Week off

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Last summer we embarked on grandparent camp for the first time. Our children happily went to stay with Seth’s parents in Oregon for two weeks and we were left to fend for ourselves. Our schedules were blissfully free and uncommitted except for the fact that we had to pack up our house and move. We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves for that half a day before the boxes and tape came out to swallow our stuff, our time off. At the end of the two weeks we’d packed, we’d moved. We were roundly exhausted but probably could not have done it without having someone else look after our lovelies. This year when Eliza and Lucille went to grandparent camp we came home to a quiet house and plotted how we’d spend the time without them. Somehow the week started with ambitious intentions and unraveled into reading magazines on the bed and eating from food carts almost every night.

But it was sweet, oh was it sweet.

Day One: Checked phone for texts from grandparents about 20 times before noon. Texted. Then called. Then worried and Googled police reports from the town where we met grandparents for drop off. Reminded myself to chill out. Considered anti-anxiety meds. Checked police reports again. Got in touch with Grandmother who assured us they had been picking fruit at an ideal spot along the John Day River. Took a deep breath. Made a giant To-Do list of every house project in the history of the world. Embarked on a mountain of laundry including all the sheets and duvet covers. Remade beds. Shopped for pillows. Washed outside of car. Ran uphill, literally and on purpose. Met friends out for beers and burgers. Opened a bottle of wine from our wedding a dear friend saved for us for all these years.

Day Two: Googled some noxious concoction that could clean the interior of my car (Dawn dish detergent and hydrogen peroxide). Mixed up a batch and applied to car mats. Sprayed them with the hose to rise and watched red dirt, smoothie remnants and God knows what run off them. Applied to the interior of car. Stood back in amazement, sure my seats had never been cleaner. Ran in the heat and thought about going back to school. Accosted neighbor about this very thing because, you know, she did it and maybe should could give me some advice. Realized she needed to go and reminded myself to talk to another adult before 3pm the next day. Pruned tomatoes. Ate dinner from a food cart at our local brewery. Noticed Seth had shaved funny. Noticed that I noticed Seth. He noticed too. Watched a movie about a tiny house while sitting in our tiny house. Laughed that our tiny house isn’t really that tiny because the people in the movie live in, like, really tiny houses. Dreamed about building a really tiny house and putting it in the pasture in Arlee.

Day Three: Drank coffee on the porch. Ironed a skirt to wear to work. That is a nonfiction statement. Went home for lunch. Scratched dog behind the ears. Sorted through a bowl of mail that dates back to at least 2004. Considered paying bills. Ate a bowl of cereal instead. Thought about making a nice dinner later, resigned myself to find another food cart. Walked back by the folded but not yet put away laundry. Closed the door and went somewhere to write. Sent Lucille a picture of a sunflower. Ate ice cream in bed. Curled into Seth, fell into a deep, deep sleep.

Day Four: We took the day off. Packed a bag to climb a mountain. Arrived at the trailhead, drizzle hanging in the air. Hiked up and up to a hillside covered in bear grass, Indian Paintbrush  and huckleberries. We talked. We listened. Uninterrupted. So blissfully uninterrupted. Sat at the lake under Graywolf Peak. Sipped whiskey. Picked two liters of huckleberries on the way down. Drove to our house in Arlee. Stood in the pasture, the scene of the crime. Looked out on the valley where we got married 10 years ago to the day. Stood there a little longer. Sent a selfie to the kids. Dressed up. Went out for a late dinner. Toasted another 10 years.

Day Five: Woke up sore but relaxed. Told Seth I loved him as he set off for a long drive to go get the children. Had a knot in my throat as he left because it felt as though I might not see him again, really see him, for months. Worked for a few hours then went rafting in the sun. Later, while tidying the house, came across the To-Do list I’d made a few days earlier. Stuffed in the drawer, many boxes unchecked. Read the New Yorker in the last few hours of quiet in our house. Peeled myself off the bed and went grocery shopping at 9:30pm because we had nothing to feed the children and they were coming home. I had to back track several times due to my inefficient, not-on-my-mom game strolling. Prince was on the radio so I never got in a hurry. Arrived home to two little girls who smelled like horses. Snuggled them to sleep. So happy they were home. So sad to see the our week off come to an end.

