My daughter stands in the middle of a shallow pond, yelling, “If you love me, come and get me! Do you want me? Do you care?” I rest in a patch of shade, watching hordes of children and chaperones traipsing over a wooden bridge; an epileptic girl who fainted at the old schoolhouse, her face weary, limbs floppy in the aftermath; hearing-impaired students in red t-shirts, marching single file, absorbing this living-history museum with their turbo eyes, fingers dancing shadow puppets between them.
“Fine then Mom! I guess I’ll have to stay here . . . Forever! . . . Way past midnight!”
The tremor in her voice tells me there’s sand itching in her socks. Cicadas buzz in the cottonwood trees, volume cranked to unbearable. A canker sore stings her gums. Lunch uneaten. All factors tipping us towards melt-down. A teacher calls, “Time to go, kids!” I wave at the 2nd grade class as they jostle back to the bus. A boy asks, “Why does she get to stay in the water?”
I drove my daughter separately, in case she got wet and muddy, or needed to leave the field trip early. Water usually calms her, but today she’s rocking, hands in tight fists, moaning, “You have to come get me . . . “
I peel off my boots, roll up my jeans, and approach her, soothing, “It’s okay . . . I do want you . . . Please, let’s go.” She grabs my waist and holds tight, pretending she can’t walk. Words like ‘manipulation’ and ‘discipline’ flash across my mind (residue from my spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child upbringing). I’m triggered by her anxious questions: what is love what is want what is care?
She’s silent when I say, “I love you.” (But at least she doesn’t reply, “I don’t love you!” like years past.)
I escort her through heat and blowing dust, and “I’m tired!” towards the parking lot. She asks, “Can we can stop at the library on our way home?” I agree, and remind myself to breathe.
Reality feels slippery after a tantrum. Memories of previous episodes conglomerate in my ribcage, taunting: out-of-control! I judge the day’s events while driving. Pond, yelling, and desperation. Mother frazzled and inept. I give my daughter a carton of almond milk, and fumble the radio, finding her favorite country music station.
Yellow lines blur around a sharp bend. Oncoming vehicle red or orange spooks me and I swerve my Jeep off the road. Slow motion skid on dirt, hello sagebrush, windshield shattering. We’re crashing, tipping, rolling. My arm reaches out to protect her, and I promise, “WE ARE OKAY. WE ARE NOT HURT.”
And she believes me.
Hanging upside-down like bats. My legs pretzel the steering wheel. Engine sounds wrong, so I turn the key. Undo her seatbelt. She falls to the ceiling, surrounded by nuggets of turquoise glass. I say: “We had an accident, but we’re safe!“ She glows with surprise and says, “That felt like zero gravity!” I wonder why I don’t feel sorry. Why we’re not crying. Why all of this feels right somehow.