We are home, and it was almost a really lovely trip.
Tomorrow we will get up early and resume our normal routine; the children will lag and I will attempt to hustle them through breakfast and then we will walk to the bus stop and they will go to school and I will spend the day working and hoping that I do not get a phone call from school to tell me something that I do not want to hear.
As for me, I am exhausted. I am glad to be home because next to Otto, I love my bed most of all, and I am so tired I want to sink down into the mattress and sleep for a week.
The school visits (as I previously mentioned) were eye-opening and seemed to go well. The visit to the aquarium was loads of fun; I’d been steeled for meltdowns that never came because both kids were too busy running around and pointing and giggling. True, you have to sell a kidney before it’s all said and done—admission tickets, parking, tickets to the 3-D show, overpriced aquarium food, and don’t forget that you cannot get out without going through the gift shop!—but it felt like wonderful and worth-it extravagance.
We discussed the relative merits of bringing various creatures home with us to live in our bathtub. I was all about the leafy sea dragons, but Chickadee wanted various fish and finally decided that with a bigger bathtub, we could have a beluga whale. Oooookay. Monkey spotted the sleeping, floating sea otter and declared “It looks like someone threw a backpack into the water.” When I pointed out that the “backpack” was in fact a sea otter, he was delighted. “Let’s go see my friend the backpack!” he trilled. “I want a backpack for the bathtub!” So Monkey may have won, because I can probably arrange to throw a backpack into the tub, whereas the whales and sea dragons are a bit harder to come by.
Our whirlwind morning of looking at houses was fairly well-tolerated by the kids, I thought. The house plot continues to thicken. There are so many factors at work, here, not the least of which is that Otto needs to have his house under contract before we make an offer anywhere. So even if we found the PERFECT HOUSE, it wouldn’t matter, because someone else could buy it before we can make a move.
That’s oddly comforting, because we have yet to find THE house that we both feel is the perfect one. The house I fell in love with a while back is still on the market, perhaps because it costs too much. We both like that one, but it Has Issues. In the meantime, the house next door to that one has ALSO gone up for sale, and we like that one as well, and it costs a lot less.
The second house does not have a pool. The first one does. I’m a friendly person; I reason we can buy the second house, befriend the neighbors, and they will invite us to swim in their pool! Perfect! But the second house also does not have a tub in the master bathroom, which has been high on my list of Wants for a long time, mostly because when I holler, “Calgon, take me away!” my current master bath answers, “You idiot, unless you want to bathe in the sink or figure out the world’s first bubbleSHOWER, shaddup.”
Another house we’d liked turns out to have some water seepage in the basement, and as the realtor tried to insist that it probably was no big deal I turned seven shades of purple and Otto informed her that I’ve already done the flooded basement thing and we were not interested in doing it again.
One house was too small but easily expanded, and had a second, separate garage. Now, I don’t know if I can explain to you what that’s like, for Otto. For him, with his cars and his tools and such, a bonus garage is… well… it’d be like if I walked into a house with a closet full of expensive shoes where the shoes came with the house. So that was a possibility.
One house was a pretty nice setup, but a smaller lot than we want and also a ranch (and I am opposed to ranches when it comes to being able to send the children Elsewhere), but it also had a separate garage and something about it caused Otto to become quite attached to it, although I am unconvinced. We later had a debate wherein he tried to convince me the size was fine, and I tried to convince him that he is underestimating the impact going from bachelorhood to 4-person-hood in his house is going to have, and that in such a case, arguing for a smaller house is a losing proposition.
And for some reason the realtor took us to a house that was perched on the edge of a ravine, because nothing says “family with young kids” like a yard where one wrong step results in a merciful death by head trauma just prior to being washed downriver.
After househunting, we spent a lovely afternoon with Tammy and her husband and Liz (a frequent commenter here, but sadly blogless) and her husband and one small boychild with dimples about two knuckles deep. My children fell all over themselves to entertain Liz’s beautiful son and torment Tammy’s dogs, and I mostly ate a lot of the very delicious food Tammy made and exclaimed like a moron over all of her mad decorating skills. (“Did you make this? Really? I LOVE THIS. I WANT ONE! How about these? Did you make these? YOU DID? SHUT UP! Can I hire you?”)
In short, reread all of the above: It was a fabulous few days.
And I have been joking for months that Chickadee and Otto will have their come-to-Jesus moment; that everything has been so great between all four of us, but I know she cannot possibly just slide into this life-altering family change without challenging him. She has already been acting out with me (and at school). So it’s not as though we didn’t know something was coming.
I guess assuming that it would take the form of “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! YOU’RE NOT MY FATHER!” was naive.
Still, you can hardly fault me for being taken a little by surprise when—after a string of marvelous days, and no incident I could think of—we discovered that Chickadee was not content to settle for a bit of backtalk.
I may yet tell you what actually happened, but right now I cannot talk (or write) about it without bawling, so let’s just suffice it to say that instead of spending our last night together reflecting on our nice time with the kids, tears were shed and children were by turns indignant and unrepentant and I went from starting to feel a little less overwhelmed by all of this to sliding down into the pit where things are dark but oddly familiar.
I am accustomed to my daughter being infuriating, frustrating, and heartbreaking. And yet, somehow, I had no idea the fear that would grip me, watching her do perhaps the one thing that would clearly communicate to Otto “I want to piss you off. Oh look! I did and I’m glad.”
Otto says we’re okay. I am not okay. My daughter is not okay, and it is my job to make her okay, and I have been trying to, for years, and I obviously suck at it.
When I look back on this trip, years from now, I want to remember the aquarium and the giggling during bocce and the children’s odd fascination with kudzu and the house with the wavy floors and the cliff for a backyard and I want Otto and I to be able to talk about what Chickadee did yesterday and laugh about how awful it seemed at the time and how it was a rough adjustment but it seems a million years ago, now. But I am so afraid that I will forget the rest and instead, years from now, Chickadee will still be struggling and Otto will bring this up when explaining why he can’t do this anymore, that he loves me, but look at all he has endured, and it’s enough.
Not because he doesn’t have what it takes to stick it out, but because why would someone sign up for this if they didn’t have to? Why?
And tonight at bedtime Chickadee told me she was angry at herself, which is the closest I’ve ever seen her to remorse. So we talked a few minutes and then I tucked her in and came in here to cry some more, because she is hurting and I cannot fix it. As long as I can’t fix it, she will continue to push us all away. I will keep pushing back. That’s my job. But good God I am tired.