On rejection, regeneration and your very first kiss.

Dear Kid,

And just like that you were five, a kindergartener in a brand new school alongside third-graders who looked like grown-ups. You waved goodbye to your parents at the gate, walked yourself to the nurse’s office when you needed a band-aid. I tried to imagine it. I tried not to. (How’d you know your way around? What if you got lost? Who would help you? Would anyone? Would you know how to help yourself?) You learned to read, to write, to spell small words correctly sometimes, then more than sometimes. You learned the names of a dozen teachers and over 100 kindergarteners across homerooms. You made friends. You made “best friends.” You attended a school dance, joined ballet, Girl Scouts, Ukulele Club. It was a brave new world of people and possibilities.

You were growing up so fast.

I dismantled your first train set which you hardly ever played with anymore to make way for Lego kits you put together yourself. Your favorite board books were packed into boxes for…I wasn’t sure, but I kept them because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I tried to remember the last time we watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. You wondered if it hurt to grow breasts and how a baby “gets outside a parent’s body.” We talked about it.

Today? You kissed a boy.

You said it wasn’t an accident, but also it “wasn’t romance.” You were saying goodbye after a play date, he’s a good friend, he makes you happy kind of like your mom and dad and you kiss them sometimes unsolicited, so why not?

But the thing is (and this isn’t so much an overgeneralization as an accurate description of the facts at hand), this kid is six. You are maybe the last girl besides his own sister he still tolerates, likes even (though he probably won’t admit it for much longer). And he thinks kisses from girls are the epitome of ick.

But you didn’t know any of that. You couldn’t have known, couldn’t even have speculated, because, before today, nobody told you your kisses were gross.

The grown-ups didn’t see it, only the aftermath. One minute you were playing a board game behind his sister’s dollhouse while the adults made plans to catch up again soon. The next minute we saw you standing on the other side of the room from where you started. When we asked what happened, he was mum and you wanted to go home. You offered something about the board game. (I suspected a tough loss.) And that’s when he wondered out loud why you had to go and do something so… “disgusting.”

It’d been so many years since we grown-ups thought the opposite sex had cooties that we couldn’t have imagined the truth. We presumed you broke wind – at worst, maybe had an accident on his playroom floor. So, it took a few minutes of pestering to get at it and, by then, you fled downstairs to cry in the corner, reeling from rejection. You threw on your coat and boots in a special kind of hurry and told us it was time to leave because you were soooo sorry. It was the first time in your entire life you wanted a play date to end, the first time you insisted upon it, the first time you were this classic combination of embarrassed and sad.

It wouldn’t be the last.

Sure as I’ve been there, I knew it.

You might forget this one, but there’d be one (more than one?) someday that you wouldn’t forget.

I know it because those too-familiar tears reminded me of my own. I was in high school when a boy broke my heart so I wouldn’t forget it. This boy and I, we’d dated for a while, and I was genuinely head over heels. I was the one who planned our last date, not knowing that’s what it was. We had dinner and a movie, took a walk along the Susquehanna River in the dark, stopped for a breather on a bench overlooking the water. He thanked me for a fun night out – and broke up with me.

I couldn’t possibly really love him, he said. He actually said that. “You couldn’t know what love is. You don’t love me. You just think you do.” Reading between the lines: How could I possibly have any real grasp on my own emotions? My own experiences? He knew better. Except of course he didn’t. And I wasn’t woke enough in those days to call bullshit on the mansplaining. All I knew is that, with little forewarning, the boy I thought loved me as much as I loved him, never loved me at all. And it hurt.

So I get it.

The thing is, though, it gets better. The heart is like a starfish, baby girl. That piece rejection rips away comes back as something better than before. It comes back as wisdom.

You stop paying mind to the boy who broke your heart, which – after a while – doesn’t hurt so much, come to think of it. And you internalize the lesson.

For me: Don’t ever let somebody tell you what you don’t know.

For you: Ask first.

For the both of us: By all means, keep it moving.

About six months after that break-up, I took myself to dinner and a movie: a movie that boy wouldn’t have liked, by the way, but I did. I went for a walk along the river and returned to that very same bench. I took a deep breath. I got back in the car and that U2 song, “Stuck in a Moment” was playing – G-d’s voice to Mama’s ears! – on the radio.

