• Lijing Cobb

I want to be with you

I could feel the icy tentacles of indifference spreading across my heart over the last two days right after I celebrated the monthiversary of the arrival of the different me. It’s as if the shockwave of that announcement woke up the monster in me that had been temporarily frozen. It refused, of course, to admit defeat. It’s awake, and it’s fighting.

I know this is the beginning of the end, because I’ve been here before. I know that the monster could win soon if I don’t figure something out right away. I see myself face to face with my enemy, on the brink of a bloodbath. The question is, will the blood be from the different me, or the old me?

My daughters had a ninja competition yesterday. This is what they train twice a week in their ninja gym for. They watch this show called American Ninja Warrior, and they see all the amazing things the TV ninjas can do, and they want to do these things themselves. A couple of years ago my husband installed two pull-up bars in our downstairs hallway, and every single day my little monkeys swing on those bars practicing their tricks. My 10yo has the highest record of 12 pull-ups, and my 7yo has 9 & 1/2. When they do their last one, struggling with all their might, they almost cry, because their little weight had become insurmountable towards the end.

And yesterday morning, my monster gave me the excuse in the form of a winter storm and a potentially icy driveway to not drive my 7yo to her competition, which was at 8:30. My dear husband, who drives around with a snow plow hooked up to his truck these days, had texted me earlier to ask about the timing of the comps, and said that he might be able to drive back from work to take my 10yo to her comp, which was scheduled at 12:30. If my husband was concerned about the roads, I should certainly take caution too. At 7:50 I walked out of my front door and tested the slipperiness of the parking lot. I had wished that it was a bit more slick, maybe with a thin layer of ice underneath the one inch coating of powdery snow, but it wasn’t. Nevertheless, after I got back in, I called the gym and told them that I wouldn’t be able to get my 7yo to the comp because of my driveway. Then I announced the decision to my 7yo, who was already all dressed and ready to go. She couldn’t believe her ill luck. Dropping her head, she started to cry, so I said that I just didn’t want to risk sliding down on our driveway and end up in the woods instead of the ninja gym. When she didn’t stop crying, I added with a bit of malice, “I know you don’t want to miss your competition, but do you want to die instead?” With that, I left her and walked away.

Brutal stuff. But I see you. I see the ugliness that you spread. I want to paint you on paper so that you know that you are no longer formless, hidden, and can strike anytime, anywhere, and draw blood. I see you coming.

The different me would not have had this conversation with my 7yo at all. She would have known how much it meant to the 7yo who can do 9 & 1/2 pull-ups and almost cries when she does her last one but doesn’t give up despite the pain. She would have gotten in that car with an excited daughter and set out for an adventure and a conquest. And she would have been given the opportunity to witness the amazing things her daughter could do as a reward for her not giving up.

Instead, the two younger kids wound up aimlessly drifting, and soon enough they ended up in my bedroom, where I was struggling to find my peace of mind with a room full of laundry that needed washing and folding, with a stripped bed that needed re-covering, with a ladybug and fuzzball covered floor that needed attention, with a heart that is heavy, sinking, and joyless that needs resuscitating. My son, kneading right palm over left fist, asked furtively if his little sister could perhaps do electaron (he intentionally shortens and mispronounces the word electronics as if to lessen the guilt he feels when he asks to play, because he knows that I consider it to be a waste of time), since she felt so bad that she couldn’t go to her ninja competition.

“Is that the best thing you can think of to do at this moment?” I asked.

“Yes???” My son replied uneasily.

“Ok then, if that’s what you think is the best use of your time. We talked about the choices you have for each hour and each day. You understand that you can choose to do different things, and different choices bring you different consequences. If you understand that, and you choose to do electronics, then go ahead. The answer is yes, you can do electronics. You can do anything you want. You have the choice.”

“Yes???” My son repeated after me, and his voice was a mixture of uncertainty, surprise, and the beginning of excitement.

“Yes. And from now on it’ll always be a yes.” By this time I noticed that the little one had crept into our conversation as well, so I sat all of us down right next to the stairs. Tears started to stream down my face as I spoke.

“You know that I want to be good to you. You know I’ve been trying to listen, to explain, and to love you the best I can. But I’m so tired. I spend so much time trying to make you see how you can make better choices with your time, but you are here again asking me if you can do electronics. So yes, from now on the answer will always be yes. I’m tired of saying no to you. I want to only say yes to you. You know what’s right and what’s wrong. You know you have the power to choose how to spend your own time. I want you to be able to say yes to yourselves all the time and not having to check with me about whether or not you made the right choice. Because that’s what you will be doing when you are no longer living with me, for the rest of your life.”

