Dear Vivian

The Last Year of a Single Digit Daughter

1/31/12 Time And Change And Paps

Dear Vivian

We had an appointment with our new family doctor yesterday, you and I. (and oh girl, I really hope that getting a doctor isn’t as exciting when you’re 35 as it is to me.) It was an intake appointment, weighing in, height, BP, history, etc. The doctor asked about current health, but also asked how school is, if the transition has been easy since moving, if you knew the birds and the bees-questions I’m not used to a doctor asking. She seemed sincerely interested.

I think I love her.

Then she got to me and I think you heard some things that perhaps you shouldn’t have, or maybe you needed to. You heard my “official” diagnosis, the one I’m not so sure of, that bipolar thing. You heard me say “I think it was a bad marriage if we’re honest” and I saw your face look strangely at me then flit around the room. You saw me react to the news that I have to get a PAP test. (The joy of no doctor is avoiding tests like that one.)

You were moody and tired and slightly cranky all day, and finally before bath, you just started crying on my shoulder.

“Why are you sad?”

“I don’t KNOW!” you howled. Puberty approaches. Puberty is rearing is cranky swingy head as everything starts changing for you. You mentioned that the PAP, and the explanation, made you uncomfortable. Comparing it to pooping in public made it better for a bit. (You know-sometimes you have to do stuff you’d rather not do because it’s best in the long run).

The fear, the sadness, I don’t think it was really about the test. I don’t think it was necessarily about hearing some truths that perhaps you could live without. I think you see your future, you saw yourself sitting where I was, and all the changes coming, and it scared the crap out of you. You’re changing so fast, growing like a weed, breasts really coming in now, and your brain is changing too, giving you an insight you didn’t realize would be coming to you.

I know it’s scary. I handled it all on my own and it’s horrid. It will still be horrid, even with your mother by your side. But it can be magical. I told you-it’s all new, and newness is equal parts awe and terror. You’re becoming a woman, step by step, slowly. And it’s truly a miracle. Your period, when it comes, signals your becoming into adulthood. I never had a chance to honour it’s magic when I was your age, and I want you to hold it, even if it’s only for a minute before the cramps come.

You’ll have to forgive me sometimes, for forgetting how strange it all is, how scary, how much you’re dealing with all at once right now. I’m trying to be present for you. I am grateful that I get to witness this.

But perhaps next time I should contain my PAP test jokes huh?


1/25/13: No One Kicks Ass Like A Sister

Dear Vivian

You made me so proud yesterday I nearly burst and cried and did all those adult mom things I swore I’d never do, or at least would try my hardest to avoid.

Your little sister has been having trouble fitting in here, what with her preferred friends being all popular and small town bitchy girls. She’s perplexed and annoyed and sad by it, especially by the one girl’s continual bitchy comments and just generally being an asshole. (and yes, I DO believe an 8 year old can be an asshole. Adults have no monopoly on being an asshole.)

I tried telling her to ignore them. To remember that in a few years it won’t matter. I tried telling her to be a snot back, but it’s not in her nature. I tried telling her it doesn’t matter now and to just go on with her day.

But of course it matters now. It always matters when kids don’t like you for no reason, or no reason other than you haven’t lived here your entire life and they just don’t trust you. Unlike me, she’s grown up in a city where kids were just…not like small town kids. I grew up in a town where I was weird and tall and no one wanted to talk to me and frankly I didn’t really care.

Suddenly Rosalyn is all concerned about parties and friends and what Kaitlyn said about Molly who said something about Anna and I just can’t keep track.

This kid wouldn’t let up on your sister. Constantly calling her “lice girl” and doing other…mean girl things. It hurt her. Of all things, Return of the King set her off crying when Frodo left home, leaving his friends behind. The crying, 30 minutes of heaving and freaking out, something I can’t fix.

You saw all of this, and said nothing. Ok, you asked Rosalyn if she wanted you to kick the kid’s ass. When she said no, you said nothing more.

Then you both come flying in the door the other day, grinning and happy. Viv, you saw it happening again and you, being the awesome and amazing kid who I sometimes wonder about, went straight to a teacher. Not to be a tattle tale, but to protect your sister. You told her this keeps happening, and that it’s hurtful and wrong.

Sweet holy hells child, how did I ever get so lucky as to have such an awesome kid? Steadfast and true, honest and honed for justice. You are one amazing kid.

So Rosalyn and this kid sat down, and with the teacher’s help, Rosalyn was able to tell this little mean girl that it hurts when she’s mean and she should stop. And suddenly, Rosalyn felt she had control over what was happening, and some control over herself.

Somedays kiddo, I think I’m doing a good job. Now, I know I am.