“You’ve got to get yourself together. You’ve got stuck in a moment, and you can’t get out of it.”

Before I went home that night, I stopped by a mailbox with my application to an out-of-state women’s college I’d been on the fence about attending because I’d only ever known one small town in Pennsylvania, where the boy still lived, and because, well, all women. But I had a good feeling about that school, and as sure as I loved the boy, I knew I was holding my future in my hands.

All was as it should be: The boy, the bench, the college application that resulted in an acceptance letter that led to a move and my introduction to a veritable sisterhood of women that uplifted and inspired me to be my truest self and who always loved me for it.

See, the best friends will see you and love you for who you are; the best lovers will do that, too – and they’ll like your kisses.

Chin up,

Mama

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The leprechaun, the lesson.

Dear Kid,

A few weeks back, following so many months worth of assertions that you already knew everything Pre-K had to teach, your parents and teachers agreed: You were up for a challenge. And so you transitioned to a Kindergarten classroom one half-year ahead of schedule, the youngest child of the lot. When dad dropped you off that first morning, he asked you whether he should stand with you as your class lined up in the lining-up spot and prepared to head off to the classroom, a new classroom. No, you said. “I’ve got it.” And you did.

Overnight – literally, overnight – we learned things are different in Kindergarten. Some of it we read about in that note from your new teacher. Some of it we knew because you told us, “Things are different now, Mama. I’m big.” And just like that there was an average-sized backpack, less free play, more academics, 300-piece puzzles, friends who are six. (Was I aware that Delia could make a French braid and had a boyfriend?! I was not.)

One night, as I was tucking you into bed, I noticed it: Your feet. Yesterday (or was it the day before that, or had it been years?) they were pudgy, triangle-toenailed baby feet. You weren’t fooling. You were big now. Or bigger. Not a baby, in any event. And so we took pains to follow your lead (Oh, right, right! You don’t play with that toy anymore! Unless you do, and then you should!) and we gave you new, age-appropriate responsibilities: Make your bed, tidy up the playroom, fold the towels – and do your homework. 

Do – To take constructive action.

Your – Of or belonging to you.

Homework – Academic exercises meant to reinforce classroom learning.

In our house, we believe homework has its place: That it encourages focus, discipline, creativity, problem-solving, that it enables you to apply a skill, explore a question, grapple with how you feel about an issue or a whole subject, to practice (because practice makes better) and, most importantly, to fail (because that’s how you learn stuff). So dad and I made clear from your very first assignment: Homework was one of your responsibilities, one of your opportunities.

Big kid that you are, you embraced your opportunity, too. When your teacher assigned that special project timed to St. Patrick’s Day – Build a leprechaun trap! – you started engineering right away. Per her instructions, you fashioned it yourself from ordinary household materials and with limited assistance from your parents. I helped hot glue an edge and tied a couple of knots, but that was it.

And you embraced the fun. Hell, we’re Jewish and about 1/10 or less Irish on one side of the family but, for two weeks this February, you knew absolutely everything about baiting leprechauns. Step 1: Rainbows. Step 2: Glitter. Step 3: The ruse (i.e. It’s not a trap! It’s a lovely little leprechaun house! Come right in! Bam.)

We were proud of you and your stringy/packing tape/finger paint/foil-lined/glittery monstrosity that used to be an Amazon box. We were especially proud when you took it to school to share with your class and situated it right alongside traps constructed out of plywood and nails, constructed from kits purchased specifically to attract actual leprechauns, constructed by prodigies (or, more probably, by grown-ups).

“Oh,” you said (only half out loud and the rest in your subconscious), “maybe mine’s not that good.”

You were right and you were wrong all at the same time. You were right: It was the worst cell in the leprechaun jail, the one that looked pretty much like nowhere any leprechaun would be caught dead or alive. You were wrong: It was the best. It was the f’ing best.  

I told you that latter thing. I said I loved the way you used that big brain, worked so hard, pressed the tin foil into the corners and scrawled “Your House” on one side. The point wasn’t that you caught a leprechaun (they’re impossible to catch – impossible! – and your teacher knew that when she gave you the assignment). The point was that you saw the project through, that you took ownership, that you embraced your responsibility, your opportunity to learn something, to learn something about engineering, something about art, something about yourself. See what you did? You did it. You. And it’s awesome.

