“Two kisses and a hug,” my daughter says to me as her second grade classmates begin to walk single-file into the school. I bend down to kiss her – not too far. She’s grown so much since the toddler years when I couldn’t bend sideways to hold her little hand (both our arms fully outstretched) without cramping my back. *Kiss.* She leans in for a second kiss and I understand she’s given me a pattern: “Two kisses and a hug.” I kiss her a second time and give her a giant squeeze.
With a lightness about her – despite the two hardback books, lunch and full water bottle in her backpack – she dances into line and into school. This is how it is between us.
My mom spent a lot of time with me at this age discussing the benefits of a “glass half-full” view of the world as opposed to a “glass half-empty” one. She was adamant that I could choose what sort of person I wanted to be, what sort of view I wanted to hold. She held firm until I believed her. Then she came to a spot of emotional blindness (a.k.a., depression) and couldn’t believe herself. She couldn’t imagine the glass as any part of full; she grew fixated on the empty half – but her temporary blindness only further emphasized the lesson for me. I could choose.
I have a new ally these days and we are learning resilience together. We are learning together where (and how) to focus our attention. Both of us need frequent reminders.
My daughter, for example, has the capacity to spend 45 minutes on a five-minute task. Do you know what I mean?
“Please go upstairs and do your business.” She’s had the same business since she was three – maybe longer – it’s even taped to the inside of our bathroom cabinet: Potty, hands, teeth, jammies, stories, bed. There is no mystery here.
“Just a minute.”
“It’s time, sweetheart. I gave you a warning two minutes ago, and now it’s time.”
“Okay.” She offers no sign of compliance.
“Please turn off the TV and go upstairs. Now.”
“Okay, Jeez!” She makes a big show of turning the power off and stomping up the stairs. I follow two minutes later and find her pulling toys into the middle of her bedroom floor.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I had to get this out – here, let me show you – this is the ballerina who goes on the stand. Remember that stand, and you wanted to know what went on it? This is it! See?” I would be amused. On a different day, I would be amused. Tonight, I am not amused. Time is ticking. I have piles of laundry, two phone calls, and a mountain of email waiting for me downstairs.
“Into the bathroom. Now. This is too much stalling.” So how much stalling is just right? Is it possible to stall too little?
“Fine.” Such a small word but it packs a punch.
Later, I’m tucking her into bed and she scoots away. I sit for a moment, still and silent, on her bedroom floor. “Aren’t you going to pet my head?” she asks.
“I’m angry right now. I am going to sit here until I calm down. Then I will pet your head.” She’s angry, too, I think, but she won’t say it.
“Okay, Mami. Okay.” She begins to cry. “But I don’t like it.” She isn’t saying anything more. She is just crying.
Because this is how we’ve been for hours. Because I have been cold and distant. Because she has been hot and demanding. Because this is how we are, too, she and I. Because she’s only ten minutes late for bed and I’m sitting here stewing in anger – for what?
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I’m really sorry. I’m just having a hard time tonight.” A hard time putting my attention where it belongs.
“Are you my mom again?” My breath catches. I look her in the eye. I kiss her forehead and push her hair away from her face.
“I am always your mom, sweetheart. Always. Even when I’m mad, or sad. Are you still my daughter when you’re mad at me?” She nods. “Of course you are. Same thing. You know what else? I always love you. Always. No matter what. Okay?”
I settle back onto her rug. “Now let me pet your head a minute so you can go to sleep. I love you a whole lot. All the time.”
“I know.” And she does. She really does.
Because we’re like that, she and I. Two kisses and a hug. Pushing and pulling, always coming together in the end.
Thank you to Grace, my stepdaughter, for reminding me to focus on these moments of connection. In the card she wrote me last week. During finals.
We always have a choice.