(This post was one that people seemed to like quite a bit when I put it up on Facebook, so I’m posting it here, too. One of the neighbor children comes over fairly often, and we make fairy things or look at books or have tea parties. I enjoy her company, and we have fun in the imaginal worlds. I write about our doings quite a bit on my private Facebook, and people seem to enjoy these posts. I don’t put up any photos of her (unless she's unrecognizable in them) or use her real name—to protect her privacy and her family's privacy. Before I left for my annual writing retreat, I tried to make my departure easy for the little girl. But sometimes that road was a bit rocky. This Going Away Tea Party took place two days before we left.)
Welcome to the Old Mermaids Tea Shell. That’s what the sign read that I taped to the front door, low enough so Lissa could see it. I’d planned this tea party for weeks, and yesterday I spent the entire day preparing. I had a nasty ass headache, but I couldn’t cancel. I couldn’t do that to Lissa just before we were set to leave for a month. I decided next year if we still were friends and we still went away for the winter, I would not do this! Still, I had fun thinking about how she would react to everything as I got ready.I set about to transform the kitchen into a fairyland. I figured we’d have our savory foods in the living room. That would be the first part of the tea party. Then we would go to fairyland for dessert. Mario hung a sheet over the entrance to the kitchen so that she’d have to make an entrance to fairyland and couldn’t see anything ahead of time.
The first layer of the fairyland was a blue and white quilt my dad had made for me. I found blue and white cloth, too. Plus Mario got tea lights. (I hope whoever invented tea lights is rich and happy. They’re so fun.) I looked around the house for anything related to Solstice/Christmas and Old Mermaids (that fit the color scheme). I put boxes under the cloth to have variety in height, like a landscape. I got big shells and blue, clear, and white marbles, along with amethyst and crystals. Then I covered the windows with more quilts.
It was getting late, so I hurriedly made a Tea Shell menu on homemade paper. I misspelled Mermaid Marble Eggs so that it was Hermaid Marble Eggs, but I never noticed it! We were serving Coyote Laughter Tea and Hummingbird Joy Tea and Fairy Cups of Magic. I’m afraid my imaginative powers were dulled by pain. Mario came took an early lunch and came home and did the dishes and helped everywhere he could.
So I was dressed and ready by 3:20, barely. Lissa should have been there by 3:30 at the latest—because she usually just runs over after she gets home, but she didn’t come. I called; no one answered. Finally I put on my winter stuff and went over to the house. The sitter said, “I told her but…” This was very odd. I went back home and Lissa soon came over. She didn’t seem particularly glad to see us. She had been coloring with the babysitter while we waited for her! This didn’t seem like her at all. She barely said a word to us as she ate and drank her “tea.” She didn’t say anything about the marble tea eggs. She ate them—well, she ate the white part. But that was eat. It was as if zombie child had come to our tea party!
Finally it was time to take her into the fairyland. I had her close her eyes, and I led her into the kitchen. Then she opened her eyes. She looked around like she was seeing blank cardboard. She had no expression of surprise or delight or anything. She looked around at the fairy cakes and said, “You said there’d be cheesecake.”
I was stunned. Lissa wasn’t usually like this. Mario had to leave, so Lissa and I sat at the fairyland table, alone, and I served her Old Mermaids tea. As I sat there, feeling like a dope for doing all this work, I thought, “Kim, you just shouldn’t do this kind of thing. Too much expectation.” Even though I was very hurt, I kept my mouth shut. I was not going to guilt her. Whatever was going on was perplexing, but I wasn’t going to guilt her.
She ate the fairy cakes, but she didn’t seem to enjoy them. She didn’t look around at anything. I tried to talk to her about what was wrong, but she kept saying all was well. (By this I mean when I asked, “Are you upset about something?” she said, “No.” “Are you mad at me?” “No.” Etc.)
Well, this was a bust for all concerned, I thought. I just wanted it over. I went and got her presents. She didn’t seem excited or anything. In fact, she opened one and said, “Is this a coloring book like you got me before?” With a tone that indicated she had not liked that book. (It was a fairy sticker book.) What????
