your favorite PJs to school.
That’s what the memo reads. April 13–your grandmother’s birthday–is the day. Wear your favorite PJs to school, but no spaghetti straps or tank tops for those are against the dress code.
You are wearing your favorite PJs right now. You have on the top to the panda bear pajamas. The ears were black, but they’re now brown because I bleached the top when you were three. You had all those bloody noses back then. Night after night after night, you’d wake up drenched in blood. All your sheets bear small stains, though I tried every trick in the book. And the pajamas, the panda ones–I bleached them. The blood is gone, but so is the black to the panda’s ears.
You love them still.
You wear that top with the striped pajama bottoms from the first pair I bought you new. The top read, “My Mommy Loves Me” and the bottoms were striped, are striped. I bought them at the gap outlet the week that I formalized your referral. My hands shook when I handed them over to the sales clerk. I brought those jammies in the big green suitcase to Ethiopia, hoping that maybe if you wore them, you’d know. Your shoulders are too broad for the top now, but you still wear the bottoms. Age has stretched them so you can still wear them, though they now reach to your knees. They are a size 2T. You are a size 5 or 6. You stuff yourself into those pajamas over and over again, and they yield to your insistence.
To complete the outfit, you are dozing in Little MissMatched socks that your grandmother gave you, and a white tutu. Because why wouldn’t you sleep in a tutu if you could? Tonight you chose not to wear the old ballet shoes to bed–the ones that I finally cut the heels out of so that you could still get them on your feet. You left them out tonight, but they often make the cut. I remember yanking at the seams to get them to release, and thinking that nobody ever told me that ballet shoe dismemberment was part of the mothering gig. I asked you once, “why the tutu, why the outgrown ballet slippers?”
“Sometimes I just need to twirl in my sleep, too.”
You won’t be wearing this ensemble to school for PJ day. We’ll find something else, something where the top and the bottom match each other, perhaps something in or close to your size even.
You and I both have a sense of the public and the private, don’t we? We get stared at in public a bit. “Our skins don’t match,” you say. It’s true. And because kindergarten is not a place where you can dress like a princess or a duck, we’ve toed the line. We’ve worn clothes that more or less match (except for the socks; we go nuts with the socks) and fit. You’ve asked me to stop calling you “duckie” in public. You no longer run pell mell to greet me at the end of the day. You keep the adventures of your imaginary companions to yourself. We’re reigning it in.
But not at home, not in the messy apartment with the yellow bedroom and the cat that inserts himself into every snuggle. No, here you are a dog, a cat, a princess, a ninja, a worker intent on fixing broken walls and doors and hearts. Here you chatter for hours about the family that lives in your imagination and call your doll “Jake”–a girl Jake, you add. Here, you watch Sesame Street on TV, but I’m not allowed to tell anyone. Here I sometimes let you eat like a cat on the floor, and I sometimes agree to feed you like a baby.
In this home, I still call you duckie, and you still cling to my leg like a barnacle.
And today, we forgot medicine for the second time in a month. We ran out of money on the laundry card and had to haul all of our clothes to the laundromat, and I may be picking clean clothes out of the basket because after bringing all those baskets in and out who has energy for putting things away? We forgot the sweet potatoes baking in thin strips in the oven until they were burned to a crisp. We have one library book that escaped the pile and still sits ready to be welcomed back home for a mere 5 cents a day. We never seem to manage to completely clean the house. We eat carrots every day because it’s the only vegetable that doesn’t rot at the sound of my voice. We end up piled like puppies in the morning because I still let you climb in my bed every night at 3 a.m.
And by we, I really mean I. I’m the grown up. I’m the one who should remember library books and medicines and laundry cards. I should keep the house clean and your belly full of nutritious food, including non-carrot vegetables. I should hold firm, vacuum more, insist on sleepwear no more than one size off of your actual size, and set the timer.
But I don’t. This is seat of my pants parenting. It’s what I’ve got. You deserve better, I imagine, but this is what I’ve got.
But tonight, after I read that Winnie the Pooh book to you before bed, you told me that I really need a tutu, also.
“I bet we can find one if we really look,” you say, and my heart slices open at the earnestness, the just Selam-ness of it all. I think, then, that perhaps this is all there is, all there needs to be. You’re forgiven all the errors when you’re found worthy of a bedtime tutu.
Sweet dreams, little duck, little kitty cat, puppy, mother to a baby girl named Jake. Sweet twirly dreams, little girl in the pajamas woven together by memory and hope.
If I find a tutu, I will absolutely wear it to bed, and dream sweet twirly dreams, too.