Saturday, November 2, 2013

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For Doodle- by guest author Amber Watson


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            I want to start this essay about my daughter by talking about me. I’m 6’ tall and I’m a cyclist, by definition. I ride my bike whenever I feasibly can, and when I’m not on my bike, I’m daydreaming about it. Take today for example: it’s mid-October and 60*, the sun is shining, there’s minimal wind and no clouds, and all the pansies have hung their bikes up for the season. If not for a mountain of papers to grade, I would be nose-to-toes spandex, clipped in and shoving off in any of 60 directions to ride the roads I know intimately. I’ve left my sweat on all of them, my tears on many of them, and my blood on a few. My relationship with my bike is borderline obsessive, and undeniably unhealthy. It’s a relationship of abuse, pain, and love nearly matched with equal parts loathing. It’s hot and it’s cold; it’s grueling and it’s liberating; it’s skating the line of traffic where peace meets peril. It’s technical; it’s complicated.
            And this brings me to Elaina, my 13-year old daughter.
            I come home on a Saturday morning around 11:00, after having climbed the Alpine Loop on my bike: 4,000 feet in vertical gain, 40 miles round trip. I hang my bike in the garage, and feeling exhilarated and exhausted, will come into the kitchen, swigging my water bottle and feeling fine. And the room is clammy and dim, with all the shades drawn. The stale air has the smell of Oatie-Os in milk lingering vaguely on it, and the sink is full of cereal bowls and last night’s dishes, with a full array of papers and binders, bookbags, and folders covering the kitchen table. And if I look beyond the kitchen, into the living room, I can see a brunette head, barely visible over the glowing iPad screen, and barely distinguishable against the great, fuzzy brown blanket she has entirely wrapped herself in. 

            “Hey Mom,” she says, not looking up.
            And this is what I want to do: I want to take the iPad and fling it somewhere it can’t come back. I want to shake her out of that blanket, force her upstairs, and out of her kitten pajamas and into some shorts and tennis shoes. I want to throw open all the blinds and lecture her on the beauty of the day, the crispness of the air, the wonder of the mountains, and the thrilling pain of this thing called muscle burn. I want to force her to appreciate her languid body, to stretch her limbs, and pepper her nose with sunlight.
            So I start by opening the blinds. “Doodle, look at what a beautiful day it is. Are you seriously still in your jammies?”
            She yawns and stretches her arms above her head with her hands and fingers outstretched. Her fingers are not like mine. Hers are still perfect in the way little girl fingers are: soft, short, and without all the veins and scars and callouses I’ve got running all over my wrinkly knuckles, my spotted skin. She quickly retracts her hands back into her blanket cocoon and stares at her screen.
            “Come on, Doodle,” I say, feeling tired, “let’s start your day.”
            She pulls a face.
            “Come on.” I start tugging at the corner of her blanket.
            She makes a sound like, “mrrrff” and frowns while closing her eyes.
            I start pulling harder and she begins to slide off the edge of the couch.
            Clutching the iPad with one hand and reaching out with the other, she protests, “Mom!”
            “Come on, up and at ‘em! Do you know where I’ve already been today while you’ve been laying around?” She puts her free hand now over her eyes.
            “Yes, you’ve gone a hundred miles on your bike already.”
            “And what have you done? Gone maybe 50 steps from your bedroom to the couch?”
            “Bah!” she says, and buries her head deep in her brown blanket.
            Elaina is beautiful and musical, is smart and quick-witted, is compassionate and kind, but doesn’t seem to have an athletically-motivated bone in her body. I force her into swim team every summer; I coerce her into city-league volleyball; I trick her into sports like horseback riding and archery; I sign her up for kiddie races and triathlons; she hates most everything. She would rather draw pictures or read books, sing songs, or play on her iPad. Now don’t get me wrong—those things are great. But can’t she appreciate any small bit of my world? 

            Later in the day, after my husband Jeff brings our son Carter home from rock climbing and then football practice, he announces that he needs to run an errand. “I’m going to ride my bike there; want to come?” I tell him I can’t. “But how about you take Elaina?”
            With a gesture, I indicate over at the kitchen sink, where Elaina is watching a movie on her iPad while washing dishes.
            “Come on, Elaina,” Jeff announces, “go change your clothes. You’re coming on a little ride with me.”
            “My bike is like 700 pounds! I’m so slow!” she immediately protests.
            Before I can think, I say, “then take mine!”
            Both Elaina and Jeff swivel their heads around to check whether or not I’m serious. I shrug. Elaina changes her clothes, and they leave.
            I was outside when Jeff pulled back into the driveway. Elaina was still riding around, up and down our cul-de-sac. “Woo! Elaina!” I called, “You look like a cyclist!”
            “Shh!” Jeff whispered. “She loves it.”
            “Well, that’s great!” I said, “Elaina! When are you going to start riding with me?”
            Jeff squared up to my face and silenced me with a look. “She knows how fast you are. She’s afraid that if you know how much she loves it, you’ll make her ride with you, and then you’ll leave her behind.”
            I looked back at Elaina, who was easily riding my bike.
I’m 6’ tall.
Her legs were long and her back was stretched and her arms reached out and her little hands pressed the brakes and shifted the gears. She could reach my pedals, my bars, my seat, my height. I knew, in a moment, that this was just the beginning of so many waves goodbye.
And I realized something. I wasn’t pushing her so she could be stronger, or she could be happier, or she could be fulfilled. I was pushing her because I needed just something; something that could bind us in a shared experience; something that she could recall or value in the same ways I could. I needed something because I need her. I need her to never leave me behind.

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Amber Smith Watson graduated this past spring from BYU’s Masters of Fine Arts program in creative writing, with an emphasis in fiction. Her creative work has appeared in Touchstones Literary Journal, Cutbank, and The Normal School, and she is currently in the submission process for a number of the pieces which appeared in her master’s thesis: Boiling Over. Amber is now adjunct faculty at both BYU and UVU, teaching composition and creative writing courses. A Columbus, Ohio native, Amber currently lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with her husband and her two children.


lorraine said...

how i miss our original little writing group formed in rs. my original purpose was to write things about our lives that would be meaningful to our families eventually. although that is not the way we went with our little group, i see that is what you are naturally doing all the time. love this essay.