A weekend in the life of a mom with six kids

Feeling distant and discarded, Tuck called to check in with his family. When he chose California, he didn’t take into account how horrible I am on the phone and how distracted his siblings would be. On a positive note, he said “Dolly texted me on my birthday” – it broke my heart. He is missing us and feeling excluded by his own doing and no one ever calls. I imagined myself sending care packages. I even made a Pinterest board for care packages. I haven’t followed through. I bought him a bed frame for his birthday and it never arrived. My little April fool’s baby- I’m a month late and I haven’t even checked through the layers of email. I’m like the princess and the pea. It would be too uncomfortable to lay on all those emails and find the pea.

“Beez… Doll… Call your brother or at least text him. He misses y’all.” — “Ok, Mom”. Double speech bubble over their conjoined heads- “Here she goes again- Mom wants us to do one more thing when we are the ones living at home doing all her bidding. If she brings up that she pays for our phones, we will glare at her for at least 48 hours. I could not drive them crazier if I tried. I so want them to be happy and fulfilled and do the dishes and take out the trash and they just don’t like me right now, no matter how much I like them. 

Mim and I started painting the Goodwill wooden wagon wheel dog proof couch, bought last week for about $30. It has spindles and curves and indentations. The primer went on rough and the paint is gloppy and drippy in spots but I didn’t quit this project because I am no longer a quitter. I need more seating because my dogs take over the couch and then there is no room for the people. The glitch is- I don’t really have room for an oversized Early American wooden couch. And the larger issue is that there are less and less people living here every day. But I can figure that out later. The painting helps settle me down. 

I had some really good news on the photography front. I messaged an old teaching partner who recently became a doula. She is enthusiastic to pair up for birth photography. I can probably squeeze in a coffee chat with her sometime Saturday.

Addy is in town to try on wedding dresses.

Addy in wedding dresses-  my girl was gloriously beatific in gossamer gowns. It went so well at three separate shops on three separate days. Given the anorexia and decades of cycling through eating disorders and comorbid diagnoses, I was uncertain about this milestone and she was terribly anxious. She didn’t let ED stop her from being a bride to be. She tried on different styles and different feels. She was breathtaking.. The wedding industry is built on appearance and sucking brides and families into the promise of a PERFECT Day. This will be the most important day of your life. This is the most important dress you will ever wear. A stranger comes into a curtained room with forbidden floor length mirrors and examines your body with a tool of measurement. Addy exclusively wears grossly oversized athletic shorts and ballooning t-shirts from Target. She never spends her money on her clothes, although she admires her sisters’ closets and sundresses. She does not allow herself such treats meant to assign value to one’s individuality. She hides from her own self and then the eating disorder finds her over and over again. I do not have a eating disorder but I have an inkling of what it feels like – when I go to yoga after a year of Covid isolation, tears fall readily from my eyes as the movement and breath awakens my brain to the inescapable reckoning that my body is present and attached to my brain. No matter how I deny it’s presence or ignore it’s gradual changes, my body is here and ever connected to my essential self.  I can occasionally deny that my grown child is still sick. While she lives in New Orleans, I imagine her with her purse sized dogs and her teddy bear fiance sitting on a lakefront. And that is the truth. But I know the behind the scenes. Running many miles on humid streets while dehydrated and belly emptied. There was the recent emergence of hope. Addy was seeking treatment. She sought a therapist and was diverted immediately to referrals for teams of specialists. She politely refused- scared to devote money to her own health after many familiar hospital stays. So here we sit, on a pink velvet lounger, watching her try on gowns made for beautiful models and princesses. She easily rises to the occasion. Her beauty is undeniable. She will be a beautiful bride except for the off chance that her eating disorder kills her.  I don’t need to repeat the mortality statistics for people with eating disorders. ED can put such a damper on life and milestones and weddings. 