The things no one tells you

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And on the list of Things No One Tells You About Parenthood, worms should fall just under lice and just before warts. All of these would come after an entire annotated section detailing the realities of birth (and the weeks after) including a full disclosure on tearing, stitches, hemorrhoids and bloody nipples. Forget the idea of a list actually, this work needs to be a tome passed from one new parent to another with a deep analysis of sleep including topics ranging from how to get the baby to go to sleep—who knows—to how to get the eight-year-old to sleep through the night—really…who knows? I will send you money if you will send a trick that works. Sigh…I digress. I’ll write the sleep section to the imaginary guidebook of which I speak as soon as I take a nice, long nap (a few years should do it) and right after I recover from my PTSD around the subject (this may take a little longer).

Anyway, worms.

Lucille went to the bathroom the other day only to make an alarming announcement.

“Mama!” she said from atop the toilet. “There’s a creature in my poo!”

She was delighted at what she saw. Seth and I sat at the kitchen table, each looking at the other. For a full 30 seconds neither of us moved until the grosser-than-you-could-ever-possibly-fathom clause of my motherly contract kicked in and I went to investigate. In the three steps to the bathroom, I hoped against hope for a wayward piece of toilet paper. Some grass in the toilet, perhaps. A spider someone had tried to flush. But this is not what I found.

“See look!” she said.

And there it was. A tiny, white worm the size of a stick pin.

After a few deep breaths I did what any mother would do. I Googled. Pinworms. Easy to diagnose, easy to treat.

“So babe,” I said as Lucille was finishing up going to the potty. Wash your hands really, really well. We’ll go to the doctor tomorrow and get some medicine to kill the worms in your tummy.”

“Oh, but they’re so cute,” she said. “I want to keep them!”

Holy. Hell.

With that, I helped her scrub her little hands and mine too. By this point Eliza was pretty intrigued and even Seth had come into the bathroom to check out what all the fuss was about. Our bathroom is five feet by six feet. I fled for the door. With a grossed out husband and two curious kids, it was getting a little crowded in there.

The next day we landed in the doctor’s office on a worm eradication mission.

“Did you see them,” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” I said and she thankfully believed me so we were able to skip the test I’d read about on the internet having to do with clear tape to a sensitive area, another trip to the doctor’s office and a microscope to detect worms eggs.

With one look the doctor said, “little white, thin worms?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Pinworms,” she said and wrote down the name of an over-the-counter drug we all had to take.

“We don’t usually see these here,” she said. “They usually come up in the Southeast.”

“We just spent two weeks in North Carolina,” I said.

“Oh, that’s totally where she got them,” she said. “Just give her the medicine and in a week give her another dose. That should take care of it.”

We headed straight for the pharmacy.

It is my great hope that we have blitzed these parasites from our lives and I’ve added it to the mental list I have running of the other things we’ve survived as parents: lice, warts, worms, years on end of no sleep, 106 degree fevers. It reminded me that forever and always, this parenthood thing, this toughest job you’ll ever love, is not for the weak at heart. If only we had a how-to book to alert us to the blind curves along the way. I’m going to take a little power nap and dream about that very thing.

 

Perfect ending

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I’m sitting on my cousin’s screened-in porch watching Lucille swim. Lucille swims like a fish. She looks as though she’s drowning but she’s actually a really good swimmer. Eliza, sans a bathing suit top, is splashing around with her.

“It’s just so much more comfortable without a top,” she says. She jumps high, grabs her knees and shouts “stupid rules!” before she disappears into the water.

