“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.

 

step.

 

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