Thursday, August 2, 2018

All the Feelings

This summer is barreling toward an end. Last week was one fun thing after another--dinner at a friends house! Friends visiting us! Family visiting us! Family reunion in Indiana! And this week is supposed to be a shift back into real life, but the transition away from All Fun All The Time has all of us feeling a little out of sorts.

(Also, Coco slept until 9am today which... does not bode super well for school starting in something like 10 DAYS).

So I'm having all the feelings. Nostalgia about summer and lazy mornings and making coffee and listening to the girls' chatter and having finally trained them to clear their dishes after they eat. I'll miss sitting outside while Clementine romps through the yard and watching the girls draw with sidewalk chalk or ride in circles on their scooters or play in the sandbox until Clem joins them and digs so much that sand is flying.

I'll miss days like today, when nothing is on schedule except an errand to the post office and a trip to the library and time feels long and lazy and I just have to decide what's for lunch.

But yesterday was a wicked behavior day--the most attitude and ugliness I've gotten from Zuzu all summer, over things like not buying a 60 pack of popsicles at the grocery store and then not letting her have a popsicle shortly before friends were coming to our house for the VERY PURPOSE of eating popsicles with us.

Yesterday was the day that I was like, "Well, I think I am ready for some adult time. And for some other adult to get paid not enough money to deal with your behavior."

We had friends over last night whose kids go to the same school as Zuzu, although both their kids will be second graders. (You know, the grade Eliza would be in...) I asked them to come over so the kids could play and I could find out a little more about the school and the after school program and the teachers. It was helpful to talk to them, and I'm grateful to know that our neighbors use the after school program also. Even though these kiddos aren't in the same grade, I hope Zuzu gets some comfort from knowing a couple of kiddos at the school. She's pretty excited about it. She says, "I'm nervous, but I'll make friends."

First grade is giving me ALL THE FEELINGS. I worry about whether her summer birthday will put her behind others in class--emotionally, academically, physically. I worry about whether she'll make friends or feel left out because other children will know each other from kindergarten. I worry that the transition from the project-oriented and child-directed approach at Montessori to a traditional academic environment will be difficult or straining or stifling. I worry that she'll talk baby talk the way she does when she's shy. I worry that she'll tell the teacher she can't read even though she can (like how she told her doctor at our check up appointment that she likes to swim and also to sleep--the biggest lie she's ever told, I'd say. And said she likes to eat cake and cupcakes and she doesn't really eat fruit. SHE EATS FRUIT WITH LITERALLY EVERY MEAL.) I worry that she'll have trouble making friends or someone will make fun of her. I worry that she'll feel shy and won't talk to anyone. Oh. And I worry that a man with a gun will come into the school and shoot everybody.

Last night I had an anxiety dream that included the girls getting into a car accident on their way home from college, so that tells you something about the speed with which time seems to be passing.

My tiny baby Coco, my peanut, my little nugget, is suddenly getting long legs and arms and losing her pudginess and I don't even know what to do with that! (She's still kinda teensy, measuring in the twenty-fifth percentile for both height and weight, but she's growing!). She'll be at her preschool for two more years, and she's just getting braver and bolder and smarter every time I turn around. My mom got her a birthday shirt that says "Four and Fearless" and she asks every day if she can wear it, but we have five more days until she's really four. FOUR!

Yesterday when things were really bad with Zuzu and I was having to remind myself to be the adult, I salvaged the day by busting out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. She knows HP by reputation only and she's been asking me to read HP books to her since before she started kindergarten. I kept saying she wasn't ready--too scary, and I wasn't sure it would hold her interest.

But yesterday afternoon, we started reading.

(Coco asked us skeptically this morning why we were reading a book that didn't have any pictures. She hangs out in the room with us but plays with toys while we read.)

The Harry Potter books were the first things I read after Eliza died. Re-read, actually--I'd already read them all. Reading is my thing--entertainment, information, refuge, escape, delight. My friend Michelle and I plotted out our book club's reading list and we were both positively giddy over it. But after Eliza died, my capacity for concentration was basically nonexistent. I didn't know how I'd ever go back to vapid novels that were about nothing remotely important or related to my life. So I read Harry Potter--starting with book 4, when it gets dark. I needed life and death. I needed good and evil. I needed magical thinking and a world completely separated from the Muggle hell in which I was living.

In Book I, the first chapter is called "The Boy Who Lived." If you're not familiar with Harry Potter's story, you find out in the first chapter that his parents died and he lived and no one knows why the curse that killed his parents didn't work on him.

You find out later that his mother died trying to save him, and that the pure love of her sacrifice was essentially a magical charm of protection. It was a tragedy, to be certain, but it was one that made narrative sense. This was the way things worked. No one was writing a story about a wizard baby who died and how his parents had to limp along and figure out how and why to go on living without him.

As I grieved for baby Eliza and two year old Eliza and kindergarten Eliza, I also grieved my dream of sharing Harry Potter with Eliza. I wanted to live that magic with her. I wanted to share the books with her and tell her about the time the last book was released and how I read it in literally 24 hours because I cleared my entire schedule and stayed up late and then went to a release party with friends at a swanky house in the Central West End where one of my friends was house sitting and we ate and sat around and talked about whether we found the final book satisfying and whether things had happened the way we expected and what characters we liked or didn't and just basically nerded out over the whole thing. After years of analyzing and criticizing literature as work in graduate school, to just be a fan of Harry Potter was so relaxing and so much fun. And it didn't matter that we were too old and super dorky because we weren't trying to impress anyone. We were all wishing that we'd gotten a Hogwarts letter at age 11.

