Hi there! I'm sorry to have left you for so long. See, the thing is, I had a birthday. Not just an ordinary birthday, but a birthday filled with the charm and excitement of that old, noble city, Chicago highlighted by two very, very special evenings. And, oh, how I have tales to tell about my big city adventure. But, those stories will have to wait, because there is something much bigger, much more exciting to tell.
Let me start at the beginning.
This is her at the beginning.
And her with her first best friend, her sister Odawg.
One of those children guided into the universe by shining stars. There are times, (many times), I look at this girl in uncontainable awe.
Yes, she is mine. But, I can not take the credit for this little being filled with light. She is born of something else, something bigger than I could ever hand down to her.
And I don't care if I sound like the most obnoxious braggart in the world.
Ask anyone who knows her.
Victoria raced into this world, ready to jump into the mix. Every person that crosses her path is an immediate friend. She finds goodness in all beings. This often irritates me because sometimes, dare I confess, I enjoy being a hater when people are rude or mean or just plain assholes and she is always, "But, Mom...here's the good part about them."
I really hate that about her.
She has spent most of her school days at our little Catholic school, ruling the roost. She hammered out straight A's like nobody's business. She charmed the entire school with her generous heart and uncontainable spirit. And everything: friends, A's, honors, clubs- everything was as easy as pointing her finger and beckoning it to come her way.
A few years ago, we had one of those weekends. The kind of weekend that makes me jealous of two child families. Two children are perfect when it comes to divvying up the attention. But, with three, someone always gets left out. This weekend, it was Victoria's turn.
Everybody had a tournament or a competition in different places and so we were dividing and conquering. On that Saturday, I went one way. The Hubby went the other. Victoria went with friends to her soccer tournament. Our plan was to make it up to Tori by both parents going to her tournament on Sunday.
That was our plan.
I got the call while driving home from a competition. I was on the interstate when the phone rang and my dear friend Jane said as calmly as she could, "It's Tori. I don't want you to get too upset, but, they're carrying her off the field."
There are some words that no matter how gentle they are delivered carry a punch so stealthy it almost stops your heart.
It was a mass pileup of girls on the field. Our Tori, the fierce warrior she is, was defending her field. She was the bottom of the pile.
The pileup wasn't the problem.
The opposing team's player who accidentally stepped on Tori's bent ankle on her way out of the pile, was the reason the bone snapped. Tori said she heard the sickening crunch.
She was wrapped up in a cast on non-weight bearing crutches, per the doctor's order-the best way to heal the fragile, broken collection of ankle bones.
After a week of dragging herself around on crutches she began to complain about fatigue, putting herself to bed earlier and earlier, sometimes at 6:00 or 7:00. I kept assuring her it was the crutches and the injury. She would get used to it.
She never did.
Then came the day she told me about the pain in her stomach, the hard, knotty pain. She wanted me to feel her stomach because she said it just didn't seem right.
Instantly, I felt the mass.
We rushed to our wonderful doctor who took one look and with eyes too somber for a mother's liking told us it was her spleen and that tests had to be administered immediately.
Thankfully, when it comes to swollen spleens, it was the better of swollen spleen outcomes.
Mono and a broken ankle- a big fat, doozy manure bag of bad fortune. We took care of her, spoiled her, loved her through this double whammy.
But, it changed her. It was almost like she realized that she was not this infallible force- that sometimes even the brightest of lights can dim for awhile.
It brought to her the gift of anxiety attacks.
Now, if you have never had an anxiety attack, consider yourself the luckiest of souls.
A few years ago, I had some events in my life that were out of my control, little problems and big. The biggest one being the diagnosis of "This mammogram and ultrasound show you may or may not have breast cancer, so we need you to see an oncologist. And, oh yeah, since it's the Christmas holidays, your diagnosis of cancer or no cancer will have to wait until the new year. Merry Christmas!"
I was fortunate enough to not have breast cancer and also fortunate enough to only experience the debilitation of anxiety attacks for only a few weeks, but that feeling of utter panic and pure hopelessness will never leave me. The anxiety looms so big, your mind can not see any light at the end of the tunnel. Only a darkness, so vast, so hopeless, the only choice your body and your brain has is to panic because there is nothing else, nothing else.
It is terrifying to feel that lost.
And Tori battled anxiety for far too many days, far too many years.
It was heartbreaking to see her, this positive force, buckle to the pressure of anxiety. But, in between the attacks where we lost her to the panic, our Warrior Girl battled back and with the help of wonderful teachers, friends, therapeutic, coping skills and us, telling her always, always it would be all right, she made it through. She conquered her panic and anxiety and never gave up her undeniable powerhouse of a spirit.