We are at the end of a two-week vacation to the Carolinas and I can’t help but think this last day by the pool is a perfect ending. My cousin and her partner are the last in a long line of family who have tended us these past few weeks. They’ve fed us, taken us in and watched our children. From clean sheets to biscuits and gravy, my family has taken care of us. I’m lucky that way. I have a good family. Blended and sprawling as it is, they congregate when we come to visit. They rally, they entertain, they bring me to the brink of perspective. And lately I’ve needed a little perspective.

For the past month or so I’ve been a little off and, though I’m trying, I can’t put my finger exactly on why. It’s not all consuming but there is something brewing just under the surface that’s asking for my attention, the only trouble is I don’t know what it is.

But I do know this: Sometimes it feels as though we move from one obligation to the next, that we are caught on a never-ending hamster’s wheel of not-so-satisfying shoulds. We try hard to look up but we are exhausted. Sometimes I feel like this married with children game is rigged.

So I took stock this trip: Is it Seth? No. Our relationship doesn’t always translate into skipping through daisies but 10 years in I don’t want to be skipping or stumbling with anyone else. Is it motherhood? Honestly, I’ve asked myself this question. On the contrary, I find I want to drink them in, slow down time just a bit because they are suddenly lanky and growing more beautiful by the day. Is it work? Well, certainly work is part of it. At least that part is clear.

What comes next is hard, the unraveling of a ball of something that is a little scary. What do I do with this gnawing in my gut? How do I tend to the fire in my belly that isn’t getting a lot of attention, that’s been largely backburnered this year, and still pay the bills? Every time I go down this rabbit hole I think about

Eliza standing at the edge of the pool. Stupid rules.

A few days ago someone commented to Eliza that she should be a veterinarian because she is so tender with animals. She shrugged it off.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked her for the first time ever.

“Ehh, I dunno,” she said.

“Yeah, me either,” I said.

“Mom, you’re already a writer,” she said.

“I guess you’re right kiddo,” I said.

“Well you are,” she said always needing to have the last word. She said it as though it was decided and simple. For one brief moment I let myself believe that was decided, simple, wildly complicated yet totally doable. And maybe that’s what this whole trip has been about, one moment that I’m clawing my way back to.

In slow motion, she moves

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Bless her heart, our little Lucille is as slow as Christmas. At least this is how we would describe her where I’m from. In the South, we’d say she piddles. Ever since she was a toddler I’ve joked that she’ll one day be twirling at the back of a Phish show because she would spin around, look at the sky and never, ever seem to get in a big hurry to do anything.

Not much has changed since then. She still gazes at the sky, she stops, literally, to smell the flowers. When we go on walks she trails behind. I often will look back to see her squatting down talking to a bug or caterpillar on the sidewalk. She’ll pick the critter up, carry it over to me and describe in detail what it was doing when she found it. She’ll wonder out loud where its family might be and ask if we can bring it home and put it in a jar with holes in the lid. She’ll grab a handful of grass to make a “habitat” for it.

If left to her own devices and without a sister up in her grill, Lucille will dink for hours. She’ll create villages out of cardboard boxes, she’ll sing to herself, she’ll use a whole roll of tape to make a magical land out of pencils and a milk carton. When we go somewhere just the two of us she slows me down and a quick trip to the grocery store becomes a meander down the aisles, a stroll through the parking lot.

I once told her she made me go slow. I meant it as a compliment but she took it as criticism.

“It’s not nice to saw someone makes you go slow!” she said.

“I mean it in a nice way,” I said. “I notice more things because you go slower than the rest of us.”

She didn’t seem terribly convinced but it’s true. Seth and I move fast. We always have. It doesn’t mean we can’t stop and smell the roses it’s just that our natural inclination is go quickly. Eliza takes this to a whole new level. She’s a house on fire all the time. She has two speeds: on and off. She moves so fast that I feel like I’m running to keep up with her. I can only imagine how Lucille feels trying to keep up with an older sister that never slows down, rarely dinks and always seems to be one step ahead.

