Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 7

Twenty-nine third graders sat on the floor in an old refurbished building. They were collectively writing a story and the leader of the discussion was a patient man named Steve with lots of enthusiasm. There was talk of a rapping hamster who was stuck in a tube. There was mention of rocket boots, of money, of wanting to see the world. I stood and watched this creative chaos and wondered how it would end.

The sweating volunteer paused the discussion and asked a question: "OK, wait a minute. We have the hamster in this dark and strange tube, but why would he go in there in the first place?" There was general shouting and creating and "Rocket boots!" and "Why not?!" and such when a hand shot up in the front row. Steve the volunteer quieted the mob and pointed to the intense little girl, sitting straight-backed and waggling her hand in the air as high as her shoulder would allow. "Did you have an idea?" Steve the volunteer asked. A loaded question, if ever there was one.

"Well, you want to know why he is in the tube. He wants some money, too. So why not let the motivation be  the same? Put the money in the tube, just a little back so he has to go in to see it, and then he can get stuck. It will be a trap." There was a chorus of "Oh yeah!" and Steve the volunteer bounced a little bit, "Great! And what is hamster money?"

The little girl answered promptly and calmly. "Why cheese, of course. It's funny because 'cheese' is an expression for money."

I have written a lot about my daughter. She is the walking embodiment of where all of my nerves and feelings and heart end. Bruise her and I will bleed. She smiles and I dance. She storms and I drown. I work hard to keep the responsibility for this intense visceral connection off of her young shoulders. I am supposedly the grown-up here, so I carry the weight of these intertwined souls and all the beauty and heartbreak that involves. I am the mother and this is my job. As she gets older - suddenly so tall! - she pulls away and defines herself in contrast to me. I celebrate this even as I feel the tiny stabs of loss. This is the way it is supposed to happen. This is what I am raising her for - to be independent, to think for herself, to find what she loves and pursue it. This is not about me.

My wee girl with her nose in a book.
She's in her Halloween costume, but it's not Halloween.
But sometimes, you know, it is. I stood with the other parents along the edge of this mayhem of ideas and laughed with them at the cheese, if only to mask the vivid, grateful tears that suddenly threatened to fall. I will never force my kids into being like me - heaven forbid they be like me. I would never insist upon their interests or their goals. I will not project my unfulfilled fantasies onto their small frames and make them live for me. I just won't. But my little girl - my beautiful, independent little girl - loves to write. She loves to tell stories and has invented them since she could talk. She loves to play with words and make them sing for her. She amuses herself with plays on words and explains them carefully to me. She has journals full to overflowing with bits of ideas and and dialogue and characters. She totes them everywhere with her and stops to write when she feels like it. Her spelling is atrocious, her handwriting is sloppy, punctuation is frequently optional - but she writes. Oh, she writes.

There are times when we don't communicate very well. There are times when my "I love you so much I could just lay down and die," comes out in a shout or a criticism. There are times when I try to tell her all the words she needs to avoid the heartbreak of growing up. I try to fill her up with the information that I felt I lacked as a child, not realizing that she lacks it for the same reason I did, she's a child. Sometimes she's weary and says, "Please can we stop talking, now?" Sometimes she has more ideas to share, more questions to ask. I try to listen and answer the questions she asks, not the ones I think she needs to ask. I try to listen to what she tells me when she rages or fumes, or can't sleep at night. I try to hear what makes her truly happy, what she really needs from me. I fail at this as often as I succeed. So it is to be a mother.

But this intense little straight-backed girl with her ready smile and waggling hand so high in the air, who is thrilled by "motivation", who thinks a story through, who makes a silly play on words - she is familiar to me. So familiar it hurts. I see me in her, but she is not me. I don't have enough words to explain to her how this fills me so. I have only my stupid, grinning tears that embarrass her on a field trip to communicate this deep connection to her, this gratitude for a shared love, some common and sacred ground. We don't always communicate very well, but I hope that we will always write.


  1. She's so lovely. I would have died for a costume like that as a girl, and I would have worn it often!
    Isn't it wonderful to find your daughter shares a passion with you? The connection between mothers and daughters is golden and to share something so personal is an amazing thing.

    1. Thank you, Jewels. She does love her colonial costume. In a classroom full of vampires and rock stars, she stood out in the most delightful way, not a hint of self-consciousness about it.
      I want to be like her when I grow up.

  2. Can I be like her when I grow up too??

    I had a teary moment like this too this week. Me and munchkin 1 had a couple of days cuddled up on the sofa feeling a little poorly sick. After watching a couple of films we both reached for our laptops and sat side by side typing away at our respective stories. I looked up and paused and cried silent tears of joy into my keyboard. These cherished little people are the best of us!

  3. My daughter is very word-oriented too--she plans on majoring in English in school. I can so identify with so much of the rest here as well. My daughter is 18 now and the intensity of that connection (in both its negative and positive forms) can still knock me upside the head from time to time.


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