Despite what it suggests, I don’t intend to detail my personal, complicated relationship with pork–though I did enjoy perusing this site today.
No, this pertains more to parenting a child who makes decisions about things. What she will and won’t do. She digs in, “and that’s FINAL.” She wants things on her own terms. (Where does she get that??)
Tonight, we had plans to join our small havurah for the kind of potluck Shabbat dinner this child has experienced since infancy.
It was the last day of school. When I picked her up in the schoolyard at 11:30 this morning, she handed me a considerably big box of second grade–all of the books, hats, papers, and miscellanea that have migrated to her classroom over the course of the year. In return, I gave her a gift. She couldn’t be bothered with the card–which I wrote so thoughtfully last night–instead tearing open a cardboard box to reveal a small dark purple, velvet bag, dripping with hand-sewn beads, with a beaded butterfly on the front. Inside, a small heart-shaped rose quartz stone. Later in the day, she would show me the other treasures she’d added to the mix–a silver pinky ring, a bead, a mood-o-meter. She immediately slung the bag diagonally across her chest. She wore it during the game of never-ending tag on the grass outside the theater where we inadvertently arrived an hour early to see “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.” She wore it all evening, too. I had nailed it, and I admit to feeling pleased.
After the movie, she reminded me, again, that she was NOT GOING to dinner. She would not get out of the car the whole time, she told me. She would starve, and to add insult to injury, I clearly didn’t even care.
In fact, this “conversation,” though there has been nothing conversational about it, has punctuated the whole past week–just her putting her foot down and me saying “I hear you, but.”
In the car, I managed to take a step back. I told her I was wondering just why she was so dead-set against attending this gathering of old friends, one that has invariably been a source of comfort, meaning, and fun over many years. She said she just wanted to eat at home, and that it wasn’t the same as going to “our family’s house”–by which I finally realized she meant extended family, i.e. gatherings at her cousins’ or grandparent’s homes, something she never resists. For some reason, getting together with a few other families, even if they are families who know and love her well, signaled something else, something one of my dearest friends later named for me: anxiety.
As we drove quietly south after the movie, I glanced at her in the rearview mirror. We were listening to her music of choice--hey soul sister, ain’t that mister mister on the radio, stereo, the way you move ain’t fair you know–and I saw her applying a layer of pale powder to her cheeks and painting her lips an alarming shade of red (make up we bought Wednesday for her Dracula get-up on Book Character day at school). I had a strong urge to say something absolutist about make up, something parental and canned about not wearing make up when we go out. Instead, I asked her, “Hey, would you consider that dress-ups or make-up?” “Make up,” she answered, gazing out the window, looking, well, pissed. Or pensive.
Something in her expression reminded me of a black-and-white photo I have of myself at fifteen, taken by my oldest sister on a trip to Santa Barbara in 1989–my first time in California. I’m wearing sunglasses, headphones, a cut-off white t-shirt, a thrift store necklace. My young lips are slightly pursed and fully lipsticked. I am looking out the window. I am tough shit. But she is eight! I found myself thinking, noticing how eagerly my mind could start spinning stories. She is not you! I responded to myself.
We arrived at our friends’ house, a beautiful spot tucked in against the woods at the end of a long driveway in Richmond. True to her word, she stayed in the car. I greeted our hosts–we were the first to arrive. Their son–just 15 days younger than my made-up, beaded-purse-wearing second-grade graduate–introduced me and Pearl to their six chickens. He told us some of their names–Gentle, Meanie–and gave us a tour of the former playhouse where the chickens sleep at night in little cubby holes. We learned that they lay five eggs a day, and I quickly calculated how much I shell out each month at the store for organic eggs laid by happy, cage-free chickens.
Not half hour later, she had ventured out of the vehicle to see the chickens for herself. She got involved with a round of basketball drills led by my friend’s father, who was visiting from out of state. She found her way inside and was present for candlelighting, blessing the children, kiddush and motzi. She ate a piece of the quiche I made at 5:30 this morning. She and I ventured upstairs with the youngest of our crew–a fabulous two-year old with one perfect ringlet in the middle of her forehead–a feature that prompted Aviva to recite the famous verse about just that. The three of us had a sweet, sweet time playing.
At one point, Greg, the girls and I played a very silly and satisfying pick-up game in the driveway. It was like old times in so many ways, but these times are new, and I am learning, slowly, how to live with the discomfiting comfort of the old and new melding into something else entirely.
Around 8:00pm, both of my girls were asking to go home. They were cooked. It had been a long day. But I had just begun helping in the kitchen, and washing the dishes became my own opportunity to visit with friends I don’t see often enough. I told them as soon as I was done with that and we’d had some dessert, we could go. A game was sitting out of its box on the kitchen floor. “Does that look familiar?” my friend asked Aviva. Indeed–at first blush, it looked like the unmistakable Candyland board. On closer inspection, however, we saw that it was in fact Kosherland. And next thing I knew, as I scraped leftovers into the compost and loaded the dishwasher, my daughters and this delightful toddler were playing. Happily. On the floor in the midst of moms and dads and other kids talking, visiting, catching up, eating and drinking.
I looked over at my friend, the toddler’s mama, a woman who has known my children since they days they were born. “Kosherland,” I told her. “From now on, that’s going to be my codeword to myself.” I knew she knew exactly what I meant:
That she gets to have her moment, or moments, of fierce resistance–just as I get to have mine. That she changes her mind–just as I change mine. That she softens and adapts. That she opens and gives. That she plays and relaxes. That she needs and deserves space. That I can trust my instincts–not to cancel our plans, for example, or simply blow up in frustration at her. That when asked, out of curiosity and not imposition, what the fight is all about, she is capable of communicating. That she is eight. That she is glorious, nothing to be afraid of. That she is flexible. That I can be, too.
In the car on the way home, she was chatty. I told the girls about my new codeword. I made it about me and not about being canned and parental. I told them how there are days when I just want to stay home. I don’t want to go to a party, or see friends. It takes effort to leave the house. How even the most familiar of settings can be unsettling. And then, when I do, more times than not I wind up feeling glad I did. I eat good food and see good friends. I have fun. I play basketball and Kosherland.
I couldn’t resist throwing in a little p.s. as I spoke, in that I pointed out the fact that she had had fun after all. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t want to do any of those things. I didn’t want to meet the chickens. I didn’t want to play basketball. I didn’t want to go at all. And I DIDN’T have fun.” We chatted about how much light was still in the sky after 9:00pm, about the solstice, how she could “sleep in” tomorrow, how we liked the movie. I told her that Judy Moody reminded me quite a bit of someone else I know–smart, creative, dramatic, sometimes moody… “I’m moody,” she offered. “Yes, you are sometimes! And if I said that when you were in a bad mood, you’d be so mad!” She agreed. And then I reciprocated. “I’m moody, too.”
Codeword: Kosherland. And this, a little prayer at the beginning of a a long, full, moody, mosquito-bitten, friend-filled, flexible, not-bummer summer.