I stopped getting frustrated at Lucille for her slow-motion ways a long time ago. I’ve started to gear down when I see her crouched over a bug on the sidewalk. She’s observant, quiet and contemplative in these moments. Slowing down to a crawl is her way of understanding and coping with this fast-paced world and it think it may be one of her greatest gifts to me because watching her over the years I’ve started to slow down a little too. Even Eliza recognizes that Lucille moves at a different pace and tries to honor it. It comes across in a I-don’t-really-get-it-but-it’s-how-you-roll kind of way but at least she sees the difference in how Lucille moves through the world. Because of Lucille, Eliza will stop for a millisecond to look at a caterpillar. We all will and I’m not sure any of us would if it weren’t for our little dinker showing us the way.

Mischief managed

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I am living with witches.

They are little and cute but wand-wielding nonetheless.

They speak in spells, they wander around in robes, they are powerful and benign all at once.

We’ve caught the Harry Potters in our house, a disease that is epidemic and all consuming.

Harry, Ron and Hermione are like members of the family as Lucille and Eliza recount and reenact scenes in the first four movies.

“Wands at the ready!” Lucille says and Eliza puts her wand to her face ready for the duel scene with Harry and Malfoy from book two or as we say in our house, the second.

There is also the scene from the first when Harry and Ron first meet Hermione.

“I’m Hermione Granger…and you are…?” Eliza says to Lucille.

“I’m Ron, Ron Weasley,” Lucille says.

Then there is the scene from the second where Ron’s mom, Molly, send him a howler.

“Ronald Weasley! I’m absolutely disgusted with you!” Lucille says in her best British accent and Eliza laughs at her inflection because it is spot on.

I joke that I will send them a howler to school if they do not start to pick up their shoes, flush the toilet, eat their lunches. They are a little intrigued and I secretly wish I possessed the power to actually conjure such a trick. Then they remember I’m muggle-born and they move on wishing it just wasn’t so.

On a recent trip to Asheville, N.C. Lucille strolled the streets wand in hand while wearing her Gryffindor robes and tie. It was her birthday, these things her birthday gifts. Asheville has its share of wizardry so it was no surprise that nearly everyone that passed us smiled a knowing smile at our own little Hermione.

“No magic outside of Hogwarts!” one woman called across the street.

“I have an outfit just like that!” another said.

We got several “cute little witch” comments and we even ran into people the next day who said they had seen Lucille walking the streets the day prior. She caused quite a stir. Eliza, also with wand in hand, cast spells right beside her sister to make for a magical birthday. It didn’t hurt that when we rounded a corner in Asheville on our second day there, Eliza spotted a double-decker bus turned coffee shop. She was insistent that we visit the bus and I, totally clueless, didn’t quite realize why it was so important.

“We’ll go tomorrow,” I said.

“No mom, we have to go tonight,” she said. “It’s the knight bus!”

Right. The Knight bus. From the third. The bus picks Harry up after he’s had enough of the Dursleys. How could I be so dense? They quickly scampered up the stairs of the knight bus and found a seat at the front. They used their time turner to take them back to the night Harry needed help and off they went into their collective imaginations.

These days our daughters see everything through this lens of magic. They cast spells on each other, inanimate objects, on us. Impedimenta, petrificus totalus and wingardium laviosa. Most of the time they are caught up in story, in play, in a fictitious world or witchcraft and wizardry, of magical creatures and secret potions. And, honestly, we’ve gotten a little caught up in it too.

“Flushicus toileticus!” Seth said the other day. “It’s a magic spell to flush the toilet!”

Lucille giggled with delight.

“Braincus repario!” he said to Imogene, our very cute but not-so-bright yellow lab.

Neither of these spells actually worked to flush the toilet or make our dog any smarter but the casting of spells, well, it’s kind of fun.

I’ve been practicing the swish and flick of my wand. Eliza has been giving me tips, my flick is improving every time, she says.

