Monday, April 9, 2012


C has taken to singing "All the Pretty Horses" at night as she falls asleep. I lie next to her in bed and sing along in a funny voice to keep myself from melting into a puddle.

T must have taught it to her. I didn't even know this song before I she was born. It wasn't in my family's repertoire. I think of it as being somewhat more American than we are. I've imagined my forbears on westbound, oceangoing vessels and on foot, trudging through Ellis Island or walking to the mill, lunchpail in hand but, somehow, I've never pictured any of them atop or behind a horse. We're city folk. We don't sing about horses, pretty or otherwise.

...goooo to slee-eep little bay-bee...when you waaaake, you shall have, aaaaall the pretty, little, horse-ses...

Maybe it's because I picture T hearing this song as a little baby with his young, shell-shocked parents. Or maybe it's just just the way C sings it with such commitment in her warbly little voice. Whatever the reason, this song destroys me every time.

If this were an old-fashioned, pen-and-ink journal, you'd see little smeary teardrops all over this page.

I'm assuming that this song is actually about a baby who doesn't want to stop playing with toy horses ahead of naptime. And mom or dad is just doing the normal parent bargaining thing--you can play with them again after your nap, for Pete's sake! Or, hell, maybe it's real horses and a coach and six was a common household possession back in the day, like a pre-Industrial Revolution version of the SUV. I'm a little out of my depth here.

When I hear it, I picture dozens of horses frolicking alongside a sun-dappled pond and it feels so...aspirational. Less 'Mommy needs you to sleep so that she can fold the laundry' and more 'Great things await you, baby. Mommy is going to work on securing your marvelous future while you take a little nap.'


I want amazing things for C. I'd crawl across hot coals and broken glass and killer bees to get her those horses or anything she wants.

But mostly, I want her to keep waking up.

I want to believe that she will always wake up.


I've always been a little bit nuts. When I was 4, I did not want anyone else picking out my clothes (or my jewelry). I can't tolerate noisy chewing or gratuitous hugging. I eat my M&Ms in a very specific order and, yes, I will share, but, no, you cannot have any of the red ones. Much to T's (and C's) disappointment, I can't quite say "I love you" without tacking a sigh onto the end. You know, that sigh that transforms it into something more like, "I love you, ok? Please don't make me say it."

In short, there were so many other, better, old-fashioned ways I could have screwed my daughter(s) up. I can almost imagine an alternate future where C and R gripe about me in a late-night, wine-fueled bitch session or an even more distant future where they gather all of their own kids around and laugh about me and my strange ways.

I fantasize about them together, ganging up on me and bruising my feelings a bit. I can't believe it will never happen. That they will never know each other. That I couldn't keep them together.

I want my old, garden-variety failures back.

I want a bright future for C but I mostly want to erase the sad parts of her past.


She wants me to sing the song to her while I rock her like a baby. I do the best I can, breathing slowly, taking long pauses, and thinking about mundane tasks to avoid thinking about how it was when she actually was a baby.

Her legs stick out at a ridiculous angle and my knees ache from her weight. She's all sharp angles and muscles now.

"Where did I put my arms then?" she asks and I struggle to remember.

"Your arms were shorter. You were mostly greedy eyes and an open mouth. I could hold you in one hand."

She smiles and does her best to tuck her arms in and make her eyes wider. I remember willing her to grow, trying to imagine her one year, two years, three years older, believing that she'd be safe once she wasn't a baby anymore.

"Was I teeny as a crumb?"


She smiles. She likes to hear me talk about how special she was. R doesn't really exist for her. I have to remember that. She has very limited ideas of before and a whole lot of after stretched out ahead of her.

"Keep singing."

I fight my way through but it's a lost cause.

"Mama, are you crying?"

"Just because I'm happy, boo-boo."