29 June 2010


[at Maddie and Riley's birthday party]
Friend, to M&R: Do you have a dad?
M&R, looking at each other: No.
Me, unsure of what to do: You can tell your friend what happened to your daddy.
Maddie: He died.
Riley: Why did he die?
Maddie: He died. But then my mama was born and then she got to be our mama so it's OK.

The matter-of-factness of the four-year-old set is pretty compelling. The question was asked with no malicious intent, just pure curiosity. The child who asked it goes to school with Maddie and Riley and has been at a number of school-related and other social events, and has clearly noticed that there has never been a dad in attendance. Sunday was the first time this child had ever been to our house; perhaps the absence of a dad was more prounounced to him on Maddie and Riley's home turf. Perhaps he's been wondering for a while and had just never asked. But the way he did ask, with a total lack of guile, was refreshing for me, and not at all upsetting or strange for Maddie and Riley.

Neither Maddie or Riley hesitated when answering the question in the negative. This I found a little unsettling. Of course, their memories of John are shadowy, if even real. But they often point to John in pictures and refer to him as Daddy when they do. I was thus surprised that they didn't answer yes, then clarify that he was dead. I suppose, though, that it's pretty sophisticated to answer in that way, and it's true that their day-to-day lives lack the presence of a father. It's more just that the answer stung, bringing up John's absence in such a real and matter-of-fact way.

Maddie's explanation of how I came to be their mom and fill the dad void was interesting. I didn't quite follow her narrative, but it definitley involved me being born after the twins and then becoming part of their lives. Time is still very fluid for them, but I'm intrigued by how her mind is making sense of our family situation, how she's explaining John's absence.


[last night, 10 p.m., as I pull sleeping Riley out of bed to take him to the bathroom before I go to bed myself]
Riley, not really awake: Mama? Mama, I love you.

One of the things I love most about Riley is how transparent he is. At this age, he is not terribly emotionally complex. What he feels, he says or otherwise expresses. And that is all. Even when he's sleeping.


[in the car, on the way home from the beach last weekend]
Maddie, descending into meltdown hell upon waking up from a car nap: Mama! I don't want to talk to you anymore! I don't like you anymore! I want to send you to a farm forever!
[kicking, hitting the seat, screaming more of the above for almost 45 min.]

[15 or so minutes after the end of the fit, when Maddie was calmed down]
Me: Maddie, is something upsetting you? Why did you want to send me to a farm?
Maddie: Mama, I just love you too much. I love you TOO MUCH Mama.
Me: I know that feeling, Maddie. It can be hard to love someone so much.
Maddie: I just love you too much, Mama. It's hard.
Me: I'm glad you love me so much, sweet girl.

Maddie's emotional intelligence has blown me away since she was born. She and I have revisited this particular meltdown a few times, and she insists that she was just overwhelmed by the feeling of loving me so much that she couldn't handle it. I believe her.

Wow, the teenage years are going to be interesting at our house.


Julie said...

(Long time lurker, first time I'm commenting)

That is so amazingly sweet of Riley, I just melted. And it *is* so amazingly precocious of Maddie to be able to express such a complex feeling to you!

Meg said...

Wow . . . I know I had thoughts that complex at that age, but there's no way I could've verbalized them. Your understanding of both their emotional intelligences impresses me (I know that sounds stilted, but . . . you get both of their minds).

And they look like children now (re : the previous post's picture). Not toddlers, not little ones, but full-on kids. Adorable.

Sam said...

I figured out after a while when people ask if you have a parent, they want to know how you live without them if you don't. Who is the substitute person who does all the things that person does for them in their life?

Where I lived in Brooklyn there was a girl two houses down who didn't have a dad and when somebody would ask her if she had one she'd say something like "No, but I have a mom, and a grandma and poppy, and an Auntie This and Uncle That..."

Sarah said...

Oh, my heart is aching for Maddie. It's so hard to be a person, sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Here's a hard one...this weekend, we saw some friends whose child has cerebral palsy. My niece was with us at the time, and she had never met him. She kept trying to ask his dad "what happened to him?" I like that she didn't ask "what's wrong with him?" But what do you do? I explained he was just different but people don't need to be bothered explaining why their kids are different. I don't know if that's the right answer, though.