1/11/13 Stop Growing

Dear Vivian

I can hear my mother’s voice in my head when I sort through your dirty clothes, mentally noting what doesn’t really fit you anymore, as you grow. I can hear her saying “that’s too tight”, or “those are too short” but I hear myself as well, in you, saying “I love those purple pants” or “Granny bought me that”.

You grow too fast. You grow as I did, seemingly all at once and out of synch with my insides.

It terrifies me, it triggers me. It worries me. My mother was starting to die at your age, at the age you are hitting now. Her body was starting its own inevitable decline when mine was picking up speed and reaching up to the sky. As I grew and began my transformation into a woman, her own womanhood stood against her. It made coming to terms with my own femininity very difficult. A long hard road, complicated by the fact that I looked womanly yet acted like a man. You sometimes screw your face up at me when I blather on about gender, but it’s rooted in where you are right now, in a budding body and a surging womanly future.My lectures and rambles come from a place I remember as terrifyingly lonely. I was not like others, and yet I should have been. My parts matched, but my head didn’t, nor did my heart. And the person who should have been showing me how to link the two was dying because of them.

I’m worried I’m gonna do all of this wrong Viv.

You remind me too much of me. The stocky body, shifting from child to woman, the clear signs that things will be earlier for you than others. You’re curious about the world, but cautious, aware already that it’s a place full of wonderfully lovely yet broken things, tolerable only for the brief slices of wonder. I wonder often about your interior world, that place I’m never allowed to glimpse, where memories grow. You’re so finite,rational and firm. I remember dreaming more at your age, my eyes full of other places and times. You’re solid. You seem so real to me, more real than my memory of myself.

I wonder if I’m enough woman for who you’re gonna be soon. I wonder if my shoulder’s are broad enough to carry you over the next few years, carry you through, not past. I wonder, and worry, if sometimes our mother’s don’t fit as well as they once did, the only difference being you can’t just put them aside when they don’t work anymore.

1/4/12 Passion Is Magic (Yes Vivian, Maybe There Is A Santa Claus)

Dear Vivian

I had a half dream the other day, the kind you have when you’re sorta asleep, in that pee need state where you blink against the light and try to convince yourself that no, you really won’t pee the bed and it’s fine to go back to sleep. We were talking you and I, just, adult talking, the kind I look forward to when you’re 17 or 19, past the age of me driving you nuts, but still young enough to retain your voice and passion and wisdom.

I tried explaining passion to you last night, but I don’t think I really did.

There’s this overflowing sensation when you’re a teenager, when you’re almost done high school and waiting for life to “begin” that fills you at night. The singular belief that something will happen, that you will reach out and live in that big city, or save lives, or discover the perfect line for your novel or build a house. You will be full up with it, and it will shine from your pores, a dewy glow that age tarnishes. The newness of youth-I see it sometimes on people in their early twenties. Not wet behind the ears so much as ready and willing and able to believe that anything really is possible.

That’s what passion is born of-that belief that no matter what happens, no matter what school you pick or who you fall in love with, anything can happen. Anything is possible, magic. You carry this feeling with you into your adult life, but not in the same way. It becomes tempered, more steel than molten lava, with a surety that while it could happen, this anything, it likely won’t.

I remember being about the age your sister is now, 7 or so, and being outside a week or so before Christmas. It was one of those perfect winter nights-fluffy snow, clear sky with twittering stars, the muffled calm of the outdoors. The backyard was lit by the porch light, and I was alight with the idea of Santa after my teacher had assured me he was real and waiting for the day. Standing out behind the house, my mittens damp with heavy snow, I stared into the starry night and saw, I swear I saw, Santa and his reindeer. I ran inside breathless to tell my mother, who smirked and nodded, saying she believed I saw him while directing me to put my wet mittens on the forced air vent to dry. I remember my excitement, my belief, so solid in my chest, while looking in the face of her withered acceptance, her knowledge. She saw the miracle which was my belief, but clearly, didn’t buy it.

I stopped believing in Santa that year.

I missed Santa. I missed the magic. Just like when I had you, I missed the magic of being new and young and ready for anything. And when your sister was born, I missed the magic that was my first-born. And then I figured it out.

Magic is newness. Passion is born of the new.

Born. But not made. Passion has its roots in beginnings, in the belief that things can be changed, be different the new time. Passion is rooted in newness, and needs to be tended, watered and grown. Passion can be sustained, if you try. It melts into different forms but stays, essentially the same if you let it. You guide your passion, not the world. The miracle of it is that if you keep it burning inside, it will warm you until the end of days.

So my dream, of speaking with you on the cusp of that new magic, shiny with the passion of youth, it drives further into both of us. I want your passion to lead you past youthful desire, and into whatever the thing is that will fire your days, be it words or music or babies or airplanes.

There is still magic my girl. If you let it.


