It’s gotten to be a regular request, this nighttime storytelling. I kneel by my daughter’s bed, we talk briefly, quietly, sometimes intimate, sometimes silly, sometimes simple conversations about whether to wear short-shorts or long-shorts the next day, and sometimes more complicated conversations like why she’ll need braces when she’s older, why she never had a Nuk, or how we react when one of our friends is mean to another. Sometimes we don’t talk at all.
And lately, she asks for a made-up story.
* * * * *
“Am I older, Mami?” she asked last night.
“Yes, sweetheart. You are.” I gave her a kiss. I brushed her cheek lightly with the backs of my fingers. I knew what she meant. She’d gotten dressed, brushed her teeth and hair, washed her face, taken her vitamins, rubbed sunscreen all over her body, and fed the dogs without a single reminder from either of us. She gave my partner a majestic foot rub, said please and thank you in all the right places, mostly, and apologized for each slip-up in manners without prompting. All morning and all night.
My girl, who at six months old in a hotel lobby in Guatemala City, could hold my enraptured gaze for hours just by wiggling a finger, raising one corner of her mouth, meeting my eyes, cooing, because she was my baby lying on a blanket and when I looked at her, everything around us fell away. Suddenly, I was a mom. I was her mom, and she was mine.
“I’m not your kid,” she said to me last week for the first time. “You’re not my mom.” She may have even tried to kick me. I don’t remember. She was, I think, the angriest she’s ever been. She had eaten all the quesadillas on the table, after I’d warned her to stop and save some for the other kids. As a consequence, she was not allowed to join the rest of our friends and family in a quick swim in the lake after dinner. Doling out consequences on vacation is a drag.
“You’re my kid, honey, and no matter who gave birth to you, I’m your mom.” She wouldn’t hold my gaze. She wouldn’t hear me. Definitely then, she tried to kick me and I stepped back.
“I don’t even care if she’s strict,” she screeched once everyone else was outside – except her Mama, my partner, her other mom, who was washing dishes nearby in the kitchen. “I want to live with her. She’s my mom, not you.” Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad. Don’t get mad.
“We’re both your moms, in different ways,” I finally said. (Clearly, I wouldn’t be swimming either.)
“People can only have one mom! I mean –“ I knew what she meant. Mostly, she was mad. Not just about the swimming. But being raised by two moms – that wasn’t the trouble. That wasn’t her point, and even though she might have thrown me to a pride of hungry lions right then if she’d seen any, she wanted me to at least know… that.
I started reading a book after we got home – not about adoption, although I have shelves of adoptive parenting books at this point – but about talking and listening. Simple communication between parents and kids. It’s called, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.” I love this book. It starts off by demonstrating how our kids feel when we deny their feelings, and how many ways we deny them in the course of everyday life. It’s eye-opening.
I’m still in the first chapter, but I’ve begun rolling out this book in daily dialogue and now my partner is getting foot rubs while I read aloud from a fairy journal – and while it may be just the way the stars lined up this week, and while it may have been my daughter’s choice, too, after her outburst, and while it may be just one of those awesome unpredictable flukes that brings our family into synchronicity for a time, I do wonder if this book – or even just its title – has something to do with my daughter’s new attitude, her new behavior, this sudden maturity, our ability to sit together as a family and simply enjoy being who we are together.
* * * * *
“Am I older, Mami?”
“Yes, sweetheart. You are.”
“Do you have a creative mind tonight, Mami?”
“Yes,” I told her.
“Thank you! It’ll be good. I know it will. It’s okay if it’s short. Or stupid. I’ll like it.”
I told her a story about a baby calf named Lilac who loved to prance and sing, and Lilac’s good friend George, a tiny dog who could fit into a human palm.
“What about a kid’s palm?”
“He fit into two kid hands, like this. Well, maybe one and a half of yours. Your hands are getting big now.”
“No. Two of my hands, too. See?”
Okay. Two hands, then. But not for long.