Quinlan, age 11, is on the couch, playing a game on her new Nintendo. I’ve just asked Cian, newly age 9, to start a load of his laundry. “What?!” he says. “How do I do that??” Me, calm: “Cian. You do laundry all the time. …
It’s the second day back to school–back to “normal,” I guess?–after the winter holiday break. Saoirse and Cian are in school but Quinlan is lying on the couch next to me in the living room, watching Netflix (Alexa & Katie is really cute, by the …
As I type this, there is an estate sale company in my mother’s house, sorting through her belongings. The estate manager called me from where she stood in my parents’ dining room this morning to ask me some questions, and when she looked outside, she paused our conversation. “It’s just beautiful here!” she said. “This is a lovely home.”
I hung up and cried.
I need to tell you about this past weekend. We’d decided to do some sort of Fun Family Fall Activity, and Quinlan really wanted to go to a place with a corn maze, so after we finished cleaning the house Saturday morning (Cian: “Why do we hafta keep cleaning the house all the time? It’s just going to have to get cleaned AGAIN.”), we drove to an apple orchard about thirty minutes south of us. We handed over the bonkers-expensive entrance fee, donned our masks, and made our way to the corn maze after dodging a small handful of social media influencers in their Instagram Hats as they teetered out of a pumpkin patch.
All Quinlan wanted to do was this corn maze, right? Forget apple picking. Forget pumpkin patch-scouring. The corn maze was the Fun Fall Activity she’d asked to do–but it only took her five minutes of watching us twist and turn and get us lost and backtrack through this thing to decide a) she’s claustrophobic, b) corn mazes are the worst idea on earth, and c) if she left it up to us knuckleheads, we’d be stuck in this thing either forever, or at least until the coyotes came to eat us.
She watched us bumble around some more before she decided she was fed up. Without another word, and in Full Quinlan Mode, she charged off at a clip, leaving us to follow her. She marched, turning this corner and that, while the rest of us scrambled over dried corn stalks and stones to keep up with her. I had to ask her to slow down once, when we lost sight of her around a bend. But if you know this daughter of ours, you also know that none of us thought for a minute to question if she knew where she was going–this is The Mighty Quinn we’re talking about. You’ve heard the stories. Let me tell you: this maze was supposed to take us forty-five minutes to navigate. With Quinn leading the way, it only took us fifteen minutes before we tumbled off the end of the path and out of the maze behind her. We emerged, a little of out of breath, to see this ten-year-old standing with her fists clenched, glaring at the maze’s entrance like it’d personally offended her.
This kid. She stays even-keeled, usually. But when she does get upset, or thinks something is ridiculous, or feels anxious about something, it’ll bubble under the surface, tormenting her, until she simply decides she’s had enough and, well, charges off to do something about it.
David has stories of coming home from school to see his mom single-handedly ripping up all the carpet in their home because she’d finally had enough of it. I’ve done this, too, actually: ripped up carpet (I swear I knew there were hardwood floors underneath). I’ve also moved cities on a whim, repainted rooms on a lark, and, just last week, asked my hairdresser to chop off six or eight inches of hair the day after I decided I just didn’t like detangling it anymore:I see Quinlan operating the same way: overthinking and overthinking, followed by snap–the point where she just breaks and does something about it. I hate this in myself, but admire it so much in her.
A forty-five-minute-long maze, conquered in fifteen.
There’s an estate sale company in my mother’s house right now. I’ve just received another phone call, this one from our real estate agent to discuss the listing. I hate all of this so much. This is the corn maze–the grief and the quiet and the noise of wondering what turn is next, and why nobody seems to know how to get out of here. I feel quiet, but my head is noisy.
And then there’s my Quinlan, who finds herself in the maze full of dead-ends and looming stalks and allows herself to get overwhelmed just long enough for it to become determination.
And then she charges out of it. Without thinking, she finds a way. Without worry, she knows where she’s doing. She acts on instinct (and, okay, a little bit of rage) and finds her way out.
When Paul and I were about Quinn’s age, a couple of years after my grandfather died, I used to catch my mom watching us, often when we were seated across from each other at a table, with her chin on a hand. She’d just watch us when we were doing something simple, drawing or talking, just being us, and there’d be this look on her face. My brother will make fun of me for describing this–I wonder if he remembers it–but there were moments growing up, when our relationship got tough, or I was at wit’s end, and I’d remember that look. It was more than love–it felt like, in that moment in a booth at Little John’s Restaurant on York Road, she couldn’t believe her good luck in what sat across that table from her.
I say all the time that I want to be more like Quinlan: affectionate but fierce, sensitive but strong, full of integrity but completely compassionate. The corn maze, my sadness, this business of grieving and estate-settling and patching a new kind of life together over the hole of what we’ve lost–it’s all layers of the same issue. And, as always, the children show us to handle them.
My mom knew. And now it’s my turn to watch and learn, too.
Quinlan had to write a letter Monday for her language arts class, in which she described to an imaginary other student her first month under stay-at-home orders. “MOM. Mommy. MOM.” Quinn said this as she walked from the dining room, where she’d set up her …
* Because you know this was running through my head the entire time I was writing this post.
