Every weekday morning, just before 7:00, I quietly open the door to Felicity's room and step into the darkness. If she's already awake, she reaches out to me and I lean down and kiss her cheek, and she runs her hand along my face as she stretches and yawns and wriggles under her comforter. If I wasn't home for bedtime the night before, which happens a few times a month, she will say, "Mama. I missed you." Even if I was the one who put her to bed, sometimes she'll say, "Mama, I missed you in the night! I want to be with you all day and all night," as she traces circles in the air with her little finger.
On the days when she hasn't yet woken up, I lean over her bed and peer at her sweet scrunched-up face, looking so much like her baby-self in sleep, and I just breathe, inhaling her little-girl scent. Even though it's not the intoxicating powdery newborn smell, it's her, and it's as necessary to me as air itself. When she senses me there, she often whimpers a little bit -- taking it slow, not wanting to wake just yet; much like her mother, slow to warm to the concept of being conscious -- and then she'll say, "Nooooooo. I have to finish my dream!"
I pull up the shades and get out our big "365 Stories" book, a Richard Scarry classic that I used to read with my mom and brother when we were kids. We read the story of the day, and then she'll say, "Let's read one story we've already read." So we do, and then she usually gets a third one out of me, and then she wants me to carry her across the tiny hall to our tiny half-bathroom. "Mama. Carry me! UP!" And I do, because I won't be able to much longer. After she goes potty, I take her to the kitchen and get her settled and head off to the shower to get ready for work. The day has begun.
A few weeks ago, on a Sunday evening, we had dinner together as a family, and Felicity asked if we could eat in the living room as a "special treat." (Little does she know, Joe and I eat in the living room every night, hunched over the coffee table despite our grown-up dining table sitting three feet away. Savages.) I allowed that we could, and she immediately launched into dinner-party-hostess mode.
She set the table and carefully laid out napkins and arranged the placemats just so. She added a centerpiece, and I emerged from the kitchen at one point to find her absorbed with markers and paper: "Mommy, look! I'm making place cards!" (I have no idea how she would even know about place cards; I certainly never use them.) She oh-so-carefully carried bowls and glasses to the table, and rushed back and forth to the kitchen to help ferry out little plates of cut veggies that I told her she and Daddy could have as hors d'oeuvres while I finished up the meal. When I came back in the room, though, she said, "Mama, we're not going to eat them without you. We have to wait until everyone is served!" (She is quite punctilious about this particular point of etiquette.)
As I began to serve up dinner, she came into the kitchen and said, "Wait! Don't move!" and scampered off down the hall, returning moments later with her step-stool. "I'm going to help you!"
We all had quite a pleasant meal together, and the whole time she remarked, "This is so much fun to eat together in the living room at the coffee table! Mmm, this food is good. Thank you, Mommy, for making such a delicious dinner! What a special treat to have a family dinner. Isn't it so funny to eat at the coffee table?" Well, it is when you're here, bub.
Last weekend, I took Felicity to a friend's house to play, and the girls ran off hand-in-hand the moment we crossed the threshold. The parents and I holed up in the living room and chatted and had a grand time, keeping an ear out for any signs of trouble but hearing only giggling and banter from down the hall. The other girl's dad looked in on them a few times, and reported that they were getting along great. In fact, he had just commented that this was the best playdate their daughter had ever had, when little footsteps came padding toward us. I peeked around the corner and was puzzled by what I saw. Was Felicity wearing a wig? Where were her pants? Why was she so...white?
Those girls, in the span of maybe ten minutes since our last check-in, had managed to empty an entire container of zinc powder on themselves and on every surface of the bedroom. It was EVERYWHERE. We could barely breathe it was so thick in the air. And none of us could stop laughing. (Fortunately, it was clear that this had been the other girl's idea, so while I was certainly apologetic since Felicity knows better, I didn't have to worry that she had instigated the whole thing. It would not even have occurred to her.) After snapping photos and stopping to lean on furniture while gasping for air, we got the girls into the bath and the dad mopped and vaccuumed and we tried to be stern with the children, but it didn't really take.
On the way home, I said to Felicity, "You know that was not a good thing to do, right? You know better than that. You would never do that at home, and you can't make a big mess like that at someone else's house, either." (And so on.) She listened earnestly and then said, "But Mama, if it's not a good thing to do, why were you giggling?" Touche.
Finally, everyone has said more and better things than I will be able to, but I have to pay my respects to Philip Seymour Hoffman in my own little way. I've found myself deeply affected by his death; everything about it is just so unutterably sad.
Joe and I saw him in "Long Day's Journey into Night" some years ago, and he was of course masterful and tragic and brilliant in it. What an emotional wrecking ball of a play it was, and I recall during his performance thinking that this role had to do a number on him, to play that brutal dramatic arc night after night for months on end. As we left the theater, he was emerging from the stage door, looking rumpled and dazed in a baseball cap and normal-guy clothes, kindly signing autographs for clamoring fans but looking very much like he wanted to collapse into bed, having left every ounce of energy on the boards.
And then in 2012, there was "Death of a Salesman." Here's what I wrote about it then, which is what I have been reflecting on since Sunday -- that inhabiting such a devastated, broken character for all that time could be damaging for even the most mentally stalwart among us. Which is not to say that these roles were his undoing; but I do think that there must be some residual emotional trauma in actors who take on stage performances that are so grueling, and it must be incredibly difficult to re-enter the day-to-day world when you're going through that.
I feel incredibly privileged to have seen him at work, especially in such an intimate setting. To say nothing of all his memorable film roles, all of which brimmed with humanity, not at its prettiest but at its most real and vulnerable and raw.
What I feel, simple and silly as it sounds, is that I want to go back in time -- to any moment in time before that final, solitary, lonely act -- and give him a hug. To get him help with his addiction, of course; but also to convey that he is -- was -- loved. So much, by so many. Not for being a movie star, for he was so much better than a movie star; but for being himself, a normal-seeming guy who had an incandescent talent we won't likely see again in our lifetime. Who wasn't a slave to all the Hollywood BS, who instead was utterly committed to acting as a true and serious art form. I hardly think of his work as acting, because instead it was being; you felt, watching him, that he was someone entirely different from whomever he was in the last thing he was in.
How lucky we are to have had him in the world. Whether it would have helped or not, I wish we could have all told him how loved he was before it was too late.