I tiptoe through the dark house, quietly stepping over sleeping dogs and the odd toy. In the bathroom I leave the light off, locating the contact solution by feel. I drip a bit in each eye, blinking with relief when the liquid allows me to open them completely.
I stop in Hannah’s doorway to check on her, to make sure her covers aren’t on the floor and that she isn’t hanging from the side of the bed like a trapeze artist. She thrashes in her sleep, just like me.
The revolving fish aquarium night light atop the cedar chest allows me to see her face, slack with sleep and miraculously, still on the pillow. I push the pullout trundle back underneath the bed so I can reach her and straighten the covers. The bed is so tall that we leave the trundle out at night, just in case she rolls off. As I pull and tug, working the sheets from underneath heavy limbs, I decide to tuck myself in with her. I’ve got time.
I gently push her over and lie down, covering us both. She smacks her lips and squirms as I smooth back the hair from her face. She’s soft and warm, clean from last night’s bath, her hair smelling faintly of watermelon kid shampoo. And even better than that – she’s quiet.
It’s been a week full of stressful nights – whining, crying and the usual drama. She’s developed a smart mouth to go along with her overly sensitive demeanor – a combination I find frustrating. She stamps her foot and shouts, ignores me and deliberately taunts me. Yet when it comes time for the inevitable punishment, she cries and shrieks like she’s being branded with a hot iron. In reality all I’ve done is say, “You’ve lost your TV privileges for tomorrow” or “give me the DS”.
Hannah is spoiled and I’ve my mother to thank for that. She grins when the screaming starts, often saying, “You’re just getting back what you deserve”. She pets her and overthrows my punishments and guidelines, turning even the simplest of things into a battle. I often wonder, while I’m getting what “I deserve”, why this form of revenge is passed down like tradition. There are times when I wouldn’t wish Hannah’s behavior on my worst enemy, much less Hannah herself, should she ever have her own child.
I close my eyes and wrap my arm around her, drawing her closer. It’s easier this way, while they’re all sleeping. I find it hard to be affectionate with her in front of my family, my mother in particular. She has this odd way of making me feel embarrassed when I show my softer side. She smirks and makes snide comments, just because I’ve never really been the cuddly type, as if I’m doing it just for show. Yet she doesn’t like the “stern” side of me either, often calling me cold-hearted. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t – which is, more often than not, the way everything is with mom.
Technically I’m a single parent, but due to current living arrangements, Hannah has a lot of people telling her yes, no, and everything in between. I know it’s sometimes unfair or confusing for her, but I also know she sometimes works the system to her advantage. And there are days, like yesterday, when it’s just the two of us and she’s unmanageable for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom.
I picked her up from school and brought her home early, saved her from an afternoon of daycare. She was happy for 10 minutes of the ride home, then a switch flipped and suddenly she wasn’t. It got worse as the day wore on, the whining and the unnecessary tantrums, until I’d finally had enough.
“What is the matter with you today”, I said, standing in the middle of her room while she scowled at me and scuffed her sneaker on the hardwood floor.
“You won’t let me do what I want!”
“If you’d stop whining and misbehaving, maybe you’d get to do what you want.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and shouted, “I want to go back to Oklahoma with Grandpa and live there!”
I stared at her, surprised. Where the hell had that come from?
“Right. You want to leave all of your family...your friends, your school, everything...and go live with him? Are you ill?”
“Yes you’re ill?”
“No! You’re mean and I don’t love you anymore. I hate you!”
I sighed. “If I was really mean, I’d let you go live with him. Then you’d see how good you have it here, kid.”
The rest of the night was a fiasco, with mom contributing to the already escalated situation with her usual remarks. I could feel my temper flaring up and, at one point, had to go outside, jump up and down and scream like a maniac.
When I finally put her to bed, I kissed her quickly on the forehead, pulled out the trundle, and hot-footed it out of there. I even sighed with relief.
I lay here thinking about all of that – what she said and did, how I had to calm myself down and couldn’t wait to get away from her, how I want to kick mom in the shins. And it bothers me. I don’t want it to be this way. I know I’ve got to fix it, but I haven’t figured it out.
I kiss her forehead. “Boog”, I say, rubbing her arm and back. “Boog, it’s time to get up.”
She starts stretching, her body uncurling from mine, and her eyes squinting up at my face. A big sleepy grin immediately follows and I grin back.
“Hey mama”, she says, wrapping her arms around my neck.
“Hey sugar. Did you sleep well?”
“You ready to get up?”
“Can we stay here like this for just a minute?”
“Yeah”, I say, settling back into the blankets, holding her tight.
We lay quietly for awhile; until I hear the others begin to move around. Then I push myself up and out of the bed. “What do you want for breakfast?”
“Fruit loops”, she shouts, vaulting up and holding out her arms. I let her jump into mine, causing me to stagger back and my muscles to pull a bit painfully. She’s getting way too big to carry.
She wraps her legs around my waist and buries her face in my neck. “I love you thissssssss much.” She squeezes me as hard as she can with her arms and legs, then pulls back to kiss me.
“This!”, I suddenly think, kissing her back.
When there are days and nights like yesterday, when I can’t take it anymore, when she hurts my feelings and I have to hurt hers...this is what I’ll think about. That’s how I’ll fix it – by remembering moments like this... and maybe, by getting up early a little more often.