Okay, so I’m totally aware that all of you with older kids are just itching to say Just Wait Until (Insert Random Milestone Here) while I wax poetic and get all misty-eyed because my little girl took one step further away from me today when she walked out of preschool for the very last time. I get it all the time from a high school friend with a middle schooler on her hands.

You think this is bad? Just wait until…

And then I roll my eyes, tell her I’m just going to concentrate on now, because I want to remember the excitement in Buttercup’s eyes as she slipped on her cap and gown for her graduation ceremony and the way she poured her heart into the song her class sang for us sobbing mothers. And the tears and smeared mascara and laughing at myself because I forgot to put tissues in my purse even though every mother at the preschool who had been through the routine before had warned me. I want to remember that, too.

How much she loves her teachers and how she insisted we invite them both to her birthday party because that’s what we do with friends that we love. The progress she’s made throughout the year and how she has blossomed into a confident little spitfire of a girl who is no longer afraid to show the world she is proud of her abilities. Miss Jessica and Miss Monica and the little classroom family that we will miss terribly because they are incredible teachers and mentors and how I want to pack them up and just take them with me.

Eleventeen and Sangwich and maturing into Eleven and Sandwich.

Mama Read Me Another Story and Kiss My Boo Boo Make It Better and even Mama Can You Help Me Wipe My Butt are fading into Mama Can I Read This One To You Tonight and It Doesn’t Hurt It’s Okay Mama and Mama Can You Help Me Wipe My Butt because this is reality, people. Reality means we wash our hands with them after they go potty not because we are trying to show them how to do it properly but because we probably are the ones who did the actual wiping. And that’s okay with us because it’s our baby and our reality and all of the messy bits smushed together make the now that we love that will mesh into the Remember Whens that we will always hold onto.

It’s okay, I tell my friend. I’m not worried about Until. In fact, Until isn’t even on my radar right now. Because now is all about This. All of it.

She walked out of the preschool today a little graduate and a member of the class of 2025, ready to take on Kindergarten when the new school year starts at the end of July. She was in her daddy’s arms, her red-cowboy boots hanging lower on his 6’1” frame than even just a few months ago. And I will remember this moment.

Always.

 

 

It’s strange how the timing on this one worked out. But the timing could not have been more perfect for me to finally have what has got to be the most bad-ass blog post title ever. Then again, I received pretty high praise from readers on the Love, Assholes, and My Grandpa one, so I guess it’s kind of a toss up.

Either way, I’ve got a zombie to tell you about and a dead father to remember.

There’s this poem I wrote years ago. If I remember correctly, it was for a creative writing course in college and the class was silent for just a moment longer than a heartbeat after I finished reading. Zombie is not meant to be a comfortable read or to create images of beauty; rather, it’s a very real and very gritty moment that many who have ever suffered from bulimia can (sadly) relate to.

Until very recently, Zombie was in a binder with old papers until I decided to do something more with it. So I transcribed it into a Word Document, hit save, and sent my words off to the editor at Voxx Poetica. My poem appeared on Voxx almost two months ago and I just now realized it had actually been published. Thank you to Voxx for a moment to connect with others who understand and the opportunity to explain the inner-workings of the head of an eating disordered teenager to those who don’t.

Because I tend to schedule my blog posts based on the incredibly scientific When I Remember to Do it method, my plan to share my Voxx publication news with you today just now happens to coincide with dead dads, the daughters of all ages who are grieving them, and the woman who is building working to build a community of solace for those who find themselves wondering where to turn. I first met my friend Mary of Mama Mary Show a few years ago at the Phoenix Bloggy Bootcamp conference and got to see her again at Blogher 10 just a few months later. I don’t remember how we started talking about it, but we connected when we shared with each other the pain of losing our fathers decades before we had expected to deal with this kind of grief.

Mary’s goal was to publish a book and start a new web site on which contributing writers could connect, share, and heal. And I’m honored to be featured as part of the official launch of the Dead Dad’s Club.

Every time someone else thinks my words worthy of their space is a day to celebrate. Every day I am brave enough to share again is a day to smile. I survived me. And I’ll never delete my my father’s phone number from my contact list.

 

“Mama, I can’t sleep.”

“Shhh … just close your eyes and relax, baby.”

“But mama, I tried that already. I caaaaaaaaan’t sleeeeeeep.”

“Maybe if you try longer than three seconds, it just might happen.”

“But Ma…”

“Shhh … Daddy’s already asleep. Want me to sing you a lullaby? Whichever one you want, baby girl.”

She finally stops her fidgeting and snuggles closer to me. “You pick, mama.”

