Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"...the center of all beauty..."

Yesterday afternoon it rained. Jarrah was watching Dora and I was spacing out in front of the computer. Just like everyday. And I suddenly realized that Jarrah and I don't talk much after school. She watches TV, reads, draws or plays with toys. I space out in front of the computer, as I already mentioned. We don't ignore each other. Occasionally, she'll ask for a snack, and I'll make it. Occasionally, I'll ask her how she's doing. She's always fine.

And it occurred to me that we haven't talked much after school in years.

Oh, don't get me wrong. If we have a playdate, then we talk on the way there, and on the way back. If she has a class or an appointment, we do the same. But on the days we are home in the afternoon, it's like we are in our own little bubbles, and clearly that's the way I like it. Her, I don't know. Until yesterday, I'd never much thought about it.

I had a hard year starting when Jarrah was one. Which is when I met her. I found her mind-bogglingly hard to keep up with. She was never still. She dragged her own diaper bag to the front door and pointed. She ate around the clock. She went through the garbage. Her idea of "playing" was demanding I provide voices for a never-ending cast of plastic characters while she giggled and said "Again!" Sometimes, as I dragged my sleep-deprived, unshowered bones around on the cold hardwood floor, I had the distinct sensation that I was trying to talk through a hearty dose of Valium. So. Hard. To. Form. Words. So. Hard. To. Have. Thoughts. When she started getting interested in TV (took a while) and imaginary friends, I encouraged it, and anything that gave me five minutes alone in my own head. I was a graduate student for 11 years. I am used to having a LOT of time alone in my own head.

Now, though, so much time has passed that she doesn't question it. She is perfectly content to amuse herself until dinner because that's what we do, and she is used to it. Kids get used to anything, I'm told.

So I had this thought: What am I doing? Right now she likes me, she really likes me. She has no complicated feelings about me, no ambivalence whatsoever. If I could peek into her brain, one whole track would be dedicated to "I Like Mommy, And Mommy Likes Me." And this will not last. I've been warned. And I've lived it. One day--it will feel like tomorrow--she won't want to be caught dead with boring, old, uncool, unreasonable, bossy me. She is almost six, and I have no idea how that happened. So this will definitely be tomorrow. Before tomorrow comes, I should spend some time with my daughter while she thinks I'm the bee's knees, the cat's pajamas. Because that time may be almost over.

I walked into the TV room and said "Wanna do a puzzle?" That got her attention.

"What kind of puzzle?" she said warily. But she was already turning off the TV, without being asked.

"Any kind you like. Pick one out." The second sentence was delivered to her retreating back as she galloped towards her puzzle cupboard. Well, then. She still likes me.

We got out her wild animal safari puzzle, and spread out the hundred pieces. Somehow I knew, even though we hadn't done this in ages, that she would be very good at puzzles. Sure enough, she was fast. She had strategies. "Everything orange is part of the water, and goes near the bottom." I recalled the endless hours of watching her drool and mouth-breathe while I repeated, testily, "Edge. EDGE. That's an EDGE." Not now. Now she had a tendency to delicately swipe a piece right out of my hand if I hesitated too long. I had to speak to her about that.

"Jarrah, it's not polite to take the piece I was working on. That's taking away my fun."

"Sorry. We haven't learned about that yet in school." Smart ass.

"Well, you're learning about it right now, from ME." I retorted.

When the puzzle was done, she suggested another, and then a third. David came home in the middle of that one. I asked her to put the puzzles pieces away and left the room. She called to me a few moments later.

"Can you help me?"

"Sure." I saw that two of the puzzles were back in their boxes, and I got down to help with the third. As we were sweeping the pieces into a pile, she smiled and said:

"When you asked if I wanted to do a puzzle, I thought: 'What's going on? THAT doesn't happen!'" She laughed happily.

My heart felt stabbed a little. I'm a terrible mother. I shock my child when I offer to play with her. It's such a freakish occurrence.

"You mean because we usually don't do puzzles?" I asked, smiling too, but in a different way.