The salespeople at the bridal shops praise and compliment my amazing mothering. My encouragement and nurturing. I am so proud of my girl. This is her dress. Her and Ficken’s wedding. Their life together. My opinion on fashion is inconsequential. The bridal consultants repeat how different I am from the other mothers who accompany their daughters. I see the beauty in every dress. I love her choices and her ability to stand on the small pedestal looking at her body in a foreign drape or skimming lace. She is remarkable. She is alive. I can do this right. I’m so relaxed and happy with my sweet girl. They don’t know that her disease has been trying to kill her for a dozen years. That I am here as an impostor. I can love her and yet I can’t make her recover. I can’t cure her. I am her mother and I cannot nurture her. The eating disorder exists and falters and thrives. One step forward two steps back. Other mothers have healthy daughters and complain about unbecoming or distasteful dresses. The other mothers have the energy to fight for an appearance – a wedding mirage. Living with a child who is sick, ruins fantasies of frothy white magazine covers. The irony is not lost on me. I can easily love every dress and yet I have the daughter who is hurt and hurting. They think I am such a great mama but they don’t know the truth that breaks my sentimental heart and deteriorates her physical heart. In a fair and reasonable life a mother should be able to keep her daughter healthy and I sit smiling and hoping.

Mim was diagnosed with Pica on Friday. I would ask if you want the long story or the short but we both know I will probably tell the long no matter what you prefer. Back around Valentine’s Day, Mim started emailing boys that she wanted a boyfriend. Pretty impressive for someone with her development and disabilities. She received an email from a boy asking her to sign a petition. This was her first email from a fellow student. Her other emails were all teacher driven. She took this as an invitation from Cupid. No matter how we explained that the email went to lots and lots of students, Mim was sure he loved her and this love would solve all her Valentine’s problems. She emailed him and when he politely declined, she started putting the letter B in the email address space on her school issued laptop. B for boy. She wanted to email boys. Back around Valentine’s Day, I found this either ingenious, terribly troubling or cute. She was hatching plans to find her true love of the sixth grade. I worried for our future- hers and mine. How will we survive the teenage years? And yet, it was age appropriate for a child with mean parents who won’t allow her to own a phone. She was making avenues for communication during a long pandemic. Come hell or high water or virtual middle school, Mim was determined to find her Valentine. One boy in particular got quite a few emails because his first and last name began with B. We attempted to distract Mim with alternative activities and we upped her communication with her friends. This did not deter her emailing of boys. While she was supposed to pay attention to dividing decimals and the solar system,* Mim emailed boys without our knowledge. When I figured out the extent of her emailing, I talked to her and emailed her teachers to keep an eye out for concerned or confused young men. In a weak parenting moment, I warned Mim that her principal could see her school emails and he could read all the students’ emails to make sure that they were school related. I thought our problem was solved…

Thursday night we met at our neighborhood sushi restaurant. Mim had been invited to help Addy try on wedding dresses but she had refused because it didn’t sound fun to go shopping for someone else’s dress. We sat down at an outdoor wobbly table to discuss wedding dresses. Mim ordered a Shirley temple, seaweed salad and dumplings and then started talking in a tone of voice that was well aware of the attention she was attracting.

“I emailed Mr. Waterman.” 

We sat with baited breath. 

“I emailed my principal. I told him I was boy crazy.” 

“Why did you tell him that?”

“Because I am boy crazy.”

I know but why did you email Mr. Waterman to tell him you are boy crazy?”

“In case, he reads all my emails. He’ll know why.”

“You emailed Mr. Waterman so that when he looks at your school emails, he will know why you emailed so many boys and asked them to be your boyfriend.” 

“Yep.” sipping her Shirley Temple. She fished the cherry out and handed it to me across the table. I ate it and thanked her.

Hmm. This smart little pistol.

We stifled our laughter for the millionth time during the tween years of Michaelann Rodi. Her tilt on the world is dizzying and infused with the essence of disability and truth.

At first I attempted understanding. Mommy doesn’t care if you eat paper. You don’t have to sneak paper. I thought if it wasn’t forbidden it would lose its attraction. She ate paper a lot. She got constipated which alternated with the runs. She spent more time in the bathroom. In this same early spring time period, she grew breast buds. 