You’ve got it. You said so yourself. And I believe you, big kid.

Love

Mama

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I voted for you.

Dear Kid,

You won’t remember the election no adult who’s alive today will ever forget. You’ll read about it in the history books, and I’ll explain to you why I voted for her, the way I wiped away the tears when I filled in that oval next to her name. She was flawed – and utterly competent. Of the candidates on the ballot that year, she had the most experience. (When I select a surgeon, I select the one who’s performed surgery before. Preferably lots of times and successfully.) And even as I, like so many people, liberal and conservative, would agree – a third party really would add an important degree of diversity and discourse to our political system – I learned my lesson the hard way. I voted for Ralph Nader once. (Among my only real regrets in this life: Nader. I liked the guy, and he represented my own politics better than anyone else on the 2000 ticket, so I ignored the math – and it was a mistake. Ultimately, the person I least wanted to become president became president that year – and my favorite candidate never stood a real chance. Hindsight is twenty/twenty, they say, and, besides, wouldn’t I give anything for the good ol’ days of Bush, Jr. as my worst case scenario? You bet.)

But don’t get me wrong, I’m actually kind of grateful to my least favorite candidate of all time (ever) for his inspiration, for re-awakening my feminism, growing my comfort with speaking up, speaking out, challenging and being challenged. You’ll be surprised to learn I wasn’t always just like this…always bucking that assertion that it’s sound practice to keep one’s politics to oneself. But you’ll know, because I told you, that sometimes the stakes are too high. Donald Trump was my line in the sand.

This is what else I hope you know…

1) Speech is action. Think about it: To speak, even just one word, one uses about one hundred different facial and neck muscles simultaneously. Speech exclaims. It states. It commands. It questions. One’s speech can uplift. It can denigrate. It can say a lot about you, about how you think, what you stand for and what you stand against. Very often, you’ll find – if you’ve proven yourself even reasonably trustworthy – that others around you will rely on the things you say as a statement of your belief and intention. And they’ll hold you accountable. That’s how it works. And when those words get you in trouble (and they will because you’re human), remember there are two very useful words you learned when you were just a kid: I’m sorry. Not: I’m sorry, if… Not: I’m sorry, but… Not: But look what you just did! Simply: I’m sorry. That was wrong. But only if you think it was. Only if you really mean it. Baseless apologies are pretty easy to spot.

2) “I’m sorry” doesn’t unsay. It doesn’t undo. It’s just a start. And so it’s necessary to take into consideration the sum total of one’s other actions, his/her track record, to decide if or how to engage with the apologist moving forward. Because you can’t unhear, unsee, unfeel. That’s fortunate, actually. It means you’ll be better positioned to make smart decisions about your path forward.

3) Some people call it political correctness. I call it respect. It is respectful to approach others with deference to their narrative, their lived experience as people who are gay or black or Muslim or what not. Because, as it pertains to their own experience, they are the experts. Plus, it’s really not that difficult to speak in a deferential manner. There’s lots of good guidance for it from both individuals and whole communities of people who have organized around their experiences. So if I tell a dude how I feel about that thing he just said – if that thing he just said is offensive to me as a woman – he should take my word for it. It is.

4) Men behaving badly isn’t a defense to sexism or misogyny. Or harassment. Or sexual assault. Ever. You’ll never hear me take the side of the preschool kid who teases a classmate “to get her attention” or pulls her hair because “he likes her.” Bullshit. If that’s true, maybe he should stop harassing and start complimenting his classmate about how well she knows her alphabet. Applied to the current state of affairs, I just can’t get behind a candidate who passed off as “locker room talk” what sounded to me an awful lot like the definition of sexual assault. That’s trivializing something far too serious.

5) If someone applies a scale to your body, s/he best be your physician – otherwise s/he’s probably a jerk. I’m flat-chested. And I’m a babe. Take my word for it. Mine is the only opinion on the subject of my appearance that really counts. Haters gonna hate, so please, by all means, love yourself.

6) The people in your corner say an awful lot about you. Ergo, I’m always gonna be that mom who cares if you’re hanging out with a lot of riffraff. And I’m always gonna be that voter who thinks it’s mad suspect when white supremacists (plural) think you’re the right person to run my country.

