Guys, I’ve got two pages of notes in my journal for January. (The teal journal. The one that matches my wallet?) Two pages is a record. I predict this letter will descend into bulleted lists in one-and-a-half screen scrolls.
I’m going to start at the end of the month, when daddy and Jeff spent a weekend skiing at Mt. Baker, leaving the three of us to marvel at my inability to think of a single damn thing for us to do without daddy. The morning of Day 1, you two got away with a triple-dose of screen time while I tried to convince myself my head cold was imaginary. One of the cartoons you were watching repeatedly made mention of a martyr. “Mama, what’s a martyr?” Wanna guess the metaphor I used to explain that one?
I did eventually get my head out of my butt and take you somewhere. We spent that Saturday at the Everett Children’s Museum and then we caught a movie. (Ferdinand. You guys liked it!) At the museum, you learned about gravity, buoyancy, and flow dynamics. At the movie, you learned about abattoirs, shoplifting (hands-on practice!), and how to mortify your mother in public restrooms.
- In the movie, the weaker cows are taken to the “chophouse.” When I explained, in answer to your question, Puppy, that the chophouse is where cows go to get turned into steak, I thought for sure you’d emerge from that flick a vegetarian. And I was fine with that—we really ought to be vegetarians. But no… you were unfazed by that discovery.
- Kitten, you lifted a box of watermelon sour gummi worms from the concession stand. I had no idea until we were in the theater, movie playing, and you asked me to open the box.
- I had to pee. PEE! I was juggling a bucket of popcorn (buttered), an order of pretzel bites with plastic cheese, a diet coke, two kids, and a full bladder. Puppy, you’re old enough to wait outside the ladies’ room, but you didn’t want to wait outside, so I ushered you both in, balanced the foodstuffs on the lip of the diaper-changing table, and implored you both to stay put and make sure the popcorn didn’t topple while I peed. Oh sweet relief… interrupted by Kitten shouting down the length of the restroom, “Mama! Are you pooping?! You sure are taking a long time!”
Something’s going on with you, Kitten, and I don’t quite know what it is. Yet. I hope. My journal entries for this month reflect it: They start out exasperated in an amused way, and then grow panicked. Here’s what the beginning of the month looked like:
Your nighttime routine has disintegrated. You will not—you cannot—fall asleep without a parent next to you, preferably mommy. During one incident, after shrieking and then chanting, “I wanna sleep in mama’s rooooooom!” over and over until you nearly puked, you tried to delay my departure by unburdening yourself of your burning questions:
- Why do you have hair on your peanut?*
- Why does daddy have hair on his… belly?
- Why do babies come out of my peanut?
- How do babies know to drink milk?
And of course I can’t let these questions go unanswered, if they represent what’s on your mind. Well played, Kitten.
^^ This particular incident descended into a heated argument over whether your never-to-be pet cat would be an indoor cat or an outdoor cat. Now, it’s important to note that the argument transpired mostly in your head—I really don’t care if your invisible pet is a mangy mongrel that leaves invisible kill on our stoop, but the debate was fierce, and you eventually consented to an indoor invisible cat. “But I’m calling him Cutie. Hmph.”
Again, that was the beginning of the month. Our current reality is this: You sleep in our bed every night, without argument from us. If we carry your deeply-sleeping body back to your bed, you wake yourself up within ten minutes and crawl back into our bed.
But it’s the other developments that leave me rattled. When your beloved babysitter, Sophie, came one night, you were a puddle of despair, washing over my feet and pleading for me to take you with me. And almost every day your teachers tell us tales of your uncontrollable sobbing at nap time. You wail, “I can’t stop crying!” and seem panicked by the tears that keep flowing.
The episodes are usually preceded by a tummy ache—sudden and acute—so we focused on solving that. Your doctor had suggested treatment for constipation, and we came to suspect your reluctance to poop at school was a culprit.
(BTW, this is a trait you share with your brother—both of you save your poop for home, and race each other to the bathroom as soon as you drop your backpacks on the floor. I didn’t try to instill anal-retentiveness in you; it just happened.)
