As every bewitched mother of a one-year-old (hopefully) says, I adore Adahlia.
She crawls out onto the deck and is examining the balloon-shaped leaves of a jade plant. She snaps one off for a closer look and is fiddling with it, but I am inside behind the kitchen counter. I peer around the counter, say “hey there” and raise my hand in greeting, just to let her know I’m here and watching, and she breaks into a big smile, lifting her palm to me.
I swing with her on the swings of a nearby playground. She is facing me, her legs straddling my waist. (The last time I shared a swing face-to-face with someone was maybe in fifth grade. Maybe. And it feels like spring!) A fistful of my shirt is in her hand and I’ve got one arm around the chain and her little body, and the other hand grips the cold metal links. I pump us higher into the air and for awhile she bounces on me, as though riding a horse. Then she rests her head against my chest and watches the scenery pass.
We’ve taken to practicing vocals. She’ll shout: “Dah!” And I’ll match her pitch: “Dah!” Then she’ll do it again, higher, shriller, “Dah-Jah-Dah-DAH-DAH!” And I’ll do the same. She does it again, ecstatic, and even screechier, and my echo rivals the frequency of a tea kettle going off. She giggles and I whisper: “Dah-Jah-Jah.” And she says softly: “Dah-Jah.” This goes on and on, varying pitches, varying volume. It’s awesome.
But there are times that are less than awesome. Some times are difficult indeed. A day ago, I ran errands with her all morning and she was happy to ride around to the different grocery stores, watching people, riding on my hip or in the cart in the store, sitting in the car seat entirely content. Tonight, however, when Joe and I took her out with us to get frozen yogurt, she was not in the mood to be in the car. She growled on the way there, a low, discontented murmur. Things brightened considerably at the store: she was psyched to taste little licks of yogurt and was fascinated by the fake jellyfish “swimming” in a tank. We could see she was riding some sort of delicate emotional pendulum, though. Like in a old cartoon, when a bird lands on a tottering Wylie Coyote, sending him over the cliff, things were precarious. Eventually, the time came when we had to get back in the car to get home. It was simply necessary.
Of course, we can’t explain this to her. We also can’t explain that we are just going 3 minutes down the road because we plan to stop at the park to play with her before heading home (it was actually our second trip to a park today.) For all she knows, she is on a 1.5 hour trip to Mount Hood and she’s not having it.
Her screaming knew no limits. Howls that would send shivers down a werewolf’s spine. Tortured agonies to turn a vampire’s blood to ice. Giant tears rolling down her face.
My eardrums whined a high-pitch ring when she stopped to gather breath for her next big one — it was that loud.
For a 3 minute drive to a park.
Naturally, by the time we got there, neither Joe and I were really in the mood to play with her. She, however, realizing we’d stopped and she was being unbuckled, took one look around, was instantly fine, and was ready to pick flowers and play chase.
Joe had to go walk around a bit to burn it off. I sat down and hung out with her, but I wasn’t really feeling up to making silly faces with her. She offered me a pine cone chewed up by a lawnmower. I examined it. Truth was, Joe and I were both a little peeved.
We talked about it as we swang on the swings and she sorted through the wood chips.
“It’ll be easier when she is older and understands us when we say that it’s just 3 minutes down the road, and that we’re going to a park,” I say.
But I as speak, something is feeling false, and the words are coming out hollow as soon as I speak them. The sentence dies flat. I’m not sure what was wrong with what I said, so I let it drift down into my subconscious to sort itself out. The conversation changes directions as though catching a passing breeze, and we flow with it.
A little over an hour later, we’re headed back to the car. It’s another 3 minutes to the house if there’s no traffic, and immediately upon setting her in the car seat she begins to arch her back and howl. But this time I don’t sigh. My face is a little looser and maybe there’s a hint of smile as I kiss her long on the forehead before going up front.
“You know, I don’t think its about her getting older and us explaining anything or her being treated as an adult.”
And there must be something about what I’m saying, because as I speak, she calms down. She doesn’t try to scream over my words. (She’s like that. She knows when something true is being spoken, and she listens, too. Or maybe its just the energy behind the words, I don’t know.) I reminded Joe of the following story, which I will relate here:
It makes me think of a friend, I said, who said her daughter, in her 30s, was really stressed about something that she shouldn’t be. She said that from her perspective, in her 50s, she could see that everything would be fine. But of course, her daughter wouldn’t believe her! The daughter was upset and making herself depressed over nothing.
My response, at the time, was to say: ‘Its all relative, of course. There are things you are stressed about…’ (I named a few things)… ‘and surely, someone in her 70s would shake her head and smile and say that you were wasting your energy and worried about nothing. That it would all shake out fine in the end.’
My friend smiled and said, ‘Yes, I suppose it is a matter of age and experience.’
‘Well, not exactly,’ I said. ‘Although that’s what people like to say because it makes them feel better. But I am younger than you…’ I raised my eyebrows with a slight smirk.
‘You’re right!’ She laughed. ‘Oh, we all get caught up in things and none of it really matters!’
‘In a way,’ I said. ‘But to the person in the thick of things, it is all very real. It goes deeper than any rationale or professed belief and touches them at a very raw level.’ I paused. ‘It’s their journey. And that has to be respected.’
Back in the car, headed up the hill to our house, I related the story to Adahlia. “So you see, it’s not about telling her that its only a 3-minute drive.”
“I have to disagree,” Joe said. “There’s a big difference between her and us. She has two people who care for her, and carry her around all day, and feed her, and do everything for her. And we don’t have anyone like that doing that for us.”
“Maybe, maybe not. That depends on how you see it,” I said. “Weren’t we just talking about the slip-stream and falling into the flow and how things are unfolding for our growth and healing? The way I see it, there has been something carrying me, and feeding me, and helping me do everything. And even if would end in death, well, it has to happen eventually, doesn’t it? It’s the final step.”
Adahlia was silent.
“Sometimes things get rough. They don’t go the way we’d like. Like Adahlia, we have no way of knowing that its just a 3 minute drive.”
And its all for us.
Later, Adahlia and I have finished taking a bath and I am putting her pajamas on her. Her hand is in her mouth and I tug a little on it so I can put it through her sleeve, but she is clearly deep in thought (likely about her mouth, for she is teething) and she resists. Suddenly I stop tugging and wait. She feels me waiting for her and looks at me, offering me her arm, helping me as I guide it through the sleeve. The motion itself is nothing new. She has “helped” me put her jackets on countless times before. But the quietness in which we are moving with each other feels extraordinary.
I’ve got her feet in the little footies and I’m starting to zip it up from her ankle. Still staring quietly at me, she does something unprecedented. She grabs the material on both sides of her hips and pulls it together so that it meets in the middle and is easier to zip. Astonished, I continue to zip as she moves her hands up to her chest, and grabs the fabric to hold it together so I can finish zipping. Where did she learn this? She lies quietly while I snap the button under her chin. Her eyes have not strayed from mine.
I scoop her up in my arms and our faces are close. My heart swoons. I know that somewhere we have made a pact. I know we are here to learn from and teach each other. I am overcome with wonder at her, at me, at this strange and beautiful life.
“How many worlds have we lived in together?” I ask softly.
“How many roles have we played for each other?”
“How many times have we been in this place.”
Thanks to Joe, for you could easily have flipped our conversation around and he would have been the Teacher. It has happened before and will happen again.
Thanks to Adahlia, for all she illuminates.
Thanks to That which Flows through us and moves out through our lips, creating Itself over and over, again and again.