For Adrienne’s Eleventh Birthday

For Adrienne’s Eleventh Birthday September 22, 2022


Adrienne Rose turned eleven today.

Eleven years ago, just after seven in the morning, ended the worst 24 hours of my life. The PTSD went on for years and I still jump in terror when someone brushes up against me the wrong way. But she doesn’t know this. All she knows is the story I told her: when the doctor was pulling her out of that puckered scar on my abdomen, he said “Look at that hair. Look at that cone head. He’s huge! Oh! He’s a girl!” and then she screamed, and I said “It’s okay, Mommy’s here!” and they brought her to me for a kiss.

Eleven, as I’ve mentioned, is a difficult age, an age I’ve dreaded since I saw the second line on the stick, but she doesn’t know this. All she knows is that she’s getting a birthday party at the zoo, later this month when we replace our car, and her two best friends will be coming. All she knows is that today there will be presents at the table and she’s asked to bake her own cake.

Adrienne shares her birthday with Bilbo Baggins. She used to love The Hobbit, as an audiobook or just me reading it allowed for hours; she also liked the Rankin Bass cartoon. She would put construction paper beards and capes on her teddy bears and line them up to act out a play of The Hobbit, with Corduroy the bear in paper wings as Smaug and a folding chair playing the part of The Lonely Mountain. But she feels she’s too grown up for fairy stories now. She doesn’t read Tolkein or Lewis or any other fantasy. She likes mysteries, and books about children with beloved pet dogs.

We still play out dollhouse stories together, in the magical land of Ultraville which she made up years ago, but we don’t move the action figures around the dollhouse anymore. We just sit on the sofa and voice them. She keeps her teddy bears as pillows and decorations instead of pretending that Corduroy and Nickeroy are riding the school bus together. She plays Minecraft instead of watching Old Bear and Mister Rogers. This makes me sad, but I try not to show it. I worry about the day when she doesn’t want to make up dollhouse stories at all. But she doesn’t know this.

She doesn’t know that every time she’s demonstrating a judo move in her martial arts class, my heart goes into my throat and I want to hit the person whose job it is to sit on top of her so she can throw him off.

She knows that when I watch her soccer games, I embarrass her by clapping and cheering every time her foot connects with the ball, as if just by kicking it she’s won the game. I am trying to be less enthusiastic.

She doesn’t know that I spent the first nine and a half years of her life feeling impossibly guilty that we didn’t have a car to go to lessons or practices or even the park, but she knows that I’m ridiculously happy to drive us out of our way to a new and different park, or the pumpkin patch, or a new pool. Any place we can have a good time, to make up for the past.

I don’t think she knows how bad the past was. I think she thought we ate rice every day because we liked it. I think she thought everyone had a food stamp card.

She’s been told that Great Grandmother and the aunts she hasn’t seen since she was three disowned us, because they think she doesn’t love Jesus enough and because she thinks I haven’t taught her Christianity. She has laughed at the photo of me receiving First Holy Communion in a lace dress and flower wreath at seven, when she received her First Holy Communion just two weeks ago in her best button-down shirt. Holly the witch was there at the church, the first time Holly’s gone to church in years and years. Holly and Reese are her adopted lesbian aunts who love her and want us to visit whenever we can. They let her get the eggs from the backyard hens and they don’t mind that she needs lots of quite time to play Minecraft alone without talking to anyone.

Adrienne is not terrified of God, of apparitions, of scary preternatural phenomena like I was growing up in the Charismatic Renewal. She’s not constantly afraid she’ll be possessed by demons. She played with a sparkler at Holly’s Lammas bonfire and had a good time. I’ve taught her that God is everywhere present and filling all things, Someone you can talk to whenever you like and Someone you ought to serve by loving and helping your neighbor. I’ve felt guilty, like I was damning both of us to hell, when I refused to say anything that would make her scared of God, but I stood my ground. I’ve felt guilty when I told her quite honestly that some of the teachings that were represented to me as Catholic don’t make sense to me, and she’ll have to make up her own mind. I’ve told her that God would never punish someone for being mistaken and doing the best they knew how, even as I shook with fear that I, myself, would be punished. The cycle of religious trauma and spiritual abuse has stopped with me.

Eleven years have all gone by so fast– so slowly from moment to moment, so fast in retrospect. She is so close to really being grown up.

“We give birth astride a grave” is one of those phrases I recite when I am frightened or depressed, but it’s not really like that. We give birth astride a universe we can’t possibly understand. Our children go shooting off into it, in a direction we don’t know. We try and steer them toward a star we recognize, but it’s not up to us. It’s not even up to them. It’s just the universe out there, and we put our children into it. But Adrienne doesn’t know this.

Adrienne Rose is eleven now.

She is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and she knows this.

That’s what I hoped she would know.



image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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