I often wonder whether Autumn was switched at birth. It’s not only her straight, light hair that throws me, but the way she looks at me before filling a cup with bath water.
“I drink?” she says.
“Only from the faucet, not the tub,” and she actually complies.
It’s the way she finishes her blintzes, and also how she asks for more – and then waits patiently. It’s her camera shyness and eagerness to share.
I am thankful every day I got the opposite of what my mom wished on me – a little girl just like myself. But the other morning, something happened that hinted she was, in fact, brought to the correct room after delivery.
“I no go camp,” she said. And then, when I asked her what she wanted instead, she replied:
“Autumn stay Bubble,” Bubble being our nickname for home. When my voracious eater skipped breakfast in favor of lying down, my biggest fear occurred.
Did she inherit depression?
I thought back to picking a sperm donor. I anticipated it’d be sci-fi moviesque, like choosing pieces to make an ideal baby, but I was wrong. It wasn’t like Mr. Potato Head where I could take this guy’s musical ability and that guy’s intellect. And at the end of the day, I still didn’t know what would be passed along from either of us. Alas, despite having selected someone with a clean mental health slate, I had a child who, barely a toddler, was curled up in bed. I saw flashes of myself in the fetal position – immobilized with indecision after getting into law school; unable to cope with the one getting engaged; held hostage by Postpartum Depression, who restrained me from heading to work, or even the kitchen.
So I did with her what I continuously do with myself – evaluated the situation to see whether what she was feeling was sadness – because that’s normal – or something more clinical.
It has been three weeks since her life turned upside down, having moved and taken only ⅓ of the adults she has come to love over the last two years. Then she started camp with new classmates and teachers. On top of that, it’s summer and we’ve been spending 24-7-minus-three-hours-two-days-a-week (aka camp) together.
And so, all things considered, I decided that in her situation, I, too, would rather lie on the couch watching Frozen, cuddled up in my Mommy’s arms. In fact, there are times as an adult I’d much prefer that option with my own mommy. So I relaxed, showed empathy via gummy bears, and dropped her off, crying upon arrival (both of us), but easing up moments later (both as well).
Several nights following, we stood on my parents’ driveway saying good-bye after Shabbat dinner. Autumn didn’t want to leave.
“You can sleep at Nana and Papa’s,” I told her, “but Mommy and Toddy are going home.”
At once, my parents and I felt her sadness. She was already learning about not having it all. There are many times I think youth is wasted on the young – like how they get daily naps – but this was not one of them. I felt for divorced families, and the pain they must go through – constant good-byes met with aching for one another. And then I thought about how loving people makes life that much better, but also that much harder, but also that it’s worth it.
After a beat, Autumn nestled her head into my chest. I strapped her into her car seat, and Nana and Papa joined us singing Elmo’s Clap Your Hands, a slight consolation for missing story time. As we headed home, I felt gratitude that her sadness was just that – a healthy reaction to circumstances – and then the Facts of Life theme song chimed through my head.
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there ya have the facts of life.