CV said...

your blog needs a "like" button.

Janine (txmomx6) said...

Yes, loving someone too much is hard, but oh so worth it. As the 3 of you know, it's what keeps you going when that person is gone.
You have amazing children. :)

Sadia said...

Your children are just lovely. I can see how their "We don't have a Dad" is terribly unsettling. I'm not quite sure what I'd with that.

Anonymous said...

I just completely teared up when you wrote, "I believe her." I have not yet thought of or remembered from my own childhood, what it feels like to love your mama so much. It can be overwhelming! My almost 4 year old son tells me he loves me all of the time - and I am realizing that it is under many different circumstances and most likely with a sometimes mix of many emotions, including anger and frustration. I just love that you simply understood and believed Maddie!

beyond said...

amazing. i'm sometimes afraid that when i have kids i will love them 'too much' but i also know that that will probably be the only way...

BiancaW said...

I have so much to say about this post, but I am not nearly as fluent a writer as you are, so I will keep it brief.
Those children of yours are just amazing, in so many ways. They KNOW how lucky they are to have you as their mom. They know! From now on, I will try and pay much more attention to my children's emotional intelligence, and I bet they will teach me a thing or two.

django's mommy said...

I, too, find children's honesty and matter-of-factness so refreshing. Nathan will respond similarly to questions about his dad: "My daddy died because his heart stopped working". It's also quite apparent that he is aware of the complexity of relationships. For example, we were out hiking with my infant niece and a guy I was dating at the time, and in response to someone coming up to pet the dog, N said, "This is my mom. This is my cousin B- she is not my sister. And this is my mom's friend D- he is not my dad. My daddy died." Sometimes I cringe, but mostly I am grateful that he can tell it like it is, and that children accept that without judgement. Their curiosity is wonderful to me.

~ Jolene said...

Your kids are SO sweet...I can't elieve they are 4 years old already. They are such precious dolls. And Maddie explaining her emotions was amazing...you're right, the teenage years are going to be interesting...and FUN! :) Hope you're well Snick.

Dianne said...

The honesty of kids is so refreshing. Adults would wonder forever about where their dad was without asking a question.

I think how they are responding is totally normal. I have a good friend whose father died when she was 2, and she has no memories of him. Her mom was a plastic surgeon (something very unusual for someone of our age to have a plastic surgeon for a mom), and when people would hear that, their next question always was, "what does your dad do?" And she would always say, "he's dead." Which I think always caught other people off guard, like she was mad they asked the question. But truly, that was her reality. In her world, he had always been dead because she had no memories of him. It didn't upset her, it just was what it was.

You're doing a great job!

Anonymous said...

Being able to understand and speak intelligently with children is a fine gift. Not all parents possess that ability. You do. And, this will help you and your children to forge a beautiful relationship with each other. It will make getting through the storms so much easier, especially the teenage years. A thought: maybe Maddie can articulate in her own way how her abundant love for you plays into her meltdowns. I find that to be very curious. I have a feeling though, as she grows, that she will skip the tantrums and communicate her angst, if you want to call it that. Oh, I remember my childhood now...and the lack of a mom like yourself. :-)


OTRgirl said...

I agree with the other comments. I like that you know how to respond to each of them on their own terms. It's interesting to watch since they are the same age how they each process their emotions differently.

I do like the straightforwardness of children (is that a word?). I respect that you gave them permission to explain their answer.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Good for her for knowing that feelings can be just TOO BIG.

Hugs to you all -- wish you could make it to Camp Widow!!!!



Nina said...

Riley and Maddie are just both so incredibly awesome. I love how good a listener you are with them.

jo(e) said...

I like how open kids are -- and that you're encouraging that openness.

Dr. Smak said...

Without the burden of what "should be", kids are so much more accepting of what is.

Truly the best part of parenting is loving and celebrating those things that make your children unique. Great post.

abernier said...

What Maddie said - so wonderful and deep! And of course, the dearness of Riley is wonderful too, but for Maddie to express that feeling of overwhelming love is truly lovely.

My twins are similar in their individual intensities: my boy shares some of Riley's charactersics, my girl some of Maddie's. They're nine now, and I'm finding that more and more often the feeling I have for my daughter is immense respect. And similarly, Maddie deserves much respect as well.