It’s seven o’clock. My partner, my daughter and I are leaving a party hosted by a close family friend. My daughter has a skip in her step as the front door closes. She has spent hours playing with cousins, running around, making up skits and developing costumes, learning new jokes, braiding hair, and practicing a solstice ritual in a large circle with candles and wind and earth and water. She scans the street for one of our cars and suddenly turns on us both fiercely, accusingly, both eyebrows tilted sternly down. “We’re walking?!?” she asks, clearly disgusted by the idea.
“Yes,” I say brightly.
“I Don’t Want To!” She growls at me.
“It’s two blocks away,” I say to her, trying to tease her out of the fit she’s about to throw. I hear her blood boil.
“You’re mean!” Is it because she knows what I’m up to? Does she know I’m trying to keep her from getting mad? I see red splotches on her cheeks, even in the dark.
Suddenly, she hurls her doll to the sidewalk — the 18″ not-quite-American-Girl-Doll who she tucks under blankets every night by her bed and who she must dress each day in an outfit appropriate for the weather. She hurls this doll to the sidewalk. Head-first.
My partner says the first thing that comes to mind. “I hope she doesn’t have a permanent dent in her head.”
“What?!???!!!!” Our seven-year-old runs forward as if to catch her mom by the arm, and then stops. She refuses to move any further. I glance at the doll.
“You might want to pick her up,” I recommend. She scowls at me, makes some kind of guttural noise and picks her up. Now is when the real games begin.
“I hate you,” she tells me for the first time ever in our lives together. I am a person whose feelings show like a movie on my face but I am trying desperately to keep still. “I hate you, I hate you, I HATE YOU,” she continues, growing louder. “I don’t ever want to touch you again. You disgust me.” I say nothing, not wanting to fuel the fire, not knowing what to say. Where is this coming from?
I glance at her and continue walking, slowing my pace briefly so she will catch up to me at the crosswalk. She turns away from me haughtily to check for oncoming traffic, and steps off the curb. I am proud of her checking for cars in the middle of a blood-boiling fit, but I am hurt and angry, too. “Don’t talk to me. I don’t want to be with you ever again. Never. I hate you!” Still, I am still silent. She goes on and on and on, jerking her arms around as if to either make a point or fly away.
“Stop,” my partner finally commands. “I don’t want you to say something more that you’ll regret later, when you’re feeling better.” Really? Our daughter mumbles something under her breath which neither of us can understand.
A minute passes and we are nearly home. I put my hand on my daughter’s shoulder, thinking the storm has passed. She recoils immediately and runs ahead. “What are you doing?” she asks, mad but no longer out-of-control.
“I’m loving you,” I tell her quietly.
“You’re not supposed to love me. You’re supposed to hate me.” I see.
“Honey, I never hate you. I love you all the time.”
“Don’t.” That’s been the trouble all along, hasn’t it? But why?
“I do, though, Honey. I always love you.” I am not pleading. I am simply stating a fact. I really want to know why she’s hurting, but I don’t ask. I did earlier, and she told me it was because I was mean. I’ll ask again later, when she’s calm.
The rest of our evening is up and down, but eventually I tuck her into bed and we utter the same quiet loving phrases we utter every night with the lights out and quiet all around. My partner, her Mama, comes in and gives her a kiss. Eventually, she falls asleep and so do we. It is just one evening.
And one long walk home.