This post is for Stephanie, who made these fine mittens and hats!
And, per Della’s request…
This post is for Stephanie, who made these fine mittens and hats!
And, per Della’s request…
A conversation had whilst eating mac and cheese at 10 a.m.; I was typing while they talked.
George: Is meat cow, mommy?
Me: Hamburgers and steak come from cows, yes. And chicken comes from chickens, and pork comes from pigs. And hot dogs…
Della: …come from dogs. We eat dogs for dinner.
Me: No. We don’t eat dogs. Hot dogs come from either cows or pigs.
George: Do we eat fox for dinner?
Della: Or frogs for dinner?
Della: I heard we eat fox sometimes.
Della: I know something else we eat. I know dragons are not real, but we eat dragons.
Me: No, we don’t.
Della: Don’t you know kale is dragon? And spinach is dragon.
George: Is kale dragon, mommy?
George: (to Della) It’s not. (To me) What comes from mac and cheese?
Me: Pasta comes from a plant called wheat, and cheese comes from milk, which comes from cows.
Della: Easy. Easy to make mac and cheese, isn’t it? All you need to do is cook it.
George: How do buffaloes eat?
Me: They graze on grasses just like horses.
George: Oh. Do we eat buffalo?
Me: Sometimes we do. Buffalo burgers.
George: Hey—Bungalow Bill! That used to be my favorite song. Did Bungalow Bill used to be my favorite song?
Della: How do dogs eat and cats eat?
Me: Out of bowls. They eat dog and cat food. I think it has meat in it.
George: What about boats? What about boaters?
Me: Boats eat gas, and boaters are people, so they eat like we do. They eat all kinds of things.
George: A boater is a kind of rock.
Della: Boulder. Boulder is a really big rock.
Me: Oh. Okay. Boulders don’t eat anything.
Della: Mom, how do humans eat?
George: They just crunch.
Della (singing): Do you like mac and cheese? Yes I do, yes I do. Do you like humans? No I don’t, no I don’t.
Me: I have a question for you guys. How do you feel about eating animals?
George: Crazy. No, I mean bad.
Me: Do you think we shouldn’t eat animals?
Me: Why is it ok?
Della: Because animals that are good for us can make us strong. Wanna see how strong I am? (flexes)
George: Wanna see how strong I am? (flexes)
Della: Wanna see me eat all my mac and cheese?
George: Cowboys are very, very, very, very, very strong.
Me: Did you know some people don’t eat meat?
Della: Yeah, like vegetarians.
Me: That’s right. Did you know you don’t have to eat meat if you don’t want to?
Della: Well, I like meat.
On Halloween, Della looked up at the dark sky and saw stars, and she said, “Maybe heaven is in the sky, and when somebody dies they turn into a star. Maybe Nanny Rosie is a star.”
In November, we read The Snow Queen. A little girl was looking for her friend Kay. She asked the roses if he was dead. They said, “We have been in the ground. All the dead people are there, but Kay is not there.”
Della said, “So heaven is in the ground!”
The next day, when I brought my camera to the lake, there, very clearly, was the sky in the water, lapping the stones. So heaven is in the ground, I thought as I crouched to catch the reflection of the sun on the surface of the reservoir.
And I thought about Thoreau walking across a frozen pond and peering through a window of ice into the water, which spurred him to write: Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
When I was in college, I would walk past a tattoo parlor on the way to the grocery store, and those words were the cleverest thing I could imagine inking on my ankle. They are an assertion of humanism, an expression of faith in nature, a hymn to the here and now.
When the reservoir is low you can scrape bottom and look like you are sprinting across the stars, I wrote in the fall. I was referring to the bright yellow leaves on the little trees that had sprung up only as recently as the water had receded, and that would die under the snow. I was referring to some resemblance between breaking through and breaking down.
When I flew with the kids to Utah to move here in April, on our descent we passed through the clouds, they were peachy and the sky was blue, and the kids started waving at the window and saying, “Hi, Nanny Rosie!” And I thought, when did I tell them that heaven is in the sky? Hadn’t I said that heaven is all around us? And did I mean that heaven is what you feel but can’t see?
In January, Della drew a brown squiggly line that swerves recklessly around two pages of my lined address book, open to the letter Y.
“I drew a path to heaven,” she said, tracing the line with her finger, then landing on the orangish red scribble in the bottom left, “and this is Nanny Rosie dying.”
My mother spoke about wanting to retrain her brain. She said, essentially, the pathway to psychosis had been cut, and she needed to practice taking an alternate route. Rerouting the flow before it cut too deep, becoming the only passable way out of the valley.
