In parenting, there are memories and then there are flashbacks. One is of the sweet, perhaps even bittersweet kind; the other is similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I’ve been having flashbacks lately. I can only blame them on the knowledge that Ava is going to middle school soon, and the ball has started to pick up speed in that direction. She registered herself, more or less, and I signed the papers on the dotted line. She submitted a form to join “Beginning Band”, and she indicated that she intends to play the snare drum. She and her classmates watched “the video” that included “the talk” with the school nurse, and I gave her a check to pay for the patrol trip to Columbus, OH. I can barely keep up, and I’m fighting to hang on.
Things are different at home, too. I haven’t helped her with a homework assignment since the beginning of the year. She says she doesn’t need anyone’s help, and her grades prove it. She spends more time in her room reading novels and and listening to music, and she’s finally taking an interest in clothes. But this kid — this big girl — this tween — is less demanding of affection, too. I used to call her my “Velcro baby”, because she was stuck to my leg like dog hair. Ava was the most loving child I had ever seen. Now, when I reach out to give her a hug, she braces herself. Sometimes she leans in from the side, and other times she stiffens so it’s impossible to give her a long, motherly squeeze. We’re about an hour away from a handshake. Yes, she’s putting up boundaries. Hugs have become a courtesy; goodbye kisses have become obligatory.
Many years ago, I couldn’t leave the room without her dissolving into a puddle of tears. And this is when I experience a flashback that I can’t shake.
It was a wintery day that called for a nap on the couch. I was pregnant with our second daughter, and I was nauseated from the time I rolled out of bed to the time I crawled back in. Caring for a two-year old with unlimited energy and a 78-year old with uncontrollable dementia was taking its toll on me. Both of them, including a bored cat, followed me through the house for the bulk of the day. To some degree, Ava and my dad were of the same mindset. I didn’t chase toddlers. They chased me.
So on this wintery day, I was closing in on a meltdown from sheer mental exhaustion. I needed a reprieve to get my emotions in order, and to let a wave of seasickness subside. Ava wasn’t having any of it, and my dad didn’t understand most anything.
“I just want a short break to close my eyes, and then I’ll be right back,” I told her, going into a first floor bedroom so I could listen for trouble.
Ava protested. “No, Mama! Please! Stay with me!”
It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that a child who had just eaten a full lunch wasn’t going to play quietly while I put my head on a pillow for a few minutes. She wanted to romp and tickle and play and bounce on the bed.
I asked her to please wait with her granddad for about fifteen minutes. Here are some blocks. Build the tallest house in the world.
Fifteen minutes? Neither one of them could comprehend time. Play together? That means someone would have to take the lead and organize this activity.
Ava started to cry. ”NO!” she begged.
Those precious fifteen minutes were spent on worthless negotiation. In fact, her pleading to “play with me” became more dramatic. Finally, I carried her outside of the bedroom walls, and attempted to close the door.
She screamed as though she had seen me for the last time.
I stood with my back to the door and sobbed. She pounded and begged me to open it. My dad hovered in the hallway asking over and over again what was wrong.
Ava started coughing and choking. Then…she threw up.
I opened the door and found my sweet girl’s face red and soaked with tears. She sucked in little puffs of air and sobbed some more. “Pleeeeease let me in.”
And now, as Ava sits in her bedroom scanning Pinterest photos of her favorite boy band, I stand at the doorway and silently beg, Please let me in.
How times have changed.
Last night, I sat on the edge of her twin mattress that is covered in sheets printed with little pink flowers. Soon, this set will be used to protect a couch so the dog won’t get muddy paw prints on the cushions. I told her about my flashback, and how much I regret shutting that door in her face. I was desperate for a break from the constant demand for attention, and I envied her ability to throw up to relieve a sick stomach. Mine was hormonal. But hers was pure panic.
Ava put her hand on my wrist and then gripped it.
“I don’t remember,” she said, as if I needed permission to let go of the guilt.
“Yeah, but I do. It bothers me,” I confessed. “I can remember every second of it.”
I sat on the edge of her bed for a long time that night, talking to both of my girls about things of no real importance. When it was time to turn off the light, I stood up to straighten their blankets. Ava’s hand was still circled around my wrist. I hadn’t even noticed. I unwrapped her fingers and kissed her on the forehead goodnight. I traveled across the hall to my room, slid under the covers, turned onto my left side — a habit from my old pregnancy days — and slept like I hadn’t rested in weeks.