Dear Vivian

I really am rotten at this you know. Your mother never really sticks to anything…call me a daydreamer, or a flitterer or just damn lazy. I have trouble sticking to things. It’s a bloody miracle I ever managed to quit smoking.

It’s a new year. You tried a sip of sparkling wine last night before I sent you off to bed-I was not letting you stay up until midnight. Next year, when you’re ten, that’s when I’ll let you. But you felt the bubbles in your mouth, told me it tasted of lemons, hugged me tight before sleep took you into another year.

Your stepfather got you a pocket knife for Xmas, and you adore it. You keep telling me how grown up it makes you feel. Sitting in the local outdoors shop next to the knives, your sister admired one. You told her it’s a lot of responsibility, and she’s not ready yet.

You make me feel so old dear one.

Last year was a great year for us, a year of change, of movement, of growth. It’s the first year I’ve ever ended unequivocally saying I am happy. It was a good year. And it was.

December ended on such a mixed note. Explaining to you what the massacre in Newtown was, what it meant, why you shouldn’t be afraid, was one of the hardest things as a parent I’ve ever done. How do you explain to a 9 year why someone would murder babies? You don’t. You can’t. I couldn’t. I just cried and shook my head, and you cried with me.

You have grown in leaps and bounds, puberty rearing its ugly head. I’m getting curves! you explained the other day, mesmerized by the hips that pull out. You’re growing into a lovely and strong woman, with a level head and rational mind. Sometimes it’s odd to see you argue with your more fantastical sister about how things should be and how things are. I find myself trying to drag you into a more magical place so you can imagine more instead of demanding. You stepfather is convinced you’re an engineer in the making.

Your first report card at this school was a disappointment. B’s and C’s aren’t something you normally receive. We were both upset but I think you’re working on it. I think you realized you need to pick it up. My disappointment was rooted in the knowledge that you weren’t working to your level. I don’t care about grades, not really. I care about your engagement, and your brain. You need to use it child.

Your father moved out of province, and in some ways you’re more settled for not being on the run and at his place every other weekend. You miss him of course, but the thought of spending the entire summer with him and his family pleases you. Even if I have to remind you that you don’t get to go to Canada’s Wonderland every day. He misses you too. I hate that it needs to be this way, but so be it.

Our family here, you girls, your stepfather and I, we’re happy. We sat last night, you playing Lego, I listening to music, him reading, and I realized. I am content. We are content. Happy, healthy, wiser. Growing. Learning, planning.

We are happy Vivian.

Happy New Year.

12/3/12: Time Passes

Dear Vivian

Your father sends me scans of old pictures of you and your sister, babyhood for her, toddlerhood for you. I barely remember those days, wrapped up in anxiousness, PPD, a full time job and a collapsing marriage. I lament to him my regret for missing those days, and remark at how it seems so far away.

It isn’t really. 5 years. A blip in the rest of my life, but at this point, half of yours. 

The picture is in the full sun, early July if I remember right. We had gone for a walk in the warm sun, you pulled on pink wide striped pants and a purple tank top. Your sister wore a pretty dress, back when I could convince her to wear a dress, over the swimsuit she refused to take off. Both of you in shades, staring up at me. Your arm draped oddly around your sister’s shoulders, sisterhood.

You’re sitting on the lawn next to the house I used to own, in the long grass. We’d just come home from a walk up the block, headed home after the usual whining had started I think.

I miss you both there.

The biggest regret of my life, the one thing I want to impress upon you, the thing I do my damndest to avoid now, is not being more present when you were young. Yeah, I was there. I was around. But I was distracted, or depressed or angry. I was not a mother, not in a true sense. I hate that I missed it. I hate that my memories are of horrid things, work things, meaningless things. 

I hate that I let it all pass me by. And for what? A job I lost? A marriage I couldn’t fix?

Don’t be like that. The things that matter will always matter. The people who love you, the people you love. They are the things that matter. Stuff comes and goes. Job titles, responsibilities, hell, even your lovers, they can come and go. Children? They never leave, not really.

So long as I can still feel your tiny feet inside me, under my heart kicking away, you have never really left. 

It’s too bad it’s taken me this long to figure it all out. But there’s still time to fix it.

11/23/12: Stardust

Dear Vivian

The other night was one of those nights where the sky looked like a candy someone had bitten into, all sharp edges and wonder. Your stepfather turned off all the lights and drew me outside by the hand, despite my protests and exhaustion.

You have to see, he said. Come on.

He knows how quickly my breath catches in my throat when I see the sky here.

I walked away from the house, trying to put the bright moon behind the pines, staring up into the milky way. Remember in the city, we couldn’t see it, could barely see all but the brightest stars?

Here, Sirius burns so intently it’s as if the fires of that star can be felt where I stood. Orion’s sword swings clearly, the seven sisters are holy and dependant on each other.

