Last night at dinner, Andy and I tried to explain to our friends (who, being pregnant with their first child, do not as of yet have a time-shaped hole in their universe) why we wouldn’t want to bring Rachel over to their house for game night.
Them: “You guys should come over and we’ll teach you how to play this great Dominoes game. And bring Rachel!”
Me: “That would be great; let’s do it! But we don’t want to bring Rachel.”
Them: quizzical looks, and perhaps a bit of hurt that we turned down their family-friendly offer.
Andy jumped right in to defend our position: “If Rachel were there, she would spend all her time shushing us so she could tell a story about Unicorn. The story would last about an hour and then she would ask us to finish the story for her, but then she would tell us we’re doing it wrong.”
Me: “Yes, and she would try to build a tower with the Dominoes, and if we tried to help she’d tell us we were doing it wrong. You have to understand…. if I am trying to set the table and want the napkins in one place, Rachel will insist they go another way. We are already saving up for therapy bills.” (this last part is a joke, of course, but one I make so often that I am beginning to wonder if it’s a true fear I have inside, that Rachel and I will have a lot of mother/daughter battles over how the furniture should be arranged, what color curtains we need, and whether or not the jeans I’ve had since 2002 are still acceptable to wear in 2020.)
Them: “What?!?” The invitation is quickly rescinded, and Andy and I feel relief that we’ve reached a crucial point of understanding.
In retrospect, I feel kind of bad about the whole thing.
There is something in all my kids that strikes me so deeply words cannot explain it:
Collin, the child I’ve grown up with, fiercely and deeply intelligent, with a not-so-well-hidden sense of tradition that makes me beam with gratitude every time I think of it.
Aaron, who as a 5-month-old has yet to show who he will be, but whose already apparent easy-going yet energetic nature I have fallen in love with.
And Rachel. Rachel is heart-breaking in her sincerity. Whenever I think of how deeply she feels things, how seriously she takes her mama and her daddy and her Hatty and her Junior and her Grandma Nana and her Grandma Harriet and Papa, I feel a hot well of love and something deeper and somewhat painful that I can’t describe bubble up in the pit of my stomach. It’s a feeling that makes me want to keep Rachel safe forever. Never let her see hurt and badness and that some people aren’t as full of love as she is. When I say “I have to shower now,” and her little lip trembles as she says, “but then who will play with me?” I am, of course, frustrated, but I am also broken at her hurt.
When, no matter where we are, she communicates with non-family by making random factual statements, or thrusts Unicorn in the personal space of strangers and says “This is Unicorn,” and assumes the stranger will love her and her Unicorn as much as we do, I feel something indescribable. A mix of good things and gratitude and a desire for martial arts training if the stranger doesn’t respond positively.
When she tells everyone, one by one, in the line at Safeway that she and Mama are at the store because Daddy bought the wrong noodles, I pray “please, please, please don’t let them shrug her off. SMILE AT HER, DARN IT!”
And, thankfully, they almost always do.
But this is not the Rachel we told our friends about. We left all this out and probably made them hope and pray that their child will not rearrange napkins and tell non-stop Unicorn stories (which, by the way, often consist of plots such as, “Unicorn wanted to play with her Mama, but her Mama was putting the baby to sleep so Unicorn had to be very quiet,” or, “Unicorn’s Daddy took Unicorn to the dentist instead of her Mama taking her, even though her Mama wasn’t putting the baby to sleep.”).
What we should have done is tell them they better hope and pray that they are lucky enough to have a child who feels family and joy and hurt so deeply, that their little bundle can bring a sincerity and genuineness into their home that is so lacking in this world, and that their child exhibits a love so pure that words fail them when they try to describe it.
Maybe next time.