Katie, Aug 2010
Katie stopped and sat down on the stairs on the way down to breakfast – never a good thing on a school day morning. There’s just enough time for eating, toileting, dressing, tooth brushing, medicine taking, vitamin picking (can’t have two gummies the same color or apparently the world comes to an end), hair brushing, toileting (yeah, again), communication log book filling, lunch making, library book hunting, backpack filling, shoe finding, running late and hurrying out the door. There’s NO time for sitting on the stairs.
“I don’t feel well, Mama,” she declared in her best “I don’t feel well, Mama” voice.
I looked at her. She had her arms wrapped around her tummy.
“Sorry, baby,” I said, “But I’m not buyin’ what your sellin.”
She looked at me, surprised. And then she remembered she wasn’t supposed to be feeling well, so she quickly changed “surprised” face back to “Oh yeah, I’m not feeling well” face.
“Sweet girl, you made a fatal error.”
She looked incredulous. “I did?”
I nodded. “Yup. You asked me last night if you could take the day off today. ‘Member?”
She looked down at her feet. “Oh yeah. That.”
“So what’s really going on here?” I asked.
“I’m scared to go to school,” she said. “I don’t want the kids to tease me about my eye.” Two days before she’d tripped on a stone wall. She’d gotten a pretty decent gash above her eye that landed us in the ER, but it was now, thanks to the incredible medical advance that is DermaBond, pretty much a non-issue. So, yeah. Still not buyin’ it.
“Katie, love? Your eye is fine. Call me crazy, but I think we’re just needing some attention here. And I’m pretty sure there are MUCH better ways to go about it. Starting with breakfast. Off your bottom, kid.”
She got up looking dejected and followed me into the kitchen. She pulled her chair closer to mine as we sat down to eat.
“Mama,” she said. “I really do need some attention.”
“I know baby, and we’re going to make time today, OK? Just you and me. I promise.”
Her face eased a little. “Promise?”
I nodded emphatically. “I promise.”
I knew we needed time together. Real time. Alone. And I knew it wasn’t just her that needed it. We both did.
I knew the other day when she handed me a tattered piece of paper that read, “I’m Sorry.” I knew when we sat on her bed and both of us quietly cried. I knew because when I asked her why she was sorry she had said, “I don’t know, Mama, but I haven’t been good lately. I just know it.” I knew because sh-t rolls down hill, and there’s been a lot of sh-t rolling down some pretty steep hills around these parts the last few weeks. I knew it because my girl was struggling with some vague sense of having done something wrong only because she was standing at the bottom of the hill.
I would find time.
We carved out a couple more minutes between toileting, hair brushing and shoe hunting to talk again. I told her that I knew that we’d spent a long day the day before focused on her sister. I told her that those days can be emotional for me and I suspected that they are for her too. She nodded and grabbed my hand. I squeezed it and told her that I guessed that sometimes it can be confusing, figuring out her place in all of it. She blinked back tears. I told her that I loved her and promised that we’d find more time.
Last week, I filled out an application for a Sib Shop for Katie. She has one at school, but I thought it might be nice to branch out from the same kids year after year. One of the questions on the form was, ‘Are there any particular topics that you’d like to see the group address?”
I started to think about it, but realized I wasn’t the one this was about. So I asked Katie. I thought she might hem and haw, or simply demure with a typical fourth grade, “Whatever.” She did neither. In no time at all she answered, “I want to talk about how to deal with being embarrassed and how you can make new friends when they don’t know about your sibling.”
I smiled and said, “Great, I’ll write that down,” but every internal organ had cringed. Of course she does. Of course. Katie doesn’t have a lot of girls over to the house. There are new girls in her class this year. She has yet to ask for a play date with any but one. Of course. How did this not hit me before?
I thought the sib shop was free, but it turned out that due to the ubiquitous funding cuts, there was a fee. We’re trying desperately not to spend money right now, but I didn’t hesitate in writing that check.
On Monday, Luau and I arranged to pick the girls up from school in separate cars. Katie and I headed out without a destination.
When I made a wrong turn I said, “Oops, I just turned this way by accident.”
Katie said, “Mama, I don’t think it’s an accident at all. I think it’s an accident on purpose.”
She then explained that she thinks that when we do something ‘by accident on purpose’ it’s because we are doing what God wants us to. She then added that she really thought I should make turns down any and all streets that we didn’t normally travel on, as long as they were headed away from home. She then said that if we didn’t know where to go at any given intersection, we should go left.
I nearly pulled over to e-mail my friend Carrie immediately, but instead I chose instead to simply tell Katie that Mama has a dear friend who believes the very same thing.
After driving for a while, we wound up in town, sharing a treat from the bakery. I took the opportunity to school her in the laws of baked goods. I told her that it’s a punishable offense to order a fruit treat without an accompanying chocolate one. The elderly ladies at the bakery giggled. I shrugged and nudged Katie as I said, “Hey, we are law-abiding citizens, right kiddo?”
We got our nails done in matching, God-awful dark purply blue. We walked in and out of shops. We found the dog that lives at the local toy store and spent some time playing with her and deciding that as adorable as she may be, she’s no Winston. We went to a pub for soup when the evening turned cold. And we talked.
We made up questions for each other – all the more fun for their lack of context. Vanilla or Chocolate? Beach or mountains? Italy or Hawaii? Soup or stew? Candy or ice cream? Bath or shower? Bed or sleeping bag? Party or play date?
As we got into the car to head home, Katie reached for my hand. “Thanks, Mama,” she said. “I really needed this.”
I looked down at my girl. My beautiful, brilliant, soulful girl. “Me too, baby,” I answered, “me too.”