just thirty toes
adorned in inches of color and sole
ten climb naked no matter the cold
ten spin shiny in patent and bold
pointed and pricey and ready to go
the ten toes I know the very best
they ground our dance, assure we rest
under the covers or peaking from fur
I count them nightly just to be sure
each has its story, each has its rhyme
testaments to travel, childhood, time
these toes are magic, mythic, once mine
now their tickle’s independent and grown
painted and pretty with minds of their own
thirty toes warmed once more by the stove
waiting and snuggling, just thirty toes
Oh, I fondly remember the days when my oldest daughter would run, in the middle of the night, right past the bathroom, hurry to my side of the king-sized bed, wake me up nervously, and say behind her hand, “Mom, I have to throw up!” Then, of course, and needless to say, Riana would spill her sick belly all over the wooden floor where my feet were certain to land when I jumped up to steer her quickly to the toilet she had decidedly ignored. “Here, honey,” I’d say arriving at the cold porcelain, and the second round would make it halfway into the bowl designed so much better for a child’s barfing, than a drunk adult girlfriend’s. That’s another story. Either way, I naturally held back my dear’s hair.
No matter my attempt at cooing and coaching her the next day, when some of the cramps had subsided, and a bit of color had returned to her lovely smooth cheeks, I think she only heard me with half her brain. “Honey,” I would urge. “When you feel sick, and you need me to help you, but you really need a toilet bowl more, and you have to pass right by it to get to me, then maybe, you make a detour, and go ahead and stop by the bathroom.”
“Mom,” she sings in two syllables the way even the grown girls still do.
“Really sweetie, get that first wretched retch out of your system, and then come get me.”
“Retched wretch?” And she hears the rhyme and misses the point. Yeah, well, I think, that didn’t work.
“No, wretched retch,” I say. And we laugh. “Try, next time? K?” I ask knowing full well the wood floor in my bedroom will again see her wretched retch. She’s already busy looking up the words in her dictionary.
Then there were the days when my sweet youngest daughter would disappear. Our house is not that large, nor is the property upon which it sits, but small rooms, and skinny girls, make for great hiding. As do the yards which are stock full of centuries old Ponderosa pines, our guards, our massive conifers, and a deck that runs the length of the house with an entrance one end, down below, large enough only for a dog, a skunk, or perhaps my daughter.
Suddenly she’d reappear after minutes or hours. “Where were you?” I’d ask. She gave the most popular response of all adolescent children. Silence.
Years later, she told me it had been the roof. Always the roof that served as her place of adolescent contemplation. Mine had been behind the garage, sitting in the wild rhubarb patch. She’d accessed it easily enough from the top of the wood shed, and it was there she could have her mood of the moment in privacy and calm. Contemplative, sad, or angry. Her sister said she went up there to smoke pot, and if true, well, brilliant, I say. I never knew.
But Bridget said it was the one place she could go and get a sense of freedom. Quiet. The myriad of tar tiles dulling the noise of her sister and me. The world outside of our life, just the three of us, which awaited her with impatience, all visible from right there.
“All those times, you were always right up there on the roof?” I asked, in a tone that genuinely admonished, and admired, her spirit, and problem solving. “On the roof.” I play James Taylor’s song. I’ll send her the link.
The girls, ah, always my girls, young women now, I know, and young women who still need their mom. I admit, there is a certain life gratifying satisfaction in this. And their needs, while far different, are sometimes expressed in the exact metaphors presented in the childhoods I relish.
My oldest will call amidst the barf, figuratively. In the throes of anxiety, excitement, or upset, success or great joy, she calls. Sometimes texts. And, just like I knew before my eyes even opened to her sad little sick face in the wee hours of those nights long ago, I know from her ‘hello’ whether congratulations or condolences or a hug are in order. “Mom, I love my new dance class. I’m sore!” “OMG my student fell from the top of the building, Mom, I found him.” “Hi, Mom. Guess what, I’m going to Paris for Thanksgiving.”
My youngest, far off across the country in New York City, stills goes on the metaphoric roof. It may not be until days later that she’ll call to say, “Mommy, I think I’ve been sick.” “Mommy, my friend Sean committed suicide.” “Mommy, I just had the most amazing weekend in Boston.” Not much one, this gal, to stop the flow of the moment to call her mother like her sister will do. She’ll ride it, whatever that moment is, she’ll be in it more than 100 percent. On her own. Absorb it fully. Rest from it. Learn or heal or commiserate. And then, she will reach out. She goes on the roof. She needs to contemplate her moments in the quiet of her own head, and then, the stories are mine to learn.
What new joy, what familiar approaches, what new insights, I receive and observe from these women. It’s been just the three of us for some eleven years now. They’ve made single parenting effortless, and I am lucky, fortunate, elated, that my parenting life is one of those that defied the text books. Oh, surely they have their secrets about the trouble they were in, and that went over my head. And surely they missed the moments of dread or fear or exhaustion that I felt, my urge to curl up on that big empty king size bed and remain under the covers leaving them to fend for themselves, scramble their own eggs or make boxed macaroni and cheese. But when we came together, when we come together still, we are whole, and one, and familiar, and ready for the surprises, barf or secrets, that will inevitably come our way.