This year has been a roller coaster ride of the highest highs and lowest lows for our family. We have had children leave our nest and children go on to bigger worlds.
Tori was set to enter the fray of high school. She was leaving her tiny school to jump into the big pond of public high school.
And she couldn't wait.
She couldn't wait for the drama and excitement of high school. She couldn't wait for the overflowing amount of kids she was certain would be her friends. She couldn't wait for the clubs and activities. She couldn't wait to burn her parochial uniforms and embrace the true vogueness that makes up Tori. (She couldn't especially wait for that.) She couldn't wait to conquer the school she knew was waiting to embrace her.
She decided her first venture into joining the fold would be through cheerleading. She started back with gymnastics, a sport she had left behind when soccer came into her life. And like everything in life, Tori worked ferociously to perfect her back handsprings and leaps.
I got a little nervous at the first cheerleading meeting when the coach asked the cafeteria full of young ladies who had been a cheerleader before.
Everyone but Tori raised their hand.
It was after that meeting, Tori and I found out cheerleading ain't your Momma's cheerleading anymore.
Nowadays, cheerleaders are incredible athletes. Cheerleaders are as tough, as skilled, as fearless, as amazing, as those muscle bound football players on the field. Sometimes, even more so.
They leap and twirl and fly through the air with such agility and grace, all the while looking beautiful and flawless AND with no scratching of private parts. What football player can say that?
Tori worked hard at it, going to gymnastics lessons diligently, attending cheerleading camps, enlisting Jessica. (a cheerleader who'd graduated this past year who was on her way to Gator Country, making the University of Florida's varsity cheerleading team in her freshman year, a rare triumph.) Jessica came over on a regular basis to give her private lessons. Tori did everything she could to catch up with the other girls and their unbelievable abilities.
She tried out, never giving up. Her resolute spirit, shining through as she told me after tryouts, "I'm not sure, Mom. These girls are really great, but I tried my hardest and we'll see..."
The cheerleading coach handed out letters to each girl afterwards, commanding them to wait until they left school grounds to open them. Everyone raced to their cars. We were in the middle of the traffic jam trying to make our way out; Tori, jumping in her seat, pleading for me to hurry.
The minute we left the school drive, Tori ripped open her letter.
Her name was not on the list.
She was brave, keeping it together as I told her how proud I was of her, how amazing of a creature she is. The tears did not come until Jessica called her for the results. Jessica placated her with words of encouragement as Tori wept. How I hurt for my brave girl. And in true Tori fashion, when the tears were done she said as she studied the list of cheerleaders, "Mom, these girls are all so good. They deserved this. I'm just surprised because I always make everything."
So succinct, so clear in its truth. Pure and utter shock that for once, she had opened her hand and life had not emptied its treasure into her palm.
She got over it rather quickly because school was starting and this, in itself, was what she had been waiting for all these years- to shine.
Her first day of school began just a few short days after we'd dropped Odawg off at school and I will admit, my mind was elsewhere, adrift in worry and grief.
I dropped Tori off at her big school and she hopped out of the car in her new, snazzy outfit, brimming with confidence.
The thought came to me, ashamedly for the first time and I asked, "Are you nervous, Tor?"
And she said, "No, not all all. I can't wait!"
Worn through from the tidal wave of emotions of sending off my first daughter, I wearily said, "Thanks Tori, for being you."
The first few days of school came and went and with every passing day, Tori grew quieter and quieter. Her answers when I asked her about school became clipped, with less detail and joy to them.
Then there came a day we were shopping for the endless school supplies and in the middle of the packed aisle in search of binders, I saw that look return to her eyes-that awful look I despise, that look of overflowing panic.
I stopped and asked her if she was OK and she said in a too casual, quiet voice, "I'm fine. It's just that I thought I'd have more friends by now."
It killed me, slayed me right there in the middle of Walmart. I knew it had been weighing heavily on her mind. I knew she didn't want to bother me since I was in my own storm of hurt. I knew all she wanted was to jump into the mix and allow high school to consume her life.
She was the outsider, the girl from the small school. The rest of the kids knew each other from the public middle school down the street. And in those first days of school they were clinging to each other, hanging on to their familiar friends in this new, big world.
No one, it seemed, could see the charm in having Tori for a friend.
I encouraged her to keep trying, to sign up for clubs, to extend a hand to everyone she came across.
And she tried in indomitable Tori fashion.
