Listen. I wasn’t going to tell you that I bought into the adult coloring book trend. I know, I know. Even though there are studies and testimonies and all sorts of people saying “They’re so awesome! They, like, totally calm me down!” I didn’t want …
As I type this, my mental to-do list is running through my head in a constant stream, like those fast-rolling credits that fly past your eyes at the end of syndicated TV shows. There are chocolate-covered pretzels to dip, about 90 of them or so (hahahaSOB), and errands to run, and three Halloween parties to either plan or attend (costumes! gifts! decorations, oh my!) in the next couple of days. There are emails between other homeroom moms that I am sort of keeping track of through my phone. My house is a disaster. The laundry is a disaster. (My hair is still a disaster.) I’m totally in the zone with this book I’m working on (it’s either crap or awesome. In another couple of thousand words I’ll send the first chapters to my agent. It’s taken me months to get to this point, a mere 15,000 words of awesome. Or crap. It could go either way. Months and months of dancing around this new book, and Agent Katie will be able to tell me in an instant if she’s still glad she signed me on or if I should just pack away my laptop and scuttle away to join the circus). There are bills to pay and a checkbook to balance and so. much. STUFF. to do. Some days are better than others, I know. This week has been kind of terrible, in a totally first-world-problems sort of way. Not complaining. Actually, yes, I am. I’m totally complaining. The past couple of weeks have been a mess of HARD.
But this morning, something kind of cool happened. See, a few weeks ago, Saoirse lost one of her teeth while I was away at a writer’s conference. Due to reasons involving a high-maintenance puppy and an incredibly un-independent two-year-old, the tooth fairy didn’t make it to the house that night (did I handle it well, being far away and discovering that the tooth fairy didn’t come and my daughter’s heart was possibly broken, ruining her trust in imaginary benevolence ever again? I’ll let you guess), though everything got sorted and the fairy made her appearance the next evening. We’d all moved on until yesterday, when Saoirse lost yet another tooth (the kid looks like a jack o’ lantern herself. Happy Halloween!). When she went to bed last night, I discovered that she’d added a note to go along with the tooth tucked away under her pillow. “Dear tooth fairy,” it said. “You are great but why last time you did not come?”
My mama heart broke all over again, because that’s what mamas do. Or at least hyper-sensitive ones like yours truly. So the tooth fairy did what the tooth fairy has never done before, and wrote the first-born a note. I will not admit that I may have dabbed frosted eye shadow on the paper to create oh-so-subtle fairy pixie dust, because then you’d think I was weird. So I won’t tell you about that part. Shhh. You don’t know. I asked David if he thought Saoirse would buy it, this fairy-note-writing, and he was immediately like, “Nope.” But then I was all, “But I should do it anyway, right?” And he was all, “Yep.” So a new note went back under the pillow.
See, here’s the thing. Saoirse is seven and a half. And like many seven-and-a-half-year-olds, she’s a smart thing. I sometimes stop to wonder if she really does believe in all this Santa/Tooth Fairy/Scary Large Bunny That Has Nothing to Do with Easter mumbo-jumbo, but then I remember my own childhood, and wanting so desperately to hold on to the magic of believing that I did so far beyond the time my brain told me that it was actually kind of creepy that a dirty, large man in a furry red outfit could break into my house once a year and nobody blinked an eye. So it makes sense that my daughter–smart but with an imagination that reaches for ages–still believes. (That and she’s still only a teeny child. I forget about that part sometimes, too.)
Her room was dark this morning when I walked in to see her. I thought she was asleep until I heard this voice–this tiny, excited voice–say, “Mom! The tooth fairy left me a NOTE!” She gave it to me and watched me, her eyes wide while I read. “She wrote it in cursive,” Saoirse said. “And I could READ it!”