For months she cutely claimed her breasts were growing and would show us her childlike flat chest. She whined and kavetched about the pain on especially the left side or maybe the right and she would show each female visitor to the house her growing bosom. She described the pain in detail to every woman we know. So I am allowed to blame hormones. Her body is getting closer to puberty and she asks me daily if I think today is the day she will get her period. She is not interested in the facts or in books on development and puberty- unless you count youtube. I felt like she was sneaking something. She is eating toilet paper and tags that hair rubber bands are wrapped around. I keep my cool not wanting to increase the sneaking. She starts whispering as I come into the bathroom. She is embarrassed. Ashamed. Paper will not be the worst of my worries.

I dislike sneaking- mostly because I am the most understanding mom of all times.  I can’t understand why my child would sneak. How can she not understand that I am much more accommodating and sympathetic than all the other mothers so she doesn’t need to sneak? I had reduced her phone time because her end of the day melt downs had been increasing. I was watching her to see if she was sneaking screens to watch Youtube or email boys. And she started eating paper. I mean I think she had eaten paper before. But now she was sneaking paper a lot. It was this strange confluence of factors- paper eating/ maybe a sensory need, hormones, a desire for a boyfriend, sneaking to email boys, reduction in phone time to reduce evening meltdowns, time in the bathroom without a phone. The nuns were right idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Oh God. This is ridiculous. Child rearing is so damn difficult. 

Oh And- BeBe and Posey are moving to NYC. BeBe is  psyched. After fifteen unanticipated months at home with her mom and sisters, New York sounds like heaven. Covid derailed BeBe’s plans and derailed some of the old BeBe that I knew so well. I thought her personality was steady and I described her often as our back bone- I thought she would continue being the BeBe I imagined from her childhood. I didn’t anticipate early adulthood. This year changed Beez and all of us. Mim wakes up and runs out with the long legs carrying her tiny body that rises from her pull up. She runs out and searches the main room. “Where is BeBe and Posey? Did they leave?” They are on a walk, Mimmy. It isn’t today. She leaves May 7.” She sinks onto the plant table and leans against the only window with morning sun. She and I both know she will repeat this frenzied search ten more times before BeBe leaves for two months in NYC. She is packing light. The Brooklyn apartment is furnished, fresh and bright. She could probably use my wagon wheel couch to sleep all her young and eager visitors from the South. BeBe is working on a research grant with her best pal. The wagon wheel couch will be finished just in time for her to leave. I will probably let the dogs sleep on it. They are photographing anti homeless architecture in New York. Molly, BeBe and Posey will walk about nine miles a day around the city all for the greater good. Lucky girls. They will feel the grand independence of a big city on a grid that is fresh and manageable and they will experience the grandness of actual independence in an unknown city- the heart expanding in uncharted territory. The memories writers refer to as life altering moments that poets and songwriters return to in  their old age and  in first attempts at art. Oh- to be twenty one in New York City. Lord have mercy, Thank you Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’m forty nine in Decatur.

Saturday night dinner at Sprig. George, Lizzy, BeBe, Addy and Mim. Mim pushes my buttons by ordering Diet Coke to be like Addy. She pouts loudly because she thinks people aren’t listening to her which means she isn’t the queen of the table. And BeBe snaps that Mim is the one interrupting her. I’m sure I huffed at BeBe’s rudeness. I know Mim is wrong. I know she needs to work on not insisting on being the belle of the ball. But I want BeBe to be polite about it because our rule has always been” BE KIND.” It makes sense when Mim breaks the rule but Beez. I imagine BeBe snaps at Mim out of frustration with me and my parenting or what she perceives as lack of parenting. The thing that she misses is that kids can’t learn when they are upset or angry. I wait until the moment has passed to redirect Mim to polite dinner conversation or I try to catch the situation before it happens by offering a distraction like rolling up a straw wrapper. Better to cut unwanted behaviors off before they occur. But BeBe knows how it drives me nuts when she tangles with Mim. Is this how BeBe separates herself from us to go to New York? Is this how she packs lightly?

