The darkness floated in. Just family sitting in camping chairs next to Mesissa’s RV. It was sunny a minute ago. I could watch grass long enough to sway. Old Hickory Lake was flat and deceptively safe unless a pontoon boat interrupted the glass and sent its’ ruffles at least three football fields to our campsite. The beauty of the day was a lovely photograph kept as a bookmark to be seen often. The beginning of July, a summery buttery day and there was no need for Mim’s anxiety to act as a lousy speed boat disrupting our calm waters. I don’t know who was driving her boat- they had too many PBR’s and I had forgotten to wear a mildewed orange life jacket.
I carefully chose my camping chair- a lovely invention of strength and rockability. I grew up not caring about sturdiness of chairs. I could perch on a knee or sit in a child size Wal-Mart number but now at forty nine, I choose what chair I need. My chubbiness doesn’t bother me all the time but being stuck in a chair and unable to stand or worse toppling over, sucks. I’m in a non judgement crowd, but I recognize that they save me a good chair. My Aunt Mopsy is a generation older than me but she is able to perch and sit carefree. The word lithe is a good visual for Mopsy. My cousin Mesissa is younger than me. Her husband Kelly is older than me. I had children so young that now I straddle generations. I am neither a grandma or a mommy. My name is still Mama but it is called less and less. I feel gravity leaning me into Mopsy when I was so firmly in Mesissa’s camp my whole life. Mopsy has always floated back and forth between the old and young. She is the youngest girl of her generation- barely a kindergartener before she was an Aunt. She flies easily from one perch to another, welcome everywhere. But perching can be unsettling. I don’t know if Mops cares because she has always been my cool Aunt. I never asked her if she preferred to perch or relax. Mesissa is the little cousin that I carried around pretending to be her mama- she was so much better than my baby dolls. And now she is the mom.
Mesissa and Kelly are firmly in the throes of the exhaustion parenting stage- a two year old and a five year old. And I am in the emergency room parenting stage. Remember when George Clooney and Goose from Top Gun were on the tv show ER? One of those wise tv characters explained that the ER is like feast or famine. There is either a huge trauma and patients everywhere need STAT and all kinds of tubes and blood or there is the lull where the docs goof off and flirt with each other, maybe even have sex in the broom closet. Parenting Mim and my five other full height people is similar- I’m either on high alert or on a raft floating in a calm ocean. I am aware that stingrays and jelly fish are out there. Bad guys and credit card companies are sharks. Eating disorders, immune deficiencies and the high price of car isurance circle my loves. I am aware that calm waters sometimes bely rip currents. I trust that I am a strong swimmer and so are my children and yet, humans drown in much smaller bodies of water everyday. The older five text and call with an occasional SOS. I answer and listen but I can’t fix their problems. Their lives are their own. Well, to different degrees- Dolly is a senior in high school and George is only 19. But Addy is 24 and engaged. Tuck is 23 and on his own in CA. BeBe is almost 22 and just returned from a summer in Brooklyn.
(Mim loves to keep me on high alert. She just appeared from her room next to my computer thrusting my phone in my face. My phone- her vice- updated during the night. Fuck you Apple. And now requires a pass code. I was in a hurry and I chose 11111. Mim is angry that I slowed down her consumption of the wasteland. I rise and thrust calmness back in her face. My clear eyes. My slow breath. My purposeful lowered voice. “Mim I can explain.” I am lucky this time. I got her one split second from her volcanic eruption. BeBe offered to get rid of the passcode. Mim had already put in my brilliant code and was gone. I return to the computer, my heart seized up. This feeling will subside.)
Mopsy and I have more in common that I realized. She has three long married sisters. I have two. We are loved by the younger generation. We can entertain a dozen children and we can tell stories to make the adults roll with the kind of laughter that ends in wheezing. Everyone remembers we are the divorced ones of this Catholic family. “Oh no, I don’t mind sitting at the kids’ table.” Granted it is much better than being the gay one. But it still hurts. When my daddy died that is what hurt me the worst. He died when I was the mess of the family. Divorced. Struggling. No money in my bank account. I had always been the majorly capable one. Proud. Confident. Not accepting help. (I should EMDR that trauma. Next session.)
Do you have one of those tall fig trees that everyone have to have on Pinterest? I do. It is glorious. I killed the first one. It was so healthy. But I love to rearrange furniture. I moved my healthy five foot tall fig tree from the front picture window to back by the french doors and it died. I watered it the same. I loved it the same. I learned that they do not like changing positions. When my daddy was dying, my leaves were turning brown, my roots shriveling. I hated being in this new family position. The divorced one. I am close to certain he sees me from some sort of heaven. More capable on my own. He knows I’m good but I still hate that I was the one to worry about, damaged.
I posted in two separate Facebook groups that I wanted to expand my photography portfolio. I offered free documentary photography sessions so that I could use the images on my soon to be built website. The first group was the single moms and they volunteered- I have two beautiful sessions with moms and their children. The second group was families who have a child with a disability. Again moms volunteered. But this time, they had to check with their husbands. One husband said no. His wife had been so excited. She withdrew her reservation.
I am so relieved that I am done checking with a man. A decade ago, I thought I had a wonderful husband who I never had to “check with” – he treated me as his equal. He was a feminist. I was proud of my marriage. Unbeknownst to me my feminist husband was cheating on me for seven years. While married, I had checked lots of my opinions, thoughts and wishes. My mind had become a prison of a coat check. Will he hate this? I shouldn’t cut my hair. He likes it long. I can’t buy comfortable shoes. He will disapprove. I draped myself in a mink. I was having constant hot flashes knowing this fur did not belong on me. I had fooled myself. Fooled myself so good. I believed my marriage was good. My dad sees me releasing these sad assumptions and fears. The years after my divorce are healing. I remind myself often I am not disappointing. The fur coat was burned to ashes. I would rather be naked than wear that pelt. I won’t be second guessing myself. I’m not damaged.
