"Love her, but leave her wild." –Harper Lee

I stayed up late a few nights last week, gathering old journal entries and blog posts and digging through notebooks I kept from when Mia was little. I’d forgotten such a huge part of her life.
There are things that happened with her dad that I just don’t tell anyone, or have rarely spoken about. When we finally got out of Port Townsend and away from seeing him every day, I tried my best to forget. Those first two years of her life have a lingering sense of a bad dream with a few images of sweetness here and there. Going back and reading my private journals and logs made me see things without the prison of anxiety. I see Mia differently.
DSC02134She was Coraline’s age when we were first homeless. We lived in this little cottage that served as a shelter with the housing authority. I had a flip-phone and a radio to entertain us. She had one basket of toys. We went for long walks during the day. She talked all the time. Up until that point, she’d been a quiet, watchful baby. After we separated ourselves from her dad, she started crawling and talking and entertaining herself.
For years, I’ve felt guilty for what I put her through. That I endured the abuse and exposed her to it. The constant moving, getting out of Port Townsend, driving six hours every other weekend for visits, her getting shuffled around so much, then moving her to Montana, all felt like I’d put her through hell for my own reasons. Because “selfish bitch” was his favorite thing to call me after “crazy.”
I found this old file I’d written in for a while. It just has dates and records of conversations or incidents. I did it in case we went to court again, and had to stop because I’d dwell on the words too much. Looking back on them now, it’s so obvious what hell we were going through with him. Not just me, but Mia, too. Back then it was normal to hear him call me names and yell. Now I can’t believe it was ever said. One thing’s for certain, we had to get out of there.
DSCN1534Last night, for the first time, I made the girls one dinner. They both ate spiral pasta with red sauce and the three of us sat at the table at the same time. Coraline added “boo” to her vocabulary. I think so, anyway. Maybe it’d be more accurate to say she put another one of her regular sounds into context. She’s gaining a sense of independence, and crawls further away from me when we go places.
This morning, Mia came in to get me up, and woke Coraline up, too. I was all hunched over on my side with my knees almost to my chest to prevent my back from complaining too much. “Cora was up for two hours last night,” I said. “She was wide awake and crawling around the bed. I had to put her in the playpen with my hand over the edge to get a little sleep.”
Mia asked if she could take her and I said a thankful yes. When I came out of my room 15 minutes later, they were both completely dressed with coats and hats on. I decided we deserved a trip through the drive-through coffee stand. I dropped Mia off in front of her school on this patch of grass and gave her a big hug and kiss.
“Thank you for being so helpful this morning,” I said. “You’re such a good kid and a great big sister. You look beautiful today.”
DSCN1541She’s been upping the ante on style lately. This morning she had on purple tights, a dress, a sweater, a purse, white gloves, a jacket, and matching hat. She looked so fancy standing there in the morning sun, unlike me and completely like her. She stood there, beaming, and blew me a kiss, holding her hot chocolate with that fancy white glove and I thought I should take a picture. But by the time I’d gone back to get it, she’d lined up.
“Elastic Heart” by Sia played as we drove to school this morning. I’d heard it plenty of times, but the lyrics grabbed me harder:
You did not break me, I am still fighting for peace.
And it’s all for you, Mia. It’s always been all for you.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWZGAExj-es&w=560&h=315]

A Letter to my Second Daughter

DSCN1452My dear Coraline Cairn,
We’re sitting at the kitchen table together. You’re eating banana pieces. You pick a chunk up with your long fingers, squish it inside your chubby hand, and raise your fist in the air. I imagine you thinking, “Behold! Banana!” but I know you’re not. Before the banana, you ate a puree that came out of a pouch. Whenever you see me take one of these out of the drawer, you start bouncing in your seat and laugh. Eating’s kind of your favorite thing in the world.
I needed to write this months ago. I should have been writing this sort of stuff down in the past nine months that we’ve been getting to know each other. I hardly have pictures of you, let alone a baby book.
What pains me is I know I’ll forget most of this. I won’t remember the sounds you made this morning as you woke up, but that you screamed at the top of your lungs for a whole month. This first year with you will fade to a blur, like your first months already have. I’ll be left with impossibly small onesies, a few photos, and some Facebook posts. My hope is, when you’re hurt by this as an adult, I’ll whisper that you’ve always been my favorite, and all will be forgiven.
Your sister doesn’t have a baby book, either. I did write about her all the time. I’ve been reading those scenes late at night. I can see your big sister at two so clearly through what I wrote. I remember how wispy her hair felt on my cheek. I remember her voice. I remember how impossible some days felt. Some minutes, even.
Even if I don’t end up writing about you as much as I’d like, or take pictures of you other than crappy ones from my flip phone, know that I am mindful of how short of time you’ll be a baby.
With your sister, I fought to own my physical space again, and spent most of the day preparing for bedtime. Almost every decision I made revolved around 7:30 at night when Mia went to bed. I sat in the next room, hoping she slept long enough to give me a break. Your sister started her years with a mom who clawed up the slippery slope that was completely losing herself in motherhood. She had a mom who struggled through depression, questioning her self-identity. Her mom was insecure, anxious, and so stressed.
You, my darling, don’t have to deal with that shit.
DSCN1431You were born to a mother who’d been doing this on her own for quite some time. Being home with you is like a sweet Saturday afternoon instead of crippling isolation and loneliness. I love our little bubble of an apartment, where I plan to keep all of us in for years, instead of moving every few months.
I kiss your sister goodnight in her own room with her big bunk bed and walk out to her Taylor Swift CD. She sets out her own clothes, bathes herself, and even ties her own shoes. Sometimes I offer to make her pancakes and she’d rather play outside with her friends. She reads to herself at night, and has math homework. She talks about boys and watches horrible TV shows that make me miss that blue puppy.
You watch her dance and jump around and laugh. And you’ll be just as big so fast, oh so fast.
So even though I lack in recording memories, know that I hardly ever put you down. I love when you sleep on my chest so I can rest my lips on your head, inhaling deep enough for your hair to tickle my nose. Know that even though we’ll forget most of these first years, you were rarely far from my arms, looking up and smiling at me.
With love.