Saturday, September 08, 2007

Circle of life

Munchkin chattered "Hi! Hi! Hi!" until L opened the door at his house in far-flung 'burb. She had never been here before, nor seen him for months, and the change from light to dark as we entered, along with the jumpy, yappy lapdog made her clam up and cling to me tightly. L was not concerned--he has three kids of his own. He put the dog outside, and kept his distance from Munchkin until she started to get comfortable. We moved from the living room (too formal, too hot) down into the rec room (cooler and more comfortable) and she had to habituate herself all over again, whimpering and clutching me and a little stuffed dog as she adjusted to the new room. I fed her strawberries. It helped.

L remarked on her hair, probably because for the first twenty minutes all he saw was the back of her head as she pressed into me. He noted how long it is, how it curls up in the back, its fine baby wispiness. "Ah," he said, "I remember another little girl who had hair just like that."

He meant me: L used to babysit me when I was a little older than Munchkin. He was in high school, dating J, the eldest daughter of my godmother, who lived two doors down from my house in Northern Town.

I was a little surprised by the comparison, because Munchkin looks so very very much like Pynchon, but L assured me that he could see me in her. And he is, obviously, a credible witness. I was surprisingly moved by his observation and by his defense of his authority in making it. There aren't a lot of people around here who have known me from infancy, and who can speak knowinlgy, even tenderly of my baby hair. Munchkin ate strawberries and practiced saying L's name, bringing herself soon enough to smile and wave at him, to show off. He's good with kids; he had the same effect on me.

J came home--the highschool sweethearts have married--and Munchkin withdrew again, taking another little bit of time to habituate herself to one more person. Feeling that J might be hurt, I told them Munchkin is generally not comfortable with new situations, or loud noises, or abrupt changes in lighting. That she's a verbal, gregarious child who just needs a bit of time to get her game face on.

J laughed, and shook her head at me. "Gee," she said, laughing at me, "I don't know any other kids who were like that." Yes: me, of course. You may know me as the ENTJ, sheep-herder of personality types, assertive and confident, cracking jokes and giving lectures. But of course, J and L know better, they remember me as a shy, sensitive child, afraid of all the other kids and happier in quiet play alone, or in the company of adults. Terrified of new places, new experiences that I couldn't control or predict. Kinda like Munchkin.

J and L are thirteen years older to me: as a child I looked up to them as the coolest teenagers I knew, she with her bright lipstick and feathered hair, and he with his bellbottoms and easy laugh. I idolized them. Always physically affectionate, I nearly smothered them with hugs, desperate for them to know my love. Kinda like Munchkin.

It was awful when they went away to university, but how wonderful when they came back to get married, and I got to be a flower girl! When they moved back to town, I was ecstatic. They had their first child, a daughter, when I was eleven. Of course, we all remarked on how wonderful it was that now I could babysit for them! And it was. I remember feeling so grown up as I moved from cared-for to caregiver. Now we joke that this daughter, JZ, twenty-three and a student at the university I teach at, should be babysitting Munchkin. JZ always looked up to me like I looked up to her parents, and now she likes to regale me with stories about how she so vividly remembers this and that that I would do or say or wear that has stuck with her.

Anyhow, L and J started dating when they were both 15, which is about the time they started babysitting me, taking me to the movies, to the cottage, out for ice cream, or into the backyard. They've been married 27 years, now, just as much in love as ever, interacting just how I remember them.

We were visiting because L has suddenly and shockingly been diagnosed with a very serious cancer, in the form of a large tumour on his spine. From doctor visit to biopsy to diagnosis to treatment in the course of a little more than a week, L is now in an intense routine of chemotherapy without a real sense of what comes next, what his prognosis is. J sends out the email reports, making small jokes, and calling on all of us to laugh along with them. Again, I was struck by cancer's unfairness, and the sudden shock of real danger to a loved one. Remembering how important a part of my life J and L have been. Are. How I want Munchkin to know them, to have JZ watch her, the way I watched JZ, and JZ's parents watched me. I want that continuity.

When J and L saw me in Munchkin, they not only reinforced the ties that bind them to my life. They also helped me see my daughter anew, to consider that some of her behaviours used to me mine, to see our kindship. To realize that confident me used to be a shy baby too, and that's nothing to apologize for. Sometimes the obvious stuff isn't so obvious in the intense intimacy of family life.

So we visit, and we laugh, and my past confronts our collective present as we hold our breaths, waiting for news of L's future. Bittersweet. And next time we visit, once she warms up, Munchkin will, I hope, say their names as clearly to them as she does to me. We've been practicing.


Kyla said...

Ohhh, this was just beautiful. Beautiful!

My thoughts are with L and J, and all those that love them.

Omaha Mama said...

What a great history you have with them. And being able to have them meet Munchkin and make the comparisions, well that must feel pretty great. I'm sorry about the cancer part, that is so unfair. I hope that his treatment goes very well!

cinnamon gurl said...

Such a lovely post, and how wonderful to have people like that in your life still.

My thoughts are with your friends, hoping for a good prognosis.

slouching mom said...

Oh, oh. I was thrown by L's diagnosis. I hope that he is able to get rid of this cruel interloper.

What a lovely series of bridges you described in this post -- a bridge between you and L/J, L/J's daughter and you, and now Munchkin and L/J.

It's so important to have those kinds of connections in life. It's what makes it all meaningful, I think.

Jenifer said...

That is a lovely post Mimi and I do hope and pray that L makes a full recovery.

My godparents are not biologically related to me and I have a similar relationship with them and when my godfather passed away this past December suddenly I felt my circle of life getting smaller. The group of people who have known me from birth are shirking and that makes me sad. I have my Mom and godmother and one grandparent left who have known me since birth, it just doesn't seem like enough.

I love the idea of keeping this family dynamic alive and flourishing, will give Munchkin wonderful roots.

Christine said...

mimi--this was a lovely, bittersweet post.

i really hop L will be ok.

Mad Hatter said...

ya, I'm crying. After Terry. After this hellish week of panic attacks and dread and fear for my daughter's shyness. After geographic isolation from all that is kin. ya, you made me cry.

Beck said...

I hope that L gets completely better and that your Munchkin has many years to know him and his family.
And yes, as I get older, everyone i love becomes more vulnerable and more precious and I can hardly bear it. But we must.