The power of an allegation.
Let’s be frank; there are days when the antics of my toddler annoy the snot out of me.
When every single inch of forward movement is met with a ten-minute meltdown, a cat-and-mouse-chase or ambiguous dawdling.
The particular morning I’ll mention here could have really been any morning, one in which I took great pains to avoid dissolving into a speedy, rushing mess, as we set off to work and preschool.
I had myself up and showered early, packed both of our bags, had her dressed before breakfast and allowed her to skip brushing her teeth until after lunch, simply to insert a tad more space into the process.
As I grabbed Opal’s shoes, I glanced down at my watch to find that we were five minutes early—a major success! This meant I could loiter with her around the puzzle table at preschool before buzzing off to work; I felt the kind of aerated contentment that comes from marching among others in a steady line, no pushing, no flopping, just a workable, doable—dare I say, enjoyable?—pace.
I leaned in to put on Opal’s shoes.
“I DO IT MYSELF!!” She barked and snatched one from my hand.
The act of trying to put on her shoes insulted her deeply and she was suddenly desperate to exhibit her skills in that moment.
“Ok, sure, honey, then put your shoes on.” But her priorities had shifted and she was distracted by a plastic bowl containing a band-aid, a pair of tiny baby doll pants and a bouncy ball that looked like a ladybug—a haphazard pile I construed in a fit of picking up. She had not yet seen these items grouped together in this manner and she was visibly intrigued.
Sweet, yes. And time-consuming.
In the inane attempt to move things along, I lifted her entire body away from the bowl to sit her up in a proper shoe-applying stance in the chair; my frustration was pretty obvious. The level of offense resulting from this act was so great, so wild, that she flung forward and bit me on the shoulder, yelling “YOU HURT ME!”
How quickly the climate changes in the land of a toddler—the cottony padding of five minutes was long gone—contentment was threatened.
She received some heavy and direct words from me about how we do not bite and was carried to her room and placed on her chair. I walked away, breathing like a pachyderm. There was no time for a Time Out; we needed to leave immediately in order to not be late.
These are the moments when a not-so-shiny version of myself comes a-knocking on the door. I get tangled—but rarely do I downright yell at my daughter. I am usually able to catch my mercury rising before it gets out of hand and take a breath for myself. But I certainly do get flustered and when this is the case, I talk in the rough, irritated voice of one who has been picked at by a fleet of blackbirds and is ready to take whatever measures are necessary to rid myself of them.
Opal was in tears when she emerged from her room, with a red, puffy face smeared with sticky shine. She was reaching for me as she does when the enormity of life’s emotions swell into an unmanageable mass; this is the point where I soften, regardless of the preceding chaos and confusion.
I cleaned her up and carried her like a lead-filled ragdoll to the car to make our way to preschool, now a few minutes late, as I took mental inventory of the previous twenty minutes. I buckled her in and she looked up me with an expression like a clean slate, like sand after the sea has washed away its every lump and blemish.
“Mommy,” she said, “I want to be just like you.”
There was a moment of delicious white space in the brain—a sort of mental angioplasty—before an onslaught of questions followed.
What on earth does that mean? Since it didn’t follow on the heels of what I would say was a seamless morning, my reaction was a mixture of guilt and curiosity.
Was this something she’d read in a book or heard another little friend say? Such a statement from someone older would have been interpreted as ironic but I certainly didn’t think she was capable of such subtleties in conversation. Perhaps she was referring to how it felt to come back together after a period of such intensity, which happens time after time.
Or maybe she’d long since forgotten what went on in the house and was living only in the present-tense-now of sitting in the car as her mama adjusted her gently and swept her hair from her tear-plastered cheeks.
Who on earth knows?
I kissed her on the forehead and suited up for the morning, wrapping her powerful little string of words around my shoulders like a shawl. During those next few hours while I was at work before picking her up from preschool, I found myself inadvertently behaving as if she were there, watching for a just-like-you version of me, splattering my basic goodness all over the place. I made a point of navigating through the ordinary moments with a looser grip on the outcomes.
I neglected the self-criticism, dropped my clenched jaw, asked more questions, laughed more.
Now, as I write this, just over a week has passed since that fateful morning took place; Opal has told me she wanted to be like me two more times, both directly following moments of minor discord between she and I.
She smiles when she says it, giggles, once with a pink toothbrush dangling from her lips like a smoke. She looks up at me and measures the good bits along side the glaringly imperfect ones and still admires the woman she sees.
It feels like a quick-shot of caffeine, a robust mouthful of medicinal forgiveness—like grease applied to the patches of vulnerable flesh where the pesky blackbirds would normally love to dig in and pick, pick, pick.
They slip off without a skirmish and I don’t even have to break my stride.
~Editor: Bryonie Wise
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