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Excited, but a little bit scared

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, on Sweet Pea’s first day of kindergarten… before Trump pardoned Arapaio and Hurricane Harvey. It feels like a lifetime ago now.

I could take my left if only the beige Toyota Camry blocking the intersection would scoot forward. The driver has at least a car length of empty road in front of her. I wave my arms like “What the hell, lady?,” but she ignores me, so I roll up a few feet so that my driver’s side window is even with hers. She rolls her window down.

“I didn’t put this traffic here. This is NOT my fault!” she shouts.

Her skin is brown and her face is pinched in anger like if one more goddamned rich white woman expects her to accommodate them she’s going to lose her mind. I pretend I wasn’t just waving my arms at her like she was a fool and in my kindest tone, attempt to explain.

“It’s just if you moved up a bit, I’d have room to—“

She drives forward, shouting, “Fucking rude lady!”

From the backseat, my daughter says, “If you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all.”

I want to tell my daughter that lady was probably stressed but if I talk I’ll cry. We’re on the way to school, where I will drop her off for her first day of kindergarten. So I nod my head and meet her eyes in the rearview mirror instead.

NPR comes through the speakers of our minivan. It’s the clip of Heather Heyer’s mom saying she’s not interested in talking to Donald Trump. Her daughter was murdered by a Nazi at a white supremacist rally and Trump said there were bad people on many sides. My heart breaks for this other mother.

  *     *     *

To wake my daughter, I rub her bare back as morning’s gray light trickles in through her magenta curtains. Her skin is still velvety but I can feel the outline of her ribs. She opens her eyes halfway and says she’s excited about school but also a little bit scared.

I tell her I’m excited for her. I don’t tell her I remember the hours I spent with an awkward, moon-shaped, mint-green paisley breastfeeding pillow strapped to my waist while she suckled at my breast. I don’t tell her I miss the sweetness of her silken, bald head against my chin. I don’t tell her I remember the way she looked as a toddler, beaming up at me on shaky, pudgy legs, her first ponytail sticking straight out from the top of her head, then flaring out like a blonde geyser. I don’t tell her how this day I’ve longed for has arrived too quickly, and thatI know if I’m lucky, this is just the beginning of a lifetime of letting go. Click To Tweet

We walk toward the sea of nervous, proud, excited kindergarteners and their parents. My daughter marches straight up to the double glass doors.

“Wait,” I whisper. “The teachers will take you inside.”

When the teacher motions for the kids to follow her, I’m grateful my daughter and I have already hugged because now her focus is sharply on school. I leave with tears in my eyes and the tickle of a sob at the back of my throat. I will not cry, I tell myself. But of course, I do. I’m driving away, thinking of yesterday when I overheard Sweet Pea tell the babysitter her spirit animal was a goldfish.

“A goldfish?” I’d scoffed. “More like a cat. She’s so independent. She does everything on her own terms.”
How many times had I said I hated cats, didn’t trust them, that I’m not a cat person? I am ugly crying when I call my husband.

“I‑I think we should get a cat.” I can barely speak through my tears. “I said Sweet Pea’s spirit animal was a cat. She knows I hate cats and I’m afraid she’ll be in therapy about it someday. Maybe a rescue cat?”

“Just tell her what you told me. That you love her independence and you love her.” My husband pauses before saying, “We don’t need a cat.”

I am not convinced. I know my girl. She’s constantly listening, absorbing, making connections. When she was an infant, I’d be holding her and whenever we entered a room, her eyes would widen while she’d crane her neck to take in every detail. She’d sit in her Fisher-Price swing, scanning the room, her tiny forehead wrinkled in concentration. The lactation consultant at my weekly Milk Club said a furrowed brow is a sign of overstimulation, but I knew my baby was just focused.

I take a video of Sweet Pea on our front stoop before school. The air is crisp and it smells like fall. I ask her what she’s excited about (her friends), what she’s nervous about (nothing), her favorite food (pepperoni pizza!), her favorite activity (climbing with Daddy) and who are her favorite people are (Avigail, Alexi, and Mommy). I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. She spreads her arms out over her head, takes a dancer’s leap, and exclaims, “A scientist!” My baby was never overstimulated. She was making observations. I want to be there for her science fairs someday. I wonder about all the somedays Heather Heyer’s mom is going to miss and fresh tears flood my eyes.

I can’t stop scrolling through Twitter, listening to NPR, and hate-watching Fox News. I obsess over the unbelievable-ness of it all. He said it was ok to grab women by the pussy. We were outraged. He made fun of a disabled reporter. We were astonished. He made a white supremacist his right-hand man. We were agog. He said Nazis are fine people and I am wondering when it will finally feel like an emergency. Click To Tweet

I wonder if the woman who said I was a fucking rude lady has been obsessed with the news, too. I wonder if the color of her skin feels like an emergency to her, when all a white supremacist, now emboldened by the president, has to do is look at her to consider her less human. Maybe we’re all excited to see how our one crazy, beautiful life will unfold, but also more than a little bit scared.

 

Heather Heyer

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