We could all use a little more magic and watching our girls I find I’m carried along right with them. A candy store has become Honeydukes, a cobblestone path in Columbia, S.C. has become Diagon Alley.  In honor of Fred and George Weasley, the precocious twin brothers of Ron Weasley, our family motto has become I solemnly swear I’m up to no good. When I hear Lucille say this complete with sloemnly for solemnly, it is magical, magical indeed.

Can Do Court

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The other night Eliza asked me to tell her a story about when I was a kid.

“Well at one point I lived on Can Do Court with my dad and my uncle. My uncle rode a motorcycle and had a white poodle named Spam,” I said.

“No,” she said. “Tell me a true story…”

I laughed because while I realized this story was a bit unorthodox it was, in fact, true. My childhood was dotted with characters and, at the time, my uncle was one of them. Along with the motorcycle he also had a wood paneled station wagon. We’d put the poodle in the back and drive all over. In summers we went to the driving range and he’d let me drive the golf cart. I was 8, he was in his early 20s. We were a pair. When he rode me on his motorcycle, I’d wear one of his helmets. Each time he’d start off I’d ram into the back of him, helmet first. This was after I got too big to ride on the gas tank. He was s teacher and we were on the same schedule. He took me to school after my dad had gone to work and he arrived just after I did from school.

When my mom and dad split, my dad needed help and my uncle needed a place to live other than my grandmother’s basement. He was my live-in manny. He loved to cook and he usually made a big mess when he did. He called me kid and Spam was a member of the family. He was a scrappy stray turned fixture in our house and he went everywhere with my uncle and me.

Every time I tell this story I usually get concerned looks from whomever I’m talking to. Their eyes ask if this story ends well, or is there some Appalachian twist no one ever talks about. The answer is a resounding no. My uncle moved with us, he took care of me and his dog. He played golf, I drove the cart. He rented Grease II at least 941 times. He was a good man, he is a good man. He came in when I needed him and he moved out when he met the woman who would become his wife.

The other day I saw him and his wife. They’ve been married 28 years now.

“This is him Eliza,” I said. “My uncle with the motorcycle and the dog named Spam.”

“Him?” she said. I’m not sure what she was expecting. My uncle wears little round glasses, he’s a highly thought of elementary school principal and father of two grown men. I got to have breakfast with one of his sons and his young wife a few days later. I told him a few stories of his father, stories he’d never heard.

My daughters may never be able to start a sentence with when I was a kid I lived on Can Do Court with my dad, my mom’s brother and his white poodle named Spam but I hope they will know people who will love them deeply and be as kind to them as my uncle was to me.

We exist beyond you

photoThe other day Eliza was, for lack of a better word, badgering me about buying a journal. She really wanted a leather one she’d seen and couldn’t I just buy it for her, please. It was only $30. I tried to explain that $30 for a leather journal seemed like a lot of money to me.

“Why do you want leather?” I asked.

“I just like it,” she said. “I like the way it looks.”

“Couldn’t you just get one with a paper cover, it would cost a lot less,” I told her.

“I really want leather,” she said. “Like yours.”

I have a journal that I bought nine years ago for me and Seth to write in over the years when we were moved to do so. I gave it to him for our first anniversary with the thought that we could somehow document our lives together. It doesn’t have as many entries as I might have thought after 10 years of marriage but it does have some and when I read them I can place us exactly in that time. This was the point.

Recently, Eliza found this journal and she’s treating it like contraband.

“What’s in it?” she asks. “Secrets? Is it private? Why won’t you read it to me? Why can’t I read it? Why can’t I write in it, there are so many blank pages?”

“It’s personal,” I said. “It’s between me and daddy.”

She really didn’t like that answer.

I wrestled with why I was being so adamant about why I didn’t want her to play with it. I felt a little like a two-year-old. It’s mine! It’s ours! It’s not yours! And, in the end, that’s kind of what it came down to. I fumbled and stammered. I was completely inarticulate. These things are hard to explain to a seven-year-old.