To say my mom has rebounded from the flu nicely is like saying an ice cream sundae is best made with hot fudge: holy understatement, Batman. She is sharp, and stronger than she’s been in months, thanks to a heady dose of new steroids that reduced brain swelling we didn’t even realize was still bad. Her synapses must have gotten some incredible kind of all-clear, because she is zip-zip-ziping around her house like her walker is made of rocket fuel. I joked that we all have whiplash: one week we’re all convinced that This is It, and the next, well: in the next week she’s drinking a glass of white wine in a restaurant and using chopsticks to eat her sushi. It’s pretty fantastic.
We didn’t see her either day of this past weekend. Quinlan was playing in the end-of-the-season CYO novice girls’ basketball tournament, with David as her head coach, and since there were 18 teams in the bracket, we played four games from Friday night through Sunday night, and Saoirse also played a game with her JV team Saturday morning. It is one of the busiest weekends of the year for us, and quite frankly, when it comes to novice girls, it’s always been one of my favorites. I am so thankful I got to be there to witness all of it: there’s just something about 9- and 10-year-old basketball that makes the world a better place, I promise you. These girls grow up so much in a season, and progress so quickly, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. And I don’t know if it’s because Saoirse and Quinn have always loved the sport and taken to it, or because they’ve consistently been teamed up with players who are also so, so fun to watch, or if it’s because I just get a kick out of watching David coach (he makes sure each girl notices him cheering for her after a big basket. It is the cutest, and almost as entertaining to see as when he stands down a ref who’s not calling fouls when he should. Almost.), but I have to tell you: these girls play real basketball, and they work hard out on that court.
(I don’t know why we always describe the girls with such awe when we talk about this. Like, “Wow, she’s a beast!” As if any of us parents are really surprised that our girls are tough as nails.)
Now, here’s the thing: novice isn’t supposed to be competitive. The girls are learning how to play these years, and at this level the emphasis isn’t supposed to be on winning. Our program prides itself on even teams, and learning the game, and sportsmanship, and all that good stuff.
It just so happens that anybody who played on David’s novice team last year went undefeated for 12 games and won the diocesan championship (*cough*) in 2019. And that our girls just happened to end this season with a record of 14-0…and won the diocesan championship.
We won the final game Sunday with a bucket in the last 45 seconds by one of our third-grade players. The parents in the stands lost their minds (okay, the coach’s wife with the messy ponytail sitting on the bottom bleacher lost her mind). This was after a game against an incredibly physical team (not like “basketball” physical, but more like “I’m gonna wrench this ball from you over your back and hope the refs don’t call it” physical.). Almost everything that could go wrong did: refs weren’t calling fouls on the other team but called us every chance they could get. We were down the entire game except for a tie going into the half, and, of course, at the very end. Quinlan got a bloody hand and had to be pulled out while we bandaged it (I only learned at the end of the game that any player with blood on her uniform isn’t allowed back onto the floor. We got lucky). Our point guard–who’s also our top scorer–got fouled out minutes into the second half and lost herself in a torrent of tears. At the exact same moment, our back-up point guard got knocked down onto an arm that was already hurting, which probably would’ve felt worse if her nose hadn’t started bleeding everywhere, too (again, that blood rule! Lucky again). It’d be her first of two bloody noses in the second half.
Did I mention we were down? I have no idea how David managed to coach through it. The parents on the sidelines could barely watch it. There was a trophy behind the bench–a heavy trophy, the first one of its kind in these tournaments, and we knew how badly our girls wanted it.
(Not that it’s competitive, mind you. *cough*)
It was after all this happened at once–the fouling out, the point guard breaking down on the bench, the first bloody nose–that our girls had to go back in and play defense. I looked at our crew–all of them were shaking–and I saw our #42 standing in front of her girl, shifting her weight back and forth, arms out around her, ready to go. She had tears in her eyes, but I only saw her allow herself a split second to get her head together before looking back down the court for the inbound.
The child is 10 years old. I looked at her and thought, “Oh, okay then. That’s how we’re supposed to do this.”
And then they kept it up. And then they evened up the score. And then they scored a basket with 45 seconds left in the game and refused to let the other team get a handle on the ball for the rest of it. They rushed back to the bench at the buzzer and the parent(s) lost her(their) mind(s) and I kissed our coach and I hugged Matt, our other coach, and we took pictures and went out for a beer and some food and to pass that trophy around. They were so proud of their work. We were so proud of them.
There’s just something about novice basketball, you guys. There’s just something about a fourth grader shaking it off and a third grader going for it and a team that goes into a game with full intent on bringing home a championship.
“I think we’re going to win,” one player said to me before the game.
“Oh, I’m nervous!” said another (who, 40 minutes later, would prove herself to be one of our smartest, most aggressive players).
“Nah,” I’d replied. “Maddie is right: that trophy is yours, girls. All you have to do is go get it.”
The group of girls glanced around at each other, and one of them turned to watch David and Matt, who stood beside them, for a moment.
And then our little girls looked back at each other and nodded.
They were already grinning.
Let me tell you a little bit about how 2019 and the entrance to 2020 have gone. We had a snow storm in our area last week, primarily because David was away for work, and when David goes away for work, the skies decide it’s …