7) Your mother is an ally – and she votes like one. My vote is a stand against racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat-shaming… My vote is a vote against bullying. My vote is a vote against a bully. Bullying behavior represents immaturity and insecurity on the part of the bully at best and, at worst, a characterological failure. More importantly, my vote is a vote for acceptance, equality, and inclusion of people who are different from me.

8) Your mother is a feminist – and she votes like one. Separately, I could tell you all the reasons this is so. But, in short: I survived girlhood. I am a grown woman. I am a working woman. I am a colleague of working women. I am a friend of women. I am a mother. To a daughter. Advancing the experience of girls and women is important to me. And, even if you don’t know it yet, it’s important to you, too. So I vote feminist. And the feminist on the ballot this year happens to be a woman. If she wins this election, it’s no longer just theoretically possible for a girl to grow up to be the president of the United States. It’s actually possible. I’m genuinely excited about that.

9) Your country is great already. More on that right here.

10) Today, I voted like your life depended on – which, in may ways, it really does. Politics actually is that important. The decisions our leaders make have direct bearing on our everyday experiences. So I thought about you – my most precious thing – and I made a decision. I filled in the oval next to the name of the candidate I thought could do the very best job by you. Not a perfect job. But the best. (And someday you’ll tell me how I did. I really hope you’ll tell me. Do it with mind and do it with measure. I want to learn from you.) Meanwhile, somewhere out there – maybe in the ballot box next to me – somebody else was thinking of her kid and filling in a different oval.  No doubt whatsoever, she loved that child as much as I love you. If we had nothing else in common, it was that.

That right there? That’s called freedom, kiddo. And it’s a beautiful thing.

May you always embrace your liberty.

Mama

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Dear She-ra. It’s me…Mama.

My dear young philosopher, seeker of truth, lover of the spiritual, emblem of the divine:

I don’t have all the answers. Only some of them. Very few, if I’m being honest. I can’t say for certain if G-d is, what G-d is, whether (S)He likes the name “G-d” or whether (S)He prefers to be called something else. Like, say, HaShem, Allah, Jesus or, your personal favorite – the Princess of Power herself!She-ra.

Yet I was a journalism student once, so I recognize a good question when I hear one. You’re full of those.

We were in the car last weekend en route to the shoe store or the mall, I can’t remember. Daddy and I were listening to talk radio, and you were watching the scenery out the window. Then, out of nowhere it seemed, you wondered out loud: “Where did all of this come from? I mean, like, the trees and stuff?”

They were of the sort that line many a major thoroughfare in the northeast corridor, a natural buffer between the sights and sounds of highway traffic and the residential traffic just beyond, artifacts from the olden days before overpopulation and global warming. Probably nobody planted those trees, and we told you so.

But one thing led to another. You wondered where the first seeds came from (the evolution of ocean plants approximately 450 million years ago), whether the dirt beneath those trees was naturally occurring or manufactured (probably mostly naturally occurring),  whether people always lived in our town (no), whether people always lived on earth (no), how the earth came to be (a byproduct of the Big Bang occurring about 13.7 billion years ago), how that happened (from this thing called a “singularity”), and, hey, where’d that come from (*crickets*).

Because we, your parents, didn’t have a single clue. And it’s not just us. I mean, sure, an astrophysicist would have had an easier time with the question, but even the best of them don’t know really. Because here’s the thing: Nobody does. 

So like every smart parent/politician on the planet, we dodged the question: What do you think? 

And what you thought was this: Somewhere out there, wherever “there” is, a long time ago, there was an idea to grow a place where there wasn’t a place before. Lots of people would agree with you. Some folks call that Great Cosmic Idea-Generator, G-d.

“Oh,” you said. “Like at Passover.” Bingo. Satisfied yet? No? Didn’t think so. 

“Is G-d real? Does G-d live in the bushes like the G-d in the Moses story? And does G-d even like to be called G-d?”

And the answer is…how the hell should we know?! Times three.

What do you think?

No, you said. “‘G-d’s’ boring.” But sometimes, you informed us, when you’re “thinking really hard,” you call G-d something better! You call G-d “She-ra.” The ultimate honorific. She-ra, you explained, is a total badass. She’s super strong and in charge, and often uses her powerful brain to get out of a jam. Plus, you think G-d is “kind of more like a girl,” but, oh, by the way, if we thought G-d was different than all that or we preferred to call G-d something else (in other words, not She-ra), that’d be just fine. “G-d’s whatever you think.”

