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….”
“Then come on down.”
She doesn’t move.
“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.