My 10-year-old is a burst of sunshine. She is sweet and round and funny and I know every mom says her daughter is sweet and round and funny, but this one — this one really is all that. Plus more. Juliana is the type who leaves food on a plate for me to find on the kitchen table when I let myself in from work late at night. She is the one who says I love you endlessly, just because. She says “I miss you” when we meet up after being in different parts of the house. Being affectionate comes very naturally to her. She worries about me when I go out, blessing me before I leave the house. When I feel hungry she skips to the kitchen to make me scrambled eggs in her little frying pan. She is like her dad in so many ways and whatever I do to her, this sweet girl gives back in full measure.
I try to be a good mom. I know I am. But am I a cool mom? I feel I am the one always reminding her to wash her hands and keep her hair off her face especially at the dinner table. No elbows on the table, hold the knife and fork this way, eat your vegetables, don’t slouch. Do I irritate her? When she wants to cut up some fruit I cringe when I see her hold a real kitchen knife. I worry the knife will slip and she will cut up more than just the fruit. Does she sigh inside of herself at the way I fuss over her? Mothers have this birthright to assess any situation as if there was clear and present danger lurking somewhere inside it.
Her Daddy is like a summer’s day, always open to the wonders of the mundane. He is the one who allows her to ride a skateboard and play under a rain shower or slide in the mud with water from a garden hose propelling her. Together they come home with flowers and nice-looking insects of the storybook and garden variety; the former they put around the necks of my saints or place on the altar, the latter they house in little matchboxes until she is over the novelty of it in which case, they set the creature(s) free. They sprint and ride a bike and play. They really play. Like kids. Like real playmates.
I see them in our room, wrestling or fencing or doing whatever sport they love to do together and they are such… buddies. They chase after birds that fly into our house and I love how they find creative ways to lead the little creature back into the big, lovely somewhere-out-there. They cook together at midnight and eat out of jars of peanut butter and ice cream. I suspect that, during these midnight sojourns, they use only use serving spoons when I am around. I’m sure they have their own set of “Let’s not tell Mom we did this” escapades.
I’m the anxious one. I worry about cuts and colds and broken limbs and lightning and germs and as I do that I wonder just how much of life I am missing out on. Am I making life smaller for her? I have all these little rules that I stick to out of the comfort that routines or habits bring, and I wish I could snap out of it and be more, for lack of a better word, abandoned. A restricted kind of carefree, if there was ever such, would be nice.
I regret the half second of disappointment I felt when I first found out she was not the baby boy we expected her to be. I love that we got a baby girl instead. Thank you, God. You are so bright. I’m sure a little boy will make for a different kind of joy entirely but this little girl — she who leaves notes and drawings and funny thoughts scribbled on random pieces of paper, who goes to dance class with me and has her daddy wrapped around her fingers — just makes my heart so pink and happy. On any given tough day I surrender to her whims, allowing myself to be sucked into her little world and by the time she is done with me I start to feel like myself again. How wonderful is that?
When I was about her age, I remember begging my mom to please buy me roses. I promised her I’d take care of them and make them bloom and grow. She fed my excitement pretty much the same way I am feeding Juliana’s now and went along indulgently with my grand plan, buying me around eight different pots, each of which boasted a different color and variety. Of course making them bloom and grow was easier said than done and the only time they did have flowers was when they were newly purchased. I’m hoping that will not be the case with Juliana’s roses. We’ll wait and see.
I ask myself if I am a cool mom because two Sundays ago Juliana inherited a new dog from her NinongRandy. He is a Jack Russell Terrier, perky and quite handsome as dogs go, and Juliana has called him, well, Jack. For someone who really is not the whole I-will-cuddle-the-dog-and welcome-him-into-my-life-and-room kind of person I sure am surrounded by more than just a few. We now have six, two of whom actually stay inside the house. The others would, too, if they just were not so big. Anyway, on day two of Jack’s life in our house I entered our room and saw him watching some baseball game on TV. He was on top of the bed, on my side at that. As if that were not enough I looked around and I realized that he had marked his territory in the beautiful carpet that I stuffed in my luggage from one of our trips. Oh, Jack. You infuriate me. I know your feet are dirty. I welcome you into the room because it makes the husband and the little girl happy but must you invade the bed? One day I fear walking in on him on my desk doing paperwork, too.
Until he learns to wear his little yellow dog shoes before entering our room and more than that, until he is completely potty-trained, he must sleep outside the room. Anywhere in the house, just not in the room.
But Juliana loves him so much and dutifully bathes him and talks to him. She even brushes his teeth at night. Why can’t I welcome him back to the room? Oh, I’m really not a cool mom. In some twisted way this dog is making me question things I should not. I am told that Gandhi once said you can measure a nation by the way its people treat their animals. His exact words were “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” A nation. Can you imagine that? How would Gandhi assess me as a mom? This Jack, it’s all his fault. He’s making me remember all that is not so cool (yet) about the kind of mom that I already am.
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