Bonus

I slept in a little today. I’m pretty sure this means the girls watched at least three movies on Netflix. I woke up sad. It dawned on me that I might be getting my period, a realization that at least helps explain why I wanted to cry all morning, especially when things got rough between the girls, or between me and one or both of them, between breakfast and blender experiments.

Around 10:00am, Aviva packed up a bag with her scrapbook, gameboy, lots of snacks, a buck twenty-five, and my cell phone. She said she didn’t know where she was going. I ticked down the “not to” list (cross Route 7, accept a ride from anyone). When I said not to get on the city bus, she said, “I know that, Mama. I went to school you know, even though I have a long ways to go.” She called me from the corner, then again from Dunkin’ Donuts, where she bought herself a big chocolate-chip cookie.

A bit later, she and Pearl and I ambled down to the Lake Champlain Chocolates Factory Store to eat samples. We bumped into some friends who were also there eating samples. I got a latte while the girls taste-tested chocolate-covered marshmallows. V spotted the Mocha Truffles and exclaimed, “Oh no!” Her hamster’s name is Mocha.

We lolled around the house a while after that before heading over to the Y for open swim. Being in the water with the girls is so delicious; all the bickering and power struggles give way to cannonballs and dolphin babies and the World’s Biggest Splashes. Pearl, who is now swimming confidently on her own, jumped in the pool again and again. After an hour or so, she decided to take the deep-end test, which means swimming one full lap without stopping and then treading water for a minute. She came close, and was clearly disappointed not to “pass” the test. Momentarily out of breath, her little heart pounding, she said she wanted to try it again. Her stamina and determination blow me away, especially in this realm of physical mastery. God, I love that kid.

We went to the library, where I entered a drawing for two free tickets to an upcoming show at The Flynn. We were sitting there reading books together when Christine, the librarian, announced they we won! She hung up a little sign saying “Congratulations, Aviva and Pearl Strong of Burlington!” which I took a picture of to send to Greg, since he’ll be with them next weekend.

At Bueno & Sano, the girls ordered their own tacos and gobbled them up at the counter. How good to get out of the house, to enjoy each other’s company. I could tell Pearl was exhausted from all that swimming; when we got home at 6:45 she was ready to get into bed to read some of our new books, and by 7:30 she was out.

Then I crawled into bed with V. We read two beautiful books. Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen (also author of an all-time favorite, Owl Moon) tells the story of an eight-year-old girl, Elsie, whose mother dies. Her Papa tells her they’re leaving Boston to move out West. They go to the Nebraska, where her only companion is her bird, Timmy Tune. She doesn’t leave the house for some time, cries alone in bed at night, until one day, when her father is in town (ten miles away), Timmy flies outside and, unthinkingly, she goes after him and finds herself in the tall grasses, where she finally discovers the special music of the Plains.

The other book was an autobiography of a teddy bear named Otto, whose owner is Oskar, a German boy whose best friend David is made to wear a yellow star before disappearing into a truck with the other Jews. Otto survives a gunshot wound, saves the life of an American G.I. named Charlie, and eventually winds up in an antique shop in America where Oskar spots him one rainy day in the window. The story makes the news, where David sees that Oskar lives nearby. The three of them are reunited. The whole time, Aviva kept saying, “Don’t you think this is probably a nonfiction book, Mama?”

Lights out, snuggle in the dark, and this is when Aviva turns to me, opens up to me, shares what’s on her mind. All the storms and pushing-back and slamming doors seem distant and unimportant. I had a revelation tonight, which is that she is much more interested in her own life than in mine. As it should be. She wanted to talk about her growing, changing body, and her plans for the future (she is going to work before going to college so that she can save up for a house and later to adopt a baby, probably with a husband but she hasn’t decided yet). At one point, she said, “You know… puberty.” I managed not to say, “No, no, no, no–you are eight and a half and we don’t need to be talking about this yet!”

She said she wants to be skinnier. This was the first time I’d heard that from her, and I am keenly aware of the what buttons of fear and reaction (“No, no, no, no!”) this could trigger for me. I asked her lots of questions and we talked about her older cousin and her best friend and her little sister and what it means to be healthy. Then we had hysterics imagining her growing so tall her head would poke out the roof. When we remembered her pediatrician’s name–Dr. Long–we giggled some more and started playing with new names for her, finally settling on Aviva Strong Bamboo Bamboozle Lou Long.

She described herself as “spunky” and “just like Keeker.” Spunky, in her words, means having “a unique style all my own, in a good way.” Then she made hand shadows on the little strip of light from outside on her wall, eventually quieting down and snuggling up with me. We both fell asleep, but I knew I wanted to get up, to have some time alone, finally.

Writing tonight, I remember this poem by William Stafford. “Yes.”

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out – no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

Tonight, in the wake of another earthquake and its aftermath, no us, no them, no me, no you, I give thanks for the bonus of spending a day with my daughters, every single waking moment of it. No, it’s not all sweetness and light, or sunshine, love and salvation. It’s also devastation and the daily grind and an afternoon trip to the dump. I even attempted to find a sitter for tonight dear God let me make it to bedtime so I can go out for a lemondrop martini.

Then hearing Pearlie start to snore and snuggling in the dark of this temporary house talking about puberty and silly names and what-all-else doesn’t-even-matter with Aviva, I am grateful, grateful, grateful that I was, am, here.

No guarantees in this life.

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