She came home a week ago, bubbly again. She told me she wanted to try out for Senator of the Freshman class, an honored position on the Student Council. Senators were elected by the freshman class and there were three senator positions.
I cringed on the inside while encouraging her wholeheartedly on the outside. I didn't know if I would be able to take another loss. It's the hardest part so far in raising these beautiful creatures, watching them when they lose at times, watching them work for the brass ring and having it slide elusively out of their grasp.
There were many kids running and on the first day of campaign week, she came home quiet and less fierce than I've ever seen her.
The other kids were all from the middle school. They all knew each other. They were all the "most popular kids of the school" in Tori's sad words.They'd also been through the campaign process before. Their banners were bigger and bolder than Tori's. Their campaign handouts were things like printed t-shirts and engraved pens with their names on them.
With the very basics of information, Tori and I had spent the weekend before, buying up supplies and working on her campaign. In the course of searching for campaign trinkets, I had come across little party favors. And in my vast, high school campaign ignorance, I thought they would work just fine. We bought tiny little memo pads and miniature clackers. I told Tori we could print up a sticker and slap it across the memo pads' covers and the clacker paddles.
She wasn't sure about the clackers, so she left them home on the first day, only handing out the memo pads.
An administrator found some of her memo pads thrown on the floor of the hallway and told her she could no longer pass them out. She was dejected, hers was the only campaign treat to be tossed aside. She felt it was an indication of the freshman class's opinion.
I bolstered her up as best as I could and told her to go in the next day with her clackers and her big heart and winsome smile and work those freshman votes.
She jumped into the car the next day after school. The sunshine that is Tori was back- full of light and energy.
The kids had loved the clackers. They had approached her in the halls, in the classrooms, at the lunch table. She passed out clackers and smiled her lovely smile and made friends. Kids who hadn't had the time of day for her before, now knew her name, had been touched by her charm.
The door had been opened a crack and Tori was kicking it in.
She spent a week, handing out her clackers, making homemade t-shirts to rival the printed ones and extending her hand, with a, "Hi, I'm Tori. Would you vote for me?"
I flew to Chicago, knowing I would not be with her when the votes were counted.
I tried not to think about it.
Three senators. And my girl, too far away for me to wrap my arms around her when the election was said and done.
On Friday, at 3:01, one minute after the final bell, I called her cell phone. I got her voice mail. My stomach was in knots as I tried to enjoy the company of my sisters and the beautiful Windy City. As the minutes ticked by, I knew the win was less and less likely.
An eternity of 15 minutes later, my phone rang.
Amongst the cacophony of a thousand high school voices at the end of the day, I heard my Warrior Girl's shout:
"MOM, I WON! I WON! Can you believe it!!"
"Yes, my Tori" I said, my heart overflowing, "I can certainly believe it."
She got the second highest amount of votes- this Warrior Girl who knew no one in the big pond before this day, who tried and fell once before, who wasn't sure if she could do this.
She is already in the midst of designing homecoming floats, orchestrating the homecoming pep rally, making plans for the freshman class's first year, making new friend after new friend, and best of all, believing in herself, again.
Oh, how I love My Warrior Girl.
Today's Definite Download: Taylor Swift's, "Love Story."
So, where do we even begin with this? I have always loved Taylor. She is talented and sweet, with wholesome lyrics and good music and most importantly she is gracious and lovely, unlike her peer, the assbag Miley Cyrus.
I have also always loved Kanye West. I love his beats, his above-par, hip-hop lyrics and yes, even the audacity and bad sportsmanship that is all Kanye. But, what he did to this sweet, 19-year-old is unconscionable. I will no longer buy Kanye's music. And if there is anyone in the universe who may not know of what I speak, a speedy recap: At the MTV/VMA awards when Taylor was announced winner of the best female video and stood on stage and with shock and delight, accepting the award, Kanye jumped up, grabbed the microphone from her and announced Beyonce should have won.
I thought that sweet girl would burst into tears right there on the stage. The backlash against Kanye has been deservedly huge. And for once, his ridiculous words have really pissed me off. I mean I laughed my ass off when during the whole Katrina mess, Kanye blurted out, "George Bush hates black people." Oh, what a lovable idiot he was back then.
But, this was unforgivable.
It is also the Warrior Girl's favorite artist. Tori loves to sing very, very, very loudly. Our house is always filled with the sweetness of Tori's songs and "Love Story" is one of her favorites.
"....And I'll be the Princess. It's a love story, baby, just say yes..."
You did it, Tori! It IS a love story, a never ending love story for Always- My Beautiful Warrior Girl.