I come downstairs and find Sophia and Kevin curled up in bed together, snuggling. They both look drowsy, their eyes at half-mast. I sit at the foot of the bed, where there’s barely enough room for me.
“What a night!” I exclaim. “The Easter Bunny showed up really late.”
“When?” said Sophie, sitting up.
“Not until after midnight. He kept me up way past my bedtime!” I whistled.
“Do I have an Easter Basket?” Where is it?” Sophie was ready to leap out of bed.
“Not so fast. Here’s the thing. He hid your Easter Basket.” I am enjoying myself. Her anticipatory excitement. What I know is coming next. “And he gave me a whole series of clues to help you find it.”
Sophie is out of bed, wide awake now. Ready for action.
“I think he left the first clue on the table.” She races into the dining room, where the fourth clue is waiting.
“No, the kitchen table.” And she’s off and running to the kitchen. She’s quiet for a minute, and then exclaims, “The bath! Its’ in the bath!”
“Come here, let’s check it.”
Sophie appears in the doorway singing the words to the first clue:
“A tisket, a tasket. Where is Sophie’s Easter Basket? Here is what you have to do…go on a hunt and solve each clue: 1. We love to hear you laugh, the next clue is where you take a _________.”
“I think you’re right!” I shout.
“Come with me, mom!” We run upstairs to the bathroom and she plucks the next clue out of the tub. Together, we race around the house, until we wind up at the pile of wood, next to the fireplace. Sophie reads the final clue: “You’ve almost found it! You’re on fire. Go into the kitchen and look in the ___________.”
“Parlor?” Sophie ventures a guess.
“We don’t have a parlor. Go look in the kitchen and see if you can figure it out.”
“Refrigerator doesn’t rhyme with fire!” This is too much fun. The basket is hidden in exactly the same place my mother hid my basket several decades ago.
Sophie rotates 360 degrees, scanning every inch of the kitchen. Her eyes settle on the shuttered doors that hide the our cleansers and cleaners and the…
“Dryer!” Sophie cries out, zips over to the machine and claims her prize. Her face is lit with joy as she pulls out her basket.
“Kidz Bop! Just what I wanted! Choose Your Own Adventure! Just what I wanted!” There is a certain thrill that comes with getting someone just what they wanted. I’m snapping pictures as she bounces up and down. Like most of her pictures, these will probably be blurry.
“An egg full of jelly beans! Can I eat some after breakfast?”
“You can eat some now,” Kevin says. “It’s Easter.”
“I’ll have one and save one for after breakfast.” She’s fearful that she won’t get more.
“Eat them both and you can have another after breakfast,” because I’m secretly very happy that this is what she considers to be indulgence.
Kevin reads her the first chapter of her new book, while I make coffee. When they’re finished, they sit down to a couple of bowls of cheerios. I’ve set out the hard-boiled eggs and a sheet of stickers for Sophie to decorate them with after she’s done. A bad idea because she can’t keep her hands off them. One rolls precariously to the edge of the table.
“Maybe you should wait until after breakfast,” I tell her.
Two seconds later she is fondling an egg again.
“Maybe don’t say ‘maybe’,” Kevin gently suggests, as he pushes the eggs away from Sophie. He’s right.
“Don’t touch the eggs until we’re done with breakfast,” I tell her. Sophie harumphs and sulks in her seat, not eating.
“Maybe when we come back from the JCC, you can have another surprise for me.”
“I think we’re done with surprises for today,” I tell Sophie.
She reaches for another egg.
“Soph, I said not to touch them until after breakfast.”
Then she whips her bathrobe belt at me, narrowly missing my coffee.
“Give that to me right now,” I say sternly, taking the belt from her. Sophie folds her arms across her chest, her eyebrows set in a “V” on her forehead. She’s quiet for a minute, and then she begins to wail and runs up to her room.
I sigh a very heavy sigh.
I know that one thing has nothing to do with the other, but why, why after we’ve been having so much fun, does she have to be so naughty? Why is the joy so ephemeral, so fleeting? Why is she only interested in the next surprise—not what I’ve done, but what I am about to do?
What is overindulgence versus giving your child meaningful, enjoyable experiences?
You know you’ve got a problem when your child says…
“Mommy, please can I? I’m waiting for a yes….” Sophie is looking up at me, eyebrows cocked, hand on one hip, wearing an expression that is laughable on a five-year-old, but will be completely obnoxious eight years from now.
What was she asking me for? I can’t remember now. Another sweet? One more book? Another episode of Word Girl?
It doesn’t really matter. She knows I am loathe to say no. Oh, I say it plenty, but every time I do, there is a tug within. An equal and opposite reaction. It takes great effort not to acquiesce. She must see this internal struggle I go through, reading the flicker of weakness on my face. The keenness of her perception is her gift and my curse.
Within me, there is an impulse to give Sophia her heart’s desire. Not because I feel guilty, or I want to avoid a fight, or I’m looking to buy her love, but because I hold the false belief that it will somehow make her happy. And it does. For a minute.
Of course true happiness has absolutely nothing to do with one more anything. Any joy derived from that extra sweet, book, or television show is fleeting. We might get a quick squirt of dopamine, but we all-too-quickly habituate to the novelty of the thing and then we just want more, addicts that we are.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t any appreciation, deep down, of the love that lies behind each yes. And, ironically, each no. Because even the no’s with their limits and boundaries convey caring. That, and they make the yesses that much sweeter.
Where to draw the line between yes and no is perhaps our greatest first world parenting problem. I struggle with it dozens of times a day.
After having disappeared upstairs in a snit, leaving me to my musings, Sophie re-emerges, blowing sharp notes out of a recorder. The cloud has passed and skies are bright again.
She comes up to me and quite unexpectedly gives me her special series of kisses that starts at my forehead, goes down my nose to my chin and then across my face from cheek to cheek.
Is it gratitude? An apology? Or a little jolt of that undercurrent of love that lies beneath all of our interactions?
I can’t know.
But I can hope that it’s proof that just as often as she’s waiting for a yes, something inside of her is waiting for a no.