Friday, October 3, 2008

How to make your four-year-old daughter cry

Wake up on a stay-home day and rush your daughter through a breakfast of apples and peanut butter because there are things to do. You've been on an anti-grocery store kick since spring, so, instead of spending time wandering aisles, you spend perhaps more time gathering food from farmers markets, a CSA, and food buying group. This morning, you're supposed to meet the Azure Standard truck at Rebecca's, to pick up, among other things, a gallon of olive oil, gluten-free flours, and assorted frozen goods. Hardly a good time for a kid, but she hangs out on the porch while you and the other moms schlep boxes of food from Jeff's enormous delivery truck through the first serious rain of fall.

Rush her home to unload, and when she kicks off her rainboots, say, "Sorry, we've got to do another errand." She sighs and puts them back on. You drive downtown and circle a block about twenty times before finally parking illegally in a bank lot. Then, drag her up to the graduate studies office on the sixth floor, where a nice woman tells you they have the GO-12 and the GO-16M, but not the GO-19, which makes you laugh but not because it's funny. Your daughter, wearing a green frog raincoat that's one size too big and clutching a Mother Goose book, collapses on the floor and waits.

You try to make up for the morning with a quick lunch at Burgerville, purple balloon and all, but then, it's off to Kuts 4 Kids, where Suzanne cleans up your daughter's curls and ties them up in red and purple ribbons. When asked what she wants to be for Halloween, your daughter glowers. You think about withholding the usual post-haircut lollipop, but instead, smile tightly and lecture her about respecting her elders as you drive home. It's still raining.

After quiet time for her and work time for you, break it to her that, though the day is all but done, you still have to pick up your CSA vegetable share. Her pretty little mouth moves toward a pout, so you desperately offer to let her watch Curious George and eat a popsicle when she gets home, which elicits a cheer from her but makes your stomach twist up in failure because you realize how much you suck--not always, but definitely today.

You keep your end of the bargain when you get home. Your husband is in the kitchen putting soup together and you finish work you didn't finish earlier in the day. When you turn off the TV after her show is over, she gives you a look that reminds you that you suck, so you offer to play hospital with her, using her new birthday ambulance that came complete with a kid, bicycle, and bandages. You remind her to thank her dad for ordering the toy for her, but she blows you off, walks past him, and grabs a handful of trail mix. This enrages you, so you take the raisins away from her, sit her on the "time out" step, and give her another "respecting your elders" lecture. You leave her there but hear her hiccuping and sniffling from the other room.

After she thanks her dad, still hiccuping and sniffling and chewing on the soft fleshy part of her palm (a remnant tic from when she was a baby), you play hospital for a while, but then it's dinnertime. She tries to avoid the meal entirely, knowing it's soup--not her favorite--by asking to watch "the TV show of me"--videos from when she was a baby. You agree, convincing yourself that home movies don't really count as TV.

She chokes down kale and squash, digging around for the bacon and beans, but then you all sit down and watch snippets from 2006. You laugh at her chubby legs and sweet baby voice. You talk about the old house, the trip to Mt. Hood, how young Ella and Zoe and Isaiah look. Then it's bedtime and you turn the TV off and she starts to cry, saying, "Mama, I don't like what I'm doing." When you ask what she means, she says, stammering with the effort of speaking through tears, "I don't like how I haven't had fun this whole day." For a moment, you can't reconcile the images of the toddler on the video and this long-legged girl who speaks in complete sentences. You think of what else you can offer her, but it's almost 8:00, so you promise her a few more minutes of SBTV tomorrow and give her a piggy back ride upstairs.

Later that night, snuggled in bed, you cry while reading the last chapter of Charlotte's Web. Your daughter's head is resting on your chest, so you struggle to control your voice, but the words get gobbed up in your throat, and now, it's you who's hiccuping. She sits up, sees your face, and asks why you're sad. When you say it's because Charlotte died and she was such a good friend to Wilbur, she begins to cry, too.

You wipe your tears on the purple handkerchief that sits on her nightstand, then pass it to her. You pull yourself together and continue reading, but she's listening closely now, not to the words on the page but to the inflections of your voice. You finish the book, tears streaming down your face, but your voice perfectly normal. Your daughter dabs at your cheeks with the handkerchief. Tears stream down her face, too, and when you say, "Why are you sad? Because of the book? Because we had a rough day?" She shakes her head, reaches for you, and says, "No. I'm sad because you're sad."

You turn off the light, settle her in under the covers, and pull her close. Her small body is angular, knobby at the joints, but her face is full and smooth. You kiss her check and forehead over and over again, and sing "Our House" in a hoarse rasp against her sweet-smelling hair.


melissa s. said...

i think you should retitle this 'how to make your blog readers cry'

DomaMama said...

Some days, being a mom is really humbling. . . .

A friend just gave me the heads up about an NPR story about Charlotte. Apparently even E.B. White had a hard time with Charlotte's death: when taping audio of the book, it took him 17 takes to read the scene without crying.

Cheri said...

Coincidentally, I was just signing up for a CSA for us... inspired by all the food talk on Twitter. But now I feel maybe takeout pizza isn't so bad....