Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Flawed Mommy

I am a flawed mommy, and I need a confessor today. Listen for a moment -- I'll only list 11.

Confession #1: It is the middle of the night, and I have just laid down next to Mitike to comfort her because she has woken up crying. She tosses and turns, then rolls over and whacks me in the face, then asks to use the potty, then tosses and turns after we come back, which makes me lose my patience, grab her firmly by the shoulders, and say -- through clenched teeth -- "Time -- to -- sleep -- now!", which makes her cry harder.

Confession #2: We're reading Harold and the Purple Crayon and we get to the page where Harold draws a moose and a porcupine so someone can eat all the leftover pie. TK insists that the moose is called a porcupine and that the porcupine is called a moose. I should think this is cute, and I mostly do, but I also don't want TK to be 25 years old, hiking somewhere in Alaska, telling everyone that the moose are climbing trees and the porcupines are munching willow branches on the edge of the lakes, so I calmly explain she's wrong. Then she argues, "No, Mommy! Porcupine. Moose." I argue back. We both get upset. Harold stares at us, waiting for us to enjoy his purple crayon drawings again.

Confession #3: In the grocery store, I firmly remind TK that we do not eat any of our food until we've paid money for it. Then I turn away from her and snitch a bite of the muffin in my hand.

Confession #4: At the end of a day in which I try to quell and channel the energy of middle school students, more noise sometimes seems unbearable. One night, TK decides to experiment with how loudly she can yell. "TK!" I finally say sternly. Her eyes widen, and I feel horrible. "Okay, we can only be loud in the bathroom." She nods solemnly and toddles off to the bathroom, where she continues to yell. Days later, we are walking together outside, singing, "If you're happy and you know it, shout 'hooray!'" and TK puts a finger to her lips. "Shh, Mommy. Only loud in the bathroom."

Confession #5: TK is throwing a small tantrum because she wants Bunny under the pink blanket, and I mistakenly put Bunny under the red quilt AND the pink blanket. I pick up Bunny and hurl him across the room, and then -- yep, it gets worse -- I say, "Then Bunny can just sleep over there!" TK starts crying, and Bunny looks at me reproachfully with his embroidered eyes.

Confession #6: Ali and I are playing with TK, when she holds up her right hand with her index finger extended and raises one eyebrow: "Hold on. Just wait." Ali looks at me pointedly. I am bossy -- can we say I "exhibit good leadership skills"? -- in exactly the same way. TK is definitely my daughter.

Confession #7: It's 6 a.m. on a Saturday, and TK has just called, "Mommy!" When I stumble groggily into her room, she cheerfully announces, "All done sleeping!" I shake my head and say, "Shh! Everyone's sleeping. The house is sleeping. The books are sleeping. Bunny's still sleeping." In the dim light, she peers at me. "Mommy still sleeping?" I nod and stretch out in her bed. I close my eyes. Sometimes, she lies down next to me and we sleep until 7 or so. Not this morning. She shakes me: "Mommy! Up! Time play with 'itike!" But all I want is more sleep.

Confession #8: On a special Mommy-TK date at a Mexican restaurant, TK abruptly decides she does not want to sit down anymore; she wants to stand on top of her booster seat. I frown and shake my head. "TK, Obama wants you to sit down." She sits down immediately, upset at the suggestion that anything she is doing would offend her beloved Obama. "Mama," she whispers, craning her neck to look around the restaurant, "where Obama is?"

Confession #9: TK shouts at Katie, "Stop it! Go away!" for no apparent reason. I swoop in and pick up TK, and we face the wall together. Like a textbook mama, I murmur in a calm voice, "That made Katie sad. As soon as you're ready to say 'sorry' to Katie, tell me. Are you ready?" TK shakes her head stubbornly. "What about now?" I ask. She shakes her head again. I turn her to face me, and my words escape me to disobey all textbook recommendations: "Say 'sorry' to Katie, or she'll be sad forever!" She goes to Katie and apologizes. I feel like a liar.

Confession #10: "You don't need Skittles. Vitamins are much yummier!"

Confession #11: To be silly, Ali draws a face on a large spaghetti squash with a black Sharpie marker. We set the squash on the counter and talk to it to make TK giggle. Later, TK pulls the squash toward her when she's sitting on the counter and hits it repeatedly, laughing. For some reason, it's abruptly important to me that we treat squash faces with kindness. I grab the squash, give TK a reproachful look, and proceed to rock the squash in my arms while I hum Brahm's "Lullaby". TK's eyes well up with tears. An hour later, when I decide to cook the squash for dinner, I let Tim throw it on the floor several times to break it open. TK watches me, her brow furrowed. I know. I know. I've betrayed squash face. I'm a hypocrite.

I could tell you more. These are just the major ones. There are also the little transgressions -- the cookie I offer her if she'll just eat two more bites of chili; the five minutes of movie I let her watch if she'll just agree to put her pajamas on; the way I scratched her chin a little with my fingernail on her birthday because I scooped her up with too much gusto. I know she knows I love her; I know she'll never doubt I wanted to be her mommy. But will she survive my mothering?

Maybe I should ask Obama -- or a moose named Porcupine.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Color Purple

In Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Shug tells Celie: “Listen, God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration….Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it" (203).

I'm not sure about quite a bit about God, but I'm sure of this: my little girl, her smile wide, is absolutely full of admiration for the God/god/gods/??? who put the color purple in this world -- and she believes wholeheartedly that it's holy. Purple, purple, purple. In the mornings, Mitike chooses purple pants, a purple sweater, a purple headband; she claps her hands happily when I pull her purple coat and her purple stocking cap from the winter clothes basket. At preschool, she chooses the purple book, the purple sticker, the purple crayon, the purple play-do, the purple-frosted cupcake. Her teachers barely ask her opinion, now -- they hand her the purple whatever-it-is and then love her joy.

Last week, when Ali and I decided to move TK into Tim's room (and Tim into TK's), we decided to paint over the boyish green-brown walls. At Good's Hardware, TK did not hesitate: she pointed to the purple paint chips. Later, at Wal-Mart: the purple curtains. "'itike's new purple room!" she proudly tells any visitors to our house. Then she run-waddles into her room and stands in the center, looking up and around with the awe of someone beholding the Sistine Chapel for the first time.

I know: toddlers -- especially little girls -- often love to obsess over a color. But purple is not just a color. Listen to Shug. Listen to the Romans, whose Senate passed a law dictating that only the royal and important could don the color purple. Listen to the medieval kings of ancient Europe, who also reserved purple for the royals. Listen to lupine and its shout of color across southeast Alaska's meadows in high summer.

Purple is something to NOTICE -- and no one knows this better than my sweet TK.