So I mourned Harry Potter and the lost opportunity to share those books--and every book I'd loved--with my daughter.

In March of that year, David and I went to Florida to see spring training games and the newly opened Harry Potter World.

It was brilliant. We drank butter beer and did the rides that made it feel like we were truly in the castle. I stopped short of buying a wand at Ollivander's, but I wanted one. I enjoyed it so much, but I was also four months into the deepest grief and missing my girl so much that I could have burned Harry Potter World to the ground if it meant I could just be at home hanging out with my baby.

It was just before that trip when we went to the theater to see the final film and somehow during the movie all the power went out and we were plunged into the super dark darkness of an interior room that's already designed to be dark. People in the theater giggled nervously and someone made a joke about death eaters and then the power came back on. I sat there thinking that the blackness had felt like a kind of relief--the outside world suddenly matched my insides, where there didn't feel like there was any light at all.

And now I'm coming back to Harry Potter with Zuzu. I'm realizing that my hesitation was partly to do with her being ready for the books--she's still that kid who gets super nervous about "scary" movies--but it was also about everything the books meant for me. Stories of heartache and loss and death and carrying on and finding happiness and finding meaning.

For a long time I told Zuzu the books were too scary for her, and now she keeps asking after each chapter when we're going to get to the scary parts. I look at how tall she is, how she's grown out her bangs, how she sometimes surprises me with her capabilities, how she acted like such a big girl playing with her little cousins, how she's going to be a first grader this year with real school supplies and a backpack she picked out on her own that is nothing like what I would have chosen for her. She'll make new friends and she'll have new struggles and she'll have this whole life apart from me--a life that includes problems I can't fix and situations in which I won't always be able to keep her safe. And I know that's the whole point of it and I'm thrilled that we're here and I know she's going to be amazing! As I tell her frequently, I'm so glad she was born to me and I get to be her mom.

So when she asks me when we'll get to the scary parts, I just want to pull her onto my lap and squeeze her tight and kiss her soft cheeks and say, "Never."

But I think the truth is that we're already there.

P.S. A post written about HP in December of 2010. Oof.

Pictures of me at HP world!


  1. I read the first Harry Potter book to my son the summer before he started kindergarten. One day he mentioned he was worried about how much he would miss me when he started school.
    I said "oh buddy! It's not like Hogwarts. You'll come home every afternoon!" He replied, "ok, good. Because I think I'm just a muggle." 😄

  2. So interesting, the only books I could manage to read in the first few months after Evelyn's death were the HP series. I've re-read them several times but they definitely took on new significance following her passing. Like you, I couldn't concentrate. Reading is my refuge and those books were such a saving grace. I didn't need to pay as much attention because I'd already read them and knew the storyline by heart. They felt comfortable and safe. I'm glad they were a lifeline for you, too.

  3. I’m so glad you’re getting to introduce your daughter to HP. Seeing so many posts for JK Rowling’s birthday made me just love the excitement and joy HP brings to people - often during our own dark times.

    Also, I wish I got you a wand. There was this cute shop in Oxford city center with SO many wands, specific to characters I didn’t even remember. So awesome. But yeah, what would you do with that ?!

    1. I know that store!! In my dream world we'll go back to buy one there when my kids want one more than anything. (Also, I love that I know the store you're talking about. Can picture it still, so clearly!)

  4. So excited you're finally getting to read HP with your girls! I definitely grieved not getting to share Harry Potter and all my other favorites with Alana - one of the first books I bought her was this gorgeous special edition of The Secret Garden with the ribbon bookmark and everything. So when I discovered they'd FINALLY come out with some gorgeous (illustrated!!) special editions of HP I couldn't help myself and bought it for my son for his 3rd birthday. Way too young, but I piqued his interest by showing him some movie clips as we progressed through the book (which I'm shocked didn't scare the shit out of him, considering this is a child who *whimpered through Aladdin*) and he enjoyed it enough to request Book 2, which we just finished this week. I think, as you said in your older post, they send a beautiful message about remaining close to loved ones who've died and them never being far, and I think that's a very comforting thought for children like ours who are trying to process the death of an older sister they never met but who is still very much an active part of our family. I hope Zuzu loves them and finds meaning in them as well. <3

  5. So sweet to see your girls growing up, they're so smart and adorable. I'm so jealous of your Mom. She's a lucky lady.

  6. Okay, so, possibly a sign of my age...I've never read Harry Potter. I read the first one. Most of the first one. Actually I don't remember how much of it I read. I was in the heady throes of the first years of my career, deep into the head games accompanying a certain serious romance, Thursday nights with my closest friends watching NBC's Thursday night line up (rules were no talking during F*R*I*E*N*D*S or ER, and lots of junk food). Similar to how I just skipped over Shaun Cassidy and learning PowerPoint at key pop-culture/tech points, I skipped over the whole Harry Potter thing. The books I couldn't wait to share with my kids were The Boxcar Children, Laura Ingalls, Charlotte's Web and Where The Red Fern Grows. Beverly Clearly and Judy Blume. Old classics and new. Except "new" for me is still considered old, I think! But I love how you described all this, and it's A-mazing to me that Zuzu is old enough already.

    I suspect Eliza is listening, too.