“When are you going to write a blog about me?” Dee Dee asked me the other day.
“I’ve written blogs about you,” I said defensively.
But, really, when was the last time I wrote about Dee Dee? When she was younger, the same antics that made her such a handful— spackling the furniture with her poop, dashing through parking lots at top speed—also made for good stories. Now that Dee Dee has grown into herself, she is much harder to put into words.
“It seems like Dee Dee has the role of the troublemaker in your family,” a family friend observed to me recently, having just been regaled by Sylvia with the “poop as spackle” story. “Is that true?”
I nodded reflexively, and felt a momentary satisfaction at having it laid out so neatly. Dee Dee was a troublemaker. But was it true? Certainly the old stories and photographs back it up: Dee Dee stealing Elmo from a tearful Sylvia, Dee Dee upending a pound bag of shredded cheese onto the kitchen table and eating it by the fistful, Dee Dee emptying entire shelves of books onto the floor at the library.
Now, it’s not exactly trouble that Dee Dee makes. Clayton would say it’s messes. The remnants of Dee Dee’s projects are forever sullying the house. Last Friday, when she stayed home sick from school and was losing her mind with boredom, she ventured outside with a ziploc bag on which she had printed “Signs of Fall” in neat letters. (Two previous attempts lay on the counter: “Sings of Fall” and “Signns of Fall.”) When she came back ten minutes later, she had collected an autumn leaf, a strip of bark, a piece of charcoaled wood from the firepit, and a shred of styrofoam she had pulled off a pool noodle destined for the attic until next June.
It was a good, wholesome idea: creative, outdoorsy, self-initiated. But it’s things like that that drive Clayton a little crazy. In her brother’s world, every item should have its place, and where exactly is the spot for a thing like that? In Dee Dee’s world, it doesn’t matter. Having executed her idea, she’s done with it. She’s already on to the next thing, and she certainly doesn’t want to hear about the permanent marker she left out on the counter or the fact that her “Signs of Fall” are now cluttering up the coffee table.
If there’s any one word that describes Dee Dee, it’s busy. She is always up to something: making shrines for the pets who have passed away, throwing butter-making parties for her stuffed animals, dressing up Alexa for Halloween, mixing up “science experiments” in mason jars. While Sylvia searches the internet for videos of girls taking care of their dolls, Dee Dee looks for craft ideas and science projects.
Last night, inspired by something she saw on “5-minute Craft Ideas,” she mixed up yet another concoction in a glass jar: water, blue food coloring, and glitter glue. The effect was striking; ribbons of silver glitter swirled in the turquoise water.
“I think I’ll take this to show my teacher tomorrow,” Dee Dee said proudly, holding the jar up to the light.
“Hey, can I see that?” Sylvia asked her, already reaching for it.
Maybe Sylvia’s hands were still slippery from the bath; maybe the hand-off was not what it should have been. But Sylvia’s words still hung in the air as the jar crashed to the floor and shattered across the dining room. Glittery blue water streamed across the tiles.
My eyes shot to Dee Dee’s face. Would she be crushed, her precious craft destroyed so soon? But Dee Dee looked almost relieved; for once, the mess wasn’t entirely her fault. She tiptoed around the shards of glass to rummage in the craft supplies. Was there any more glitter glue? She would just make another one tomorrow.
That’s the other thing about Dee Dee. She lives in the present. Clayton and I shake our heads, for as much as she loves books, she never seems to finish one. Everytime I look, she has a different book in hand.
“What about The Cats of Tanglewood Forest?” I ask her. “Did you finish that one?”
“No,” she says, turning the page in Wings of Fire. “I’m just reading this now.”
Again, Clayton can’t stand it. “You have to finish it, Dee Dee!” he bosses her. In his mind, the dozens of books she hasn’t finished are just another form of Dee Dee’s general clutter.
“This is just the way I read,” Dee Dee answers defiantly. She doesn’t put Wings of Fire down and reach for another book just to annoy him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had crossed her mind.
Dee Dee is complicated. She can be moody and emotional, bursting into tears at the smallest reprimand or burying herself with cushions on the couch, her mouth a perfect frown.
“What’s wrong, Deeds?” I ask her, trying to conceal my exasperation.
“I don’t know!” she wails.
This is frustrating for both of us. In Dee Dee’s opinion, she is entitled to her moods. After all, she can’t help how she feels. But having her mope around the house like a preteen is unsettling for everyone. I can certainly recall my own moody spells at that age, but I remember them being more private than hers— moping in my own room or the backyard, for example, not the living room. I’ve considered asking Dee Dee to go to her room if she’s going to be sullen, but it doesn’t feel like a very kind option. Ever since Sylvia’s baby dolls moved into their room, Dee Dee really doesn’t like going in there alone.
At bedtime, Dee Dee is often troubled by the many thoughts swirling in her head. I put my lips against her temples and her forehead and pretend to suck them out so she can sleep. Immediately, her face relaxes.
“You’re the best mother in the world,” she says.
I remember when Clayton was a baby, and I was not yet pregnant with the girls. A friend with a young daughter came to visit, and at one point we were all in a public restroom, each in our own stall.
“Mommy?” I heard the little girl say. I waited for what was coming. Did she need help? Did she need toilet paper?
“Yes, sweetheart?” her mother answered.
“I love you.”
Oh, I thought, so that’s what it’s like to have a daughter.
But not just any daughter. Sylvia, although loving in her own way, does not gush. Dee Dee gushes. “I love you,” she tells me easily a dozen times a day. At one point, she was saying it so much, we agreed on a code word, so she could express the feeling without wearing out the words.
Now when we go for walks, she grabs my hand. “Tomato,” she says urgently.
“Tomato,” I tell her.
Of all my children, Dee Dee reminds me the most of my own childhood self. Although not horse-crazy like I was, she loves animals with a fierce passion; when we are away from home, even if only for a weekend, she misses the pets desperately. She also yearns, like I did, for a special place of her own. Yesterday, while Clayton and Sylvia did their math homework, Dee Dee— whose blessed teacher does not believe in homework—carefully made a sign: “Dee Dee’s Secret Thinking Place.”
“It’s not going to be very secret if it has a sign,” Clayton pointed out, reading over her shoulder.
Dee Dee huffed in exasperation, but quietly redid the sign: “Dee Dee’s Thinking Place.”
Later, as we walked the dogs, Dee Dee asked me casually, “Do you think we could ever build a little house?”
“How big a little house?” I asked, imagining the fairy houses we used to make from sticks in the woods behind the house.
But that was not what Dee Dee had in mind. “Oh, about this big,” she said, and she held one hand over her head and stretched the other in front of her. “Somewhere where I could have a little shelf for my books, and a chair, and maybe a little desk?”
We will never build a little house, I thought sadly. But then, suddenly, I was inspired. Last weekend, I emptied out the closet downstairs so that I could pull up the carpet in the office. Underneath the stairs and still mostly empty, it is the perfect thinking place. It even has a little shelf for her books. I told Dee Dee she could use it, if she wanted.
Her face lit up. “And it will really be mine?” she asked pleadingly.
I hesitated. The house doesn’t have enough closets for all three of my children. But Clayton has his own room, and Sylvia—well, Sylvia just doesn’t yearn for that sort of thing.
“Yes,” I said. “It can be yours. I’ll help you get it set up this weekend.”
“Oh, Momma, really?” she said. “Thank you so much!”
I often think that I would give the world for my children, but in that moment, it was like I really had.