Some may say it isn’t polite dinnertime conversation- George told a river rafting story about a large man dying this week- but it was with a different outfit not his rafting company. The other company broke some guidelines like going out after a cold snap and the man’s life jacket broke when they tried to pull him back in the raft. I can’t even think about it. I’m not supposed to tell anyone that it happened. But I don’t keep secrets. Mim and I leave the table early and escape to Dollar General for candy and glass flat beads that go in fish tanks or cheap flower arrangements for Library class on Monday. As the elementary school librarian, I need to at least consider what I’m doing in the library this week because Covid is over from a school perspective (other than wearing masks), ignore all protocol and get these kids back in school was the decision from the powers that be. Monday will be my first day face to face with real live actual children. I figure I can quickly Lysol glass beads. I can let them make designs with the “jewels” and then Lysol the beads in a ziplock between grade levels.

Sunday, I woke up early to take Frida out. She is the sweetest unpotty-trainable bull dog a girl could love. Today was a successful morning- no pee or poo on my wooden floors- just two snuggling dogs tangled in a polyester quilt. After I walked the dogs, I went to the bathroom on my way back to bed. An owl distracted me outside the bathroom window. It took me a while to be sure it was my owl, Aunt Kay. The owl had her back to me and she perched on the telephone wire. Her shoulders were hunched forward. A little mama cardinal sat on the wire about a couple of feet away watching. I nervously watched- scared that Aunt Kay was eating the tiny baby bunny I had rescued from Linus’ mouth. Her shoulders were hunched seriously and her manner was pointed and like she was just getting something important done. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Even from the back, I knew this was a scene of death. Small tufts of fur floated to the ground like a whirly bird from an oak tree. I watched quietly and waited for the owl to turn around so I could see if she was my owl or another owl. She never turned for me to see her face. She lifted off the telephone wire and floofed out her big feathers without a sound like she always did. I wondered what sort of sign this could be. Was this ominous? Not really. It felt like truth. I have always told my kids, that animal can’t walk into the grocery store so it has to hunt for his food. We can’t blame predator animals for eating their prey. Aunt Kay was accomplishing a task. She had to eat and maybe feed babies. It wasn’t pretty or feminine and yet it was necessary and more ancient than time. Is the sign that I just need to get shit done? I don’t know. I went back to bed before I could contemplate that anymore.

Sunday and George is on his way to Mississippi. I know— Wait. I thought you said he was in Tennessee being a river raft guide? He has been hatching a plan in his mind for months from a website where you volunteer to work on an organic farm in exchange for opportunity and travel. Someone named Charles outside of Yazoo City has retired and isn’t working his 17 acre organic farm. Charles has moved to Albuquerque during the pandemic to be safer. He wants someone to take over his farm and continue his family’s 100 year old legacy before his birthright is swallowed by GMO corn fields. Charles was flying from Albuquerque to seed something or other and this was a perfect time for George to drive over to Yazoo City to see the family farm a stranger could inherit.

His siblings and I were concerned. Can little Jorgito drive from Atlanta to the Delta alone to meet up with a stranger in the middle of nowhere? Some of us worried about a serial killer’s plot. Some of us worried that G has only had his driver’s license for like a month. I was patting Mim in a state of horror due to her newly developing pica diagnosis. I had already cried too much Thursday night so on Friday night I was trying to stay on the down low with my traumatized self. I listened while his sisters and girlfriend quizzed him about his plans and this mysterious Charles. I couldn’t focus that closely. I was busy trying not to cry. I asked BeBe to do the detective work on Charles outside of Yazoo City who moved to Albuquerque and wants to give away his 17 acre, one hundred year old farm to my eighteen year old son. The girls googled and quizzed and in the end, they were satisfied that George could go if he wanted to.