How do you say to her, we had a life before you. We know each other in ways that you won’t understand, that you can’t understand. You are the center of our world, truly you are. We share everything, almost, with you. But this, this little book wrapped closed with a leather strap is a series of moments between us, for us.  We existed before you. We exist beyond you.

I didn’t say any of these things to her. I just stuck with my vague no and told her we could look for a less expensive journal that she could buy with her own money. She was momentarily satisfied. I tucked the journal away hoping she would forget about it for a little while and made a mental note to write in it more often.

Reading is sexy

The other night as I was going to bed I searched through my stack of reading possibilities only to discover that I had read them all. I’d read all of the interesting (to me) articles in a handful of New Yorkers, I’d looked at all the interesting pictures in National Geographic. I’d even read all of the Sun magazines lying around. The ones I’d saved for rainy days, for years. I’d also read two or three books recently and I was at a loss for what to start next. I looked at the shelf above my bed and realized I didn’t have many unread options. I looked over at the shelf above Seth’s side and quickly turned away. I can barely make sense of the titles of most of the books Seth owns much less even think of getting through the first chapter. I have no real interest in reading The Colonizer and the Colonized or The Mass Psychology of Fascism so I moved on from his shelf and decided to read a cookbook instead.

As I flipped through the pages of the canning in small batches book I got for Christmas, I realized I might have hit a milestone. Could it actually be true that I have time to read? What? When did that happen? Are my children actually old enough that my night hours are not claimed by waking children, hungry children or children in need of a little mama time at 3a.m.? Could it possibly be that I might be able to enter a bookstore and actually purchase a book that I might actually read within the next year. A book without pictures? It was a little earthshattering, this revelation.

There was a time when I didn’t dare borrow a book from the library because I knew I would never finish it by the time it would be due back. There was a time magazines stacked up beside my bed so fast that I would give them away before I had time to finish them. There was a time I considered a New Yorker “read” if I’d read all of the cartoons. It seems, at least for now, that time has passed.

My children love to go to Barnes & Noble. As a huge advocate of local bookstores I cringe a little but Barnes & Noble has a great children’s section and, really, if they are asking to go to a bookstore afterschool, I’m not going to argue about it. So we find ourselves there sometimes and it now has a whole new meaning for me. Row after row of possibility.

A few weeks ago we went to buy Eliza a journal and after choosing the one she wanted we headed back to the children’s section. Lucky for me, the children’s section is right beside the biography section which is where most memoir/narrative nonfiction lands in Barnes & Noble. And that, friends, is my happy place. Every few minutes I’d peek around the corner to make sure Eliza and Lucille were not redecorating the children’s section as I read flap after back cover on all kinds of books. Eventually, the girls had to pull me away.

Somehow this tiny step feels like a big move toward something that is just about me and those are so rare that I’m going to savor it one page at a time.

Go Mad

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A little while back a friend coaxed me into going to a Mad Men party for a very worthwhile organization in town. Go Mad! was the tagline on all their promotional materials and I thought a dress up party would be kind of fun.

I’ve watched enough Mad Men to know who my true token character is, the one I most resemble, but I went through a few weeks of denial before I truly admitted it to myself.

At first, I pictured wearing an A-line dress with a crinoline underneath. Red nails. Pearls. I looked online for something cheap that would fit the bill but waivered too long and missed the shipping deadline that would have gotten the dress here in time. I waited, I think, for a reason. But my week with Betty was filled with thoughts of big curls, matching jewelry and a long cigarette as my one prop. I thought about Betty’s moody-mean side and how I might say, “I’m a housewife” with a sly smile.

When the possibility of finding a perfect Betty dress passed, I moved onto Joan. Could I wear something meant for a curvy body? Could I find a long gold chain with a gold pen at the end to dangle between my boobs? Wait. I don’t have any boobs. And like that the idea of Joan slipped away and smoothly as she glides down the hallway, past all the men that know she’s smarter than they are.

Then at 3p.m. the day before the party, I finally got myself to the costume shop. Every idea I had tried involved some bad version of a dress I already owned. My waist isn’t as small as it used to be and a few things in my closet didn’t fit quite right. So I took both daughters to the costume store with me to try and figure out something, anything to wear.

