Sunday, January 27, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday

“Guess what?” Sophie asks us, her mouth full of cheerios. 

“What?” replies Kevin.

“Chicken butt?”  I suggest.

“No toilet talk at the table, Mom,” Sophie reminds me.

She’s one to talk.

“What?” says Kevin, emphatically, herding us back to the topic at hand.

“There’s someone in the Super Bowl who’s from [neighboring town].”

Kevin looks stunned.  He does not even know which teams are in the Super Bowl.  Neither do I for that matter.  Sophie puffs out her chest with the confidence of a child who has just demonstrated she knows more about something than her parents do. 

“Soph, what teams are the Super Bowl?” I probe, appearing to Kevin as if I am testing the veracity of her claim on football knowledge.  I wanted to have a little fun, since I happened to have a little insider information.  Yesterday, when I picked her up from nursery school, I read on the bulletin board that her class voted for who would win the Super Bowl. 

“The Ravens and the 49ers,” Sophie answers, as if EVERYONE knows that.

Kevin shakes his head in disbelief.

It is a strange thing when you realize that your child has a mental life outside of your own.  One that you only get glimpses into, spontaneously, in unsolicited moments, apropos of nothing.

I give Kevin the backstory.  “It was a math lesson,” I explain.  “They tallied up the votes.”

“So who’d you vote for, Soph?” I ask.

“The Ravens.”  I could have guessed that. 

“Because of the name?” I press.

“Mmmmhmmm,” she answers distractedly, already bored with the conversation.  Too many questions. 

“Where are the Ravens from?” I just can’t help myself.  I keep digging.

She shrugs, “Don’t know.”

After taking another mouthful of cereal, she reconsiders, “Kenya.”

“The Kenyans are going to play soccer in the Super Bowl,” Sophie informs us, sagely.   Kevin and I stifle giggles.  She is our daughter after all.  However, I know just enough about football and Kenyans to understand that this is highly unlikely.  

I happen to know they are also studying Kenya in school.  Sophie’s Kenyan name is Akala, which, she told me, means, “likes to go on nature walks.”

There is something particularly charming about how children synthesize new information and incorporate it in their fund of knowledge.  Sophie knows little of football, but many of her friends play soccer.  So that is her frame of reference for a team sport.   And I love how she mentally stitched together the two lessons she learned that day.  Children are always looking to integrate what their learning into their experience of the world.  They think in terms of the big picture. 

Before we can set her straight, Sophie says, “Me and Mimi lost playing in the Super Bowl,” continuing the conversation.

“You mean the rest of the kids picked the ‘49ers?” I try to clarify.  Apparently, the rest of her class must already have a frame of reference for football, Super Bowls, and pickem pools. 

“Yeah.  Just me and Mimi and Jack and Eva were in the Ravens,” she affirms.  “Almost all the girls picked the Ravens because they were purple and the ‘49ers were red.”

Ahhh.  I see.  I prefer purple over red too.  I know whom I’m rooting for in the Super Bowl.

Go Kenyans!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Only Love Is Real

It’s breakfast time and Sophie hasn’t quite finished her oatmeal, but she can no longer bear being confined to her seat. 

She is up, wandering, doing a little dance, pulling the magnets off my mother’s refrigerator, I ask her to please sit back down or ask to be excused from the table.

Instead, she crawls into my lap, making her eyes large and round and fingering the locket that hangs off a chain on my neck.  “Please don’t pull on it Sophie.  You’ve broken it once before.” 

“I’m not,” she says, trying to pry the locket open.  “I just want to see it.”

“Here, let me,” I say slipping a fingernail inside the crack.  It pops open and Sophie reads the words inside in a whisper, “Only love is real.”

It gives me the shivers, a little, to hear her say this. 

I bought this necklace for myself, to wear as a reminder of the truth, when I get sucked into believing anything else, which happens often. 

“Mommy, what does that mean?” She is looking at me with those eyes as big as saucers. 

“Um…well…it means that love is the only thing that really matters.” 

“Oh,” she says, her face serious, but unreadable.  It is impossible to tell if this has resonated with her deeply or she has no idea what I’m talking about.  She reads the locket again in whispery, reverent way, before hopping off my lap. 

“Time to get ready for school, mouse,” I tell her. 

“Aw, mom.  I want to read a book first.  Will you read this book to me?”  I sigh.  We’ll be late.   Again.  But what does it matter, really.  Only love is real. 


A couple days later we are back in our own home.  I have just awakened Sophie who has the uncanny ability to only sleep late on weekdays when there is somewhere we have to be.  She is grumpy.

“You weren’t supposed to wake me!  I was supposed to get up and go down stairs to see daddy!  Go back to bed mommy.”  

I wish.  This is not a plan I agreed to, but one masterminded by Sophie, probably after bedtime last night when she was reading books by the light of the hallway, instead of going to sleep. 

“Soph, unfortunately you slept late this morning, so I need you to get up and get dressed.”

“No!  I am never getting dressed.  I am staying in my bed forever.”

“I’ll give you a few more minutes to get up, “ I concede, “but then I’m coming back in here, and you are getting dressed.”

She has already disappeared under her fuzzy purple blanket.  An obstinate lump in her loft.  The lump says “hmph!” as I walk out. 

When I come back in a few minutes later, she has not changed position.

“Okay.  It’s time.”   I stand in front of the ladder to her bed.  My voice is even and calm, but firm. 

