Countdown to Daughter #1: Two and a half hours!
On a summer afternoon when she was eight years old, Daughter #1 fell out of a tree in her grandparents' backyard and broke both of her arms. Later that same week she attended her great-grandmother's funeral, sporting twin casts. Aunts and cousins and family friends clustered and clucked around her all afternoon long.
If a funeral can have a *Belle of the Ball* ... she was it.
A couple of years later she broke her arm again, this time in a playground accident. I have a picture of her in her Hallowe'en costume that year: a glamorous eleven-year-old Devil Grrl with one arm in a bright blue sling.
Right from the beginning, she was my Transitional Objects Kid ... forming swift and immutable attachments to blankets, dolls, babysitters, kittens, stuffed orange dragons, goldfish, pop stars. I spent an entire afternoon (and two rolls of Scotch tape) one year, while she was away at summer camp, papering her bedroom wall with magazine pictures of her beloved Paula Abdul. The display remained on her wall for years, until the tape turned yellow and curly and the pictures began to fall off.
The wall collage, in fact, lasted longer than did the infatuation with Ms. Abdul.
her Paula Abdul
She was also my Imaginatively Fearful Kid.
No boring, run-of-the-mill fear of spooks or spiders or big black dogs (or Crosby, Stills & Nash songs) for this child: she chose, as her primary childhood fear, the infinitely groovier *bad clowns.* "Dose bad clowns almost eat me," she'd say worriedly at night, as I was tucking her in. It took a little digging to uncover the root of this peculiar fear. Eventually, though, we traced it back to an unsupervised viewing of "Poltergeist." (Remember the scene where the toy clown tries to eat the annoying little boy? That's what did it.) For years thereafter, our bedtime ritual included the specific and vehement request to God that "NO BAD CLOWNS" be allowed in Jaymi's bedroom.
"NO, NO, NO!" we would chant together, at the end of the prayer.
I guess it worked. She's eighteen years old now, and she has yet to be eaten by a bad clown.
*I* believe that's probably a good thing.
For the first fifteen months of her life, it was just the two of us. Jaymi and me. We were like our own little society.
Then her sister was born, and our society grew to three.
"Daddy" lived on the periphery of our lives, most of the time ... stopping by the house occasionally, just long enough to drink a beer and grumble about money. Most of the time he was off battling his own demons. And by the time Little Brother came along, a few more years down the road, the world had begun to open up to us again. (Read this: the phone had finally been reconnected, and Mommy had a car.)
But for those first fifteen months it was just Jaymi and me.
I'm sure that at the time I felt lonely sometimes, and isolated, and frustrated by the circumstances of my life ... but mostly I look back on it as a very sweet time. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I already had her name picked out by the time I was fourteen.
I used to doodle it on the cover of my Pee Chee ... Jamie, Jaime, Jaymee, Jaymi, Jamie Lynn ... as I sat daydreaming in Mr. Corrado's eighth grade Washington State History class.
I knew a lot about her then, actually ... ten years before she arrived. I knew that she would be my firstborn. I knew that she would have brown eyes, like her father ... whoever he turned out to be. I knew that she would be one of three children, and that she would have a younger sister, followed by a younger brother. [I knew what THEIR names were going to be, too.] I knew that she would be smart. I knew that she would like to read. I knew that she would be pretty.
And I knew that we were going to be best friends.
By the time she was six years old, she was making the coffee every day.
By the time she was ten, she was baking lighter, fluffier birthday cakes than *I* did.
By the time she was fifteen, she was pretty much running the household. And that was even before I left.
I made the same fond foolish mistake a lot of parents make, when she was born: I attempted to recreate my childhood through her.
The good parts of my childhood, that is.
I was only occasionally successful. She loved The Wizard of Oz, but Mary Poppins left her cold; she hated Girl Scout camp, but she was wild about swimming. School plays? Yes. Piano lessons? No. Alpha Bits? Yes.
Grandma Vert's prune dumplings? HELL no.
The irony, of course, is that I inadvertently ended up recreating a lot of the bad parts of my childhood for her, as well. By the time she reached kindergarten, she already knew all about dysfunctional Mommies and Daddies.
And, just like me, she spent most of her high school years without an onsite mom.
I don't know when or how or why I started calling her "Puss." I vaguely remember reading it in a novel or in a magazine, and liking how quietly affectionate it sounded. I've had a lot of pet names for her, over the years -- James, Jaymeroo, Jay-Jay, Jamantha, Polyester Fiberfill -- but "Puss" [short for "Pussycat"] is the nickname that sticks. I think she's resigned herself to it.
She has a mole on the instep of her left foot. I discovered it the morning after she was born, as I sat in my hospital bed and unwrapped her, like a small pink burrito.
I still peek at her mole whenever she's barefoot, just to make sure it's not changing color or shape.
A couple of days before I ran off to Oregon ... that awful summer, three years ago this month ... she stopped by to see me at my office. It was payday, and she wanted to grab a few dollars to go to the mall with her friends.
I was sad and tired and worried. I had not completely made up my mind to leave. I think I was running about 50-50 at that point. Nobody knew. I couldn't discuss it with anyone.
I tried to telegraph to her some of my agony and indecision. "What would you think if I went away for a little while?" I said to her carefully.
Her face registered such immediate alarm -- such Oh god please don't do anything stoopid again distress -- that I swiftly backtracked. "I mean, if I went and spent the day with (New Online Boyfriend Guy)," I waffled. "Just for lunch or something."
Her face relaxed. She shrugged and said she didn't care. This wasn't the first time Mom had gone off to meet an online boyfriend, and it probably wouldn't be the last. Just so long as I was home in time for dinner.
And at that moment ... I had an epiphany. A moment of clarity and vision, like a bell ringing in my heart. It said:
You don't have to go.
I felt such a wave of overpowering, sweet relief -- I don't have to go! I can just send the boyfriend a polite e-mail tonight, saying "I've decided to stay here" ... and I DON'T HAVE TO GO! -- that it very nearly undid me. But my boss was watching me from the other side of the office, and I knew that I couldn't fall apart there at the front desk. So I gave Jaymi forty dollars and told her to have fun at the mall.
Two days later ... I was gone.
My phone was ringing when I walked into my office this morning. I didn't answer it -- assuming it was Franz reaching out to annoy someone, pre-caffeine -- but when I checked my voicemail a few minutes later, there she was:
"Good morning. I'm just calling ... maybe you're not in yet or you're busy, so when you get this give me a call at home ... or if I don't hear back from you in an hour or so, I'll probably try calling again. OK. Bye."
I can't wait to see her tonight.