I felt a tight squeeze on my right leg. My 7yo had wrapped her little body around my leg and was sobbing. “Mommy, I don’t want you to leave!”

Goodness gracious, how did she know that I was leaving? How did she detect, at that precise moment, that the different me was saying goodbye to her?

But I pretended that I didn’t know what she meant. “I’m right here. What do you mean?” I said in a flat voice.

She looked up through her long tear-smeared eyelashes, and could barely get her words out, “I want you to say no to me! I want you to say no! Mommy, don’t leave me, I want to be with you!”

I went on to say a lot more about how tired I was, and how they needed to help me so I didn’t feel so tired. I pitied myself relentlessly for all that I was doing for their sake, and I shook my daughter’s arms off when I stood up from the stairs, annoyed that she was holding on so tight.

Then I went into my son’s room and spent a while teaching him how to replace his own bedding. I don’t know where my 7yo went or what she did after I pushed her away, and I didn’t think of her at all.

We have a houseguest visiting us for a few days, so after she got up, my kids and she got dressed to go outside to play in the snow. I stayed inside with the excuse that I needed to clean up the mess in the house. I watched them sliding down the slope in front of our house, screaming, laughing, and I had no desire to go out and join them. Just like the good old me would do. You won.

My husband came back in time to drive our 10yo to her competition. The rest of us were deciding whether we should go with them as well. Our houseguest asked my daughter if she wanted us to go.

“I don’t care.” She said as she turned around to walk upstairs to finish getting ready. When she turned the corner and walked out of eyesight, she added, “it would be nice if you could all go, but it doesn’t matter.”

“Then we will go!” Our house guest said.

My son started whining. He didn’t want to go. There would be nothing for him to do for 2 hours. He’d be so bored.

I went upstairs to my room, and then called for my son to come up as well.

“Hey, listen. If you practice your guitar, and you play really well, one day you get to play in a show. Say that it’s today.” I started.

“But I’m not good enough. I can’t play in a show.” The little devil already knew where I was going with that.

“Say that you are good enough, and today is the day.” I said with authority, waving off his further protest. “Do you want all of us to be there to watch you play?”

“But I’m not good enough!” He tried to dodge the question still.

“You know what I mean. Now let me ask again, do you want us all to be there for you?” I said firmly.

“Yes, yes!” He said impatiently, “but she said she didn’t care!”

“She cares, just as much as you would care if we decide not to go to your show.” I knew he knew, but I also knew there was more.

“But I don’t want to go to that gym, mommy!” He cried helplessly, frustration in his voice.

My son was kicked out of the same ninja class that my two daughters attend. One day his playful nature got the best of him and instead of training and heeding the coach’s safety protocols, he insisted on being a boy hellbent on recklessness. He was told not to go back there again.

“I know you don’t because of what happened. I know, and I understand. But you are not going there for a ninja class. You are going there for your sister. Think about that.”

Reluctantly he thought about it and stayed quiet.

But the secret here is that I had to convince myself to go by convincing my son that he should. I was ready to take the excuse of my son’s ego and offer to stay with him at home. I was willing to miss another opportunity to witness the amazing things my daughter could do in the ninja competition. I was on the brink of letting the monster of indifference win again.

So we all went, and spent 3 hours there for my daughter’s competition. She competed in both the speed and endurance events. The speed course had a time limit of 50 seconds. She ran the course twice, ending with a result of 39.1 seconds, which won her first place out of all the female participants, and second place out of all 30 participants. She also ended up with an ankle injury after landing a little funny from her final climb. During the hour that we waited for her endurance round, we iced her ankle and she kept complaining about the pain she was in. I asked her at least 3 times whether she thought she could still run the endurance course. Some of the obstacles required tough landings. “But it’s mostly upper body, so I think I can do it.” She said. So I got her a second ice bag and she continued to nurse the pain in her ankle. When it’s her time to go for the grueling 3 minutes and 40 seconds, she waited at the start line with determination and half a smile. Despite the pain, ninja is just too much fun for her to give up. To her, the challenge is the most definitive part of the fun. If it’s not hard, she would not be doing it. If it’s a breeze, she would have walked away. But there she was.

She is so much more ready for the hard things in this world than I am. No worries mommy.

As we watched my daughter compete, our houseguest asked me if I could do all of this. “No,” I said, “maybe a few of these, but the rest needs a LOT of training.” On ninja competitions we see all the time that world champion athletes walk onto the course with no training for what the ninja world required, and fail on the first or second obstacles.