I look up into that night sky, clear and full, I see future. I see your future. I see humanity reaching out, as we once did across oceans. This is an ocean of space, of time, of want.

I dream of exploring those skies, at night I imagine flight in my sleep but I know it will never be for me. I know you will see it, as you live and grow, you will see humans leave this cradle, as we should, as we must. It’s our birthright, this exploration, this need to see beyond the corner, around the bend. It’s your birthright, and every child’s. A dream that must be lit from below, and fired, much like the stars themselves.

I see you there, in those stars. I see your future.

I hope you can see it too. Tomorrow I’ll bring you out, past your bedtime so you can see.

11/1/12 Really, November?

Dear Vivian

How is it November already?

It’s gross how time changes as you grow older. You’ve noticed relativity already, the time you’re allowed to play video games never quite matching up with the time you need to spend doing the dishes. It constricts, expands, contracts. Time is a contrary bitch, especially lately.

Out collecting candy last night I remarked to your stepfather that another year or two and you’ll be doing this on your own, with friends. You and your sister giggled up a walkway and it hit me how these little rituals are ending. They’re so brief! These memories that you will carry forever, they’re just twinkles, pockmarks in years. How these small bits of time become so enduring is amazing to me. Next year you might want to go with friends. I might let you.

I have to let it go.

We walked past some really little kids, 4 or 5, dressed in green and blue monsters and my heart got squishy for a little while. It’s all stolen, each minute. And I missed so much of it in a hurry to be somewhere else, to do something else…I don’t even know what I was running to or past…but I turned around and you’re 9 and more a woman everyday and it makes me sad kiddo. I missed so much of you that I can’t have back.

Which doesn’t mean I’m not eager to meet you as you grow-far from it. I’m enjoying more and more this relationship we’re developing, being able to talk more on the level. I love this you. I really look forward to when you’re older and we can talk. Getting to know you is exciting and a privilege  But I can look at you and open you like a book, see the baby and the smaller kid. I miss them sometimes. I always will I suppose.

No pre mourning, right? They warned me it would pass so fast. But they didn’t warn me that I’d miss all the moments I’ve forgotten.

10/28/12 A Death

Dear Vivian

You heard me run out of the house, in pajama shorts, braless, barefoot. But you stayed sitting with your sister, playing Mario, doing what kids do on a Saturday morning. But when I came back to the house, and you heard me keening, sobbing outside of the front door, you sent your sister to see, and came close after.

I couldn’t hold the sobs in, and I’m sorry. I couldn’t pretend to not hurt as I hurt just then, and I’m glad I didn’t.

I carried the stiff soft body of our cat up the driveway, laid him at the front steps and cried as I haven’t cried for a long time. I patted him gently, smoothing out the fur that would never keep us warm again, my hand on a throat that would never purr for us again. Your sister commented that his eyes looked like ice as you Vivian cried out his name with your face in your hands.

He died quickly I’m sure. He didn’t quite make it across the country road we live on, on didn’t suffer. Myself I was glad he was intact, and there was no blood. I could barely handle carrying his body home.

We said goodbye then, our hands twined in his soft fur, our eyes full of tears unbidden. It’s just a cat, but not just a cat. He was family. He was ours. We were his.

I had to wait to tell your stepfather, who for once had slept in after being woken multiple times in the night since he’s on call. All I could spit out when I went upstairs at the first sound of movement was “I found him…outside…I’m sorry.” and I couldn’t stop crying. He’s just a cat!

He was never just a cat.

My parents always seemed to split the difference with death as a child. I was exposed, but not able to ask questions. My mother would take me with her as she delivered flowers to the funeral home, but I don’t recall feeling like I could ask about it. Death was normal, but death wasn’t mentioned.

It was confusing, and sad.

So for you and your sister, we were sad. We cried. But we talked about life, and living it. We talked about how we all go this way, someday. We talked about how love means having to suffer someday, but how it’s worth it.

Yes Vivian, it is worth it. You gave me a look like you didn’t believe me, but it’s worth it. I’ve lived a life without. I’d rather love and hurt then not love at all.

You wrote the cat a poem. You cried again. Then went on with your day, as kids do. It will come back again, especially with your father moving back to Ontario, it will come back and you will feel abandoned and adrift. Which you aren’t, not really. But you will feel it in your bones, wonder about Percy in his cold grave where your stepfather placed him, wonder if your father loves you, wonder where your mother will go when she dies since she believes in nothing. You will wonder, and maybe you’ll even find the answers.

But we loved him. We loved that cat, and in his way, he loved us. He has taught you the value in today-in loving today, and in just enjoying these moments. I hope you can remember that.

I hope I can too.

10/20/12 Housemaid

Dear Vivian

You willingly, eagerly even, just did the dishes for me, and are now cleaning the stove. You think it’s fun.