Somehow I thought that in the years of chronicling the ups and downs of parenting, maybe a lesson or two would stick. Perhaps a bit of writing it down would offer up a moment of grace to keep me from utterly screwing things up because I’m in a bad mood.
Mostly that doesn’t work, the truth ends up being that as I tally board at the end of the night it comes in at a draw, the screw ups and wins in a dead heat.
The other night I was looking through my iPhoto library and was sobered by the absence of photos of Briar. What happened? There’s Ave, there’s Fin, there’s another selfie. Do I not see her? Are pictures of her not as easily sharable and framable and, “Look, we’re happy. Life is easy!” Maybe it’s that she’s getting older and I am being more restrained out of respect?
I decided I had to somehow make it right, but I ended up doubting myself. Right, you’ll take a picture and make yourself feel better, removing any doubt that maybe you are neglecting her. Ha! I’d wager, parenting has never seen a better villain than the critic we carry inside of ourselves.
The last couple of nights I’ve spent more time in Briar’s room at night, not to compensate. It’s been a genuine effort to explore the shift. What is keeping me from her? Do I think that she doesn’t need me? One night I massaged her forearms, explaining that when I get a massage it’s my favorite thing that they do.
“They always massage your back and your neck, which is great, but that’s not the best part.” I said.
“It isn’t? What’s the best? What do you love, mom?” she asked eagerly.
“Well, for me it’s when they take my arm like this,” I put one hand under her arm and lifted it up and out from the bed. She watched me. I raised her arm, which still shocks me sometimes with how slender and fragile it is. I shook it a bit, and then placed my hands on the underside and ran them along her skin. I pulled and fluttered my fingers, pressing into her flesh; she sighed.
“They just pull and press on your arm until they get down here,” I massaged her forearm, letting the tendons slide back and forth between my fingers, before holding her palms in my hand and shaking out her hands, “Let’em hang there, sweets. Just let your hands collapse.”
She tried to let her arms go slack, but her shoulders rose up to her ears. “Loosen up,” I chided. She smiled and her arms went soft, shoulders dropping, and her face melting into a smile. I saw my baby in that face. I squeezed each finger, like wringing toothpaste from a nearly, empty tube.
“They pull the stress and effort of the day right from your fingers. All of that pencil holding, bag carrying, and Minecraft making gets untangled. Let it go.” She did.
Tonight, in that same scenario, I ran my hands up and down her arms, my fingers working until my eyes watered from the effort. “Your hands are so strong, mama. They feel so good.”
I kept rubbing as one of the kittens swatted from under the bed at my bare foot. “Ouch,” I cried.
Briar smiled, “Is that a kitten?” I said that it was.
“Do you want me to scoot over?” Briar asked.
I squeezed her hand. “It’s ok, baby. I’m fine.”
“Mom, you are more than fine. You are like magic. You’re like Maleficent, every step you take makes magic beneath your feet. The kittens follow you, the girls follow you, Dad waits for you, we all come after that magic you make that glows.” Her eyes stayed closed and I watched her. How many nights did I not stay to rub her arms? How many good nights were called to her as I sped down the stairs to feel unneeded.
“Really mom, you just do everything to make us feel so loved, so peaceful,” she sighed contentedly.
I let it hover, settling over us like a warm veil, this moment of having stayed. Maleficent, a character whose lack of apology for being both good and evil, powerful and vulnerable, seemed a perfect comparison. My jaw ached as I swallowed a sob.
“Oh, baby, you girls woke up my magic. All I have has come from you,” my voice was raspy.
“I’m so glad I have you as my mom, Mama.”
“Me too, baby girl, me too.”