By this time, I was ready to send the kid home and cry myself to pain-free land. She wanted to call her mom to come over for the tea party which was fine with me. Her mom came over, and she fed her mother and showed her her presents and completely ignored me. I hadn’t realized I could be so hurt by a 7-year-old—and I kept telling myself that’s what she was.
Her mom had to leave to get her hair cut. Lissa was so clingy with her mom that I suggested she go with her. I was surprised when she wanted to stay. I was ready to wrap it up. I had gotten her a magnet set of mermaids. There are 50 magnets, and you can dress the two mermaids in all kinds of tails, clothes, crowns, etc. We couldn’t see very well in the kitchen, so we took this in the living room. I sat next to her on the couch while she played with it. One mermaid was her and one was me.
At one point she got cold, so I put a quilt over her. She put her legs over mine, which was the cue for me to rub and tickle her feet, which I did. She put her head on the pillow and relaxed, and I rubbed her feet while we listened to Christmas music. We talked about some things.
Finally when she was relaxed, I said, “You know what I think? I think you’re kind of mad at me because I’m leaving.” She nodded. Finally! “Are you afraid you’ll be lonely?” She nodded. “What else is going on, darlin?”
She said, “Nana died. Mommy is always working. Daddy is always at meetings.” And my house was practically the only place she got to go. I said, “That’s just because it’s easy.”
I said, “So you feel like everyone is deserting you?” She nodded. I said, “You know I’m not leaving to get away from you. Do you know why I’m going?” She shook her head. I realized then I’d never explained why I was going. “Well, we go down and work. We just spent all day working and walking in the desert.” “But you can work here.” Ah, yes. “That’s true,” I said, “but I get a little sad in the winter, so I like being down where it’s warm and sunny. Plus I get to be with my family. I get to see my daddy. I don’t get to see him any other time. And my sisters.”
I started talking about the Christmases I remembered as a child. About going to midnight mass. Then afterward gathering at my grandma’s house, all 50(?) of us. I told her how beautiful our house looked with the lights off and the tree all lit up. We’d come down in the morning when it was still dark, and there’d be presents everywhere. As I was telling her this, I started to cry. Maybe it was the headache. Maybe it was the stress of the crash-and-burn tea party. Maybe it was because I miss those Christmases past. As I talked, tears streamed down my face.
I said, “I don’t know why I’m crying.”
“Is it because of your mom?”
I nodded. “Probably. And I miss my family. You know, when I was a kid I wanted all kinds of presents, but, darlin, I don’t remember a single present. What I remember is being with my family—and the Christmas tree lights!”
She seemed to be contemplating this. She was either thinking, “How profound, Kim,” or “Dude, that’s because you’re old and you forget everything.”
After a while, I said, “You know, sweetheart, I’ll miss you, too. Tell me how you’d like me to keep in touch with you.”
She sat up and said she wanted Facetime and cards. And presents. I just laughed when she said “presents.” I told her I would write; I’d send photos on email; I’d call, and we’d try to do Facetime or Skype.
She was her old self now, excited by the tea party, fairyland, and everything. She got the mermaid magnets out again, and we dressed the mermaids. She said excitedly, “I could play with these every day!”
It was nearly 7:00 by now, and it was time to go home. Past time. I asked her if she wanted me to show her on the calendar again when I would be gone. She did. I showed her, and then I pointed to the full moon on the calendar.
“The full moon is in a few days,” I said. “After that full moon, watch for the next one. We will be home not long after that.” Her face brightened at that prospect.
Then we looked at fairyland together one last time. I told her she could take something from it to keep until I got back. She picked a piece of amethyst and a white marble. I would take another white marble and another piece of amethyst with me, so we’d both have something to remind each other of each other. I packed up one bag for her and one bag full of presents for the other children. (She was happy that her bag was heavier!) Then I knelt next to her as she was zipping up her jacket. She had a brilliant smile on her face.
I said, “Remember, I love you.” She put her arms around me, and we held each other. I said, “I’m very glad we are friends.”
I walked her home. As we parted, I said, “See you later, gator.”
“After while, crocodile.”
Then we looked at each other and laughed. Neither one of us remembered what was next. “We’ll have to practice that,” I said.
“Bye, bye!” she said.
Then I turned around in the dark and walked back to fairyland.