“I don’t want to go to school.  I want to stay at home and play with daddy.  I want it to be the weekend.” 

I can sympathize with this.  Once again, I imposing my adult schedule and adult needs upon her, thwarting her carefree, live-for-the-present-moment state of being. “I know, honey, but today is Thursday.  Daddy has to go to work, Mommy has to go to work, and you have to go to school.  You’ll get to play with him when he comes home tonight.”

She is quiet.  I take this as an in.

“Come on, honey, let’s pick out something supercool to wear,” I coax.


“Soph, I don’t want to have to count….”

“Don’t count!”

“Then come on down.”

She doesn’t move.


“Stop mommy!”

“2….” She begins to cry, angry stubborn tears.

“But mommy!  Only love is real!” 

I stop counting.  A smile peeks out of the corner of my mouth.  She has invoked these words in the wrongest and rightest way. 

On the one hand, there is the recognition that we are dancing a familiar dance.  That we do not have to do this.  That it can be interrupted.  She understands that what is happening between us is of our own creation, and just as easily as we conjured it, we can change it.  What is happening between us is not real. 

On the other hand, it appears she is hurdling this as a reminder for me, not herself.  I am the one who needs to stop pressing my agenda.  I am the one who must back down.  She is asking me the question, “How can I possibly be so insistent, so unrelenting, when only love is real?”

(Another possibility, my husband suggests, is that she is simply conning me.)

I am not quite sure how to talk to her about this paradox.  That sometimes we just have to do what we have to do, despite the fact that ultimately it’s not really important.  We have to live our lives. 

I look her in the eye.  “Thank you for that reminder, Sophie.  I don’t want to fight with you.” 

She is crying now, “then please stop counting, Mommy.”

“Okay.  Shhhh.  Calm down,” my voice losing its edge.  She leans over the side of her bed towards me, and I hold her for a moment. 

“Here, let me help you pick something out.” I whisper into her hair, “And once you get dressed you can come down and see daddy while I make breakfast, okay?” 

“Okay.”  She begins her decent as I disappear into her closet. 

There was no avoiding this fight.  The rubs are inevitable as we come together with conflicting perspectives, conflicting needs.  But with each moment of recognition, with each repair, the sinew that bonds us gets stronger. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Now We Are Five

Kevin and Sophia were locked in mortal combat.  I was eavesdropping in the next room:

“Different socks CHANGE LIVES!  I will NEVER wear that shoe.  If you get off me, I’ll calm down.  If you don’t get off me, I’LL HIT YOU.  I’m trying to calm down, but you never give me a chance.  LEAVE ME ALONE!  I want to be ALONE!”

(Actual tantrum monologue.  I am not clever enough to make this s*** up.)

That was Sophia a couple of months ago.  When she was four.  All fire and fight.

This is her now:

Sophie just fell out of her chair because, despite my constant warnings, she had been precariously perched on the edge, hanging on by its black shaker spindles.  In the first minute after she hit the floor, I watched her decide whether to cry.  Perhaps she was considering whether the tears would garner her some sympathy and spare her a lecture about sitting properly.  I narrowed my gaze and stared at her intently, my eyes full of disappointment, my mouth tightly drawn and silent.  

Someone must have once looked at me this way; it comes so naturally, occurs so unconsciously, I am barely aware of it.  

Sophia immediately implodes—wailing and dripping tears. 

“No!  Mommy, don’t look at me that way.  I’m SORRY!  Don’t be mean mommy.  Bring back real mommy.  Be the nice mommy.”  

It is heart wrenching.  And even I, hardcore behaviorist who has no time for ploys, manipulations or histrionics, am moved by this display. 

“Come here,” I beckon to her.  She crawls onto my lap and sobs as uncontrollably as she used to rail against me, not so very long ago.  “You don’t love me.  You will never love me again.”  I pet her soft head and run my finger along her even softer cheek.  “Shhhhhhh,” I tell her.  “Shhhhhh.” 

I know her tears run the risk of becoming a habit with too much attention.  At the same time, she appears truly injured.  Deeply sorry.

I am moved.  And a little bit afraid. 

She finally cares about what I think.  She is finally contrite.  I finally have the power my parents once did, to wound with a withering look.  Not that I want to wound her, but I do want my words to have some weight.  I want her to listen.

Of course, I still want her to challenge authority, to question what she is told—just not MY authority.  At least not all the time. 

I had heard or read somewhere that five is the year of mellowing.  The year when rules become important pillars to abide by.  When dualism, in it’s most concrete forms—good and bad, right and wrong, black and white take hold.  It is the age of obedience.  The advent of tattling.  The first blush of guilt and remorse.   

With it comes the desire to please.  Fear of disappointment.  Pride in doing well. 

Please let this be so. 

Sophie calms in my arms.  Heaves become whimpers.  Whimpers become giggles. 

“Mommy?  What’s that word again?  What you called that weird lego?”

“Doohickey.” I say. 

“Doohickey!” she squeaks.  Giggles turn into laughter.   She is suddenly my silly girl again.  Talking nonsense, dimples breaking through her tears.  I can feel her urgency to fix this.  Her desire to make me smile too. 

She gives me a quick peck on the lips, slides off my lap and climbs back into her chair.

“Look, Mom.  I’m sitting in my seat and eating.  Just like I am supposed to.”

And indeed, she is.