to foot. Last Sunday we went to sleep with two happy, well-adjusted little girls under our roof, so we thought. By Monday evening we had worries about our daughter's worries, manifesting in new and worrisome ways, gentlish reminders to pay attention and listen, that the world can be too much with us or with one of ours, and can carry her off in a silent, tugging, almost imperceptible tide.
When I was in sixth grade I began an inconspicuous cocooning, one wrap at a time till I was tightly wound and fairly oblivious to the normal routines around me. My metamorphosis into irrational self-regulation was subtle and gradual; at first I just cleaned my room more often without being asked. Soon I was scheduling other activities around vacuuming and window washing. I recall one afternoon riding in the backseat of the car with my mom, who was taking an out-of-town friend on a tour of our town. I quietly willed her to skip the last point of interest so we could return home before noon and I could accomplish the items on My List before...I turned into a pumpkin? I did not know. I only knew it was crucial that I meet my expectations for myself by my designated time. Or I would lose and have to start all over. I never won, of course. My father would help me gracefully forfeit.
I was at a school meeting last month and another mother pulled out an executive steno tablet like the ones I used back then to enumerate my unreasonable, unnecessary tasks. I suppose I hadn't seem a similar pad of paper since I first tucked them away in a brown paper bag high in the closet, after being called out by my dad and before being ready to get rid of them altogether. My response was unexpected and visceral. A wave of déjà vu and frantic overwhelm enveloped me momentarily, and then I was simply fascinated by the cover of that notebook and my reaction to it.
Big Sis swigs some of my first-born genetic cocktail of guilt and responsibility and self-obsession and her traits have been mostly cute in an apple/tree-kind-of way, until we noticed that stressors were getting in the way of her being cute in an eight-year-old way. Hey, I admonished her internally, I was in middle school when I started losing it; you are way too young.
My little girl.
My anxious mind wakes me up at 2 AM and hers won't let her fall asleep.
Long division, piano performances, and the pressures of third grade social dynamics, along with my DNA, have conspired to distract her from an unfettered childhood, but we listen. And she needs to talk about it all. You are good, we remind her. You can, we affirm. We love you, we emphasize.
I seek age-old and new-age remedies. We play family games, go on family walks and hikes, read books, tell stories, snuggle. I consult knowing parents of older children with similar dispositions. I recall when my girls were babies. Someone gave us baby massage gel in a gift basket, and after baths, I'd rub them down, folds of chubby limbs and supple skin between my fingers.
Tonight I tell them to brush their teeth and wash hands and faces. We're having massages. I turn some soothing music on and Big Sis lies face down and shirtless on our bed. Soon she is jelly and deep sighs and half-lidded acquiescence, as Little Sis begs for her turn and reassurance it doesn't hurt. They are side by side and holding hands for simultaneous neck and head rubs. I marvel at the differences in their little bodies, stroking bird-like shoulder blades and monkey-bar muscles. Daddy peeks in from the kitchen dishes, towel in hand, grinning and winking. Long sleepy hugs of gratitude, "Can we do this everyday?" and they stumble off to bed.
Leave the music on, Mama, please?
The news this week is full of two men who snapped (Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and non-profit visionary Jason Russell), and I reserve judgment and commentary for now, thinking only how heavy and light the world can feel, variously, and how we must look into each other's eyes, and listen, and take care, for all of our good.