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when do I stop being a chauffeur?

I iron out the crinkles in my daughter’s crinoline. I am at my ex-husband’s. He’s away. We’re prepping for the big night at his house.IMG_4195

I painted these walls. They haven’t changed. I think this colour was called French vanilla. I stare at pictures of his stern relatives from generations past. They’ve dropped off my tree but I can see my daughter’s eyes in that great grandmother. I still love these kitchen tiles. I picked them almost entirely because they were named aubergine.

It is my daughter’s finale dance recital tonight. She is in five numbers. She’s the youngest in her group by two years or so, accelerated, a natural, they tell me. My favourite costume is the tuxedo top tutu that I carefully fold into her Dad’s old garment bag from Moore’s mens wear that used to carry his suits. She is flitting around completely naked, going through what tights, what tops, what order, what hanger and where is her lipstick. She has the same hips as her father. Something about the way she moves. She’s like this tuxedo tutu compared to his suits: the smaller girly version of him, decked out with rhinestones. She catches me smiling.

“What?” She looks at me shyly, suddenly remembering she’s naked.

“I’m just so very fond of you. I love this dress.”

“Me too!”

I continue to iron, this time a cowboy shirt. I found the iron in the place I left it. Not the ironing board though. That was hidden in the bedroom closet. Plenty of room, not so full. I never iron. I wish I did. It gives me the feeling I can smooth out anything. My surroundings tell me this isn’t true. Bittersweet, being here. The unfamiliar and familiar. The gorgeous kitchen he created himself: planed the wood, mitred the joints meticulously. I love it that he’s here to make a home with his daughter out of all the hopes we started with. The best part of him is built into these walls: his creativity, his courage, his attention to detail, his intelligence. This is what shelters her.

I find a hole in her jeans, surprise surprise.

“Does it have to be these?” I call through the sound of the shower.

“No. Any ones will do”.

The trick is to find the “any ones” without a hole. If I were my mother or grandmother or Nonna or that stern great grandmother on the wall I would be darning myself silly. Instead, I just sigh, resigned. How did my mother have the time to keep her place so clean? Maybe it’s time for me to admit I’m never going to reach that level of domestic excellence instead of beating myself up about it? But how, honestly, how can I not have a tidier house? She was a single mother with three kids and nothing was out of order, ever. No holes, no spider webs, no heaps of paper, no rotting cheese in the fridge, no dog hair on the black trousers, no finger prints on the door knob, no dead tulip leaves slopped over the side of the flower pot, no coffee spill down the cupboard drawer, no tooth paste ring under the glass in the medicine cabinet. It’s kind of the worst being brought up by such an amazing housekeeper. I have the eyes to see all the flaws but the inability to keep up with them.

Where did she find the time? Well, I know the answer to some degree. From a young age I either walked bussed or biked from school or lessons or friend’s homes. Certainly by Nora’s age Mom had stopped being my chauffeur. She couldn’t have been, even if she wanted to, she had to get to work. I remember her driving me along the path I was to walk in order to get to my new school in Red Deer, twelve years old. She drove slowly, pointing out landmarks, and I remember her looking down at her odometer and remarking, “oh look, it’s almost exactly a mile! That should take you about fifteen minutes.” And it was no big deal. I can’t imagine letting my daughter out of my sight. What if she was walking and a white van with blacked out windows drove by her and snatched her up? What if she was biking and she stopped paying attention and she swerved into oncoming traffic? What if she was followed when she got off the bus by a bunch of older girls who decided to beat her up? That used to happen to me. And I didn’t have holes in my jeans.

When am I going to let go? When am I going to decide she can do it on her own?  It doesn’t help that she’s a little thing. Everyone else is sprouting up around her and she’s still tiny. She’s 85lbs dripping wet. And just as I say this to myself, her dripping wet self streaks across the living room with a towel on her head.

“I’ll go in wearing my first costume.”

“Okay.”

By her age I was 115lbs and 5’2″. I was bigger than my Mom. I could walk to school.

I also did chores by her age. I vacuumed and dusted and started to learn how to cook (albeit badly). I brushed the dog and mowed the lawn and did dishes and shovelled the walk. I learned how to iron. I don’t remember getting an allowance. I probably did. It probably wasn’t much. I eye my daughter who grabs a drink from the fridge and then leaves the glass on the counter instead of putting it into the dish washer. Little does she know what I am plotting.

Maybe I don’t get her to do chores because I have joint custody? Maybe I want our time together to be precious, fun, necessary? But maybe this is doing her a disservice. It is also necessary to learn some of these life skills. Maybe I am her chauffeur because I want to maximize my time with her. Maybe this is selfish of me.

All I have to do is start to admit she’s not a baby anymore, she’s growing up and I don’t have another who is younger to mother, this is it and that’s just the way it is.

All I have to do is accept my mortality.

She zips up the garment bag and wraps her little slender arms around me.

“Thanks, Mom.”

I want to hold onto her tightly for too long but I don’t. She’s wearing her dance make up. She looks so much older. She looks…like me. Except skinny. F’ing lucky.

I drive over to the Northshore and I drop her off at the stage door of the theatre.

“You good to go in by yourself?”

“Yup.”

She glides out of the back of the car with her dad’s garment bag. Her ten foot lashes, her mound of curly hair and her painted red lips. She’s all arms and legs and Maybelline and she still smells like baby.IMG_4196

 

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