And that was that. Until tonight. When, again out of nowhere, you asked me if I thought G-d was real.

What do you think? 

“I asked you first.”

Pony up, Ma!

If what you said is true, if G-d is whatever I think, then there are no wrong answers, right? Good. 

So do I believe in the traditional construct of the old white man in the sky? The one who grants wishes like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp while we stand around avoiding the hard work of actually providing for our own families, seeking our own cures, helping our neighbors when they’re struggling? No. I don’t believe that. Not for a second, actually.

I don’t really believe in an afterlife where the ghosts of our loved ones wear white robes and dance on clouds, either. I just don’t. Try as I might, I can’t imagine a single dead friend or relation appreciating the formless white robes.

But here’s what I do believe.

I believe that G-d is the thing that bigger’s than myself: the profound, the unexplained, the little voice that makes one wonder out of nowhere how it all worked out like this. “G-d” is what I wonder to when I wonder how come you took so long to get here, that which I hope to when I hope your little cousin recovers from cancer, the recipient of my gratitude for a family that’s just right for me, a depository for my anger when there’s just no one else to blame. G-d is the completely unfounded peace in those situations when it’s actually only logical to be anxious. G-d is the string of beautiful words we weave together into sentences, into stories, into memories we share with others who share them with others who make it so we and our memories live on and on and on. The afterlife. G-d is the question that just has to be answered. G-d is science. G-d is math. G-d is, indeed, a hell of an idea generator. And then? Then the rest is up to us, Kid.

So here’s how I answered your question, really: I said yes.

Yes.

“Good,” you said. “Me, too. Except I call my G-d ‘She-ra.'”

Dear She-ra. It’s me…Mama. This little girl is my favorite. I feel pretty lucky she’s mine. Thanks a lot. Amen. 

Love,

Mama

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The good tree.

Dear Kid,

Today, we mourned a good tree. Somebody who’s been dead for a long time (or maybe nobody) planted it where it stood for the last two hundred years – that is, until this morning. This morning, you became the last littlest resident of the old, green house to see that tree hanging right above her bedroom window, casting shade from its trunk and collecting woodpeckers in its mostly leafless branches.

Two winters ago, we watched as the snow weighed down a giant limb stretched the width of our neighbor’s garage. It never recovered. In the seasons that followed, we heard the snap of branches splitting as they hit the roof. And the woodpeckers? Recall those? Right. Dead. The tree was dead. And it had become a liability. So we talked to tree doctors and arborists and green-thumbed friends who concurred: For everything there’s a season.

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So, today, we mourned that good tree.

Now, you and me, Elbee, we’ve officially lived long enough together to have made memories from “back when”: Back when you used to be a baby. Back when we lived in a little white house. Back before you had words. Back before you told me how you felt about ev-er-y-thing. Back when I knew anyway.

The thing with memories is, over time, and especially when you’ve lived more than a few decades, they get a little hazy in order to make room for those we haven’t made yet. And sometimes it’s precisely the new memories that make you remember the old ones in the first place.

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That’s what happened today.

We were watching out the window when a man in a bucket lift took a first pass at that long limb above the neighbor’s garage. “I don’t know why it’s so sad!” you said. (I knew.) We headed outside to watch and, by the time they got as far as cutting the trunk, you were sobbing into your hands, and I was crying quiet tears for the third time today. “I’m gonna miss that old tree!” (Me, too.)

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That tree was a part of the landscape of the old green house, the landscape of your early years, the landscape of our family… a part of it. The landscape was changing, leaving us, forever, with nothing but our memories and a stump. We, too, were changed.

That’s when I remembered this. And I knew that, even if you didn’t recall it precisely, you were completely different and yet exactly the same little Lorax as the one who used to talk to the trees as I pushed you in your carriage along that path we frequented for walks when I was a brand new mom.

For everything there’s a season.

The landscape has changed – again. But maybe even if I could I wouldn’t turn back the clock. It’s time to make new memories. It’s time to plant another tree.

Still, there’s a place in my heart for this one.

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XO,

Mama

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I “wemember.”