But it was too late.
Della’s line circles back to itself, the way things do.
Another time, Della said, I want to ask the StoryBots why the moon is a circle.
I should have read her the Black Elk quote written on my mom’s bathroom wall and engraved in a medallion inlaid on our circular front drive.
Psychosis is: obsessive fixations, circular thinking. Some circles are holy, and some are hell holes. My mother’s journals are disappointing because they are not a record of a life, they are a broken record. Always the same record, always locked in the same awful groove.
Psychosis is: trouble distinguishing between what is real and what is not.
The sky on the surface of the reservoir is only a reflection. An anniversary is only an echo. Heaven is only an idea.
Della said sometime before we left Virginia, “Mommy, when I am a mommy, you will be a grandma.”
I said, “Yeah, you will have a baby and I will be that baby’s grandma.”
“And you will die, and I will cry for you!” She started to cry. “I’m crying because you’re going to die.” And then she said, somewhat hopefully but still crying, “And you will see your mommy in heaven.”
I said, “I won’t die for a long, long, long time. You don’t have to worry, sweetie. I’m going to stay here with you. I’m not going to heaven.”
I wanted to say, It was unusual that she died so young. It isn’t usually like this.
I should have said, I don’t want to go to heaven. I would so much rather stay here with you and be your mommy. I would rather be yours than see mine. If I could choose. If I had to.
Not too long ago, Steve said to me in bed, “You’re not here. You’re not with us.” It was a Saturday night. I knew what he meant.
He even said, “Sometimes it seems like you think you would be better off without us.”
The next day was dark for us both. Steve took Della skiing and I cleaned out the pantry. It was the last space we had left to go through. Everywhere there was evidence of my mother’s excess and eccentricity. Or just evidence. Evidence of her. Light-up frogs on felt lilypads. Glow sticks purchased in bulk. Paper plates and plastic utensils by the thousands. Party lights. Harmonicas. Gallons upon gallons of Crisco. Dried and jarred lovage. Jams. Teas in old tins and a velvet-lined wooden box. Little notes and labels. Her handwriting. Electric candles. Homeopathic pills. Containers I will save to make Della a witch’s kit.
That week I talked to a friend who told me it is completely normal for me to feel that parenting can be hard, overwhelming, too exhausting, terrible beyond words. Normal to want to disengage, as I sometimes do.
But there are some people who are really spectacular parents. My mom was. She made it look easy. Maybe it wasn’t as easy for her as it looked.
I do need to be here. There is nowhere else but here.
Heaven is under our feet.
In the car on the way to the airport, Bappa and I told Della we were taking her on a surprise trip to Sacramento. She said, “I’m super excited in my heart!”, “You guys are super nice!”, and “I’m super excited! Eee!”
Sacramento is normally a mythical place where only grown-ups go. The kids have imaginary houses here.
This is the house where Nanny Rosie grew up and where I used to visit my grandparents.
It has always been a messy and magical place.
We went to the Sacramento Zoo.
We went to Fairytale Town.
We walked the Crooked Mile.
We planted citrus.
We alpaca farmed.
We sang and we sillied.
Best daughter ever.
George: What do horses look like when they’re dead?
Bappa: They look like they’re sleeping.
What do dead cows look like?
They look like they’re sleeping too.
What do dead chickens look like?
Same thing. Sleeping.
What about farm animals?
Well, yeah, farm animals, we were just talking about farm animals. They look like they’re sleeping.
What about dead people?
They just look like they’re sleeping.
But what about people. What do they look like when they’re dead?
I just told you, they look like they’re sleeping.
They look like they’re sleeping.
But what do vultures look like when they’re sleeping?
They just…they have their eyes closed and they put their head down like this.
Oh. But dead raccoons don’t look like they’re sleeping.
No. They have blood on their tongues.
Oh you’re talking about the raccoon we buried by the mailbox.
Well, it got run over by a car. If something gets hit by a car then it looks all messed up.
I saw a dead zebra and it wasn’t galloping because it was dead.
Once I saw a raccoon sleeping in a tree and it had wings on it. The raccoon did.
Oh. A raccoon with wings?
That’s very rare.
Yeah, I did see that.
You guys, it’s really wintry here.
This is a bit of an exaggeration. It wasn’t actually this warm. Our outdoor thermometer said -19. So cold we let Miss Kitty sleep in the laundry room.
Della was shattered when I told her to stop eating the carrot nose.
My racing name is Frosty Pigtails.