I got out of the car after the long Sunday afternoon grocery trip upon which I spent $278.00 because Dolly said “we never have anything to eat.” The sweet lemony smell of magnolias floated on the breeze. I unloaded all the grocery bags I could carry and went to the big magnolia across the parking lot. I walked under the canopy about halfway between the trunk and the flowering edge of the branches. I stretched and used my weight to lower the branch with the best bloom. I grabbed the thick stem without touching the flower which would be ruined with bruises if I even grazed a single petal. Magnolias hate to be touched. They bruise as easily as Lizzy’s legs. (Lizzy is George’s girlfriend, BeBe’s friend and Mim’s babysitter. The kids started calling her the replacement daughter. Her fair skin bruises dark purple, blue, to green and then finally to yellow.) I was careful with my magnolia that was going to restore peace, gentility, and harmony to my life and home. I filled a brown root beer bottle and luckily the thick stem slipped into the lip of the bottle. 

This was my second trip to the grocery store. I had gone to the grocery earlier in the day with Mim and Addy. We arrived at the oversized Kroger parking lot and Mim was already bothered about something. She wanted to have another playdate and I wanted to survive the day. I said NO to the playdate and and in my frustration -pointed out that the girl she wanted to invite refused to play and watched TV on their last playdate. Mim called her friend on my phone and I heard Mim say “My mom says you only watch…” I cut her off abruptly. And Mim was furious. Mim knew she was only telling the truth and I was interrupting her life and forbidding a playdate. As we walked past the check out counters to find the makings for hot dogs and hamburgers, Mim sat at the beginning of a check out lane in front of a magazine rack. She pulled up her knees and put her chin down in refusal mode. All the sudden, a tsunami hit my gut. I begged Mim to rise off the floor and come with me to the bathroom. I pleaded. I whispered mommy is having a bathroom emergency. She did not budge. Tears welled up and her glasses fogged. Her mask was making her glasses fog more. She cried looking at me- the worst misunderstanding mom of all time. Addy had wandered to the fruit section to get strawberries for the pound cake I had made that morning. And by wandering off, Addy was attempting to defuse the situation so that it wasn’t two against one. I yelled at Addy in produce, as I hustled to the Kroger bathroom. “Mim won’t move. Check on her please.” I made it to the bathroom in time but all three stalls were occupied. As I waited my turn, I cried. Back into the most giant Kroger. I can’t find Addy or Mim. I am walking to the Cool Whip because we needed it for pound cake and maybe I would find them in the last aisle of the store. Walking toward me is Bethann who I blocked on Facebook after many political tirades. She is our old neighbor- I don’t mean that she is old. She is probably my age, and she is the only woman I know flying a confederate flag in Decatur, GA. I say hello with my head held high and my tears disguised by my mask. She stops me to tell me that she sees Walt picking Mim from school all the time. I smile and listen even though she was hinting that I must be unable to pick up my own child. She has to tell me her oldest is graduating and going to UGA. She has started psychiatric medicine for her newly experienced panic attacks. It is just so much to have a child who is a senior in high school. Blah, blah, blah. And PJ broke his leg so she is having to drive him back and forth to school. I nodded and smiled sweetly under my mask wondering how bad I smelled. I couldn’t find my girls. Luckily, Bethann spotted Mim and Addy and told them where I was. I could see Mim was distraught and Addy was almost pulling her along. Mim was still crying but quietly. While I was losing my mind and my stomach in the bathroom, Mim was wrestling Addy so that she could not run into the parking lot and leave the grocery store. We left the Cool Whip by some dog food and left the store all bedraggled. A police officer and older black women had intervened to settle Mim down and that had the opposite effect. Addy was gutted and exhausted because if you have ever been in a situation like that your adrenalin goes sky high and you are physically and mentally drained. Addy was wiped out and disappointed that she and Mim could not have calmed down. I explained what happened to me and why I was in the bathroom so long. Mim cried and said it was all her fault. Addy and I reassured that we all made mistakes and we all love each other no matter what.

That night as I patted her to sleep, she said she was so sorry for not listening to me. She said she was afraid I was tricking her by saying that I had a bathroom emergency. I explained if I use the word emergency, I am never tricking. We snuggled and hugged and practiced how the word emergency is our important word. I asked her “Does mommy ever trick you?” And she said “No.”