"Well..." I groped. "It was a rainy day, and just seemed like good puzzle weather."

"I think we should do puzzles every time it rains."

"It's a deal."

"And maybe on other days. How about Fridays?"

"Fridays will be puzzle days."

This afternoon it rained.

"Can we do a puzzle, Mommy?"

This time I didn't hesitate. "Sure we can."

We did two.


Logical Libby said...

I love this. Love this. Love this. And now I am going to turn off the computer and go play with Meg.

Anonymous said...

I cried after reading this. About 6 months ago I became acutely aware of my tendency to leave Abbi with her tv & books while I pursued my own hobbies. I made the decision that even if I'm exhausted, frustrated, or emotionally/hormonally unstable, I would still sit in the floor with my then 2 year old & read books w/ her & color with her. This changed everything for she & I. She's only 2 & a half but I still regret the time I lost being too busy for her.

MomZombie said...

Just beautiful and bittersweet. I should know this already since I am the mother of a 16-year-old and a 4-year-old. I know how fleeting this precious time is and yet I still squander it. I found you via the wonderful Logical Libby.

Caroline Bridges said...

This is exactly what I've been going through and what I've been thinking/lamenting. I believe that was part of my depths of despair last night, but there were no lyrics for it other than Cats in the Cradle, and I just won't go there.

It's so painful to me that I do that with my boys. Sometimes I feel like the only way I can breathe is to have that time alone in my head, but you're absolutely right that this is the fleeting time when they think we're great.

Oh man, here come Pink Floyd and Bob Seger again. (Seriously - not making light.)

I'm going to try to do some puzzles with them this week, build some imaginary roads and play cars, something. I'm glad for the reminder and to have an example to follow.


Martha said...

We drew and colored today because that's our rainy day activity - his idea from "way back" in pre-school (Vincent's words).

Mrs. Chapman's 2nd Grade Class said...

Wow. This was a beautiful post, Sam and so real. This will be one that I come back and read when I have kids. :)

I love that Jarrah is a puzzle genius! I have second graders that haven't a clue about how to put together puzzles. :(

She Said said...

Thank you for writing this. I love it (as does Libby who sent me this way). I needed to read this. THANK YOU.

LunaMoonbeam said...

Oh....yeah. Ouch.

We're trying to limit the TV time around here. The little man loves it, and when I'm teaching piano it's really the only way...but, other times, I've GOT to be better about getting down on the floor and playing!

Stephanie said...

This makes my heart happy.

Mary said...

So sweet.



ewr2san said...

It is perfect puzzle weather.. and epic lego construction and battle weather as well(or day). We just started the Dr. Seuss "My book about me" project. If Jarrah is starting to write that might be a fun one for you to do together as well.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, I sure can relate to this.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Oh, well, I'm all choked up. Seriously.

You aren't a bad mother. You're a great mother for all of your consciousness + action.


Anonymous said...

Love this -- xx lix

T. said...

Oh Sam! I have tears rolling down my cheeks. Henry has been asking me to play Monopoly for days... or cards or something. Instead we have been watching TV. I have just shut off the TV and as soon as he finishes his piano practice and his Johnny Tremain report and his Spelling (yes, it's Sunday) I AM GOING TO PLAY Monopoly. Crap. Err I mean Yeah! Seriously? Seriously! yay! You are right, it won't be long before he quits asking.

Jen said...

Beautiful post, Sam. I hope you get more rainy days--luckily, winter is coming! (Since you live in SD, though, I bet you'll soon invent a "sunny day" activity as well. :-)

The Wades said...

Made me cry, my friend. Loved this so much.

Last year I had a customer come into the stand who told me about her four year old son dying in an accident and all the fun she wished she'd had with him. This post brings up the same feelings in me.

I will try to be a better mommy. I will. I loved, "She has no complicated feelings about me, no ambivalence whatsoever." Well said, my friend.

Why did your blog suck me in so late/early?! I should be in bed.