Without hesitation, I launch into the first bedtime lullaby session in recent memory. She’s almost five and while I’m holding on to her wanting to co-sleep for as long as she will let me, she stopped asking me to sing her to sleep a few years ago. I softly sing that she is my sunshine, my only sunshine, as she relaxes even more into my body.

I smile into the dark.

 

 

The day didn’t start this sweet. Buttercup has been home sick from preschool for over a week now with a low-grade fever, congestion, vomiting, and lots of whining brought on by the horrible Tucson allergy season. Nebulizers and medications and trips to the allergist and waiting in the Walgreens parking lot for more prescriptions have been par for the course lately. So has an attitude that makes me fear the day she realizes she has hormones. The kid hates being sick.

This morning she woke up happy. But somewhere between getting out of bed and sitting down to pee, the stars must have fallen out of alignment because the child shot right passed crabby and hit bitchy in ten seconds flat. Her eyes narrowed and she glared up at me from her perch on the toilet with a look that gave me every confidence in the world she’s ready to hold her own on an elementary school playground. Then she announced that she couldn’t pee.

“What do you mean, you can’t pee? Do you mean you don’t have to go yet?”

“No,” she spat out. “I have to and I just can’t.”

Um…okay….

“So try harder?”

“I am, Mama! I. Just. CAN’T.”

And the stand off began. I had things to do today and lots of shit to attend to before I ran out of time. BFF Heather was going to be coming over later to tag along on another one of my doctor appointments this afternoon while her fiance was set to play dollhouse and watch princess movies with Buttercup. I wanted to make sure I had a bra on before they showed up in four hours.

“Do you hurt in your belly?” I ask.

“No,” she grunts back.

“Does your vagina hurt?” I ask.

“No, my bagina does not hurt.” She says back, her teeth clenched. “I just can’t go.”

Satisfied she doesn’t need a trip to the pediatrician and this is just the world’s most original tantrum, I leave the bathroom and make my way to my shower.

“Fine,” I call back as I walk away. “Sit there as long as you want to. I’m not scheduling my day around when you decide to stop being a drama queen.”

I’m answered with furious tears and sobbing. Turns out she hadn’t expected me to leave. And yet she’s still sitting there after I return, dressed, teeth brushed, flossed, hair done, and make-up applied. Kid knows how to dig in her heels, that’s for damned sure. So I called her bluff.

“I guess we need to go to a hospital.”

“NO!”

“Well, if you can’t pee, that’s not a good thing for you body. And that means I need to take you in so the doctors can fix you.” I pause for effect. “I’ll go get my purse and the car keys so we can leave right away.”

Her eyes are wide. She’s blinking. A lot. The wheels in that head of hers are turning furiously. And just as suddenly as she flipped the switch to bitch, she flips it back to sweet angel as she finally let the iron hold on her bladder go. “Wow, guess what, Mama! I’m cured!”

I gloat inside of my head and rejoice with her as we finally get started with our day.

 

 

 

“Mama, I love you,” she whispers. Her head is on my chest now. Her voice thick with the sleep that’s about to consume her.

I ask her to please never take my sunshine away, and hug her closer.

 

 

 

I wrote an essay two years ago. I’m publishing it here today because Buttercup told me with sad eyes and pouty lips that she missed her Guelo that died when she was a baby and went to stay with Jesus in heaven with the angels. She asked me when I can take her to visit him because it’s probably really pretty up there. And I really wasn’t sure what to say.

***

 

I never referred to them as Grandma and Grandpa. I didn’t even remember them.

Using those words would have made me feel like I was faking affection for my mother’s parents when all I had was a few grainy photos and a grave site for reference.

I knew the story. They had been on the way home from a trip to visit family in Mexico when a trucker fell asleep at the wheel and ran into their vehicle, head on. My mother, who had just turned 20, lost her parents that day. She was supposed to have been on that trip, she tells me, but she just couldn’t bear to leave her 10-month-old daughter for that amount of time.

I know it’s a sad story. But because I have no memory of them I also never allowed myself to feel anything on our yearly treks to the cemetery for birthdays and holidays so my mother could pay her respects.

“Time to go to the cemetery for your parents again?” I’d ask when I’d hear my mom on the phone making arrangements for floral blankets and grave site tags and all that other business that fell into the category of Stuff I Couldn’t Relate To.

“Yep,” she’d reply. “Can you take me this weekend?”

So we’d get in the car and drive the 30-minutes to Detroit and I’d spend just the right amount of time standing beside my mother as she paid her respects before shuffling off to listen to the car radio or paint my nails and wait for them to dry while Mom lingered. She knew I wasn’t going to rush her. I may not have understood, but I wasn’t heartless, either.  So I’d add a second coat of polish if she was taking longer than usual.