And that is one of the things that I don’t know if people understand. Disabilities in the brain, developmental disabilities, cognitive impairments, intellectual disability, formerly called mental retardation- this disability doesn’t make kids little angels. My twelve year old isn’t really a sweet cute four year old. I can’t treat Mim like a younger child because she isn’t a younger child. Her development is lopsided. She can love My Pretty Pony videos on Youtube and sneak and watch Vampire Diaries five minutes later. People with cognitive impairments can struggle with math, finances, daily chores, reading, writing, speaking, swimming, biking and drawing. Or maybe they are good at some of these and bad at others. But what people don’t understand is that intellectual disability affects relationships. The hardest aspect of our lives is starting and maintaining or ending relationships. Right? So it makes sense that people with developmental disabilities would struggle with relationships. Mim loves her family more than anything in the world and yet she refused to walk to the bathroom with me when I was having an emergency. She fought Addy to get away from her to leave the Kroger when Addy is one of her most favorite people in the whole world. She interrupts BeBe when all she wants is her attention and time. She desperately wants friends her age but when she saw her neighbors playing together she threw her deck of Uno cards at them because she was so disheartened and left out. We hurt the ones we love. And that does not endear people to us, unfortunately.

My brain is overflowing. I am in survival mode. As Walt dropped Mim at the house, he called from his Wrangler, she is doing a lot of pica. We know the term from teaching special education. He mentions the paper. Then he states unabashedly that pica is like all the other eating disorders- so hard to treat. He suggests we come up with a behavior plan. I tell him I’m ignoring the paper. And he nods as he climbs back into his midlife crisis- I mean Jeep.

After the bathroom conversation and seeing her feel shame, I know there is more than paper at issue here. But Walt didn’t have to say the words eating disorder. I know they are hard to treat. I treated Addy’s for over a decade and her eating disorder is still uncontrolled. Don’t fucking insinuate (to use a world from Walt’s vocabulary) that my baby has an eating disorder. I google pica under the Mayo Clinic. I use Mayo Clinic when I google medical stuff because I respect their research and care. The Mayo Clinic put Pica under Eating Disorders. I googled Pica under Vanderbilt- same, under Eating Disorders. I googled Rady’s in San Diego- more eating disorder. I couldn’t find a reliable source to tell me what I wanted to hear so I put away the computer and cried more. I was sucker punched. So I’m walking around living my life muted in a state of dismay. Unable to fully join the humans out here in the world but struggling to maintain a sense of “I can do this” 

I can’t tell anyone what has happened. The shame that my baby eats non edibles. The bigger shame that my youngest is going to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. Eating disorders hurt so bad. I texted my mom because she can hear the unhearable. She loves unconditionally. She says what I know but need to be reassured about- “We knew this would be hard. You do a great job with her.” Raising kids with disabilities is hard. I see so much growth- she eats so politely and neatly. Other than not being able to open packages, she appears without disability when she eats. She greets people like a champ. So friendly and full of funny small talk. She can find a few things in the grocery store that we actually need and put it in the cart. She plays outside our condo with minor supervision. Her academic learning this year of covid has been minimal but she has learned a lot of skills needed in offices like getting on zooms, following online schedules, emailing, and appearing attentive while anything but.

When I rethink the past months, she ate a bite out of the neon eraser she bought at the museum gift shop. She eats the strings out of towels. Hindsight…

*She is not developmentally ready for dividing decimals. She is more of an addition with a calculator kind of girl. Her understanding of the solar system is that Mars has hotels. She is included at school in that she has space in the general ed classroom but the understanding of teachers to include her educational goals into the curriculum varies to disappointing degrees.

**I wrote this a month or so ago. And I wrote with ferocity. I wanted to remember what it was like to be with these beloved humans and to attempt to raise and lift up already raised people while blindsided by a new facet of the hard. Mothering is my favorite work. The nitty gritty mixed in with sublime beauty. I see the disjointed chaos in my writing and I post anyway.

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