My first grade report card, front
Katie is about to start first grade. I'm experiencing a little vicarious trauma anniversary anxiety. Just because first grade was the worst grade for me doesn't mean Katie is bound to have a bad year. I'm looking forward to school starting for her. I'm glad she'll have something new to do with her days other than playing by herself inside the fort she built in our living room. Still, having a hideout beats being a kid watching your mom mope around all day.
I'm lucky Katie plays well by herself. My paid writer fantasy hasn't translated into any real money in our bank account, so I can't afford to enroll her in theater camp or art classes or soccer or whatever it is she's interested in this week. The few kids who do live on our block must go to camp or some kind of away-from-home daily activity since we rarely see them outside. Katie has played with the two girls on the block who are around her age just three times this summer.
My PCOS/perimenopausal body isn't helping with Katie's loneliness. I haven't been able to produce the sibling she's been begging for since she learned how to string together words to form sentences.
"I want bruddah or sistah," was one of Katie's first sentences. Second only to, "Mo' cake."
I want a writing contract. And more cake.
This summer has been spent learning the lesson of what to do when you don't get what you want. Build forts. Write a blog. Don't just cry about it.
My first grade report card, back
"I have enjoyed having Rebecca in my class. She has been a good worker. She is still easily upset and cries at nothing, but is doing better as we only have tears once in awhile. I think if everyone would discourage her instant outbursts she will learn to tell her problems without crying first." --Priscilla Nairn, first grade teacher, May 30, 1978
At any given time, I cannot find my car keys, my driver's license, my wedding ring, or my glasses. But I went right to the spot where I keep my first grade report card. Don't all forty-one year olds?
My teacher was mean. I didn't know anyone. We'd moved to the school district one month after first grade started. My family was falling apart. Mom would stand at my bedroom door in the morning, trying to get me up and out the door, telling me to "count my blessings". My life isn't so bad. She still doesn't understand my sadness. I'm the emo child of a Pollyanna parent.
I saw Mom last weekend at a family gathering. She waved me over to her quiet spot in the corner and whispered, "I want to talk to you away from everyone else."
I stood closer and leaned over so I could hear. I was worried she was going to tell me something bad about her health problems.
"I've noticed in your blog you've been writing about being unhappy."
I stood up and smiled. Oh that. "Yeah?" I couldn't understand why mom felt the need to whisper, in front of our family, about something I've been posting to the internet for the whole world to see.
"About being in a bad mood and Katie cheering you up." Mom looked at me neutrally, like she wanted some kind of explanation. I had no idea what the big deal was, so I said nothing.
"Well. I just want to make sure you're OK." She had a horrified look on her face. Her eyes turned glassy, the way they looked the last time she saw my brother, her son, who was so sick he had to leave our family gathering to go back to bed. That was when she asked me to leave her alone so no one else would notice she was crying. Because, you know, it's a sign of weakness to show you're sad that your forty-nine year old son is choosing to drink himself to death.
"I'm fine, Mom. I'm good." I smiled. She didn't look like she believed me. "It's called expressing my emotions. Everyone has bad days." I laughed, but she cut me off.
"Not me." She sat up straighter in her chair.
"Oh yeah? You don't have bad days anymore?" I'm sure I sounded condescending. Like I was talking to Katie who is insisting she's not tired as I nudge her from my shoulder on the couch at 11pm.
"Not in at least six months." Mom pulled the blanket up against her neck. She already had on a light sweater over her top, but my brother-in-law brought her a blanket when she mentioned feeling a chill. Since she's entered her seventies she says she notices everyone else is hot all the time. I was wearing shorts and a short sleeved cotton top and I thought the room temperature felt great. Since I've entered my forties I've noticed everyone else is cold all the time.
"Yeah right, Mom." I held my tongue. I wanted to say, "Bullshit."
"Well, I'll quit worrying about you, then." She looked smaller than I remembered her the last I saw her, not that many months ago. Must be the blanket enveloping her.
I rolled my eyes and walked away before she got a chance to be once again standing at my bedroom door telling me to count my blessings. Not understanding what I had to complain about. No comment when my teacher calls me a cry baby. My teacher was mean but at least she was in favor of getting me to talk about my problems. Not Mom. She grew up in an era all about accentuating the positive.
Ugh, I fugging hate that song.
But I don't know what I'm crying about. I'm not my mom's baby anymore. This is my life. If I have an occasional complaint I want to share, I will. We live in a new generation in favor of the public overshare. I'm tired of bottling up my bad moods. If the world doesn't want to witness my occasional fuck up they can read somebody else's blog. I'm not going to worry about people worrying about me.
That's what went through my head immediately after my scuffle with Mom.
On the long drive home, Katie slept the whole way. I took the private time to have a good cry. That's what I do. I go from pissed off to sad when I start to worry about my mom worrying about my anxiety.
I played some good sad songs by The Smiths and Radiohead and The Indigo Girls. Songs I'm sometimes too embarrassed to admit I enjoy listening to let alone singing along to.
Singing along to sad songs does make me feel better. But nothing beats the sweetness of a six year old's understanding.
When we got home Katie could tell I felt funky. "What's wrong, Mama?" She patted my arm.
"I kinda had a misunderstanding with Grandma Bev and now I feel sad about it."
"Oh I know how you feel, Mama! That happens with me and Elena sometimes too." She walked away, toward her bedroom to play with her Legos, allowing me to stew in my funk.
Later, I went to check on her. "Whatcha doing in here?"
"Playing with my Legos Cafe. You wanna play with me, Mama?"
"Yes. Yes I do."
We sat together and played for a long time. And I felt better. When my hands began to cramp from snapping together tiny interconnected pieces of plastic we moved on to drawing.
"What should I draw, Mama?"
I looked at her backpack, full of school supplies thanks to my husband Will, hanging by the front door. "Draw what you think your first day of first grade will be like."
"Ok!" She popped open a marker and whipped up this self-portrait:
"Singing on the First Day of First Grade" by Katie Carleton
I have a good feeling about Katie's first grade year. She'll be fine. And if she's having a bad day, she can talk to me about it. My trauma anniversary is not something I need to share with her. That's what this blog is for.