My grandmother said the happiest day of her life was "giving birth to Frances. It was the only thing that was ever all mine."
I know exactly what she means. Of course I know that Eliza isn't all mine any more than my mother was all my grandmothers. My grandmother called my mom "the rebel" because she didn't like to clean, she didn't want to join the convent and she had to go and her father's skin instead of her mother's. The feelings of that child as being your complete possession eventually give way to the realization that this is a whole other person, working pretty damn hard to distance herself from you.
But ah those early years with the right kid, for a little while you have that great gift, that perfect love. Eliza is my perfect love.
My mother often described as the kid that was always walking up and down the street knocking on doors looking for some one to play with. I'm still kind of like that, a very lonely person who longs for a large family and chaos and people around me all the time. I gave birth to Eliza and suddenly I had that some one to play with.
Eliza and I were alone for marathon stretches of time, often 12-14 hours without relief. There were days when I truly feared I might go insane but then I didn't and then I realized I wouldn't knowing that was so freeing. She started smiling and adoring me, screaming and reaching for me starting at only six weeks. I am not exaggerating here. I remember the moment so clearly. I had a babysitter interviewing to come and help out for just a couple of hours a week. I told her a little about Eliza and handed Eliza to her. Eliza's head snapped towards me, her eyes widening, not in fear but almost in anger. She opened her mouth and let it be known that she was severely pissed off that I handed her off.
The babysitter calmed her down, I was impressed and I hired her. And Eliza was okay with her but that was it. For months, whenever anyone tried to hold her--my mother, C, my father--she screamed. Her scream often sounded like a fake cry. She wanted me and that was that. No one had ever loved me like that before.
I took her everywhere. The world was suddenly new and hopeful and as bright as the sun if you looked at it directly. Stumbling across a band at the South Street Seaport turned her into a whirling fireball of dance. A first taste of chocolate gelato brought back that forceful, pissed off wail for more. I walked for miles with her in the sling, her face turned up to smile at me and then peer over my shoulder to make goo goo eyes at some person behind me.
We took Mommy and me tumbling classes, music classes and playgroups. Every day was a celebration of our perfect love. When she got her first real cold, I must have sat with her for two to three days straight, only putting her down to go to the bathroom. She and I slept in the living room on the fold out couch together while her father snored away alone in the bedroom.
As the years passed, I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable turn, that moment when she wasn't so into me anymore. But the thing is, even now, with her entering third grade, it still hasn't happened. She still adores me and often when we're together it's still there, our hands entwined together, our perfect love.
Tonight we went to Summerfest, an annual music and fireworks festival along the water near my mother's house. She and I started going alone, my mom at home with baby Elena, and after the fireworks we'd go back to my mom's house and sleep. Tonight Elena came with us and we came home after the fireworks. It hurt knowing my mother's house was empty, remembering so many nights inside her house and hearing the fireworks and knowing that the house was dark and eerily quiet.
As I drove home, I thought of our first Summerfest. The band was a Bruce Springsteen tribute band and Eliza got a huge Spongebob ice cream treat. It was the messiest treat in the world. I'm a huge fan of the boss and being outside, listening to that music as the sun took it's sweet time setting; it didn't get better than that There have been many Summerfests after that one but it's the first one that sticks with me.
On the way home, we passed a park where the kids and I attended an Earth Day fair, maybe when Eliza was in Kindergarten. We passed the Point Boardwalk where we've gone almost every summer. So many afternoons watching Eliza run around at the park on the Bay near my mother's house. Watching her run alongside the hill at Twin Lights. Standing in the ocean one night, snapping photos of her and Elena running away from the waves, into the sunset.
I have loved her childhood so much, a childhood that's forever behind me. She's still a kid, she's still my loving kid, my Eliza but for how much longer? How many more Summerfests will she enjoy, being stuck with just me when she can go with friends? I finally knocked on the right door and got exactly the playmate I wanted and pretty soon she's going to move off and find some other people to play with, people who she thinks about more than me. My perfect love with be gone.
I honestly don't know how people cope with their children growing up. I guess other people have lives and have relationships outside their kids. I've always known it wasn't healthy to put all my eggs in one basket but no one, no one loves me like she does. With my mom gone, I often feel like Eliza is the only person in the world who loves me.
If you're wondering about Elena and feeling bad that I don't talk about her and me and a perfect love, it's not that I love Elena any less. Quite the contrary, sometimes I pick up Elena and feel a love surge through me so strongly, I feel like I just can't hold her tightly enough. But Elena pushes me away. She loves me and when she does give me one of her little hugs, I can't begin to describe how it feels to have those little arms around my neck. Elena loves me, but she is not so affectionate, she is not so adoring and has Eliza in between her and me. From day one, she was happy with whoever held her. She went through her period of wanting to be held all the time, sure, but she didn't care who was holding her. I like that about her, I like that independence.
And I like seeing it in Eliza, when she runs into friends and suddenly I'm invisible. I don't feel hurt, only happy that she seems to be relating to her peers in a healthy way.
But still, at night when I'm driving home from fireworks and the kids are sleeping in the back seat, I can mourn the small children years that are in my rearview mirror. And say thank you to my Eliza, for being such a wonderful, amazing, beautiful and most of all loving, girl.