You told Ms. Kylie that mommy still wipes your butt at home, which triggered yet another lecture from Ms. Kate. “Kitten is five years old; she must wipe her own butt.” You’re telling me?
So, we launched Project Clean Your Own Butt, and you took to it with zeal. You’re very proud to be wiping your own butt, singing “I’m a big girl!” and dancing around naked—because you still get naked to poop.
But the sobbing attacks continue, and they’re particularly unnerving to me because they’re so familiar. I spent a year – my fifth? sixth? —convinced that each parting from my dad would be my last time to see him alive. (Our goodbyes were pretty intense.) And I spent another year—pretty sure it was my eleventh—in a full-fledge depression that sucked me into convulsive, panicked sobbing fits periodically throughout the day, with the worst moments being those when the rest of the house was asleep, but I remained awake.
Never nap around depressed people.
I can’t help worrying that you’re enduring a similar despair, Kitten, but I don’t want to speculate out loud for fear the adults around me will think I’m overreacting (She’s only five! It’s just a phase…) or trying to score a drug scrip (Those aren’t the right symptoms for Adderall).
I’ll catch a story about parents of five-year-olds going through similar difficulties (this New Yorker cartoon spooked me with its timeliness), and then I know you’re fine, that we should just continue to love on you as we do. But then your teachers will take me aside at pick-up and whisper to me like they’ve never seen a child suffer like this in their 35 years (combined) of teaching, and then I’m ready to put out a call on Facebook for child-psychologist referrals.
But you’re only five! And I’m not sure I believe in child psychology. I’m going to stick with loving-on-you as the primary treatment for the time being.
And with that, let’s bring out the bullets– alternating between third-person and second-person points of view because I’m not trying to win a nod from the Man Booker prize committee here:
- Kitten was miserable at the Dungeness Spit and demanded daddy take her away. Puppy and I lingered behind for a bit, throwing rocks in the ocean. As we began to head back, Puppy spotted daddy and Kitten waaaaaay up ahead, and called out to them. They heard him, and waved back. Puppy, almost to himself: “Wow. I’m really loud.”
- When Kitten wants to play on the Nintendo, she begs excitedly, “Multi-player! I wanna play multi-player!” Which is totally reminiscent of Fifth Element: Mool-ti-pass.
- When I’ve got both kids at bedtime, our routine is this: I’ll read out three books, and Puppy will read out the fourth. Now, bear in mind, Puppy has just begun to learn how to read, and Kitten is—ostensibly—not yet learning. As he’s reading out his book one night, Puppy gets stuck on a word, and Kitten supplies it for him. And his surprise at that, his double take… it cracked me up. I’m glad I laughed; it gave you permission to laugh, Puppy. Otherwise, I suspect you would have stormed off.
- Trying to explain the willing suspension of disbelief to you, Puppy. Daddy says, “Imagine if, in the Lego movie, cats suddenly started talking too! You’ve accepted that Legos can talk, but cats?! There’s no premise for that.” Then Kitten observes that cats do talk in the Lego movie. Crap.
- The particular sheen of glaze that coats Puppy’s eyes when we try to explain Big Things: slavery, early programming languages, the willing suspension of disbelief.
- Kitten has always been curious about the thermometer I keep in my nightstand. I told her once that I used it when I was trying to get pregnant with her. I explained how I used it, but she must have tuned me out by then. Now I find her taking various objects’ temperature, saying, “Look mama! I’m getting it pregnant!”
- Husband tells Kitten, wisely, that you can always add salt to a dish, but it’s difficult to take it away. “It’s not difficult at all, Daddy! You just lick it off.”
- Kitten asks why mommy and daddy have a two-person bed while she and Puppy have one-person beds. She advises that it makes better sense to let the kids have two-person beds, “So mama can sleep with me, and Daddy can sleep with Puppy.”
- Kitten: “Don’t tell me you love me so much, Mama. Too much love makes my tummy hurt.”
- Telling Kitten she’ll need to sleep in her own bed again soon. She replies, sleepily, “I know.” Snuggles into mommy’s pillow. “Maybe when I’m six.”
* We don’t use cute words for your body parts at home. Your vulva is a vulva, but you prefer to call it a peanut. I blame preschool.