Songs for the spirits

We’re supposed to be at a chorus concert right now. There’s one underway at my kids’ school tonight and Annabelle, who recently received an award for being an “Outstanding Music Student,” steadfastly refused to go and perform in spite of a pretty heavy guilt trip from me.

The guilt trip was Tuesday night. I got home from work after staying late at school to work on a project with some of my own students. One kid didn’t show up. He talked to me about it later. Something had come up. I understood and all, but when I got home from work on Tuesday evening, I started thinking about how, since Annabelle is an Outstanding Music Student, her music teacher would probably appreciate it if she showed up for the Thursday night concert.

I walked in the door, sat down at the table, and began contemplating my evening. It was a bath night for the kids and a big laundry night for me.

“Mom,” Annabelle asked, “can I do your makeup or will you play Barbies?”

Lately she’s been giving me these choices. I’m generally more inclined to let her do my makeup and put jewelry on me because I can be more passive in that role. I just sit there as she cakes blue eyeshadow from my lashes to my eyebrows and smothers my lips in gloss. I think about all the stuff I have to do, which is more relaxing than making Barbie talk while I think about all the stuff I have to do.

Once she had finished my makeup, Annabelle informed me that she tried to make me look younger, “so you don’t get kicked out of the ball.”


Well, I don’t suppose I do look 16.

Not too long ago, I walked into another teacher’s classroom to talk to one of my students about making up a test. As I left, I heard a couple of other kids ask her, “Is that your mom?”

I took this as a major compliment. I figured I was having a really good day if they thought I was her mom.

At any rate, I am Annabelle’s mom, and I had this discussion with Annabelle and my whole family on Tuesday about how we should really go to the chorus concert at the kids’ school because it’s important to show up and be accountable.

“But I don’t want to go,” said Annabelle. “I don’t like the songs we’re singing. A bunch of other kids aren’t going.”

I still thought I was going to win.

After I read her bedtime story, I asked her slyly, “What are you going to wear to the chorus concert on Thursday?”

“I don’t want to go,” she said again, her eyes tearing up. “I don’t want to go.”

I was so mad.

“OK, then,” I said, “I don’t feel like doing your backrub tonight.”

“Is it because of the concert?” she begged. “Is it?”

The answer was yes, but somehow I knew that I needed to say no and leave the room, so that’s what I did.

As I walked back downstairs, I thought of the student survey I’d collected in one of my classes that day. Then I thought of the kindergartners at Annabelle’s school, talking smack about how they didn’t like the songs they were singing and saying they weren’t going to attend the concert. Oh, I was mad.

I finished folding laundry.

“Are you pissed at me?” Dan asked.

“I’m pissed at the world,” I said. Then I went to bed, too exhausted to even enjoy Facebook.

The next day, our little calico cat Rainbow went missing.

Dan and I don’t really like having cats, because they eat a lot and poop a lot and get hair everywhere. But we’ve had them for a couple of years and they’ve become family members.

Dan kept checking the doors to see if Rainbow was waiting to come in like she does every night. She wasn’t there. We both kept thinking we heard a cat meowing. We looked everywhere we could think.

This is Day Two of Rainbow Missing.

Annabelle’s taking it pretty well. She keeps saying Rainbow is a spirit now. I haven’t given up hope yet. I still think the cat may come home.

Yesterday, Annabelle asked me for a picture I had taken off the fridge. It was a photo of her a few years ago with my mom’s dog Mackenzie, who died. I didn’t know why she wanted the photo but I found it for her.

She put it inside a book beside her bed and told me that I couldn’t read the book, that only Mackenzie and my brother Troy and my Aunt Mabel and the other spirits could read the book.

I used to think like that, too, when I was her age. My mom taught us to believe in reincarnation, so at that age, if I lost a pet, I was comforted by the idea that he would come back as something else.

My parents had lots of pets, and sometimes, they died. I think that’s one of many reasons I stopped having them. As I got older, I wanted to limit my emotional liability.

When I was Annabelle’s age I felt so much closer to the natural world and the spiritual world. Everything seemed so real and vibrant and alive and it still seems that way now in my memories.

Maybe middle-age mental malaise is just an extension of the dark cynicism that creeps up during adolescence, dulling the senses. Maybe as we move into old age and lose more pets and loved ones, that sad worldliness fades away and we get closer to the spirit world again, because we have less to lose here and more to gain there. And maybe then all this petty stuff, like kids refusing to go to chorus concerts, doesn’t matter anymore.


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