Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Maya At 5

Maya turns five tomorrow. Or Maya turns 25. Or 2,225. She's an old soul, for sure. Many of her insights and comments, filled with wisdom and compassion, make me shiver in awe and wonder how long she has been around.

Yesterday, while I was scrambling to prepare her breakfast and tend to Miguel (who has strep), Maya said, "I wish Mommy could come out of the stars and come down to see us. Then she could give us a big hug because her back doesn't hurt. But Mommy isn't alive anymore."


Maya knows and sees so much. Before Maya was born, Verna and her friend Tony went to see some program at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The presenter, also a psychic, told Verna that her baby-to-be would be a healer. Verna was diagnosed a few weeks later with cancer, Maya was yanked out early, and Verna and I assumed the healing the psychic referred to was for her life threatening illness.

And Maya's arrival did provide Verna (and everyone) with physical and emotional solace and focus. While Verna labored through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and days filled with horror and sickness, pain and fear, Maya's life force centered us on living and hope and the future. We still had a tiny life to nurture.

As Maya grew, oblivious to Verna's illness and the subsequent specter of cancer and disease that haunted us since Friday, January 13, 2006, she clearly absorbed life around her. It saddens me that Maya has had to grow up faster than most girls ever, ever should.

Last week she said to me, as we lounged in bed after I'd turned off the lights, "I don't want to be a Mommy, just a big sister. I don't want breasts."

I wanted to cry.

She added a few days later, "I hope I don't get the cancer. I don't want to die. Then you'll be sad."

Beyond sad.

Maya's world was irrevocably altered by cancer. Cancer robbed her of her Mommy and revealed (yet again) the grim reality that life is often not fair or just. But Maya shouldn't be acquainted with that painful reality as she learns in preschool how to identify numbers or that dinosaurs are extinct or sings songs about the seasons.

But Maya is still, in many, many ways just five years old. She wants to marry Daddy, believes in Santa, and wonders if all the characters in The Nutcracker ballet sleep behind the stage at night.

She is innocent and wise. She is my angel and princess. And I celebrate her birth (and also the amazing woman who birthed her, my late wife, Verna).

Maya the (almost) five year old is a total girly girl. She loves sparkly jewelry, bracelets and necklaces, and wearing her psychedelic pink and purple peace sign sneakers that sparkle when she stomps. She plays elaborately imaginative games in the house while I make dinner and Miguel does homework or, more likely, glues himself in front of his Play Station 3. She is the Mommy or school teacher, tenderly caring for her stuffed animals, baby dolls, Barbies, or Disney Princess dolls. Or she sets up tea parties in the living room on the blue table with the large pencil legs.

Maya is all smiles and sunshine and laughter. She embraces and enjoys life and friends and playing. I love how she and I make up silly words. I call her 'Basha basha' and she calls me 'Boopie loopie'. How she loves for me to tickle her back before she nods off to sleep or sing her a song about Bella (the Princess) who lost her umbrella and always enlists the aid of the other princesses: Aurora, Jasmine, Tiana, Cinderella, Snow White, and Ariel.

I adore Maya because she has such a big heart. She brought a gift from her own toy pile to a friend's younger sister because we were celebrating the elder's birthday. "She will be sad," Maya said. "So I am giving her something, too."

I will never, ever forget what she said to me moments after I told her that Verna had died. First, she raced downstairs because she didn't believe me. Then when she came back to bed after having seen that the hospital bed was empty, she said, "Mommy died, I am sad. Poor Daddy, I will take care of you."

Where does that come from?

She constantly jolts Miguel and me with her sublime view of the world. She loves to hug and kiss, and continually affirms her love for you. She is going to be five and has lived lifetimes through her mother's illness and death.

Through all of the madness of our Twilight Zone-like nightmare, though, Maya still clutches tightly to the reins of life as someone who has been alive for 60 months. She said to me last week, her eyes brimming with joy and abandon, "I am so excited. I can't wait to be five. I'm going to be a big girl."

Amen, sweetheart. Never, ever forget to let the sunshine in.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Take Out the Papers and The Trash

When I was an at-home father, the house was usually a mess when Verna got home from work, which frustrated her almost daily.

"Can't you pick everything up before I get home?" she asked, with children's books and wooden blocks and dozens of Thomas the Tank Engine trains, tracks, and toys strewn across the floor and couch.

"But, why?" I asked almost innocently. "We're just going to make a mess after dinner?"

"Because coming home to a clean house matters to me," she responded, a flash of anger in her eyes.

At the time, I thought Verna's logic was harsh. Now I know that Mother Truly Knows Best, or at least Verna did. A clean house is relaxing and helps one feel in control...for a few moments anyway.

The other night, as I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner and Miguel was sprawled on the couch with strep throat, Maya was quietly terrorizing the house. She'd pulled out her toy cellphones, books, mini-photo albums, puzzle pieces, several stuffed animals and dolls, clothing, keys, paper bags, three or four pocketbooks, a walkie-talkie, dirty socks, and jewelry and unceremoniously dumped everything in several piles across the living room, kitchen, and dining area.

Maya is so great at entertaining herself and playing imaginatively all alone, but she manages to use at least a hundred different items and then just leaves them on the floor when she is done.

Somewhere in heaven, Verna is cackling: "Ha! Now you know how I felt." To which I respond: "You're not kidding."

So I looked at Maya, who was innocently pulling another book or two off the shelf, and said, "Oy, what a mess. Who's going to clean this up?"

"Daddy," she answered too quickly.

"Daddy?" I asked in mock anger. "Why daddy?"

At this point, I expected Maya to start bawling, "I don't want to clean up alone. Daddy help me." But, no, she surprised me. "Because it's daddy's house."

"Because it's daddy's house," I repeated, not sure if I should laugh, cry, or raise my voice. "Why do you say it's daddy's house?"

"Because you were born first," Maya said.

Hard to argue with that logic, so I cleaned up the living room with a bit of help from my energetic preschooler. And it was hard to get mad at someone who lumbered down the stairs this morning in polka dot feet pajamas, sleep still stretched across her face, hair tangled, and said sadly, "I wish Mommy was here right now."

"Me, too," I said.

Then, just as I dropped her off at school today, Maya burbled excitedly, "I wish it was Christmas everyday."

No, no, no. Christmas every day? Do you know how much gift wrapping I'd have to pick up?