Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Secret-keeping

I had knots in my stomach all weekend from holding in the secret. The not-telling felt stronger, like lying, like betraying. But I didn’t want to spoil her weekend; and I didn’t want her to have unnecessary amounts of time to foment her own anxieties. (I had enough for both of us.)

I wanted to talk to her after her sister went to bed, so she could have both her mommy and her daddy there to say everything would be okay. But because of daylight savings bedtimes were screwy and her sister’s bedtime came too close to hers and I couldn’t wait for her daddy to come down to shoulder this load with me and so I had to talk to her all by myself.

I had to tell E that I was going to wake her up early in the morning. I had to tell her that the next morning’s visit to Dr. Earl wasn’t going to be like the previous two, which had been mere assessments. I had to tell her about the surgery. I promised her that although it might be scary, everything would be okay in the end. But I had to tell her, too, they’d want her clothes off, and that they’d put a mask over her face, and that the mask would have medicine that would put her to sleep, and that Dr. Earl would fix her ears while she was sleeping. I had to tell her that I’d stay very nearby but I wouldn’t be there immediately when she woke up, that I wasn’t allowed in the room until the doctors checked that she was okay. She had been silent, face troubled but clearly listening. Then she exploded but mommies’ jobs are not to LEAVE THEIR KIDS ALONE! You’re not SPOSED TO LEAVE ME!

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With all the commotion surrounding yesterday, we had so little time to talk about today. I didn’t talk to her about it last night at all, and not because of the spectacular success that was Sunday night’s conversation, but because we were a little preoccupied with ear drops and goo-buffering second layer pillowcases but you can only put extra pillowcases if they can be purple pillowcases, Mama. (Which, of course, I had. I know my girl.) I wanted to talk to her in the car this morning but as we were getting both girls dressed in her room she asked if she could bring a toy to school and I was caught, again, feeling like a liar. (And alone, again, despite finding myself in this conversation while still at home, because between the girls’ surgeries M squeezed in a quick business trip to New York today and had already left for the airport.) I had to abruptly introduce that detail which I’m sure she hadn’t remembered about today: “No, love, you can’t. Sorry. Remember today you move into Ms. Bandari’s class and Ms. Bandari only likes kids to bring toys on Fridays. They do show-and-tell on Fridays and you can bring it then.” And again, I made her face crumple with anxiety, because today she was leaving the safe shallow waters of the 12-kid two-year-old room and being let loose to fend for herself into the strong currents of the 20-kid three-to-five-year-old room. And again, I felt rotten, this time for being an adult with a fairly innate memory of calendar-based details constantly at the forefront and refreshing itself, while she who had been warned and prepped and coaxed and pep-talked and trial-runned throughout the past two weeks of school, is still just a kid who’s been away from school for three days (which equals, in her mind, an eternity), and because of a not fun and very distracting reason. Her first full day was supposed to be yesterday, but, you know, she missed it.

[For the record, despite a nervous start she did pretty great today and I’m extremely proud of her.]

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There’s one more secret, and this one is impossible to confess. L doesn’t have the resources yet for me to prepare her for what she will endure tomorrow. I have no way of telling her, as I told her sister, that she won’t be able to eat or drink, no matter how hungry she feels, no matter how many times she pulls my shirt begging more? More? That I’ll remove her clothes. That there will be a scary mask. That I won’t be there right away when she wakes up. She is not old enough to know what that means, but she is old enough to be terrified, to look at me with eyes that I now know from yesterday will plead with me as they take her away from my familiar arms and lower that mask over a screaming facewhat are they doing to me? and why are you letting this happen? She’s not old enough to understand that we’ll be waiting for her at the other end. The only consolation I’m clinging to right now is that when we do reunite and her screams subside to hiccuping whimpers, I think she’ll understand when I tell her sorry we are that she needed this done to her, how glad we are to hold her again, how very much we love her.

I want to be cleansed of this secret. I want to get to that part now.
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