We sat in the camping chairs. The kids had kid sized camping chairs. Mopsy held her granddaughter. I patted Mim in my camping chair. Maybe she will never get too old or too big for our pattings. Conversations bounced around and Mim settled on a new one. It starts “I don’t trust you, Mom.” She uses words like never and hate and liar. All hard to take words. I can mostly handle these words but tonight in the darkness with no escape in an RV, her vocabulary sliced. Nearby water lapped as boat lights skimmed the water. Mim is angry that I did not take her to her birth mom’s funeral in New York four years ago. I’m not sure why this is coming up now. I remain steady. I attempt to soothe. I describe our own service that we had in our back yard and she remembers the music and lasagna Lovey brought. She doesn’t remember Walt and I deciding that flying up there for the service was not in her best interest. Her birth mom is from India and not all of her family of origin knows about her. There was short notice. Mim’s refusal to fly. And other factors that could be blamed. After a wonderful day of pancakes, swimming in a lake, buying tarot cards and building a fort with fallen branches, Mim has decided I am lying and I never told her about the New York funeral. She was inconsolable for longer than usual. My heart hurt in its’ frantic search through this deep darkness. Our last visit with her birth mom had been fraught and jarring. And now because of death being Oh so final, Mim has no access to her birth mom. This absence. This unseen drop off in the deepest part of the lake. Where the water gets black. No one can see the bottom. It could be the deepest underwater cave. I don’t want to go down that deep in the darkness. Mim has a way of doing that to a seasoned mama. Staying in the deep end of a tough stage of development for way too long. Taking me to the edge of my understanding of life and challenging every gasp for air. Was it hard for you to potty train your child? Try doing that for 9 years. Was it hard to watch your toddler upset because they couldn’t communicate their wants? Sometimes that lasts a lifetime. With periods/puberty looming in her future and schedules off because of Covid and summer, and her siblings all over the country, I am lost. Missing the compass I can usually unearth from under the dirty laundry, I can’t find my way. I’m not damaged. I’m not a sinking ship. This is just fucking hard. Uncharted waters.
Who cares if she calls me a liar. Who cares if she says she hates me. Who cares if she yells that she can’t trust me. I want her heart whole. I want her to know she is loved. She is mine. I am hers. Does she understand this forever? What if her adoption breaks her heart? What if she suffers and fears rejection? What if all my love can’t soothe this wound here in the dark next to the RV? I see the hurt in Mopsy and Mesissa’s eyes for Mim. For me. They would intervene if they could.
Children ask her is that your real mom?- as they point at me. I answer, I’m her real mom. As we escape their gaze, Mim whispers “You are my real mom?”
I feel like your real mom. I love you. I take care of you. You were in Moona’s belly But you and I are family forever.
So Moona isn’t my real mom.
Moona is your tummy mom, Your birth mom.
You are my real mom?
I’m your mama, Mim. I love you forever and ever. You are stuck with me. We are family.
I love you so much mama. Do you promise to always take care of me?
That’s right. I will do my very very best to keep you safe every day of your life.
I adjust my hips, push myself out of the camping chair. I follow her up three metal steps in the RV as she cries and yells. The screen locks into place and I duck through the light where the beetles wait to follow us. I offer to hold her, to hug her. She swats violently and fretfully at bugs some real and some imagined. Her little system has been stretched to its’ limit today. Wet grass, thicker grains of sand, coupled up black moths, unpredictable fireworks, and shiny diesel trucks pulling trailered wave runners. I beg her- Let me pat you. She pushes me away. I am aware that even though this hurt is sincere and real -that it has been a long summer day. Our bedtimes have past. Our routines are unavailable away from home. I know all of this makes her reaction and her passion more intense. I breathe deep. I wait. I imagined fireside chats with my cousin and my aunt, but this isn’t the season. Tears stay near my eyes. Barely staining my cheeks. My throat tight and straining. I want her to let me love her. As our kids get older, their pains grow larger. Bandaids and blankeys won’t do. I wait for her to let this melt down pass. I hide impatience. I want her to remember my unfailing love outweighs the tragedy of adoption. The space between us hurts.
She yells one more time. Take me back to my real home.
We are going home tomorrow, honey.
No. Back to New York City. My real home. Like Rachel Berry. So I can be famous.
She screams through whopping tears.
Are you talking about Glee right now? Rachel Berry on Glee?
Glee isn’t real. Rachel Berry is an actress. Exasperation seeps into my voice.
I see her eyes roll at me like the actresses on Glee and I know that we are almost safely to shore. One more storm navigated. The meltdown is subsiding. Thank God we survived that one. Mercy on me, Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary and peanut butter and jelly. Unbelievable. Rachel Berry?
As we settle and wrestle pull ups and pjs instead of each other. In the dark, we sink onto our mattress in the main room of the RV. The coffee pot beeps steadily announcing a misapplied alarm. I whisper while she lies in my arms wigglng and itching bug bites- Why do you think you were talking about not trusting me? I think you do trust me. We trust each other, right?
I was making conversation like Ms Jeffries taught me.
Your speech therapist?
Good night, baby. I love you.