I was 45 seconds late and just setting foot on the blacktop when my daughter catapulted out the 3rd grade door, loud and happy, tossing her purple monster backpack at my feet. “Let’s go!” she announced. “Come on, Mom, let’s go!”
“Wait,” I replied, with this word she uses on me all the time. “I need a hug first!”
She hugged me fast, barely touching me at all. In a flash, she was halfway back to the school door. “Can you please carry my backpack?” she called back to me. It was heavy, incredibly heavy, weighed down by all the books she brought to school that morning to read in her spare time.
As I spun around to follow her back into the school, my right knee clicked and I winced, muttering who knows what under my breath. She returned to my side instantly and without saying a word, she knelt and very gently rubbed her hands up and down both sides of my left knee. I’m usually the family masseuse – back rubs, neck rubs, head rubs. She had never done this for me before.
“Better, Mami?” she asked, moving her hands to my right knee where the pain was. It really did feel good.
“Yes. Thank you, sweetheart.” My heart opened with love for my little gem of a girl, who was so focused on her own thing but still showed such care for me.
She ran back to the school door, eager to reach her “happy place,” looking back once to be sure I was following. It was time for the Scholastic Book Fair.
“Ba,” was my little girl’s first word. It meant, depending on context, “Ball,” “Banana,” or “Book.” I realize it’s not fair to claim this simple syllable as her first word, but I’m telling you – she really didn’t use it for anything else – not “Mom,” not “Pillow,” not “Dog.” It was very clearly “Ball,” “Banana,” or “Book.” Our bin of books was the go-to place in our house for a rainy day. For a quiet morning. After a bath. In the middle of the afternoon. For a cuddle. A story. A sing-song rhyme. For colors and shapes and curiosity. So many things can be found in a book: Ourselves, our histories, people and things not yet known. We are passionate about books in our family.
So I learned about my daughter – my new mercurial 3rd grade daughter who has, in Pokémon terms, evolved from my more docile 2nd grade daughter – quite a lot during the book fair. This time, instead of hovering and guiding her choices, I parked myself at the center table while she scanned the perimeter. I picked up and put down at least twelve picture books, beautifully painted and smartly phrased, pining over the days when she and I would plop ourselves on the floor to begin our adventures together.
Here, now, this week, my nephew turns two. I shared a few of these beautiful picture books with my girl. Would he like them? Thumbs up, thumbs down, wrinkled nose, widened eyes. She had opinions for them all. She tickled me with her expressions.
She shared a few of her picks with me, too, running her finger under their titles, holding each one close to her chest and then placing it back on the shelf with a quick few words about why Yes, or why No.
Once she made her way around the full perimeter – and I know by now that it’s bad karma for me to interrupt her flow – she said, “Mom, come here. Mom, I just don’t know.” We picked up a Poison Apple set, two books she hadn’t yet read bundled together, turned over the package a couple times. But there was another book, a Pokémon handbook, which she had just set back on a shelf. She knew we would buy her only two. She had been told. Now she wanted three, but wouldn’t say so. “I don’t know,” she said again, and I let the phrase linger a moment before reminding her that Mama could download Poison Apple books on the iPad, almost for free. “Good point!” she said, and smiled her huge, contagious smile, lighting up the whole room. She returned to ponder Pokémon. “What about this?” she asked, and I agreed it was a good choice. She browsed elementary mysteries, vampire sagas and books she would have loved at four years old.
Finally, she settled on a joke book with a nose pencil sharpener attached. And Pokémon.
“Great!” I said.
“Okay,” she said. We paid and we were done.
Now every night, she’s asking us riddles and telling us jokes. She hasn’t looked back once with regret over her decision. Not once. Not this time.
I learned a lot at the book fair.
About how my little girl makes choices. About how, so often, I interfere. About empathy and guidance. Patience.
I found among the books, as I’ve found so many times before and forgotten, that miracles happen and humans evolve if I sometimes simply hang back and wait.
And our cat? There on the bookshelf? He’s just cute. Don’t you think?
Photo by Kelly Fondow