I might have wished I was somewhere else. I may have sighed. A lot. But I never rushed her. And I’d talk myself out of feeling guilty for not giving a damn by reminding myself that I couldn’t really be upset about strangers being dead. Because really, that’s what they were, right? Right.

End of discussion.

But now, almost three years after the untimely death of my own father, I wonder if my toddler will be rolling her eyes at me every time I want to make a special trip to the cemetery to pay my respects. We won’t be able to go very often, mind you. He’s buried in Detroit, in the plot right next to my mother’s parents, and a far cry from our home in Arizona.

But there’ll be trips to see family. There’s a moment, each year on his birthday and on the day he passed that we all get melancholy because he’s not here to make us laugh. Or piss us off just so he can make us laugh again.

I wonder if she’ll think I’m crazy for not being able to throw away the last two cans of Miller Lite I found in our recycle bin because I knew they were his. Or if she’ll ever ask me about him and what he was like.

I wonder if she’ll even care.

She won’t remember him, after all. She was only six months old when he died. I was 29.

She won’t know his face. She won’t know his voice. She won’t know the devilish twinkle in his eye or how his ears would turn red when he was trying to pull one over on someone. She won’t know that he didn’t say he loved you. Or that you knew he did, anyway.

I can tell her all of these stories, of course. And she’ll be a good daughter and try to understand. Maybe even empathize. But she won’t really know.

I know this because it wasn’t until the moment my father was pronounced dead, just six months into his 50th year and on my mother’s 49th birthday that I finally understood what my mother had been dealing with all those years that I was pretending to care.

And it wasn’t until that first trip to the cemetery to visit my father’s grave, right next to that of my grandparents, that I knew what it was to stand on the very earth that had swallowed my heart.

But then I have moments where I think maybe Mom was on to something. Maybe I’ll follow her lead and just let my daughter be. There’s no need to force memories upon her that aren’t really hers, after all.

I can’t expect her to feel something for someone she never knew. Or understand the constant ache that’s always there, just under the surface. Or the guilt that comes with living when you know that you just left flowers for someone who’s supposed to still be alive, too.

And because I have my own driver’s license, there’s really no need to force her to tag along when I’m in town and can make a stop at the cemetery with my mother, who’s smarter and stronger than I ever gave her credit for. Because she knew that I didn’t understand and was glad for it. And she was so very devastated when I finally did.

I don’t want my daughter to know what that feels like. So I won’t say anything when she refers to her grandfather as “your dad.”

 

 

 

“Mama, that one’s pretty!”

I frown at my reflection in the unforgiving dressing room mirror. The lights are too bright. Beneath the glare, I see a too-fat woman with too-full hips and a too-round belly shoved into not-enough Lycra. There’s fat where muscle once was, cellulite hiding definition lost long before I got pregnant almost five years ago. I see my mother’s words.

She sees her mama in a pretty blue bathing suit.

“I don’t like the way this one fits,” I say, evasively. “Let’s try that black one on and see how it looks.”

Innocent eyes blink up at me.

We are at Target because of a last minute birthday party invitation. It’s a pool party and it’s tomorrow. The black suit is…disappointing. Or rather, the body within it isn’t living up to the standards of beauty set so deep within. It could work, except it’s a bit too tight on the stomach and my boobs are spilling out of the top. I see lumps and bumps and cellulite. I see a label. I hear my mother’s voice. And I see my daughter’s eyes.

I keep my eyes neutral and smile at Buttercup’s reflection.

“Let’s keep looking.”

Trust blinks back at me.

“Okay, mama.”

 

 

 

 

SPLASH!

She’s smiling. Jumping. Giggling. My toes dangle in the water. I’m sitting on the edge of the pool in a T-shirt and a pair of denim capris.

I am surrounded by laughter and sunshine and my own judgement. That one’s got twins and in a bikini. Lucky, isn’t she? And that one, over there…the hips are softer than they once probably were but I’d kill for their bodies; to look like them.

Remember? The chunky one? That’s who I’m talking about.”

I don’t remember the day. I don’t even remember the circumstance. Only a few months have passed since my mother uttered these words in front of Buttercup and me. We may have been eating dinner out. Or maybe we were walking through the mall while window shopping. I saw people. She saw labels.

Thin. Tall. Fat. Short.

