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The wicked storm and the tiny life raft

My daughter is at the age when nothing fits -- just when you need everything to fit the most
illustration by Avi Katz

It’s bedtime, and a storm is brewing.

“MOM!” my daughter shouts from across the house. “I NEED TO GO TO BED!”

“I’ll be there in a minute”

“NOW!”

I don’t want to be there now.

I inhale.

My daughter is 11, and it sucks.

She’s at that age when nothing fits — your clothes, your thoughts, your own self in the world as you try to carve out a little space. And the worst is, this is when you need everything to fit the most.

She’s in the middle of a wicked storm between being a little girl and being a young woman — and I guess I am, too, right there with her.

I see her looking at me, measuring me — how I move, how I talk, how I put mascara on my eyelashes. I offer her a spritz of perfume. “No way, Mom. I don’t want to smell like you.” But then when she thinks I”m not looking, I see her use it.

Some days, she wants to hold my hand. Some days, she puts her arm around my waist and we walk down the street, tucked into each other, match. Those are blue sky days.

But some days, are rough winds, and storm clouds, and heavy rain. Days when everything is wrong, when even her skin doesn’t fit.

And some days are both — they start out one way, and in a second everything changes because when you’re 11, there’s always this wind — and it can blow the clouds in, and blow them out just as fast.

Some days, I feel like the wind has blown me out to sea and I don’t want to be there.

Today was a blue sky day for us — the winds were there, but the sun was out: I bought her earrings, teeny tiny butterflies with little crystals that sparkle in the sun. She chose them. Lately, she’s carving out her own style — long shorts, big t shirts, and little earrings.

A few weeks ago, I bought her a t-shirt that I thought she’d love — one she would have loved five years ago with a unicorn on the front — but she looked at it, and didn’t even try it on

“It won’t fit,” she said. Even though it was the exact right size.

(That was a stormy day with thick grey clouds and all the rain)

My daughter is 11, I remind myself. It’s her first week back at school. The teachers have already started that nonsense about how THE TESTS THIS YEAR MATTERS AND WILL DETERMINE YOUR FUTURE FOR EVER AND EVER (even though we all know they really don’t). The kids are reshuffling the social order like a deck of cards — they’re growing beasts. Their voices are changing. Their legs are lengthening out. Some of them area already carrying sanitary napkins in their backpacks JUST IN CASE.

It sucks to be 11, and my daughter is stuck right there in it.

I exhale.

“Coming, sweetheart”

She’s lying on her bed staring at the top bunk, thunder in her eyes and lightening on the horizon.

Her 9-year-old brother ambles into the room and climbs the ladder, cradles his little stuffed whale, slips under the covers and curls toward me for a goodnight kiss. He’s 9 and he’s just happy to be here.

I kiss him, then bend down to kiss her. She sighs.

“What took you so long?” she asks.

“Thanks for being patient — I’m sorry it was hard to wait for me. But I’m here now.” I kiss her cheek.

“Aren’t you going to lie in bed with me?”

I inhale.

Now:
I’m not going to get into a debate with anyone about the cosleeping, so please if you have strong feelings, nip it: but my daughter and I have shared a bed off and on from the time she was big enough not to get squished.

It was perfect: She fit into the crook of my arm, her face against my breast, and her little arm over my belly as it grew with her brother inside. We were a squishy little unit that smelled like cotton and sweet milk and Johnsons Baby Shampoo.

As she got older, she stayed — even when her brother was born, she was on one side, and he was on the other, the three of us tucked into the night.

My mom used to lie in bed with me when I couldn’t fall asleep — we would listen to books on tape, head to toe, she’d rub my feet and I’d rub hers.

My daughter and I do that now, too, head to toe on the bunk bed, and I sing the same old song my mother sang to me:

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey. You’ll never know dear how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.”

When we lived in the caravan, we all slept together on the big futon, curled up, Mommy in the middle.

And even after we got bunkbeds, I would lie next to her most nights while she would fall asleep and rub her feet just as my mom did for me.

But lately ,she’s wanted her own space — “MOM, DON’T GO INTO MY ROOM WITHOUT MY PERMISSION.” She tells me before she stalks out the door on the way to school. When she’s angry, she slams the door and weeps into her pillow. Once, she even added a sign to the door: “Go away, I’m sleeping.”

Her brother drew a smiley face on it. Because he’s just that kid.

She hit him in the arm.

(If I were her, I probably would have done the same.)

And then there’s the other thing: I’m 38. I’m also at the age where nothing fits — in my own kind of middle of being really ripe — This is the age when things start to really change for us — to soften, and yield, lines deepen into furrows, and skin creases, and I swear to God, women should talk about this more, so hi! 38 sucks, too.

But, I have all the years I’ve lived to back me up, and it’s okay — each piece of living and learning through it all like those ruby pomegranate seeds inside of me — full to bursting, very ripe — I can almost taste them — but I also know enough to know that it goes by so quickly. Long days, short years — she was just sleeping in my arms a few seconds ago, and then I blinked and she comes up to my shoulder.

We are both in the middle — she’s between being a child and a maiden, and I’m a mother , between maiden and crone.

I exhale.

“Of course.”

I crawl in.

“DON’T SQUISH MY DOLLS”

I move.

“YOU’RE TOUCHING MY LEG!”

I move again.

“STOP MOVING!’

I inhale.

“Baby, do you want me in here or not?”

I sob rips through her like a cyclone. “YES ,I WANT YOU HERE. BUT YOU DON’T FIT!”

That’s exactly how it is: I want you here, but you don’t fit.

I exhale.

“Do you want me to move?”

“GET OUT!”

So I do. I get out of her bed.

“WHERE ARE YOU GOING? ARE YOU LEAVING ME?”

I inhale.

“No baby, I”m just going to sit right here. I’m not leaving you. I’m here. I’m here.”

I sit there in the dark.

I’m here.

She exhales.

I sit there for as long time.

I’m here.

Her breathing slows. I think she’s asleep and I get up.

“Mom?” she whispers, and she sits up. “I’ll move the dolls so you can fit.”

I climb in.

I’m here.

There’s barely room enough room on that little bed, but we lie there head to toe in the dark on our tiny life raft, floating in the middle, our breath rising and falling, together like the tide.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel's New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.
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