“But you are the fittest person I’ve ever met!” Our houseguest exclaimed (forgive her, she is only 20 years old), not believing what she just heard.

“I know,” I said with a chuckle, “but I can’t do what my daughter does.”

My daughter got 3rd place in the endurance run. The girl who won first place completed 3 more obstacles than my daughter did. We all marveled at her strength and cheered her on whole-heartedly. Her body language, movement, and confidence told us the story of the countless hours she had poured into her training to get her there. She did hard things by putting in hard work. In one of the obstacles her lache landed her in a one-handed grab. The crowd gasped. She hung on and refused to let go, and reached her other hand up to grab on. The crowd cheered and applauded. We didn’t need to know her name. We all recognized the warrior in her.

During the 3 hours we spent at the gym, my son disappeared for quite a while at the beginning. When he appeared he complained that he was bored. I told him to find something to unbore himself. He wolfed down a lot of chips that I had brought with us to the gym. He writhed around next to me and started playing a bit too rough with his younger sister. I told him to stop without helping him find some possibilities of comfort in a place where he felt unwelcome. But when I was filming my daughter’s endurance run, I bumped into him twice while trying to follow my daughter’s progress with my camera. His eyes were trained on his sister, doing the things that he could no longer do, perhaps reliving some memories of the days when he was also part of the challenging fun. You see, the boy in the middle, unlike his sisters, is still working on completing his first full pull-up. He’s got a bit of chocolate, ice-cream, Mac & cheese, and pizza weight to work off before his arms would agree to the load. But no matter what he says to the contrary, he was there to watch his sister do amazing things that he surely wished he could do.

We ended up in a Thai restaurant for dinner. We were seated right next to a big aquarium 4 koi fish called home. 3 orange and white koi, and a smaller one in black. All of them were chewing on rocks and spitting them back out.

My son sat down with his back turned towards the table to watch the koi. “They are just so mesmerizing! I can watch them all day!” He exclaimed, his voice happy and light. He did. When the food came, he turned to chow down a huge load of pad Thai noodles, and when he was admonished to not eat any more, he turned back to watch the fish play. Effortlessly and endlessly the koi swam, sucked up stones, chewed, and spat. They never got in each other’s way. They seemed content. It was peaceful. Our houseguest mentioned that on Roku TV you can set the screen to display a bunch of fish swimming around for eternity, and that one of her friends used to do just what my son was doing, sitting there and watching the fish, absorbing the calm and content energy they feel from the fish.

I asked my 10yo how she felt about the competition. “It was fine. I enjoyed it.” She was more interested in pretending that she was performing a lobotomy on her chicken satay. She was giggling during the whole procedure, finding endless amusement in that operation, and little allure in talking about her accomplishment. Her ankle injury led to a hip injury after her endurance run, and by the time we got to the Thai restaurant my husband had to carry her from the car to the restaurant because she was limping badly and wincing from the pain. For her, what’s done was done, pain and glory. She was present in the imaginary lobotomy, and no longer lived in what just happened 3 hours ago.

I went to bed at 7:30. The rest of them stayed downstairs, watching a movie together. I was done.

When I woke up this morning at 3:30 to start my day, my 7yo’s words came back to me at the sink. I felt the tight squeeze on my leg again. “Don’t leave me, mommy! I want to be with you!”

Suddenly I heard it. Suddenly I saw her tear-smeared eyelashes again. I was there, but I wasn’t there. Her intuition told her that the different me was about to leave, and she was trying to hold onto me tight, with the arms that could do 9 & 1/2 pull-ups.

I saw my son reaching for the chips and chowing down way more pad Thai noodles than his body needs, and staring at the koi fish trying to find calm and peace.

I saw my 10yo rising up to meet and embrace every second of the challenges in front of her, do the best she could, and let it go completely to be her 10yo self silly giggling about a pretend lobotomy.

And I saw myself, trying to wave goodbye to all of this.

No, I’m not leaving. This is the first battle the old me waged on the different me, and I see the fight. I think instead of leaving, I’ll listen to the wise plea of my 7yo. In my son’s company, we will figure out together the inner demons that would not leave us in peace. And I’ll learn from my 10yo to live life to the fullest, injuries and all.

Last night after the dinner was done and while we waited for the bill, I reached over to touch my husband’s hand. It was rough and dry, and ready to receive my hand as usual. I had few words to say to him yesterday, but I hope he felt that even though I didn’t know it just yet, I was fighting hard to stay.

Just another pull-up here.

At the start of her endurance run, determined to embrace challenge and fun, injury or not.

Go sister!

At the finish line, a winner by heart.

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