My mother is five feet tall and, after birthing five children, is a petite, body-conscious woman who never knew to censor her thoughts in front of her impressionistic daughters. Conversations about others always led off, and still do, with physical descriptors of those being discussed. Blonde. Skinny. Ugly. Pretty. Black. Puerto Rican. The one with the mustache that put on a few pounds? I grew up viewing the world through the same eyes. I see the person second.

“I weighed 80 pounds when I got pregnant with you,” bleeds into echos of  “These size 6′s are getting loose on me” and “I need to lose five more pounds.”

She can eat what she wants, never exercises, and is confused for my older sister more often than I care to admit. Obviously, her half of the gene-pool was not passed down to her first born, save for the kinky hair that makes strangers argue with me about my own ethnicity. At 5’6”, I tower over my pixie of a mother and remember sharing clothes with her when I was eight. Today, I probably outweigh her by a good 60 pounds, and even if I woke up at my goal weight tomorrow, she’d still be a few weight classes below me in a boxing ring.

“People never believed you belonged to me,” she likes to remind me, smiling as she sees me for the baby she once balanced on her hip. “They always told me you were to big to be mine. I should know, I’d tell them. I pushed you out, right?”

I was three feet shorter than her on the day I was born. I was probably born with a complex. The Latino tendency to use “Gorda” and its  diminutive as terms of affection may also have played a part in my off-kilter thinking, or maybe it was the constant thigh pinching and tongue-clucking that always went hand in hand with offers for more of the fat-laden, sugar-filled treats of my childhood.

“Aye, m’ijita. You need to loose some weight.” Pinch Pinch. “Who wants another bowl of ice cream?”

Ask anyone in my family and they will most likely tell you they didn’t mean anything by it. No one set out to make us feel less than ourselves or thought that today’s words might have an effect on tomorrow’s mindset. But it was internalized, nonetheless. Out of the five of us, one is within the medically acceptable range for her weight and has to put very little effort into dropping a few pounds when she feels the need. She’s built just like our mother because the best was saved for last.

Of the rest of us, two have known thyroid issues, one I assume will regain her pre-baby body quickly enough if she is able to find the time to devote to herself after having four children with little age separation, and one likes to refer to herself as “fluffy and not fat.”  We’ve talked and Fluffy nods her head in agreement when we get to the part about the mangled “starving kids in China” and “You need to start watching what you are eating” messages we had thrown at us when we had nothing but trust in our own eyes.

My hips betrayed me when I was twelve. At least they had the decency to not double-team me with my boobs when I woke up to a fully sprouted pair the year I was eight. My mother marched me right over to my father, who had been trying to fix the broken screen door.

“Look Rene,” she said, turning me sideways so he could examine my profile, the red, white, and blue glittery arrow on my pink This End Up T-shirt only serving to emphasize my mother’s point. “Don’t you think she needs a bra?”

I don’t remember what he said. I do remember my mother on the phone telling her friends how training bras were not even going to work so could they please bring over their old bras so she could see what would fit me? It was a B-cup, I think. It’s also the year I got a head start on developing an S-curve in my back from always trying to hide myself and my untrained chi-chis from the world.

 

 

 

 

My husband takes his cues from me when it comes to Buttercup and food. We don’t make her eat if she isn’t hungry, we offer a variety of healthy snack options when she is, and when strangers point out how big she is for her age, he says nothing when I gently correct them with a “yes, she’s very tall, isn’t she?” I exercise to be healthy and strong, I eat to give my body good energy, and I refrain from body-judgement of myself and others whenever she is within hearing distance. I might be dead-set on losing 15 more pounds before I’ll happily shop for a bathing suit again, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to spoil her joy of pushing her little belly-panza out and rubbing it like a little Buddha when she is “full of good food” and other happy thoughts.

There’s a woman in the pool; the mother of a preschooler and a nine-month old. Of all those swimming before me, I wish to be her. Not because of her body. She’s overweight. Boxier than I am with no defined waist. She laughs as Buttercup jumps into the pool into her soft, outstretched arms, and then reaches out again to catch her own daughter. Cute sunglasses, a smart little hair-do, and the lipstick to stubborn to be washed away highlight her pretty face. I glance at the rest of the bodies in the pool area and then back at the woman playing in the pool with my daughter. I see more labels when I hear my mother’s voice. I see confidence when I listen to my own.

“Did you have a good time getting your feet wet today, Mama?” Buttercup asks me as we drive home from the party.

I smile into the rear view mirror. “I sure did, baby.”

We fall into silence as we drive home, listening to her radio station, and singing along when we both know the words.

 

***

 

I wrote this in August of 2011 and for one reason or another have kept putting off publishing. Today, I’m sharing another piece of the puzzle that grew up into the woman who continues to fight with the reflection she sees in the mirror.

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