Lucille thought she had found heaven on earth. Flapper dresses, long white gloves, feather boas. The costume shop was a place of deep exploration and she pulled outfit after outfit off the hanger to try on. I had to convince her that a hot pink fringe dress was actually for grown ups and I’m not sure she believes me yet. Eliza suffered, as I did, through this experience and helped me pick up all the clothes Lucille tried on. We left empty handed. I was little overwhelmed.

On our way home, in a last ditch effort, we stopped at the thrift store. I saw a belt that could make one of my own dresses passable. As I was pulling it off the hook and willing Lucille to stop chasing Eliza who was rolling around the furniture section in a wheelchair, I saw the perfect dress hanging on the dressing room door. It was a vintage 1960s polyester situation with an A-line skirt to just below the knee. It had long sleeves and a high neck. It was perfect. Perfectly Peggy.

I tried it on and it fit like a glove. It was only then that I owned up the fact that I’m no Barbie doll Betty, I’m no sexy Joan. I’m diligent. I’m creative. I’m a writer. I bought the dress and decided to embrace my inner Peggy.

Conforming

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When your gender nonconforming child slowly begins to conform it’s a little alarming. She starts by wearing her sister’s clothes at home. And brushing her wild hair. She wears light gray skinny jeans and high tops. She threads the needle between boy and girl so well that you kind of forget the times in kindergarten when she asked for a penis as though it was something you could go pick up off the shelf at the local supermarket. She slowly plays with the girls in her class, the ones she’s roundly ignored for the last three years. She loves the movie Frozen. You barley even remembered to ask if she wanted to go when you took your other daughter because you thought your gender nonconforming one would turn up her nose, say it was for girls, that she’d rather be home playing with her bow and arrow. She sings, full heart, like Elsa in that movie and you wonder, just a little, what is going on with her.

She asks to go shopping for clothes. You suggest the places that have worked in the past, the places where she likes the clothes in the boys department. She says no. Those clothes don’t work for her anymore. You ask what kind of clothes she’s interested in. She says, “the kind teenager girls wear.”  You are not sure you follow. You move between these departments on a sunny day in spring and she chooses black yoga pants, striped long sleeve T-shirts and a fake pair of Ugg boots. For the first time in nearly five years it looks as though you have two daughters when you pull the clothes out of the shopping bags.

You go to one last store. She asks for a dress. The anxiety rises in your throat because now you are really wondering what the hell is going on. She says she’ll wear it. She asks to try it on. Your husband takes her to the dressing room. He comes back, says it fits and he thinks you should get it. It will fit her younger sister, too, he says, just in case your gender nonconforming child changes her mind on the way home.  We support her no matter what, he says. He’s almost a therapist. So you listen. Though the burning in your chest doesn’t go away. Especially when you see her in the dress. She’s dressing in drag, you think, but you keep it to yourself. You tell her she looks lovely.

She wears it out to play in the backyard in mud, in spring. You tell her that it might be best not to wear her school clothes out to play. She says, “I’m not wearing this dress to school, mom. I’m not there yet.” You are a little relieved. You need to take baby steps with this. Evidently so does she. But you still wonder if she’s not “there” and she’s not where you thought she was either, where exactly is she. She’s on the spectrum of gender, remember? Yes. You remember. You breathe a little. You trust her. You know she’s treading lightly on the landscape of girl. She needs you. Don’t forget that. Even if she’s not fitting into any of the boxes you’ve created for her. And, that, you suppose is the point. Gender nonconforming. It can be a box too. Don’t limit her choices, she’s saying. Don’t fence her in.

You keep trying. So does she. You fold her yoga pants and tuck them into her drawer with her button down shirt, tie, and suit jacket. She wears boxer briefs under her dress. She knows who she is. She knows where she’s going. You find comfort in this and follow her blindly because, really, what else is there to do.

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