“What goes on first: the tomatoes or the Parmesan? Do we always toast the bread? Is this your favorite food, Mama?”
Mary’s earnest little face is staring intently at me. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t say “little” face anymore. She’s 12-years-old. She is almost my height and looks more like a teenager than a child.
We are sharing a bit of late-night tomato Bruschetta at the dining room table. I’m showing her how to spread it onto the slices of toasted Italian bread before sprinkling thin shavings of cheese on the top. Being an enthusiastic eater from day one, Mary is very intent and serious for this activity.
I couldn’t sleep tonight. So much is changing. I feel as though I’m bursting with unanswered questions and possibilities. This is what caused me to venture into the kitchen after 11:00 PM.
Mary saw the dining room light on and padded out to join me. Her pineapple pajamas brighten the semi-darkness of our quiet house.
“What’s wrong, Mama? What are you thinking about?”
When I am lost in thought, Mary wants to know why. When my facial expression changes, Mary wants to know why. She sincerely asks me what foods I like, what my favorite music is, and who my favorite authors are. I feel like she’s re-learning me somehow. Maybe she’s trying to soak up as much as possible on this summer vacation. She’s memorizing the things that make me…me.
Mary is trying so hard to be my friend.
I’m grateful for the 16 days we have spent together here at home. She goes back to school tomorrow to start the summer class schedule. It’s really hard to take her back this time.
Mary is a lot of work and can be high-maintenance. She is desperate to have a lot of attention. It can be intense to constantly monitor her stress, moods and reactions. I won’t sugar coat it: that amount of attention can be a LOT to take over time.
However, she hasn’t been violent at all. She hasn’t been aggressive. She’s handled disappointments and frustrations with her coping skills. All of the attention-seeking is her way of handling love. Relationships are tough for her to navigate but oh my how she is trying! Mary is making huge progress. She’s nothing short of amazing.
So I offer her some of my late night snacks and try to explain what I am thinking about. My job position is changing. I had a meeting about it last week. They let me know that due to my back injury I can no longer teach special education. Instead, I am now going to teach a fifth grade regular classroom. I haven’t been a classroom teacher in years. It’s sad for me. It’s also a relief. At least I have a job.
The unknown can be scary. Change can be unnerving. I try to explain these feelings to Mary while the rest of the house slumbers on. She nods wisely as though she completely understands.
New beginnings are not so new for Mary. She’s already experienced so much change in her young life. It can be easy to forget that such a young thing has had to be so brave.
I smile at my daughter over a mouthful of sweet tomato and cheese. Here’s to new beginnings.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.