My daughter still believes in magic. To think that David and I initially didn’t want to even introduce the idea of Scary Christmas Burglar Man to our kids–we were lying to them! we said. It takes away from the real meaning of the holidays! we declared–makes me want to bop my pretentious former pre-parenthood self over the head. My kids don’t buy into princesses, and super heroes, and the more realistic ideas of what can be supernatural in make-believe land. But they do believe in magic. They believe in fantasy and imagination and dreams coming true and fairies making amends. They believe in giving and being taken care of and going to bed at night feeling safe and hopeful. My kids bounce–I mean, BOUNCE–out of bed in the morning, talkative and chipper and ready to dive into play or food or whatever the day holds for them. Because they don’t care about to-do lists. They don’t care that the coffee table is covered with laundry that hasn’t yet made it up stairs to their drawers. They don’t care in the slightest that the pretzels haven’t been made chocolate-covered yet, because they will get done and they’ll get to help, and boy, isn’t that FUN?
It’s trick-or-treat night in our town this evening. My children will dress up in costumes and wander the streets with their neighbors, banging on stranger’s doors, fully expecting to be given gifts of chocolate just because they asked. They will be dressed as crayons tonight, having chosen Crayola costumes just because they liked their colors. They will be surrounded by Jedi knights and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Elsas and the characters from Inside Out. They will be walking around the streets of this big subdivision, just a mile from our local Target, within hearing distance of the interstate’s noise, surrounded by the same houses and the same cars and the same types of lawns…and magic. All they’ll see is magic.
But first, I am off to face the errands and the cleanings and my crazy hair right now, like a proper grown-up in Reality Land. And I will come home and shove all the papers off the kitchen island and clean it off (I promise) and make those 80 billion chocolate-covered pretzels because I said I would, so I shall. And then, after it’s all said and done, I will eat all of the Snickers bars out of my kids’ trick-or-treat buckets, and drink some autumn-themed beer, and sit down on the couch in my possibly messy or possibly clean home (like my new manuscript pages, it could go either way) and read all of the rest of the homeroom parent emails about our school party tomorrow, and realize that sometimes we have to create our own magic.I am the Tooth Fairy, after all. It shouldn’t be all that difficult.
The night before last, Quinlan, still recovering from allergies or a cold or something, appeared beside our bed (always my side) and said she could’t sleep because she’d had a bad dream. So she spent the night (again) with us (on my side. Of course). …
Last night, around six o’clock, David and I were cleaning up from an early dinner. His mom and cousin had come up to visit for the day and had just left, and now all three kids were playing, quietly, in the next room over, building towers and castles with some big baby blocks we’d unearthed from the basement. They call it “the new playroom,” the kids. The girls had stopped going down to the basement to play with their toys once it got cold and school started (funny thing, how young kids always want to be around us. I’m going to miss that one day, aren’t I?), and Cian’s at the age where he wants to do more, but I still have to be a responsible grown-up type and make sure he’s not climbing up bookshelves. Not the high ones, anyway. So Dave and I did what we said we weren’t going to do (HA), and shoved our giant dining table over to one wall to use as a craft table, threw down a rug (and by “threw down” I mean “spent a lot of money” because even rugs on sale are “expensive”), and brought up a few toys. The kids are in their glory.
I’m not exactly embracing the holiday season this year. I’ve been trying to gut all of the miscellaneous boxes still left over from our move last spring. Bags and bags of clothes have been dropped off at charity, me weeping over every tiny patterned dress I’d forgotten we had, but could remember putting on my girls. I’m always concerned that our kids aren’t prepared for a new season and new size, until all of a sudden–thanks to sales and generous grandmothers and aunts–we’re swimming in them. So many clothes, in our basement, sitting there. I can’t even.
And shall we even discuss the toys? So much wood and plastic (mainly plastic) and cheap fabrics and scattered parts to pieces that will never go back together. So many toys, for children who love to read and play outside and make-believe. I finished reading Chris Cleave’s Little Bee a while ago, and the story–the character of Little Bee–is still in my head. A refugee from war-torn Nigeria, abused and misused and in poverty beyond belief, her shock at the first world is like a mirror to our own lives. So much for which to be grateful. So much for which to be ashamed.
I want to cut back this year, and it’s stressing me out. Ironic? I’m stalled in everything, I feel. Trying to prepare a proposal for a new book, but I’m stuck. I take two steps forward, then slide backward, only to start scrambling up again, wondering all the while how to find the time to do it. I keep writing, then balling up what I’ve written just to stare again at a blank page. I know what I want to say, at least. I want my heart in every single word of this one. But…my heart decided to take a mini-vacation to someplace warm, I’m afraid. Probably someplace with endless margaritas and an infinity pool.
