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On Saturday, Julia and I went to our second Zentangle class at FUS. The instructor, who encourages Julia, instructed most of us at a comfortable speed. Julia drew three times the amount that the rest of us did, adding detail, changing patterns, making mistakes and altering her spaces on the little tiles. Her tile is the one in the middle.

Last Wednesday, we had a parent-teacher conference. Julia conducted the conference, reading her notes on how she had done the preceding quarter and what she intended to do this next quarter. She has made the honor roll last quarter of 7th grade and this first of 8th grade, and she is proud of herself. She entered middle school not caring in the least about grades or tests or comparing herself to anyone. Her grades are scaled, she is not really compete with her typical classmates, but for me, she competes with the girl who started 6th grade and I see how far she has come.
She showed me her portfolio, writing and a few tests. As we walked out of the classroom, her teacher apologized for not having her latest writing printed out. She praised Julia for that newest writing and told me that Julia choose her grandmother as “The most important person in my life.” She promised to send it in an email and it was home before I was. I admit to a tickle of foreboding when I heard her chosen person.

The most important person in my life is Grandma. I call her “Granny.” Grandma is important to me because she takes care of me. There many things about my grandma. She can be enthusiastic about cooking and sewing is another thing that she loves doing. On the other hand, my Grandma is emotional. She is emotional because Grandma is always caring about me.

My grandma is also helpful. My Grandma is hard working and she makes me laugh a lot by telling funny jokes such as “are you are a potato.” She sometimes calls me funny names like that. My Grandma is also over protective of me. She loves snuggling on the couch with me. She teaches me a lot of things. One thing she taught was how to bake cookies.

My favorite experience with Grandma is making cookies with her. Another experience is that I love is being able to spend some extra alone time with her. This is important because grandma works a lot and is very busy with her work. She drives her Badger Bus. Second important thing about Grandma is that Grandma loves telling me her favorite little secrets. Another exciting that I love is when my grandma takes me out on lunch picnics when it’s hot and sunny outside and we eat watermelons together.

Grandma is totally happy because she has me as her perfect granddaughter. I take care of my grandma when she feels that the days are getting extra hard for her. My grandma is compassionate. She is very helpful because she teaches me how to clean the laundry. I have one last thing to tell my Grandma is that I love going to the movies with my grandma because she is a super cool. She gives me advice to be the girl who tries so hard at not making any mistakes in school. My grandma took me trick or treating on halloween night when it’s all dark outside. There are many different things that I love about is my grandma who is really the most important person in my life.

I think this is the longest writing the Julia has done on one topic. I’m sure she needed support to stay on task and to made transitions but there is a lot of information there. Sweet, beautiful information; however, none of it is real.

Of course, Julia had grandmothers. My mother and David’s father’s second wife. Neither are alive. Neither had a long, or for that matter, really loving relationship with Julia.

My mother died seven years ago, a year before David. She was not particularly into grandmothering my daughters, but she was kind to Julia during the two years between Julia’s arrival and her death. Babja, Ukrainian for grandma, met Julia at my father’s funeral a few months after Julia came home. My father had been too sick to travel to Wisconsin to meet this last grandchild and Julia’s behavior those first few months made travel impossible. We had hoped for a trip out east during Christmas and were revising our plan for a spring visit when my father died in early December. I flew out immediately and David followed two days later in time for the funeral. His flight was delayed for a long afternoon and then cancelled and rescheduled for the next day. His story of Julia waiting, not quite clear to me now, was of a child melting down and raging in a noisy, crowded airport. We knew so little about Julia. My mother was in no shape to entertain a new child and Julia was in no shape to attach to anyone.  The two got to know each other a little bit during the next two years. (See grandpa)

Julia knew David’s father’s wife, Claire called Grandma, less well—two or three short visits to Florida. We did not travel as David waited for his new heart, and they did not visit us. Neither of them came to the memorial service and it was difficult for them to see Julia and I in the year that followed before they died.

Even when Julia saw her grandmothers, her interaction with them was through one or both of us. Neither spent any time alone with her. My mother may have read to Julia once or twice but I’m not even sure she did that.

And so, the essay was at first a mystery. What hit me first was my utter failure to give Julia a more populated family. Apart from me and occasionally Cheshire, she had been taught and taken care of by therapists and respite providers. We have friends we see on holidays, at weekly dinners and at church, we have neighbors and a family friend with whom Julia has spent a few single nights, but none of them have an independent relationship with Julia. This is in no way a criticism of these dear people. A relationship with Julia is still one way. While we were traveling, Julia posted on Instagram and a few friends, my sister and some teachers replied to her. I was hoping to keep that correspondence up during the school year, but it is just one more thing to manage in her life and I drop balls that are not essential.

But still, what I felt was awful guilt for not providing more for her.

I waited a day and then talked to her about her writing. She was proud of it but sheepish when I asked who it was about. She knew it was fiction (which was rather a relief for me!). She told me it was about the grandma she wanted to have. She told me that when she decided on writing about a grandmother, she wanted to do a good job and please her teacher. In my mind’s eye, I have no trouble constructing what happened.

And when I looked closely at the writing, I realized that it was composed of bits and pieces from stories and books she’s read this year. From the name, Granny, to cuddling on the couch to movies to driving a bus. She has met fictional grandmas who do all these things.

Still, I didn’t know how to process it until I told the story to my Friday Chalice group. They reframed it as a good piece of fiction, certainly a wish on Julia’s part but a borrowing of characters, like all good fiction writers do. This was after all not an imaginary friend or voice in her head, this was a writing assignment that she received praise and approval for. She used what she knew to please her teachers.

So, I’m letting it go. I don’t need to talk about it endlessly with Julia. Perhaps one day she will have an older woman friend. I also don’t need to see the family and friends that we do have as my failure. There are lovely people in our neighborhood, among my friends and at church who engage willingly with Julia. Perhaps one day, there will be a strong soul who gives her more