I was born into a typhoon catastrophe signified by a brilliant and devastated woman. November 1976. November is cold and damp in Anchorage. The ground may be covered in snow, but more likely there are long patches of decayed brown grasses covering the fields like a tarp, somehow on the earth instead of being the earth. November carries a curious separation, a sense of being in between the times of play; the rolling greenery of summer a memory, the frolicking white of winter a desperate anticipation. November hangs in the balance. Brings the melancholies. Brought me. I was born on a Wednesday, and as I grew I often thought about a storybook poem which had a rhyme for each day of the week telling the personality of those born. Monday’s child works hard for a living, Tuesday’s child is loyal and giving, Wednesdays child is full of woe, Thursday’s child has far to go…I always felt cheated by that. I was born Wednesday at 1:26 am, just a near miss from loyal and giving.
Tuesday has always been my favorite day of the week. I sense now it is because it has always represented the sunshine before the rain…and my consistent denial of the day in which I was born.
My mother once told me she could not remember my birth. This was her answer to my question countering her assertion that I am not her child. Appalled, but not really surprised, I reminded myself (again) that I cannot hold her to the same set of rules of logic as the rest of the people I know. She has a mental illness that continually creates and re-creates her life in dramatically different ways from actual reality. It is harrowing to hear ones mom assert she had no part in your coming into being. But she did, and I am still coming into being. Strangled emotionally on her umbilical cord, I wondered how she could not see what was so obviously connected to her. My struggle for life, my gasps for air, my stifled cries, my blue and compromised body. The blue of woe.
Fast-forward to the dim, soft-blue of a nightlight in my daughter’s room. My daughter Ursa, 3 years old.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she whispers, cuddled in bed in the dark of her new room. We are spooning. My arm draped over and across her, she has all four fingers clasped around my forefinger, cuddling my palm and forearm like a teddy bear. We can hear her younger brother suckling on his bottle, empty but still satisfying the need to suckle himself to sleep. She turns over to face me. “Be Chubby,” she says. “Put both hands on your cheeks.” I do this, and pop into an alter ego named Chubby, who is a 5ish year old boy with all the questions of his age, and calls Ursa his best friend. Chubby, remarkably, came back to life for me just this past month when I found myself entertaining Ursa one day. A favored joke from early childhood, my sister and brother and I used to squeeze our cheeks together and laugh, endlessly, at how funny we looked. We all played out being Chubby, who would say he was riding a bicycle really fast and WHEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! suddenly our hands, still stuck to our faces, would fly back and we would appear to be flying through space at mach speed.
Amazingly, Ursa and I both change dramatically when Chubby comes out. She treats me as a peer, and I find this so special. It is like a secret world I have happened upon a way to access, and I almost feel as though I shouldn’t be there, so sacred her young mind is to me. But it is my favorite place to be, when the hierarchy dissolves and the role of mom dissipates and I land in her world, on her ground, with her in the lead. My own character gets entirely eclipsed by this old puppet, and I marvel at how completely accessible my childhood mind is when I am acting him out. When my consciousness slips back into being a mom, even with hands still pressed to cheeks, Ursa catches it straightaway and says to me, “Be Chubby!” She can spot it in my eyes.
Chubby is a bittersweet character for me. One the one hand, Chubby holds the innocence of a time when I was still bonded with my siblings, and we would constantly create worlds together through imagination and play. One the other hand he is a remnant of a traumatic and convoluted past, a ghost in my heart the way so many memories of my siblings seem to be these days. But I keep showing up as Chubby, sensing that the magic Ursa sees in him might also have a positive effect on my past in some indirect way. Chubby was too young to know the sadness that surrounded me then, and still maintains that naiveté. He is like a fourth entity to our sibling trinity that went into hibernation and has now emerged unscathed, even though the rest of us did not. To be Chubby means to be in a place of total innocence, and the new insertion of that sincerity to an old memory symbolic of a profoundly disorienting time feels deeply reparative to me now.
It is a challenge for me maintain present-moment awareness with Ursa in the moment of our play, and not lapse into the echoes of my own childhood lost. But it feels like a good practice, and yet another curious way in which Ursa helps me to grow, to self-reflect, and to choose for myself who I am and what the relationship I hold to my own childhood will look and feel like. Parenting feels so layered and thick, and worth it, and hard. And so it is that the simple words “I’m glad you’re here” can bring me to silent tears of gratitude and help me to cut the umbilical cord on the past, to stop strangling on it, and get a breath full of tomorrow.