I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks (OK fine, months) and the fact that I haven’t had time to do so yet is kind of perfect, actually. It’s fitting that the only time I’ve had time to write about our life is when a big piece of it is missing. Olive’s at her dad’s and I finally have some silence. Some space and room to think.
Each time I thought of sitting down to write this post I’d remember eight other articles that had to be completed first and on the rare occasions when my writing slate was clear I’d sit here and wonder what the hell a typical day in our life even looks like these days.
Is “typical” the day when I had to get my car serviced and also get to the hospital to get a last-minute IV for my kidney condition? We dropped my car off at the dealership, took the shuttle home, I wrote an article, we hopped on a city bus to the hospital to get an IV, I got the IV, we took the bus home, I had a Skype meeting with a prospective client, then we got the shuttle back to the dealership – all with Olive chattering non-stop and toting around three purses filled with her animals.
Or is “typical” the day when she went to a friend’s for a three-hour playdate and I scoured the house top to bottom and then took a nap so deep that I woke up disoriented and with deep pillow lines on my face?
I’ve never been much of a routine person and although our life has settled into a few predictable patterns over the past two years, no two days look the same in our house. I like having a lot of unscheduled time. I like having time for Olive to be bored, for me to take on last-minute projects, and to allow for unpredictable incidents like kidney fuckery or spontaneous excursions.
That said, if I were to amalgamate all of our days together and take the average, these would be the constants in each one.
We wake up together. Almost every one of my days begins with the sound of Olive’s footsteps padding softly from her bedroom across the hall into mine. She quietly climbs into my bed and nestles into the curled shape of my body. Sometimes she slips her warm hand into mine. She goes back to sleep then and I do too.
We both sleep late, usually waking up around 8:30-9 am. She wakes up quicker and more completely than I do – I swear she starts talking before her eyes open. She chatters about our plans for the day, I blink blearily against the light and wish for more sleep.
In our house, we don’t have many hard and fast rules but one of them is that we don’t pretend until after I’ve had my coffee. So every day she eagerly waits and waits and waits for me to finish my mugful, often starting a dozen sentences, “Mummy, can you pretend-” before pausing to ask if I’ve had my coffee yet. Once that last sip has been sipped, however, it’s on.
We play a lot of pretend.
…pretend I’m mummy and you’re Olive.
…pretend you open the door and see this puppy sitting here and you don’t know where she came from.
…pretend you see this animal coming towards you and you think it’s a cat but it’s not a cat and when you see it you get scared and back up but then it growls and you hide and you don’t know what it is forever.
To be honest, I kind of hate playing pretend. But I like making her happy so I do it. We do it. But only after coffee.
We also bake. Sometimes together, but more and more, Olive likes to create things on her own. I set out the supplies for her and leave the room (partially because she likes to do it by herself and then surprise me, but mostly because the mess makes me itch). She measures and pours and stirs and tastes – her creations are always heavy on the eggs because she loves cracking them, but they’re also surprisingly good considering they’re made by a four-year-old without a recipe.
A few days ago she made strawberry cupcakes. Last night, chocolate cake.
We often walk to one of the two big parks bordering our block, log some playground time climbing and swinging and hoping for dogs to walk by. Other times we hang out in the back yard, swinging in the hammock and playing with El Chapo. When it rains we sit on my bed and listen for the ominous, whip-cracking rumbling thunder, watch out my window for flashes of lightning.
Last month, my sister moved around the corner from us and I’ve begun allowing Olive to walk between our houses by herself. It feels monumental.
She sets off walking boldly, often with a backpack of supplies. I can see by watching her how important she feels. How trusted and independent and adventuresome she feels. I watch from the living room window as she walks down the block, pausing carefully at the end of the street and carefully looking both ways before crossing. She’s so like me sometimes, this risk-averse little thinker.
I watch her walk round the corner until I can’t see her anymore, knowing Lizzie is watching from the other side. Seconds later I’ll get a text, “She’s here!”.
Olive helps around the house still and she has chores, but I’ve given her free rein to keep her room how she likes it. Mostly that means it looks like this. This also means that several times a day I walk past and have to almost physically stop myself from tidying it up even just a little.
I don’t want to be responsible for telling her to clean up, I want her to know to do that on her own. I remember getting in screaming matches with my dad over the state of my room when I was younger, feeling enraged and powerless; frustrated that I didn’t have one space, one space in that whole house of eight people thatwas mine.
So for now, I’m giving her that freedom and for now, her room is a mess. I try to bite my tongue but sometimes I can’t help but remark that it sure is hard to find things in a messy room when she’s lost something. Or that she’d be less likely to hurt her feet by stepping on a small toy if she’d picked it up and put where it belongs.
She nods thoughtfully when I say this, sighs and says, “You’re probably right.”
Until Friday, she had preschool three days a week. When I picked her up I’d ask about who she’d played with, what crafts she did, which book they read during circle time. She used to be so shy and solitary and it makes me indescribably happy to see that she has friends, little people who she likes and like her right back.
Sometimes she’s chosen as the Helping Hand in class and when this happens it is a BIG. DEAL. I always know these days because she comes running up the stairs with a smile so big her face looks like it’ll crack in two and she exclaims breathlessly “GUESSWHATguesswhowasthehelpinghand?” and I pretend that I don’t know and then she says “ME” and it’s like she’s won a Nobel Prize.
Once a week she has soccer and she loves doing drills with her coach and her teammates but then mostly chooses to be the goalie or sit on the sidelines during the games. She gets nervous with all of the players running around. She doesn’t like the cheering.
Olive goes to bed around 8:30-9 pm. She has a bath, brushes her teeth, and then we read stories. After she goes to sleep, I work. I pull up my editorial calendar and see what needs to be written for tomorrow, what’s coming up in the next few days, what ongoing projects I’m close to falling behind on. Everything always gets done, even when I worry it won’t, but it often means staying up until the wee hours of the morning to do so.
When I creep into bed at two or three a.m. I always peek in at Olive first, watch her sleeping with her legs splayed and nightlight on. She breathes so deeply.
Most of all, our days are our own.
Sometimes the fact that it’s just me and her makes me feel so depleted I can’t speak. It’s just me answering and helping and washing and telling. Reading and wiping and pretending and driving. It feels like she’s ravenously taking absolutely everything I have and when I sit down at the end of the day, there’s nothing left of myself for me.
I don’t know what else to do in those moments except work and go to sleep and wake up the next morning still tired, her hand in mine and her deep breaths a meditation.
Other times, most times, while we’re lying in the backyard inhaling lilacs or out for an impromptu sushi date, I feel impossibly privileged. Our days are ours and we don’t answer to anyone but ourselves. We don’t have to ask permission or justify or account for or compromise. It’s just us two, an even pair, a sweet Gilmore Girls sort of existence where we belong wholly to each other, at least for now.
The mother writes, the daughter pretends. This is what our life looks like at the moment.