You were two or three, and it was a Saturday, and I was frantically vacuuming and picking up toys, and you were sitting at a table with your Beauty and the Beast tea set, pouring imaginary tea for an imaginary friend. And you said: Why don’t you play with me like the other mothers do?
You laughed at this story when I told it, not long ago. “Oh my gosh! I said that?” you said. “I was so rude!”
But you were not rude. You were honest. And your candor changed me, changed our relationship.
It continues to change me, still.
Ah, Yes. You’re going on a trip and you’re taking humor. Even if, right now, I am the only person who sees how funny you are. Your wit is often out of sync with your peers. I remember being like you in this way. Not you, of course; but like you, out of sync. Ahead are people who will see the humor. I promise this is true; with my whole heart, I promise it. You’ll see.
You have loved to sing since you were very small, but your singing had to catch up to you. At first (and you know this, because we’ve talked about it) I thought you might be tone deaf, which was a great surprise to me.
You overheard me, once, saying this terrible thing that I said. How could I have a child who’s tone deaf?! I said, to my sister (whose pitch is keyed to middle C, where mine is keyed to the G below).
But you were not, are not, tone deaf. You hear the harmony, naturally, and sometimes you sing it without even knowing what you’re doing. It’s why you crave live music, even if you don’t yet understand this about yourself. And you have a lovely, lovely voice.
You’re going on a trip and you’re taking stories.
Your birthright is storytelling. It’s in your bloodline, from the generations of women who’ve come before you. I have written stories for you, and about you, for most of your life, so you will have them in your pocket when you need them (which you will, from time to time).
But you have already started telling your own stories, as the tributaries congregate at your source, a trickle that will become a meandering of your very own. Only you can tell that story.
You’re going on a trip and you’re taking wisdom.
We were at the dinner table. You were 12 and your brother 14. He had just started high school, I had just started a new job, and you were at the tail end of childhood, the age when people might say something like, “the wisdom of babes…” whenever you said something unexpectedly profound.
I don’t remember how it started. Something insignificant inspired you and your brother to say something inappropriate for the dinner table, and I corrected you.
And you said: Are you going to wash our mouths out with soap like you did when we were little?
And I said: Oh, for Pete’s sake, I never actually did that, I just threatened it.
You and your brother exchanged a look. And you both said, in unison: Oh no, you did it. We remember.
And you recounted a night years prior, when you were maybe 3 and 5, the two of you, and we were sitting at the same table, in the same kitchen, the three of us. As you told this story, I watched it come back to life in my mind, after years of having buried it.
I’m sorry, I said. I should not have done that. It was wrong of me, and I’m sorry.
Without blinking, you turned to me and said the most extraordinary thing, devoid of emotion or judgment.
You said: Do you think it was because your mother had just died, and you didn’t know what else to do?
And I said: Yes; I think so.
And you said: Me too.
And that was the end of that.
You’re going on a trip and you’re taking yourself.
We are in the present now, almost at the end of this alphabet game. We are on a trip, for my sister’s wedding, and we are together, all four of us, for the first time in a long time. And we are reasonably congenial, all of us, together.
We’re sitting at a table, waiting for dinner. Your brother takes a phone call from a college friend wanting to know when he’ll be on campus, and you say something about how he is always wanting to leave us, and you just don’t understand why.
I understand this part of him. The willful independence of a first child is woven into our fabric. We are born ready to leave.
But I understand you, too. I see you and think of my sister, the second sibling, born into a shadow that feels at once like a warm blanket and a trap. Since your first breath you’ve been navigating life relative to someone who came before you, so finding your own way, your own voice, hasn’t always been easy.
But she is she, my little sister; and you are you, my second-born child. You always have been.
You are going on a trip, and you are taking yourself.
I am not quite ready for you to leave yet, though.
So I will hold the last letter close to my heart, until the time comes to release it.
This post is 35/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.