Dear Kid,

March 29, 2016. A Tuesday. Probably I got up, helped you comb your hair, gave you a kiss and stopped off for a cup of coffee on my way into the office. (I don’t actually recall any of that, but it’s what I do every day, so I figure.) In fact, March 29 would have been entirely unremarkable except for that, on that day, you uttered the word “lellow” for the last time – and that I recall perfectly.

“Lellow.” Yellow. The color preceding green in the rainbow. It was one of only two words in that wildly expansive vocabulary which you pronounced like someone your age…one of only two words that you routinely mispronounced, that tethered you (and your mama) to those fleeting toddler years.

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For on Wednesday, March 30, you said that word so crystal clear I second-guessed whether you ever mispronounced it in the first place, whether maybe (is it possible?) I imagined that I ever had a little kid who had to learn words, struggle with their pronunciation, grapple with their meaning.

Yellow.

And then suddenly you “wemembered” something. (These many months later, I’m not sure what. It’s irrelevant anyhow.)

“Wemember.” Remember. The act of recollecting. The other word you pronounced like someone your age. The one I knew would shortly go the way of “lellow,” leaving me to “wemember,” with some combination of loss and gratitude, that once – for the briefest of times – I was the mother of a toddler.

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In the days and weeks and months that followed, I watched as your running turned to leaping turned to criss-cross walking up the stairs turned to hula-hooping. Your baby fat turned to lean muscle. You learned to write your first, middle and last names. All 20 letters. You started sounding out words on paper. You added, subtracted, identified favorite shapes in ordinary household objects. (“Do you know the top of the toilet is kind of an oval?”) Your impassioned tantrums turned to wordy expressions of profound disappointment. (“You know I could cry right now, right, Mama? I’m all the way back here, and you’re nearly to the Candy House! That’s because you got lucky and pulled that Lollipop Forest card. I want to shake your hand and tell you ‘good game,’ but I’m not sure I can do it. I’m that upset.”) And sometimes profound joy. (One time, we were standing in this long line at the movie theatre waiting for our turn to pay $12 for popcorn. You purported to be having “the best Mama/Elbee day ever.”) You took a keen interest in your family’s stories. You had your favorites. (“Please, Mama! Tell me about the time you looked down and your wedding diamond was missing and you screamed.”) You wondered whether all people were good, and I told you the truth. (Nope. Some of them are flipping terrible, so choose your friends wisely.) You stopped needing a grown-up to join you on your favorite carousel. You just got on up there and waved at your dad and me as you passed us by. I swore for each rotation you were just a little more grown-up. The thing is, I wasn’t exaggerating.

That’s how it goes. The other day, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a wedding photo perched on a shelf. The faces in that photograph were young and relaxed and full of the promise of those whose chief concern is being in love. As I dusted it off, I recognized those faces as ones that used to belong to your dad and me. (In truth, they still do if you imagine really hard. There’s still all that love, but there’s also all that time, all that life.) It happens so quickly.

And so the day I realized you got the hang of “yellow,” I braced myself for “remember.”

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You turned four last week – and, tonight, as I tucked you into bed, you “remembered.”

What’d you say? Of course, I heard you the first time.

“Remember when I was a little baby and you saw me for the first time and you, really, really loved me? Remember that?”

Once I was the mother of a toddler. One chapter ends… Onward. Deep breaths. I’ll miss you, little girl.

Yep. I “wemember.”

Also, I still love you.

Mama

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Rosie.

In all your three-and-three-quarter years, your dad and I have – on only a few occasions – failed to read you a bedtime story. The first time, it was your birthday and it unfolded full of fanfare and your first sugar high. (You crashed before we had the chance to page through A Birthday for Bird, that antique book I gifted you to mark the occasion of having survived your first year on the planet.) The second time, you were battling pneumonia and informed us you might just prefer to go straight to sleep and read together in the morning instead. (So that’s what you did. We read a half-dozen books before breakfast the next day.) And the third time?

The third time I tried. I really did. But I only made it half way through that Puff the Magic Dragon picture book when I found I could no longer contain the tears.

For the better part of three-and-a-half decades (less the part when I was too small to appreciate the reference), I wondered like everybody whether it was a song inspired by a magical puff of the cheeba. And then, just like that, and for the rest of my life, I’d remember Puff this new way.

