Thursday, October 05, 2006
Who's the baby?
It started in the kitchen, as so many things do. "WELL. Are YOU the mom?" My 4-year-old daughter's voice dripped with scorn as she addressed her 9-year-old brother.
(It is amazing how scathing a 4-year-old can sound. How does such a small human learn such complex, hurtful, and, well, useful tools in such a short time on Earth? Especially presuming that early childhood should be filled with positive, life-affirming, and mind-expanding input including, but not limited to "WHO's the baby??? YOU are!!!" and "This little piggy went to market," and "No, I don't hate the president, I just think he makes bad choices." Then again, said 4-year-old's mother is me, so she may have advanced more quickly into the real world, purely out of a need to survive.)
"No, but YOU'RE not the mom either, ARE YOU?!" my son quickly retorted. Child the younger had just taken a deep breath and uttered the inflammatory phrase, "NO, but..." when I'd had enough.
"At this point, I'd be happy to give the job to either one of you, because no one wants to be the mom when you two are bickering like this." (I'm pretty sure I actually said "bickering." Who says "bickering?" Me, that's who. And I'm the mom.)
This silenced them for a bit as they considered the implications. The original argument (whatever it was) was forgotten as my son made the wise choice to quit while he was ahead. With five years more experience, he's gotten pretty good at figuring out when's a good time to just sit quietly lest he get peppered by the shrapnel. Little sis was quiet too, but for a different reason. I think we'd begun clearing the table when she dropped the bomb.
"But if you're not the mom, you're DEAD."
"If you're not the mom," she clarified, "you're a skeleton! You're bones, in the GROUND!"
I took a moment to ponder this. I mean, I realize that a 4-year-old is developmentally programmed to figure out what everyone's purpose is in relation to HER: essentially, it's her universe and we're all just living in it. But when someone tells you that you are either a mom or bones in the ground, it can be pretty sobering.
I was never the girl who dreamed of growing up and having children. My babysitting experiences as a teenager confirmed this as I struggled through hour after monotonous hour of Candy Land, diaper changes, and preparing and cleaning up meals. I did not play on the swings and read the same picture book over and over again for my own enjoyment: I did it for the money. I did it for the things that money could get me. I used babysitting money to go on my class trip to Washington D.C.; for a week-long canoeing trip with the park service one summer; for a new bike. That paltry $1 an hour bought me my independence. (Being a mom is different than being a babysitter, of course. The rewards are far greater--but so are the challenges.)
You know what I found out? It's dang near impossible to feel independent when you're told that you're either a mom or you're dead.
I contemplated my reply. Should I tell her that, No, even if I had never had children I'd be a real alive person in the world, falling in and out of love, struggling to do work that I'm passionate about, singing songs of joy and devastation? Should I tell her that, while I realize that being a parent informs and deepens my experience when I read, write, hike in the woods, harmonize with someone, play frisbee, or work to find the whole truth of a scene I'm playing onstage, I rarely think about her while actually performing any of these acts? Should I mention how freeing it was to drink margaritas with the Pants Machine in their RV, be responsible for saving only myself when the fire broke out, and then not worry about how late I was staying up, because no one would be waking me up at some ungodly hour demanding breakfast?
"I'll always be your mom, honey," I sighed. "For ever and ever."