The problem with being a writer is that if you’re writing, you’re miserable to be around: obsessed and in your head and generally grouchy because all you want to do is be back in the world you have in your brain. I think the only thing worse than that is not writing, because then you’re just miserable in general.
Guys? Don’t marry an English major.
We’re not stuck. We’re moving forward, Dave and I and our little family, at a rate that’s normal and good. Saoirse’s almost as tall as her cousin Kayla. Quinlan’s voice is changing, losing that squeak from her toddler years and deepening. Cian is, well, he’s a little boy. At the stage I love so, so much, when any mischief is fun and all they have for you is love, without one iota of sass anywhere. I love the lack of sass. It is so much easier to be a parent when the child is never difficult.
Our fall decorations are still up, while the rest of the neighborhood is beginning to glow with lights and trees and sparkling ornaments that glitter at night. We don’t rush into the Advent season, Dave and me, a carryover from when I was growing up and my mom tried so hard to keep the emphasis on Christmas, and not the shopping that so often fed into it. But we’ll get there. Right after I finish procrastinating, I mean. We’ve been painting, though, settling into the home we weren’t quite sure we wanted. The kids are so happy. They love it here. It’s nice to have a little more room to breathe. It’s a lot more room to clean, but I don’t stress out about that anymore. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be managed.
And so we march on, despite ourselves. I worry about getting the kids too much stuff for Christmas, and also not the right stuff. I worry about sending them the wrong message, but don’t know how to send the right one. I don’t know how to feel like even though we’re moving forward, I’m always thirty steps behind. I think it’s just me. I’ve been dealing with some lady-related medical stuff in the year since I’ve weaned Cian. Apparently getting old + having babies can wreak havoc on a body. Who knew? (HA.) Life has been stop-and-start for me these last months. But I figure, as long as there’s always a start, we’re getting somewhere.
This all brings me back to last night, around six-thirty, when Dave and I were talking about Brian Kelly and light fixtures and kitchen back splashes and how to juggle church plus cleaning plus shopping plus family time plus decorating the next day, a Sunday. And I looked at my kids playing quietly in the room that’s not finished but they’ve already claimed as their own (funny how that works, too). They have a handful of small bins that hold cars and building blocks and musical instruments, and a train table. That’s it, for all three children. And you can probably guess that for the past two weeks, they have been beyond content with just a train track and a couple of guitars and some blocks.
Children are happiest when life is simple. Why do we keep forgetting this?
So I watched my kids, in their “new playroom,” quiet and peaceful and…happy. It was almost time for their baths. I didn’t want to give them their baths. Not with the complaints about the water being too hot or too cold, and naked babies peeing on me, and the screams of a redhead getting her tangled curls combed out. I wanted to keep the happy. So I consulted with Dave, and within fifteen minutes, we had all three kids in flannel pajamas, bundled into the car with mugs of hot chocolate and little containers of marshmallows, giggling over their surprise. And we drove into town (the fact that we live in the suburbs of a town of nine thousand people is just embarrassing), with Christmas music on the radio and the excited squeaky voices of kids who got to wear footie pajamas in the car. We pulled up in front of a house I’d just heard about, a tiny little bungalow with a light show that should be way more famous than it is. And for a half hour, we sat in our car and watched the lights and listened to music. The kids laughed and pointed out different sights. They rated the songs as they came on–each one was better than the last, was the verdict–and wondered if we could stay there all night. And when the owner of the house walked up to my window, without a word, and handed me candy canes for the children, well.
“Oh! Thank you!” was all I could blurt out before the owner walked away.
I heard Saoirse, in the back of the car, after a rare moment of quiet, say, “This is the best night EVER.”
I looked at Dave, wondering if he was experiencing that same feeling of yessssss. Good move, us, I thought. We’re doing okay. I know we are, truly. Thirty steps back don’t matter if you still take two steps forward. No rush. No extra stuff. Just, the moving forward, which is happening, even when we slide. “Oh!,” I’d said out loud.