For there was that beautifully illustrated Jackie Paper, a kid with a mythical creature for an imaginary friend, who wakes up one day and stops make-believing. The dragon (that poor dragon!) “hangs his head in sorrow, green scales [fall] like rain.” Lonely, he “slips into his cave.” In the song, the dragon dies of broken heart (I know, right?), but to make the picture book version more palatable for a young audience, Puff is merely depressed.

Until

The illustrations advance to some future date when a small girl – enter Puff’s next playmate – arrives in Honalee. The girl’s dad looks on lovingly from a distance. It’s (wait for it) the grown-up Jackie Paper.

And that’s when I think of Rosie.

This is Rosie.

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She lives a quarter of the time in your doll house and the rest in the Land of Make-Believe.

She’s one part plastic figurine modeled after a character in some cartoon you never watch. She’s most parts imaginary friend: A mischievous kid whose wayward path you’ve fixed for her and whose voice I supply. (“Mom, be the Rosie! Pretend she got hungry and ate lots of cookies instead of healthy food.”) So, in a pattern of speech that’s a cross between a child and an old lady from Southie with a penchant for cigarettes, I begin: I couldn’t help it! I ate one cookie, and it was really good! So I thought, ‘Meh!’ And I ate all the cookies so now none of the other doll house friends get any! And, as if forgetting that Rosie is a plastic girl – as if choosing to believe she’s a real one, in fact – your face evidences the shock. You look at me, your mother, a third party to The Cookie Jar Rebellion. “Whhhhaaaattt?! Did you hear that?!” I nod. You go on to lecture plastic Rosie about healthy eating habits, bellyaches and diabetes – for a full five minutes. All the while I offer a series of half-hearted apologies in Rosie’s nasally voice. (I’m sorry, but chocolate is my favorite!)

Sometimes, even when the plastic Rosie is out of sight, you talk to her (er, me). You tell her (ahem, me) about your day: the funny thing your friend did on the playground, the way you’re going to go to Disney World in the fall with your mom and dad, how the picture you painted is supposed to be your dad’s face. Sometimes I answer you in Rosie’s voice – Oh, that’s nice, friend! – anxious that if I morph back into mom, you won’t finish sharing that part of you that you’ve reserved just for her.

Look, helping bring Rosie to life this way is exhausting. Each time you make-believe me into your imaginary best friend, I check the urge to insist you don’t have to. (I’m your real best friend. Your very first best friend. Your mother!) The thing is, I recognize that, with Rosie, you have something special. You have something formative. You have something fleeting. So I do my part.

Rosie is your Puff.

And just like Jackie Paper, one day (not tomorrow, but still too soon), you’re going to wake up and stop make-believing. There’ll be no more Rosie. I might well forget the expressions I used, the way I let my voice rise and fall into that strange and strangely familiar inflection to signal I was no more your mom, more your little ginger-headed girlfriend. Maybe I’ll remind you about her one day and you’ll look at me, quizzical. (“Rosie who? Who’s Rosie?”)

That’s how come I never got through the Puff the Magic Dragon picture book that night.

Because even as I never want the era of make-believe and bedtime stories to end, the end is nigh. Because sad as I’ll be to see it go, go it must. Because someday, if I’m doing my job just right, you’ll be so sure, so confident, you won’t need anybody to fill in the blanks of the story you’re telling. You’re just going to tell it, be it, live it. You won’t need anybody – and yet? Yet you’ll have somebodies. You’ll have friends, real-life friends – who aren’t your mom. (Though, of course, you’ll have me, too.)

Now, some of those friends you’ll have for a good long time, maybe even a lifetime. Others you’ll have for a while: the second semester of your senior year of high school, your four years of college, the stint you spend working for the same company. You won’t be able to think to that era of your life without thinking of them, the fun you had and – even if you can’t remember what fun exactly – the way you just plain liked them, respected them, found them funny or interesting. Over time, maybe you’ll forget their names or even their faces. But, I promise you, girlie: Like Rosie, they’re going to shape you. They’re going to test you. They’re going to inspire you. They’re going to teach you how to be with your fellow people. And you’ll be better off for knowing them.

And that’s how come, the next day, I finished reading that story.

Even so, I’m really going to miss Rosie.

XO,

Mama

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